US should reengage in global health in Biden government, senator says

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U.S. Senator Chris Coons. Photo by: Senator Chris Coons

WASHINGTON — The United States should support global vaccine development and delivery under a Biden administration and “turn the tide of this pandemic globally and reengage in a way that reimagines our role in public health,” Senator Chris Coons said at an event Monday.

The U.S. needs to “lead by example” and to do so it must first get the coronavirus pandemic under control domestically, said Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, who is close to President-elect Joe Biden, and is rumored to be among those considered to become secretary of state in the new administration.

“Without getting into it too much given the partisan sensitivities of the moment, our president's failed leadership in terms of being a role model, of spreading reliable information, of listening to his COVID advice team, of deploying the resources of our national government and of engaging our nation in an effective response, has marked us both internally and externally in a way that has genuinely harmed not just to the American people, but also our standing in the world,” he said at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Mid-Atlantic Summit.

Biden “should make a dramatic shift” by rejoining the World Health Organization — which Coons said needs some reforms — and should join the COVAX Facility and be part of the global vaccine development and delivery infrastructure, he added.

The incoming administration will also have to rebuild some government architecture including a global surveillance network, investment in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff around the world and restoring global health security offices in the White House at the National Security Council, which have been eliminated, defunded or restructured, Coons said.

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Congress will also have to come together, despite the political tensions, to provide financial relief domestically and invest “in a robust public health response globally that addresses equity and that demonstrates the sort of leadership in public health globally that we were well known for,” he said.

The U.S. has worked over the years to earn a position of global leadership in public health, Coons explained, but “we’ve abdicated a fair amount of that in the last … year.”

Coons said that he is concerned about a poorly coordinated transition between the administrations on COVID-19 response, which could create real challenges, but said he is raising the issue with his Republican colleagues, and while he’s “encouraged” the efforts need to move faster.

The senator also said he is working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, to try to move funding forward for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and other global vaccine production and distribution efforts before the end of the year.

Advocates need to do a better job of convincing middle America about the importance of investing in and promoting public health and development, Coons said.

“We have to win that argument,” he said. “Donald Trump was not an aberration in the extent to which his America first ideology of isolationism and nativism and protectionism has had a willing audience nationwide for some time. We need to engage in that conversation domestically, urgently, in this year ahead.”

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.