Biden Administration to Stop Buying COVID Vaccines, Tests

Carolyn Crist

August 18, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The Biden administration will stop buying COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests as soon as this fall to move beyond the crisis phase of the pandemic, a White House official said this week.

As a result, access to the products would shift to the regular health care system, with vaccines and treatments at doctor's offices, hospitals, and pharmacies, according to CNN.

"One of the things we've spent a lot of time thinking about in the last many months – and we're going to continue this work, and you'll hear more from the administration on this – is getting us out of that acute emergency phase where the U.S. government is buying the vaccines, buying the treatments, buying the diagnostic tests," Ashish Jha, MD, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said Tuesday during an event sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

"My hope is that in 2023, you're going to see the commercialization of almost all of these products," he said. "Some of that is actually going to begin this fall, in the days and weeks ahead."

Earlier this year, the Biden administration asked Congress for $10 billion to continue funding coronavirus response efforts, but the deal stalled, CNN reported.

On Tuesday, Jha said the funding stalemate forced federal officials to use money from other efforts, such as building up supplies of tests and protective equipment for the nation's strategic national stockpile.

Now, officials plan to use that money to buy updated vaccine booster shots that protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, Jha said.

"I would like to get to a point where every adult in America who wants a vaccine can get one," he said. "I'm hopeful we will be there. We're not quite there yet in terms of how many vaccine doses we've been able to buy."

Jha said the transition to commercial access can be a complicated process that involves regulatory issues, market dynamics, and concerns about fairness. Health officials are trying to be thoughtful about all these issues, he noted.

"Right now, everybody can walk into a CVS and get a vaccine," he said. "I want to make sure that when we make this transition, we don't end up at a point where nobody can get a vaccine because we didn't get the transition right."

Jha said that some commercial access would begin this fall, although many of the changes would become visible in 2023. In the meantime, he stressed, the Biden administration should continue to invest in the development of next-generation vaccines and pandemic preparedness.

"But this business of day-to-day running of a pandemic, that needs to transition," he said. "We're working very hard to make sure that transition is in a very orderly and transparent way so everybody sees it coming."

Jha also urged all Americans to get a new booster shot once the doses become available. The fall and winter could be tough in the U.S. if flu cases increase again, which is expected, CNN reported.

"I expect the fall and winter to look much more like the fall and winter of 2019, with a lot less mitigation," Jha said. "Under normal, non-pandemic times, flu really stretches our health care system. Throwing COVID on top of that, our health care system is going to get into serious trouble unless we are very proactive about preventing it."

People can receive their flu and COVID-19 shots on the same day, Jha said, adding that he hopes next year's shot will be able to include a two-in-one combination for the flu and COVID-19.

The updated COVID-19 booster shots could be available in about 3 weeks, as long as the FDA and CDC authorize them as expected, according to ABC News.

In late June, the FDA directed Moderna and Pfizer to make the updated vaccines to protect people from a renewed Omicron surge in the fall and winter. The companies now need to submit finalized data for the FDA and CDC to review.

The FDA and CDC haven't announced an official timeline yet, though Jha spoke about the timing briefly on Tuesday.

"We're going to know more about this in the upcoming weeks," he said. "These vaccines will become available by early to mid-September."

Sources

CNN: "Biden administration will stop buying Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests as early as this fall, Jha says."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation: "Path Forward Special Update with White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha."

ABC News: "Updated COVID boosters could be available in 3 weeks, White House predicts."

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