Pandemic funding in US under threat as Covid picture darkens

America Letter: As cases threaten to rise, release of funds falls prey to partisan politics

For the first phase of the Covid -19 pandemic the concern among governments and doctors worldwide was that no vaccine or treatment was available to counter the virus. The arrival of the various vaccinations and new drugs changed the dynamic.

However, in the US, there are now fears being raised about a new problem: a lack of funding. The federal government warns it may soon run out of money to tackle Covid-19 even as cases are once again beginning to rise in some parts of Europe. Public health experts are concerned that this situation could be replicated in the US in the weeks ahead, especially as many mask and vaccination requirements have now been dropped.

The US has spent trillions of dollars since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, and Republicans are demanding transparency over how that money was spent

Essentially the White House had initially sought $22.5 billion (€20.4 billion) in additional Covid-19 funding to allow a range of programmes to continue, including testing and the purchase of vaccines as part of wider spending legislation.

However, this ran into political objections on Capitol Hill and ultimately the money for the pandemic was removed from a Bill by the House of Representatives.

Democrats have introduced a separate Covid relief Bill but it may not have sufficient support to be adopted by the Senate.

The US has spent trillions of dollars since the onset of the pandemic two years ago, and Republicans are demanding transparency over how that money was spent. They are also seeking that additional funding requirements come about by redirecting money originally earmarked for other purposes within the federal government.

Not convinced

The top Republican on the Senate appropriations committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama, said he was not yet convinced of the need for the additional funding sought by the White House but that he did not know for sure.

"So I'm open-minded on that. But I'd like to see – and I've said this – we need a real accounting for the money." He said if money was "not hidden" and a need was demonstrated, Congress could revisit it.

However, the White House is convinced the additional money is necessary and has warned of the consequences if it does not materialise.

Biden administration officials warned this week that “the funding for tests, treatments and vaccines was drying up”.

“Without additional funding, we do not have the adequate resources to purchase enough booster shots for all Americans if an additional shot is needed,” officials said.

The federal government is also now planning to cancel plans to purchase additional monoclonal antibody treatments

Only this week pharma company Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, filed for emergency authorisation in the United States of a second booster shot of their Covid -19 vaccine for people aged 65 and older as part of a bid to boost waning immunity that occurs several months after the first booster.

Separately, the federal government is also now planning to cancel plans to purchase additional monoclonal antibody treatments that it had expected to order as soon as next week.

The government also told governors in states across the country that it would also need to cut the number of monoclonal antibody treatments sent to them by 30 per cent starting next week.

“Even with these cuts, we anticipate that our supply of monoclonal antibody treatments will run out as soon as late May,” officials said.

Running out

Officials also warned that in the absence of funding, the federal government would have to scale back on the planned further purchase of the preventative treatments for immunocompromised Americans such as AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, of which about 1.7 million doses have been already bought.

“So, we’ll likely run out of treatments for our most vulnerable Americans by the end of the year, if not sooner.”

“The bottom line on treatments is this: without additional funding soon, thousands of patients could lose access to treatments, and these companies will have little incentive to continue investing in the development and manufacturing of these treatments.”

The Biden administration had planned to move to a “living with Covid” strategy that would facilitate Americans resuming more or less normal lives after two years of restrictions of one sort or another.

This was based around testing, vaccines and new drug treatments.

However, the plan was predicated on additional funding being made available.

Politicians on Capitol Hill and officials in the White House have been working in recent days to find some form of arrangement to keep the Covid money flowing.

However, the administration knows if Covid returns and there is another surge in cases, its political opponents will forget about the row over funding and it will be blamed for the consequences.