White House officials warn that the United States has exhausted funds to purchase a potential fourth dose of vaccine for all Americans
But administration officials said placing orders for additional doses in advance — rather than waiting for the United States to be overwhelmed by another wave of the virus — was imperative and a key lesson from the past two years. of the pandemic. They also noted that the fast-moving omicron variant escaped some immune protection conferred by existing vaccines, demonstrating the need to invest in more targeted injections that could better fend off omicron and potential future variants.
“Vaccines don’t just appear when you snap your fingers and say, ‘Okay, I want the vaccine.’ We have to get there,” said a senior administration official. “And this year it’s going to be more complicated, because there’s a good chance – although we’re still waiting for data – that the vaccines will need to be modified to cover the omicron.”
Analysts from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health research organization, have independently confirmed that the United States would have to buy hundreds of millions more doses to ensure that every American can get four shots, if needed, a said Jen Kates, who leads global health policy. for the organization and previewed the upcoming analysis.
“If their policy goal is to have enough doses available to get everybody a fourth dose, there aren’t enough doses bought in. They will run out of supplies,” Kates said.
Kates said her team looked at several alternative scenarios, such as reducing her projection to 70% of Americans who would be vaccinated with four doses, rather than 100%. Even with that lower target, “there aren’t enough” doses already purchased, Kates said, adding that the full analysis would be released later this week.
About 65% of Americans, or about 217 million people, are considered “fully immunized” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to federal data, and about 200 million of those people received two doses of mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. Meanwhile, about 97 million Americans have received a booster shot, or about 29% of the entire US population, according to federal data.
Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna last week filed emergency authorization for a second recall of their coronavirus vaccines – with Pfizer and BioNTech targeting people aged 65 and over, while Moderna asked for clearance for all adults – saying the injections would boost the waning immunity that occurs several months after the first booster.
The companies are also researching coronavirus vaccines for children under 5, although federal regulators have not yet authorized such shots as they await additional data on their effectiveness.
Pfizer and Moderna did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the The Biden administration’s vaccine orders.
White House officials have said they are concerned that vaccine makers will prioritize orders already placed by other countries – such as Japan, Colombia, Vietnam and the Philippines, which collectively plan to purchase, 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 – like Chile, which recently bought 2 million doses of Moderna – are also starting to administer the fourth dose.
Public health experts agree that waiting to place vaccine orders could delay shipments to the United States, citing a 2020 report episode when Trump administration officials turned down the opportunity 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 shipped, he writes in his new memoir, “Moonshot: Behind the scenes of Pfizer’s nine-month race to make the impossible possible.”
“[W]We should have sourced from Canada, Japan and Latin American countries, all of which placed their orders before the United States,” Bourla wrote in a excerpt from book published by Forbes, adding that then-senior White House adviser Jared Kushner called him to insist that Pfizer should immediately prioritize the U.S. order. “I refused to do so, and the debate between the two of us became heated.”
Bourla said the manufacturing “miracles” ultimately allowed Pfizer to meet its commitments to other countries while accepting the additional order in the United States.
As the omicron wave recedes for two months in the United States – with confirmed cases rising from more than 700,000 a day in mid-January to around 32,000 a day now, according to the Post’s seven-day rolling average – public health experts warn that the cases are likely to pick up, citing a spike across Europe caused by BA. 2, a subvariant of omicron.
But those warnings have yet to move Congress leaders, who are still debating the size of a coronavirus funding package and how to pay for it. Key Republicans said they still want a fuller accounting of the trillions of dollars the administration has already spent on the coronavirus response — and question the administration’s call to action last week.
“The basic thing we need to understand is, is there a need?” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Second, if there is a need, where is all the money we appropriated?”
“The administration needs to take the money that’s been earmarked and use it to prepare for what could happen, if there are new twists that affect a lot of Americans,” Sen. Mitt Romney added Tuesday ( R-Utah). , which has established itself as a White House’s biggest skeptic asks additional funds.
Other Republicans said they were still waiting for detailed answers to questions about essential supplies.
“Until I know how many they have today – how many vaccines, how many tests, how many treatments – it’s hard for me to assess whether they need more,” said Sen. Richard Burr (RN. C.), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Burr said he is speaking “constantly” with the administration, particularly Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, who is among the senior officials seeking their funding. cases on Capitol Hill, as well as in public forums.
“Ninety-three percent of the money that was allocated to the covid response – covid direct response – has been spent. So there is very little left,” Zients said on the next podcast with Slavitt. “The remaining funds are for areas such as… medical care for veterans or FEMA disaster relief, so we don’t have good resources to dip into previously allocated funds, and we need to make sure that it’s funded, so it’s up to Congress to either urgently pass it without compensation or find workable compensations.
White House officials have also warned that they will soon be unable to purchase additional treatments, including monoclonal antibodies, a key tool in helping those infected, especially immunocompromised people and others with high blood pressure. risk.
But with House lawmakers in their home districts this week and unable to agree with Senate leaders on how to fund a package, there is no sign the standoff will end soon.
Top lawmakers originally planned to pay out more than $15 billion in coronavirus aid as part of a long-term bill to fund the government. But some House Democrats rejected one of the funding mechanisms, which would have clawed back funds earmarked for state governments to meet coronavirus-related needs. The pushback ultimately forced House Democratic leaders to remove coronavirus aid from the bill. A new funding mechanism has not been settled, as Democrats try to chart a way forward.
“I don’t know if those conversations have happened yet,” Sen. John Thune (RS.D.), the top GOP vote counter in the Senate, said Monday. “But my assumption is that if something has to move, they’ll have to figure it out.”
“The House is working to reach agreement with the Senate on acceptable compensation,” a senior Democratic official said.
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’ll all be like, ‘Hey, we weren’t prepared, but luckily we’re in good shape.’ Or we could really be looking at something quite disturbing,” she said. “We just don’t know.