HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Booster Mandate Sought for Health Workers

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Health-care workers should be required to get Covid-19 booster shots, an array of groups representing medical professionals, patients, and seniors is urging the Biden administration.

They say the government’s mandate needs to be updated in order to keep patients and staff safe as the fast-spreading omicron variant continues to overwhelm hospitals. When the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published its vaccine mandate in early November, South African researchers had yet to discover the omicron variant, which carries a greater risk of breakthrough infection or reinfection than previous variants.

Deaths are still rising in the U.S. as total cases drop. Nearly 2,300 people died daily due to Covid-19 over the past week, adding to the 880,000 death toll since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though new hospital admissions for patients with Covid-19 have trended downward since the middle of January, they are still higher than at any other point of the pandemic.

The CDC recently decided to “pivot the language” from a focus on being fully vaccinated to being “up to date” with the vaccines, which includes a booster dose five months after a two-dose series, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a White House press briefing Jan. 21.

Given the growing evidence that boosters help fend off the virus, advocates at organizations including the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the Center for Elder Law and Justice, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, AARP, and the Service Employees International Union are asking the CMS to align its mandate with the CDC’s recommendation. But several groups, like the American Hospital Association, have been quiet on the matter. Read more from Allie Reed.

Happening on the Hill

Bipartisan Duo Wants Better Genomic Sequencing: U.S. health agencies looking to identify emerging threats through genetic surveillance and genomic sequencing would have $175 million annually from fiscal 2023 through 2027 under legislation unveiled yesterday by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). Their bill proposes expanded activities at the CDC and National Institutes of Health, as well as establishing centers of excellence to spur innovation in pathogen genomics and molecular epidemiology, Jeannie Baumann reports.

A spokesperson for Baldwin’s office said they want their bill to be included in the larger pandemic response legislation from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the panel’s ranking member, issued a draft version last week and signaled they were open to additional language. Section 212 of their bill includes some provisions to beef up genomic sequencing, analytics, and public health surveillance of pathogens.

FDA Nominee Makes Pledges to Win Over Warren: Biden’s nominee to lead the FDA, Robert Califf, has made concessions to successfully secure the support of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Politico reports. Califf, who served as FDA chief in the Obama administration, agreed to not seek employment or compensation from any pharmaceutical or medical device firms for four years following his time in government, in addition to recusing himself from matters before the FDA that involve Duke University, Politico says. Warren’s office told Politico she now plans to support him. Read more.

House Democrats Push for Drug Pricing Measures: Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and 40 Democrats urged in a letter House leadership that the chamber take up legislation to lower the cost of drug prices, after the Build Back Better Act that the House passed last year stalled in the Senate. “President Biden supports this plan. We support this plan. Every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate supports this plan. And most importantly, the American people support this plan. It is time to enact it into law,” the letter says.

More on the Pandemic

FDA Fully Approves Moderna Vaccine: Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine won full approval from the Food and Drug Administration for people 18 and older, an important milestone that bolsters the shot’s use as a major weapon against the virus. The vaccine, which goes by the brand name Spikevax, had previously been available to adults in the U.S. under an emergency authorization from the FDA. But the total clearance allows Moderna to market its vaccine to adults with the full imprimatur of the FDA. Pfizer has the only other fully authorized vaccine in the U.S. Read more from Riley Griffin.

Tests Provide Latest Venue for Suspected Fraudsters: As a new government website went live to offer free Covid-19 test kits, a rash of new domain names were registered. Some had remarkably similar URLs, or were almost the same but slightly misspelled. Cybersecurity experts say the goal was likely the same for all of them: bogus domain names to be used for phishing attacks and other scams. Suspected fraudsters are said to have registered over 600 suspicious domain registrations since Jan. 15, around the time Biden administration announced details about the free Covid-19 tests. Jeff Stone has more.

Virginia Could Kill First-in-U.S. Workplace Virus Rule: Virginia officials may rescind the state’s first-in-the-nation standard for protecting workers from Covid-19 infections. The potential withdrawal of that rule has been sought by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R). Virginia is one of 21 states federally approved to enact protections for workers at private firms and state and local governments. If the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration measure is repealed, many Virginia employers would no longer have to require those who work indoors to mask up. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

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What Else to Know Today

Biomedical Workforce Boost Expected in STEM Talent Effort: A White House initiative to attract foreign STEM talent will likely address shortages in the biomedical research workforce, but will have few impacts on the growing drought of physicians in the U.S. A series of policy moves from Biden’s White House include adding nearly two dozen study fields to a student visa program that lets graduates stay in the country for up to three years to complete optional practical training. A senior official in the White House science office says biomedical research will see some impact. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Purdue Litigation Shield for Sacklers Should Lapse, Cities Say: Municipalities that sued Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers urged a court to let the bankruptcy liability shield protecting the Sackler family members expire on Feb. 1 as scheduled. The OxyContin manufacturer has insisted that it needs time and focus to hammer out negotiations with victims and other parties as its bankruptcy proceedings continue. Read more from Alex Wolf.

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With assistance from Jeannie Baumann

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at; Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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