HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: House Panel to Push Vaccine Access Bills

Lawmakers are pushing to expand vaccine access for seniors and low-income children as routine inoculations over the past year dropped and the pandemic highlighted disparities in vaccine access.

Public health initiatives are traditionally underfunded. They’re getting new attention after the pandemic “reinvigorated discussions concerning the current vaccine landscape,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote in a memorandum before today’s hearing.

A few of the bills to be discussed by the committee’s health panel focus specifically on Covid-19 vaccines, but most of them include other types of shots. Three of the bills would expand vaccine access generally for seniors (H.R. 1978), low-income adults (H.R. 2170), and children (H.R. 2347) by reducing cost-sharing and expanding who is eligible for vaccine coverage through federal or state funded health programs.

Only the bills to expand vaccine coverage for seniors and children have bipartisan support. Those have more than 25 cosponsors each.

Overall, the bills could help push forward President Joe Biden’s goal of getting 70% of Americans inoculated against the coronavirus by July 4. Roughly half of all Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Daily vaccine administration rates have stagnated over the last few weeks as demand flatlines, with roughly 1.1 million doses administered daily as of June 13.

Some public health officials worry they won’t be able to meet Biden’s 70% goal by July. The pressure is still on to keep vaccine numbers high as more Americans head back to the office and many children return to classrooms in the fall. Read more from Jacquie Lee.

Happening on the Hill

Mental Health Care: The Senate Finance Committee meets for a hearing on mental health care.

Feinstein Wants E-Cigarette Shipping Rule: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to implement already enacted regulations on shipping e-cigarettes, according to a statement from her office. “We urge you to publish these new regulations as soon as possible in accordance with the requirements of the law,” Feinstein and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a letter to DeJoy, Brody Ford reports.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Pfizer, Astra Shots Keep Delta Patients Out of Hospitals: Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca are highly effective after two doses at preventing hospitalization of those infected with the delta variant, underscoring the urgency in getting people fully protected, health authorities in England said. The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is 96% effective against hospitalization after two doses, while the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford Covid inoculation is 92% effective, according to an analysis announced yesterday by Public Health England. Read more from Katharine Gemmell and James Paton.

  • Pfizer will examine cases of fully vaccinated people who contracted Covid-19 to determine whether and when a booster shot is necessary, a company official said yesterday. “We will be looking at real world data to help us understand when we might see a change in vaccine effectiveness,” David Swerdlow, clinical epidemiology lead for Pfizer Vaccines, said at the Precision Medicine World Conference. Read more from Lesley Torres.
  • Meanwhile, Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine candidate showed strong efficacy against disease in a large trial that signals a new option is nearing for a global community still desperate for protection against the virus and its variants. The shot was 90% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 and 100% effective at preventing moderate and severe symptoms, the U.S. firm said in a statement. Read more from Todd Gillespie and Robert Langreth.
  • Also yesterday, a small study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine says a vaccine booster shot could help beef up protection against Covid-19 for some organ transplant recipients, a group fearful their suppressed immune systems may leave them defenseless as pandemic restrictions end. A third of organ recipients who had no antibodies after their second dose developed them after a third dose, the study found. Read more from Elaine Chen.

New York Benefits Most, South Dakota Least From 70% Vaccination: Vaccinating more people against Covid-19 is always going to be a good thing but the benefits vary widely by state, according to a new computer simulation whose results are charted below. New York would get the biggest reduction in cases from getting 70% of its population fully vaccinated vs. 50%, followed closely by Florida and North Carolina, while South Dakota would see the smallest benefit, the simulation says. The simulation was performed by Epistemix, a Pittsburgh-based company spun out of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health that performs agent-based modeling. To track epidemics, Epistemix simulates the interactions of millions of imaginary people who are statistically similar to the actual U.S. population, taking into account their demographic characteristics and where they live, work, or go to school. Read more from Peter Coy.

Emergent Pledges FDA Improvements at Vaccine Plant: Emergent BioSolutions is promising the Food and Drug Administration a series of fixes in response to an inspection that led to a halt in production at a company facility that was making Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine. The contract manufacturer said in a letter to the FDA dated April 30 that it would strengthen its biowaste handling processes, put in place new requirements for wearing protective gowns and deliver training to facility personnel. Read more from Riley Griffin and Anna Edney.

TSA Could Better Monitor Its Covid-19 Efforts: To reduce the spread of Covid-19, the Transportation Security Administration required officers staffed at airport checkpoints to use surgical masks and face shields and practice physically distancing, as well as adjust some screening procedures and technologies. But the agency was limited in monitoring compliance or examining how well these measures help to reduce the spread of Covid-19, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. For example, analyzing data across all airports would help identify if there are any problems and enhance protections at passenger screening checkpoints.

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What Else to Know Today

FDA Panels Should Focus on Science, Drug Chief Says: The FDA’s external scientific advisers need to remove emotional “overtones” from their deliberations and focus on scientific decisions, the agency’s drug chief said yesterday. Patrizia Cavazzoni didn’t name a specific panel, but her comments came just days after three members of a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee resigned after the agency’s controversial decision to approve Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

ACA Sign-Ups Top 1.2 Million: More than 1.2 million people have signed up for Obamacare marketplace health coverage through HealthCare.gov through the special enrollment period that began Feb. 15. That includes 376,000 in May alone, the HHS reported yesterday. In addition, 1 million new and returning consumers have premiums that cost $10 or less per month, due to advance premium tax credits available as of April 1 through the American Rescue Plan. Tony Pugh has more.

Transplant Hospitals Fight Formula: A second federal appeals court is wading into a long-running dispute over how best to allocate organs from deceased donors. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit will hear arguments June 17 over a policy change in how kidneys are distributed. Transplant candidates within a 250 nautical-mile circle around a donor’s hospital now get priority. Before the change took effect March 15, geographic boundaries roughly followed state lines. Lydia Wheeler has more.

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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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