Letter from COVID Survivors and Families to Senate Negotiators

April 5, 2022

The Honorable Charles Schumer

Majority Leader, U.S. Senate

322 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

 

The Honorable Chris Coons

Chair, State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee

218 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Republican Leader, United States Senate

317 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

 

The Honorable Lindsey Graham

Ranking Member, State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee

290 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

The Honorable Mitt Romney

354 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington DC, 20510

 

April 5, 2022

 

Dear Senators, 

 

We are the organizations representing the front-lines of COVID. We are survivors, still struggling with the long term, sometimes disabling impacts of COVID. We are the health workers who have borne the brunt of this medical catastrophe. We are the millions left behind, facing an empty chair, after our loved ones have paid the highest price for policy decisions made elsewhere. Our collective memberships include many hundreds of thousands of Americans from every U.S. state and territory. 

 

We and our supporters are writing to urge you to include at least $5 billion for global COVID vaccines, and to do so without offsets. We are aware that some of your offices fought for this already. 

 

As the BA.2 variant sweeps across the globe, we received unwelcome news that the already inadequate sum of $5 billion for global vaccines was removed from the supplemental. This is a deadly mistake that will prolong the pandemic, result in more people dying, and incur greater economic costs.

 

If we fail to provide these funds, our ongoing efforts will continue to be frustrated by wave after wave of variants. Some will be more deadly. Some will be more infectious. Some will be both. But as long as there are billions of impoverished people waiting in line for vaccines, the variants will continue. 

 

According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition of business, foreign policy and military experts and leaders, only 0.34% of all COVID relief funds thus far have gone toward global interventions–all the remainder was expended domestically. There is no unspent money on the global side to negotiate. 

 

USAID testified to Congress in October that it was nearing the end of funding for vaccines. On March 17th and 30th, USAID Administrator Samantha Power stated that the failure of Congress to provide funds “will devastate our ability to make sure those [20 additional] countries can effectively deploy safe and effective vaccines.” On March 30th, the agency’s COVID task force co-chair Atul Gawande published in the Washington Post that “without more funding, we [the United States] would have to halt our plans to expand the Global VAX initiative. The United States would have to turn its back on countries that need urgent help.”

Our own members have organized more than 1000 lobby meetings, held virtual protests, and published op-ed after op-ed. 30 of our allies have issued a statement opposing the deal. We are already seeing the uninsured in America unable to access free vaccines, tests, and therapeutics. 

Without new funds, the progress we have made to contain this pandemic will be lost, and illness both acute and chronic, along with deaths, will steeply increase. 

As we have learned time and again, our failure to act now enables the virus to continually mutate as we create a variant incubator in low-income countries with underlying health system challenges. Countries, communities, and families are desperately in need of our support and are looking for leadership. When there were too few vaccines from the United States and our allies, poor countries turned to Russia and China, who filled the void with aggressive global vaccine diplomacy, moving literally billions more doses than the United States globally — but unfortunately, with less effective vaccines (especially against omicron)—to hundreds of countries. We can regain that lost ground by acting now–indeed, clinically, supplying more effective vaccines is a crucial step to staying ahead of variants. 

The overdue and much needed COVID supplemental must also contain funds for research, care and public education for Long COVID, and support a multi-layered approach to infection prevention, such as masking and protections for the most vulnerable. The domestic relief funds should focus not only on acute implications of infections and hospitalizations, but also the chronic and complex implications of millions of newly disabled Long Haulers who face the potential of decades to life-long disability,  and who have already overwhelmed our national medical systems. Funding for COVID must recognize that Long COVID can still arise from breakthrough- or reinfection, even if initially mild, or even asymptomatic.

Looking for offsets is an act of political posturing that ransoms our future. The IMF calculates that an urgent investment — now! — primarily by rich countries to vaccinate people in poor countries would yield an astonishing $9 trillion in additional economic growth by 2025 - while also effectively ending variants. That sum, in itself, is more than enough offset. 

We have experienced a great deal of trauma, personally, and as a country. We have lost one million lives. Millions of us are sick and becoming disabled. Millions more are scarred for life. This cannot continue and it cannot happen again.

Contemplate the disaster facing the world if you— Congress— fail to allocate even a relatively small amount of money to defend against this virus. This $5 billion pales in comparison to the enormous Defense Budget–and yet, our global health security and that of the world depends on this health defense allocation. Please pass a full COVID supplemental package this week that includes at least $5 billion for global COVID vaccines, without requiring that $5 billion to be offset by taking from other programs. 

We request a meeting on next steps with staff from your office. We appreciate your attention to solving this crisis, and look forward to your response. 

 

Please fight for us,


Karyn Bishof, President, COVID-19 Longhauler Advocacy Project

Sabila Khan, Founder, for COVID-19 Loss Support for Family & Friends 

Madeleine Fugate, Creator and Designer, for COVID Memorial Quilt

Chris Kocher, Executive Director, COVID Survivors for Change

Kristin Urquiza, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director for Marked By COVID

Rima Samman, for Rami’s Heart COVID-19 Memorial

Paul Davis, Policy Director, Right to Health Action [R2H Action]

Marcos Lutyens, Leader, for Rose River Memorial

Martha Greenwald, Founding Director for The WhoWeLost Project