HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: U.S. Bought 700M Shots Not Distributed

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The U.S. has bought more than twice as many doses of Covid-19 vaccines over the past two years than what’s been distributed domestically, according to documents provided to Congress, raising questions about the nation’s vaccine campaign across two presidencies.

The documents, painting the clearest picture yet of the U.S. government’s vaccine-buying strategy and which companies have benefited, show the U.S. bought 1.97 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines over the past two years and spent $30.4 billion.

Publicly available reports show the federal government distributed 729.6 million doses in the U.S. and shipped 537 million doses abroad as of May 4. That leaves an apparent 703 million-dose gap between what has been distributed, and what the documents show was bought. Some of those doses are held in inventory and for future supply, according to an administration official, while more than 150 million others are unaccounted for.

“Sounds like we need to change the methodology of how we’re giving the vaccines,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), one of the senators who questioned health officials about virus spending recently. Read more from Alex Ruoff and Courtney Rozen.

Abortion Vote May Slow Covid Aid Progress

Congress is moving slowly to meet President Joe Biden’s request for Ukraine aid amid an ongoing fight over Covid relief money and immigration and a drive to vote on abortion-related legislation in the Senate next week.

Democrats still must decide whether to attach $10 billion in funding for Covid vaccine and treatment to the Ukraine measure in an effort to break an impasse on the pandemic aid. A deal early last month on the Covid bill ran aground after Republicans demanded an amendment vote barring Biden from lifting Covid restrictions on migration over the southern U.S. border.

“We want to get both done. Stay tuned,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. A member of Schumer’s leadership team, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), said Covid funding is urgently needed and should be attached to the Ukraine bill. If they’re attached, Republicans have vowed to force the vote on the pandemic-related border restriction policy known as Title 42.

If decisions are made on the substance of the Ukraine bill and any attachments, it’s unlikely the Senate can clear the relief legislation next week. The Senate next week will focus on voting on codifying abortion rights for women with a Wednesday vote on a bill that has no chance of passing. After that, it will have little time to set up votes on a Ukraine package before leaving town on Thursday. Erik Wasson and Ellen M. Gilmer have more.

  • The abortion bill faces long odds in the 50-50 Senate but gives Democrats a platform to debate abortion just days after the leaked draft majority opinion that would overturn the constitutional right to seek most abortions established in the landmark decision. Schumer’s push would put senators on the record, but there aren’t nearly enough votes to pass the legislation in the Senate, which requires 60 senators for most legislation. In February, similar legislation came up for a procedural vote and was blocked, 46-48. Read more from Laura Litvan.
  • BGOV Bill Summary: S. 4132, Codify Abortion Access
  • Democrats most at risk of losing their Senate seats in the November midterms have jumped on abortion access to shift the political narratives away from inflation and win back voters underwhelmed by Biden’s handling of the economy. Laura Litvan has more.

Louisiana Legislature Considers Criminal Penalties for Abortion: Louisiana’s state Legislature is getting ready to debate allowing homicide charges against those who end pregnancies. Criminalization is part of a far-reaching bill (H.B. 813) that also would set up potential constitutional challenges by declaring a right to ignore U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving abortion. The bill, which is in position for initial floor discussion as early as Friday, goes on to threaten impeachment or removal of state judges who attempt to stay or overrule any provision of the legislation. During committee consideration, attorneys told lawmakers that their measure could criminalize in vitro fertilization because of language conveying legal “personhood” from the moment of conception. Read more from Jennifer Kay.

Cities Plan for Post-Roe Future: City leaders are mobilizing after the draft decision was leaked. If that draft becomes an official ruling to reverse Roe in the coming weeks, states will hold the ultimate power to ban abortions within their own boundaries. But particularly in blue states that could see a deluge of out-of-state abortion seekers, some leaders are preparing to assist local abortion clinics through funding, coordination, and security measures. Read more from Sara Holder.

  • Illinois, the only state that’s codified legal abortions in the U.S. heartland even if the high court overturns Roe, is indeed girding for a surge in the number of women coming from other states for abortions. The sixth-largest U.S. state already has seen an increase in demand amid a slew of abortion limits enacted over the last decade in neighboring states. Shruti Date Singh has more.
  • Related: Californians Prepare to Help Out-of-State Abortion Seekers

Rubio Targets Companies With Abortion Travel Benefits: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is sending a message to Amazon, Disney, Citigroup, and other companies that have vowed to pay travel costs for their employees to access abortion services or gender-affirming care for their kids: Republicans want to make it costlier. Rubio, a potential 2024 contender for the GOP nomination, is proposing legislation that would block corporations from writing off such costs for their employees and their families. Read more from Laura Davison and Ella Ceron.

Ky. 15-Week Abortion Ban Stuck for Now: Kentucky can’t enforce a new law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks, at least for the next 14 days, a federal judge in the state said. EMW Women’s Surgical Center showed it’s likely to succeed on its claim that the 15-week provision is unconstitutional, Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky said. Jennings temporarily halted the state from enforcing the ban starting Thursday. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more

Also Happening on the Hill

Kids’ Cancer Research Bill to Get Push in FDA Fee Plan Talks: Policy advocates and lawmakers are aiming to get several bills added into a must-pass FDA user fee package after proposals to boost pediatric cancer treatment research and improve oversight on diagnostic tests were left out of an initial version. The House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled Wednesday comprehensive legislation governing the fees from the drug and medical device industries that help fund the Food and Drug Administration. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are still hoping to add in language to improve the FDA’s regulation of certain devices and encourage investment in research on rare disease drugs. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on health is slated to hold a markup of the proposed package next week. Read more from Celine Castronuovo.

Democrats Seek Return of FTC Refund Power: A new bill from Senate Democrats would bring back the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to seek monetary awards for consumers in court. Under the proposal, the commission could ask a federal judge to require the return of money wrongfully taken from consumers and the forfeiture of ill-gotten gains. The bill also would make clear that the FTC can sue a business over prior practices, not just ongoing conduct. It would restore an agency authority the Supreme Court curtailed last year. Read more from Andrea Vittorio

Stay up to date with BGOV’s Calendar and Events.

What Else to Know

J&J’s Covid Shot Restricted by FDA on Rare Clotting Disorder: The Food and Drug Administration limited the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine to people 18 and older for whom other shots aren’t accessible or clinically appropriate, and those who would otherwise not get immunized against the virus, after an investigation of rare and potentially deadly clotting disorder that occurs in some recipients. J&J’s single-shot vaccine has been noted for its convenience compared to two-shot vaccines, especially in remote areas and in populations like the homeless who may be difficult to give repeat immunizations. Read more from Riley Griffin.

Biden Urged to Drop Covid Test Mandate: The travel industry is increasing pressure on the administration to begin allowing vaccinated people to fly into the U.S. without first testing negative for Covid-19. More than 250 travel groups and businesses, including airlines and airports, asked for the mandate to be dropped in a letter to White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha on Thursday. The administration has been mum on its plans to end the international testing requirements, which require a viral test no more than one day before a flight. Lillianna Byington has more.

Related: African Covid Cases Jump While Severe Disease Remains Low

Okla. PBM Law Heads to Appeals Court: A trade group representing pharmacy benefit managers will ask the Tenth Circuit to hear its case challenging an Oklahoma law regulating the industry, a court filing shows. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association on Wednesday announced it plans to appeal an April decision invalidating portions of the Oklahoma law while allowing other aspects to survive. The PCMA claimed the law is preempted by both Medicare Part D and the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Read more from Jacklyn Wille.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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