Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: COVID-19 vaccine makers pledge massive supply increase | Biden health nominee faces first Senate test | White House defends reopening of facility for migrant kids

Getty Images

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care. If you’re missing going to bars because of COVID, you can at least listen to the sounds on imissmybar.com!  

Follow us at @NateWeixel, @jessiehellmann and @PeterSullivan4

Substantially more COVID vaccines are expected to be available in the next month as companies ramp up production and delivery. Biden’s nominee for HHS Secretary faced his first Senate hearing, and Fauci says to stay tuned for more guidance about what activities you can do after you’ve been vaccinated.

We’ll start with vaccines:

COVID-19 vaccine makers pledge massive supply increase

Coronavirus vaccine developers told House members Tuesday they plan to dramatically increase deliveries in the coming weeks.

Executives from Pfizer and Moderna, the only two companies that have so far received emergency vaccine authorization from the U.S. government, said they will be able to deliver more than 130 million additional doses combined by the end of March.

The companies said they are no longer facing shortages of raw materials and have largely solved the manufacturing challenges that limited the initial production and resulted in bottlenecks, as demand has far outstripped supply.

The numbers: John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, told lawmakers the company is on track to make a total of 120 million doses available for shipment by the end of March, and an additional 80 million doses by the end of May. It’s a major increase: Pfizer has only shipped approximately 40 million doses to date. 

Moderna has said it will also supply 100 million doses by the end of March. Moderna has shipped about 45 million doses as of this week, leaving 55 million, or more than 10 million per week, to reach its goal of 100 million by March 31.

J&J coming soon: Richard Nettles, an executive at Johnson & Johnson, said the company will have 4 million doses ready to ship immediately if and when the shot is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The White House told governors on Tuesday that they should expect about 2 million doses of the J&J shot to be shipped as early as next week, pending authorization.

The big challenge: Getting vaccines delivered is not the same as getting them administered. State health systems have felt the strain of the massive vaccine push, and supply concerns have led some to cancel appointments for second vaccinations. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, a little more than 65 million doses have been administered, while 82 million doses have been delivered. 

Read more here.


Biden health nominee faces first Senate test

President Biden’s nominee to lead the massive federal health agency faced his first hearing in the Senate on Tuesday, with some Republicans indicating he doesn’t have the experience necessary for the job but others appearing to leave the door open to supporting him. 

Some Senate Republicans and outside conservative groups have ramped up criticism of Xavier Becerra in the days leading up to his confirmation hearing, arguing he is an extremist who has no health care experience, making him unqualified to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“I’m not sure that you have the necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment,” said Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, adding that he would keep an open mind. 

Why it matters: While the committee will not vote on Becerra’s confirmation — the Senate Finance committee will — some of the members’ support will be crucial for his nomination to pass the Senate. 

Becerra must win the support of all 50 Senate Democrats to be confirmed by the Senate if he doesn’t get any votes from Republicans and Vice President Harris breaks a tie.

But eyes are also on moderate Republicans who have supported some of Biden’s other nominees, given the tight majority Democrats have in the Senate. 

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told Becerra on Tuesday, “I think we can reach common ground on many issues” except for abortion, but also didn’t indicate if he would support his nomination.

Read more here.


What can you do once you’re vaccinated? More guidance maybe coming soon, Fauci says

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could soon release more relaxed safety recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an interview with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Fauci said the CDC will likely issue guidance after agency officials “sit down, talk about it, look at the data and then come out with a recommendation based on the science.”

Fauci, who also serves as President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said that for fully vaccinated individuals, “common sense tells you that, in fact, you don’t have to be as stringent in your public health measures,” but added, “we want to get firm recommendations from the CDC, which I believe will be coming soon.”

Fauci went on to say that the CDC “started off with an important recommendation,” by announcing earlier this month that people who have been fully vaccinated no longer need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone who is infected with COVID-19.

Read more here.


In non-COVID news: White House defends reopening of facility for migrant kids

The White House on Tuesday defended the reopening of a facility at the southern border to house migrant teenagers, insisting it was a temporary measure necessitated by the pandemic.

The Biden administration reopened the facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas to house up to 700 migrants ages 13 to 17, the Department of Health and Human Services announced late Monday, with the first unaccompanied children arriving the same day.

The decision rankled immigration advocates and sparked allegations of hypocrisy given President Biden and administration officials have vigorously condemned the Trump administration’s treatment of migrant kids at the border and its immigration policies more broadly. They question why the Biden administration would want to reopen a facility that was such a target for protests and controversy under former President Trump.

White House reasoning: “To ensure the health and safety of these kids, [the Department of Health and Human Services] took steps to open an emergency facility to add capacity where these kids can be provided the care they need before they are safely placed with families and sponsors,” press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing with reporters. “So it’s a temporary reopening during COVID-19, our intention is very much to close it, but we want to make sure we can follow COVID protocols.”  

Contrast to Trump: The Biden administration does not expel unaccompanied minors who arrive at the border, Psaki said, so they are transferred to the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, and housed in ORR facilities. In addition, the minors transferred to the facility are actually unaccompanied, rather than forcibly separated from their families. 

Psaki also rejected that housing the kids at the 66-acre site was akin to holding “kids in cages.” 

“That is never our intention of replicating the immigration policies of the past administration,” Psaki said. “But we are in a circumstance where we are not going to expel unaccompanied minors at the border. That would be inhumane. That is not what we’re going to do here as an administration.”

Flashback: The camp officially opened June 30, 2019 in order to provide more beds to children who were being held in squalid Border Patrol facilities on the U.S.-Mexico border, but was emptied after being open less than a month. While the shelter has been empty since July 2019, it has been on “warm” status, and never closed.

Read more here.


Is there a way to effectively double the number of vaccines available? Debate heats up over vaccinating more people with just one dose 

Debate is intensifying over the idea of accelerating the U.S. vaccination campaign by giving people just one dose instead of two for the time being.

The approach, which has the backing of some prominent experts, could essentially double the country’s vaccine supply in the short term. It has also gained ground in recent days after new research on the effectiveness of receiving only one dose, with a second dose planned for a few months down the line when supply shortages ease.

As a more infectious variant gains ground, and roughly 2,000 people die from the coronavirus each day, the clock is ticking to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

The other side: The White House, as well as a different group of experts, is pushing back on the one-dose strategy, saying it’s unproven and risks eroding public acceptance of the vaccines. Further, opponents argue, it could create a breeding ground for new variants or lower the effectiveness of vaccines against different strains.

Still, supporters feel their hand is strengthened by the publication of an Israeli study last week in The Lancet medical journal that found the Pfizer vaccine was 85 percent effective 15-28 days after the first dose.

Read more here


Coming soon from our colleague: “Lucky,” by No. 1 New York Times bestselling authors Jonathan Allen and The Hill’s Amie Parnes, explores Joe Biden’s road to the presidency, including the pandemic lockdown that kept him off the campaign trail. Pre-order here for the March release: prh.com/lucky


What we’re reading

What does the ‘war’ over Obamacare reveal about our governing bodies? (NPR)

After billions of dollars and dozens of wartime declarations, why are vaccines still in short supply? (Kaiser Health News

Republicans’ new Becerra attack: He’s not sympathetic enough to pharma (STAT)


State by state

Florida teachers, police could get coronavirus vaccines soon, DeSantis says (Tampa Bay Times)

Texas’ COVID-19 vaccinations begin to rebound after plunging during last week’s winter storm (Texas Tribune)

‘It’s The Hunger Games’: Massachusetts residents recount roadblocks trying to book COVID vaccinations, lambaste state’s rollout (Mass Live


Op-eds in The Hill

2020 devastated US mental health — healing must be a priority


Tags Anthony Fauci COVID-19 vaccine Donald Trump Jen Psaki Joe Biden Mitt Romney Richard Burr Xavier Becerra

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video