Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, U.S. December 20, 2020.
Paul Sancya | Reuters
The $900 billion coronavirus relief package agreed to by lawmakers allocates $8 billion to $9 billion to fund vaccine distribution, at least $2 billion more than was provided for in earlier proposals for the bill.
The funding appears to exceed the $6 billion target set by the Trump administration and may meet the demand made by national organizations representing local public health officials, who have said that at least $8.4 billion was required to carry out the massive vaccination campaign.
Adequate funding for vaccine distribution was a key priority for President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to oversee the administration of 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in his first 100 days in office. Biden warned earlier this month that without proper funding for distribution, that effort could “slow and stall.”
The text of the stimulus package was not released as of Monday morning, although Democrats and Republicans have issued summaries of the legislation. The two versions vary slightly in the details of the funding.
According to the summary circulated by Republican whip Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the bill provides $8 billion for vaccine distribution. The Democratic summary says the bill will provide for “nearly $9 billion.”
The summaries also indicate that Congress will allocate $20 billion to $22 billion to states to assist with testing and other pandemic mitigation programs. According to both parties, the bill will provide $20 billion to procure vaccines. The GOP summary says those vaccines will be “available at no charge for anyone who needs it.”
The legislation, which is expected to be passed Monday, comes as the nation is scrambling to administer millions of doses of vaccines to stymie the damage being inflicted by Covid-19.
On Monday, the first doses of the second vaccine to be approved by U.S. regulators, made by Moderna, are set to begin being administered. Initial doses of a vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech were administered one week ago.
Health officials have said they are working to provide vaccinations to as many as 20 million Americans by the first week of January.
The developments come as the U.S. enters a devastating winter, with nearly 3,000 Americans dying from the disease on a daily basis. More than 300,000 in the U.S. have died from it already this year, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The congressional deal came after months of delays from lawmakers over the size and scope of the relief package.
Its central provisions will provide economic relief to households and small businesses, including direct payments of $600 to most Americans, an extra 11 weeks of federal unemployment benefits and an injection of $284 billion into the Paycheck Protection Program.
Democrats, who have pushed for more spending to combat the crisis, have said that the $900 billion deal is just the beginning and that they will push for more legislation once Biden takes office.
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