Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Omicron sets off a flurry of responses

Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

We hope everyone got some rest over the past few days! Obviously there was plenty of health care news over the break with the rise of the omicron variant. Much more on that, as we dive in below. 

President BidenJoe BidenCarville advises Democrats to 'quit being a whiny party' Wendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Sullivan: 'It's too soon to tell' if Texas synagogue hostage situation part of broader extremist threat MORE addressed the nation Monday on the variant, with a message not to panic and above all to get vaccinated and get boosted. 

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For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com), Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com) and Justine Coleman (jcoleman@thehill.com). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

Let’s get started.

 

Biden says omicron variant is 'cause for concern, not a cause for panic' 

President Biden

President Biden sought to project calm and reassure that there are tools to fight the new variant in an address on Monday. 

He also said officials would release more guidance on how they plan to fight the spread of COVID-19 this winter, but promised it wouldn't include lockdowns.

"This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic," Biden said in prepared remarks at the White House. "We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed. Not chaos and confusion."

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The president acknowledged the U.S. would see confirmed cases of the latest strain of the virus "sooner or later."

And he pleaded with Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, adding that Anthony FauciAnthony FauciPublic health expert: Biden administration needs to have agencies on the 'same page' about COVID Trump slams Biden, voices unsubstantiated election fraud claims at first rally of 2022 DeSantis says he disagreed with Trump's decision to shut down economy at start of pandemic MORE, his top medical adviser on the pandemic, believed the existing vaccines provide at least some protection against the omicron variant.

"If you are vaccinated, but still worried about the new variant, get our booster. If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot. Go get that first shot," Biden said.

Modified vaccine needed? The president said the White House does not believe additional doses of the vaccine will be needed as of now, but officials are in touch with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson "to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed."

"I’m sparing no effort and removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe," Biden said. 

Read more here.

A MESSAGE FROM MARCH OF DIMES

The U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth. Help prioritize the health of our nation’s moms and babies by joining the #BlanketChange movement today at BlanketChange.org

ONE RESPONSE BIDEN’S REJECTING? LOCKDOWNS

President Biden said Monday that his administration was not recommending further restrictions on businesses or in-person gatherings to combat the coronavirus pandemic amid concerns about the new omicron variant.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room, Biden described vaccinations as the best possible tool to defeat the virus and any emerging variants. He said his administration would outline a strategy to combat COVID-19 during the winter months later this week.

“On Thursday, I'll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we're going to fight COVID this winter, not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more,” he said.

Biden later told reporters that “lockdowns” were off the table “for now” as his administration weighs measures to respond to the omicron variant, much about which remains unknown.

“If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there is no need for the lockdown,” Biden said.

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Lockdowns refer to closures of or restrictions on businesses, schools and other in-person gatherings. The U.S. never had a nationwide lockdown like other countries, though health officials recommended certain business closures in cities and states.   

Read more here.

CDC strengthens booster recommendation 

A healthcare worker administrates a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a student during a vaccination clinic for ages 5 - 11 hosted by Jewel Osco in Wheeling, Ill., on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday strengthened its recommendation for all adults to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, citing the risks of the omicron variant. 

While booster shots were approved for all adults earlier this month, the previous guidance for younger adults was only that they "may" get a booster if they wanted to. Now, the guidance has been fortified to say all adults "should" get a booster.

"Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine," CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyPublic health expert: Biden administration needs to have agencies on the 'same page' about COVID Child hospitalizations reach record high amid omicron surge: WSJ CDC says N95 masks provide the most protection against COVID-19 MORE said in a statement. 

"The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19," she added. 

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Backstory/confusion: Booster shots have been a subject of debate among experts for months, with some saying they are not needed. 

The Biden administration originally planned to roll out boosters for all adults in September, but a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee that month rejected a recommendation for boosters for all, instead initially limiting them to older and high risk people. 

Read more here.

A MESSAGE FROM MARCH OF DIMES

The U.S. remains among the most dangerous developed nations for childbirth. Help prioritize the health of our nation’s moms and babies by joining the #BlanketChange movement today at BlanketChange.org

Federal workers who don't meet vaccine mandate won't face discipline until January 

Employees protest vaccine mandates in Los Angeles 

Federal workers who do not comply with the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine requirement will not face serious penalties such as suspension or removal until January.

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The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Monday directed federal agencies to engage in education and counseling of workers who have not met the vaccine requirement through the holiday season, with further enforcement actions put off until next year.

“Given that tremendous progress, we encourage your agencies to continue with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process, with no subsequent enforcement actions, beyond that education and counseling and, if warranted, a letter of reprimand, for most employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January,” OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja wrote in an email to agencies obtained by The Hill.

Not a cliff: The deadline for federal workers to comply with the mandate was Nov. 22, though White House officials had made it clear that federal employees who were not compliant would not be immediately reprimanded after the deadline. Still, officials had not set out a specific timeline for enforcement actions until Monday.

The White House said last week that 92 percent of federal government workers have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 4.5 percent have a pending or approved exemption request.

Read more here.

 

ADMINISTRATION’S HEALTH WORKER VACCINE MANDATE TAKES LEGAL BLOW

A federal court on Monday temporarily halted the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding.

The ruling by a Missouri-based federal judge applies to health care employees in the 10 states that sued to block the administration’s Nov. 5 rule. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, a Trump appointee, appeared persuaded by the states’ argument that the mandate would lead to staffing shortages.

“The scale falls clearly in favor of healthcare facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring healthcare facilities to choose between two undesirable choices — providing substandard care or providing no healthcare at all,” Schelp wrote in a 32-page order.

Life experience: In most cities, states or businesses with vaccine mandates already in place, widespread labor shortages were feared, but rarely came to fruition. 

Read more here.

WHAT WE'RE READING

  • What we know and don't know about the Omicron variant (CNN
  • Democrats go on the offense with Biden's agenda to avoid a repeat of Obamacare battle (NPR
  • As antiviral pills arrive, can testing keep up? (The New York Times)

 

STATE BY STATE

  • Michigan hits new record for adult COVID-19 hospitalizations; 80% of beds full (Detroit News
  • COVID-19 booster shots are available, but appointments are scarce (Boston Globe)
  • To protest COVID mandates, this California town declared itself a ‘constitutional republic’ (Los Angeles Times)

 

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Tuesday.