White House seeks more Covid funding in lame duck session

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The White House is making further efforts to secure billions of dollars from Congress for a new generation of coronavirus vaccines and treatments, even as Republicans remain skeptical about how previous allocations have been spent.

Biden officials this week are finalizing a public health funding proposal worth about $10 billion by the end of the year, part of a larger proposal in the lame duck session of Congress that also includes funding for Ukraine and Ukraine would include Disaster relief for Florida hurricane damage, according to six people who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe confidential budget discussions.

This request includes $8.25 billion for Covid response efforts, including a follow-up to Operation Warp Speed, which some are calling “Project Covid Shield,” to spur the development of the coronavirus Vaccines and treatments that would be effective against a developing virus. Officials are also discussing about $2 billion for other health efforts, including about $1 billion for the global Covid response, as well as about $750,000 to fight diseases like hepatitis C and monkeypox.

Senior health officials and outside experts say more resources are urgently needed for the Covid response, citing the delay in uptake of new coronavirus boosters caused by public education campaigns, the waning effectiveness of existing antiviral drugs and the demand for new vaccines and treatments will work against future virus variants.

“Although COVID-19 is no longer the disruptive force it once was, we face new sub-variants in the United States and around the world that have the potential to cause a surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths…” wrote a person familiar with the budget Discussions. “That’s why we’re requesting $10 billion to address near-term domestic needs for resources like treatments; Accelerating research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics; to increase research on long COVID; and to support the global response to COVID-19.”

Officials had initially targeted between $15 billion and $20 billion in additional Covid funding before withdrawing their proposed request after President Biden cautioned late last week amid the failure of previous attempts to secure Covid funding by Congress . The timing of the new motion was also in flux as officials waited to see which party would control the legislature next year, with the outcome of more than a dozen house races yet to be determined. The Democrats’ best chance of success may lie in the lame duck, since they still control both houses of Congress.

“The additional requests we keep filing … just because they’re not going anywhere doesn’t mean the need for them is going away,” Anthony S. Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview last week.

But efforts to secure more Covid funding have come with waning public interest in fighting the virus. Just 2 percent of respondents who dropped out of the polls in last week’s election said the pandemic was the country’s top concern; Pharmaceutical companies have started withdrawing Covid-related product lines as government funding dries up; and charities are also moving away from prioritizing the virus response.

“What we see with many foundations are cycles of panic and neglect: pour a lot of money and a lot of effort into the crisis of the day, and then … the funding dries up,” Rick Bright, who recently left the Rockefeller Foundation after giving her Pandemic Institute had merged into a broader initiative, Science magazine said in October.

A Rockefeller Foundation spokesman pointed to more than $60 million in pandemic-related investments, including a $55 million donation earlier this year to support global vaccine rollout.

The push for more Covid funds is expected to clash with GOP opposition after Republicans have repeatedly this year called on the Biden administration to explain how it spent billions of dollars previously committed to the fight were provided.

In a previously unreported flashpoint, Republicans on the Senate Health Committee this summer focused on a nearly $150 million contract awarded to accounting firm KPMG last year to help distribute monoclonal antibodies, a Covid-19 Treatment to be administered in healthcare.

While federal officials had already distributed the IV treatments to more than 5,000 hospitals, doctors’ offices and other care facilities, White House leaders initially trumpeted the deal with KPMG, saying the company’s staffing and logistics expertise would make it possible complement federal efforts to expand access to treatment, particularly in medically underserved areas.

“This new effort will accelerate aid to hard-hit communities, really increase the use and delivery of monoclonal antibody therapies, and prevent hospitalizations and deaths,” said Marcella Nunez-Smith, who oversaw the White House’s health equity briefing at the March 2021.

Participating health centers such as UMass Memorial Medical Center and Baptist Memorial Health Care in Jackson, Miss. worked with KPMG to promote treatment such as B. the production of radio advertisements and the distribution of flyers.

“I think it was very beneficial,” said Vicki Brownewell, a senior nurse who oversaw monoclonal infusion centers in the Houston Methodist Health System. Brownewell said the KPMG partnership has enabled Houston Methodist to set up free, virtual visits in the summer of 2021, which has helped the system quickly schedule IV IV appointments for Covid patients.

“Two hundred and eleven patients took advantage of these free, virtual emergency visits – but we know we’ve touched many, many more patients,” Brownewell added.

But four current and former administration officials spoke on condition of anonymity To describe the federal Covid strategy, the KPMG contract foretold work that was ultimately seen as duplicating. For example, KPMG set up a now-defunct website — crushcovid.com — that explained the benefits of monoclonal antibodies and encouraged patients to look for them, and provided a list of potential treatment sites. But the website only listed the hospitals that work with KPMG in 18 states, rather than providing the full list of thousands of monoclonal infusion centers across the country that was available on another website by the federal government. The KPMG website also did not allow patients to sign up for treatments, instead urging them to contact health centers.

Overall, the KPMG contract resulted in approximately 55,000 monoclonal antibody infusions, representing approximately 3 percent of the more than 1.5 million infusions performed during the same period across the country, two of the former officials said.

The contract was quietly paused in September 2021 as the Biden administration reviewed its broader monoclonal antibody strategy, and was terminated late last year amid questions from Senate Republicans as to why the funds were awarded in the first place — with the GOP testifying Legislators You still do not have sufficient answers.

“I again ask your agency to explain why up to $142 million was spent on an accounting firm to prescribe drugs to sick Americans,” Senator Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Senate Health Committee, wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services in a July letter shared with the Washington Post, along with an accompanying memo. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”

Answering questions from The Post, HHS defended the agreement with KPMG as a reasonable attempt to promote monoclonal antibody infusions, saying the government spent about $45 million on the contract. About $98 million in additional funding was not awarded because the contract was canceled, HHS said.

Two administration officials who were privately briefed on the KPMG contract acknowledged that it was not a good use of federal money. But they say the current need for Covid funding is clear and urgent – including the need for a new generation of treatments such as B. monoclonal drugs that are said to have a longer shelf life than those currently in use — a position held by outside experts and allies.

Tom Inglesby, who resigned earlier this year as the White House coronavirus testing coordinator and who heads the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, pointed to the waning effectiveness of Evusheld, a treatment millions of immunocompromised people have come to rely on for long-term protection against the coronavirus, but which has shown less efficacy against new Omicron variants. Biden officials warned earlier this year that they would not be able to provide a replacement for Evusheld without further funding from Congress.

“There’s a scientific way to get the next-gen Evusheld so it can protect immunocompromised people — but they can’t go down that path because they need research funding and development funding,” Inglesby said, adding similar issues are delaying other urgent ones Needs.

“This whole chain of support, from developing vaccines and distributing vaccines to encouraging people to get vaccinated, is being shut down or shut down because of a lack of funding,” he said.

Jeff Stein contributed to this report.

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