By Ahmed Aboulenein
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government expects its supply of COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral treatments to run out over the next year and is preparing for them to be sold via the commercial market, the Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden’s administration expects to run out of federal funding for buying and distributing COVID-19 vaccines by January, although it has already bought over 170 million doses for a booster campaign later this year, according to a blog post written by Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell.
The administration has procured enough of Pfizer’s antiviral treatment Paxlovid to supply the pills until mid-2023, O’Connell said, but other therapeutics made by Merck & Co and AstraZeneca are likely to be sold on the commercial market sooner.
“Our goal is to transition procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics from a federally managed system to the commercial marketplace in a thoughtful, well-coordinated manner that leaves no one behind,” she wrote following a meeting with private sector representatives.
Based on current projections, O’Connell said, the supply of AstraZeneca’s preventative treatment Evusheld will run out in early 2023, followed by Merck’s antiviral pill Lagevrio (molnupiravir) in the first or second quarter.
The lack of additional Congressional funding means supplies will run out earlier than expected, O’Connell said.
“We have always intended to transition this work to the commercial market and have been planning for that transition for some time now,” she said. “Unfortunately, the timeline to make the transition has accelerated over the past six months without additional funds from Congress to support this work,” she said.
Funding is still needed for developing new vaccines, treatments and tests, as well as to manage the transition, she added.
The government also cited a lack of funding on Monday, when it said Americans would no longer be able to order free at-home COVID tests from its COVIDTests.gov website starting next week.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington; Editing by Michael Erman and Bill Berkrot)