WASHINGTON, D.C. [03/11/22]—This week, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) led a bipartisan group of Senators in urging Senate Leadership to support emergency supplemental resources for vaccine diplomacy, including support for State Department and USAID bilateral and multilateral efforts.
In a letter Tuesday, Senator Smith and bipartisan group of eight Senators pressed Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to provide emergency supplemental aide for U.S. global vaccination efforts. The increased funding is needed to ensure that U.S. bilateral efforts are not halted short of the goal of supporting partner countries in rolling out immunizations. The Senators highlighted the importance of increased U.S. global vaccine diplomacy in the current moment, so not to cede our position as global leaders to authoritarian regimes like Russia. The Senators also emphasized how the ongoing humanitarian conflict further highlights the need for global vaccination efforts as any major crisis resulting in refugee influxes dramatically increases the impact of existing global health concerns.
“America’s ability to invest in global health programs has always been about both saving lives and catalyzing global movements. This U.S. vaccine diplomacy has saved lives and is the right thing to do, but is also in our own strategic geopolitical and national security interests,” the lawmakers wrote. “Failure to immediately provide robust resources will mean our agencies will not have the resources they need to save lives and respond to new COVID-19 variants. Failure to confront these challenges risks destabilization and threatens U.S. national security. The longer we wait, the more costly our global response will become — in both lives and dollars.”
The letter was also signed by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Brian Schatz (D-HI).
The full text of the letter can be read HERE and below:
Dear Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell:
As the world stands in support of the Ukrainian people against Russia’s unprovoked invasion, we believe that it is critical to support U.S. diplomatic and health efforts worldwide by providing emergency supplemental resources for vaccine diplomacy, including support for State Department and USAID bilateral and multilateral efforts. We believe that the United States should be a strong partner in worldwide public health efforts, and we should not cede our position as global leaders to authoritarian regimes like Russia. Although evidence suggests Sputnik V, the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, has been essentially ineffective against the Omicron variant, Russian President Vladimir Putin has touted COVID-19 vaccines around the world, proclaiming that Russia had signed agreements for the production of 700 million doses abroad. Russia offered shots to more than 50 countries, from Latin America to Asia. At this unprecedented time during an ongoing global pandemic, mounting humanitarian crises, and conflict, we believe that United States leadership is needed now more than ever.
Far beyond Eastern Europe, Russia continues to gain influence in other regions through vaccine diplomacy, despite serious concerns about the efficacy of its vaccine. This is most evident in Asia and Latin America. In five Latin American countries, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was the first to arrive, well before America’s Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. However, business complications brought on by the crisis in Ukraine may delay Russia’s ability to fulfill their vaccine commitments to other countries. This provides a critical opportunity for the United States to fill a vacuum in vaccine diplomacy and global COVID-19 vaccine access.
Emergency supplemental funding is critical at this moment, not just to support Ukraine’s self-defense and NATO allies, but also to exert the full power of U.S. diplomatic efforts. Lifesaving humanitarian assistance and vaccine diplomacy, particularly at this turning point in the pandemic, are critical tools in our toolbox to push back against Russia’s malfeasance. According to the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Russia’s illegal incursion has already resulted in 752 civilian casualties, and more than one million refugees have fled the country. The EU expects that up to four million people may leave their homes as refugees.
Any major crisis resulting in refugee influxes dramatically increases the impact of existing global health concerns, and COVID-19 is no different. Ukraine remains one of the least vaccinated countries in Europe, and both Russia and Ukraine were suffering from surges due to Omicron before the invasion. Global health experts are concerned that the impacts of the humanitarian crisis will result in the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.
Thanks to the American people, doses of vaccines from the U.S. are being donated to countries in need around the world. However, now that previously appropriated funds are all but expended, Congress must appropriate additional emergency supplemental funding for the global response to COVID-19 to invest in the delivery of vaccines and ensure that these vaccines do not expire in country capitals. These additional resources would ensure that U.S. bilateral efforts are not halted miles short of the goal of supporting partner countries in rolling out immunizations, that we are fully leveraging our previous contributions COVAX, and that Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has the additional resources necessary to deliver their current dose donations. Without these investments, we risk additional COVID-19 variants threatening lives around the world and here at home, the reversal of a generation of bipartisan investments, and progress in other diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
America’s ability to invest in global health programs has always been about both saving lives and catalyzing global movements. This U.S. vaccine diplomacy has saved lives and is the right thing to do, but is also in our own strategic geopolitical and national security interests. Throughout the many months since the first COVID-19 vaccines became available, the United States has been committed to ensuring our donated vaccines are delivered with “no strings attached,” a stark contrast to the efforts of China and Russia.
Failure to immediately provide robust resources will mean our agencies will not have the resources they need to save lives and respond to new COVID-19 variants. Failure to confront these challenges risks destabilization and threatens U.S. national security. The longer we wait, the more costly our global response will become — in both lives and dollars.
Thank you for your continued leadership during these unprecedented times and for your consideration of this urgent supplemental request.
 Ivanova, P., & Nikolskaya, P. (2021, May 14). Big promises, few doses: Why Russia’s struggling to make Sputnik V doses. Reuters. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/big-promises-few-doses-why-russias-struggling-make-sputnik-v-doses-2021-05-14.
 Nicas, J., & Troianovski, A. (2022, February 15). A world away from Ukraine, Russia is courting Latin America. The New York Times. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/15/world/americas/russia-putin-latin-america-bolsonaro.html.
 Walker, S. (2022, February 4). Record Covid cases in Russia and Ukraine complicate military plans. The Guardian. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/04/record-covid-cases-in-russia-and-ukraine-complicate-conflict-situation.
 Morris, L., & Diamond, D. (2022, March 1). Ukraine conflict could spark surges of Covid, polio, other diseases, say experts. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2022/03/01/russia-invasion-ukraine-pandemic-health-effects.