Senate Democrats call for $25B for vaccine production, distribution in next package

Senate Democrats call for $25B for vaccine production, distribution in next package
© Stefani Reynolds

Senate Democrats on Monday called for Congress to provide $25 billion in emergency funding for production and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine ahead of negotiations on an upcoming response package.

In addition to the development of the vaccine itself, a massive and complex undertaking is required to manufacture the millions of needed doses, ensure the supply of supporting materials like needles and syringes, and then distribute the vaccine all across the country for people to be vaccinated. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerLawmakers push Trump to restore full funding for National Guards responding to pandemic Bipartisan senators ask congressional leadership to extend census deadline Lawmakers of color urge Democratic leadership to protect underserved communities in coronavirus talks MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayPelosi huddles with chairmen on surprise billing but deal elusive House approves two child care bills aimed at pandemic GOP, Democratic relief packages B apart on vaccine funding MORE (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, released a white paper on Monday saying the Trump administration needs to do more to plan for this undertaking. They are calling for the $25 billion in funding to be included in the next coronavirus response package, expected to be put together later this month, as well as policy changes. 

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They are also calling for a requirement that the administration release a comprehensive plan for “every phase of the vaccine enterprise” by Aug. 7. A similar Democratic push for requiring an administration plan on testing was a sticking point in a previous coronavirus response bill. 

“When it comes to protecting Americans from this pandemic, we cannot afford to not get this right,” Schumer said in a statement. “Republicans must join us in this effort and include the funding and policies laid out in this proposal in the next coronavirus response bill.”

Democrats say they want to ensure that the vaccine effort goes more smoothly than the testing effort, which has been plagued by supply shortages and other problems. 

“If the Trump Administration’s vaccine efforts are even a fraction as chaotic as their testing efforts, our country is in deep trouble,” Murray said in a statement. 

The $25 billion would be used in part to ramp up production of supplies like vials, syringes and rubber stoppers. 

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The administration has already awarded some funding in these areas, but there have been questions about the preparedness of some of the companies receiving awards. Frontline and The Associated Press reported last week on the new and unproven technology for a vaccine injector one company receiving administration funding, ApiJect Systems America, is using.

Funding would also go toward setting up new clinics and other vaccination sites across the country, recruiting workers for them, and a communication campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated and fight vaccine misinformation. 

The senators also say Congress should “require the federal government to prioritize vaccine distribution in a manner that optimizes public health,” such as giving priority to the most at-risk populations or workers on the front lines of the fight. 

To ensure the vaccine is free to patients, the Democrats call for the government to purchase it and distribute it. Short of that, they say Congress should fill in any existing gaps in insurance coverage of vaccines to make sure it is free to everyone, including the uninsured. 

“Rapidly and equitably developing, producing, distributing, and administering hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine will be a massive challenge, demanding effective management, discipline and transparency,” Murray said. “Unfortunately, this Administration has a poor track record on all three.”