Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Bloomberg Law
Welcome
Go
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Fourth Covid Shots Will Require More Funds, Walensky Says (1)

March 17, 2022, 4:41 PMUpdated: March 22, 2022, 4:56 PM

A second round of Covid-19 booster shots, if deemed necessary, would require additional resources to acquire and administer, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made her remarks as the White House continues to caution that its Covid funds are running dry and one day after Pfizer-BioNTech asked the FDA to authorize a second booster for Americans 65 and older. Pfizer Inc. CEO Albert Bourla has said fourth shots are necessary amid waning immunity.

Walensky said her agency is working with the Food and Drug Administration and vaccine makers to understand the benefit of a fourth dose, the timing of it, and whom should be recommended to receive it the weeks and months ahead, Walensky said at a Bipartisan Policy Center event on transitioning out of the Covid-19 emergency phase. But the latest data indicate that those who received the first round of booster shots still have about 78% protection against severe disease.

“We still have quite a bit of protection against severe disease,” she said.

The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet April 6. On the agenda for the panel of outside scientists are “considerations for use of COVID-19 vaccine booster doses and the process for COVID-19 vaccine strain selection to address current and emerging variants.”

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky speaks at a Bipartisan Policy Center virtual event March, 17, 2022.

When asked if the CDC had the resources necessary to carry out its work, fourth shots were the first challenge area on her list. “Certainly if we are going to embark on fourth doses either now or in the future, we need a mechanism by which we can not only purchase those but then deliver them, administer them, get out to those communities [and] make sure that equity is a huge part of it. Those take resources, she said.

The Biden administration is asking Congress for $22.5 billion in additional Covid-19 relief money, warning that the White House already canceled an order of monoclonal antibodies due to a lack of funds. Lawmakers pulled $15.6 billion in Covid aid out of the federal spending bill enacted earlier this week as Republicans seek more details on how the administration spent the money it’s already received.

House Democrats said Wednesday there’s little sign of agreement on how to offset that $15.6 billion. Both the House and Senate aren’t scheduled to hold votes next week, likely meaning any Covid funds won’t get consideration by both chambers until the week of March 28.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who’s a member of the health appropriations panel, said discussions are ongoing on what unspent funds could be tapped. “We need to figure this out soon because we need money for vaccines here and globally,” he said.

Meanwhile, a more transmissible strain of the omicron variant known as BA.2 is spreading in the U.S., now accounting for about 23% of cases on which the CDC has conducted genetic sequencing. While that’s an increasing percentage, overall, omicron cases in the U.S. have dropped since their peak. BA.2 may become the predominant strain in the weeks ahead, she said.

“All of this is happening also now as there’s waning immunity, and we’ve talked about this in terms of following up for the fourth shot,” and as many communities have relaxed mitigation strategies as cases have declined, Walensky said.

A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found a fourth shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Moderna Inc.‘s vaccine was safe and “somewhat efficacious” but didn’t offer substantially different protection against the omicron variant compared with a third dose.

“We are going to continue to follow this carefully or in touch with our colleagues overseas routinely and to understand what they’re learning so far,” Walensky said, noting those nations had a slight increase in their hospitalizations due to people coming in with BA.2. “We’re following this very carefully. We might expect as we open up as well, as we relax many of our mitigation strategies, that we may have some increase in cases related to BA.2.”

(Updates March 17 article with FDA advisory committee meeting announcement. An earlier version corrected the spelling of Walensky's name.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloombergindustry.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com