The United States will have to limit the next generation of Covid vaccines this fall to people most at risk of getting seriously ill from the virus if Congress doesn’t approve funding to buy the new shots, according to a senior Biden administration official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, warned that the US faces a substantial increase in Covid infections this fall as immunity from current vaccines wanes and the omicron variant mutates into more transmissible subvariants. The United States needs more money for next-generation vaccines, therapeutics and tests to prevent infections from turning into hospitalizations and deaths, the official said.
Pfizer Y modern are developing redesigned vaccines that target omicron variant mutations to increase protection against infection. Current shots are still targeting the original virus strain that first emerged in Wuhan, China, in 2019. As the virus has evolved over the past two years, vaccines have become less effective at preventing mild illness, although in general they still protect against serious diseases. .
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to make a decision no later than early summer on whether the US should switch to the redesigned shots for a fall vaccination campaign, with its advisory committee scheduled to hold a meeting on June 28 to discuss the issue.
However, the US currently does not have enough money to buy the new vaccines for everyone in the US before the fall, the official said. So far, the US Senate has failed to pass $10 billion in additional Covid funding for vaccines, therapeutics and tests despite Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, reached a deal in early April. The $10 billion Senate deal is less than half of the $22.5 billion originally requested by the White House.
“We will be able to get some new generation vaccines, but it will be a very limited amount and really only for the highest risk people, but it will not be available to everyone,” the official said. The elderly and people with weak immune systems are at the highest risk of getting seriously ill from Covid.
Congress must approve the funding in the coming weeks to ensure contract negotiations between the federal government and vaccine makers are at an advanced stage by July, the official said. However, Republicans in the Senate have vowed to block the money unless the White House reinstates Title 42, which allowed the United States to turn away asylum seekers at the country’s borders during the pandemic.
Even if the money comes through, it’s not clear whether vaccine makers can produce enough shots by the fall given how short the time frame is. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC last week that it’s hard for any biotech company to have tens of millions of doses ready by the fall if they don’t order supplies and start production before July.
“If you look at the timelines, I don’t think any manufacturer can be ready in August to fill the channel with product,” Bancel told CNBC’s Meg Tirrell. The last US government contract for Covid vaccines with Moderna ended in April.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC last week that the pharmaceutical giant would be ready to start manufacturing doses of its next-generation vaccine as soon as it receives guidance from the FDA.
The US also needs more money for testing to ensure the nation has enough capacity by the fall, the administration official said, warning that domestic manufacturers are now shutting down production lines. Without funding, the US would rely on test makers in other nations, particularly China, the official said.
“It’s going to be a pretty rough fall and winter if Congress abdicates its responsibilities and doesn’t come forward with funds for the American people,” the official said. “We’ll do what we can, but at the end of the day, our hands will be tied.”