HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Designing Biden’s 100,000 New Health Jobs

Democrats are looking at creating a massive public health workforce to bolster President Joe Biden’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and they’ll have to balance competing visions for where health workers are needed most.

Biden said he wants 100,000 new workers to expand America’s public health infrastructure to aid contact tracing, vaccine outreach, and other efforts. The cost could run $7 billion or more and is slated to be part of a relief package of as much as $1.9 trillion that Democrats intend to vote on in the coming weeks.

The U.S. Covid-19 response has lacked the personnel needed to track virus outbreaks, expand capacity at public health departments and help Americans address everyday problems related to the pandemic, such as navigating health-care systems to find a vaccine or get information, lawmakers argue.

The added funding will aim to get health services into underserved communities, typically Black and Latino neighborhoods, to “perform vital tasks like vaccine outreach and contact tracing,” House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said recently.

Andy Levin (Mich.), the second-highest ranking Democrat on the House Education and Labor Committee, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are pushing to include in the relief package their proposal to create national contact tracing that will also work as a jobs program, sending the unemployed to health departments.

Levin’s legislation (H.R. 710) would give money to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would provide grants to state, local, and tribal health departments to hire contact tracers, and the Labor Department, which would give money to workforce agencies. The focus, Levin claims, is to create temporary public health jobs and training programs that could lead to other opportunities.

“This could be a major jobs bill,” he said. “If you get one of these jobs, it could launch to an opportunity to a hotel manager or some other type of job that needs the same skills you’ve picked up.” Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Biden Doubts Herd Immunity by End of Summer

Biden said it’s unlikely the U.S. will reach herd immunity for the coronavirus before the end of the summer due to a shortfall in vaccine availability.

“The idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of this summer is very difficult,” Biden said in an interview with CBS News that aired yesterday during Super Bowl pre-game coverage.

Biden also said the Centers for Disease Control would issue guidance soon on how to reopen classrooms safely, a key early goal of his administration that’s part of getting the economy back on track.

“Look, it was one thing if we had enough vaccine, which we don’t. So we’re pushing as hard as we can to get more vaccine manufactured,” he said.

So far, 40.5 million doses have been administered in the U.S., according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Biden also said his administration may take the National Football League up on an offer to make its stadiums available as mass vaccination sites. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the offer in a letter last week. Biden today will virtually tour State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., which is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Biden’s Team to Use DPA for Vaccines: The Biden administration announced plans Friday to use the Defense Production Act to increase supplies for manufacturing of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and to ramp up availability of at-home virus tests. Priority ratings will give Pfizer first access to raw materials, allowing the company to boost manufacturing and meet its delivery targets, Tim Manning, Covid-19 supply czar, said at a White House briefing. Read more from Emma Court and Josh Wingrove.

  • Biden will send approximately more than 1,000 troops across the country to assist states with mass vaccination sites, Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to the White House’s Covid-19 response team told reporters at a briefing on Friday. The first troop deployment will head to California in the coming week, Peyton Forte reports.
  • In addition to today’s virtual tour of a vaccination center, Biden will meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a separate White House briefing. Biden will also visit the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, Psaki said, Megan Howard reports.

Happening on the Hill

What’s Next For the Relief Package: Congressional committees are set to start crafting legislation this week on specific components of Biden’s Covid-19 relief plan after votes in the House and Senate Friday on a budget resolution for 2021. House committees are planning public sessions to work on the text of the proposal. The House Ways and Means Committee will likely take three days to process amendments from both parties on its portion of the bill. By Feb. 16, the 12 House committees and 11 Senate committees that share jurisdiction over components of the stimulus bill must deliver their portions to the House and Senate budget committees. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Bipartisan Bill Unveiled to Boost Marijuana Research: Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have unveiled a bill to encourage scientific and medical research of marijuana and cannabidiol, according to a statement. The bill would require HHS and NIH to submit a report to Congress within a year of the bill becoming law any data on the harms and benefits of marijuana use, the statement says. Read more from Peyton Forte.

DeFazio Warns Biden on Airline Testing Mandate: House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said he warned Biden against requiring Covid-19 tests for domestic air travel, arguing it could ground the airline industry. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said testing passengers “isn’t the best use of our resources.” Read more from Erik Wasson and Alan Levin.

  • Meanwhile, U.S. travelers will face a fine of $250 for refusing to wear a mask on a plane if it’s the first time they fail to do so. Repeated offenses could be punished with as much as $1,500, the Transportation Security Administration said on Friday. The agency may seek a “sanction amount that falls outside these ranges” if there are substantial aggravating or mitigating factors, it added. Shaun Courtney and Kasia Klimasinska have more.

Lawmakers Seek $25 Billion for Federal Research: A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced legislation on Friday to provide billions of dollars in emergency relief to U.S. researchers to “continue their important, federally funded projects through the pandemic,” according to a statement. The bill would provide $25 billion to independent research institutions, laboratories, and universities to continue their work on thousands of federally backed projects, the statement says. Read text of the legislation here.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Worker Cash-for-Vaccine Incentives Boom: One of the largest hospital systems in Texas is offering $500 “hope bonuses” to its 26,000 workers to get inoculated against Covid-19, joining businesses nationwide betting that they can sway vaccine-reluctant employees with incentives, and that their strategy passes legal muster. But these companies are, in fact, gambling on a murky legal question, according to employment attorneys. The issue is quickly coming to a head as vaccines become available to workers outside of first-responders and teachers, and workplaces hit hard by the pandemic see an inoculated workforce as a means to get back on their feet. Read more from Paige Smith and Paul Stinson.

South Africa to Halt Use of Astra Shot: South Africa will temporarily halt the rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and accelerate its supply of shots from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer after a trial showed the shot had limited efficacy against a new variant of the virus first identified in the country late last year. The South African arm of the trial found that the shot from Astra and the University of Oxford had only 22% efficacy against mild and moderate illness, according to lead researcher Shabir Madhi on Sunday. There was no conclusive data showing whether the vaccine protects against severe illness, mainly because of the relative youth of the 2,000 trial participants, he said.

The data has cast doubt over the usefulness of the Astra-Oxford shot, which was the first coronavirus vaccine to arrive in South Africa last week and due to be rolled out by mid-February. More than 90% of new cases in the country have the more contagious B.1.351 variant, which has been found in at least 30 other countries worldwide. Still, it would be “reckless” to dispose of the vaccine, which can be updated, Madhi said. Read more from Prinesha Naidoo and Pauline Bax.

  • Vaccine developers said they are working on a new shot to combat the South African strain. Sarah Gilbert, leading the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine program, said the new shot is “very likely” to be available by autumn, she said. Read more from Tim Ross.
  • Meanwhile, AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is about as effective against the new strain of the virus that emerged in the U.K. as against the initial version, a study by Oxford found. Read more from Eric Pfanner and Naomi Kresge.

U.K. Plans Annual Vaccinations: The U.K. is on track to vaccinate all people over age 50 by May and is already planning for a program of top-up immunizations to fight new variants of coronavirus from the autumn, officials said. Health Minister Nadhim Zahawi predicted annual vaccination drives similar to the program of injections given for influenza each year. Read more from Tim Ross.

More on the Vaccines:

More on the Pandemic:

What Else to Know Today

Biden Weighs Fate of Trump Moral Objection Rule: The Biden administration told a federal appeals court it’s weighing the fate of a Trump-era rule that sought to give health workers the right to deny care based on their religious or moral beliefs, a policy that allegedly put LGBTQ people and women at risk. The former president had touted the Health and Human Services Department rule as part of his broader “religious freedom” agenda before it was struck down by three different courts. Read more from Erik Larson.

Biden’s DOJ Says Nielsen Shouldn’t Pay for Migrant Trauma: Days after Biden announced a plan to help migrant families, his Justice Department finds itself fighting to get chief Trump administration officials off the hook for snatching parents away from their kids at the border. The department is defending officials, including former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, from a legal effort that aims to hold them personally liable for the separations. Read more from Edvard Pettersson.

Hospital Price Transparency Compliance Spotty: Compliance with a Trump administration rule forcing hospitals disclose the rates they negotiate with health insurers is spotty, groups that work with employers report. Even the hospitals that adhere to the transparency rule are finding it too complicated to provide meaningful disclosures, which may result in misleading information for employers and consumers. Read more from Sara Hansard.

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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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