President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged lawmakers to secure more funding for his administration’s Covid-19 response and warned of severe consequences for the nation if Congress doesn’t authorize the money.
“This isn’t partisan, it’s medicine,” Biden said in a speech from the White House while urging Congress to act “immediately.”
The President said without the new funding, the US will not be able to sustain its current testing capacity beyond June and that by the fall it will not have enough vaccine supply to provide booster shots to all who are eligible.
“Even worse, if we need a different vaccine for the future to combat a new variant, we’re not going to have enough money to purchase it. We cannot allow that to happen,” Biden said.
Biden said the US is already seeing the effects of the dwindling funds, including the administration having to scale back purchases of Covid-19 treatments and preventative therapies for immunocompromised individuals.
Biden said the government has had to cancel planned orders of monoclonal antibodies, which are used to treat Covid-19 infections, and cut the supply it is sending to states. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made proteins that can mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off threats like the coronavirus. The President said the administration’s supply of monoclonal antibodies will start to run out by the end of May.
“Americans are back to living their lives again. We can’t surrender that now,” Biden said.
“We’re now in a new moment in this pandemic – (it) does not mean that Covid-19 is over. It means that Covid-19 no longer controls our lives,” he added.
After delivering his speech, the President received his second booster shot on camera. The US Food and Drug Administration said Americans 50 and older who received their first booster shot at least four months ago are eligible for a second booster shot of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. The President received his first booster shot in September.
The direct plea from the President for more funding comes as the White House ramps up its warnings that aspects of the federal Covid-19 response – including programs that provide resources for vaccinations, indemnity providers and insurers for out-of-network treatment, underwrite Covid testing and supply personal protective equipment – will be curtailed because of insufficient funds.
The President on Wednesday also announced the rollout of COVID.gov, a new website aimed at helping Americans locate and access vaccines, tests, treatments and masks.
Biden highlighted his administration’s new Test-to-Treat initiative, which provides Americans with free antiviral medicine for Covid-19 if they test positive for Covid-19 at one of the designated locations. Americans will be able to locate the pharmacies and community health centers participating in the initiative through the new government website. The White House says the initiative has so far expanded to more than 2,000 locations across the nation.
There have been discussions within the White House about the possibility of Biden discussing the state of the pandemic for a number of weeks, according to a source familiar.
One focus of discussion has been about how the President could communicate what the next phase of the pandemic would look like for the country, with those deliberations being informed in part by governors and state officials increasingly starting to take action on Covid-19, including loosening restrictions and mandates, to try to begin to turn the page and return to some normalcy.
The speech comes as the administration has spent much of the past month warning the lack of Covid funding could harm the federal government’s response to the pandemic going forward.
According to an administration official, the White House has secured funding to vaccinate children under 5 years old and offer a fourth booster shot to the immunocompromised. Beyond that, however, any other measures would require additional approval from Congress.
Republican lawmakers have said they’ll oppose additional funding to fight the pandemic without guaranteed offsets, a demand one senior administration official told reporters was disingenuous, given previous votes to secure emergency funding under the Trump administration that did not have earmarked offset funding.
But the White House is warning lawmakers that, absent more relief funds, there won’t be sufficient money to subsidize a number of Covid mitigation steps, including programs that provide resources for vaccinations, indemnity providers and insurers for out-of-network treatment, underwrite Covid testing and supply personal protective equipment.
Last week, White House response coordinator Jeff Zients warned that second Covid-19 booster shots would not be free and readily available to the public without additional funding.
“We do have sufficient current inventory of vaccines, both at states and pharmacies and other access points around the country and in our central inventory for fourth doses if they’re called for this spring for our most vulnerable, including seniors,” White House Covid -19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in response to a question from CNN during Wednesday’s briefing.
“Where we do not have sufficient doses is later in the year if the science dictates that all Americans should get a booster, or if there’s a need for a new formulation of the vaccine, a variant-specific vaccine, for example, then we will not have sufficient supply,” Zients added, calling the situation “completely unacceptable.”
On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug administration expanded the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines to allow adults ages 50 and older to get a second booster as early as four months after their first booster dose of any Covid-19 vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added that adults who got Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as their primary and first booster shots at least four months prior may now get an additional booster of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines.
The move extends the availability of additional boosters to healthy older adults. The FDA had previously allowed second booster shots for anyone 12 years of age or older who was severely immune deficient, starting four months after their first booster.
The CDC released what’s known as a permissive recommendation – a statement that the shots may be used in this age group for those who want them. The agency is not expected to officially recommend the shots, however.
The update from the President comes as the White House argues the nation has entered a new chapter in its pandemic response and that Americans are returning to their normal routines.
Earlier this month, the White House unveiled a plan to move the nation to a new stage of the pandemic where Covid-19 “does not disrupt our daily lives,” while also preparing the nation for any new variants that may emerge.
But funding from Congress is key to moving into that new stage, White House officials stress.
“We are out of money,” Zients told CNN on Tuesday. Zients said there would be “immediate consequences” if no additional funds were provided.
The President’s National Covid-19 Preparedness Plan, which requires new funding, is focused on spending on treatments for Covid-19, preparing for new variants, keeping schools and businesses open and continuing the effort to vaccinate the nation and the world.
A major part of the new plan is the new Test to Treat initiative the President will discuss on Wednesday. The federal government has ordered 20 million treatment courses of Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid, which has been shown to significantly reduce hospitalizations and severe illness. It was authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration last year.
This story has been updated with additional developments.