HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Expects Vaccine for Anyone by Spring

President Joe Biden says he anticipates that coronavirus vaccines will be available to anyone in the nation by spring, an ambitious target that can only be met with sharp increases in the current pace of inoculations.

The U.S. is currently administering about 1.2 million shots a day, data compiled by Bloomberg show, and Biden said yesterday he expects that will soon reach 1.5 million doses. He said that his administration has “commitments from some of the producers that they’ll in fact produce more vaccine,” though didn’t say which companies.

Although increasing, the current pace threatens to stretch vaccinations into 2022, in part because the first two approved vaccines require two doses. Biden, when asked when anyone who wants the shot will be able to get it, said he believes that will be possible by the spring, while also “increasing the access” through summer.

“I feel confident that by summer, we’re going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity, and increasing the access for people” who aren’t at the top of the list, Biden said, speaking to reporters yesterday. “But I feel good about where we’re going and I think we can get it done.”

One of Biden’s leading coronavirus advisers said it would be the third or fourth quarter of the year by the time supply will catch up to demand. “I think we’re going to be into third or fourth quarter until we get to the point of everybody who wants to be vaccinated, vaccinated,” David Kessler, an aide advising Biden on the virus, said. But he added: “If we can do better, we will.” Read more from Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Epstein.

Biden Seeks More Doses Plus Help to Inject: The Biden administration said the U.S. needs more people to administer Covid-19 vaccinations, in addition to the doses themselves and places for people to get them. “This is a multifaceted challenge—it’s not just about having supply,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday. The administration is calling for hiring 100,000 public-health workers in part to ensure there are more vaccinators, Psaki said. Read more from Elise Young and Josh Wingrove.

Stimulus Update: Biden ‘Open to Negotiate’ on Stimulus, Seeks GOP Backing

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Pandemic Gets More Local as Cases Keep Dropping: Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations are receding from recent highs, but discrete outbreaks are still raging in places such as the Texas-Mexico border and parts of Alabama. The trend provides a preview of how the pandemic may look during the months to come. The seven-day average of Covid-19 cases fell to 167,240—the lowest since Dec. 2, according to Covid Tracking Project data. For the first time since October, no state had over 1,000 average daily cases per million, the data show, Jonathan Levin reports.

  • California and other large states are loosening Covid restrictions just as scientists warn that more-contagious variants of the virus are beginning to take hold in the U.S. and the vaccine rollout struggles. With a two-month spike in cases beginning to subside, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is lifting the state’s stay-at-home order. New York, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts also are easing restrictions, Christopher Palmeri and Emma Court report.

U.S. Lags in Surveillance of Variants: The U.S. faces a steep uphill struggle in gearing up to monitor Covid-19 variants, a key part of watching for the emergence of dangerous mutations that might spread quickly, evade vaccines or kill more infected people. Other countries, such as the U.K., have established robust, nationwide DNA surveillance programs to identify new covid genomes and track the spread of existing ones. But the U.S. has not: It ranks 32nd in the world for the number of sequences completed per 1,000 Covid cases, according to data from GISAID, a global database where researchers share new genomes. While the Biden administration is promising to boost the country’s sequencing efforts, it won’t be easy. Read more from Kristen V. Brown.

  • Vaccine coverage won’t reach a point that would stop transmission of the virus in the foreseeable future, the World Health Organization said. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the world is risking more virus variations by not pushing for vaccines in developing nations. Separately, the first case of Covid-19 caused by an emerging Brazilian variant of the virus has been identified in the U.S., in a Minnesota resident who recently returned from a trip to Brazil, Bloomberg News reports.

Moderna Says Vaccine Works Against Variants: Moderna said its vaccine will protect against two known variants of SARS-CoV-2, but it plans to launch human studies for a booster against a strain from South Africa that may cause immunity to wane more quickly. In lab tests, Moderna’s vaccine produced antibody protection against the “B.1.1.7″ strain first identified in the U.K. at comparable levels. But against “B.1.351,” the South Africa variant, antibodies were six-fold lower, the company said. Read more from Robert Langreth.

  • The rapid rollout of vaccines from front-runners including Pfizer is forcing those trailing behind to shift their focus to fighting potentially more dangerous versions of the coronavirus and find other ways to deploy their technologies. Imperial College London is unlikely to go ahead with a late-stage trial in the U.K. to test its experimental Covid-19 shot, now that three vaccines have been approved in the country, according to Robin Shattock, the professor leading the research. Instead, his team will aim to provide a boost to first-generation shots, protect people against new variants and combat future threats, he said. Read more from James Paton.
  • Also in vaccine research, Merck is ending development of its two experimental Covid-19 vaccines after early data showed they failed to generate immune responses comparable to a natural infection or existing vaccines. The drugmaker, which has successfully made vaccines often, used a different approach than Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, using the older tactic of injecting weakened viruses. Riley Griffin has more.

Keep Up Scientific Momentum Post-Pandemic, Collins Says: Without a home run antiviral for Covid-19, Francis Collins wants a big push to develop a treatment from scratch to prepare for future pandemics. That work will likely take two to three years and definitely require more funding, the longtime director of the National Institutes of Health acknowledged. By then the nation should be long past herd immunity in the present crisis, which could happen this fall if 70% to 85% of the U.S. population receives their vaccines, Jeannie Baumann reports.

  • Vaccines and monocolonal antibodies will adapt quickly to fight off new strains of the virus—if such a need emerges—under a new NIH program. Leaders at the National Institutes of Health told Bloomberg Law that they’re using ACTIV, the public-private partnership for accelerating Covid-19 therapeutic interventions and vaccines, to coordinate data from industry, government, and academia to determine whether the new strains make a vaccine or antibody less useful. Jeannie Baumann has more.

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What Else to Know Today

DeLauro to Keep HHS Spending Gavel: House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will continue to chair the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee in the 117th Congress while also holding the gavel of the committee at large, according to a statement. DeLauro also re-named Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) as the chairman of the Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee, Jack Fitzpatrick reports. Read the full Democratic member roster here.

Anti-Abortion Group Praises Manchin on Filibuster: The Susan- B. Anthony List, a nonprofit organization that opposes U.S. abortion access, praised Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in a statement for defending the Senate’s filibuster rule. The group claims that “pro-abortion extremists now controlling Washington want to eliminate the legislative filibuster so they can force taxpayer-funded abortions and expand the size of the Supreme Court, filling it with pro-abortion justices,” according to SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

Medicaid Expansion Measures Brewing in More States: Health policy advocates in Florida, Mississippi, and South Dakota are pushing for Medicare expansion at the ballot box as a way to get around Republican opposition in the statehouse. They’re the last states where passing Medicaid expansion by ballot initiative is a possibility under their state constitutions. Six GOP-led states have expanded Medicaid eligibility by ballot initiatives so far: Maine in 2017; Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah in 2018; and Oklahoma and Missouri in 2020. Read more from Christopher Brown.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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