Overnight Health Care: Trump officials debate cutting Moderna dose in half to speed up COVID-19 vaccination | Cuomo says more contagious coronavirus variant found in upstate New York | Amazon, JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway health care venture to disband

Overnight Health Care: Trump officials debate cutting Moderna dose in half to speed up COVID-19 vaccination | Cuomo says more contagious coronavirus variant found in upstate New York | Amazon, JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway health care venture to disband
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Welcome to the first Overnight Health Care of 2021.

The distribution of coronavirus vaccines is severely lagging, just as the U.S. has begun identifying cases of a new, more infectious strain. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is considering splitting doses of Moderna's vaccine in half.  

We'll start with a vaccine update:


Trump officials debating cutting Moderna dose in half to speed up COVID-19 vaccination

Trump administration officials are in discussions with Moderna about speeding up the coronavirus vaccination process by only giving people half the recommended dose of the company's vaccine, according to a top adviser.

Moncel Slaoui, the chief science adviser for Operation Warp Speed, said there is evidence that giving people between the ages of 18 and 55 two half-doses "induces identical immune response" to the normal 100 microgram dose.

During an interview with Margaret Brennan on CBS's "Face the Nation," Slaoui said the strategy "means exactly achieving the objective of immunizing double the number of people with the doses we have." 

No supply problem: The current problem isn't supply, at least according to the numbers coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States are struggling to administer the doses they already have, leading many experts to question a strategy that effectively doubles the dose availability, but does not provide additional help to the jurisdictions.

The numbers: There's a sizable gap between "doses delivered" and "doses administered," and neither are close to the administration's goal of 20 million shots by the end of 2020. 

Only about 4.5 million Americans have received the first of two doses, while about 15.4 million doses have been delivered. Logistical problems have plagued the distribution efforts, with much of the crucial “last mile” of work falling to underfunded local health departments. 


Read more here.

Related: Operation Warp Speed chief adviser admits to 'lag' in vaccinations 

Make that four states: Cuomo says more contagious coronavirus variant found in New York

The new, more contagious strain of coronavirus has been found in New York, Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoMajority of New York voters say Cuomo should not be reelected: poll Gillibrand: Cuomo allegations 'completely unacceptable' NY lawmakers agree to strip Cuomo of pandemic-related emergency powers MORE announced Monday, making it the fourth known state with a case of the variant.

An individual in Saratoga County in upstate New York has been confirmed to have the strain, sometimes known as the U.K. variant because it was first discovered in the United Kingdom.

Cuomo tweeted Monday that the person has no known travel history, indicating that the new variant is spreading to some degree in the community.

Déjà vu: The reason we're finding these cases now is because we're looking for them. The U.S. lacks the capacity to broadly sequence and identify strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so it's unclear just how widespread this new variant is. Just like in the early days of the pandemic, when the U.S. struggled to detect the virus and curb the earliest community spread.  

Vaccine implications? Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed on Sunday that the risk from the new strain further raises the urgency for quick vaccinations, and called for delaying the second dose of the vaccine in order to give first doses to more people more quickly. 

"Epidemiological models and Britain’s experience indicate that, while only a few cases of the variant have been identified in the United States, it will likely become our dominant strain within a few months," they wrote. 

Read more here.

Amazon, JP Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway health care venture to disband

The much-buzzed-about health care venture, which also provoked a lot of skepticism, does not appear to have had any breakthroughs. 

The company, called Haven, was a joint venture of Amazon, JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway and was announced with much fanfare at the beginning of 2018. 

But after three years without any major announcements or apparent breakthroughs in lowering health care costs and improving outcomes, the company said Monday it is disbanding. 


“In the past three years, Haven explored a wide range of healthcare solutions, as well as piloted new ways to make primary care easier to access, insurance benefits simpler to understand and easier to use, and prescription drugs more affordable,” it said in a statement posted on its website. 

The venture had announced Atul Gawande, a doctor and leading writer and thinker on health care, as its CEO, but he departed in May 2020, a move that raised questions about the direction of the company at the time.  

Read more here

Top House Appropriations Republican tests COVID-19 positive

Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerHere are the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump Growing number of lawmakers test positive for COVID-19 after Capitol siege Overnight Health Care: US sets record for daily COVID-19 deaths with over 3,800 | Hospitals say vaccinations should be moving faster | Brazilian health officials say Chinese COVID vaccine 78 percent effective MORE (Texas), the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, announced on Monday that she tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Washington for the start of the new session of Congress.

Granger's positive test came after she received her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that the Capitol physician began distributing to members of Congress last month.

Granger was tested for COVID-19 on Sunday and is not feeling symptoms, according to her spokesperson.


Before learning of her positive test, Granger participated in House floor votes on Sunday, including the Speaker election, which could put many members at risk of exposure.

Members of Congress are advised to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival in Washington, but can still go about their regular business while awaiting their results if they don't have symptoms or any known exposure to the virus. The Capitol's testing system provides results within one day at the most, although often in a matter of hours.

At least 49 members of Congress or lawmakers-elect have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, while several others have tested positive for antibodies or had presumed cases.

Read more here.

UK becomes first country to administer AstraZeneca vaccine

British officials began administering AstraZeneca’s Oxford-developed coronavirus vaccine on Monday, the first country to do so.

The first dosage of the vaccine was given to Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, Reuters reported. As with earlier vaccines, the elderly and most vulnerable are prioritized for the new shots.


“I am so pleased to be getting the COVID vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford,” Pinker said, according to the news service.

The United Kingdom is reeling from both the sixth-highest death toll from the virus worldwide and a new, more infectious strain believed to have originated in southeast England.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that since vaccinations began on Dec. 8 with Pfizer’s shot, the country has inoculated more people than all others in Europe combined.

Read more here.

Related: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces second coronavirus lockdown

TSA screens more than 3 million travelers over New Year's weekend

The holiday weekend saw more than 3 million people pass through airport security checkpoints nationwide despite public health officials’ warnings against travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported screenings of 805,990 people on Friday, 1.19 million Saturday and 1.3 million Sunday. The latter was the single highest checkpoint volume the TSA recorded since the beginning of the pandemic last year, according to TSA reports.

The latest TSA numbers bring the sum of holiday travel, which is considered to have begun Dec. 18, to more than 17.7 million people, far above predictions.

Public health experts have repeatedly warned travel, first for the Thanksgiving holiday and later for Christmas and New Year’s, is likely to spread the virus.

Read more here.

What we’re reading

France's go-slow coronavirus vaccination strategy backfires (Associated Press

‘Still waiting for my turn’: Primary care doctors are being left behind in the vaccine rollout (Stat News)

Seniors face crushing drug costs as Congress stalls on capping Medicare out-of-pockets (Kaiser Health News)

State by state

Vaccine reporting delays cited in D.C. region amid sluggish start to distribution (Washington Post

First responders in Mass. to get COVID vaccine starting Jan. 11 (Boston Globe)

DeSantis: If hospitals don’t give coronavirus vaccines fast enough, they’ll lose their shots (Tampa Bay Times

Op-eds in The Hill

Congress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved

2021: The war against COVID-19 will continue

Americans can celebrate victory in the right to know health care costs