How should the US respond to the new COVID-19 variants?

The fact that new COVID-19 variants, like the ones found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, have developed is both concerning and unsurprising. There is a real risk that the longer the pandemic goes on, the more the virus will adapt and mutate — coming back across borders and halting all the progress we have made.

A domestic-only strategy will not work. These variants are coming into the United States from other countries, which means we must have a global strategy to stop COVID-19. Early data indicate that the current approved vaccines are effective in preventing death and hospitalizations from all the known strains of COVID-19. This means that getting vaccines manufactured, allocated, and into people’s arms remains the most important thing the world can do to prevent deaths and get our economy back on track.

The world needs a global response now

The world has delayed action towards a collective, global response. This lack of action has only extended the lifespan of this pandemic and increased the death toll and economic harm. The development of effective vaccines has offered a light at the end of the tunnel, but these new variants have shown us that none of us are safe until all of us are safe. While the US is making strides in vaccinating its population, there are countries across the world that have not seen a single vial of vaccine, and without funding, may not for years to come.

We must resist the idea that it’s possible to end the pandemic just within the US. As long as the virus can thrive anywhere, it will continue to mutate, cross borders, and wreak havoc on people’s lives and the economy, both domestically and globally. Ensuring fair access to COVID-19 vaccines isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do to end this pandemic as quickly as possible here in the United States and around the world.

3 immediate ways the Biden administration and Congress can rally a global response to this pandemic

1. Demonstrate renewed American global leadership and address the health crisis of COVID-19. The US must lead the global pandemic response, and Congress should invest at least $20 billion in fighting COVID-19 globally, including funding for proven health programs such as the Global Fund and CEPI.

2. Stabilize the entire global economy and prevent further economic collapse in the world’s poorest countries. Last November, Zambia became the first country to default on its debt amid the pandemic. No country should be faced with the impossible choice of saving lives and its economy or making debt repayments during this pandemic. The US should provide immediate debt relief and a new allocation of SDRs to the world’s poorest countries so governments can prioritize getting this pandemic under control.

3. Double annual foreign economic, health, and humanitarian assistance by 2025. President Biden has stated his desire to reassert American global leadership, rebuild diplomacy, re-engage with our global partners, fight climate change, and build back better from this pandemic. A big, bold presidential budget is necessary to effectively address our global challenges and to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to global leadership.

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