- President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he would freeze funding to the World Health Organization for 60-90 days as his administration looks into the agency.
- The move comes after Trump announced he would consider cutting the agency’s funds last week.
- Trump has criticized the W.H.O. for being “China-centric,” a criticism it has also faced from other Republican lawmakers over the course of the pandemic.
- A total halt on contributions from the U.S. could run deep, as it makes up nearly 15% of the W.H.O.’s funding.
Trump Freezes Funding to the W.H.O.
Exactly one week after announcing that he was considering cutting United States funding to the World Health Organization, President Donald Trump moved to do just that Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said from the White House. “Everybody knows what’s going on there.”
During his press conference, Trump also repeated his stance that the W.H.O. took China’s claims about the coronavirus “at face value.”
“One of the most dangerous and costly decisions from the WHO was its disastrous decision to oppose travel restrictions from China and other nations,” Trump said.
“They were very much opposed to what we did. Fortunately, I was not convinced and suspended travel from China, saving untold numbers of lives. Thousands and thousands of people would have died. Had other nations likewise suspended travel from China, countless more lives would have been saved.”
Trump went on to say that the freeze to W.H.O. funding would continue for 60 to 90 days. A potential two to three-month freeze is notable because as many people have pointed out, the U.S. and the world are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fighting a global pandemic requires international cooperation and reliance on science and data,” Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, said. “Cutting funding to the WHO – rather than focusing on solutions – is a dangerous move at a precarious moment for the world.”
On behalf of the AMA, Harris went on to urge Trump to reconsider this decision.
The secretary general of the United Nations said Tuesday night that while “it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities,” the W.H.O.“must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.”
Early Wednesday morning, billionaire Bill Gates tweeted, “Halting funding for the World Health Organization during a world health crisis is as dangerous as it sounds. Their work is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever.”
After the U.S.—which contributes to nearly 15% of the W.H.O.’s funding—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the W.H.O.’s next-biggest contributor. According to the W.H.O., the Gates’ charity makes up almost 10% of its funding.
Still, a reduction of 15% of its funding would mean a deep cut for the international health agency. Currently, the U.S. has committed $893 million during the W.H.O.’s current two-year funding period. According to international security professor Adam Kamradt-Scott at the University of Sydney, if the U.S. were to pull both member dues and voluntary contributions, that could end up bankrupting the W.H.O.
Will the W.H.O. See U.S. Funding Again?
One of the major unanswered questions regarding Trump’s decision is whether or not the W.H.O. might get that funding back and how long it could take.
According to Evan Hollander, a spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Democrats, “The President does not have the unilateral authority to withhold the United States’ contribution to the World Health Organization. Even if he did, refusing to fund the WHO would only weaken the international tools to fight this pandemic and future global health emergencies.”
On that note, it’s unclear when payments to the W.H.O. will stop and how much authority Trump even has to suspend them. That’s because they’re actually authorized by Congress, and Congress has already ignored his administration’s proposal to slash W.H.O. funding in recent years.
Still, Trump may likely see a surge of support from his party. Senator Rick Scott (R-Fl.) has repeatedly pushed Congress to investigate the W.H.O’s response to COVID-19 and its relationship with China. Both he and Senator Martha McSally (R-Az.) have called for the W.H.O. Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to step down.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC.) has also pledged to support a W.H.O. funding cut in the Senate’s next appropriations bill.
Why Is Trump Defunding the W.H.O.?
Over the last week, Trump has repeatedly accused the W.H.O., an agency of the United Nations, of being “China-centric,” this seemingly for two main reasons.
The first is because on January 14, the W.H.O. referenced a preliminary investigation from Chinese authorities who said there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus.” Notably, health officials now know that not to be true.
The second has to do with Trump’s decision to restrict travel with China, a decision made at the end of January.
At that time, the W.H.O.—though not directly referencing the United States—said it did not recommend limiting trade and travel with China.
“In fact, we oppose it,” Ghebreyesus said.
“In general, evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions,” the agency added.
On Feb. 11, the W.H.O. did revise its travel restriction recommendations somewhat by saying that such restrictions “…may have a public health rationale at the beginning of the containment phase of an outbreak, as they may allow affected countries to implement sustained response measures, and non-affected countries to gain time to initiate and implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions, however, need to be short in duration, proportionate to the public health risks, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves.”
During this time and even up until late February, Trump had actually been praising the W.H.O., saying it had been working “very hard and very smart.”
Trump’s shift in tone, however, came last week when he seemingly announced he would be freezing W.H.O. funding, though he later backtracked when talking to reporters, saying he was only looking at freezing it.
“They actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban at the time I did it,” Trump said, “and they were wrong. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things. They had a lot of information very early and they didn’t to want to — they seemed to be very “China-centric.”
“They called it wrong,” he added. “They called it wrong. They really, they missed the call. They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and should have known, and they probably did know.”
Following that, the W.H.O. defended itself and its relationship with China, Ghebreyesus’ senior adviser Bruce Aylward saying, “It was absolutely critical in the early part of this outbreak to have full access to everything possible, to get on the ground and work with the Chinese to understand this.”
“This is what we did with every other hard hit country like Spain and had nothing to do with China specifically,” he added.
Aylward also defended the W.H.O.’s January recommendation to keep borders open, saying that Beijing had worked hard to identify and detect early cases and their contacts, ensuring they didn’t travel.
Since Trump’s move Tuesday to suspend W.H.O. funding, China has also criticized the president, a foreign ministry spokesperson saying, “This U.S. decision will weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation. China will as always support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Bloomberg)
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air
While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.
Booster Rollout in Flux
President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.
The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.
However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.
The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.
Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.
Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.
Debate Continues in Crucial Week
More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.
On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.
The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide.
On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.
The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.”
Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.
Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.
“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”
It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.
Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.
Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.
Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.
“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”