By ZEKE MILLER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — For much of the past two years, America has been on the front lines for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Now, as drugmakers develop the next generation of therapies, the White House is warning that if Congress doesn’t act urgently, the United States will have to take a number.
Already, Congress’ gridlock over virus funding has forced the federal government to restrict free treatment for the uninsured and ration the supply of monoclonal antibodies. And Biden administration officials are expressing growing concern that the United States is also losing critical opportunities to secure booster doses and new antiviral pills that could help the country maintain its resurgent sense of normalcy, even in the face of potential new variants and spikes in cases.
Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong have all placed orders for treatments and vaccine doses that the United States cannot yet commit to, according to the White House.
Months ago, the White House began warning that the country had spent $1.9 trillion US bailout money that was directly dedicated to the COVID-19 response. He asked for an additional $22.5 billion for what he called “urgent” needs in the United States and abroad.
Last month, the Senate struck a small $10 billion package focused on national needs. But even that deal fell apart as lawmakers opposed an announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it would end Trump-era border restrictions linked to the pandemic.
This week, the White House is pushing doctors to become less stingy about prescribing the antiviral pill Paxlovid, which was initially rationed for those most at risk of serious consequences from COVID-19 but is now more widely available. An order for 20 million doses placed by the government last year helped boost manufacturing capacity.
Paxlovid, when given within five days of the onset of symptoms, has been shown to result in an approximately 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths in patients most at risk of serious illness. Some 314 Americans are now dying from the coronavirus each day, up from more than 2,600 at the height of the omicron wave earlier this year.
The United States used similar advance purchase agreements to boost domestic supply and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, through what was known in the Trump administration as “Operation Warp Speed.”
Today, with a new generation of treatments on the horizon, the United States is falling behind.
Japan has already placed an initial order for drugmaker Shionogi’s upcoming COVID-19 antiviral pill, which studies have shown is at least as effective as Pfizer’s treatment and has fewer drug interactions. and is easier to administer.
Due to funding delays, officials say, the United States has yet to place an advance order, which would help the company scale up manufacturing to produce the pill widely.
“We know that companies are working on additional, life-saving treatments that show promise that could protect the American people, and without additional congressional funding, we risk losing access to these treatments, as well as tests and vaccines, while other countries are getting ahead of us online,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said. “Congress must act urgently upon the return of recess to provide the funding necessary to secure new treatments for the American people and to avert this dangerous outcome.”
The long lead times for manufacturing antiviral and antibody treatments further complicate matters. Paxlovid takes about six months to produce, and monoclonal antibody treatments used to treat COVID-19 and prevent serious illness in the immunocompromised take just as long, meaning the United States is running out of time to replenish its stock before the end of the year.
Last month, the White House began cutting shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments to states to make supplies last longer.
Administration officials declined to discuss the specific treatments they are barred from ordering due to contractual requirements.
The funding debate is also delaying U.S. purchases of COVID-19 vaccine booster doses, including a new generation of upcoming vaccines that may better protect against the omicron variant.
Both Moderna and Pfizer are testing what scientists call “bivalent” vaccines — a mix of each company’s original vaccine and an omicron-targeted version — with Moderna announcing last week that it hopes to have its version ready this fall.
The Biden administration has said that whether the United States has enough doses of vaccines for children under 5, once they are approved by regulators, and for fourth shots for those at high risk. over 50, they don’t have the money to order the new generation of doses.
Earlier this month, former White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Hong Kong had already been granted future booster doses.
Republicans have shown no sign of backing down from their insistence that before providing the 10 GOP votes needed for the COVID-19 funding package to pass the Senate, the chamber must vote on their efforts to extend the Trump-era Title 42 order. This COVID-related order, which requires authorities to immediately deport nearly all migrants at the border, is set to be lifted on May 23.
An election-year vote to extend that order would be perilous for Democrats, and many hope such a vote doesn’t happen. Many say privately that they hope Biden maintains immigration restrictions or a court postpones terminating the rules, but Republicans may well force a vote either way.
“Congress should take action so that the day is not May 23,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said earlier this month he expected legislation this spring that would raise funds for COVID-19 and Ukraine. Aid to Ukraine has broad bipartisan support and could help propel such a package through Congress, but the Republican opposition has already forced lawmakers to once cut funding for the pandemic response.
There are at least six Democrats, and potentially 10 or more, who should support the Republican amendment to extend the immigration ordinance enough to ensure its passage.
Such a vote would be dangerous for Democrats in rotating districts, who must appeal to pro-immigration core Democratic voters without alienating moderates wary of the surge in migrants that lifting curbs is expected to bring.
Republicans did not say which language they would adopt, but they could turn to a bipartisan bill from the Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
This would delay any suspension of immigration limits until at least 60 days after the US surgeon general declares the pandemic emergency over. The administration should also come up with a plan to handle the anticipated increase in migrants crossing the border. Democrats expressing support for maintaining immigration restrictions cited the administration’s lack of planning as their top concern, though the Biden administration insisted it was preparing for an increase in border crossings. .
AP writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.
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