Overnight Health Care: White House unveils plan to donate 25M vaccine doses abroad | US COVID-19 cases, deaths fall to lowest levels since March 2020 | Poll: Majority support Medicare negotiations for drug prices

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Today: The Biden administration outlined its initial plan for donating 25 million coronavirus vaccine doses overseas. In the U.S., new infections and cases have fallen to the lowest levels in over a year. And a new poll shows the public, even Republicans, support Medicare negotiating drug prices.

We’ll start with overseas donations: 

White House unveils plan to donate 25 million vaccine doses abroad

The Biden administration on Thursday announced it will donate 25 million coronavirus doses abroad, with about three quarters of them allocated to the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, and the rest donated directly to handpicked countries.

The White House said it will donate about 19 million doses to COVAX, which purchases and distributes vaccines to low-and middle-income countries. 

About 6 million doses will go to Latin America and the Caribbean, 7 million doses will go to Asia, and 5 million will go to Africa.

Additionally, about 6 million doses will go directly to countries in need, including India, Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza, Canada and South Korea, and to United Nations front-line workers.  

More to come: White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Thursday this was just the first wave, and more donations will be announced when supplies become available. “Expect a regular cadence of shipments around the world, across the next several weeks,” Zients said. 

Biden has also pledged to donate 60 million extra doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine— but those doses have been undergoing a safety review from the Food and Drug Administration and it’s not clear when, or if, that review might conclude. Advocacy groups broadly felt the announcement was insufficient given the global need, but was at least a step in the right direction.

Not diplomacy: The White House took pains to distinguish between its donations and the “vaccine diplomacy” that China and Russia are engaging in. 

“We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values,” President Biden said in a statement.

Read more here.

Milestone: US recorded COVID-19 cases, deaths fall to lowest levels since March 2020

COVID-19 cases in the United States have fallen to around 15,000 per day, part of a sharp decline in new infections as more of the population gets vaccinated, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday. 

The seven-day average of about 15,600 cases per day is the lowest level of new recorded cases in the U.S. since March 2020.

“Our seven-day average is about 15,600 cases per day,” Walensky said during a White House press briefing. “This represents a decrease of more than 30 percent from our prior seven-day average and more importantly it is a 94 percent decrease from the peak of COVID-19 cases we reported in January of this year.” 

“This is the type of news I like to deliver, and certainly these data are encouraging and uplifting as we battle this pandemic,” she added. 

Important note: Comparisons to the first month of the pandemic can be tricky given that testing still lagged at that time.

Vaccines credited: The rapidly improving situation comes as more and more people get vaccinated. Almost 63 percent of U.S. adults now have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Still, the daily vaccination rate has been falling significantly, and the White House is pushing to boost the numbers to meet a goal of 70 percent of eligible residents having gotten at least one shot by July 4th.  

Read more here.

US tells Americans in Afghanistan to get out due to COVID-19 surge 

The U.S. called on Americans to evacuate Afghanistan “as soon as possible” as the country faces a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a health alert Thursday to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan, warning of the COVID-19 surge and overwhelmed hospitals. 

In its statement, the embassy said hospitals in the country are experiencing shortages of supplies, oxygen and beds for all patients. U.S. citizens seeking hospital care have reportedly been denied admittance. 

The alert encourages Americans to make plans to leave without U.S. government assistance.

“Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited,” the alert reads. 

By the numbers: Afghanistan is enduring a rapid uptick in COVID-19 cases and deaths since mid-May, reaching a pandemic-high for the seven-day average of 897 cases on Wednesday, according to Our World in Data.  

The country has documented a seven-day average of almost 22 fatalities a day, approaching the record 25 deaths seven-day average in July 2020. 

At the same time, about 1.24 percent of people in Afghanistan have received at least one dose, and 0.37 percent are fully vaccinated. 

Read more here.

Poll: Majority of Republicans support Medicare negotiations for prescription drug prices

A majority of polled Republicans backed giving Medicare the authority to negotiate lower prescription drug prices in a survey released Thursday.

A West Health/Gallup poll showed widespread support for giving the federal government “a major role” in negotiating drug prices, with 61 percent of Republicans and 97 percent of Democrats saying they backed such an initiative. 

Overall, 81 percent of respondents said they supported Medicare negotiations to regulate drug costs. 

The survey comes as some congressional Republicans have come out against the move, joining the pharmaceutical companies, saying the reduced prices will damage competition and discourage innovation of new products. 

Only 19 percent of Americans said they think Medicare negotiation would damage innovation or market competition, including 39 percent of Republicans.

Respondents vastly agreed that drug pricing requires major reform, with 90 percent concurring that improvements are needed instead of keeping with the status quo, including 96 percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans. 

Read more here

And another poll finds the public wants drug pricing action 

A new poll from the progressive groups Data for Progress and Social Security Works finds that a majority of likely voters want Congress to move “urgently” on Medicare drug price negotiation, even if it is backed by only one party.

The view “Congress should move urgently to lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs, even if this law is passed with the votes from just one party” got 59 percent support. That is compared to 32 percent who said “It is important that Congress finds a bipartisan solution to the cost of prescription drugs, even if reaching a bipartisan deal means it will take longer to reach an agreement and the cost savings might not be as large.”

The results come as progressives push for drug pricing legislation to be included in a coming infrastructure package. 

Biden health official ‘taking a look’ at Trump drug pricing proposal

A key Biden administration health official said Thursday that she is “taking a look” at one of former President Trump’s proposals to lower drug prices but did not commit to pursuing the plan.

“I think we’re, you know, taking a look at those concepts,” Liz Fowler, director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, said when asked about Trump’s “most favored nation” proposal to lower drug prices.

“I think you can expect that we’ll continue looking at this issue,” she added. “I don’t think we’re going to let our foot off the gas, but I don’t know that it’ll take that form. We can’t because it’s in court.”

Background: Trump had touted that initiative as a way to lower the prices Medicare paid for certain drugs to be in line with the prices paid in other wealthy countries. 

But the proposal, which Trump put forward at the end of his term, never went into effect after it was blocked by the courts for failing to follow proper procedural steps in its implementation.

Tempered praise: The issue is unusual in that it marks an area where Trump put forward a proposal that is closer to the Democratic position than the usual Republican position.

Fowler even offered some tempered praise for the Trump administration’s approach on drug pricing.

“I thought that the previous administration was very creative in a lot of the ideas and areas that they were looking at tackling,” she said.

Read more here

What we’re reading

Expanding insurance coverage is top priority for new Medicare-Medicaid chief (Kaiser Health News

Democrats strain to unify on proposal to reduce drug prices (The Wall Street Journal)

See which states are falling behind Biden’s vaccination goal (The New York Times)

State by state

Controversial Indiana needle exchange program that quelled massive HIV outbreak voted down (Louisville Courier Journal)

Without enough child care, workers can’t get back to work (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Texas lawmakers responded to the pandemic by limiting what the government can do in response to a pandemic (The Texas Tribune)

Op-eds in The Hill

Biden says he wants to out-compete China — so why attack US medical innovation?

Pandemic proves importance of pharmaceutical innovation

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Zients Joe Biden Rochelle Walensky

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