The measure specifically would authorize the U.S. government to work with international partners and host countries to procure enough vaccines to inoculate 60% of the populations of the 92 low- and middle-income countries eligible to receive vaccines through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program. The new unit also would also work with manufacturers to scale up production capacity and to prepare for any subsequent production of second-generation vaccines necessary to counter new virus strains in the United States and abroad.
In a statement, Krishnamoorthi, whose family moved to the U.S. from India when he was an infant, compared the idea to the Lend-Lease Act that the U.S. used during World War II to help the United Kingdom and other countries hold off the Nazis.
In a subsequent phone call, the congressman disclosed something else: Two members of his extended family living in hard-hit India recently died of COVID-19.
Krishnamoorthi did not elaborate much, but did add that both were “middle class” people who ordinarily would have had access to good medical care. But the Indian health care system has been overwhelmed in recent weeks, with even well-connected hospitals at times unable to obtain enough oxygen to keep patients on ventilators alive.
In his statement, Krishnamoorthi cited recent research that nine in 10 international epidemiologists believe low vaccination levels abroad make it more likely COVID-19 variants will emerge, with two thirds saying current vaccines here could become ineffective within a year because of variants.
The bill comes about two weeks after the Biden administration unexpectedly endorsed an effort to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to boost the global supply. The president’s stance has received pushback from drugmakers, who say the move could instead promote an influx of unsafe or less effective shots, hindering the world’s ability to end the pandemic and jamming up supply chains in the process.