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White House broadens initiative to address long COVID-19

Becerra to lead interagency effort

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has been tasked to lead the interagency look at long-term COVID-19 effects.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has been tasked to lead the interagency look at long-term COVID-19 effects. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled a plan to increase awareness and response to the long-term effects of COVID-19, directing Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to helm an interagency effort to coordinate research and support for long-term patients.

The initiative builds on a series of steps taken by the administration, including the RECOVER Initiative, a wide-ranging, $1.15 billion National Institutes of Health study launched last year.

The presidential memorandum directs HHS to coordinate a broad range of educational efforts aimed at boosting research, tracking and coverage of long COVID-19 patients. 

“We see you, we are focused on you and we’re committed to advancing our nation’s capacity to understand and treat your conditions,” Becerra said during a press briefing.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients also announced Tuesday that the U.S. would be donating “100 million or more” of Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, as part of its pledge to donate 1.2 billion doses to other countries.

Zients also indicated that a current surplus of available adult doses in countries with waning interest prompted them to answer requests from around 20 countries for pediatric vaccines.

“So we are now able to help lead the world in vaccinating both adults and children in those countries that are in need,” he said.

An estimated 7.7 million to 23 million individuals suffer from long COVID-19, with symptoms that include extreme fatigue, heart and breathing problems, brain fog, or loss of sense and smell. 

The memo also focuses on rural and minority populations. Initiatives include incorporating more multilingual translators into helplines run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services while increasing cultural competency educational resources provided by agencies such as CMS and the Indian Health Service. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will study the mental effects that long-term symptoms can cause and promote mental health resources for individuals suffering from long COVID-19.

The Labor Department is also expanding an early intervention pilot program to aid workers experiencing injuries or illnesses like long COVID-19. HHS and the Justice Department have already released guidance on how some long COVID-19 patients are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality plans to use $20 million included in the president’s fiscal 2023 budget request to help launch centers of excellence on long COVID-19 and update clinical guidance for better treatments, should Congress appropriate the funds.

Lawmakers are still working on a $10 billion agreement to reprogram previously appropriated funds toward more COVID-19 activities, although the deal does not contain explicit funding for long COVID-19.  

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