Health Care — White House prepares for surge in COVID wave

AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

It looks like Harry and Meghan will be traveling to the UK next month for Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, though we won’t get to see them on the balcony of Buckingham Palace this time around.

Today in health, the White House is preparing for a potential surge of millions of new COVID-19 cases this winter, with the administration again warning that new funding is direly needed.

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 preps for wave of COVID infections

The White House is preparing for as many as 100 million Americans to get infected with COVID-19 during a wave this fall and winter if Congress does not provide new funding for vaccines and tests, a senior administration official said Friday, warning new money is needed to have enough vaccines for everyone.

A senior administration official told a small group of reporters on Friday that the estimate is the median of a range of models from outside experts that the administration consults, meaning it is also possible significantly more Americans catch the virus, especially if there is a major new variant.

That compares with the roughly 130-140 million Americans who are estimated to have been infected over the omicron wave this winter, which led to a significant spike in deaths.

The administration argues the number of cases could be lower if new funding allows for many Americans to get updated vaccines this fall and for testing to be plentiful.

Backup plan: The senior administration official said the contingency plan if Congress does not provide new money is to take all funding out of testing, new treatments and vaccine education and outreach, and try to pile it up to have enough to maybe be able to buy enough updated vaccines only for the elderly.

Without new money, supplies of Pfizer’s COVID treatment Paxlovid are expected to run out by October or November, the official said, meaning if people got the virus in a wave over the holidays the treatment would not be available.

Despite repeated calls from the administration, new COVID-19 funding remains stalled in Congress amid Republican resistance. Republicans are demanding a vote to stop the administration’s lifting of pandemic-era restrictions at the southern border, known as Title 42, which is also politically dicey for Democrats given that some of their moderate members also oppose lifting the measure.

Read more here.

CDC still unsure about cause of kids’ hepatitis cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is issuing new guidance to clinicians on testing for adenovirus in children as the cause behind the recent cases of pediatric hepatitis around the world remains uncertain.

During a press briefing on Friday, CDC Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases Jay Butler shared an update on the hepatitis cases that have been found in children in the US According to the most recent data, 109 children across 25 states have been found to have hepatitis due to an unknown cause.

Ninety percent of the children were hospitalized, 14 have had to have liver transplants and five have died. The CDC was unable to share in which states the deaths had occurred.

One CDC official noted that it is unclear whether or not these cases are a regular occurrence that the agency is picking up on due to expanded testing or if they are in fact an unusual phenomenon.

A possible link: Adenovirus has been found in some of the hepatitis cases, leading officials to investigate a possible link between the liver inflammation that the children are experiencing and the virus. According to Butler, more than half of the 109 patients in the US were found to have adenovirus.

“Following input and collaboration with laboratories around the country, CDC is issuing new guidance for clinicians related to adenovirus testing and reporting the possible cases of pediatric hepatitis of unknown cause,” Butler said.

Read more here.


Conn. Gov. Ned Lamont (D) signed legislation on Thursday that will protect people traveling to the state for abortions, as well as those who aid them and in-state providers, from being sued or prosecuted over laws outside Connecticut and would expand the types of medical providers who can perform the procedure in the state.

“This is a bill I wanted to sign as soon as possible. I think you’ve heard a lot about what’s coming out of the Supreme Court and a preliminary ruling that looks like they may be on the edge of ending a woman’s right to choose and ending Roe v. Wade,” Lamont said in a video released with the announcement of the bill signing.

“That’s not going to happen in the state of Connecticut. Not as long as I’m here. No politicians are going to get between you and your doctor. You make the choice.”

One of the law’s provisions alters the state’s extradition statute so that someone from Connecticut could not be extradited to another state if they are sued for performing an abortion in Connecticut, the Hartford Courant reported. The change offers protection against laws such as that passed in Texas allowing the state’s private citizens to take legal action against those believed to be violating its abortion restrictions.

The Connecticut legislation also grants the state’s residents the right to file a countersuit seeking reimbursement if they’re sued under such an out-of-state law.

Read more here.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday announced that it is limiting the authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 to people who cannot or will not get other versions of the vaccine, citing the risk of rare blood clots.

The authorization for the J&J vaccine, also known as the Janssen vaccine, is now limited to people for whom the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines “are not accessible or clinically appropriate,” or “who elect to receive the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine because they would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

That is, people can still get the J&J vaccine if they are allergic to the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna, or if personal concerns with the other vaccines mean they would otherwise go without any inoculation.

The agency said it was making the decision after “conducting an updated analysis, evaluation and investigation of reported cases” of the blood clots, which “warrants limiting the authorized use of the vaccine.”

Importantly, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not carry the same risks of blood clots, given they use a different technology than the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Read more here.

Dems worry they lack a plan to fight back on Roe

Democrats are worried their party lacks a clear plan to push back at what is certain to be an onslaught of abortion restrictions in the wake of a Supreme Court draft ruling striking down Roe v. Wade.

While Democrat after Democrat has cried out over the possibility a conservative Supreme Court could eviscerate abortion rights, strategists say little is being offered in terms of a clear way to fight back.

“Why are we so behind the curve on this? Where is the plan? We knew this was coming in theory since [Justice Amy] Coney Barrett joined the court, and in practice since December,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer.

“I don’t want to hear empty rhetoric about how we won’t go back, I want to hear that there is a legislative or federal plan to change things,” she added.

Limited resource: There are significant limits to what the White House and Democrats in Congress can do if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade and GOP states begin to outlaw abortion rights.

Previous efforts to codify abortion rights into law have failed, and Democrats do not have the votes in Congress to overcome a filibuster.

“I think their options are very limited, and what I’ve been advising is for the White House to focus on winnable battles,” said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law professor at Georgetown University.

While some progressive Democrats have renewed a push to do away with the legislative filibuster, Biden isn’t joining that effort — at least not yet. Instead, he’s called on voters to elect more pro-abortion rights Democrats to Congress, a message echoed throughout his administration.

Read more here.


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


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