On Thursday, federal health officials warned of potentially dire consequences for America’s supply of coronavirus tests later this year if lawmakers don’t replenish funding for the federal pandemic response, leaving the country to risk of shortage and more dependent on foreign manufacturers.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator, described during a White House briefing the implications of the reallocation of funds from the Department of Health and Human Services intended for capacity manufacturing and testing itself in order to pay for more vaccines and Covid -19 treatments.
The move came after talks in Congress stalled on funding more of the federal response to the pandemic, leaving federal health officials with nowhere else to seek funding for other critical parts of the pandemic. response, they said. The White House has asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency pandemic aid, but Republicans have asked for less than half that number — $10 billion.
“We’re looking under every couch cushion to see what’s available,” Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said at the same briefing, adding that the administration couldn’t guarantee she would be able to buy more. vaccine doses for later in the year.
Dr Jha said he repeatedly warned lawmakers about the financial crisis.
“We communicated this very clearly to Congress. I met with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, in the House and in the Senate,” he said. “And I think the members of Congress that I’ve met and spoken to understand the situation we find ourselves in.”
The $10 billion health department fund shuffle this week, Dr Jha said, could jeopardize commitments the United States must make to test manufacturers if the country is to maintain a steady supply, especially during of a possible outbreak in the fall and winter.
“The U.S. government has put a lot of effort and resources into developing this domestic manufacturing,” he said. “And what we’re seeing is, day by day, week by week, it’s starting to go away.”
On Wednesday, new confirmed cases in the United States were roughly stable at around 110,000 a day on average for the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, after falling from less than 30,000 there. a few months old. However, infections are believed to be vastly underestimated. The number of deaths has been volatile in recent weeks but remains below 400 per day on average.
Manufacturers that have been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration still had tremendous capacity to produce tests this month, according to data collected by Mara Aspinall, a biomedical diagnostics expert at Arizona State University who serves on the board of administration of OraSure, which does coronavirus testing. These producers could perform 402 million rapid home tests this month, up from a peak of 535 million in February, according to figures it released on May 25.
President Biden has come under fire over the winter for what health experts said were insufficient purchases of home tests last summer and fall, leading to long lines and drug shortages. pharmacies at the height of the first wave of Omicron. Mr. Biden has pledged to provide one billion free home tests to Americans in the winter, and his health department has required private insurers to cover eight free home tests for American households each month.
But Dr Jha said that without more funding, the administration would not be able to maintain production. Companies were already laying off workers and closing production lines, he said.
The White House, he added, could become more dependent on testing from foreign manufacturers, including some in China. The United States has become increasingly dependent on California-based iHealth, maker of a popular at-home test, and its Chinese manufacturer.
“It’s much more expensive to have to rebuild that domestic manufacturing capability, much more expensive to have to go back and rehire and buy new equipment,” Dr. Jha said. “And we end up funding and supporting a lot of that effort.”
Ms O’Connell mentioned that some US test makers went out of business last year when commercial demand dissipated.
“For us to lose that capability again and be forced to ramp up by hook or by crook in the coming months, with a potential variant coming up,” she said, “you know, this n It’s just not a good place for the country to be.”
Sarah Cahalan contributed report.