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White House to cut funding for Covid testing to purchase vaccines for fall

A White House official said the administration is being forced to “cut corners” and make “unacceptable tradeoffs” because of a lack of funds from Congress.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden looks on as members of the news media ask questions during a Covid-19 Response Team meeting in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on Jan. 13.Demetrius Freeman / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — After failing to get additional Covid funding from Congress, the White House will divert more than $10 billion it had planned to spend on testing and personal protective equipment to buy new vaccines and treatments it anticipates needing this fall.

The redirected funds will enable the U.S. to start contract negotiations with vaccine-makers to order new shots for the fall, including next-generation vaccines the companies are in the process of developing, a White House official said in a statement.

But even with the redirected funds, the U.S. still won’t have enough money to purchase vaccines for every American who wants one, the official said.

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 money already appropriated had been spent.

Since then, Democrats and Republicans have been in a stalemate for months over how much additional money for Covid should be provided and under what terms. As a result, the White House official said the administration is being forced to “cut corners” and make “unacceptable tradeoffs.”

“The Administration has to act because Congress won’t,” the official said in the statement. “These trade-offs we are being forced to make because of Congress will have serious consequences on the development of next-generation vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, domestic vaccine production capacity, stockpiling of PPE and the procurement of tests and testing supplies for federally qualified and community health centers.”

The Associated Press first reported the funding move.

As part of the planned cuts to existing programs, the administration will limit the purchase of at-home tests going forward, potentially leading manufacturers to scale back their operations when consumer demand wanes during periods of relatively low transmission.

“This loss of domestic manufacturing capability of COVID-19 tests will also leave us largely dependent during future surges on tests from foreign nations,” the official said.

The U.S. will also halt plans to expand domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity and investments in research into new Covid vaccines, treatments and tests.

In addition, it will have “limited capacity” to sustain the U.S. stockpile of personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies needed to respond to another surge.

The government has already canceled plans to purchase additional monoclonal antibody treatments and has been winding down a program that reimburses doctors and other medical providers for caring for uninsured people with Covid due to lack of additional funding.

White House officials have been warning for weeks that the government would need to start contract negotiations with Pfizer and Moderna this month in order to secure contracts for a new version of the vaccine those companies are developing.

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 the winter as immunity wanes and the coronavirus is expected to continue mutating.