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Overnight Health Care: House Democrats pressure Biden to expand Medicare | Intel community: Competing COVID-19 origin theories not 'more likely than the other' | WHO: Africa in 'urgent need' of 20 million second vaccine doses

Overnight Health Care: House Democrats pressure Biden to expand Medicare | Intel community: Competing COVID-19 origin theories not 'more likely than the other' | WHO: Africa in 'urgent need' of 20 million second vaccine doses
© Greg Nash

Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care. If you’re itching to get away and will be vaccinated by late June, you might consider boarding the first cruise ship to get CDC approval to sail with paying customers: the Celebrity Edge.

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Follow us on Twitter at @NateWeixel, @PeterSullivan4, and @JustineColeman8. 

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Today: A total of 156 House Democrats launched a campaign requesting President BidenJoe BidenBaltimore police chief calls for more 'boots on the ground' to handle crime wave Biden to deliver remarks at Sen. John Warner's funeral Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump MORE prioritize expanding Medicare in his American Families Plan. The U.S. intelligence community said neither of the COVID-19 origin theories is “more likely than the other,” and the World Health Organization alerts an “urgent need” for at least 20 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in Africa. 

We'll start with the Medicare demands: 

Pressure campaign: 70 percent of House Democrats call on Biden to expand Medicare 

A large coalition of House Democrats launched a campaign to ramp up pressure on President Biden, calling on him to follow through with a campaign promise and prioritize expanding Medicare in the American Families Plan. 

A total of 156 House Democrats, ranging from moderate to progressive, signed a letter requesting the administration lower the eligibility age for Medicare, decrease prescription drug costs and expand coverage to dental, vision and hearing. The signers of the letter represent more than 70 percent of House Democrats. 

Progressive leader Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalGarland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump The antitrust package is a Trojan horse conservatives must reject Progressives slam Garland for DOJ stances on Trump-era cases MORE (D-Wash.), centrist Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Rep. Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NeguseWyden warns: 'Today's fires are not your grandfather's wildfires' GOP divided over bills targeting tech giants House unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants MORE (D-Colo.) and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) are leading the push for the largest expansion of health care since the Affordable Care Act. 

“Lowering the eligibility age and improving its benefits package would provide immediate and substantial relief for millions of individuals throughout the United States, as well as much-needed long-term security,” the letter reads. 

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Why it’s important: The call for action on Medicare comes after Biden’s American Families Plan excluded health care initiatives promoted by congressional Democrats, including Medicare expansion and prescription drug cost reductions. 

But Democrats are requesting the Biden administration show its support for these measures by including it in the plan, as health care has been a key issue for Democratic voters. 

Read more here

 

Intel community: Competing COVID-19 origin theories not 'more likely than the other'

The U.S. intelligence community said Thursday that it is unsure whether the coronavirus was more likely to have come from a lab or through human contact with infected animals.

A statement from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) describes an intelligence community split over competing theories for the origin of the virus.

Director of National Intelligence for Strategic Communications Amanda Schoch said in a statement that “the U.S. Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident.”

“While two elements of the IC lean toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter — each with low or moderate confidence — the majority of elements within the IC do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other,” she added.

The statement did not identify which of the three agencies thought a lab scenario was more likely than zoonotic transmission, but it comes as the White House has backed efforts to reopen discussions around the lab scenario, which was initially dismissed as unlikely.

Follows: President Biden called on the intelligence community to “redouble their efforts” looking into COVID-19’s origins and report back in 90 days. 

The Senate passed a bill mandating the ODNI to declassify information about the virus’s origins on Wednesday night. 

The increased interest in how the pandemic began comes after The Wall Street Journal reported on a U.S. intelligence report earlier this week that said researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill with flu-like symptoms in November 2019.

Read more here

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Related: Biden says he will release findings of probe into coronavirus origins

 

WHO: Africa in 'urgent need' of 20 million second vaccine doses within six weeks

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa called on Thursday for at least 20 million second COVID-19 vaccine doses to be sent to the continent within six weeks, saying people are in “urgent need.”

The regional office’s request for millions of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine shots comes as African officials are struggling to collect enough doses to give people their second shots within the eight to 12 week period after the first dose. 

WHO’s regional office also requested an additional 200 million doses of any WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine to help the continent achieve the WHO director-general’s goal of vaccinating 10 percent of its population by September. 

“Africa needs vaccines now,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said. “Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope.”

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Current status: Africa has administered about 28 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, amounting to less than two doses per 100 people living on the continent. Comparatively, 1.5 billion vaccines have been given worldwide, including almost 290 million in the U.S. 

Earlier this week, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pointed out that more than 75 percent of all vaccines have been given out in only 10 countries, saying “a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world.”

Read more here

 

Another lottery initiative: California announces $116 million in incentives for COVID-19 vaccination

California health officials are offering a combined $116 million worth of incentives for state residents to get vaccinated, the state announced Thursday.

Californians who are already vaccinated against COVID-19 are already entered to win prizes, and newly vaccinated residents will become eligible for drawings. Prizes include ten chances to win a $1.5 million cash lottery prize. 

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In addition, every Californian 12 and up who has received a COVID-19 vaccine is eligible for additional cash prize drawings, which will be awarded by the state in $50,000 increments every Friday. The cash will be put in a savings account if the winner is under 18.

A news release from the governor's office indicated that the next two million Californians who receive their first and second dose, if applicable, of a COVID-19 vaccine beginning Thursday will also be eligible to receive a $50 "prepaid or grocery card," a program valued at $100 million in total.

Current status: Just over 40 percent of California's total population had received both doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday afternoon. The state is home to nearly 40 million people.

“We’re doing everything it takes to get Californians vaccinated as we approach June 15 to help us fully reopen safely,” Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Newsom70 percent of Californians over 12 have received one shot of coronavirus vaccine California debates extending eviction moratorium to pay off all past-due rent from pandemic 'Aggressive individual' arrested after interaction with Newsom MORE (D) said.

Follows: Ohio first started its lottery offering five people $1 million and five teenagers scholarships earlier this month and has now seen rising vaccination numbers. Since Ohio’s apparent success, New York, Maryland, Oregon and Colorado have launched their own lottery incentives. 

Read more here.

 

Potential challenges ahead: Health experts warn of hurdles in next phase of COVID-19 vaccination push

The next phase of coronavirus vaccine campaigns will require reaching Americans who have little access to the shots and those whose jobs make it difficult to take time off to get vaccinated, according to public health experts.

Half of the U.S. adult population is now vaccinated, but getting shots in the arms of the remaining adults is likely to prove much more difficult.

Vaccine distribution has remained uneven as some states struggle with vaccine hesitancy and obstacles like a lack of available local distributors, experts said.

The states that have fully vaccinated the highest number of individuals are primarily located in the Northeast, Midwest and on the West Coast. States like Connecticut and Maine have advanced well past the national average, fully vaccinating more than 60 percent of adults. Several states in the South such as Arkansas and Mississippi have not yet surpassed 40 percent.

Abram Wagner, a research assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said vaccine hesitancy is somewhat contributing to states’ lower vaccination rates, but vaccine access remains a major issue.

“There's a minority — I think a very small minority — who were very anti-vaccine, would never think about getting it. I still think that the majority of the people who are left, who have not been vaccinated, for a lot of them it's an issue of convenience,” Wagner said.

Read more here.

 

What we’re reading

Scientists don’t want to ignore the ‘lab leak’ theory, despite no new evidence (The New York Times

As Covid dissipates in the U.S., cold and flu viruses may return with a vengeance (STAT)

Biden expected to use budget to strengthen abortion rights bona fides (Politico)

 

State by state

HIV rates remain stubbornly high in Mississippi, despite falling cases across the U.S. (The Washington Post)

California to pay $116.5 million in gifts, cash to those who get COVID vaccinations (Los Angeles Times)

Former N.J. health official accuses Murphy of defaming him after he was fired during the pandemic (NJ.com)