Vaccine costs emerge as roadblock to coronavirus funding deal

Vaccine affordability has emerged as a final roadblock to getting a deal on billions in funding to combat the coronavirus.

Negotiators in Congress are hoping to unveil a funding deal soon, but as of early Tuesday evening,  lawmakers and top staff were haggling over the final sticking points.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the cost of a vaccine was “one of the arguments that’s still being disputed.”

“We want to make sure — you know, we want to make sure that it either, with the vaccine, that no one, no one, whatever their income, avoids getting the vaccine because they can’t afford it,” Schumer said.

Democrats are pushing to include cost controls on vaccines or testing kits developed in response to the coronavirus as they prepare to sign off on billions of new funding.

“We are still negotiating a few outstanding items, particularly around the affordability of vaccines and therapeutics developed under this bill. We expect the supplemental to include massive public investment in the development of vaccines and treatments, and it is imperative that Americans are not gouged for the very drugs their tax dollars paid to develop,” a House Democratic aide said.

Republicans say the forthcoming bill will include a “substantial” amount of money toward developing a vaccine, which government health care experts say is between a year and 18 months away.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of leadership and the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the fight over vaccinations a “made-up issue, frankly.”

“I don’t think there’s ever been a vaccine developed for a pandemic that people didn’t have easy access to,” Blunt said. “I just think it’s an issue that maybe fits into the current political discussion but has no reality to what would happen if you have a pandemic and you develop a vaccine specifically for that.”

And Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) had indicated that he didn’t want Americans to be denied a vaccine because of financial costs, telling reporters on Monday night that “I don’t think any American should be denied access to medicine.”

Lawmakers have been locked in days of negotiations as they try to finalize the deal on emergency coronavirus funding. Nine individuals, all in Washington state, have now died from the virus, and there are growing concerns about a widespread outbreak within the United States.

Two sources familiar with the negotiations told The Hill on Monday that they were looking at providing $7.5 billion to combat the virus, though that figure wasn’t locked in. That’s approximately triple the $2.5 billion initially requested by the White House.

The House hopes to vote as soon as Wednesday on the coronavirus bill, though House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) noted it could slip until Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, noted that “with cooperation” the Senate could vote before leaving town, likely on Thursday afternoon.

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus Mitch McConnell Richard Shelby Roy Blunt Steny Hoyer
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