Senators reach $10 billion Covid funding deal for therapies, vaccines and tests

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US Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to consider the federal response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and New Emerging Variants on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 11, 2022.

Greg Nash | Swimming pool | Reuters

Senate Republicans and Democrats reached an agreement Monday on $10 billion in additional Covid funding to buy therapies and vaccines and maintain the country’s testing capacity if another wave of Covid hits the US

The legislation provides at least $5 billion to purchase and develop Covid treatments such as antiviral pills. An additional $750 million is set aside to develop vaccines targeting specific variants and to expand vaccine manufacturing capacity in the United States if needed.

The funding represents less than half of the $22.5 billion originally requested by President Joe Biden. The deal does not include money to support the administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations around the world.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said every dollar requested by the administration was essential and noted that the White House would work to get Congress to pass more aid. However, PSAKI said time is running out and urged lawmakers to quickly pass the $10 billion.

“We urge Congress to act quickly on this $10 billion package as it can begin funding the most immediate needs, as we are currently at risk of not having certain critical tools like treatments and testing from May and June,” PSAki said.

Congress fumbled over Covid funding as the White House warned that the United States would not have enough money to ensure all Americans had access to vaccines in the fall without new aid. House Democrats initially sought to spend $15 billion in Covid funding last month, but Republicans insisted on redirecting money already earmarked for state and local governments to cover any new spending. Negotiations were moved to the Senate after the House failed to reach a bipartisan agreement.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said the $10 billion is being paid for entirely by reallocating unspent Covid funds from the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Treasury and Transportation as well as Small Business Administration.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said he was disappointed the legislation did not include money to support the Biden administration’s efforts to increase vaccinations around the world. Schumer said the initiative is crucial to preventing the emergence of a breakthrough variant of Covid that can evade the protection provided by current shootings.

Schumer and Romney have said they are open to working together on an additional international Covid relief package later this spring.

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