More than 80 Democratic lawmakers call for $17 billion to fight COVID-19 globally

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A group of more than 80 Democratic lawmakers is calling for at least $17 billion in an upcoming government funding package to go toward helping vaccinate the world and fighting the pandemic abroad.

The lawmakers say that the U.S. needs to do more to get shots in arms around the world, as well as boost testing and treatments, saying that stopping the pandemic everywhere is the only way to end the cycle of new and more dangerous variants developing.

"Now, the world faces yet another variant, Omicron, which may be even more transmissible than the Delta variant," states the letter, which was signed by lawmakers including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). "We must end this cycle by prioritizing getting shots in arms around the world as soon as possible, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries, which do not have the resources to vaccinate their populations."

Many of the same lawmakers called for $34 billion in funding toward global vaccination to be included in President Biden's Build Back Better package, but they note that the House-passed measure includes "a mere $1.3 billion."

The Biden administration last month announced an effort to ramp up vaccine manufacturing to create a billion doses per year.

But the lawmakers said the administration needs to do more. "The pace and scale of these efforts remain out of sync with the magnitude of the threat that an unvaccinated world poses to American lives, the American economy, and America's global leadership," they wrote.

Advocates have been pressing the Biden administration for months to do more to help vaccinate the world, including by stepping in to share vaccine technology abroad.

The administration has pointed to the 1.2 billion doses it has committed to donating abroad.

The lawmakers write that funding is needed for the logistical effort to actually get vaccines into arms, as well as for other areas like testing and treatment.

The letter is addressed to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate appropriations committees, and calls for the new funding to be included in the next government spending package.

The government is currently funded through Feb. 18 following the passage of a short-term bill earlier this month, but it is possible lawmakers could just extend current funding levels again to put off the deadline further rather than passing a new funding package by that time.

"The time to act was a year ago. We cannot afford to waste another moment and risk the emergence of yet another, even more dangerous variant. It is long past time to end this pandemic," the lawmakers wrote.

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