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Overnight Health Care: Frustration builds over slow pace of vaccine rollout | Surgeon general tells states not to let priority guidelines slow vaccinations | COVID-19 test used by Congress could give false results, FDA warns

Overnight Health Care: Frustration builds over slow pace of vaccine rollout | Surgeon general tells states not to let priority guidelines slow vaccinations | COVID-19 test used by Congress could give false results, FDA warns

Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Health Care. 

Vaccinations are lagging, and governors are increasing pressure on hospitals and health departments. The Surgeon General doesn't want states to be too rigid about vaccine prioritization, the FDA is warning about the COVID test used in the Capitol and Los Angeles ambulances are not transporting the sickest patients.

We'll start with vaccines:

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Frustration builds over slow pace of vaccine rollout 

More than 17 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccines have been shipped to all 50 states and the U.S. territories, enough to inoculate about 5 percent of the population against the deadly virus that has reshaped American life for almost a year. 

But less than 30 percent of those shots have been used so far, leaving millions of doses in storage instead of in people’s arms. 

While the distribution of the vaccine from drug companies to states and hospitals appears to have run smoothly so far, administering those doses to people has proved more sluggish and time consuming. 

Nancy Messonier, who heads the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) immunization center, said in a live-streamed interview Tuesday she isn't surprised by the early numbers, pointing to the newness of a mass vaccination program.

“It's the early stages of a really complicated task but a task that we're up for," she said. 

"We have to remember that these are new vaccines... the distribution of the vaccine, the storage and handling,  and the administration of these vaccines are slightly complicated." 

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Read more here.

Surgeon general tells states not to let priority guidelines slow vaccinations

Surgeon General Jerome AdamsJerome AdamsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden argues for legislative patience, urgent action amid crisis Biden to name nurse as acting surgeon general: report Judge drops case against former surgeon general over alleged virus restrictions violation MORE doesn’t want states slowing down vaccinations out of an overly cautious desire to do them in the exact right order. 

“Your headline today really should be, ‘Surgeon General tells states and governors to move quickly to other priority groups,’” Adams said on NBC. “If the demand isn't there in 1a, go to 1b, and continue on down. And if the demand isn't there in one location, move those vaccines to another location.”

The 1a and 1b priority groups are set by a CDC advisory committee: 1a is health care workers and nursing home residents, 1b is people over 75 and front-line essential workers, and the list continues down the line of prioritization. 

Big picture, vaccinations still lagging: According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker, only about 4.8 million out of about 17 million vaccines distributed have actually been administered so far. 

Read more here

The situation is getting really bad in Los Angeles: LA ambulance crews told not to transport some patients with low chance of survival amid COVID-19 surge

Los Angeles County ambulance crews are being told not to transport some patients with a low chance of survival to hospitals and to conserve oxygen amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

A memo from the county Emergency Medical Services Agency tells crews not to bring patients in cardiac arrest to hospitals unless circulation can be restored in the field "due to the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on EMS and 9-1-1 Receiving Hospitals."

A separate memo tells crews not to administer oxygen unless a patient's oxygen saturation falls below 90 percent "given the acute need to conserve oxygen."

The stark memos come as Los Angeles is being battered by the pandemic and hospitals are deluged by patients.

The county health department said Monday there were 7,697 people in hospitals with coronavirus, a massive spike from the 791 hospitalized in early November.

The health department also warned that overwhelmed hospitals are having more difficulty treating non-COVID-19 patients, including those with strokes or heart attacks.

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Read more here.

Maryland expands priority groups in effort to speed COVID vaccination

Maryland is adding additional people into the top tiers of its coronavirus vaccine priority groups, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Tuesday, in an effort to speed up the slow pace of vaccinations.

Phase 1A, which is ongoing, will now include all licensed and certified health providers, as well as first responders like firefighters, police and EMS. 

Phase 1B will include all Maryland residents over age 75, as well as high-risk inmates, teachers, people living in special needs group homes and vaccines for people involved in “continuity of government.”

In addition, Hogan also said that hospitals which don't use at least 75 percent of their total allotted doses may have future allocations reduced. 

To better track vaccinations, Hogan issued an executive order requiring all vaccine providers to report data on the state’s site, Immunet, within 24 hours. 

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“Either use the doses that have been allocated, or they will be allocated to another provider,” he said. 

COVID-19 test used by Congress could give false results, FDA warns

The COVID-19 test being used in the U.S. Capitol could be producing false negative results, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The test, manufactured by Curative, has been offered for lawmakers, staff and reporters since November, following an order from the D.C. mayor requiring people traveling to the city to obtain a test. 

But the accuracy of that test is now in question after the FDA on Monday alerted patients and health care providers of the risk of false results, "particularly false negative results," with the Curative COVID-19 test. 

In a memo sent Monday and first reported by Politico, the Office of the Attending Physician said it was "monitoring" the FDA's warning about the test, which is currently used at the Capitol under medical supervision.

Brian Monahan, the Capitol physician, noted the test is “the most accurate available" but that there is always a risk for false negatives, especially in people who appear asymptomatic, which he noted “is a problem for all coronavirus tests."

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Why it's important: The possibility of false negative test results could complicate efforts to stop coronavirus outbreaks in Congress, as well as in the broader community. Not all lawmakers embrace the simple preventive health measures like mask wearing and physical distancing, and members travel back and forth to D.C. from states experiencing large outbreaks

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.

A fifth state with confirmed UK strain of coronavirus: First case found in Georgia 

Georgia officials said Tuesday that they had detected the first confirmed case of the new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 that was first identified in the U.K.

Local news affiliate Fox 5 reported that the strain was detected in a test sample provided by an 18-year-old with no travel history, suggesting that the new strain is already spreading on its own throughout the U.S.

"The emergence of this variant in our state should be a wake-up call for all Georgians," state Department of Public Health Commissioner Katheen Toomey reportedly said.

"Even as we begin rollout of a COVID19 vaccine, we must not let down our guard and ignore basic prevention measures — wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands frequently," Toomey added.

Big picture: Colorado, California, Florida and New York have also reported cases of the new strain, and experts say more are likely coming, given that the lack of travel history around the cases indicates that the new strain is already spreading to some degree in the community. 

Read more here.

What we’re reading

Vaccine rollouts in Europe are off to a shaky start, even as lockdowns expand  (New York Times)

Grammy Awards postponed amid coronavirus surge in Los Angeles (NBC News)

Messonnier: The slow vaccine rollout should speed up ‘pretty massively’ in coming weeks (Stat

State by state

Citing coronavirus pandemic, Maryland extends health insurance enrollment (Baltimore Sun)

Texas hospitals entering 'dire' COVID-19 surge situation (WFAA

McMaster ‘frustrated’ with SC’s slow COVID-19 vaccine distribution, threatens action (The State)