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COVID-19 has killed more than 4 million people worldwide. The United States has experienced the brunt of this loss; Americans account for one in every seven deaths around the globe. As the pandemic still rages with cases surging in the US, many are shining new light on the dire need for greater investment in global public health infrastructure.
While vaccinations became widely available throughout the US earlier this Spring, people in nations like India remained largely unable to access the shot. As the virus spread unabated throughout the sub-continent, it was able to mutate into the now infamous Delta variant.
The hyper-contagious strain quickly overwhelmed India’s hospitals. Reports of patients dying outside of medical facilities became commonplace as beds and oxygen supplies dwindled. Morgues ran out of room to store bodies as hundreds of thousands lost their battle with the virus in just a few short months. Some of the nation’s largest cities had to resort to cremating the dead in parking lots.
The variant spread from India across the globe, eventually making its way to the United States. Today, as many as 90% of all new COVID-19 cases in the US are caused by the Delta variant. With insufficient vaccination rates, medical personnel across the country are bracing for tragedy.
Top US health officials underscore need for global public health infrastructure
For Loyce Pace, the Director of the Office of Global Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services under the Biden administration, COVID-19 has underscored how vital investment in global health initiatives is to the safety and security of the US.
“We are nowhere unless we are addressing global health inequities and preventing them from starting,” Director Pace said in an interview with The BWSTimes this week. “We’ve seen [COVID] move around the world indiscriminately. This virus doesn’t have a passport.”
Indeed, a greater public health infrastructure around the globe could have lessened the spread of the virus from the beginning. The Biden administration has partnered with COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at increasing equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
President Biden announced in a press conference Tuesday that the United States has already donated more than 110 million vaccine doses through this program and plans to continue increasing that number.
Director Pace says that the administration plans to continue investment in global health equity after the pandemic ends.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” says Pace. “That couldn’t be more true in the case of preparing ourselves for the next pandemic.”
Pace went on to underscore the economic and social benefits of investing in preventative measures now.
“We are paying so much, trillions of dollars, in the wake of this crisis. We’re making up for lost economies and lost societies that could have been prevented had we been more prepared,” Pace said.
“I am hopeful that more people will be convinced at the importance of these investments.”
The situation in Oklahoma grows increasingly dire
During Tuesday’s press conference, Biden shared optimistic news that daily new vaccinations have increased 65% in the past few weeks. He also re-emphasized his call for states to take advantage of federal dollars to provide financial incentives for people to get the vaccine. According to the president, states offering financial incentives have seen vaccination rates increase by 25%.
Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt has not created a program to incentivize getting the vaccine, even as vaccination rates across the state remain stagnant. As cases across the state soar and hospital capacities decline, many are pleading with the governor to take immediate action. Even President Biden implored resistant governors not to impede progress against COVID-19.
“If you’re not going to help, at least get out of the way of people who are trying to do the right thing,” Biden said.
Democrats in the state legislature are calling on the Governor to call a special session to repeal SB 658. The law bars public school districts from implementing mask requirements without a state of emergency being declared. Over 2000 Oklahomans have signed a letter urging the Governor to declare a state of emergency to protect students. The Governor has yet to respond to either call to action, but did post an image of himself in a COVID-19 briefing to social media on Tuesday.
“A personal plea”
Over the course of the last few weeks, Oklahoma has seen a slight increase in new vaccinations. However, the state remains among the lowest in the nation for overall vaccination rates (just 40%) as hesitancy remains high.
When asked if she had a message for anyone still reluctant to get vaccinated, Director Pace made a heartfelt request:
“What this virus and this particular variant is teaching us is we still aren’t out of the woods,” she said. “We need you. We need everyone to survive. I don’t want to lose anyone else to this.”
The Global Health director continued, “It’s really a personal plea, too. We’ve seen the numbers, but there are people and stories behind those numbers.”
“It’s not just a matter of flattening the curve, it’s a matter of saving lives.”
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and it saves lives. White House officials we have spoken with all urge those hesitant to get the vaccine to reach out to a trusted medial professional. The Department of Health and Human Services has also set up a website to help address concerns that we have linked here.
To find a vaccination location or to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, visit www.vaccines.gov/search.
CORRECTION: This article previously listed Dir. Pace’s job title as “Director of the Global Health Council”. Dir. Pace’s correct job title is “Director of the Office of Global Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services”. The article has been updated accordingly.