HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Vaccine Rule Spats at High Court Intensify

Legal battles over the Biden administration’s two vaccine rules are intesifying, with a flurry of Supreme Court briefings ahead of hearings that test the powers of the federal government to make decisions amid the pandemic.

The administration last week urged the justices to let its rule for employers remain in effect while litigation against the measure proceeds at a federal appeals court. A group of Republican-led states separately told the Supreme Court that the health worker mandate—currently blocked in half the U.S.—shouldn’t resume nationwide while several lawsuits unfold.

The cases challenge the power of federal agencies to take steps to protect workers and patients in the face of a pandemic that’s killed more than 820,000 Americans.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency rule requires employers with 100 or more workers to mandate that their employees vaccinate or get tested regularly. The other rule requires vaccinations for employees at places participating in the Medicare and Medicaid health-care programs. The high court will consider both vaccine measures during a special session on Friday.

The court previously granted requests for divided arguments in each case. That will allow lawyers representing a coalition of states and a group of business organizations to advocate for halting the OSHA rule, and attorneys for the Louisiana-led alliance of states and the Missouri-led states to argue against letting the health-care vaccine mandate take effect nationwide.

The justices’ decision could determine the practical impacts of the shot-or-test rule, which is set to expire in its current form in May. Employers have until Jan. 10 to comply with most of its requirements. In the health worker mandate case, Republican-led states are asking the court to reject Biden’s request to pause two lower court decisions that are blocking the rule in about half the country. Read more from Robert Iafolla and Allie Reed.

More on the Pandemic

CDC Says Vaccine Is Safe for Children 5 to 11: Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine caused mostly mild side effects for children ages 5 to 11, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Results of a survey covering 30,000 kids who received two shots, show adverse reactions were similar to those seen in clinical trials, the CDC said. The phone survey, called v-safe, found the most frequent reactions were injection site pain, fatigue and headache. Another CDC database found that, out of 8 million doses, there were 11 verified reports of myocarditis. All 11 children recovered or were improving, the CDC added. Anna Edney has more.

Fauci Says Test May Come With Shorter Isolation Guidance: A testing requirement could be added to last week’s move by the U.S. to shorten the isolation period for certain people who test positive for Covid-19, Anthony Fauci said. The Centers for Disease Control is considering adding a negative test to recommendations on a shortened isolation period for people with asymptomatic infections, Biden’s senior medical adviser told ABC. “The CDC is very well aware that there has been some pushback about that,” he said. “We’re going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so.” Ian Fisher and Brendan Case have more.

Twitter Permanently Bans Greene Over Virus Claims: Twitter yesterday said it permanently banned the personal account of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for repeated violations of the platform’s ban on spreading misinformation about Covid-19. The lawmaker was previously suspended for tweeting false claims about the Covid-19 vaccine and health risks. A Twitter spokesman said the company has “been clear that, per our strike system for this policy, we will permanently suspend accounts for repeated violations of the policy.” Read more from Anna Edgerton.

CDC Tells Even Vaccinated to Avoid Cruises: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week raised its travel advisory on cruise ships to the highest-risk level, saying Covid-19 spreads easily between people aboard in close quarters. Even people who are fully vaccinated may be at risk of getting and spreading the virus, the CDC found. Covid cases have been reported on 94 cruise ships in U.S. waters, and nearly all of those outbreaks have met the threshold for a formal investigation by the CDC. But in an email, the world’s largest cruise line, Carnival, said it doesn’t plan any schedule changes. Martine Paris has more.

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What Else to Know Today

What’s Ahead for Congress: Democrats, with bare majorities in Congress on the line in the November midterm elections, return in the new year trying to advance President Joe Biden’s social safety net promises, while Republicans decry what they see as escalating costs. Senate Democrats will continue negotiations on their version of a tax and spending bill (H.R. 5376) with key elements of the Biden economic agenda. The House version included curbs on drug pricing, a federal paid leave program, and support for preschool programs nationwide. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he wants a vote on a package in January.

Also on the agenda this year: Lawmakers pushed back the expiration of a ban on powerful fentanyl-analogue drugs to Feb. 18 amid a debate over long-term policy. Congress also delayed scheduled Medicare cuts but will have to deal with them again soon. And, there’s bipartisan support for legislation to advance biomedical research next year, including establishing Biden’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health center, or ARPA-H. Bloomberg Government takes a broad look at the congressional agenda.

Nominations: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans a hearing Wednesday on nominations including Robert Califf to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

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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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