As states around the country screamed last fall for funding from Congress to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, the Trump administration lobbied lawmakers to oppose it, a new report says.
Stat reported that the campaign was spearheaded by an HHS official named Paul Mango, who wanted states to account for $200 million issued by the CDC before agreeing to give any more.
“A lot of them had shut down their economies and they weren’t getting tax revenue,” he 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.”
That amount – $200 million – is a fraction of the $8.75 billion that the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, a group representing states in the effort to secure vaccine distribution funding, was demanding.
Mango did not return an emailed request for comment. During his time in the Trump administration, Mango would tell reporters that the administration was “on track to deliver hundreds of millions of doses by January 2021.”
The revelation of a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign to prevent Congress from funding the vaccine rollout accounts in part for why it took so long for money to be appropriated to the effort.
State officials had been demanding that Congress pass money to fund vaccine distribution since May 2020. Instead, a bill that appropriated $8.75 billion for the effort was only passed in December 2020, meaning that money from that legislation is only starting to be used by state officials now, with the vaccination campaign well underway.
Mango, former deputy chief of staff for policy at HHS, told Stat that he was concerned states would use the $200 million that had been distributed nationally to plug budget holes created because of pandemic-related losses in tax revenue. After then-CDC Director Robert Redfield told Congress that states would need billions more in funding to effectively distribute the vaccine, Mango accused the agency of “lobbying Congress for money behind our back.”
“I call it the mutual-admiration society — they were trying to help their friends at the state public health offices even though they didn’t have any real plan to spend the money,” Mango told Stat.
The lack of funding for distribution has delayed the COVID vaccination campaign, depriving states of the ability to hire vaccinators and slowing down the local public health departments responsible for managing the last mile of distribution.