As states were formulating plans to vaccinate their residents against COVID-19 last fall, top Trump administration officials pushed Congress to deny the state governments any extra funding for the vaccine rollout, Stat News reported Sunday. The officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House Office of Management and Budget chief Russ Vought, disregarded "frantic warnings from state officials that they didn't have the money they needed to ramp up a massive vaccination operation," focusing instead on $200 million the states had not yet spent, Stat reports.
Vought was "obsessed" with the fact that states hadn't already spent the allocated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Republican Senate aide told Stat, adding that even staunch fiscal conservatives in Congress knew states needed more than $200 million to inoculate 300 million Americans. But "much of the lobbying push came from Paul Mango, the former deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services," Stat reports, citing a Democratic congressional aide and Mango himself.
"A lot of them had shut down their economies and they weren't getting tax revenue," Mango told Stat. "I'm sure they could use money — that's not in dispute — what's in dispute is whether they needed money given all they hadn't used to actually administer vaccines."
The National Governors Association and the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) both warned the Trump administration last fall that more funding was needed to prepare for the soon-to-be-approved vaccines, and former CDC Director Robert Redfield had asked Congress for $6 billion for the states' efforts. Mango told Stat that Redfield was "lobbying Congress for money behind our back" to "help their friends at the state public health offices."
State health departments note they were not vaccinating anyone in October and said they were drawing down sources of money that were set to expire before tapping the $200 million, especially because it wasn't certain Congress would allocate anymore. Congress did approve $4.5 billion in December, but the funds didn't start arriving in states until January. Read more about the lobbying effort, what effect it may have had on the slow rollout, and the schism between the Trump political appointees and public health officials at Stat News.
UPDATE: Vought called Stat's reporting "false" through a spokeswoman, saying he "was supportive of everything going to states on vaccine rollout."