US sees risk of Covid supply rationing without more funding

WASHINGTON: The White House is planning “serious” contingencies that could include rationing supplies of vaccines and treatments this fall if Congress doesn’t approve more money to fight COVID-19.
In public comments and private meetings on Capitol Hill, Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, painted a dark picture in which the United States could be forced to relinquish many of the gains made against the coronavirus in the past two years. years and even the most vulnerable could face supply shortages.
Officials in the Biden administration have been warning for weeks that the country has spent almost all of the money on the $1.9 trillion American Bailout Plan that was directly dedicated to the COVID-19 response.
A small amount of money remains, and management faces critical decisions about how to spend it. That means tough decisions, such as weighing whether to use it to secure the next generation of vaccines to protect most-at-risk populations or to prioritize a supply of highly effective therapies that dramatically reduce the risks of severe illness and death.
That decision may be made as early as next week, according to the administration, as the White House faces looming deadlines to start placing orders for vaccines and treatments before other nations get ahead of the US in access to supply.
Jha has warned that without more money, vaccines will be harder to come by, testing will be scarce again, and therapies that are helping the country weather the current omicron-driven surge in cases without a proportional increase in deaths could be sold on the market. Foreign. before Americans can access them.
“I think we would see a lot of unnecessary loss of life if that happened,” Jha said last week. “But we are looking at all the scenarios and planning for all of them.”
He said the administration was “getting a lot more into the business of scenario planning to make sure we know what’s in store for us so we can plan for it and obviously get them in front of Congress as well.”
Jha, who declined to make a specific projection about the potential loss of life, has become the face of the Biden administration’s efforts to persuade Congress to approve an additional $22.5 billion for the COVID-19 response.
“The scenarios that we’re planning are for things like Congress doesn’t give us money and we don’t have the right vaccines,” Jha told the AP in an interview on May 12. “We’re out of therapies. We don’t have enough evidence. What would things look like? Obviously, that’s a pretty serious situation.”
The national production of home tests is already slowing down and workers are beginning to be laid off. In the coming weeks, Jha said, manufacturers will sell equipment and “get out of this business,” leaving the US once again dependent on foreign suppliers for rapid testing.
Meanwhile, drugmakers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are working on evaluating the next generation of vaccines, which could include vaccines targeting the dominant omicron strain. But preparing them ahead of the projected fall spike in cases means placing orders now, as they take two to three months to produce.
Jha said this week that the United States has not yet started negotiations with drugmakers due to lack of money.
“We’ve had some very preliminary discussions with manufacturers,” he said. “But negotiations on this have not yet started, in part because we are waiting for resources.” He added: “The truth is that other countries are in talks with the manufacturers and they are starting to move forward in their negotiations.”
The United States, he said, doesn’t have enough money to buy extra booster shots for anyone who wants one. Instead, supplies of those vaccines may be restricted to only the most vulnerable, not unlike the chaotic early days of the COVID-10 vaccine rollout.
“Without additional funding from Congress, we won’t be able to buy enough vaccine for every American who wants one once this new generation of vaccines comes out in the fall and winter,” he said.
And while the US has built up a stockpile of the antiviral pill Paxlovid, which has been highly effective in reducing serious illness and death, it is running out of money to buy new doses or other even more effective therapies found on the streets. final stages. developmental.
“If we don’t get more resources from Congress, what we will find in the fall and winter is that we will find a period of time where Americans can look around and see their friends in other countries, in Europe and Canada, with access to these treatments that Americans won’t have,” Jha said.
A congressional deal for a scaled-down COVID-19 response package of about $10 billion fell through in March over plans by the Biden administration to lift virus-related migration restrictions at US borders. A federal judge on Friday put that plan on hold, just days before it was to go into effect Monday.
There is no guarantee of swift action on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have grown increasingly wary of deficit spending. On Thursday, a $40 billion measure to help restaurants that struggled during the pandemic failed for that reason. Republican lawmakers have also opposed additional funding for the global pandemic response, calling for any new virus response funding to come from unspent economic aid money in the $1.9 trillion rescue plan.
The administration is preparing to blame lawmakers if there are harsh consequences this fall due to lack of money. Still, it could be dangerous for Biden, who has struggled to deliver on his promise to voters to bring the pandemic under control.

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