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White House scaling back some COVID response plans

Workers wore protective equipment at a COVID-19 testing site in January in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The White House said Tuesday that with no new coronavirus funding on the horizon, it is already scaling back plans to purchase monoclonal antibody medicines to prevent and treat COVID-19 and will stop reimbursing medical providers who provide COVID care for the uninsured in early April unless the money is approved.

Senior administration officials, speaking on a conference call with reporters, reiterated their demand that lawmakers approve $22.5 billion in funding. That amount was slashed by Congress to $15.6 billion, but even that is now hanging in the balance because lawmakers stripped COVID relief funding out of a massive spending bill they passed last week after Republicans refused to support new spending for it.

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The administration’s push comes as a Senate panel voted to create an independent commission to investigate the causes of the pandemic and the federal response. It is part of a broad pandemic package that the panel voted to send to the full chamber.

With coronavirus cases rising in parts of Europe and some Asian countries experiencing severe outbreaks — and with public health experts warning of the possibility of another variant or a summer or fall surge in the United States — the Biden administration is increasingly worried that without more money, it will be caught unprepared.

President Joe Biden’s new coronavirus response plan, outlined earlier this month, included plans to secure more antiviral pills; to build up testing capacity; and to accelerate the next generation of vaccines, with the hope that one might be developed to protect against multiple variants. But without funding from Congress, officials warned, those plans are in jeopardy.

White House officials have repeatedly said they are out of money for vaccines, testing and treatment. On Tuesday’s call, administration officials, who declined to be identified by name, offered more specifics than in the past. They said the administration wants to place new orders for monoclonal antibody treatments — including Evusheld, a drug authorized to protect high-risk American from COVID-19 — by the end of March but will be unable to do so without additional funding.

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The federal government has been purchasing the treatments from manufacturers and providing them to the public free of charge. But the senior officials said the administration expects to start sending smaller quantities of them to states beginning next week.

On Capitol Hill, the fate of the COVID relief bill is unclear. House Democrats had discussed bringing the measure to the floor for a vote this week, but it is unclear whether they would do so if it were not guaranteed to pass the Senate, where Republicans have objected to approving any more spending that is not paid for.

House Democrats initially thought they had addressed those objections by taking money from other programs to offset the $15.6 billion, including $7 billion from relief funds allocated to the states. But governors balked, which prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to withdraw the COVID funding from the $1.5 trillion comprehensive spending package approved last week.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.