A lack of pandemic funding means 'playing with an infectious disease fire,' experts warn

Drive-thru COVID test.
(Image credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Congress this week failed to approve additional funding to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, a defeat experts fear could have "potentially devastating consequences" in the future, Stat News reports Friday.

Though a $1.5 trillion package to fund the government (and also send aid to Ukraine) was passed, a measure to provide $15 billion in continued COVID-19 response funding was "abruptly dropped," Stat writes. Prominent experts worry this "political posturing could leave the United States stuck yet again in a cycle of under-preparedness" in the event another variant — or worse, another pandemic — arises.

"It would be going out and purchasing fire trucks the moment the 911 calls come in to the station," said epidemiologist and former White House COVID adviser Michael Osterholm. "To not fully fund these programs, you are playing with an infectious disease fire, and it will burn you. In the process, unfortunately, people will unnecessarily have to die."

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Without the proper funding, the administration's plan to fight the pandemic proactively effectively falls apart, Stat notes. For example, testing capacity could possibly decline by 50 percent without added investment, an administration official told Stat. Not to mention more vaccines will need to be purchased once available for children under 5. Even a program that pays health care providers for the testing and treatment of the uninsured will soon run out of money, per Stat.

Despite case rates declining, some experts are shocked at the complacency lawmakers have shown.

"These legislators are lulled in some type of trance, thinking the pandemic is over," said Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. "Haven't we learned anything in two years? I'm dismayed and disquieted about this, and I'm hoping that there is going to be some remedy."

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Brigid Kennedy

Brigid is a staff writer at The Week and a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Her passions include improv comedy, David Fincher films, and breakfast food. She lives in New York.