HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: US Prods Health Industry on Climate Change

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The Biden administration is making a first-of-its-kind ask of the health-care sector: to act on climate change. However, the pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is voluntary, making researchers and advocates question how effective it will be.

The Health and Human Services Department wants hospitals, health suppliers, drug companies, and other industry participants sign a pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, inventory their supply chain emissions and develop a climate resilience plan for their facilities. The US health-care system accounts for 8.5% of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2020 report. Hospitals are frequently among the largest employers in their communities and are often one of the highest drivers of carbon emissions.

HHS’s request could help build momentum and encourage more industry leaders to engage on the issue, said Antonia Herzog, associate climate policy director at Health Care Without Harm, an advocacy group focused on tackling climate change in health care. These goals are “pushing the envelope” for the industry by getting more parts of the health industry involved and getting those who are already doing so to take a look at their supply chain emissions, which are more difficult to address, she said.

The effect of climate change on human health “are going to get worse and worse and worse,” HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine said in an interview. “People tend to think of it as existential, that’ll happen in 2050. But we’re seeing it right now.”

Levine returned to New York City this month to witness NYC Health + Hospitals sign the HHS pledge. It’s the same city where she learned how to be a doctor—and where more than 35 years ago she treated children with asthma caused by poor air quality and lead poisoning. Read more from Shira Stein.

Also Happening on the Hill

Senate Sends Emergency Formula Access Bill to Biden: The Senate by unanimous consent approved House-passed legislation that would provide emergency authority to relax regulations on infant formula purchases for a program that serves low-income women and children. The legislation passed the House on Wednesday, and the Senate’s action sends the bill to the president for his signature. “It’s rare that we have unanimity in the Senate on important measures,”’ Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, saying the shortage is causing “unimaginable stress” for parents.

The bill would give the Agriculture Department more flexibility in carrying out the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC. Lawmakers are scrambling to address a shortage of formula that has snowballed since Abbott Laboratories recalled several of its brands and shut down its main plant in Michigan earlier this year. Around half of the infants in the WIC program are covered by an Abbott contract. The measure seeks to ensure families can use their benefits to purchase alternatives. Read more from Laura Litvan and Maeve Sheehey.

  • Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf at a hearing Thursday skirted questions from House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) about a whistle-blower’s report from October of quality lapses and falsified records at the Abbott plant that’s shutdown has contributed to a nationwide shortage. Califf said he would go into more detail next week at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, and pleaded for more resources for the agency to evaluate infant formula safety, Anna Edney and Fiona Rutherford report.
  • Related: Baby Formula Shortage Shows Risk of US Industry Concentration

Califf Says FDA Has to Be ‘Judicious’ in Vaping Policy: Califf also told lawmakers his agency needs more resources to expedite reviews of e-cigarettes and is avoiding making hasty decisions that could incite lawsuits from the industry. “This is an industry that has amazing capabilities on the legal front,” Califf said during a House subcommittee hearing Thursday. “If we make one single error in the process, we can be set back for years in these applications.” Lawmakers questioned Califf on an update from the FDA that it likely won’t finish its e-cigarette marketing reviews until June 2023. Celine Castronuovo has more.

Insulin Pricing Bill Delayed as Lawmakers Await CBO: Legislation to reduce what Americans pay for insulin will likely have to wait until after the Memorial Day recess as lawmakers supporting the bill await a forecast on how it would affect federal deficits and spending. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said this week they are waiting for the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to score their bill aimed at lowering the price of insulin and capping what patients pay for the crucial diabetes drugs. Collins says she’s “encouraged” by progress on the bill.

Schumer and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who introduced legislation to cap what people pay for insulin at $35 a month that’s being combined with the Shaheen-Collins measure, had earlier targeted this month for a vote on an insulin bill. That timeline “has slipped” as lawmakers await a CBO response, Shaheen said Wednesday. Warnock said had been pushing for a vote before Memorial Day. The freshman senator faces a tough reelection bid in November and has made insulin costs a signature issue this year. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Pfizer Booster for Kids Gets CDC Advisers’ Backing: Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 booster shot for children ages 5-11 gained backing from a panel of US health advisers, a crucial step in making the shot available to school-aged kids as contagious omicron subvariants spread across the country. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 11-1 with one abstention to recommend the booster dose for kids on Thursday. Director Rochelle Walensky has the final say on making that advice official. The FDA authorized the Pfizer booster the cohort of kids earlier this week. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

Long Covid Patients Felt Better After Vaccine: Fewer Covid patients reported lingering symptoms from infection after getting vaccinated, according to a study that suggests the shots might help alleviate the burden of long Covid. A first vaccine dose after infection with the virus was associated with a 13% decline in the odds of having long Covid, and a second shot with a 9% drop in the study published Thursday in the BMJ. Over seven months in 2021, researchers visited households of over 28,000 people and asked whether they were experiencing symptoms long after infection. Marthe Fourcade and Clara Hernanz Lizarrage have more.

Moderna Patent Defense Poses Shield for US Firms: Covid vaccine makers may find shelter from patent lawsuits under a legal theory Moderna is floating in a case that could shape post-pandemic deals between drugmakers and the government. Moderna is fighting an attempt by Arbutus Biopharma and Genevant Sciences GmbH to seek royalties for sales of its Covid vaccine. It says their claims should instead be brought against the government, citing a law designed to protect government suppliers. Analysts say if Moderna is successful, the decision could provide a roadmap to dodge lawsuits for other drugmakers. Ian Lopez has more.

What Else to Know Today

Unions Lukewarm on Abortion Rights After Roe Leak: Only a handful of major US unions have expressed support for abortion rights since a draft Supreme Court opinion invalidating Roe v. Wade leaked this month, underscoring the delicate dance between organized labor and the progressive movement. The draft opinion leaked earlier this month revealed that the Supreme Court was ready to reverse Roe v. Wade, and if the ruling stands as final, abortion may be banned in at least 26 states. Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University said unions’ caution isn’t surprising. Read more from Rebecca Rainey and J. Edward Moreno.

Drug Firms Urged to Draft Plans to Avert Shortages: Drugmakers should create plans early on in their product’s development stages to mitigate supply disruptions and shortages, the FDA said on Thursday in draft guidance. The recommendations outline the steps sponsors of drug or biologic applications should take to develop risk management plans that could limit the impacts of quality issues. The draft guidance is part of a coordinated effort by the FDA to better prepare for future issues in pharmaceutical supply following pandemic-fueled shortages. Read more from Celine Castronuovo.

HHS Marks $1.5 Billion for State Opioid Responses: An HHS funding opportunity for the State Opioid Response grant program will provide nearly $1.5 billion to states and territories to help address the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic, according to an HHS statement on Thursday. The grant will be awarded in fiscal 2022 to 59 states and territories, including a set-aside for the states with the highest opioid-related mortality rates, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The program providers formula funding for increasing access to FDA-approved drugs to battle opioid abuse. Read more from Kiera Geraghty.

Fresh Monkeypox Cases Appear in US, Europe and Australia: New and suspected cases of monkeypox have cropped up in New York City, Sweden, Canada and the two biggest cities in Australia in recent days, in signs that the rare and potentially deadly cousin of the smallpox virus traditionally confined to regions in Africa is now seeded across the globe, Michelle Fay Cortez reports.

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

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