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A healthcare worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine dose

A healthcare worker prepares to administer the Pfizer vaccine to a resident of Dagoretti in Nairobi during a vaccination drive on February 3, 2022. (Photo: John Ochieng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Nobel Laureates, Ex-Heads of State Push Biden to Fund Global Covid Fight

"Don't tell us we can’t afford $5,000,000,000 in global Covid aid when the government is about to hand Jeff Bezos $10,000,000,000 to fly to space," said one progressive advocacy group.

Jake Johnson

More than a dozen Nobel laureates and former heads of state urged U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday to help "lead the world out of the pandemic" by supporting a bold patent waiver and committing at least $5 billion to the global fight against Covid-19, which has ravaged poor nations that have been denied sufficient access to vaccines and therapeutics.

In a letter to the White House sent ahead of Thursday's global coronavirus summit—an event co-hosted by the U.S.—13 Nobel Prize winners and ex-world leaders warned that "billions of people are being ignored as many parts of the rich world turn away from them," leaving them without adequate protections against "this cruel, deadly, and debilitating disease."

"Global financing is absolutely mission-critical, alongside a truly comprehensive intellectual property waiver."

"While people in the United States have had access to vaccines for more than a year, and Covid-19 testing and treatments are widely available, countries across the Global South continue to be devastated," the letter states. "Almost 3 billion people remain entirely unvaccinated. The Covid-19 death toll is estimated to be four times higher in lower-income countries than in rich countries."

"We specifically urge your government to appropriate the minimum $5 billion that is needed immediately for the international response," the letter continues. "We recognize that the U.S. stepping up its commitment is vital to incentivizing pledges from other nations. We underline that global financing is absolutely mission-critical, alongside a truly comprehensive intellectual property waiver which you have supported at the World Trade Organization, and the transfer of technologies through the World Health Organization."

With signatories including former Malawi President Joyce Banda, former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman, the letter was sent as Republicans in the U.S. Congress continue to stonewall both domestic and international coronavirus aid.

To overcome GOP obstruction, Democratic congressional leaders originally aimed to tie a Covid-19 aid package to a bill containing roughly $40 billion in military assistance for Ukraine—but Senate Republicans signaled they would oppose advancing the measures simultaneously. In a bipartisan Covid-19 funding deal reached last month, senators completely removed money to fight the pandemic outside of the U.S.

In a statement on Monday, Biden indicated he would prioritize military assistance for Ukraine over global coronavirus funding, saying he had "been informed by congressional leaders in both parties" that attaching Covid-19 money to the weapons bill "would slow down action on the urgently needed Ukrainian aid."

"We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort," the president added. "Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately, so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away."

The White House has called on Congress to approve around $22 billion in domestic Covid-19 funding and $5 billion in global aid.

The $5 billion in global coronavirus funding that Nobel laureates, former heads of state, and progressive advocacy groups are demanding is a fraction of the U.S. military budget increase that Biden has requested for Fiscal Year 2023.

It is also half of the $10 billion that Congress is preparing to provide NASA for a second moon lander contract—one that is likely to go to the space travel company owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.

"We must not sleepwalk into the next variant."

"Don't tell us we can’t afford $5,000,000,000 in global Covid aid when the government is about to hand Jeff Bezos $10,000,000,000 to fly to space," the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen wrote on Twitter.

In an interview with the New York Times on Monday, Brown—who now serves as the World Health Organization's ambassador for global health financing—said he wants the U.S. to "recognize that the disease is not over anywhere until it's over everywhere."

"We must not sleepwalk into the next variant," Brown added.

The new letter echoes that warning, declaring that "the lack of funding endangers the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world and risks the emergence of new and more deadly virus variants that will prolong the pandemic." The White House recently cautioned that 100 million people in the U.S. alone could be infected by the coronavirus in a potential fall and winter surge.

The letter, which was coordinated by the People's Vaccine Alliance, also criticizes the U.S. for falling well short of its coronavirus vaccine donation promises. A March report by Public Citizen estimated that the Biden administration—which has vowed to make the U.S. into the "world's arsenal for vaccines"—would have to ramp up donations by 50% to meet its pledges.

"Mr. President—governments, communities, and families the world over are looking to you for leadership," the letter reads. "We appeal to the U.S. government to promptly approve at least $5 billion for the international effort, so that the critical work of containing the global pandemic can continue. Lives and livelihoods depend on it."

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