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Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes

Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes
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Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care.  

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Rural Americans are the future of the clean energy economy — policymakers must to catch up WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year MORE released his COVID-19 funding proposal ahead of a big speech tonight.

Meanwhile, the post-holiday surge hits new, grim records. And high drug prices have not gone away: The Senate Finance Committee released its report on insulin prices. 

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We'll start with Biden:

Biden unveils $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan

President-elect Joe Biden will ask Congress for $1.9 trillion to provide economic relief to Americans and businesses and help fund a $415 billion plan to fight the coronavirus. 

Biden will unveil the package in an address Thursday evening from Wilmington, Del., six days before he will be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States and his administration takes over the federal government’s response to COVID-19. 

The coronavirus package will include a $20 billion mass vaccination campaign, $30 billion for purchasing supplies and protective gear; and $50 billion for a scaled-up diagnostic testing program.

The plan comes as Biden has criticized the Trump administration for the slow rollout of coronavirus vaccines, and falling far short of its ambitious goal of getting shots in the arms of 20 million people by the end of 2020. 

In contrast to President TrumpDonald TrumpProsecutors focus Trump Organization probe on company's financial officer: report WHO official says it's 'premature' to think pandemic will be over by end of year Romney released from hospital after fall over the weekend MORE, Biden's plan emphasizes a strong federal response, rather than leaving key details to the states. 

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The vaccine plan will include launching community vaccination centers around the country and deploying mobile vaccination units to hard-to-reach areas, according to a senior transition official.

"In short, we don't have enough places for people to get vaccinated, we don't have enough people performing vaccinations, and we're not getting enough needles in arms," the official told reporters Thursday in advance of Biden's address. 

Biden has vowed to get 100 million people inoculated in his first 100 days in office, and his plan will rely on using mass vaccination sites, like churches, libraries and community centers. 

Read more here

Post-holiday COVID-19 surge hits new deadly records

Even as Washington's attention is focused on President Trump’s second impeachment, the coronavirus pandemic is setting a string of new records as it gets increasingly worse in the U.S.

The anticipated surge following holiday gatherings has now arrived, leading to a stunning number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths rising every day.

On Tuesday alone, a record 4,327 people in the U.S. died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. In just the past week, a New York Times tracker showed the seven-day average for deaths rose from about 2,600 per day to about 3,300.

And the numbers keep climbing.

“We went from a very high baseline level of infections to even higher,” Anthony FauciAnthony FauciMAGALand in Orlando CDC director warns states against lifting COVID-19 restrictions The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Third approved vaccine distributed to Americans MORE, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said at a forum hosted by Schmidt Futures on Tuesday. “And as we've seen over the past week and a half or so since the ending of the holiday season, everything seems to be a record.”

“We're in a very difficult situation and it is getting worse,” he added. “I hope that as we get towards the end of January, that we'll see a peaking and a turning around, particularly if people hang in there and don't get discouraged by COVID-19 fatigue and let down on their public health measures.”

Read more here.

Well, that’s a lot:

Health officials estimate one in three LA County residents have been infected by coronavirus

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Los Angeles County scientists now estimate that 1 in 3 residents have contracted COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday.

That would mean at least 3 million of the county's 10 million residents have been infected — more than triple the number confirmed through testing, according to the Times.

"Unfortunately, we are still engaging in behaviors that facilitate spread of the virus, so it is still able to find plenty of susceptible people to infect,” Roger Lewis, director of COVID-19 hospital demand modeling for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told the newspaper.

In order for herd immunity through vaccination to become an effective strategy for controlling the virus, about 75 percent of the county's residents would need to develop immunity, Lewis estimated. 

The county has become a hot spot for the coronavirus in a state that leads the nation in infection rates.

Read more here. 

Some hope for another vaccine:

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Gottlieb says Johnson & Johnson vaccine looks like promising 'third entrant'  

Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that the new single-dose coronavirus vaccine from Johnson & Johnson “looks like a good profile for a vaccine.”

"All in all this looks like a good profile for a vaccine," Gottlieb said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday after early data showed promising results for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “It's an indication we are probably going to have a third entrant here."

Gottlieb sits on the board of Pfizer, which has produced one of the two vaccines that has already received emergency authorization from the FDA.

The results of early-stage trials for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. It showed that all trial participants had neutralizing antibodies in their system after 57 days. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine would allow for more vaccines to be dispersed and would only require one shot, whereas the current COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two. 

Read more here.

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Senate report faults ‘broken’ system for insulin price hikes

Insulin prices have soared in recent years due to a “broken” system that rewards companies for raising costs on a drug that hasn’t been significantly improved in its 100-year existence, congressional investigators said Thursday. 

A scathing report from the offices of Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyJudiciary Committee greenlights Garland's AG nomination Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination Grassley says he'll decide this fall whether to run in 2022 MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill No. 2 Senate Democrat shoots down overruling parliamentarian on minimum wage Progressives push White House to overturn wage ruling MORE (D-Ore.), leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, found that in the convoluted drug pricing system, competition, rather than lowering costs, often drives price increases. 

“This investigation makes clear that consumers are the only ones losing out in America’s broken drug pricing system, since every part of the pharmaceutical supply chain benefits from higher list prices,” Wyden said in a statement. 

The report found that Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — two of the largest insulin makers in the U.S. — would closely monitor the other’s prices and match or top any price increases, sometimes within hours or days of each other.

“Rather than seeking to undercut its competitors’ pricing, from 2014 on Novo Nordisk engaged in a cat-and-mouse strategy of pricing that followed Sanofi’s price increases closely, sometimes mirroring them within days or even hours,” the report reads.

Read more here.

What we’re reading

China bars two members of WHO coronavirus mission as depleted team reaches Wuhan (Washington Post) 

More than 90,000 Americans could die of Covid-19 in next three weeks, CDC forecast shows (CNN.com

California hospital fined over Covid outbreak traced to inflatable Christmas costume (NBC

State by state

Charlie Baker defends coronavirus vaccine rollout as Massachusetts lags behind its neighbors (Boston.com)

Californians are paying a price for chaotic rollout of coronavirus vaccine, medical experts say (KTLA

California hospitals prepare ethical protocol to prioritize lifesaving care (Modern Healthcare) 

The Hill op-eds

To beat COVID-19, we must address a legacy of inequity and mistrust