Health Care – White House shifts COVID funds

Health Care – White House shifts COVID funds

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With legislation for new coronavirus funds stalled in Congress, the Biden administration is cutting funds from other areas to buy more antiviral treatments and updated COVID-19 vaccines.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

COVID funds shifted due to stalemate

The consequences of a lack of COVID-19 funding are starting to be felt.

The White House said Wednesday it is cutting funds from some areas of its COVID-19 response to shift money to vaccines and treatments, given that new funding remains stalled in Congress.

The administration is cutting money from areas like testing and research on next-generation vaccines to move that into buying more vaccines and treatments.

In the shift, $5 billion will go toward buying updated vaccines for the fall, $4.9 billion will go toward buying an additional 10 million courses of the Pfizer treatment Paxlovid and $300 million will go to buying more monoclonal antibody treatments.

Still a vaccine shortage: Even with the shift in funds, there will still not be enough money to buy updated vaccines for all Americans for the fall, unless Congress provides more funding, the White House said.

Prospects on the Hill not looking great… Asked last month if he would allow a vote on reinstating Trump-era rules at the southern border in order to get COVID-19 funding moving, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) deflected by telling reporters, “We’ll see what the House sends over.”

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday the problem is getting 60 votes in the Senate, and that the House passing the funding first would not “magically” solve the Senate’s problem.

Read more here.

Moderna: Updated vax better against omicron variant

Moderna on Wednesday said that a new version of its vaccine provided a superior immune response against the COVID-19 omicron variant, making it the lead candidate for a booster shot this fall.

The company released results on an updated, “bivalent” vaccine that includes both the original vaccine and an updated version specifically designed to target the omicron variant, the company said.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said the updated vaccine is “our lead candidate for a Fall 2022 booster.”

“We are submitting our preliminary data and analysis to regulators with the hope that the Omicron-containing bivalent booster will be available in the late summer,” he said.

The potential problem: The virus is evolving quickly, and the original omicron strain is no longer what is circulating most widely in the United States. Two new subvariants of omicron, known as BA.4 and BA.5, are on the rise, and it is unclear how well the updated vaccine performs against them.

Read more here.

MORE THAN 1,000 MONKEYPOX CASES GLOBALLY: WHO

More than 1,000 monkeypox cases have been identified in dozens of countries where the disease is not endemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with some indications that cases are springing from community transmissions.

“More than one thousand confirmed cases of monkeypox have now been reported to WHO from 29 countries that are not endemic for the disease. So far, no deaths have been reported in these countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing on Wednesday.

Most of these cases have been found in men who have sex with men, though Tedros stressed that the disease was not exclusively found in this demographic, with some cases now reported among women.

A precarious predicament: “The sudden and unexpected appearance of monkeypox in several nonendemic countries suggests that there might have been undetected transmission for some time. How long, we don’t know,” Tedros said on Wednesday, adding that there was a “real” risk that monkeypox could become established in nonendemic countries.

The WHO chief stressed that this outcome was avoidable if countries worked to control the outward spread of monkeypox through the identification of cases and possible contacts.

Read more here.

SENATE DEMOCRATS PRESS BIDEN ON PLAN TO DEFEND ABORTION

More than two dozen Senate Democrats are pressing President Biden for a national plan to defend a person’s right to an abortion.

“Abortion access is under attack in the United States and already completely eliminated in swaths of the country,” they wrote in a letter to the president dated Tuesday.

The Democratic lawmakers, led by Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Elizabeth
Warren (Mass.), warned that “if Roe v. Wade is gutted by this right-wing Supreme Court, Republican leaders have already signaled their next move: a nationwide ban on abortion in all 50 states.”

“Americans across the nation and at every level of government must stand up against this unprecedented assault on women and their right to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. But as President of the United States, you have the unique power to marshal the resources of the entire federal government to respond,” they said.

The lawmakers listed six demands centered around expanding and ensuring access to abortions through federal pathways.

Read more here.

New versions of omicron variant gaining ground in US

Omicron COVID-19 subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 represent an increasing number of new infections in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though it’s unclear what the impact will be.

New estimates from the CDC show that for the week ending June 4, the two subvariants combined accounted for 13 percent of all new US cases. That’s an increase from the combined 7.5 percent estimated for the week ending May 28.

During the week ending June 4, BA.5 accounted for an estimated 7.6 percent of cases and BA.4 accounted for 5.4 percent of cases, up from 4.2 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, the previous week.

There are also regional differences in the rise of the new subvariants. In the southern region comprising Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, BA.4 and BA. 5 account for about 22 percent of all infections.

What’s different: The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are more infectious than the current dominant strain and may be able to evade some of the immunity people have acquired from being infected with other variants.

What does it mean? Some public health experts think BA.4 and BA.5 will soon become the dominant subvariants and prolong the current wave of infections. But there isn’t evidence to show they cause more severe disease.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • How the hard lessons of the AIDS crisis are shaping the response to the monkeypox outbreak (Stat)
  • WHO: COVID cases and deaths falling nearly everywhere (Associated Press)
  • Congress calls for more DEA scrutiny of online drug prescribers (Bloomberg)
  • Americans keep getting reinfected with COVID-19 as new variants emerge, data shows (ABC News)

STATE BY STATE

  • Homeless and incarcerated people in Minnesota struggled to access Covid vaccines (Stat)
  • Some people in this Montana mining town worry about the dust next door (Kaiser Health News)
  • Report: Oklahoma is the worst state in the nation for wasted COVID vaccine doses (Public Radio Tulsa)
  • Govt. Tony Evers calls special session to overturn 1849 Wisconsin law that would ban abortions in most cases (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

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