Overnight Health Care: Congress to pass deal with $600 stimulus checks | House panel subpoenas for Azar, Redfield CDC documents | Fauci, Azar to receive COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday
Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care.
NOTE: This is our last issue for the week. Enjoy the holiday safely, here’s to hoping for a great 2021, and we’ll see you in the new year.
Congress has a deal for a COVID relief bill, including $600 stimulus checks, and legislation to stop surprise medical bills. A House panel subpoenaed HHS Secretary Azar and CDC Director Redfield, Joe Biden got vaccinated, and Anthony Fauci is up next.
We’ll start with the congressional COVID relief:
Congress to pass deal with $600 stimulus checks
The House and Senate are expected to vote Monday to pass the massive year-end deal, which includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and $1.4 trillion to fund the government through Oct. 1.
The vote will likely drag late into the night, with the Senate likely to go up against the deadline to prevent a government shutdown, so Congress is poised to pass a seven-day continuing resolution to give lawmakers and the White House time to get the massive year-end deal signed into law.
The agreement, announced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the floor late Sunday, includes a $600 checks for individuals who make up to $75,000 per year. Though it’s the same income cap included in the March CARES Act, the amount of the check is half of the $1,200 for individuals that was included in the earlier bill.
Congressional Democrats and President-elect Joe Biden have argued that the $900 billion deal is a “down payment” for another package they hope to pass next year.
Dropped, for now: Liability protections. But McConnell said Monday he will “insist” that any COVID-19 relief next year include protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits. McConnell had made including protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits a top priority for months. But he signaled earlier this month that he was prepared to drop his demand in exchange for Democrats dropping their push for another round of money for state and local governments.
Wait ’til next year: It’s not clear if there will even be another bill. Senate Republicans have signaled they aren’t automatically on board for passing another one. McConnell, on Monday, was noncommittal.
Also included in the package: bipartisan legislation to protect patients from massive “surprise” medical bills
Elsewhere in Congress: House panel subpoenas for Azar, Redfield CDC documents
Top Trump administration health officials were subpoenaed by House Democrats on Monday, after an investigation showed “extensive” political interference with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Over a period of four months, as coronavirus cases and deaths rose around the country, Trump Administration appointees attempted to alter or block at least 13 scientific reports related to the virus,” the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis said a letter.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), said he is seeking full, unredacted documents from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield, after “HHS has made clear that it will not provide a timely and complete response to the Select Subcommittee’s requests on a voluntary basis.”
Clyburn said the subcommittee needs the documents to understand “who in the Trump administration was responsible for this political pressure campaign, whether it was intended to cripple the nation’s coronavirus response in a misguided effort to achieve herd immunity, and what steps must be taken to end this outrageous conduct and protect American lives.”
HHS responds: An HHS spokesperson denied there was any political interference, and said the agency has been “extremely cooperative” with the investigation, having provided the subcommittee with 14,000 pages of documents in the past five weeks.
“While the administration is focused on vaccination shots, the Subcommittee is focused on cheap shots to create headlines and mislead the American people,” the spokesperson said.
Fauci, Azar to receive COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday
Top infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and other Trump administration health officials will receive the coronavirus vaccine Tuesday.
Along with Fauci and Azar, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins, as well as front-line NIH medical workers, will receive a dose of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. The event will take place at the NIH in Bethesda, Md.
Fauci, who recently turned 80, has said he would take the vaccine publicly as a way to build confidence. The U.S. needs at least 70 percent of the population to get vaccinated in order to stop the virus from being a threat.
Meanwhile, Biden got vaccinated on Monday
Biden receives first dose of coronavirus vaccine publicly
President-elect Joe Biden was vaccinated for the novel coronavirus publicly Monday in a bid to shore up Americans’ confidence in the vaccine as doses are distributed across the country.
Tabe Mase, a nurse practitioner at ChristianaCare hospital in Delaware, administered the first dose of the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNtech to Biden.
“I am doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine,” Biden, wearing a black face mask, said after receiving the vaccine. “There’s nothing to worry about.”
He thanked front-line health workers and scientists and gave credit to the Trump administration for Operation Warp Speed, the program aimed at speeding the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, and urged Americans to heed the advice of public health experts by wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding travel during the holidays.
Travel restrictions are piling up in Europe as leaders react to an apparent mutated variant of the coronavirus. The message in the U.S.? Don’t ‘overreact.’
Fauci warns against ‘overreacting’ to new strain, advises against banning UK flights
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Monday that he would not recommend suspending flights from the United Kingdom over a more infectious coronavirus strain detected in southern England.
The U.S. should “without a doubt keep an eye on it,” but “we don’t want to overreact,” Fauci told CNN.
“Follow it carefully, but don’t overreact to it,” he added.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the White House coronavirus testing czar, also told CNN that travel restrictions came up during a discussion late Sunday with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield.
“I think we’re waiting for CDC kind of recommendations. Last night, talking to Dr. Redfield, there was not a recommendation for that. Again, every hour we get more information. I think, as we have done and we need to do, we need to listen to the best experts,” Giroir said Monday morning.
Restriction limitations: Some experts believe that in all likelihood, the new strain of the virus is already in the U.S., so banning flights won’t help. Just like when the virus first began spreading undetected in the winter, months before any of President Trump’s travel restrictions were announced, when you don’t look for the virus, you won’t find it. That isn’t stopping some, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) from calling for them.
And more from Giroir: Coronavirus vaccines ‘effective’ against new strains
Vaccines are effective against many variants of the coronavirus, and the public shouldn’t be worried about it “mutating,” the Trump administration’s top testing official said Monday.
“We have every reason to believe that the vaccine will be effective against any variant that we’ve seen, including the new variant in the U.K.,” Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Giroir was referencing a new variant of the virus that is now circulating in England. Officials there are sounding the alarm over the possibility of a highly contagious form of the virus, and European countries are imposing travel restrictions as a way to try and stop the virus from spreading.
But scientists have been pointing out that human behavior is the primary reason the virus has spread so quickly, and why cases continue to increase across the world, particularly in the U.S.
Like all viruses, scientists over the past few months have recorded tiny changes to the genetic material that makes up the coronavirus as it appeared in different parts of the world.
Experts also say the novel coronavirus also does not mutate as much as influenza, meaning it is less likely that a vaccine would need to be developed every year.
What we’re reading:
An investment firm snapped up nursing homes during the pandemic. Chaos followed. (Washington Post)
The coronavirus is mutating. What does that mean for us? (New York Times)
3 lessons from Stanford’s Covid-19 vaccine algorithm debacle (Stat)
State by state:
With few takers for COVID vaccine, DC hospital CEO takes ‘one for the team’ (Kaiser Health News)
N.J. missed deadline to start nursing home vaccinations on Monday. It will start a week later instead (NJ.com)
Montana’s mask mandate in doubt with incoming governor (Kaiser Health News)
Mass General Brigham apologizes to employees for rocky vaccine rollout (Boston Globe)