White House invests $5 billion in new COVID vaccines and treatments as national emergency ends
There's still 'substantial' work to be done on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The national COVID-19 emergency is drawing to a close, which means certain treatments and tests that have previously been available without cost is soon to change. However, working on effective vaccines and therapies for COVID-19 is far from over. The federal government recently announced plans to spend over $5 billion in order to speed up new vaccines and treatments, according to a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson and a Biden administration official.
The plan, called Project NextGen, was first announced in the Washington Post on April 10 and aims to provide better protection from future coronaviruses that could become public health threats. It is the follow-up to the Trump Administration’s Operation Warp Speed, which sped up the production of COVID-19 vaccines in 2020. Project NextGen would take a similar approach by partnering public and private-sector organizations to accelerate development of different vaccines and therapies in an ever changing virus.
[Related: Biden will end COVID-19 national emergencies in May. Here’s what that means.]
“It’s been very clear to us that the market on this is moving very slowly,” White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus coordinator, told the Post on April 10. “There’s a lot that the government can do, the administration can do, to speed up those tools … for the American people.”
According to Jha, Operation Next Gen will have three main goals: creating long-lasting monoclonal antibodies, speeding up the development of mucosal vaccines to possibly reduce transmission and infection risks, and speeding efforts to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine that protects against COVID-19 and other coronaviruses.
Medical treatments for COVID-19 have lost effectiveness as the virus has continued to evolve. Even once-hailed “miracle” monoclonal antibodies are no longer effective in the face of the Omicron variant.
“Our ability to develop … vaccines that generate mucosal immunity will have very large benefits for other respiratory pathogens we deal with all the time, like flu and RSV,” Jha said.
Mucosal vaccinations given in the nose can provide patients “sterilizing immunity” against the virus. Some of these types of vaccines are already in development around the world, with China and India rolling out the nasal vaccines, but it is not clear how well they are working. The ChAdOx1 vaccine failed to induce nasal immunity in a phase 1 trial late last year, but a nasal vaccine in Germany has shown some promise after experiments with hamsters.
[Related: China approves world’s first nasal COVID-19 vaccine booster.]
Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who worked with the administration to develop the new program, told USA Today that the rapidly developed current vaccines are “really good, but they’re not great. There is a substantial amount of work [to be done] to take these good vaccines and hopefully achieve better vaccines,” he added.
Jha did not announce a timeline for when the new products will be available to the general public, but did note that it would be based on factors including drug manufacturer production plans and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews.
Previous vaccine funding requests have been repeatedly denied by Congress, with Republicans insisting that the Biden Administration use funds left over from previous pandemic aid packages. The White House directed HHS to free up $5 billion for Operation Next Gen and the agency responded by shifting funds from testing and other priorities.