WASHINGTON — The White House is looking for ways to make additional cuts and reallocate remaining Covid resources as it anticipates a funding shortfall for new vaccines ahead of another winter surge.
With the request for additional Covid funding stalled in Congress, the federal government doesn’t have enough money to begin contract negotiations with Pfizer and Moderna for a new version of vaccines the companies are developing for the fall. The government would need to secure a contract for those vaccine doses in the coming weeks if it is to ensure enough supply for the entire country, a senior administration official said on a call with reporters on Monday.
But without new funding to do so, the official anticipates the U.S. will only be able to make vaccines available to the highest-risk individuals this fall, with the administration currently looking for spending cuts that would free up enough money to start that contract negotiation process.
“We’re looking at everything, and we’re looking to see what can we scrape together to at least begin that contract negotiation so we can at least get going on this,” the official said. “But without additional funding, there is no chance that we’re gonna have vaccines for all Americans, and we’ll have to make some very difficult choices about cutting back other areas such as therapeutics and testing.”
Projections by public health officials inside and outside the administration suggest the country is likely to experience another surge in cases in the fall and winter as immunity wanes and the virus is expected to continue mutating, the official said. To blunt the effects of that increase, the White House has been urging Congress for months to approve additional funding for new vaccines, treatments and to keep up domestic testing manufacturing.
“There is broad consensus that unless we do certain things, we will see a sizable wave of infections this fall in winter,” the official said. “What are those things? I think we’ve got to run a full vaccination campaign that vaccinates and boosts people so they get up to date with the next generation of vaccines, and we’ve got to have plenty of tests around.”
The White House requested $22.5 billion for Covid funding from Congress in March as part of a wider spending bill. But the Covid money was removed after pushback from House members who said they wanted more transparency about how the money already appropriated had been spent.
Since then, Democrats and Republicans have been in a months-long stalemate over how much additional money for Covid should be provided, and under what terms.
The federal government has already canceled plans to purchase additional monoclonal antibody treatments and predicted that the country’s supply of monoclonal antibody treatments will run out as soon as late May.
The federal government is also winding down a program that reimburses doctors and other medical providers for caring for uninsured individuals with Covid.
With no further guarantee from the U.S. to purchase additional Covid tests, several domestic testing manufactures have already started scaling back production. That could leave the U.S. dependent on buying tests from China should there be another surge in demand.
“As you might imagine, this is painful,” the official said. “We’re looking at basically everything, all the commitments we have, where can we cut back.”