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With Covid funding stalled, White House prepares for vaccine shortage in the fall

The federal government would need to secure a new vaccine contract in the coming weeks to ensure enough supply for the entire country, an administration official said Monday.
A vial of Covid-19 vaccine is prepared
A Covid-19 vaccine is prepared for administration in Los Angeles on Jan. 7.Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images file

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 new versions of vaccines the companies are developing for the fall. The government would need to secure contracts for those vaccine doses in the coming weeks if it is to ensure enough supply for the entire country, a senior administration official said Monday on a call with reporters. 

The official projected that without new funding, the U.S. will be able to make vaccines available to only the highest-risk people this fall, with the administration looking for spending cuts that would free up enough money to start the 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 going to 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 the winter as immunity wanes and the coronavirus is expected to continue mutating, the official said. To blunt the effects of the increase, the White House has been urging Congress for months to approve additional funding for new vaccines and 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 stalemate for months over how much additional money for Covid should be provided and under what terms. 

The government has already canceled plans to purchase additional monoclonal antibody treatments, and it has 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 people with Covid.

With no further guarantee from the U.S. to purchase additional Covid tests, several domestic testing manufactures have 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."