The COVID mistake we keep on making.
What Congress’ failure to fund COVID prevention says about our government’s capacity to protect us from the threats we face.
I’m sick and tired of COVID. I’m tired of the worry. I’m tired of having to make hard decisions about participating in normal activities (my daughter is too young to be vaccinated). I’m tired of talking about COVID with friends, family, co-workers, and random people on the street.
I bet you’re tired too.
But I’m a little more accustomed to having to think, talk, and write about serious risks to people’s health. After all, I chose this life. I trained as a physician and epidemiologist.
You (probably) did not. For most Americans, your introduction to the world of public health came through this pandemic: trying to interpret case rates, understand conditional probabilities, and wrap your mind around viral evolution. You received a public health education-by-pandemic.
I worry that the experience of learning about public health in crisis has left Americans with a misplaced understanding of the most fundamental characteristic of this work. Public health, if nothing else, is about prevention. Like fire safety or accident prevention, the work is best done beforehand. If you only focus on public health from crisis to crisis, you’re failing at public health. And all most Americans have known is public health during a crisis — it’s a big reason Americans’ perspective on public health is so dour.
But all this crisis response has led to the horribly misplaced assessment that once the crisis has abated, we can stop with all the public health. Yet that’s when public health is most important.
Which is why we’re failing again. On Wednesday, at the behest of their GOP colleagues, Congressional Democrats decided to drop $15.6 billion dollars of COVID preparedness funding out of a sweeping spending package. This was already down from $22.5 billion requested by President Biden in his State of the Union, itself down from the estimated $30 billion he’d need to adequately fund his priorities.
This would have been $15 billion for testing, antiviral medication, and vaccines. Things we need not just to close out the omicron surge, but prevent the next one.
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