Health Care

White House warns it has to cut back virus response due to lack of funds

The White House is stepping up its warnings that it will need to make major cutbacks to the country’s COVID-19 response if Congress does not provide new funding.

Administration officials said Tuesday that without new funding, the allocation of monoclonal antibody treatments to states will be cut by 30 percent starting next week and the supply of the treatments could be totally exhausted by May.

The government also will not have enough money to buy vaccine doses for all Americans if a fourth shot is needed or if a modified vaccine to fight a new variant is required, officials said.  

Testing capacity will decline starting in June without new funds, the government will be unable to buy additional antiviral pills, and a program to pay for testing and treatment for the uninsured will stop accepting new claims later this month, officials said.

The White House said research on next-generation vaccines to fight new variants will also suffer.

The Biden administration is sending a letter to Congress on Tuesday outlining the slated cutbacks in a bid to pressure lawmakers to provide new funding after money was stripped out of a government funding bill last week amid a dispute about how to pay for it.  

Senate Republicans are insisting the funds be fully paid for, while a group of House Democrats objected to one of the offsets, rescinding a fraction of aid to states from a previous relief package, leaving no clear path forward for the funds.

Despite the urgency of the request, administration officials did not provide any path forward through Congress on Tuesday, saying they would “defer to Congress” on the legislative specifics.  

While Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Monday that she hopes to vote on “at least part” of the funding this week, an administration official said the White House is not discussing reducing its request and is still pushing for its full request of $22.5 billion.  

Even the amount that was considered last week in the government funding package was less than that amount, at $15.6 billion.  

There is still a disconnect in how to move the issue forward, though. Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican overseeing health funds in the Senate, said Monday he had heard “not a word” from the White House or the House on the issue over the weekend.  

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he still wanted a fuller accounting from the administration of how COVID-19 money previously provided has been spent. He said he is not convinced of the need for new funds.  

The lack of funds will also hurt global vaccination efforts, the administration said. Support for getting shots in arms cannot be extended to 20 additional undervaccinated countries without new money. 

Tags COVID-19 testing monoclonal antibody treatment Nancy Pelosi Richard Shelby Roy Blunt

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