HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden, Governors to Swap Vaccination Ideas

President Joe Biden will trade ideas with U.S. governors about how to vaccinate more Americans, after the number of people signing up for shots fell sharply over the last month.

Biden will meet virtually with the leaders of Massachusetts, Utah, Ohio, New Mexico, Maine and Minnesota to discuss “innovative ways governors are working to get the people in their states vaccinated,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

Biden has said the country has entered a new phase of its vaccination campaign as domestic demand weakens. The U.S. is administering about 2.1 million shots per day, down from 3.4 million shots about a month ago, even though there’s enough supply to give more.

But working in the president’s favor: coronavirus cases are falling at an even faster pace tahan vaccinations. The U.S. reported 21,767 new cases on Sunday, the lowest daily total since June 2020. In early April, the country was still averaging more than 60,000 new cases a day, according to CDC data.

The pool of people who will eagerly seek out an appointment to get a vaccine is all but exhausted, forcing the government to shifting its attention to those willing to take it but who don’t want to go out of their way.

The administration’s moves include winding down mass vaccination clinics while steering more shots to rural and mobile sites. Some states are meanwhile trying carrots: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has proposed giving a $100 savings bond to anyone age 16-35 who gets a shot, while leaders in New Jersey, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. have offered beers and shots of liquor. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Happening on the Hill

Murray to Press Global Vaccine Access: The head of a key Senate committee will tell key members of the Biden administration more action is needed to to increase vaccine access globally, according to excerpts of her remarks shared with Bloomberg Government. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, will underscore the need to help countries like India, hit hard by the pandemic and struggling to widely vaccinate its population, Alex Ruoff reports.

“This pandemic has touched every community in our country, and every corner of the world,” Murray is expected to say. “To truly end it, vaccines have to be just as widespread.”

Murray also will announce she and top Republican Richard Burr (N.C.) are working on legislation to address “lessons learned from the COVID-19 response,” according to the statement.

  • The Senate HELP Committee will host National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, who serves as Biden’s Chief Medical Adviser, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, along with two other Biden administration health officials today in hearing on the federal response to Covid-19.

HHS No. 2 Pick Moves Closer to Confirmation: Biden’s pick to be the second in command at HHS, Andrea Palm, inched one step closer yesterday to confirmation after the Senate voted 62-35 to limit debate on her nomination to serve as HHS deputy secretary. A final vote is expected today. Palm previously headed Wisconsin’s Health Services Department, overseeing its $12 billion budget and over 6,000 employees, and served as the HHS’s chief of staff and as senior counselor to the secretary during the Obama administration. Shira Stein has more.

  • CMS Nomination: The Senate may consider a motion to discharge the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today, according to a schedule from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin‘s (D-Ill) office. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee split 14-14 in a vote last month to advance Brooks-LaSure. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has put a hold on Brooks-LaSure’s nomination over the Biden administration’s decision to disapprove a 10-year extension for his state’s Medicaid waiver, Alex Ruoff reports.

House to Consider Mental Health Measures: The House today will consider a slate of mental health-related measures under expedited procedure that indicates broad bipartisan support. Find the fill list of legislation and BGOV Bill Summaries here.

Wyden Announces Health Hires to Panel: Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced new additions and changes to the health-care team of the committee’s Democratic staff, according to a statement. Anna Kaltenboeck joins the committee as senior health adviser, targeting drug costs and Medicare Part D; Eva DuGoff joins as senior health adviser, focusing on health coverage under the Affordable Care Act; and Liz Dervan will now lead work on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program as health counsel, the statement says. Read the full statement here.

Medicare Negotiation Effort Spurs Look at VA Model: Lawmakers pushing for Medicare to negotiate its own drug prices can draw inspiration from the Veterans Health Administration’s method of extracting deep discounts from the pharmaceutical sector. A GAO report this year found the Veterans Health Administration, part of the Veterans Affairs Department, paid 54% less than Medicare for 399 brand-name and generic drugs in 2017. But analysts say applying that model would require fundamental changes to Medicare. Tony Pugh has more.

Feinstein Asks CDC for Stronger Airborne Guidance: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked the CDC yesterday for more guidance on Covid-19 prevention after the agency updated last week its risk analysis of airborne transmission occurring in distances farther than six feet, according to a statement. “I ask that you finally release strong guidance to ensure the public is fully informed on how to best protect themselves against airborne transmission,” Feinstein said, referencing a similar request she made in June 2020.

More on the Pandemic

Pfizer Shot Gets U.S. Clearance for Young Teens: Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine was cleared for use in minors age 12 to 15 in the U.S., paving the way for the mass vaccination of middle- and high-school students before summer camps and the next school year. The FDA said in a statement yesterday it expanded the shot’s original emergency use authorization to include adolescents. The vaccine generated a strong immune response, there were no cases of Covid in the vaccinated group, and there were no signs of any new or worrisome side effects, Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a news conference.

A group of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet tomorrow to make recommendations for administration of the shots. Kids could begin receiving them as soon as Thursday, Marks said. While adolescent cases tend to be milder, kids can still spread the disease and child cases are responsible for a rising share of the nation’s total, as more adults get vaccinated. Read more from Riley Griffin and Robert Langreth.

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What Else to Know Today

U.S. Reverses Trump LGBTQ Health-Care Rule: The federal government will begin enforcing protections for LGBTQ Americans in health care again, reversing a ban put in place during the Trump administration, the Health and Human Services Department said yesterday. The move to do so was made in light of the Supreme Court’s finding in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that LGBT people are protected from discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The court “has made clear that people have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement yesterday. “Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences.” Read more from Shira Stein.

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With assistance from Alex Ruoff

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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