Speaking on an episode of “In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt,” recorded Monday, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients explained that emergency funding is urgently needed for America’s continued pandemic response.
“Right now, we don’t have enough money for fourth doses, if they’re called for – booster shots, additional booster shots for all Americans. We don’t have the funding, if we were to need a variant-specific vaccine in the future. Immediately, we don’t have money to order more of the very effective monoclonal treatments,” he said.
“Already, we’ve had to cut back allocations to our state partners by 30%, so we preserve the inventory that we do have,” Zients added.
The administration has been leaning on Congress to take action and pass billions of dollars of coronavirus aid.
Both Republicans and Democrats have refused to bite, ejecting COVID-19 funding from the $1.5 trillion spending bill signed earlier this month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called on the Biden administration to double an initial request for $22.5 billion.
“It’s really Congress’ job now to provide those funds, to pass the $22.5 billion in emergency funds so that we can continue to keep Americans protected, prepare for whatever the virus could bring in the future and continue our efforts to vaccinate the world,” Zients said.
“And, without funding, we will be unprepared for that possibility of increased cases in severity and hospitalizations,” he told Slavitt.
As cases and deaths have fallen and states and cities – as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – have moved to ease or remove restrictions, the pandemic continues.
An increased spread of the BA.2 omicron sub-variant, which is in all 50 U.S. states, has led to spikes in Europe and Asia.
Scientists have warned about the possibility of surges and new variants threatening what many hoped could be a return to “normal,” but Zients said that the virus “knows no borders.”
BA.2, he said, serves as a “reminder” that coronavirus is unpredictable and that we risk having good testing capacity if Congress fails to act.
“It’s really important that we invest now, have the tools and be prepared for any possibility,” he urged, noting that either the bill needs to be passed on an emergency basis or offsets need to be found soon.
Zients – who is stepping down from his position in April – said 93% of money allocated for direct COVID-19 response has been spent.
It has not been determined whether a fourth vaccine shot is needed, although Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have filed for emergency authorization of second booster shots of their coronavirus vaccines.
According to CDC data, 217.1 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and 96.7 million have received a booster shot.