The White House on Wednesday said it would have to repurpose federal Covid-19 funds meant for coronavirus tests and protective equipment in order to supply more antiviral pills and vaccines, after so far failing to persuade Congress to pass a new pandemic relief package.
Roughly $10 billion from Department of Health and Human Services funds will be rerouted, around half of it to purchase vaccines for Americans ahead of a possible fall or winter wave of virus cases, when an updated shot may be needed, according to one White House official. The other half will go mostly to purchasing 10 million courses of Paxlovid, the antiviral treatment made by Pfizer that has been shown to substantially reduce the severity of Covid-19 in high-risk people, the official said. Around $300 million will be spent on monoclonal antibody treatments.
The total amount needed for a new vaccination campaign later this year is still unknown because contract negotiations are ongoing, the White House official added.
The Biden administration has warned for months that without congressional action, it could have to unwind or sacrifice key pieces of the pandemic response, even as the United States has been averaging about 100,000 new confirmed cases a day and some federal officials predict another crushing wave later this year.
At a briefing in May, a senior administration official told reporters that the administration would potentially use funds for testing and treatments to develop a modest fall vaccination program that would cover only older Americans and people with immune deficiencies.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday morning the plan to repurpose the funds.
The amount being diverted is roughly what lawmakers had discussed in recent Senate negotiations. The White House asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency pandemic aid, but Republicans insisted on less than half that figure — $10 billion — and stripped $5 billion in global aid from the request.
The White House on Wednesday circulated a list of compromises it said the federal government would have to make because of the need to repurpose money. The health and human services department will not be able to buy as many at-home virus tests or support test manufacturing, leaving the United States dependent on tests from foreign countries, it said. Hundreds of jobs will be lost at companies that produce test and protective equipment.
The health and human services department will also not be able to maintain adequate stockpiles of protective gear for frontline health workers, expand domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity or invest in research for and development of newer vaccines, including so-called pancoronavirus vaccines, which could work even against variants that have yet to emerge, the White House added.