HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden to Shift Virus Funds to Migrant Kids

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to reallocate $860 million of funds appropriated to the National Institutes of Health to cover an increase in pandemic-related costs associated with unaccompanied children at the border.

Health Secretary Xavier Becerra notified members of Congress yesterday that the department would reallocate funding to cover increased costs in ensuring the safety of children arriving at the Southwestern border, as well as staff attending to them at shelters, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg News.

A Biden administration official said that the need for pandemic-related precautions, such as testing and quarantining, has added at least $1.7 billion in costs to the program.

The U.S. has seen Covid-19 infections plateau in recent weeks as the more contagious delta variant becomes the dominant strain of the coronavirus circulating in the country. At the same time, the country’s vaccination effort has slowed, and is now averaging fewer than 1 million shots administered each day. Nearly half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.

In a letter to lawmakers including House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Becerra said the pandemic has increased the program’s operating costs, requiring that children be quarantined and that emergency intake shelters have enough distancing measures in place to keep children and staff safe.

Meeting this demand, Becerra said in the letter, has substantially reduced the number of state-licensed shelter beds. The U.S. must deploy influx and emergency intake shelters as quickly as possible, he said. Read more from Riley Griffin.

  • Separately, the American Hospital Association and the American Association of International Healthcare Recruitment are pressing U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to revise visa policies in order to move foreign nurses from the lowest to the highest priority processing group, according to a statement. The request comes after the pandemic illuminated hospital staffing shortages and the backlog of international nurse visas.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Trump Country Rejects Vaccines as Delta Menace Grows: President Joe Biden set a goal for 70% of American adults to get at least one Covid-19 shot by July 4, a symbolic nod to Independence Day. Despite ample vaccine supplies, he missed that target, largely because the government has struggled to give away shots in rural, deeply conservative regions that are bastions of support for his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Two Americas have emerged from the growing vaccination gap. In one, dominated by states that Biden won in the November election, most adults got their shots and daily life is rapidly returning to normal, with assurances from health officials that the worst is over. But in the other — overwhelmingly Trump country — fewer adults are vaccinated and health officials fear that the new, more transmissible delta variant, first observed in India, is driving a surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Pentagon Weighs Mandating Troop Vaccines Pending FDA: Pentagon officials are discussing whether to require troops to take Covid-19 vaccines as the Food and Drug Administration moves toward full approval of the shots, top military spokesman John Kirby said yesterday.

Inoculation remains voluntary for 2.9 million military service members and civilian personnel because Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have only been granted federal emergency use authorizations. Pentagon officials decided the emergency use doesn’t provide the legal authority to mandate vaccinations. That could soon change as vaccine makers have applied for full federal approval, and the military looks to boost its current vaccination rates. Read more from Travis J. Tritten.

CDC Says mRNA Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Risks: The benefits of messenger RNA Covid-19 vaccines clearly outweigh the risks despite heart complications seen in a small number of mostly young males, according to the CDC. Roughly 1,200 cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart wall, were seen in people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report yesterday, against nearly 300 million doses delivered. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

African Union Sees 15 Million Vaccines From U.S.: The African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told the continent’s ministers of health that they have 15 million vaccines donated by the U.S. that are ready for distribution. The shipment, which will be distributed by the vaccine sharing initiative Covax, consist of 5 million one-dose Johnson & Johnson shots and 10 million Pfizer shots, the organizations wrote in a memo seen by Bloomberg. Loni Prinsloo and Antony Sguazzin have more.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Veteran of Obama Health Agency Tapped to Head Medicare Program: An Obama-era veteran of the Affordable Care Act wars and surgeon will take charge of the nation’s Medicare program in the Biden administration, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced. Meena Seshamani, a head-and-neck surgeon who most recently was vice president of clinical care transformation at MedStar Health, became deputy administrator of CMS and director of the Center for Medicare yesterday. Read more from Christopher Brown.

FDA Ban of Electroshock Devices for Some Vacated: The U.S. government’s ban on an electric shock treatment for patients with self-injurious and aggressive behaviors, but not for other purposes, amounts to impermissibly practicing medicine, a divided D.C. Circuit panel ruled yesterday. The Food and Drug Administration “lacks the authority to ban a medical device for a particular use,” Judge David B. Sentelle said for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Martina Barash has more.

Federal Circuit Debates Fate of $1.2 Billion Bristol-Myers Win: Gilead Sciences subsidiary Kite Pharma asked the Federal Circuit at oral argument to overturn various rulings that led to a $1.2 billion patent judgment in favor of Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Juno Therapeutics and the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. Read more from Perry Cooper.

More Headlines:

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

Top