The Biden administration will invest $7.4 billion to recruit and hire public health workers to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for future public health challenges, the White House announced Thursday.
The funding includes $4.4 billion to expand public health staffing for the Covid-19 response and support vaccination outreach, contact tracing and outbreak investigations.
It will also invest $3 billion to prepare for future pandemics and create a new program to modernize the public health workforce.
The funds, allocated from the American Rescue Plan, will support the hiring of additional school nurses to help schools reopen safely following the authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for adolescents ages 12-15.
“The funding announced today will allow the United States to expand its public health workforce, creating tens of thousands of jobs to support vaccinations, testing, contact tracing, and community outreach, and strengthen America’s future public health infrastructure,” the White House said in a fact sheet.
The announcement comes as more than 117.6 million people are fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as the Biden administration races to get the remaining portion of the population their shots.
Nearly 59% of adults in America have had at least one Covid-19 vaccination, but some Americans are still hesitant about, or resistant to, getting the shot.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents makes another 5% of the American population eligible for vaccines.
The administration is also looking toward the future and will use part of the funds announced on Thursday to launch the Public Health AmeriCorps to recruit and build out a new workforce to respond to the country’s future public health needs.
The CDC will increase funding for programs like the Epidemic Intelligence Service, a public health workforce that responds to local outbreaks, the Undergraduate Public Health Scholars Program and a fellowship that offers students from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to study infectious diseases and health disparities.
The federal health agency will use the funds to expand existing public health laboratory fellowship programs for laboratory science graduates and also implement a new public health internship program to allow undergraduate students to gain experience in public health laboratory settings.
The CDC will also create a new grant program to provide health departments that do not have sufficient resources with support so they can hire staff and allow those who were hired for the Covid-19 pandemic to continue their careers as public health professionals.
Key public health leaders, including former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, have said that it is imperative the US and other nations invest in public health infrastructure.
“The sad truth is that pandemics even deadlier than Covid could happen at any point in the future. Failure is an option, but success is possible. We must work together as a world and invest the financial and political capital, supported by technical expertise and effective global, regional, and national institutions, to make sure we are never again caught so unprepared,” Frieden said in a recent op-ed.