The money was diverted from plans to buy COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment, reported NBC, as well as funding for research and development of new COVID-19 vaccines, according to AP.
The redirected funds will be used to start negotiating contracts with vaccine-makers to make new doses for the fall, including “next-generation” vaccines that pharmaceutical companies are developing to target new COVID-19 variants.
Roughly $5 billion will go to support the purchase of new COVID-19 vaccine doses for a fall immunization campaign and $4.9 billion will be used to procure about 10 million remaining courses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid COVID-19 antiviral pill, a White House official who asked not to be named told Bloomberg.
Another $300 million will be used to buy monoclonal antibody treatments, the official said.
The White House on Thursday said it had already procured 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years in anticipation of vaccines for that age group obtaining Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) next week.
According to a White House statement, the administration plans to make “millions more [of the vaccines] available in the coming weeks” to states and healthcare workers. It is unclear if the administration’s pre-purchase of the as-yet-unauthorized vaccines is part of the $10 billion in diverted funds announced this week.
The administration’s move to divert funding to buy more COVID-19 vaccine doses comes just days after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shared data with NBC News revealing the U.S. wasted 82.1 million COVID-19 vaccines from December 2020 through mid-May 2022.
Biden administration: ‘We had no choice’
The Biden administration blamed Congress for not approving the $22.5 billion in COVID-19 funding the president proposed in early March, saying it was left with “no choice” but to divert funding in order to secure vaccines and treatments for Americans in the fall and winter.
If the U.S. government doesn’t act quickly to secure vaccines, other countries will lock in their own places in line ahead of the U.S., limiting the U.S.’s ability to market vaccines to Americans, the White House said.
“The administration has to act because Congress won’t,” the White House said in a statement provided to the AP.
The redirection of funding will have “serious consequences on the development of next-generation vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, domestic vaccine production capacity, stockpiling of PPE and the procurement of tests and testing supplies for federally qualified and community health centers,” according to the statement.
Congress members blocked the passage of allocating $10 billion in new taxpayer money to address COVID-19, saying they wanted more transparency about how money already appropriated had been spent, NBC News reported.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told the Washington Examiner:
“Before Democrats spend billions more and risk driving prices even higher, the Biden administration must provide a detailed breakdown of how the federal government has disbursed the $6 trillion Congress already approved to fight the pandemic.”
They also demanded a vote on an amendment that would extend immigration restrictions at the U.S.-Mexican border before considering a COVID-19 funding package.
The White House did not immediately provide more detailed information about which specific vaccines or treatments it was seeking to procure with the reallocated funds, reported AP.
Additionally, the White House did not say how many doses would be purchased, citing contract requirements for the lack of clarity.
Assuming Novavax formally obtains EUA and the CDC signs off on it, the government will have a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to choose from, in addition to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (marketed as Janssen) vaccines.
11% of COVID vaccines paid for by taxpayers wasted since December 2020
The 82.1 million wasted doses of COVID-19 vaccines represent just over 11% of the total number of vaccines bought and distributed by the U.S. government between the December 2020 rollout of the first vaccines and mid-May of this year.
This figure is a sizable increase since late February, when the CDC told the AP 65 million doses — roughly 9.5% of all delivered doses — had gone to waste since December 2020.
Although the overall amount of waste is within the range expected by the World Health Organization for large vaccine campaigns, public health experts consider the amount of waste to be alarming, reported NBC.
“It’s a tremendous loss to pandemic control,” said Dr. Sheela Shenoi, an infectious disease expert at the Yale School of Medicine.
Ravi Anupindi, a professor of operations management at the University of Michigan who has studied vaccination campaigns, said the millions of wasted vaccines “is a demand problem.”
“The demand has plateaued or is coming down, and that leads to open-vial wastage — especially with multidose vials,” Anupindi explained.
According to Independent Journal Review, “Coronavirus vaccines that were paid for to go into the arms of Americans are going down the drain — or into a landfill — now that many places in America have more doses than people who want them.”
CDC guidelines on COVID-19 vaccination encourage all eligible individuals get the vaccine — even if that means generating waste.
The CDC’s website states:
“As more Americans get vaccinated, COVID-19 cases, outbreaks, hospitalizations, and deaths would be expected to decline significantly. In the efforts to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, providers should take every opportunity to vaccinate all eligible persons [original emphasis] with a primary series or booster dose.
“However, as the rate of vaccine administration slows, the likelihood of leaving unused doses in a vial may increase.”
Pharmacy chains CVS and Walmart were responsible for over a quarter of the tossed doses, due to the vast volume of COVID-19 vaccines they handle.
Some of the 82.1 million doses expired on pharmacy shelves before they could be used. Others spoiled when pharmacies lost power or when freezers broke. But many were simply tossed at the end of the day when no one wanted the last few doses of an open vial.
“We often have to open a multidose vial at the end of the day for a single walk-in,” CVS said in a statement. “Those vials have a very limited shelf life, which unfortunately means unused vaccine will be disposed of.”