Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Bill to Protect U.S. From Risk of New Coronavirus Strains By Defeating Virus Abroad

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Pramila Jayapal and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have introduced the bicameral ifying Opportunities for Variants to Infect and Decimate (NOVID) Act, legislation that would dramatically expand the nation’s international coronavirus prevention and vaccination efforts to reduce the risk of new COVID-19 strains and additional domestic outbreaks.

“The coronavirus crisis is a global emergency that can’t be tackled in one country alone. That’s why it’s critically important that we remember that while life is feeling more and more normal in America, this pandemic is still causing unfathomable destruction in communities around the world,” said Merkley. “Helping the world drastically increase vaccine manufacturing and access is not only the right thing to do, but it will help keep Americans safer, by decreasing the risk of dangerous, vaccine-resistant variants emerging and coming to our shores. This is a crucial opportunity for us to show American leadership is back, at a time when the world needs that leadership most.”

Even as global COVID-19 infection and fatality rates decline, more than 300,000 new people test positive each day across the world. In a recent survey by Oxfam, 88% of epidemiologists believed that persistent low vaccine coverage in many countries would make it more likely for vaccine-resistant mutations to emerge from the ongoing caseload, and 66% said that within a year the virus would mutate to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines would become ineffective.

Following in the footsteps of the Lend-Lease Act in the Second World War, the NOVID Act would immediately help save lives in those nations still hardest-hit by the virus, by helping to inoculate at least 60% of populations of the 92 low- and middle-income countries eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX).

The legislation would also establish the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Program (PanPReP) to immediately coordinate U.S. efforts and investments in increasing the production, procurement, and end-to-end distribution of vaccines in COVAX nations. In addition, the program would be responsible for coordinating the U.S. Government response with international non-governmental organizations, development banks and civil society as well as foreign governments. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the program would shift to protect against future pandemics by coordinating a global disease surveillance network to identify and stop pandemic-potential pathogens before they spread uncontrollably.

Specifically, PanPReP—modeled after the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has helped save 20 million lives since 2003—would develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide through establishing specific, achievable goals, and focus on three primary issues:

1)      Working with manufacturers to rapidly scale up the production of vaccines and vaccine components around the world to ensure there is an adequate supply of vaccines for all nations.

2)      Coordinating with our international partners to purchase enough vaccines for low- and middle-income countries to immunize at least 60% of their populations.

3)      Supporting end-to-end delivery and administration of vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. In this respect, the Program should be modelled off of the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has for almost two decades set the global standard for targeted bilateral public health interventions.

The bill would authorize spending for $34 billion: $25 billion to cover the cost of scaling manufacturing capacity and producing 8 billion vaccine doses; $8.5 billion to cover the cost of end-to-end delivery of enough vaccines to immunize 60% of the populations in the 92 COVAX countries; and $500 million to establish a global disease surveillance network to protect against future pandemics.

Organizations endorsing the legislation include: Public Citizen, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief USA, Partners In Health, PrEP4All, HelpAge USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Doctors for America, Advocacy Network for Africa, American Friends Service Committee, The Access Challenge, Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Chicago Medical Society, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, The United Methodist Church—General Board of Church and Society, US Impact, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and the American Medical Women’s Association.

Full text of the legislation is available here.