White House plans how to deliver vaccines if no more Covid aid

The White House is stepping up its warnings about a coronavirus surge this fall and winter, and is making contingency plans for how it will deliver vaccines to the American public if Congress doesn’t allocate more money for the Covid response. -19, according to a senior government official.

As the prospects for another round of emergency coronavirus aid look shaky on Capitol Hill, administration officials this week met with key senators — including two prominent Republicans — to make their case. . Democrats considered integrating Covid aid into another emergency package for Ukraine, but it was unclear whether they would do so.

The White House asked Congress for $22.5 billion in emergency aid to continue responding to the pandemic, but Republicans insisted on a much lower number — $10 billion — and withdrew $5 billion. Demand global aid dollars. Republicans are also insisting that the Biden administration suspend plans to lift a public health order known as Title 42, which authorities have used to deport asylum seekers during the pandemic.

The Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that 100 million Americans — about 30% of the population — will be infected with the coronavirus this fall and winter, according to the administration official, who spoke under the guise of ‘anonymity.

The 100 million figure is not nearly as high as the total number of Americans known to have been infected with the highly contagious variant of Omicron during the December and January surge. It is based on a range of outside models, although the official did not specify which ones, and assumes that a rapidly evolving virus in the Omicron family – not a new variant – will spread through a population with immunity to the virus. infection decreases.

The 100 million figure, which the official described as a median of what might be expected, also assumes a lack of federal resources if Congress does not approve more money for tests, treatments and vaccines. , and that many vaccinated and previously infected people would become infected again.

If this scenario plays out, the administration’s goal is to prevent an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. One way that could be accomplished would be to revive mask mandates, the official said.

A report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 60% of Americans, including 75% of children, had been infected with the coronavirus in February, and that the Omicron variant was responsible for much of the balance sheet.

The official predicted the next wave of coronavirus in the United States would begin this summer in the South, with significant numbers of infections as people move indoors to escape the heat. In the fall, it would begin to spread to the rest of the country, especially in the north, although the spike in cases would not be as steep.

After dropping dramatically after Omicron’s winter surge, new confirmed cases in the United States have risen again. On Friday, the average of new cases in the United States had reached about 70,200 a day, a 52% increase over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, although infections are underestimated , especially with access to at-home testing. Hospitalizations are also rising nationwide, with an average of more than 18,400 people with the coronavirus in US hospitals, a 20% increase from two weeks ago. And deaths, a lagging indicator, rose for the first time in weeks, rising 1%, to an average of 371 a day.

If Congress doesn’t approve more money for the national response, the official said, the administration would use funds earmarked for testing and therapeutics to develop a rudimentary vaccination program that would cover only older Americans and those with weakened immune systems. Officials said they couldn’t provide enough boosters to the general population in the fall without more funding.

Moderna and Pfizer are now working on so-called “dual vaccines” that can protect against certain known variants. If these vaccines are authorized by federal regulators in time and significant numbers of Americans take them or receive booster shots already authorized, the official said, the death rate should drop to less than a tenth of 1% of those infected. But if access to vaccines is limited, the United States could see hundreds of thousands of deaths, the official said.

Last month, a group of outside experts who make recommendations to federal regulators tackled the challenges of vaccine redesign, including when such decisions might be made and uncertainty about which variant of the virus that could be dominant in the fall.

The official said testing would be a particular challenge. Test makers are already laying off employees as demand for rapid home tests declines. The strategic national stockpile needs a billion rapid tests in the fall, but will only have 400-500 million without additional funding, the official said.

Emily Cochrane contributed report.

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