HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Pharmacies to Get Direct Vaccine Shipments

President Joe Biden’s administration will begin to test a program to provide Covid-19 vaccines directly to pharmacies, as officials seek to increase the pace of U.S. inoculations.

Biden’s team announced yesterday that they will ship roughly one million doses per week to about 6,500 pharmacies across the U.S. as a trial run, beginning Feb. 11. They also will boost shipments to states by 5% to 10.5 million doses per week, up from the 10 million doses that were announced a week earlier.

“This pharmacy program will expand access in neighborhoods across the country,” Jeff Zients, who serves as Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said at a briefing with reporters. The shipments will increase as supply permits, but “due to the current supply constraints, this will be limited when it begins next week,” he said.

The pharmacies providing vaccines at stores include CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Costco, as well as networks of independent operators. Not all of the chains will immediately be taking part in every state, the White House said.

Zients also announced that the Biden administration would expand reimbursements to states for eligible expenses related to the pandemic, dating back to the start of 2020. Such expenses include masks, gloves and mobilization of National Guard troops, he said. This is expected to cost $3 billion to $5 billion and doesn’t require congressional approval, Zients said, yet called on Congress to pass a new coronavirus aid package.

States need resources for other parts of the coronavirus response, including testing, genomic sequencing and mass vaccination centers, he said. “The faster Congress acts, the faster we can scale vaccination sites, mobile units, we can increase testing, we can increase emergency supplies,” he said. Josh Wingrove and Angelica LaVito have more.

More on Vaccines:

Happening on the Hill

Senate Democrats’ Committee Appointments: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Senate Democratic committee memberships for the 117th Congress, which have been agreed upon by the Democratic Conference but must still be ratified by the full Senate. Click here for the complete list.

House Panel Plans Vaccine Oversight Hearing: The House Energy and Commerce panel is laying groundwork for injecting billions of dollars into local public health systems to speed up coronavirus vaccination efforts and strengthen the country’s public health workforce. Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) plans a hearing today on expediting the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine, expanding testing for the virus, and addressing shortages in medical supplies. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

  • Yesterday, the Energy and Commerce Oversight panel heard from public health officials about the federal vaccine distribution strategy. They said the U.S. government’s supply of vaccines to states has been uneven and unpredictable with last-minute changes and contradictory messaging from the White House, starting under Trump’s administration. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Big Tech Asked About Vaccine Misinformation: House Energy and Commerce leaders asked Facebook, Twitter, and Google yesterday for details on any actions, enforcement efforts, and policy changes taken to prevent false and misleading misinformation and disinformation on Covid-19 vaccines. The letters ask for information on the five most common targeted ads that appear besides misinformation or disinformation on vaccines. Read more from Rebecca Kern.

Johnson Criticizes YouTube for Removing Videos: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the former chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, published an op-ed yesterday criticizing Google’s YouTube for removing two videos from his personal YouTube channel, claiming it was an act of censorship. The two videos were a 30-minute summary of Dec. 8 committee hearing on early treatment of Covid-19 and an opening statement at the hearing from Pierre Kory, a critical care specialist who had advocated for a controversial Covid-19 treatment. YouTube told Bloomberg Government it removed the videos because they violated their Covid-19 misinformation policy, Rebecca Kern reports.

Schools Need Ventilation Upgrades to Reopen, Scott Says: Lawmakers must make relief to schools for upgrading and repairing ventilation systems a priority as part of a new pandemic aid bill so they can reopen safely, said Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee. Many school systems suffered from air conditioning systems that posed health risks well before the coronavirus pandemic. Such needs have been neglected in the bitter debate over bringing students back, he said. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Democrats Want $10 Billion for Medical Supplies: Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) yesterday unveiled legislation to provide a “$10 billion investment in rapidly expanding the domestic manufacturing for pandemic supplies” to help support Biden’s ability to invoke the Defense Production Act to accelerate the manufacturing of materials needed to fight the pandemic. Read text of the legislation here.

Democrats Call for Vaccine Plans for Underserved: Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) in a letter to the president, said Biden must make sure “underserved communities” and “communities of color are no longer left behind during the vaccine distribution process.” They pitched bringing in mobile vaccination centers to housing complexes and earmarking vaccine shipments for underserved areas. Read their letter here.

  • More than twenty House Democrats want an Obamacare insurance premium affordability measure in the pandemic relief package. In a letter to the White House and congressional leaders, Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and others asked for a cap on what Americans on the individual market pay for premiums at 8.5% of their incomes. Read their letter here.

More on the Pandemic

Biden’s Covid Czar Could Define Early Months of His Presidency: Two weeks after Biden became president, his administration announced its biggest breakthrough yet in distributing Covid-19 vaccines. But Biden didn’t share the good news himself. Instead, the Tuesday briefing came from a 54-year-old former business executive and Biden ally named Jeff Zients, who is unfamiliar to most Americans.

The arrival of Zients as Biden’s Covid-19 czar comes as the president has put beating the pandemic — an incredibly complex and demanding goal — at the top of his priority list. It’s a posting that will test a reputation Zients has built with Democrats inside the Washington Beltway as the go-to-guy when things go awry. Read more from Anna Edney and Josh Wingrove.

Supply Chain Review Sought After Shortages: Biden will order a government-wide review of critical supply chains, in an effort to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign nations, such as China, for essential medical supplies, according to people familiar with the matter. The administration’s goal is to shield government and private sector supply chains to prevent future shortages and limit other countries’ ability to hold leverage over the U.S., a Biden administration official said. Read more from Jenny Leonard.

Fauci Says CDC May Recommend Wearing Two Masks: The Centers for Disease Control may recommend wearing two masks, one over the other, to keep at bay the new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus, according to top U.S. infectious diseases chief Anthony Fauci. The CDC and Fauci discussed the matter on Monday, but the agency doesn’t yet possess the data to make any formal recommendation, he said during a Washington Post event. Still, “it makes common sense” to increase protection, Fauci said, Jeannie Baumann reports.

AstraZeneca Shot Has 82% Efficacy With U.K. Interval: AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine showed 82% effectiveness with a three-month gap between two shots, according to a study that bolsters the U.K.’s controversial decision to adopt an extended dosing interval. The shot may also significantly reduce transmission of the virus, according to analysis of trial data by Oxford University. Read more from Eric Pfanner and Suzi Ring.

More Virus Headlines:

What Else to Know:

With assistance from Rebecca Kern

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