Leaving poorer nations last in line for vaccines will prolong pandemic, experts warn.
The White House announced new efforts on Wednesday to expand and improve testing for the coronavirus, as the United States ramps up efforts to vaccinate Americans.
In a news briefing, Carole Johnson, the nation’s new COVID-19 testing coordinator, announced that the federal government would invest $1.6bn to increase nationwide testing.
“We need to test broadly and rapidly to turn the tide of this pandemic but we still don’t have enough testing and we don’t have enough testing in all the places it needs to be,” Johnson said during a news briefing.
She said the funds would support testing in schools and in underserved populations, increase manufacturing of critical testing supplies, as well as increase genomic sequencing – key to studying virus variants.
According to a White House factsheet, $650m will go towards expanding testing capacity for schools, which will assist them in reopening.
The effort also targets underserved settings, such as homeless shelters.
According to the factsheet, Health and Human Services will also establish regional coordinating testing centres to organise the distribution of testing supplies and partner with laboratories across the country, including in universities and commercial labs to facilitate the effort.
“We’re quickly infusing targeted resources because the timing is critical when it comes to these fast-moving variants,” she said.
According to the factsheet, some $200m will go towards identifying, tracking, and mitigating emerging strains of coronavirus through genome sequencing.
“Genomic sequencing testing is how we will spot variants early before they spread,” Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said during the news briefing, “so we need to make a significant investment and ramp up testing across the country.”
On Wednesday, officials also announced that the nation is now vaccinating on average 1.7 million Americans per day, up from less than one million a month ago.
New figures from the White House show a steady increase in the pace of vaccinations during President Joe Biden’s first month in office.
Much of the increase, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, comes from people receiving their second dose of the approved vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.
The pace of first dose vaccinations has been largely steady over the past several weeks, hovering around an average of 900,000 shots per day.
Biden is on track to surpass his goal of 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office – though the pace must pick up even further to meet his plans to vaccinate nearly all adults by the end of the summer.