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Health Care — Biden push to expand Paxlovid faces obstacles

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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Today in health care, the White House is pushing to make the highly-effective Pfizer treatment Paxlovid more available, but obstacles remain.

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.

White House’s Paxlovid push hits hurdles

The Biden administration has gone all in on the COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid, announcing new measures to make the oral treatment more widely available and making it clear that Vice President Harris used it as she recovered from the coronavirus.

The White House has said it will nearly double the amount of Paxlovid available around the country and that it is working to set up more Test-to-Treat locations in pharmacies and other locations.

But the administration faces a number of obstacles in really making Paxlovid, and a similar treatment from Merck and Ridgeback known as molnupiravir easily accessible to Americans.

Health care experts who spoke with The Hill said the expansion plan failed to account for the difficulty that many patients face in actually acquiring a prescription for the oral drugs.

Health care providers who are authorized to prescribe Paxlovid — physicians and advanced practice nurses — are not always staffed at pharmacies.

Tom Kraus, vice president of government relations at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), said this situation will be “operationally quite challenging” to the administration’s goal of expanding Test to Treat locations.

Read more here.

NYC raises COVID-19 alert level to ‘medium’

New York City on Monday raised its COVID-19 alert level from “low” to “medium,” amid a rise in cases in the city.

The move did not trigger any major new restrictions, but it is a sign of the continued risk from the virus and an uptick in cases that has also been seen on a national level.

If the alert level rises again, to “high,” then the city will consider bringing back its mask mandate for indoor settings, according to New York’s color-coded system.

“If you are at a higher risk for severe disease due to age, underlying health conditions or because you are unvaccinated, consider additional precautions such as avoiding crowded indoor gatherings,” New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan tweeted Monday in announcing the move.

“We continue to strongly recommend all New Yorkers wear a mask in public indoor settings,” he added.

Cases have ticked up in New York City to around 2,300 per day, according to a New York Times tracker, though there is no sign of a steep spike like there was over the winter.

Hospitalizations in the city have also ticked up but are still at relatively low levels.

Read more here.

MODERNA EXPECTS OMICRON BOOSTER AVAILABLE BY FALL

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said on Sunday that his company was preparing to provide large amounts of its vaccine booster against omicron and other COVID-19 variants this fall.

“We’re confident by the fall of this year we should have large amounts of that new booster vaccine that will protect against Omicron and other variants,” Burton said in

an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Last month, Moderna announced that its new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot was more effective against all variants than the company’s currently available coronavirus vaccine.

The company has said it expects initial data on its omicron-specific vaccine to be available in the second quarter of this year

Burton also made a general push on Sunday for people who have not already done so to receive their COVID-19 booster.

“People are eligible now to get boosted. I would absolutely recommend it,” he said on Sunday.

Read more here.

AMAZON WORKERS LOSE PAID COVID LEAVE

Amazon will no longer offer paid time off for employees with COVID-19.

The online retail giant announced the change, which went into effect on Monday after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidance surrounding the virus and the widespread availability of vaccines in the US

Under the new policy, employees who contract COVID-19 will be given five days of excused, unpaid leave, according to a Saturday memo to employees.

Workers are also still allowed to use their sick time if needed. The memo also noted that Amazon will no longer send site-wide alerts about positive COVID-19 cases, and face coverings are no longer required, though they remain strongly recommended for unvaccinated employees.

Amazon has been slowly dialing back its COVID-19 leave policies since the start of the year.

In January, it shortened its paid leave policy for employees from 10 days to seven days. That change was fueled largely by labor shortages caused by the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

Read more here.

FDA expands approval of non-stimulant ADHD drug

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded its approval of a non-stimulant drug for ADHD, the first in about 20 years, to include adults along with children.

Viloxazine, sold commercially as Qelbree in extended-release capsules, has been approved to help treat ADHD in adults 18 and over, its maker, Supernus Pharmaceuticals, announced.

Qelbree was first approved for treating children ages 6 to 17 with ADHD last April. At the time, it was the first such drug approved in more than 10 years for children.

Viloxazine was once prescribed as an antidepressant in Europe before being abandoned in favor of newer drugs. Before last year, it had never been approved for use in the US

The most common side effects are milder and include decreased appetite, sleepiness and vomiting.

As a non-stimulant drug, Qelbree is less addictive and less likely to be abused. According to Supernus, no evidence of abuse potential was found during clinical trials.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • US pediatricians’ group moves to abandon race-based guidance (AP
  • Mental health shouldn’t be “treated like a stepchild” to physical health, says HHS chief (CBSNews)
  • Three Children Died of Acute Hepatitis in Indonesia Last Month (Bloomberg)

STATE BY STATE

  • California Opens Medicaid to Older Unauthorized Immigrants (Kaiser Health News)
  • Beto O’Rourke says Texas can learn from Oklahoma by expanding Medicaid, legalizing marijuana (Dallas Morning News)
  • Minnesota front-line workers could see $750 hero checks within 12 weeks (Duluth NewsTribune)

THE HILL OPEDS

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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