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You can now get another round of free COVID-19 tests from the Post Office, for a total of eight.

Today, the U.S. officially hit the shocking total of one million COVID-19 deaths, and there are new actions on the baby formula crisis. 

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. Subscribe here.

Country marks grim milestone

The United States has reached 1 million reported deaths from COVID-19, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a number that shows the shocking toll the virus has taken on the nation.   

The U.S. has had more deaths per capita than Western Europe or Canada, and while new deaths have fallen, the total death count is still rising. 

It is also expected that the United States, like other countries, has undercounted the true number of deaths from the coronavirus. 

Illustrating how high 1 million deaths originally seemed, then-President Trump said in March 2020 that holding the country to between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths would mean “we all, together, have done a very good job.”  

Deaths have continued stacking up even into 2021 and 2022, after vaccines became widely available, disproportionately among people who did not get vaccinated or did not get booster shots.   

An analysis from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 234,000 U.S. COVID-19 deaths, or roughly one quarter of the total, could have been prevented if people had been vaccinated.  

The share is even higher, at 60 percent, of deaths since vaccines became widely available in June 2021.

President Biden late last week ordered flags at half-staff to commemorate Americans who had died from COVID.

Read more here.

Abbott, FDA reach deal to restart baby formula plant

Baby formula manufacturer Abbott Nutrition said it has reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a path to restart operations at its Sturgis, Michigan plant.

The facility has been shuttered for more than three months while the FDA investigated whether powdered formula from the plant caused four babies to contract a rare bacterial illness. Two of them died, and subsequent FDA inspection found unsanitary conditions at the plant.  

The shutdown and recall of all products made at the Sturgis facility has significantly worsened an already strained supply chain of infant formula, but has hit the parents who rely on specialty formulas the hardest.  

Once the FDA confirms the initial requirements for start-up have been met, Abbott said it could restart the site within two weeks.  

The company did not immediately disclose what the requirements were. The company called the agreement a “consent decree” and said it needs to be cleared by a federal judge. 

Months away: But even if the plant reopens under Abbott’s timeframe, the company said it wouldn’t be able to get formula onto store shelves for at least another six to eight weeks after that. 

“Our number one priority is getting infants and families the high-quality formulas they need, and this is a major step toward re-opening our Sturgis facility so we can ease the nationwide formula shortage,” Robert B. Ford, chairman and chief executive officer of Abbott said in a statement.  

“We know millions of parents and caregivers depend on us and we’re deeply sorry that our voluntary recall worsened the nationwide formula shortage.” 

Read more here.

House targets formula shortage

The House will take up legislation this week to address the nationwide baby formula shortage, as Republicans hammer the Biden administration over the issue. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday said the House will take up a pair of bills this week to tackle the shortages, which have left parents and guardians scrambling to find food for their infants.

Pelosi announced in a letter to colleagues on Friday that the House will take up a bill to grant emergency authority to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children — referred to as the WIC program.

Pelosi said giving the program emergency authority will help tackle the supply chain snafus and recalls impacting the baby formula industry, and allow the federal government to relax some non-safety regulations. 

“Ensuring that every precious baby has the nutrition that he or she needs is a matter of the baby’s life and development,” she wrote in her letter. 

“While it is essential that we ensure that this issue never happens again, right now the babies are crying and the babies are hungry – so we must take urgent action to protect their health and well-being,” she added. 

Read more here.

CANADA, MEXICO BRACE FOR INFLUX OF AMERICANS SEEKING ABORTION

Activists in Mexico and Canada are already preparing for a possible influx of Americans crossing the border to seek abortion access if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

In Mexico, which has historically provided cheap access to health care for Americans living in the borderlands, activists say they have already seen a surge in women coming from Texas to seek access to abortions pills.  

They now say they’re getting ready for a potential spike in demand from other U.S. states after a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling protecting a woman’s right to an abortion, was leaked to the media earlier this month.  

While it’s not clear how accurately the draft will reflect the forthcoming decision, the leak has already prompted concerns that many states with so-called trigger laws will outlaw abortion entirely once the decision from the top court is made. 

Verónica Cruz Sánchez, the founder of Las Libres, a Mexican organization that advocates for abortion rights, said in an interview with The Hill that women are crossing the length of the US-Mexico border into states from Baja California and Sonora in the west, to Coahuila and Tamaulipas in the east.  

“We’re definitely getting ready to help more women. When we started with this idea, we only had Texas in mind. But in the last few months we’ve seen more women from other parts of the United States,” Sánchez said. “We understand we’re going to need a much larger infrastructure and improve our logistics to help develop more networks to help women.” 

Read more here.

BOOSTER SHOT SLOWDOWN LEAVES OLDER AMERICANS AT RISK

The delivery of coronavirus booster shots in the U.S. has stagnated, particularly among older populations, leaving millions of vulnerable people at risk of serious infection and death.  

After bottoming out in late March and early April, COVID-19 infections are steadily rising across the country.  

More worrisome, hospitalizations have also increased 20 percent over the past two weeks, though deaths have stayed relatively low, especially compared to the winter peak, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.  

Studies show the protection against infection from the initial series of vaccines starts to wane after about six months. 

Health officials are urging people over the age of 50 to get a second booster, but many have yet to even receive their first. 

“What we really should be worried about is getting the boosters that we need to stay up to date so with the new variants that we have, we don’t have unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations,” Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf said on CNN recently. 

recent CDC study of national nursing home vaccination data found that residents with an additional or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine had 47 percent greater protection against infection during the omicron variant’s prominence than those who had only received a primary series. 

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Democrats have little time to avert an election-eve Obamacare premium hike (HuffPost
  • A legal Wild West: Abortion rights advocates prepare playbook for life after Roe (Politico
  • FDA rejects antidepressant seen as possible Covid-19 treatment (Stat)  

STATE BY STATE

  • States have yet to spend hundreds of millions of federal dollars to tackle Covid health disparities (Kaiser Health News
  • Washington state AG seeks protection for out-of-state abortion providers (KREM
  • Over 1/3 of current COVID-19 hospitalizations at MaineHealth are ‘coincidental’ (WMTW

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.

VIEW THE FULL VERSION HERE.

Tags baby formula shortage Biden COVID-19 Nancy Pelosi Trump vaccine boosters

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