The incident indicates a growing sense of frustration within the agency as the Biden administration has begun to position the United States as a leader in the global response to the pandemic. Keeping White House promises has fallen largely on USAID, an agency that often finds itself on the losing side of Washington’s funding battles.
Officials who spoke to POLITICO for this story requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case. They were also concerned that their words could stoke tensions within the administration as the United States tries to maintain its status as the world’s largest donor in aid for Covid-19 while combating the increase in cases at home. them.
“If we and others don’t invest adequately in the future of preparedness, we’re going to have a disaster on our hands with doses piling up at the gate,” said Stephen Morrison, health expert. global at the Center for Strategic and International. Studies. “We need a strategic plan. We need some kind of leadership structure that doesn’t deprive Peter of paying Paul.
Before Biden announced the purchase of the Pfizer injections in June, officials from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, State Department and USAID deliberated on how best to split the cost. purchasing and shipping doses and ensuring that recipient countries would be ready to use them.
Senior White House officials ultimately decided that USAID would foot the $ 3.5 billion bill, according to three senior administration officials familiar with the conversations. Two billion dollars would come from money Congress set aside last year in an aid program for USAID to donate vaccines through COVAX, the global vaccine aid program. The remainder – $ 1.5 billion – would be taken from funds allocated to USAID in March to help countries fight Covid-19, including by distributing vaccines, a senior official said last month. administration.
“With growing imbalances in global immunization coverage, the administration is working hard to further expand vaccine availability as it is critical to shorten the lifespan of the pandemic,” a USAID spokesperson said, adding that the agency was consulting with Congress on “budget trade-offs” that could help close the $ 1.5 billion funding gap.
The agency plans to ask lawmakers for all of the additional $ 1.5 billion in funding, a person familiar with the conversations said. This would ensure that USAID could continue to help countries build the infrastructure necessary to deploy vaccines and treat critically ill Covid-19 patients. Another senior administration official said the purchase of Pfizer’s 500 million doses covers delivery of the vaccine to recipient countries.
But it is unclear how quickly USAID could recover the money, which increases the risk that some countries that have requested US help in obtaining vaccines will not be ready when they arrive and may have to. hard to save lives in the meantime.
“We are working with ministries of health to make sure that these ministries are actually ready for doses,” USAID Administrator Samantha Power said in a recent podcast interview with former Ben Rhodes. Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. “We make sure that there is this receptivity when these vaccines are actually shipped. “
For the past six months, USAID and State Department officials have worked in tandem to coordinate shipments of vaccines and other vital medical supplies. The two received $ 11 billion in March for the international response to the pandemic and other urgent humanitarian needs. The $ 1.5 billion USAID spends on Pfizer doses is only a small part of that total.
But the agency is doing a significant portion of the groundwork involved in helping other countries fight the pandemic, including sourcing medical and therapeutic components. USAID officials are overwhelmed by the number of requests from countries for donated vaccines and other Covid-19 aid, two of the senior administration officials said.
The recent purchase of 500 million doses of Pfizer by the Biden administration is intended to supplement the 80 million doses of vaccine that the administration had already set aside for direct donations abroad.
So far, the federal government has distributed tens of millions of doses directly to countries around the world, including India, South Korea, Canada, Mexico and the Philippines. Officials said the agency, along with the State Department and the White House, are expected to announce more direct donation shipments in the coming weeks.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.