US sees risk of COVID supply rationing without more funds

WASHINGTON (AP) – The White House is planning for “catastrophic” cases that could include allocating supplies of vaccines and treatments this fall if Congress fails to pass more money to combat the virus. back to 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 make many concessions. progress against the coronavirus over the past two years and even the most vulnerable could face supply shortages.

Biden administration officials have been warning for weeks that the country has spent nearly all of the money on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which is dedicated directly to the COVID-19 response. .

A small amount of money remains, and the administration is faced with important decisions about how to spend it. That means making tough decisions, such as weighing whether it should be used to ensure the next generation of vaccine protects the most at-risk populations or prioritizing supply. provide highly effective therapies that significantly reduce the risk of serious illness and death.

That decision could be made within the next week, according to the administration, as the White House faces an impending deadline to start ordering vaccines and treatments before other countries get ahead of the US in the process. supply access.

Jha has warned that without more money, vaccines will be harder to get, tests will once again be scarce and therapies are helping the country weather the current omicron-induced surge in cases. no commensurate increase in deaths could be sold abroad before Americans could access them.

“I think we will see a lot of unnecessary loss of life if that happens,” Jha said last week. “But we are looking at all the scenarios and planning for all of them.”

He said the administration is “getting more involved in the scenario planning work to make sure that we know what could be ahead so we can plan for it and also clearly put forward that before Congress.”

Jha, who declined to give a specific forecast of the possibility of death, has become the face of the Biden administration’s effort to convince Congress to approve an additional $22.5 billion for the COVID-19 response- 19.

Jha told the AP in a May 12 interview: “The scenarios we’re planning for are things like if Congress doesn’t give us the money and we don’t have an adequate vaccine. “We are out of therapy. We don’t have enough testing. What might things look like? Obviously, it’s a pretty dire situation.”

At the moment, test production at home in the country is slowing down, with workers starting to be laid off. In the coming weeks, Jha said, manufacturers will sell off equipment and “quit this business,” leaving the US once again dependent on overseas suppliers for quick testing.

Meanwhile, drugmakers and the Food and Drug Administration are working to evaluate the next generation of vaccines, potentially including those that target the omicron-dominant strain. But getting them ready before the fall is predicted to mean ordering them now, as they take two to three months to produce.

Jha this week said the US has yet to begin negotiations with drug manufacturers because of a lack of funds.

“We’ve had some preliminary conversations with the producers,” he said. “But negotiations around it have not yet begun, in part because we are waiting for resources.” “The truth is that other countries are talking to manufacturers and starting to move forward with their negotiations,” he added.

The US does not have enough money to buy more booster vaccines for anyone who wants to get vaccinated, he said. Instead, supplies of those vaccines may be restricted to only the most vulnerable — unlike the chaotic early days of the COVID-10 vaccine rollout.

“Without more funding from Congress, we won’t be able to buy enough vaccine for every American who wants it once this new generation of vaccine is out in the fall and winter,” he said.

And while the US has built a stockpile of the antiviral drug Paxlovid, widely effective in reducing severe illness and death, it is running out of money to buy new doses – or other therapies, even even more effective is in its final stages. of development.

“If we don’t get more resources from Congress, what we’re going to find in the fall and winter is we’re going to find a period of time where Americans can look around and see you.” their friends in other countries – in Europe and Canada – with access Jha said.

A congressional deal on a roughly $10 billion COVID-19 response package was cut in March due to the Biden administration’s plan to lift virus-related restrictions on movement. residing at the US border. But a federal judge on Friday adjourned that plan, just days before it went into effect on Monday.

There’s no guarantee of swift action on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers – especially Republicans – have become a new wary of deficit spending. On Thursday, a $40 billion measure to support restaurants struggling during the pandemic failed for those reasons. GOP lawmakers have also objected to additional funding for the global pandemic response and called for any funding for the new virus response to come from unused economic relief money in the rescue plan. grants $1.9 trillion.

The administration is preparing to blame lawmakers if there are dire consequences this fall due to a lack of funds. Still, that could be dangerous for Biden, who has struggled to deliver on his promise to voters to bring the pandemic under control. US sees risk of COVID supply rationing without more funds

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