US Covid response threatened by lack of funding, White House says

Covid-19 treatments, additional vaccine doses and testing could run out if Congress doesn't approve new funds

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the administration's response to Covid-19 in the White House in Washington. Reuters
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The US government is cancelling a planned order of monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19 infections and said that the country could eventually run short of vaccines because of a lack of funding.

The White House made the announcement on Tuesday as it renews calls for Congress to authorise a fresh round of funding for the government’s Covid-19 response.

Weeks of effort have fallen flat, leaving the administration to begin to claw back shipments and warn they may soon end.

The funding is needed for new orders of treatments, to ensure fourth doses of vaccines are available for all Americans if needed and to continue to test and treat people at home and abroad, officials said on a Tuesday briefing call, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The administration’s warning comes as it presses for more money after its request for $22.5 billion failed to be included in an omnibus funding package. Republicans were seeking offsets for about $15.6bn in new Covid funding and Democrats balked at those demands.

The White House is still seeking $22.5bn, the officials said.

The flow of monoclonal antibodies will run dry in May without new funding this month and the supply of a pre-exposure treatment for immunocompromised people will run out in July, administration officials have said in a series of briefings and letters to Congress.

In the Tuesday call, the officials said a planned order of hundreds of thousands of courses of monoclonal treatments is being cancelled because the necessary funding is not available. The administration has so far ordered enough of Pfizer's antiviral pill, Paxlovid, for 20 million people.

The US will also need new funding in the event that a fourth dose or a variant-specific vaccine is needed, the officials said.

As of now, they haven’t ordered enough to allow for all people to receive a fourth shot if needed. The US needs to place orders now to ensure arrival in the coming months.

The lack of additional funding will also hobble efforts to vaccinate the world, the officials said — and thereby reduce the chance a new variant will arise and eventually hit the US. It would impede development of new treatments and drugs, including antiviral treatments that require people to take fewer pills.

Test production will also slow in the summer without new funding, the officials said, raising the risk of a repeat of 2021, when production slowed in the summer amid lower case counts, leading to test shortages during the fall and winter surge.

Since January, the administration has briefed Congress at least three dozen times on the approaching cliffs in supply, one official familiar with the process said. The White House has also written repeatedly, providing tables and figures detailing the need, the official added.

A fund for testing, treating and vaccinating the uninsured will be scaled back this month and ended completely in April. The White House has also said that the federal supply of antiviral pills will be exhausted by September.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 10:53 PM
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