Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that her first bill in the new Congress will be her Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act in order to aid the country’s lagging vaccine distribution campaign. While the Trump administration promised to vaccinate at least 20 million people by the end of December, roughly 4.2 million Americans have received their first dose. In New York State, only a third of available doses have been given so far. Federal aid is urgently needed to assist state and local health departments and providers who are already overburdened by mass testing and contact tracing efforts and a deadly holiday surge in COVID-19 cases. The Health Force, Resilience Force, and Jobs to Fight COVID-19 Act (Health Force), championed by Senator Gillibrand and U.S Senators Michael Bennet, Brian Schatz, Ed Markey, and Chris Van Hollen last year, would invest billions in local public health infrastructure and recruit, train and employ hundreds of thousands of Americans to administer and distribute vaccines, particularly in underserved communities.
“New York’s health systems are stretched to the limits and as the virus surges across the state, federal support is necessary to effectively distribute and administer vaccines,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Implementing my Health Force proposal is a critical step for the new Congress, and new administration, to combat this pandemic. By enacting a robust federal plan we will be able to train hundreds of thousands of public health workers, create jobs in struggling communities, and ensure that every community has the resources to reach every American in need of the vaccine. Every day without a Health Force is another day that we’re falling behind. I will continue fighting for the creation and implementation of this life saving program.”
Community-based public health jobs and resources, like those created by the Health Force, are known to improve local vaccine education, outreach, and vaccination rates. The Trump administration has repeatedly failed to adequately address the pandemic, including preparing for the vaccine rollout. The Health Force proposal would ensure the federal government has a proactive and coordinated approach to vaccine distribution and administration. The coronavirus response package passed in December only included $9 billion to aid vaccination costs. Health Force would deliver $40 billion a year, for the first two years, to meet the COVID-19 vaccine distribution needs and address the various public health challenges caused by the pandemic.
Health Force is inspired by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, which similarly tapped thousands of job seekers to help the nation recover from a sharp economic downturn. Health Force will train Americans, equip them with basic public health skills, and employ them in their home communities to expand the public health workforce and meet local needs. By providing federal funding to State, local, territorial, and Tribal public health departments, and their partners across the country, Health Force will ensure that every community is positioned to meet its most pressing needs. Health Force could be responsible for:
- Supporting the administration of diagnostic, serologic, or other COVID–19 tests;
- Supporting COVID-19 vaccination campaigns;
- Addressing social, economic, behavioral and preventive health needs for individuals affected by COVID-19, including those who are asked to voluntarily isolate or quarantine in their homes.
- Sharing public health messages with community members;
- Helping community members address social, economic, behavioral health, and preventive health needs beyond those created by the pandemic, using evidence-informed models and in accordance with recognized standards;
- Providing community-based information to local and tribal health departments to inform and improve health programming, especially for hard-to-reach communities.