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COVID-19 treatment and vaccines will be in short supply without new funds, White House warns

March 15, 2022, 4:30 PM UTC

The U.S. government says it’s cancelling a planned order of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 infections and warned that the country could eventually run short of vaccines because of a lack of funding.

The White House made the announcement Tuesday as it renews calls for Congress to authorize 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 briefing call Tuesday, 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 some $15.6 billion in new COVID funding, and Democrats balked at those demands. The White House is still seeking $22.5 billion, 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 warned in a series of briefings and letters to lawmakers.

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

The U.S. will also need new funding in the event that Americans need a fourth dose or a variant-specific vaccine, the officials said. As of now, they haven’t ordered enough to allow for all people to get a fourth shot if needed. The U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

The administration has regularly briefed Congress on the approaching cliffs in supply. Since January, officials including the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, briefed Congressional figures more than three dozen times, one official familiar with the process said. The White House has also written repeatedly, providing tables and figures detailing the need, the official said.

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 anti-viral pills, given to people who have the virus, will be exhausted by September.

U.S. COVID cases have plunged from highs seen in January, and new hospitalizations are down 89% from highs set that month, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. However, wastewater monitoring data hints that cases are now rising again, though the milder nature of the Omicron variant has led officials to shift away from case totals as a chief measure of severity.

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