White House braces for cold weather wave of 100 million COVID-19 infections

The White House is preparing for up to 100 million Americans to contract COVID-19 during this fall and winter wave if Congress does not provide new funding for vaccines and tests, a senior administration official said Friday, warning that new money is needed for enough vaccines for all.

A senior administration official told a small group of reporters Friday that the estimate is the average of a set of models from outside experts consulting the administration, which means it’s also possible that more Americans will contract the virus, especially if there is a major new alternative.

That compares with the roughly 130-140 million Americans who are estimated to have been infected by the Omicron wave this winter, leading to a significant spike in deaths.

The administration argues that the number of cases could be lower if new funding allows many Americans to get updated vaccines this fall and for testing to be plentiful.

The Biden administration argues that the new wave is not a cause for panic, given that there are new tools such as the highly effective Pfizer pill known as Baxlovid, as well as vaccines.

But officials are drumming that they need new funding from Congress in order to make these tools available during the next wave later this year.

Pfizer and Moderna are working on new versions of the vaccine that are intended to be more effective against the newer mutations of the virus. The so-called bivalent vaccine will target the omicron variant as well as the original strain.

These new vaccines are expected to be ready by the fall, but the United States will not have enough money to buy them for all Americans unless Congress provides new funding, the administration says.

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The senior administration official said the contingency plan if Congress doesn’t introduce new money is to pull all the funding from new tests, treatments, and vaccine outreach and outreach, and try to stack it up to get enough maybe to be able to buy just enough updated vaccines for the elderly.

Without new money, the Baxoloid supply is expected to run out by October or November, the official said, meaning that if people contract the virus in a wave during the holidays, treatment will not be available.

Despite repeated calls from the administration, new funding for COVID-19 remains on hold in Congress amid Republican resistance. Republicans are demanding a vote to stop the administration’s lifting of pandemic-era restrictions on the southern border, known as Section 42, which is also considered politically suspect by Democrats since some of their moderate members also oppose lifting the measure.

Funding for COVID-19 will likely get a boost by linking it to aid for the new Ukraine moving through Congress, but Democratic leaders have not yet made clear whether they intend to do so, with the Republican Party warning of the move.

The White House requested $22.5 billion, although lawmakers looked forward to a smaller sum, $10 billion, that the parties could have found a way to pay for.

Other countries are also eager to buy more updated treatments and vaccines, the official said, meaning that if the United States tries to wait until the fall to buy them, supplies are unlikely to be available even months later.

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The lack of rapid tests has also been a pervasive problem on the Omicron wave this winter. The official warned Friday that testing companies are now looking to lay off workers and will not have enough supplies for the fall wave, unless the government steps in with new funding.

This story was updated at 2:32 PM

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