HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Team Plans Pharma Meetings on Virus

President-elect Joe Biden’s team will begin meeting with Pfizer and other leading pharmaceutical companies within days, as they continue the transition to a new administration amid the escalating coronavirus pandemic, his chief of staff said yesterday.

“We’re going to have meetings between our top scientific advisers and the officials of these drug companies, not just Pfizer, but there are other promising vaccines as well,” Ron Klain said on NBC’s Meet the Press. Bloomberg News reported last week that the consultations between Biden’s advisers and the pharmaceutical industry began even before the election against President Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

Biden’s team met with companies that had Covid-19 vaccines or therapies in late-stage clinical trials in September and October, the people said. Their goal was to gather information about the development, manufacturing and distribution of shots to ward off the novel coronavirus and therapies to treat the sick.

Yesterday, Klain also stressed the importance of establishing an effective distribution system for a vaccine, as well as the necessity for the General Services Administration to ascertain the election so Biden’s team can communicate with U.S. government officials. “It’s great to have a vaccine, but vaccines don’t save lives. Vaccinations save lives,” Klain said.

“That means you’ve got to get that vax out into people’s arms all over this country,” he said. “It’s a giant logistical project.” Read more from Tyler Pager.

Fauci Says Pfizer Trials May Boost Acceptance: The success of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine trial may help persuade more Americans to get inoculated amid a surge in new coronavirus cases, according to Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious-disease doctor. Pfizer’s vaccine, developed in collaboration with German firm BioNTech, has “an extraordinarily high degree of efficacy—more than 90%, close to 95%,” Fauci said in an interview Saturday. That could be a key factor in overcoming reluctance to take pandemic vaccines that have been developed at top speed. Read more from Jason Gale.

More on Vaccines:

Biden’s Aides Say Lockdown Not on Agenda: Two of Biden’s coronavirus advisers said they favor targeted local measures to stem the pandemic and oppose a nationwide U.S. lockdown as too blunt. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general who’s one of Biden’s leading three advisers on the virus, said that based upon what the nation has learned about Covid-19 since the spring, the preferred approach of fighting the disease is “a dial that we turn up and down depending on severity.” A nationwide lockdown would exacerbate “pandemic fatigue,” which would undermine federal virus efforts, he said. Read more from Tony Czuczka and Bill Allison.

Congressional Virus Efforts

Loeffler Pushes Health-Care Modernization Bill: Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), facing a January runoff for her Senate seat, introduced a sweeping health care bill that encapsulates much of Trump’s health agenda. The Modernizing Americans’ Health Care Plan would create a trade representative focused on advocating for the U.S. medical supply chain and to combat “foreign freeloading” on drug pricing, a nod toward how Trump talks about the issue. The bill would also codify a Trump-administration regulation expanding the availability of short-term health plans and try to shift more manufacturing of medical products to the U.S.

Also like Trump, Loeffler contrasted her vision of health care with that of Democrats, who’ve largely tried to build on the Affordable Care Act and kill much of Trump’s health regulations. “The Left wants to socialize our nation’s health care, turning it into a government-run system that would limit choice, lower the quality of care and take away private health insurance from roughly 180 million Americans,” she said in a statement, Alex Ruoff reports.

Hearings on Coronavirus:

More on the Pandemic

US Tops 11 Million Cases: The U.S. surpassed 11 million coronavirus cases yesterday as Florida reported the most new infections since July and California reached a three-month high. In a respite for New Yorkers, the city’s public schools will remain open today, even as New Jersey counted record Covid-19 cases for the second straight day. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) announced a three-week partial lockdown for her state. Read more from Bloomberg News.

No Medical ‘Cavalry’ Coming to Rescue: The nationwide surge of the coronavirus threatens to overwhelm America’s medical workforce. Prior waves of the pandemic were geographically concentrated: the Northeast in the spring, then the Sun Belt over the summer. Today’s cases and hospitalizations are widespread, increasing in 49 states over the past week. One-in-5,000 Americans is currently hospitalized with the disease, the most ever in data aggregated by the Covid Tracking Project.

Without enough workers to care for the sick, hospitals will face brutal triage decisions about which patients can be saved. They may run out of space, forcing the sick to suffer in hallways and improvised intensive care units. And the months of psychic strain on doctors and nurses will redouble. Health-care systems are seeing higher turnover and attrition, and more vacant positions that take longer to fill. And workers are also out sick with Covid-19, or quarantining after being exposed. Read more from John Tozzi and Jonathan Levin.

Death Toll Mounts With Difficult Weeks Ahead: The U.S. is starting to see a rising death toll from its latest spate of Covid-19 cases, and it’s poised to get worse in the weeks to come. The country added 2,238 new deaths Friday, the highest in almost five months, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The seven-day average for fatalities in America was 1,052 on Thursday, close to the highest since mid-August, according to the Covid Tracking Project. A consensus of models tracked by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Reich Lab shows the daily pace set to rise by 200 by early December. Jonathan Levin has more.

  • Still, the death rate of infected people in the U.S. has declined by 30% since April due to improved medical treatments, a study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found. The researchers forecast that total U.S. deaths will reach 439,000 by next March after topping 2,200 a day in mid-January as the number of cases rise. The model includes 33 states levying strict social-distancing rules. Read more.

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What Else to Know

Lawmaker Seeks Withdrawal of JUUL Application: Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s consumer policy panel, wrote a letter to Juul Labs on Friday demanding the withdrawal of a Premarket Tobacco Product Application for menthol-flavored products, and for the company to send his panel a copy of the submission. “JUUL should act this year in a manner consistent with last year and withdraw this dangerous product from the market,” Krishnamoorthi wrote. Read the letter here.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@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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