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Overnight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees

Overnight Health Care: 50 million coronavirus vaccines given | Pfizer news | Biden health nominees
© SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care. You are supposed to expect the unexpected trying to hold a pandemic wedding. But nothing can prepare you for Gritty.

Follow us at @NateWeixel, @jessiehellmann and @PeterSullivan4

There have been 50 million coronavirus shots administered, but there's still a long way to go. Pfizer's vaccine can now be stored at standard freezer temperatures, and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard Paul15 Senate Republicans pledge to oppose lifting earmark ban The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE is under fire for his questioning of one of Biden's health nominees.

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We'll start with some vaccine news:

 

Biden marks 50 million coronavirus vaccines but warns virus fight not over

President BidenJoe BidenObama, Clinton reflect on Mondale's legacy Biden, Harris commend Mondale in paving the way for female VP Mondale in last message to staff: 'Joe in the White House certainly helps' MORE on Thursday marked the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccine shot delivered in the United States and said the country was making progress in defeating the pandemic and returning to normal life.

But he also warned Americans not to let their guard down.

Biden said the vaccine count marked major progress toward reaching and surpassing his administration’s goal of getting 100 million shots in the arms of Americans in his first 100 days in office. 

“Today, I am here to report we are halfway there. Fifty million shots in just 37 days since I have become president. That is weeks ahead of schedule, even with the setbacks we faced during the recent winter storms,” Biden said in the South Court Auditorium Thursday afternoon. 

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“We are moving in the right direction, though, despite the mess with inherited from the previous administration, which left us with no real plan to vaccinate all Americans,” Biden said, echoing other administration officials who have characterized the Trump administration’s vaccination plan as insufficient.

Coming next: Biden celebrated the news that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis found Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine to be effective, but promised not to put “political pressure” on the FDA to grant emergency use authorization for the vaccine. 

“If the FDA approves the use of this new vaccine, we have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can produce it,” Biden said.

An FDA advisory committee will meet tomorrow to vote on recommending the vaccine for authorization.

Vaccine rollout: It's going faster than 1 million shots a day, which was what most people expected to happen when Biden first announced his 100 million shots goal. Barriers remain, and while supply is expected to increase, there are numerous potential hiccups in the fragile supply chain that could slow the effort. 

Read more here.

 

Pfizer to study booster shot aimed at virus variant

Both Pfizer and Moderna have now laid out strategies for adapting vaccines for the variants. 

Pfizer is studying whether a third shot, 6 to 12 months later, will fight the variants, avoiding the need for an updated vaccine. But it’s working on an updated vaccine too, just in case. 

“While we have not seen any evidence that the circulating variants result in a loss of protection provided by our vaccine, we are taking multiple steps to act decisively and be ready in case a strain becomes resistant to the protection afforded by the vaccine," said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Moderna said Wednesday that it has sent doses of an updated vaccine against the South African variant to the National Institutes of Health for study.

Read more here

 

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In more Pfizer news, it will also be easier to store that vaccine, as the FDA approves storage at standard freezer temps

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved storing Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at standard freezer temperatures, helping ease storage requirements that could make delivery of the vaccine easier. 

The Pfizer vaccine had previously been required to be stored in ultra-cold freezers at -112º F to -76º F. That posed a challenge for distribution of the vaccine in rural areas or lower income countries that do not have widespread ultra-cold storage capability. 

The new move will allow the vaccine to be stored at “conventional temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers for a period of up to two weeks.”

“This alternative temperature for transportation and storage of the undiluted vials is significant and allows the vials to be transported and stored under more flexible conditions,” Peter Marks, a top FDA vaccine official, said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

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Senate health committee considers two more Biden picks 

The Senate health committee on Thursday considered Rachel LevineRachel LevineOvernight Health Care: All adults in US now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine | White House launches media blitz to promote vaccines White House launches media effort to promote coronavirus vaccines Alarm grows over impact of states banning trans youth treatment MORE, Biden’s nominee to be the assistant secretary for health, and Viviek Murthy, the president’s pick to be surgeon general.

Both appear likely to be confirmed by the Senate, with Democrats holding 50 seats and Vice President Harris on hand to break any ties. 

While most Republicans had questions about the professional experiences of the nominees, and how they would approach COVID-19, mental health and other public health issues, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist, equated genital mutiliation to gender-affirming surgery while questioning Levine, who is transgender.

“It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Senator Paul earlier,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHouse passes bill to combat gender pay gap Schumer kicks into reelection mode Democrats target Trump methane rule with Congressional Review Act MORE (D-Wash.), health committee chairwoman, responding to his remarks.

Read more here.

 

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DC vaccine sign-ups plagued with technical problems

COVID-19 vaccination sign-ups in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning ran into technical problems, causing frustration for people trying to secure appointments on the first day of eligibility for people under 65 with underlying conditions. 

The city made appointments available on Thursday for the first time for people 18 and older who have a range of underlying conditions that put them at higher risk from COVID-19, and live in priority zip codes.

But residents reported frustrating delays in getting through online. When some people got through, they reported getting messages that they were not eligible, even though they were. 

The message some received appeared not to be updated to reflect the new eligibility for people with underlying conditions, saying that vaccinations were only for those over 65 or people in certain occupations. 

It was a scenario familiar to most people across the country who have tried to navigate their states' online signup systems for vaccines.

Read more here.

Bad timing: The confusion in DC was happening at the same time Vice President Harris was visiting a Southeast DC supermarket pharmacy to promote vaccinations and tout the administration's retail pharmacy program which delivers vaccine doses directly to 7,000 pharmacies nationwide. 

 

What we’re reading

The GOP might oppose one of the most popular bills in decades. How risky is that? (Washington Post)

Helping people find Covid-19 vaccines is aim of C.D.C.-Backed Site (New York Times

Covid vaccine websites violate disability laws, create inequity for the blind (Kaiser Health News)

Just 2% in Spain refuse coronavirus vaccine, COVID-19 incidence declining (Reuters

 

State by state

Top New York state health official grilled on the handling of COVID-19 nursing home deaths (CNN

Gov. Greg Abbott weighing end to mask order, other statewide coronavirus rules, says announcement coming “pretty soon” (Texas Tribune

Users see long, frustrating wait times on state’s vaccine finder site as tens of thousands of new appointments go live (Boston Globe)

DeSantis: Florida will likely lower age eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine by March (WFLA

 

The Hill op-eds

X the X-Waiver: How Congress can facilitate treatment for opioid abuse