Overnight Health Care: Senate to vote on $1.9 trillion relief bill this week | J&J vaccine rollout begins | CDC warns against lifting restrictions
Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care. There are now three authorized vaccines against COVID-19. They all work, and will all prevent you from being hospitalized and dying. If you’re eligible, get vaccinated.
The Senate will vote on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package this week. Also this week: Biden’s HHS secretary nominee will get a Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing. Meanwhile, the CDC is continuing to warn against states lifting virus restrictions.
We’ll start in the Senate:
Relief bill plowing ahead: Senate to vote this week
The Senate will vote this week on a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, as Democrats try to get the legislation signed into law before federal unemployment benefits expire.
“The Senate will take up the American Rescue Plan this week. I expect a hardy debate and some late nights, but the American people sent us here with a job to do, to help the country through this moment of extraordinary challenge,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday from the Senate floor.
The House passed the bill early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate.
Some changes coming: The House version isn’t going to remain intact. Changes include stripping out language increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour after the Senate parliamentarian advised that it didn’t comply with budget rules that govern what can be included in the coronavirus bill.
The Senate will also have to go through a marathon voting session known as vote-a-rama, where any senator who wants to force an amendment vote will be able to do so. Senators are mulling other potential changes to the bill, including changing the phase-out structure of a third round of stimulus checks.
It’s coming! Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout begins with around 4 million doses
Now that the Food and Drug Administration and CDC has authorized it, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on trucks that are rolling, with 3.9 million doses coming this week.
“We think, literally, within the next 24 to 48 hours, Americans should start receiving shots in arms,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said on NBC’s “Today” on Monday. “They’re literally rolling out with the trucks as we speak.”
But, supply is limited to start: The addition of a third authorized vaccine adds to the doses in the U.S. arsenal, but supplies of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will be limited at first. The 3.9 million doses shipping this week is the entire stockpile, and there will be no additional shipments next week, administration officials said. Governors have been informed about the “uneven” distribution and are expecting most of the vaccine to be delivered in the back end of the month.
The company expects to ramp up somewhat by the end of March, with 20 million total doses by that point and 100 million by the end of June. Johnson & Johnson initially promised 10 million doses by the end of February, but struggled with manufacturing issues.
Money talks: The U.S. paid more than $1 billion to aid in the manufacturing and delivery of J&J’s vaccine. Nearly a year ago, the company also won $465 million in federal funding for vaccine research and development, bringing its U.S. funding total on the project to almost $1.5 billion.
CDC director: No really, stop lifting COVID-19 restrictions
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky upped the warnings on Monday amid the potential for a new spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Our recent declines appear to be stalling, stalling at over 70,000 cases a day,” Walensky said at a White House press briefing.
“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she added.
New cases had declined for weeks, from as much as 250,000 per day in January to around 70,000 per day currently. But the declines have leveled off and are now even showing signs of ticking back up. Even 70,000 cases per day is an extremely high level, above the peak of last summer.
Plenty of states rolling back anyway: Massachusetts, for example, is lifting all capacity limits on restaurants this week and reopening concert halls at 50 percent capacity. Iowa and Montana also recently lifted statewide mask mandates, and the Texas governor said he is considering such a move.
You’re not alone: The White House is aware of the problems with vaccine appointments
A top White House official Monday said the Biden administration is working with states to improve their coronavirus vaccine sign-ups, as many Americans have expressed frustration at the difficulties in finding appointments.
“I think scheduling an appointment is too difficult — remains too difficult — in too many places,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters.
As states have opened vaccine eligibility to more people, signups have been plagued by technical glitches. Websites have repeatedly crashed, phone lines have been inundated with callers, and people have been unable to find open appointments.
“Overall, too many Americans are suffering frustration, taking up way too much time to schedule an appointment,” Zients said, adding that while the Biden administration has been increasing the number of vaccinators and vaccination sites, they want to help states to make sure the technology systems can handle the increased capacity and new demand.
Zients said the administration is also looking at “lower-tech solutions that the federal government might be able to provide,” such as call centers or people to help navigate the system.
Coming attraction: Senate panel to vote on HHS nominee Wednesday
The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be HHS Secretary. He is expected to be confirmed, despite heavy GOP opposition and pressure on moderate Democrats from anti-abortion groups. It remains to be seen if any Republicans will support his nomination, but Wednesday will be the first time we’ll see any of them on the record.
Trump has been vaccinated for coronavirus
Former President Trump and former first lady Melania Trump both received coronavirus vaccines in January, an adviser confirmed to The Hill on Monday.
The two got their first dose while in the White House and have since received their second dose, the adviser said. It was not clear whether they received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
The Trumps both contracted the coronavirus in late September, with the former president spending three days in the hospital due to more severe symptoms.
The former president did not initially get the vaccine, even as officials like then-Vice President Mike Pence did, with Trump and others citing the antibody therapy he received as part of his treatment for the virus.
Trump has in the past expressed skepticism about vaccines on social media, and experts worried that his past rhetoric and reluctance to get the shot while in office could contribute to broader vaccine hesitancy. Public polling has shown Republicans say they are less likely to get the coronavirus vaccine than Democrats.
What we’re reading
Johnson & Johnson vaccine deepens concerns over racial and geographic inequities (Washington Post)
Thousands of farmworkers are prioritized for the coronavirus vaccine (New York Times)
Much of the world is seeing coronavirus cases fall. But Brazil’s outbreak is worse than ever. (Washington Post)
Seniors seeking vaccines have a problem: they can’t use the internet (New York Times)
State by state
NJ Adding Teachers, Food Workers, Clergy to Those Eligible for COVID-19 Vaccines (NBC 10)
Latest DeSantis order on COVID-19 vaccines creates fresh confusion for medically vulnerable (Orlando Sentinel)
Baker pledges continued focus on vaccine equity, stands by moving forward with Mass. reopening (Boston Globe)
The Hill op-eds