The Biden administration said this week it is diverting more than $10 billion in COVID-19 testing and relief funds to buy more COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
The money was diverted from plans to buy COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment, reported NBC, as well as funding for research and development of new COVID-19 vaccines, according to AP.
The redirected funds will be used to start negotiating contracts with vaccine-makers to make new doses for the fall, including “next-generation” vaccines that pharmaceutical companies are developing to target new COVID-19 variants.
Roughly $5 billion will go to support the purchase of new COVID-19 vaccine doses for a fall immunization campaign and $4.9 billion will be used to procure about 10 million remaining courses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid COVID-19 antiviral pill, a White House official who asked not to be named told Bloomberg.
Another $300 million will be used to buy monoclonal antibody treatments, the official said.
The White House on Thursday said it had already procured 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years in anticipation of vaccines for that age group obtaining Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) next week.
According to a White House statement, the administration plans to make “millions more [of the vaccines] available in the coming weeks” to states and healthcare workers. It is unclear if the administration’s pre-purchase of the as-yet-unauthorized vaccines is part of the $10 billion in diverted funds announced this week.
The administration’s move to divert funding to buy more COVID-19 vaccine doses comes just days after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shared data with NBC News revealing the U.S. wasted 82.1 million COVID-19 vaccines from December 2020 through mid-May 2022.
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Biden administration: ‘We had no choice’
The Biden administration blamed Congress for not approving the $22.5 billion in COVID-19 funding the president proposed in early March, saying it was left with “no choice” but to divert funding in order to secure vaccines and treatments for Americans in the fall and winter.
If the U.S. government doesn’t act quickly to secure vaccines, other countries will lock in their own places in line ahead of the U.S., limiting the U.S.’s ability to market vaccines to Americans, the White House said.
“The administration has to act because Congress won’t,” the White House said in a statement provided to the AP.
The redirection of funding will have “serious consequences on the development of next-generation vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, domestic vaccine production capacity, stockpiling of PPE and the procurement of tests and testing supplies for federally qualified and community health centers,” according to the statement.
Congress members blocked the passage of allocating $10 billion in new taxpayer money to address COVID-19, saying they wanted more transparency about how money already appropriated had been spent, NBC News reported.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told the Washington Examiner:
“Before Democrats spend billions more and risk driving prices even higher, the Biden administration must provide a detailed breakdown of how the federal government has disbursed the $6 trillion Congress already approved to fight the pandemic.”
Republicans in the Senate argued the government should repurpose funds from the large sum approved under last year’s American Rescue Plan.