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Health Care — White House pushes for more COVID pills  

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Fans of Lil Nas X will be happy to learn the rapper has announced his first headlining tour, set to go through North America and Europe later this year. 

Today in health care, we’re looking at the White House’s push to get more people with COVID-19 to be able to take the highly effective treatment Paxlovid.  

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter SullivanNathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

White House pushing to up COVID pill availability

The White House on Tuesday unveiled new steps aimed at making highly effective COVID-19 treatment pills from Pfizer more widely available, saying more lives could be saved if use of the pills increases.   

The Pfizer treatment pills, known as Paxlovid, have been authorized since December and are seen as a key step in moving into a new phase of the pandemic where the virus is more manageable. But the administration acknowledged reports that some patients are having trouble getting access to them, and that awareness can be improved among the public and among doctors.   

New steps include: 

  • The number of sites where the pills are available will soon increase from 20,000 to 30,000, and the administration will work with pharmacies to increase that number to 40,000 “over the coming weeks.” 
  • Officials will also explore federally supported “test-to-treat” sites, where patients can get tested for COVID-19, and if they are positive, have the chance to then be prescribed the pills immediately. The new sites would expand on the 2,200 currently available. 
  • The administration will be stepping up education to doctors, including with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert issued Monday, to encourage them to prescribe them for people who are eligible.     

Big picture: Increasing access to the pills is seen as a key way to defang the virus and ensure that blunter measures like mask mandates are not needed. Paxlovid has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by about 90 percent, but the treatment course needs to begin within five days of symptoms beginning.   

Read more here.  

More funding needed to fight COVID-19: official 

The United States is at an inflection point in the coronavirus pandemic but needs Congress to authorize more funding to sustain progress, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said Tuesday. 

Jha, making his first appearance in the briefing room, told reporters that while cases are on the rise because of the BA.2 variant of the virus, there is reason for optimism as hospitalizations and deaths are at some of the lowest levels of the pandemic to date. 

“We are going to see cases go up and go down during this pandemic as we head into the weeks, months and years ahead,” Jha said. “The key things we need to be following— are health care systems getting stressed. Are people ending up in the hospital with severe illness. Are people dying at high rates.” 

The administration will be stepping up education to doctors, including with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alert issued Monday, to encourage them to prescribe them for people who are eligible.   

But Jha warned the U.S. could remain vulnerable to setbacks in the fight against the pandemic if Congress does not authorize billions of dollars in additional funding. 

An agreement on funding has remained out of reach in recent weeks. 

Read more here.

TASK FORCE UPDATES DAILY ASPIRIN GUIDELINES

The United States Preventive Services Taskforce (USPSTF) on Tuesday issued a recommendation against people over the age of 60 using daily aspirin intake as a primary method of preventing cardiovascular disease. 

According to the independent, expert organization, aspirin use among people over the age of 60 seeking to prevent heart disease showed “no net benefit.” 

However, people between the ages of 40 and 59 who have a 10 percent or 10-year greater risk of heart disease should make their own individual decision on taking aspirin as primary prevention. Individuals within this younger age range could reap a “small net benefit,” according to the organization. 

The USPSTF came to its own recommendation after analyzing 11 heart disease prevention trials that looked into using low-dose aspirin as a way of preventing heart disease.  

The organization concluded that the heightened risk of bleeding, which increases with age, canceled out the possible preventative benefits gained from taking a daily aspirin. 

Read more here

FAMILY MEMBERS OF COVID ICU PATIENTS REPORT PTSD SYMPTOMS

A study published Monday found a majority of families who had a loved one with COVID-19 in an intensive care unit had PTSD symptoms afterward.  

The symptoms were found more often in women, Hispanics and those who previously used medication for a psychiatric condition, according to the study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.  

After analyzing 330 family members who previously had a loved one in the ICU with the coronavirus, the study says those with higher PTSD symptoms more commonly had distrust of medical professionals. 

Overall, 63.6 percent of respondents recorded high levels of PTSD after a loved one had COVID-19 in the ICU, higher than ICU visits before the pandemic, when quarantining and isolation were less common. 

“Prior to the pandemic, the data suggested that more involvement at the bedside was helpful to the family members and may reduce stress related symptoms. It then stands to reason that excluding them would increase their rates of stress symptoms, which was our hypothesis,” Timothy Amass, one of the authors of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told The Hill. 

Read more here

6 in 10 show signs of prior COVID infection: CDC 

Almost 6 in 10 Americans have signs of previous COVID-19 infection, showing the widespread reach of the virus, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   

The CDC study shows that the percentage of people testing positive for antibodies — an indication of previous COVID-19 infection — increased from about 34 percent in December to about 58 percent in February.   

That period of a sharp increase coincides with the surge in cases from the omicron variant. But the antibody testing shows that even more people than reported have been infected, as has long been estimated, given that not all cases are detected or reported. 

CDC officials stressed that having previously been infected does not necessarily mean that someone is protected going forward, given that immunity can wane over time. Vaccination also provides additional protection when added to immunity from infection.   

Therefore, health officials say that all eligible people should get vaccinated and boosted even if they have previously had the virus.   

Read more here

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Republicans Have Stopped Trying to Kill Obamacare. Here’s What They’re Planning Instead. (Politico Magazine
  • Kansas GOP seeks to prevent Kelly from renegotiating $4 billion Medicaid contracts (Kansas City Star
  • Weekly pediatric COVID-19 infection rates see 1st increases since January (ABC News

STATE BY STATE

  • New COVID Medication Helps Keep Hospitalizations Down As Florida Cases Rise (NBC 6)  
  • Tennessee governor signs transgender athlete penalty bill (AP
  • COVID-19 rates are on a steady rise in California. Has the fifth wave of virus begun? (Sacramento Bee)  

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

The debate over the COVID-19 public health emergency is failing America 

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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