Cities, Counties Ask CDC For $8 Billion To Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine

December 16, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s distribution of $140 million for COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and nearly $87 million for tracking and testing is far below the more than $8 billion health officials estimate they will need to support rolling out the vaccine -- and complicating matters further, one expert says there’s no guarantee the latest funds will make it to the frontlines.

HHS announced Tuesday (Dec. 15) the CDC is awarding nearly $227 million for COVID-19 vaccine preparedness and response activities, such as improving public health laboratory equipment and optimizing data sharing and communication with international travelers. The last CDC funding aimed at COVID-19 vaccine distribution was $200 million in September.

“This new round of funding will help these awardees continue to plan for and implement their COVID-19 vaccine programs, in collaboration with CDC, Operation Warp Speed, and the private-sector distribution and administration partners that we have enlisted,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

But Azar has previously said states don’t need additional funding for the rollout of a vaccine program, as there’s plenty of funding available to meet their needs. The secretary’s comments at the time contradicted CDC Director Robert Redfield, who said in a September hearing his agency needed another $6 billion to support vaccine distribution.

Redfield said in the Tuesday statement that the additional $227 million will have lasting effects on the country’s public health infrastructure and it is an important step towards restoring some normalcy.

But the National Association of Counties estimates county health officials need at least $8 billion, of which $3 billion would go to workforce recruitment and training, $1.2 billion to cold supply chain management and $500 million to technology and data system enhancements.

That nearly $8 billion was also requested by the Association of Immunization Managers and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials in a letter to congressional leaders Oct. 15. They also asked lawmakers to include in the next COVID-19 relief package $500 million for seasonal influenza operations.

“While every dollar helps, this is far below the over $8 [billion] that we project is necessary for meaningful support of the vaccine rollout,” Adriane Casalotti, National Association of County and City Health Officials chief of government and public affairs, said in email. “Moreover, there is no guarantee that any of this money will get to the front lines of the response and the nearly 3000 local health departments across the country who are not directly funded jurisdictions.”

The federal government gives money directly to only five big cities, she added, so the other cities are dependent on their states deciding how much, when or if they’re going to share that money from the CDC. It is also difficult for states to pass along a meaningful amount if they don’t have enough to begin with, Casalotti said.

Meanwhile, states are facing a deadline to spend all their CARES Act funding by Dec. 30 or they must return it to the federal government.

As a result, health officials are spending as much of the money as possible before the new year. Unfortunately, they can really only spend it on equipment -- tents, personal protective equipment, vaccine storage freezers and mobile trailers -- as long-term planning, like hiring staff to administer and track the COVID-19 vaccine doses, is impossible when that money won’t be available next month, Casalotti said. -- Dorothy Mills-Gregg (