White House threatens to cancel COVID antibody order over funding

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The Biden administration said Tuesday that it’s prepared to cancel an order for COVID-19 antibodies next week because it needs more money — and that the US could run out of vaccine booster shots if Congress doesn’t approve $22.5 billion in new funds.

Republicans, meanwhile, say billions remain unspent from prior bills.

The stark warnings come after Senate Republicans, citing high inflation, effectively blocked the request by demanding to know how much money remains unused from $5 trillion in pandemic legislation — nixing an attempt by House Democrats to hitch the request to Ukraine aid.

“Our scientific and medical experts have been clear that in the next couple of months, we could see COVID cases increase here in the US just as we’re seeing cases rising abroad right now,” an administration official said a White House-organized call as coronavirus cases subsidize after two years and authorities lift COVID-19 mask rules.

An early impact of a cash shortfall would be on monoclonal antibodies that are used to treat seriously ill patients, the official said, as US coronavirus deaths near 1 million. Hospitals would have to acquire their own supplies if the US government did not provide them.

The Biden White House says it will cancel an order of antibody treatments due to lack of funding.
Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

“We had planned to purchase additional monoclonals as soon as next week. Without additional funding, we’re canceling those plans and as we will make clear to governors later this morning,” she said.

“We also need to cut the number of monoclonal antibody treatments we send to states by 30 percent starting next week. Even with these cuts, we anticipate that our supply of monoclonal antibody treatments will run out as soon as late May.”

The official said there were plans to order “hundreds of thousands of more doses” of monoclonal antibodies on March 25.

COVID-19 testing.
President Biden took heat in December for being unprepared to meet heightened testing demand caused by the Omicron variant.
Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Another official on the call said, “we do not have the adequate resources to purchase enough booster shots for all Americans if an additional shot is needed” and that “to ensure and enforce fourth doses for all Americans or a variant-specific vaccines should we ever need them, we must have funding in hand.”

A fourth shot is currently recommended only for people whose immune systems are compromised.

The Trump administration purchased 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses in 2020 for $10 trillion. The Biden administration in September ordered 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses to donate to other countries for $3.5 trillion.

Medical worker with syringe.
“We do not have the adequate resources to purchase enough booster shots for all Americans if an additional shot is needed,” an official claimed.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Although Congress passed about $5 trillion on COVID-19 relief, most of the funds went to offset the economic impact of the virus. Just $482 billion went toward healthcare, according to a recent New York Times analysis. Republicans want to repurpose unused funds from $745 billion in state and local aid.

“My assumption is, of the $1.9 trillion sent out in March [2021], [President Biden] ought to be able to find $30 billion from that figure,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is leading GOP pushback.

“I think that we ought to determine — and we’ve asked the administration — how much unspent money is there,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said this month. “There are billions of dollars unspent.”

Man gets vaccinated.
Money that covers COVID-19 hospital treatments for uninsured people will run out completely in April.
Lynne Sladky/AP

The administration officials also said Tuesday, however, that orders of AstraZeneca’s Evusheld pills to reduce the severity of illness before onset would dry up and “run out” by the end of 2022.

“We have purchased 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca Evusheld … AstraZeneca recently told us that they will have additional supply that will be available for delivery starting in September,” an official said. “These are doses we have planned to purchase as soon as the end of March. Without more funding, the federal government will now be forced to scale back on that purchase.”

Money that covers COVID-19 hospital treatments for uninsured people, meanwhile, will run out completely in April, the officials said — and testing capacity to drop so significantly that the US is left in another lurch if it’s hit by another fast-spreading variant.

Joe Biden gets vaccinated.
In September, the Biden administration ordered 500 million Pfizer vaccine doses to donate to other countries for $3.5 billion.
Ken Cedeno/POOL/EPA

“Without additional funding, we do not have the ability to maintain our domestic testing capacity beyond June,” an official said. “So after spending the last year of building up our testing capacity, Congress now risks squandering that capacity heading into the second half of this year. And because it takes months of ramp-up to rebuild capacity, failure to invest now will leave us less prepared for any potential future surges.”

Biden took significant heat in December for being unprepared to meet heightened coronavirus testing demand caused by the more contagious Omicron variant. The administration subsequently made rapid tests available to all Americans via direct order — sourcing $1.3 billion worth of tests from a Chinese company. But most of those tests arrived as local infection rates already were falling.

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