Two steps forward, one back? Why we must keep investing in public health
Just shy of a year ago, I wrote about my relief that the U.S. was finally investing in public health infrastructure by passing the American Rescue Plan into law. That monumental bill provided billions of dollars for a wide range of critical programs that will help us get ahead of the next pandemic: from early warning systems to PPE, testing and vaccine development to keeping schools safer.
It seemed that we were finally on the right track. That’s why you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that this week Congress took additional funding for Covid-19 response and resilience off the table. Talk about taking a big step forward, and then at least one step back.
Here’s what’s hanging in the balance: funding for vaccines that protect against the next variants. Better testing. Antiviral pills and other drugs that protect high-risk Americans from Covid-19. Plans to build up testing. Building new public health infrastructure. Using the best data available to target public health responses and detect new outbreaks.
It’s certainly true that there has been a shift in public opinion about the pandemic, reflecting that we are learning to live with the virus. We may no longer need to take the same precautions (like universal masking) that got us through the past two years. But the immense sacrifice and tragic loss of life we endured demands that we keep our guard up and not forget important lessons about the value of pandemic preparedness.
It’s not as if it’s a distant, unforeseen threat. Another variant is surging in Europe, and is likely to take hold in the U.S. in a matter of weeks. Our ability to monitor its progression, vaccinate and boost the population, and treat those who fall sick stems from how well we fund these priorities. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “That means that some programs, if we don’t get funding, could abruptly end or need to be pared back. And that could impact how we are able to respond to any variant.”
I agree. I too am exhausted by this pandemic. It has consumed too much of our lives — economically and otherwise. But if we don’t invest in public health, we’re doomed to repeat past mistakes and prime a repeat of the last two years. Let’s keep moving forward.