White House coronavirus response coordinator Ashish Jha on Tuesday warned that existing COVID-19 treatments may not work against emerging subvariants of the omicron strain and a lack of congressional funding puts immunocompromised people at risk.
“With some of the new subvariants emerging, some of the main tools we’ve had to protect the immunocompromised, like Evusheld, may not work moving forward. That’s a huge challenge,” Jha said.
Jha was echoing a warning offered by President Biden earlier in the day.
“New variants may make some existing protections ineffective for the immunocompromised. Sadly, this means you may be at a special risk this winter,” Biden said in remarks while getting his updated booster shot. “So, I urge you — I urge you to consult with your doctor on the right steps to protect yourself. Take extra precautions.”
Evusheld is the only monoclonal antibody authorized as a periodic injection to prevent infection and has been essential for people with compromised or weakened immune systems.
But experts and health officials have become alarmed that the treatment does not work against the BA.4.6 strain, which accounts for about 12 percent of all infections.
The warnings come as most of the country has returned to pre-pandemic life, going to large indoor gatherings and events and not wearing masks.
Jha said that without additional funding from Congress, the administration won’t be able to invest in treatments that work against emerging variants. Other monoclonal antibodies that were previously successful against older variants, such as one made by Regeneron, have been pulled from the market, as they are no longer effective against new variants.
“Lack of congressional funding has made it difficult for us to replenish our medicine cabinet,” Jha said. “Because of a lack of congressional funding, the medicine cabinet has actually shrunk, and that does put vulnerable people at risk.”