The Biden administration estimates the US may need $7 billion to fight monkeypox

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The Biden administration told Congress this month in private that nearly $7 billion could be needed to address the country’s monkey disease, matching the “scale and urgency of the current situation.”

The funding estimate, detailed in a memo sent to President Biden and obtained by The Washington Post, outlines initial talks between congressional Democrats and White House officials to seek a spending package that would increase access to monkeypox tests and vaccines. doses and treatment.

This amount does not represent a formal request for assistance from Congress. Rather, it was one of a number of options that reflected different amounts that would fund different levels of federal mitigation efforts. White House aides recently presented the ideas at the Senate’s subcommittee on health at the request of Democratic leaders, the memo said. A Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe private negotiations, confirmed the details of the funding to The Post.

The Biden administration has also requested $31.4 billion in new funding to fight the coronavirus pandemic as it seeks to ensure the government has the resources it needs to buy more treatment, testing and vaccines this year.

The White House has already repeatedly urged Congress to approve another tranche of aid aimed at Covid-19. But Republicans have raised many fiscal objections to additional federal spending, resulting in an impasse that forced the Biden administration to ration remaining funds. New discussions on monkeypox aid could face similar political hurdles, as some GOP lawmakers have previously said they are willing to recycle existing funds instead of authorizing new dollars.

Private discussions Public health experts warn that monkeypox, which can cause fever, sores and severe pain through skin-to-skin contact, is at risk of permanently taking root in the United States. Federal officials have identified nearly 3,500 cases, many of them among gay and bisexual men, and have warned that the virus could spread to the wider population.

The World Health Organization on Saturday declared the global outbreak of monkeypox a public health emergency of international concern, its highest level of alert, and Biden officials are considering a similar declaration, although the current outbreak has not been linked to US deaths.

After this story was published, the administration confirmed the White House’s ongoing discussions with Congress about monkeypox funding.

“As part of our daily discussions with Congress about various resource needs, this weekend the Administration responded to requests from Hill staff for additional information about the Administration’s public health efforts, including the monkeypox response, and the additional resources needed to continue it. “The official, who did not want to be named, wrote in an e-mail.

According to a memo obtained by The Post, officials believe the new $6.9 billion in monkeypox funding will allow the Department of Health and Human Services to support “domestic vaccine production capacity and technology transfer” in the United States. . The only vaccine specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration for monkeypox, Ginneos, is manufactured in Denmark, which has caused significant difficulties in the US response – for example, Hundreds of thousands of Jynneos doses remained overseas for weeks awaiting US inspection and transport.

With that much funding, officials estimate they could secure 19 million new monkeypox vaccines, supplement nearly 4 million doses for smallpox relief efforts, buy more antiviral drugs, expand testing and improve vaccine distribution. and to ensure coverage of services for uninsured and underinsured Americans, among other goals.

Health officials also assessed the implications of the second “moderate” option, seeking $2.2 billion in funding to purchase individual doses of the monkeypox vaccine and treatment targeting the gay and bisexual community in the current outbreak. accumulated. But this amount is not guaranteed to provide an effective response unless the outbreak is contained and spreads to a wider population, the note warns.

Officials also estimated $500 million, which would allow them to buy some doses of the vaccine and continue “minimum” operations.

Health officials said they are funding the monkeypox fight with existing funds and a response fund maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Biden administration has distributed 330,000 vaccines and contracted for a total of 6.9 million doses of Ginneos through mid-2023, in addition to other investments in testing and treatment.

The discussions come as Democrats on Capitol Hill are sounding the alarm that the federal government needs to act faster and more aggressively. Party lawmakers have criticized a steady stream of letters over the past week expressing some discomfort with the situation, in some cases claiming the US government has not done enough to offer tests, treatments and vaccinations to those most in need.

In a letter sent to the Biden administration on Monday, more than 100 House Democrats led by Reps. Jerrold Nadler (DN.Y.) and David N. Cicillin (DR.I.) called for “additional funding” that could support medical clinics tasked with fighting monkeypox. Lawmakers say a lack of funding has hampered local work on contact tracing and other essential services, straining doctors and nurses already overtaxed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re hoping that the Covid experience will be a response to this outbreak,” Cicilline said in an interview on Tuesday.

Separately, another 22 Democrats, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) expressed growing “concern” about the latest stockpiles and urged the Biden administration to get access to vaccines. The lack of vaccinations has harmed “at-risk” populations, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, for whom health care may be “inaccessible or otherwise denied,” lawmakers said.

“Given this high demand and the communities affected by the epidemic in the United States to date, we urge you to act urgently to respond to this public health concern and take the necessary steps to ensure adequate doses and equitable distribution. Vaccine in the United States “, the Democrats wrote in their mission statement.

On Tuesday, Markey further called on the CDC to “reduce the barriers” to access to a key treatment called tecoxiramit, which is difficult for monkeypox patients. In doing so, Markey asked HHS and CDC officials if “additional funding” is needed to ensure its availability.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans continued to press the White House over its response to monkeypox and its ongoing response to the coronavirus. You are. Earlier this month, the top Republican on the Senate Health Committee, Richard Burr (RN.C.), sent a letter to Biden officials criticizing their “serious failures” in simianpox testing and vaccine distribution and demanding a “detailed strategy” from the administration. to respond to the current epidemic. Burr has also warned the White House that he doesn’t plan to support the coronavirus funding until he is certain in advance that the trillions of dollars are well spent.

In general, Republicans have called on Democrats to repurpose past stimulus dollars to cover the costs of all new public health spending. Without GOP support, Democrats cannot advance any aid package in the narrowly divided Senate.

The Biden administration has repeatedly called for more funding for the coronavirus, warning it is being forced to divert money from other needed initiatives, such as taking $10 billion from testing and other programs to buy more vaccines last month. The White House on Tuesday had experts making the case for the “next generation” of coronavirus vaccines that would last longer and provide greater protection against the virus, the latest effort by the administration to underscore the need for more investment.

“We need to continue to innovate, be creative, and really push great ideas forward. “We need to continue to fund those ideas with the support of Congress,” said Alondra Nelson, acting director of the White House Office of Science.

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