President Joe Biden receives a briefing on COVID-19 in July. (Photo: White House/Adam Schultz)

This is an excerpt from Medically Necessary, a health care supply chain newsletterSubscribe here.

The plan: A White House plan to counter future pandemics includes billions of dollars for efforts to speed up production and distribution of new vaccines, diagnostic tests and personal protective equipment. 

The $65 billion plan, released last Friday, also requests funding for surveillance of new pathogens, research into future therapeutics and expanding the public health workforce. In addition, the White House promised $3 billion to speed up production of existing COVID-19 vaccines.

Short term: On Thursday, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-⁠19 response coordinator, said the federal government would invest $3 billion to expand U.S. manufacturing of vaccine inputs.

“This funding, which will start going out in the coming weeks, will enable companies that manufacture and produce vaccine inputs to add new production lines and facilities and to also expand fill-finish capacity,” Zients said during a press briefing.

The investment would target products such as lipids, bioreactor bags, tubing and needles. Zients also said some funding could go toward production of medical gloves. The money will go to U.S. The contracting process to select those companies will start in the next few weeks.

Long term: The $65 billion pandemic preparedness plan is only a proposal and the funding would need to be approved by Congress. The White House suggests making those investments over the next seven to 10 years, with at least $15 billion of funding in the next federal budget.  

During a press briefing, Eric Lander, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, compared the scope of the plan to the Apollo missions that landed Americans on the moon.

“We have the opportunity, due to these kinds of advances in science and technology, not just to refill stockpiles but to transform our capabilities,” he said. “But we really need to start preparing now.”

Vaccines: The proposal suggests investing more than $24 billion into development, production and distribution of new vaccines. 

Before the onset of the next pandemic, the White House wants the U.S. to be able to produce enough vaccine for the entire world population within 200 days. The report estimates that it would currently take about three years for Pfizer-Biontech’s manufacturing facilities to produce 20 billion doses. 

That would require vaccine manufacturing facilities to remain “hot,” producing vaccines for infectious diseases or other products between pandemics.  

The White House also hopes to simplify distribution and administration of future vaccines. That includes developing technologies to avoid ultra-cold storage and transportation requirements and researching ways to use skin patches or nasal sprays to administer vaccines.

Diagnostics: The White House wants to dedicate $5 billion to expanding production capacity for diagnostic tests and developing cheap tests that could be adapted to monitor future pandemics.

Lander envisions a scenario in which diagnostic tests are so abundant that Americans can take daily tests at home and get results quickly.

“We would like to get to the place where, in a future pandemic some years from now, you don’t have to drive to CVS to get a test,” he said. “We would like to be able to have this be [something] that could be done extremely frequently and conveniently and inexpensively.”

Like vaccine production, that would require manufacturers of diagnostic tests to keep operating plants even in the absence of a pandemic. 

PPE: The plan also calls for a $3 billion investment into improving access to PPE. That means developing solutions to increase more effective or reusable products and increasing surge production capacity.  
Supply chains: The White House wants to invest $2.1 billion in replenishing pandemic stockpiles and building more resilient supply chains for critical medical products. 

Distributors’ opioid settlement moves to next step

(Photo: Tara Winstead)

The news: Medical distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson have decided to take the next step forward in a broad settlement that would resolve claims that the companies contributed to the opioid epidemic. The companies announced their decision in a joint press release on Saturday.

Background: In July, these three drug distributors proposed a wide-ranging $21 billion settlement with nearly all U.S. states and a large number of cities and counties. The companies would pay the settlement over the next 18 years. However, that settlement was contingent upon a critical mass of states and counties signing on.

The progress: Now 42 of the 49 eligible states, as well as Washington, D.C., have signed on to the agreement and all three distributors want to move forward. 

As of late August, Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Washington were among the states that hadn’t joined the lawsuit, according to Reuters

In the next step of the process, cities, counties and other political subdivisions will have the opportunity to sign on to the agreement. The final settlement amount will depend on how many states, cities and counties ultimately sign the agreement.

That process will take place over the next four months. Then, in early 2022, the distributors will determine whether enough cities and counties have signed on to justify moving forward with the process. 

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