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Senators push for long COVID research boost

May 14, 2024
Illustration of a child looking at a giant covid virus casting a long shadow

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A group of Democratic senators backed by patient advocacy groups is pushing for over $1 billion in new spending for long COVID research in the next government funding package.

Why it matters: There are 17 million people in the U.S. who report having long COVID, per KFF, many of whom face limitations on their daily activities.

  • But there are multiple biological mechanisms thought to be driving a range of lingering symptoms and still no FDA-approved treatments.

Driving the news: Sens. Ed Markey, Tim Kaine and Tammy Duckworth are calling for $1 billion for NIH and $200 million for ARPA-H for long COVID research.

  • They are backed by patient groups like Long COVID Moonshot, who are trying to mobilize patients with long COVID to contact Congress in support of the request.

What they're saying: "Some long COVID patients are no longer able to participate in their family life, communities, schools and workplaces like they once did," Markey said in a statement.

  • "Critical and sustained investments in health infrastructure, research, provider training, and patient support for years to come is essential if we are going to confront long COVID as aggressively as we did COVID-19."

Reality check: As the FY25 appropriations process gets underway, spending caps are creating a tough environment for major spending increases.

  • Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray said in a statement to Axios she is "going to keep pushing for essential research funds to help treat, cure, and prevent long COVID."
  • She noted, though, that "we are working with extremely tight funding caps that I have never supported — but it is essential we continue to pursue breakthroughs to help patients struggling with long COVID."
  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin, chair of the health appropriations subcommittee, said she is "working closely with colleagues and stakeholders to support the NIH."
  • Spokespeople for Sens. Susan Collins and Shelley Moore Capito, the relevant top Republicans, declined to comment.

The big picture: Senate HELP Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders also last month released a draft bill to address long COVID that would provide $1 billion per year for 10 years in mandatory NIH funding and take steps to better coordinate research.

  • It will be hard enough to pass a funding bump through the regular appropriations process, let alone enact a standalone stream of new mandatory funding, which tends to draw concern from debt-conscious Republicans.
  • "In my view, the time is long overdue for Congress to treat long COVID as the public health emergency that it is," Sanders said in a statement at the time.
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