Biden administration officials have discussed deep cuts to their COVID-19 operation as doubts grow about Congress' willingness to fund related programs, Politico reported.
Things have gotten so serious, the administration has looked at ways to keep the federal effort going on a month-by-month basis, Politico reported Friday.
"There's a great deal of concern that we're going to be caught shorthanded," one source told Politico. "On the face of it, it's absurd."
During his State of the Union in March, President Joe Biden announced that his administration was launching a "test-to-treat" initiative to provide free antiviral pills at pharmacies to those who test positive for the virus.
Biden also highlighted the progress made on the pandemic since last year, with a dramatic reduction in cases, readily-available vaccines and tests, and new therapeutics soon becoming more accessible.
But now, officials are discussing possibly limiting access to the next generation of vaccines to the highest-risk Americans.
With the government's cash reserves plummeting amid rising inflation and the Russia-Ukraine war, officials are preparing to shift responsibility for other key parts of the pandemic response to the private sector as early as 2023.
Biden earlier this month pressed lawmakers to release $10 billion in new COVID funding while potentially half of two billion vaccines the U.S. had bought remained unused.
"They've never suggested that $10 billion would last very long," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, Politico reported. "But $10 billion may be the most that there's any appetite for right now."
Senate Republicans have stalled the funding request over demands that they first get a vote on Biden's decision to end Title 42, a public health policy that allows officials to deny entry to migrants at the southern border.
Biden's team has warned that the U.S. could see 100 million more infections through the fall and winter, while some GOP lawmakers have accused the administration of failing to account for the hundreds of billions of dollars it already has spent.
A deal in the Senate, however, likely only would ensure enough funding to keep the government's core COVID programs running.
Nearly half of the money would go toward paying the administration's debt to drug company Pfizer, which supplied 20 million doses of its antiviral treatment earlier this year.
The remaining money will likely be used to bolster supplies of tests, treatments, and vaccines – which, under a best-case scenario, would last through the end of the year. Dealing with the emergence of a new variant would be limited.
"All that needs to happen is to have a variant emerge that's highly infectious and causes more morbidity and mortality, and we're back to ground zero," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Politico. "We have not finished the job."
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