The US is running out of money to pay for Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments and will be unprepared for any future rise in cases, the White House has warned.
Officials said on Tuesday they would have to start scaling back some of the federal government’s planned drug purchases within days after Congress rejected a $ 15bn package to boost government spending on the pandemic.
The warning comes as infection levels are rising in Europe, with many experts warning that a similar wave is likely to begin in the US soon.
One senior administration official said: “For months, we have made clear to Congress on a bipartisan basis that funding for tests, treatments and vaccines was drying up and that additional funds would be needed.”
Another added: “Because it takes months to ramp up to rebuild capacity, failure to invest now would leave us less prepared for any potential future surges. So providing funding only when cases rise would be far too late to make a difference. ”
The White House asked Congress for $ 22.5bn in additional co-funding earlier this month, saying the money would be used to purchase more tests, more treatments and to fund further vaccine research.
Congressional leaders agreed to a scaled-back $ 15bn package, which was due to be included in the omnibus spending package passed last week. But that money was stripped out of the package at the last minute after members on both sides queried how it would be paid for.
For the Biden administration, the rejection comes at the worst possible time. Though US cases have fallen to levels not seen since last summer, there are signs the country could be about to suffer another wave.
An Omicron coronavirus sub-variant known as BA.2 is already causing a surge in cases in Europe, and an analysis by Bloomberg this week showed levels of the virus in US wastewater were on the rise.
The White House warned on Tuesday it would soon have to reduce purchases of monoclonal antibody treatments, including one made by AstraZeneca. Officials said they had planned to buy more doses of the company’s drug at the end of this month, ready for delivery in September. They warned they would run out of doses of altogether by the end of the year without additional deliveries.
Officials also said they would start cutting funding for uninsured people to receive vaccines, tests and treatments for free, with these payments ceasing altogether in early April.
They added that without new funding they would not be able to provide fourth doses of Covid vaccines for a wide selection of people if needed, nor be able to fund research into new variant-specific or multi-variant vaccines.