27 U.S. Senators seek at least $5.6 billion in federal funding to develop and support COVID-19 vaccine infrastructure

WASHINGTON, DC – Seeking to protect public health, 27 U.S. Senators, led by Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), are calling for Congress to provide at least $5.6 billion in federal funding to develop and support COVID-19 vaccine infrastructure.  The lawmakers say the funds are needed to boost the nation’s vaccine supply and distribution system and should be included in the next coronavirus relief package.  The federal funds could be used for distribution, provider training, public education, and to broaden vaccine access.

“We respectfully request at least $5.6 billion in funding to develop and support the critical vaccine infrastructure necessary to ensure that when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it can be readily deployed across the country, particularly to high-risk populations,” the 27 Senators wrote.  “Successful and equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine is vital to allow our country and our economy to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, to save lives over the long term, and to get Americans back to work safely.  However, the public health potential of a vaccine can only be realized by the system that ensures sufficient vaccination rates across the country to protect people from the virus and keep the disease from reemerging.

Through the Coronavirus Preparedness & Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (PL 116-123), the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (PL 116-136), and other measures, Congress has dedicated over $6.5 billion in federal funding through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the development of vaccines, treatments and other products to address COVID-19.  And the Trump Administration has allocated more than $2.2 billion of this federal funding in deals with five vaccine manufacturers for COVID-19.  While this funding is critical, the Senators say it is also important to strengthen the ability of states and local governments to boost their immunization infrastructure.

State and local immunization infrastructure elements include vaccine purchase; storage; handling and safety; provider and community education and outreach; immunization information systems (IIS) or registries; disease surveillance; and outbreak response.

“Just as Congress has invested in vaccine development, we must also invest in the deployment of a vaccine against COVID-19,” the Senators wrote.  “As such, we ask that the next COVID-19 relief legislation include at least $3.6 billion for state and local infrastructure to develop vaccine distribution systems, deploy the vaccine to ensure coverage across every community, track COVID-19 vaccine coverage, monitor the safety of the vaccine, and support a media and education campaign to educate providers, and ensure community outreach.  Such funding must be made available as soon as possible to allow states the time to build out this vaccine infrastructure and purchase the supplies needed so that systems are in place and ready to launch as soon as a vaccine is available.  We cannot afford to wait until a vaccine is approved to begin this critical work.”

And with public health experts predicting that a second wave of COVID-19 could hit in the fall and winter and overlap with the flu season, the Senators are also seeking a dedicated $2 billion allocation over Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 for flu awareness and education and flu vaccination campaigns to ensure people get vaccinated for the flu: “This effort will be critical to protect people from getting infected with the flu virus, keep them out of the hospital in order to preserve beds for COVID-19 patients, and prevent people from being infected with both viruses simultaneously, which could be even more lethal and overwhelm hospital systems,” the Senators wrote.

The Senators concluded by noting that there must be sufficient “funding for our existing vaccine infrastructure to ensure children keep getting their regular vaccines, especially as states and localities consider reopening schools in the fall.   We are concerned about reports of decreasing rates of routine immunizations among children, as parents may avoid non-emergency appointments and check-ups with their children’s pediatricians.  Efforts to build up a COVID-19 vaccine infrastructure must supplement, not supplant, existing vaccine infrastructure.  In fact, more resources may be needed to keep up routine vaccination rates in the face of the challenges presented by COVID-19.” 

“This $5.6 billion to enhance vaccine infrastructure is absolutely crucial to ensuring that when a safe, effective vaccine is developed, it can be made broadly available and help those who need it most,” said Senator Reed, who supports a total of $25 billion in emergency federal funding in the next coronavirus relief package for development, production, and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Dedicated scientists and researchers are working around the world to develop a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Senator Collins.  “When this treatment becomes available, it is critical that we have the proper infrastructure in place to ensure that all Americans, regardless of age, race, income, or location, are able to access it.”

In addition to Reed and Collins, the letter is signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Angus King (I-ME), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

Full text of the letter follows:

July 15, 2020

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

Thank you for your bipartisan work to respond to the health and economic effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the United States.  As you prepare for the next relief package, we respectfully request at least $5.6 billion in funding to develop and support the critical vaccine infrastructure necessary to ensure that when a COVID-19 vaccine is available, it can be readily deployed across the country, particularly to high-risk populations.  Successful and equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine is vital to allow our country and our economy to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, to save lives over the long term, and to get Americans back to work safely.  However, the public health potential of a vaccine can only be realized by the system that ensures sufficient vaccination rates across the country to protect people from the virus and keep the disease from reemerging.

We were pleased to support previous COVID-19 emergency response bills that included critical funding for the development, production, and manufacturing of a vaccine and helped ensure health insurance coverage of a vaccine for many Americans.  The Coronavirus Preparedness & Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (PL 116-123) included nearly $900 million in supplemental appropriations for research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for COVID-19.  Further, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (PL 116-136) provided $3.5 billion in funding for manufacturing, production, and purchase of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for COVID-19.  In addition, the CARES Act ensures private insurance coverage and Medicare coverage of a vaccine with no cost sharing.  These are all critical steps to bolster vaccine development as quickly as possible and ensure the American people can afford the vaccine when available.

Just as Congress has invested in vaccine development, we must also invest in the deployment of a vaccine against COVID-19. As such, we ask that the next COVID-19 relief legislation include at least $3.6 billion for state and local infrastructure to develop vaccine distribution systems, deploy the vaccine to ensure coverage across every community, track COVID-19 vaccine coverage, monitor the safety of the vaccine, and support a media and education campaign to educate providers, and ensure community outreach.  Such funding must be made available as soon as possible to allow states the time to build out this vaccine infrastructure and purchase the supplies needed so that systems are in place and ready to launch as soon as a vaccine is available.  We cannot afford to wait until a vaccine is approved to begin this critical work.

Given the prediction that a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will emerge in the fall and winter and overlap with the flu season, we also ask that the next COVID-19 relief package include $2 billion over Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 for flu awareness and education and flu vaccination campaigns to ensure people get vaccinated for the flu.  This effort will be critical to protect people from getting infected with the flu virus, keep them out of the hospital in order to preserve beds for COVID-19 patients, and prevent people from being infected with both viruses simultaneously, which could be even more lethal and overwhelm hospital systems. 

We also must ensure sufficient funding for our existing vaccine infrastructure to ensure children keep getting their regular vaccines, especially as states and localities consider reopening schools in the fall.   We are concerned about reports of decreasing rates of routine immunizations among children, as parents may avoid non-emergency appointments and check-ups with their children’s pediatricians.  Efforts to build up a COVID-19 vaccine infrastructure must supplement, not supplant, existing vaccine infrastructure.  In fact, more resources may be needed to keep up routine vaccination rates in the face of the challenges presented by COVID-19. 

Thank you for your attention to this critical need as you negotiate the next COVID-19 package.  Widespread vaccination will be critical to restoring our economy, getting people back to work, and returning to normal, and we look forward to working with you towards that goal.

Sincerely,