Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care — Presented by AstraZeneca and Friends of Cancer Research — Biden vaccine rules on shaky SCOTUS ground

The Supreme Court is seen during a snow storm on Monday, January 3, 2022. The Washington, D.C., area is forecasted to receive five to six inches of snow before the afternoon.
Greg Nash

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

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) honored a couple that handed out nearly 600 loaves of bread to those stuck on I-95 earlier this week, commending their “incredible selflessness.” 

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Biden’s vaccine rules, and it seemed the OSHA rules were at risk of being invalidated.  

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. 

Justices seem skeptical of Biden mandates 

Conservative members of the Supreme Court on Friday appeared skeptical of Biden administration policies that impose a COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement on broad swathes of the U.S. workforce. 

During several hours of oral arguments, the court’s conservative majority posed sharp questions about whether a federal workplace law that Congress passed some five decades ago provides the legal authority for a vaccine-or-test policy affecting roughly 84 million workers at large employers. 

The conservative justices also appeared wary, though slightly less so, of a separate coronavirus vaccine mandate that applies to the roughly 17 million health care workers at hospitals and other facilities that receive federal funding through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. 

What it means: Questions posed by the court’s six conservative justices reflected concerns about granular details like the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing the spread to others, as well as broader structural issues like how public health authority fits within the country’s constitutional framework. 

“It seems to me that the more and more mandates that pop up in different agencies, it’s fair — I wonder if it’s not fair for us to look at [this] as a general exercise of power by the federal government and then ask the questions of, well, why doesn’t Congress have a say in this, and why don’t the — why doesn’t this be the primary responsibility of the states?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked the solicitor general.  

Other side: The court’s three liberals appeared primarily concerned with the public health impact that might result from blocking the administration’s policies while challenges proceed in the lower courts.    

“How can it conceivably be in the public interest,” Justice Stephen Breyer asked. “You have the hospitalization figures growing by factors of 10, 10 times what it was. You have hospitalization at the record, near the record.” 

Read more here.

A MESSAGE FROM ASTRAZENECA AND FRIENDS OF CANCER RESEARCH

The Battle Against Cancer: Setting the Next Agenda

To mark 50 years since the passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971, a select group of thought leaders working at the intersection of public health and oncology participated in a roundtable discussion, hosted by The Hill in partnership with Friends of Cancer Research and AstraZeneca’s YOUR Cancer Program, on expanding access to oncology precision medicine. Learn more.

SPEAKING OF MANDATES: NY TO MANDATE BOOSTERS FOR HEALTH CARE WORKERS

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Friday announced a new mandate requiring all health care workers to get a COVID-19 booster shot.  

Hochul said during a news conference that the state’s health care workers will be required to get the extra dose within two weeks of eligibility. 

Recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for their booster two months after their first shot. Those who received the two-shot regimen of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are eligible for their booster five months after their first two jabs. 

“It’s the best way to protect themselves and to protect the people they care for,” Hochul said of the vaccinations. “That’s why it’s time and important to now add on a continuation of this effort to protect people, to protect the workers and to protect the integrity of our healthcare system.” 

Hochul said she consulted New York Health Commissioner Mary Bassett on the decision. Bassett will discuss the new mandate with the Public Health and Health Planning Council, an independent body, on Tuesday. The governor expects a “swift approval” of the mandate. 

Read more here

Feds shorten Moderna booster waiting period

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the amount of time Moderna recipients need to wait to get a booster dose from six months to five months on Friday, aligning the timeline with Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.  

The FDA announced it amended its emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine to allow adults to get a booster dose a month earlier than previously.  

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky declared that she approved the expedited timeline for Moderna recipients before her briefing Friday morning. 

Officials, including Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, cited the highly transmissible omicron variant as reasoning for the update.  

“Vaccination is our best defense against COVID-19, including the circulating variants, and shortening the length of time between completion of a primary series and a booster dose may help reduce waning immunity,” he said in a statement. 

Follows: The move comes days after the CDC recommended that Pfizer-BioNTech recipients get their booster dose at least five months after their primary series, pointing to the omicron surge.  

The push to expand booster access early comes amid skyrocketing cases that have more than tripled in two weeks, according to data from The New York Times

Read more here

BIDEN SAYS HE DOESN’T THINK CORONAVIRUS IS HERE TO STAY

President Biden on Friday said he doesn’t think the current coronavirus situation is here to stay, but added that he does think the virus will remain around the world. 

“No, I don’t think COVID is here to stay, but having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay,” he told reporters at the White House.  

“COVID as we’re dealing with it now is not here to stay, the normal doesn’t have to be. We have so many more tools we developed and we continue to develop that can contain COVID and other strains of COVID,” the president added.  

This week, the White House has remained steadfast that the goal is to defeat the virus. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was questioned on Thursday about an article from former advisory board members for Biden’s health transition team that called for a new pandemic strategy to embrace living with a new normal.  

“The president’s goal is to defeat the virus,” she said when asked again if the president believes COVID-19 is here to stay. 

Read more here.

Record number of child COVID-19 hospitalizations

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arrives to a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky reported Friday that there have been a record number of pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and announced new isolation guidelines for students, staff and teachers to preserve in-person learning in schools.    

During a media briefing, Walensky cautioned that pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest point they have ever been during the pandemic, even though they are much lower when compared to adults.  

She said it’s still not clear if the increase is due to a greater burden of disease in children’s communities or their lower rates of vaccination. 

Numbers: The increase was seen most in children younger than 4, who are ineligible for vaccination, and the data include those admitted to hospitals for reasons other than COVID-19 who then tested positive.  

According to CDC data, in the week ending Jan. 1, children under the age of 4 had 4.3 COVID-19 associated hospitalizations per 100,000. Children ages 5 to 17 had only 1.1 hospitalizations per 100,000. Both are well under the rate of 14.7 in adults over 65. 

Schools: The new policy shortens the period of isolation time following infection to five days and brings schools in line with the agency’s guidance for the general public and health workers.  

Read more here. 

A MESSAGE FROM ASTRAZENECA AND FRIENDS OF CANCER RESEARCH

The Battle Against Cancer: Setting the Next Agenda

To mark 50 years since the passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971, a select group of thought leaders working at the intersection of public health and oncology participated in a roundtable discussion, hosted by The Hill in partnership with Friends of Cancer Research and AstraZeneca’s YOUR Cancer Program, on expanding access to oncology precision medicine. Learn more.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • U.S. health agency may be unprepared to take over COVID vaccine program (Reuters
  • CDC director turns to media consultant as Covid-19 messaging frustrations mount (CNN
  • They need to process your Covid tests. Now they’re out sick from Omicron. (Politico
  • Hospitals are in serious trouble (The Atlantic

STATE BY STATE

  • Oregon announces long-awaited crisis care standards for hospitals as COVID-19 numbers rise (Oregon Public Broadcasting
  • COVID hospitalization surge pushes health systems to brink (The State
  • Louisiana hospitals can mandate COVID vaccine for employees, state Supreme Court rules (The Advocate

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.{mosads}

Tags Jen Psaki Joe Biden Kathy Hochul Larry Hogan Rochelle Walensky Stephen Breyer

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