“Right now we do not have enough money for fourth doses if necessary,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said in an upcoming episode of “In The Bubble with Andy Slavitt,” which was recorded Monday and shared with The Washington Mail. “We do not have the funding if we need a variant-specific vaccine in the future.”
Federal regulators and health officials have not yet decided whether a fourth shot is needed, and some experts question whether the extra dose will be needed to increase protection for the general population.
But administration officials said it was imperative to place orders for additional doses ahead of time – instead of waiting for the United States to be flooded with another wave of the virus – and an important lesson from the last two years of the pandemic. They also noted that the fast-moving omicron variant avoided some immune protection given by existing vaccines, indicating the need to invest in more targeted shots that could better ward off omicron and potential future variants.
“Vaccines don’t just show up when you snap your fingers and say, ‘Okay, I want the vaccine.’ We have to make it happen,” said a senior administration official. there is a very significant chance – although we are still waiting for data – that the vaccines will need to be adjusted to cover omicron. “
Analysts at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health research organization, independently confirmed that the United States would have to buy hundreds of millions of additional doses to ensure that every American could receive four shots if necessary, Jen Kates said. leading the global health policy for the organization and previewing the forthcoming analysis.
“If their political goal is to have enough doses available to give a fourth dose to everyone, not enough doses have been bought. They will run out of supply,” Kates said, assessing that the White House had to buy around 750 million extra doses to achieve that. Goal.
Kates said her team reviewed several alternative scenarios, such as lowering its projection to 70 percent of Americans who would be vaccinated with four doses, instead of 100 percent. Even with the lower target, “there are not enough” doses already purchased, Kates said, adding that the full analysis would be published later in the week.
About 65 percent of Americans, or about 217 million people, are considered “fully vaccinated” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to federal data, and about 200 million of these people have received two doses of the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer -BioNTech or Modern. Meanwhile, about 97 million Americans have received a booster shot, which is about 29 percent of the entire U.S. population, according to federal data.
Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna applied last week for emergency approval of other booster shots of their coronavirus vaccines – with Pfizer and BioNTech targeting people 65 and older, while Moderna sought permission for all adults – saying the shots would boost the waning immunity that occurs several months after the first booster.
The companies are also pursuing coronavirus vaccines for children under the age of 5, although federal authorities have not yet approved these shots as they await further data on their effectiveness.
Pfizer and Moderna did not respond to requests for comment Biden administration vaccine orders.
White House officials said they were concerned that vaccine manufacturers would prioritize orders already placed by other countries – such as Japan, Colombia, Vietnam and the Philippines, which jointly plan to buy, or have already purchased, more than 200 million additional doses of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna this year, according to an internal tracker kept by administration officials and shared with The Post. Some countries – such as Chile, which recently bought 2 million Moderna doses – have also begun administering fourth doses, claiming that additional shots are needed to ensure adequate protection against the still circulating virus.
Public health experts agreed that waiting to place vaccine orders could delay shipments to the United States, citing a 2020 episode in which officials in the Trump administration rejected an option to purchase an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. Although Trump officials later changed their minds, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla warned them that the United States would have to wait more than six months for the additional doses to be sent. wrote in his new memoir, “Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible.”
“[W]e would have had to take supplies from Canada, Japan and Latin American countries, all of which had placed their orders earlier than the US, ”Bourla wrote in a book excerpt published by Forbes, adding that the then White House senior adviser, Jared Kushner . called on him to insist that Pfizer should immediately prioritize U.S. orders. “I refused to do that and the debate between the two of us got heated.”
Bourla said manufacturing “miracles” enabled Pfizer to ultimately meet its obligations to other countries while meeting the additional U.S. order.
While the omicron wave has been in retreat for two months in the US – with confirmed cases falling from more than 700,000 a day in mid-January to around 32,000 a day now, according to The Post’s rolling seven-day average – public health experts warn, that case is likely to rise again, citing an increase across Europe, caused by BA.2, a sub-variant of omicron.
But those warnings have not yet moved congressional leaders, who are still debating the size of a coronavirus financing package and how to pay for it. As of Monday night, several top Republicans said they still wanted a more complete account of the trillions of dollars the administration has already spent on the coronavirus response – questioning the administration’s call for action last week.
“The basic thing we should find out is, is there a need?” said Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Second, if there is a need, then where is all the money we allocated?”
Other Republicans said they were still waiting for detailed answers to critical supply questions.
“Before I know how many they own today – how many vaccines, how many tests, how many drugs – it’s hard for me to assess whether they need more,” said Senator Richard Burr (RN.C.) , the top republican re. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committees. Burr added that he does not think he has received that information yet unless it arrived over the weekend.
Burr said he has “constantly” talked to the administration, especially Zients, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, who is among the senior officials pushing for their funding. case in private meetings on Capitol Hill and in public forums.
“93 percent of the money set aside for covid response – direct covid response – has been spent. So there is very little left,” Zients said on the upcoming podcast with Slavitt. “The remaining funds are for areas like… medical assistance to veterans or FEMA emergency aid.So we do not have good resources to draw on from the previously allocated funds and we have to make sure that it is funded.So it is up to Congress either to pass it on an emergency without shifts or find viable shifts. “
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci also attended the Democratic caucus meeting on Capitol Hill last week to argue for the covid package, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the state anonymity to describe the private meeting. Becerra and Fauci stressed that the country is still in a pandemic and much of the reaction would stop in the coming months without further funding, the official said.
White House officials have also warned that they will soon not be able to buy additional therapy, including monoclonal antibodies, a key tool to help those who become infected, especially immunocompromised and others at high risk.
But there is no sign that Congress’ stalemate will soon end, with lawmakers in their home districts this week and unable to agree with Senate leaders on how to fully fund any package.
Senior officials in the administration point to Congress’ previous efforts to provide corona relief without offsetting the new dollars. And they claim they have been in dialogue with lawmakers for weeks about what the administration believes is at stake, such as cuts in state allocations of monoclonal antibodies and the cancellation of planned purchases of more antiviral treatments.
Top lawmakers had found a way to pay for more than $ 15 billion in new coronavirus assistance as part of a long-term bill to fund the government, which would have been the most immediate way to get the dollars the administration is desperately seeking. But some House Democrats condemned one of the funding mechanisms that would have withdrawn funds allocated to state governments to meet coronavirus-related needs.
The setback eventually forced the House’s Democratic leaders to remove coronavirus aid from the bill. A new funding mechanism has not been decided as Democrats try to plan a way forward.
“I do not know that these talks have been held yet,” Senator John Thune (RS.D.), the Senate’s top GOP voter, said on Monday. “But my assumption is that if something is to move, they will have to figure it out.”
“The House is working to reach an agreement with the Senate on acceptable settlements,” said a senior Democratic aide.
Kates, the Kaiser Family Foundation expert, said the challenge of preparing for the next phase of the pandemic is complicated by the unpredictability of the virus.
“It’s possible in three months, we will all say, ‘Hey, we were not prepared, but luckily we’re in good shape.’ Or we could really stare down at something quite ominous, Kate said. “We just do not know.”