US to record 1m Covid deaths as concerns grow over pandemic funding

Biden to seek to re-intensify global vaccination programme at summit

In the coming days the United States will record that one million people across the country have died as a result of contracting Covid-19.

The milestone will be passed as the Biden administration warns that there could be another major surge of Covid-19 in the autumn and winter, which could affect up to 100 million people.

There is also growing concern in the White House that the fight against Covid in the US is running out of money.

President Joe Biden had sought to overcome opposition among some Republicans in Congress to allocating more funding to the battle against Covid by linking this with the provision of additional money to assist Ukraine in resisting the Russian invasion.

Earlier this week, however, he was forced to drop this plan amid fears that it could lead to delays in sending more weapons shipments to Kyiv, leaving the Covid funding issue in limbo for now.

The White House is hosting a global summit on Covid this week and there are worries in some quarters that the rows domestically over future funding may undermine the attempts by the US to urge other countries to continue to invest in vaccination programmes in less developed countries.

Biden has committed to the US providing 1.2 billion doses of Covid vaccines. It has already provided more than 530 million to 115 countries – which it maintains is over four times more than the next most generous vaccine donor.

The summit on Thursday is expected to hear acknowledgements that more needs to be done to intensify the global vaccination programme to reduce the risk of new variants emerging, to improve testing and treatments for those most at risk, and to prepare for future pandemics.

Domestically, there is growing concern in the Biden administration and among some doctors over what they perceive as a lack of urgency on the part of Congress – which controls the purse strings under the American constitution – in taking action as funding for Covid -19 measures run out.

Dwindling funds

Politicians on Capitol Hill have been arguing for weeks over requests from the White House for it to authorise more money.

Biden initially wanted $22.5 billion (€21.3 billion) in additional Covid funding, which was later whittled down to $15 billion. Republicans said the money should be drawn from unused resources in earlier pandemic relief measures as opposed to new expenditure.

A revolt by Democrats over plans to take money originally earmarked for state and local government across the country saw the funds removed from an overall $1.5 trillion spending bill.

The Covid funding was further reduced to about $10 billion in political horsetrading before the issue was effectively suspended until after a congressional recess, when Republicans sought to link authorisation of the money to the continuation of special Covid measures to restrict immigration into the US which the administration wanted to lift.

The Biden administration's overall plan to return the country to relative normality after the pandemic was based around the widespread availability of testing, vaccination and new drugs, such as the oral anti-viral drug Paxlovid made by Pfizer which has been shown to significantly reduce hospitalisation and deaths.

It has been sounding the alarm bell for weeks that dwindling funds will threaten these arrangements.

The administration has money to pay for about 20 million of the Paxlovid drugs but is concerned about having the resources to access further supplies.

It is also worried that it may not have the funding to secure sufficient booster vaccinations for Americans if there is another surge of Covid cases in the autumn and winter.

‘More money’

The White House said this week that it did not want “to sugarcoat” the problem.

“We need more money. We don’t have a plan B here. We will use the few funds we have remaining to continue getting tests, treatments and vaccines out to Americans for as long as we can.”

It said the administration would continue to push congress about the provision of additional money.

“Because we’re going to exhaust our treatment supply, we’ll lose out to other countries on promising new treatments, we’ll lose our place in line for America to order new Covid vaccines, we’ll be unable to maintain our supply of Covid tests, and our effort to help lower-income countries get Covid vaccines into arms will stall, which is especially relevant given the international summit we’re hosting.

“So we will use the remaining funds we have to kind of spread it as we can, but we need more money in order to continue to effectively run the programmes we’ve been running to date,” the White House told a media briefing.

The administration is also fearful that new Omicron sub-variants could drive another wave of Covid that could lead to up to 100 million people in the US being infected later this year.

Administration officials last week forecast an autumn and winter wave as a scenario based on a range of outside models of the pandemic.

These estimates appeared to be based on the emergence of new variants, waning protection from existing vaccination and more relaxed public behaviour.

Covid-19 has already taken a terrible toll on American lives. As of earlier this week more than 997,000 people had died and over 82 million cases had been reported since the pandemic began in spring 2020.