Pocan proposes using Pentagon funds to ramp up global vaccination effort

By: - August 20, 2021 12:37 pm
BOWIE, MARYLAND - MARCH 25: Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial as Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Cameron Grove Community Center. The vaccinations were provided by Prince George's County's Mobile Units. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

BOWIE, MARYLAND – MARCH 25: Nurses draw vaccine doses from a vial as Maryland residents receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Cameron Grove Community Center. The vaccinations were provided by Prince George’s County’s Mobile Units. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth) wants the U.S. to spend a fraction of its military budget on worldwide COVID-19 vaccines. Pocan introduced the COVID Defense Act this week, which would transfer 1.3% of U.S. military spending — $9.6 billion — to global vaccination efforts.

“We can’t bomb our way out of a global pandemic,” Pocan said in a statement. “Right now, COVID is the greatest risk to our national security as well as the world’s security. Shifting funds from weaponry and military contractors to producing COVID vaccines will save hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of lives around the world.”

“At a time when America spends more on its military than the next 11 closest nations combined,” Pocan added, “we should be able to sacrifice a little over 1% of that to save lives, build global goodwill, and actually make the world a safer, healthier place.”

The proposal comes as the World Health Organization condemns the Biden administration’s plan to offer booster shots to Americans who have already been vaccinated, citing evidence that the vaccine’s effectiveness begins to wane after eight months. 

“We’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket,” Mike Ryan, director of health emergencies for the World Health Organization said on Wednesday of wealthy countries’ plans to offer a third vaccine to the already vaccinated. WHO disputes the idea that the decline in vaccine effectiveness is significant, and warns that new variants — including potentially vaccine-resistant variants — will emerge if more of the world’s population does not receive the vaccine. While more than half of U.S. residents are now vaccinated, in Africa the rate of vaccination is still less than 2%. 

Pocan’s proposal is part of a strategy to increase the U.S. contribution to a global vaccination effort in addition to offering booster shots to the already vaccinated in the U.S.

“We can ramp up production, if necessary,” he told Wisconsin Public Radio. “This is something that doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.”

“You’re never going to stop variants until you vaccinate more people in the world,” Pocan said on WPR’s The Morning Show. “It’s in our best interest to make sure the world gets vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

According to Pocan’s office, the $9.6 billion in additional funding for vaccines could increase vaccine doses in less developed countries by 1.8 billion for 2021 and early 2022. The money would more than double funds for vaccine production, procurement and international distribution managed by COVAX, a consortium of 91 nations pooling efforts to fight COVID-19, allowing another 30% of the world’s vulnerable population to have access to the COVID vaccine, and curtailing the spread of the disease as well as new variants.

The bill’s $9.6 billion cost would come out of $740.5 billion allocated to the U.S. military under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.


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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.