US Global Immunization Program employees seek to leave due to lack of funding

USAID’s Covid-19 task force – about 200 people when it was created in 2020 but with fewer now – held a meeting last week to talk about the effect of Congress not allocating money to global efforts of the agency against Covid. The task force’s executive director, Jeremy Konyndyk, told team members he would understand if they sought other jobs – and would write letters of recommendation if needed, according to one of the people. who participated in the call.

The agency’s upheaval marks another challenge in the already difficult job of boosting vaccinations around the world – especially in developing countries, like many in Africa, where less than 20% of the population has been vaccinated. Public health experts have repeatedly said global vaccination efforts could save thousands of lives and help prevent variants that could once again disrupt life in countries with high vaccination rates.

Over the past two years, senior Biden administration officials and world health leaders have touted USAID’s global immunization work as vital to broader international immunization goals. Its new Global VAX program, announced late last year, was supposed to take the agency’s work even further by rapidly increasing vaccination rates in 11 developing countries.

Now, vaccine uptake programming appears to be coming to an end at a time when there is an increase in the number of cases within Omicron’s BA.2 sub-variant – and as more and more more sub-variants are emerging in the world.

Because more funding is uncertain, employees working on the global Covid response at USAID have begun telling agency partners that they can no longer count on the plans laid out for the coming months. Goals set for later in the year are either being redesigned or scrapped, said one of the people with knowledge of the matter.

Many of these strategies have focused on delivering available doses, expanding available Covid-19 treatments and strengthening health systems more broadly – ​​the goals that world health leaders say are most important at this stage. of the pandemic.

Last week, after news broke that Congress would cut $5 billion in additional Covid-19 funding for global pandemic responses, USAID employees said they had begun to struggling to find new jobs.

Under the US rescue plan, many were hired as Schedule A employees – with the understanding that positions would end when work was completed or funding ran out. But with global vaccination now a major goal to end the pandemic, Schedule A hires, contractors and others were shocked to learn they would likely have to halt work in the coming months. While dozens are now planning to leave before funding runs out, dozens more could be assigned to global pandemic response teams.

Konyndyk had been more optimistic about future funding in previous calls with the task force team, the person on the calls said, but the tone changed on the most recent call. While he and other agency leaders were candid about the effect of ending the programs, there was little they could do to continue the work as it currently stands without congressional action.

“We are now at a point where, without additional funding, we are going to have to start phasing out our programming,” Konyndyk told The New York Times in an opinion column published earlier this week with the title “The Incredible Stupidity to end the global Covid”. aid.”

He was candid that new variants could come from not acting globally – something he called “the biggest risk we face domestically and globally”.

But even with the risk of new twists, several USAID staff members of the task force said they had no choice but to seek new jobs.

“I think everyone is kind of discouraged,” a global health worker told USAID. “It’s been our life for two years, so it’s quite difficult to let go of it.”


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