Senate Democrats demand $25B for widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Senate Democrats are demanding Congress pass $25 billion to ensure a COVID-19 vaccine could be distributed widely to the American people. (Meyer & Meyer)

Senate Democrats want to pass legislation that provides $25 billion to ensure a potential COVID-19 vaccine is heavily distributed among the U.S. population.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, released a white paper Monday outlining the need for a comprehensive vaccine plan so the Trump administration does not make the same mistake as it did with testing delays. Several COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development, and some are expected to start phase 3 trials later this summer.

“When it comes to developing vaccines and making sure they reach every community, the nation needs a transparent, inclusive and science-driven process,” Murray writes.

The $25 billion goes toward:

  • Purchasing vaccines for the U.S. population
  • Funding the production of supplies needed to produce a vaccine
  • Updating and modernizing public health data systems to get robust data on who is vaccinated and who isn’t
  • Standing up supplemental vaccination sites and promote any other strategies intended for mass vaccination, including drive-thru clinics or clinics in nontraditional areas
  • Recruiting and training more staff to help distribute the vaccine

Democrats also want the vaccine to be available at no cost, citing the moves the Obama administration made during the H1N1 influenza pandemic.

“The federal government should use market commitments for vaccine purchase to foster innovation, provide a stock of vaccines that can be distributed to the population for free, incentivize manufacturers to produce at scale and negotiate a fair price for a vaccine, given the government’s purchasing power,” the white paper said.

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The CARES Act passed by Congress a few months ago required private insurers to start covering a vaccine once it gets cleared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

It remains unclear when a vaccine will be available. Some experts such as top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, M.D., have been "cautiously optimistic" that a vaccine could be available by the end of the year or early 2021.

The Trump administration launched Operation Warp Speed intended to exert major financial risk to speed up development of a vaccine. The administration is taking the unorthodox move of paying to accelerate the manufacturing of doses of vaccine candidates before they are even approved to ensure the vaccine is distributed at a faster rate.

It also is murky whether the Democrats will be able to get $25 billion for vaccine activities.

The House passed a $3 trillion bill called the HEROES Act that provides another round of economic stimulus. But that bill has stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate where Republicans want to wait until the remaining money from the original stimulus funds passed a few months ago.