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Overnight Health Care: Biden to use Defense Production Act to boost tests, gloves and vaccine supplies | Pentagon approves over 1,000 personnel to help FEMA with vaccinations | CDC study: Mask mandates reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations

Overnight Health Care: Biden to use Defense Production Act to boost tests, gloves and vaccine supplies | Pentagon approves over 1,000 personnel to help FEMA with vaccinations | CDC study: Mask mandates reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations
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Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Health Care. 

The Biden administration is using the Defense Production Act to try to speed PPE manufacturing and COVID testing. A new CDC study shows mask mandates helped reduce hospitalizations, and President Biden is ready to move forward on coronavirus relief without Republicans.

We'll start with the White House and two new actions from the Biden administration on the pandemic:

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First: using the Defense Production Act to boost tests, gloves and vaccine supplies

The Biden administration will use wartime powers to significantly increase the supply of rapid at-home and point-of-care COVID-19 tests. 

The Defense Production Act (DPA) will be used to “rapidly surge” domestic testing capabilities, investing money in six suppliers to produce 61 million at-home and point-of-care tests to be available by the end of the summer, said Tim Manning, the White House COVID-19 response team supply coordinator.

“The country is well behind where we need to be on testing, particularly the rapid at-home tests that will allow us all to get back to normal activities like work and school,” Manning said.

Some questions though: Manning did not say how much the financial investment would be in the suppliers but said it would help industry partners build new plants and production lines in the U.S. He also did not name the suppliers who would be involved, stating that contract negotiations have not been finalized yet.

The DPA will also be used to increase the supply of raw materials and equipment needed to produce vaccines and surgical gloves in the U.S.

Read more here

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Second: Pentagon approves over 1,000 personnel to help FEMA with vaccinations

The 1,110 active-duty troops being deployed will be broken up into teams of 222 people to support five state vaccination sites, according to a Defense Department fact sheet released Friday.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others Overnight Health Care: White House rebuffs call to send more vaccine doses to certain states | White House warns states to expect low weekly J&J vaccine shipments MORE called the effort a “critical part of our all of government response.”

An initial group of 222 will be deployed to a site in California in the coming days, top Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters later on Friday.

“We expect that they’ll be able to get on site on or about the 15th of this month,” Kirby said, referring questions to FEMA as to the exact location.

The announcement comes after FEMA late last month asked the Pentagon to assist with President Biden's goal to vaccinate 100 million people against the coronavirus in his first 100 days in office.

Something to watch: Among the possible solutions is sending up to 10,000 active-duty and National Guard forces to 100 vaccination sites across the country, though such a request is “still to be determined,” according to the Defense Department.

Read more here

CDC study: Mask mandates reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations

States and counties that implemented mask mandates saw a substantial decline in the number of people admitted to the hospital to treat COVID-19 symptoms in the weeks after the mandates took effect, according to a new study published Friday.

The study, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found hospitalization growth rates begin to drop slightly in the first three weeks after implementation. More than three weeks after a mask mandate took effect, hospitalization rates declined by almost 5 percent.

The study “demonstrates that statewide mask mandates were associated with a reduction in Covid-19-associated hospitalization growth rates,” the researchers wrote.

The study monitored hospitalization rates in 10 states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Oregon — that implemented mask mandates between mid-April and mid-July.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have implemented mask mandates.

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Read more here.

Biden signals he's willing to move forward on COVID-19 relief without GOP

President Biden on Friday sent his strongest signal yet that he would move forward with his coronavirus relief proposal without Republican support, making the case for the need for his $1.9 trillion package by citing the January jobs report showing a weak economic recovery.

“I’d like to be doing it with the support of Republicans … but they’re just not willing to go as far as I think we have to go,” Biden said in prepared remarks from the State Dining Room at the White House.

“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice,” he said. “I’m going to help the American people that are hurting now.”

Biden’s remarks came shortly after he wrapped a lengthy meeting with House Democrats in the Oval Office to discuss his relief plan. 

Following the meeting, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Pence pleaded with military officials to 'clear the Capitol' on Jan. 6: AP Democrats see political winner in tax fight MORE (D-Calif.) laid out a planned timeline to pass the $1.9 trillion package by the end of the month, with the House passing it within the next two weeks.

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Now or never: The president repeatedly made clear he was done waiting around for Republicans to come around to broker a deal, swiping at those in the GOP who have argued the $1.9 trillion White House proposal would exacerbate spending.

“What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing, or not enough,” Biden said. “All of a sudden many of them have rediscovered fiscal restraint and the concern for the deficits. But don’t kid yourself, this approach will come with a cost.” 

Read more here.

More reassurance on vaccines working against the UK variant: AstraZeneca vaccine is effective against it, a new study shows

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that the vaccine is 74.6 percent effective against the variant, “similar” but somewhat lower than the 84 percent effectiveness against the non-variant strain.

“Data from our trials of the ChAdOx1 vaccine in the United Kingdom indicate that the vaccine not only protects against the original pandemic virus, but also protects against the novel variant, B.1.1.7, which caused the surge in disease from the end of 2020 across the UK,” said Andrew Pollard, an Oxford professor working on the vaccine. 

Watch a different variant, though: The effectiveness of a range of vaccines against the U.K. variant, also known as B.1.1.7, has been reassuring, though experts are more concerned about at least some drop in effectiveness rates against a different variant first found in South Africa.

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And even though vaccines appear to be effective against it, the U.K. variant still poses a risk of causing a spike in the coming weeks in the U.S. given its transmissibility, because many Americans are not yet vaccinated.

Read more here

The Hill Virtual Event Announcement:

Tuesday 2/9 at 1:00 PM ET--Complex Generics & The Prescription Drug Landscape

Nearly 60 million Americans have difficulty affording their prescription drug medicines even with insurance, putting their health and financial priorities at odds. Complex generics have the potential to generate significant savings for patients and the health care system. But market dynamics and regulatory complexities are seen as significant hurdles. Reps. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats gear up for major push to lower drug prices Lawmakers debate role of prescription drugs and generics in health care costs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending MORE (D-VT) and Brett GuthrieSteven (Brett) Brett GuthrieLawmakers press federal agencies on scope of SolarWinds attack Biden convenes bipartisan meeting on cancer research Lawmakers debate role of prescription drugs and generics in health care costs MORE (R-KY), FDA's Dr. Sally Choe and more join The Hill's Steve Clemons to discuss how complex generic medical alternatives can impact and potentially enhance the American healthcare system. RSVP today. 

What we’re reading 

'Definitely getting better': The United States is making vaccine progress on several fronts, and experts are encouraged (CNN 

‘A waste of money’: The home Covid-19 test funded by the Biden administration is too costly and complex, critics say (Stat News)

Amtrak will pay employees to get coronavirus vaccine (Philadelphia Inquirer) 

State by state

Ethical land mines, ‘Sophie’s Choice’ moments as California decides who gets COVID-19 vaccine next (LA Times

Patchwork of rules creates opportunity for vaccine hunters to cross state lines (Boston Globe)

California’s smallest county makes big vaccination gains (California Healthline)

Covid vaccine ‘deserts’ and tech woes: Publix’s Florida rollout highlights risks as retailers play a larger role (CNBC