US will run out of key COVID-19 treatments without more funds, White House says

WASHINGTON: The US government will run out of supplies of COVID-19 treatments known as monoclonal antibodies as soon as late May and will have to scale back plans to get more unless Congress provides more funding, the White House said on Tuesday (Mar 15).

Raising the alarm about depleted funding for the US pandemic response, the White House said the government also would not have enough money to provide additional COVID-19 booster shots or variant-specific vaccines without a new injection of cash.

The White House has requested US$22.5 billion in immediate emergency funding to fight the pandemic, but, after objections from Republicans and Democrats, the money was removed from the latest government funding Bill passed by lawmakers last week.

“We need this money now,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday. “Time is not on our side.”

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government had planned to put in an order on Mar 25 for what would likely have been hundreds of thousands of doses of monoclonal treatments. That order would have to be scaled back or scrapped without new funds, the official said.

“We’ll likely run out of these treatments for our most vulnerable … Americans by the end of the year if not sooner,” the official said. “Without additional funding soon, thousands of patients could lose access to treatments and these companies will have little incentive to continue investing in the development and manufacturing of these treatments.”

A programme that reimburses medical providers for providing COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines to uninsured people will have to be scaled back in March and shuttered in April without additional funding, the White House said.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign the larger funding Bill without the emergency pandemic relief on Tuesday afternoon at the White House.

Republicans objected to the additional aid, arguing that it was not needed, while Democrats did not like how it was going to be distributed. The money was to be used for research and to stockpile vaccines for possible future spikes in COVID-19 infections.

Lawmakers plan to revisit the matter in separate legislation.

There have been more than 972,000 COVID-19 deaths and more than 79.6 million infections recorded in the United States – the most in the world – since the pandemic began in 2020, according to Reuters data.

The call for funding comes as precautionary measures against COVID-19, including mandatory mask requirements, have been lifted across the country, with cases decreasing and Americans relishing a return to some form of normalcy.

But the White House has said other COVID-19 variants may come. It said on Monday that the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant had been circulating for some time, with roughly 35,000 current cases, and that that figure would likely increase.

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