White House shifts money from testing, PPE to buy vaccines in the fall

The White House is taking money from domestic testing manufacturing and equipment initiatives to ensure it has enough funding for new vaccines this fall, as a standoff with Congress over additional help lingers. 

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, M.D., told reporters Thursday that the administration is taking money from congressionally appropriated pots to engage in negotiations for vaccines to be ready this fall. The announcement comes as Congress continues to battle over a $10 billion aid package that has been in limbo for months.

“We landed on some very difficult decisions,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services, during the briefing Thursday. “We are going to give up domestic testing capacity. We are also not going to be able to do support for PPE warehousing and supplies we have worked so hard to build.”

The administration currently has enough vaccine supply to get out shots for children five and under to get vaccinated should the Food and Drug Administration approve such vaccines, Jha said.

“The challenge is about what is going to happen in the fall,” he added. “We do not have enough resources for vaccines for every American.”

Jha has warned that without new funding, the U.S. could “lose its place” in line among other countries to get initial supplies of the next generation of vaccines. 

He added that preserving a domestic testing manufacturing capability is vital so the U.S. doesn’t have to rely on foreign manufacturers, especially in the face of a new surge.

The funding, taken from other areas, will be used so the U.S. can be at the negotiating table, Jha said. He added that waiting on Congress “no longer seems to be an acceptable option.”

The White House had originally asked Congress for $22.5 billion in COVID-19 relief funds, but Republicans balked at that figure after concerns about adding more spending and how the administration already spent dollars allocated. 

Lawmakers eventually negotiated a $10 billion package that would include more money for vaccines and testing. But an attempt to pass the aid in April was stalled amid objections over votes on amendments regarding immigration.