With billions of dollars in additional pandemic funding stalled in Congress — and with Republicans reportedly raising questions about the Biden administration’s vaccine strategy and the wisdom of spending more federal money on the vaccines currently available — Politico’s Adam Cancryn reports that administration officials are gaming out ways to wage the Covid fight on a shoestring budget:
“Among the sacrifices being weighed are limiting access to its next generation of vaccines to only the highest-risk Americans — a rationing that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, when the White House touted the development and widespread availability of vaccines as the clearest way out of the pandemic.
“But as the government’s cash reserves dwindle, officials are increasingly concluding that these types of difficult choices will soon have to be made. And they are quietly preparing to shift responsibility for other key parts of the pandemic response to the private sector as early as 2023.”
A bipartisan group of senators agreed early last month on a deal to provide another $10 billion in emergency pandemic funding, less than half of the $22.5 billion the administration had initially sought. But that dal got derailed by GOP demands for an unrelated vote on President Joe Biden’s decision to end a Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which allows for the expulsion of migrants at the border.
Yet even if lawmakers were to approve the $10 billion in pandemic funding, the new money wouldn’t go very far, Cancryn reports:
“Nearly half that amount would immediately go toward paying the administration’s debt to drug company Pfizer, which has yet to be fully compensated for supplying 20 million doses of its antiviral treatment earlier this year.
“The roughly $5 billion remaining would likely be split among investments to bolster supplies of tests, treatments and vaccines. Under a best-case scenario, the administration might make those stockpiles last through the end of the year. Even then, the White House’s ability to react to a dangerous new variant would be severely limited, and funding to aid the global response would be nonexistent.”
The bottom line: The failure of Congress to act is already having consequences and forcing some difficult decisions about the nation’s pandemic strategy. The administration is reportedly holding off on investing in new antiviral treatments, husbanding its resources as it prioritizes needs. The delay in new funding could prove even more costly if or when the country sees another wave of the virus.