Overnight Health Care — Presented by Rare Access Action Project —  Pfizer says pill cuts hospitalization, death risk

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Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here:

The two missing zebras who have been roaming in Maryland were safely captured after more than three months on the run. 

A new Pfizer pill has the potential to significantly cut down on COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, new data shows. 

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

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Pill reduces risk of hospitalization, death: study 

Pfizer logo provided by Pfizer Media Relations on Jan. 7. 2021.

Pfizer announced Tuesday that a study found that its oral, antiviral COVID-19 pill Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent in high-risk patients.

Pfizer said that the 2,246 patients in the study were given the pill within three days of symptom onset, adding that they had mild to moderate symptoms as well as an underlying medical condition or an increased risk of becoming severely infected by COVID-19. 

The company said the results have been shared with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a part of the company’s request for emergency use authorization. Pfizer requested emergency use authorization from the FDA for Paxlovid in mid-November.

Takeaway: Health officials stress the pill is not a substitute for the vaccine, but it does have the potential to significantly cut down on hospitalizations and deaths, assuming people start taking the pill within three days of their symptoms starting.

Pfizer added that it believes that the pill will work on the new omicron variant, but additional studies are underway. 

“This news provides further corroboration that our oral antiviral candidate, if authorized or approved, could have a meaningful impact on the lives of many,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Emerging variants of concern, like Omicron, have exacerbated the need for accessible treatment options for those who contract the virus, and we are confident that, if authorized or approved, this potential treatment could be a critical tool to help quell the pandemic.”

Supply is expected to be extremely limited at first. The company is expected to deliver only enough of its pills to cover 300,000 Americans before the end of February.

Read more here


CDC: Omicron now 3 percent of U.S. cases

The omicron variant now represents about 3 percent of domestic COVID-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday, showing the new variant is starting to rise in the U.S.

The CDC estimated omicron was 2.9 percent of sequenced U.S. cases for the week ending Dec. 11, up from 0.4 percent one week earlier. In New York and New Jersey, the CDC said omicron is already at 13 percent of sequenced cases. 

The number is expected to rise quickly given the sharp spikes in omicron in other countries. For example, officials in Britain have estimated omicron will be the dominant variant there within days. The U.S. trajectory appears to be somewhat behind. 

How we got here: Omicron is highly transmissible, helping fuel its rapid rise and displacing some of the delta variant, which has been fueling a spike in the U.S. even before omicron’s foothold. 

There is some early evidence that omicron could be less severe, though. On the other hand, it does significantly weaken the power of two shots of the vaccine in preventing infection, though protection against severe disease could hold up better. 

That is why health officials are urging all American adults to get a booster shot.

Read more here


Tell Congress to protect rare disease patients

Right now, politicians need a win, and rare disease patients are going to lose. Congress is putting huge cost increases on the development of treatments for rare diseases – from 400-800%. Learn more.



A new South African study finds that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 70 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations due to the omicron variant.

The research published Tuesday was conducted by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance company. More than 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results from Nov. 15 to Dec. 7 were examined, with about 78,000 attributed to the omicron variant.

The study also determined that the Pfizer vaccine is only 33 percent effective at preventing infection caused by the omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa. This represents a drop from the 80 percent protection from infection found against earlier strains.

The risk of reinfection among those previously infected with COVID-19 is “significantly higher” with the omicron variant compared to other strains. Additionally, children were found to have a 20 percent higher risk of hospitalization due to the omicron variant.

Caveat: According to Discovery Health, the findings from this study should be considered preliminary as they encompass data from the first three weeks of the omicron-related surge in South Africa. 

Read more here



The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday that Africa may not reach the goal of getting 70 percent COVID-19 vaccination coverage until late 2024 — two years after the planned target. 

If vaccinations continue at the current pace, a WHO assessment predicts that it will take until May 2022 to get 40 percent of the continent’s population vaccinated and until August 2024 to hit the desired 70 percent vaccination threshold. 

Twenty African countries have reached 10 percent vaccination coverage, and six countries have obtained 40 percent vaccination coverage as of Monday. Two countries, Mauritius and Seychelles, have reached the 70 percent vaccination target. 

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said in a release that many COVID-19 fatalities could have been prevented if 70 percent of the continent’s population got vaccinated this year. 

“In a world where Africa had the doses and support to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by the end of 2021—a level many wealthy countries have achieved—we probably would be seeing tens of thousands of fewer deaths from COVID-19 next year,” Moeti said. “But we can still save many lives if we can accelerate the pace of vaccination in early 2022.”

Read more here.


Arizona asks to permit ban on abortion for genetic conditions

Arizona’s Republican attorney general on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to allow the state’s ban on abortions based on genetic abnormalities to go into effect.

The request by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) marks the latest in a series of clashes over GOP-crafted abortion restrictions to be directed to the justices this term as the court weighs the fate of its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. 

Brnovich’s request, which was filed to Justice Elena Kagan, who handles emergency matters arising from Arizona, comes after the state lost two rounds in the lower courts, where the law remains blocked. 

The filing comes less than a week after a divided Supreme Court allowed Texas’s 6-week abortion ban to remain in effect while creating a narrow avenue for challenges to be brought in federal court. 

The dispute arose after Arizona in April enacted S.B. 1457, which makes it a crime to perform an abortion that is sought “solely because of a genetic abnormality of the child.” The law prompted legal action from a group of doctors and abortion rights advocates ahead of the scheduled September effective date.

Read more here.


Tell Congress to protect rare disease patients

Right now, politicians need a win, and rare disease patients are going to lose. Congress is putting huge cost increases on the development of treatments for rare diseases – from 400-800%. Learn more.


  • Omicron is a dress rehearsal for the next pandemic (The New York Times)
  • Some hospitals drop Covid-19 vaccine mandates to ease labor shortages (The Wall Street Journal)
  • Covid-19 vaccinations began a year ago. These numbers show how it’s going (CNN)



  • Oregon wants to get out of covering drugs like Aduhelm in Medicaid (Stat News)
  • R.I. ‘at critical, medical crossroads’ in pandemic, says president of state medical society (The Boston Globe)
  • Missouri Supreme Court weighs whether medical marijuana applications can be disclosed (Missouri Independent)



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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