Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Health Care. Dolly Parton, who notably contributed $1 million towards Moderna's COVID vaccine, finally got her first shot today. Even though she's 75 years old, she wanted to wait so it didn't seem like she was cutting the line.
President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE says there will be enough vaccines for every American by the end of May, and is also calling for states to prioritize vaccinating teachers. But at the same time, more states are lifting COVID restrictions, including mask mandate, despite CDC's recommendations.
We'll kick off with vaccines:
Some big (and hopeful) news: Biden says US will have enough vaccine for all adults by end of May
President Biden on Tuesday said that the United States will have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all American adults for coronavirus by the end of May, crediting a “stepped up process” under his administration.
Biden made the announcement while outlining a partnership between Merck and Johnson & Johnson to produce the latter’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said in remarks Tuesday afternoon at the White House. “When we came into office the prior administration had contracted for not nearly enough vaccine to cover adults in America. We rectified that.”
Helping to meet that goal: A new partnership also announced Tuesday where Merck will help make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Department of Health and Human Services said the company will have 100 million doses by the end of May instead of the end of June. The new timeline is more condensed than Biden's previous prediction that the U.S. would have enough vaccines for all American adults — 600 million doses — by the end of July.
Logistics important: Having the supply is not the same as getting the shots administered. States, territories and pharmacies need to have the capability to handle the increased demand that comes with it, including scheduling appointments and convincing vaccine-hesitant people.
Some other big news from Biden: He called on all states to vaccinate teachers by the end of March
President Biden said Tuesday he is calling on all states to prioritize teachers for COVID-19 vaccinations so that all teachers and school staff will have received at least one dose by the end of March.
"My challenge to all states, territories, and the District of Columbia is this: We want every educator, school staff member, child care worker to receive at least one shot by the end of the month of March," Biden said.
He noted that more than 30 states have already prioritized teachers for vaccinations, but said he is using the "full authority of the federal government" in "directing every state to do the same."
The politics: Biden has been under intense criticism from Republicans for not doing enough to urge schools to reopen, given evidence that they can do so safely with precautions like mask-wearing and distancing.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance last month that teacher vaccinations "should not be considered a condition" for reopening schools.
Biden acknowledged this, but pointed to "anxieties" among teachers and parents.
The good news is vaccine supply is increasing, meaning the end of the pandemic is in reach, even though it won't happen immediately. But governors are tired of waiting, and are lifting restrictions now.
The governors of both Texas and Mississippi on Tuesday said they are lifting most of their states' remaining coronavirus restrictions, including statewide mask mandates and capacity restrictions on businesses.
In their respective announcements, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) emphasized personal responsibility. The government would no longer tell people what to do, but they should continue with smart behaviors anyway.
“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” Abbott said.
According to Reeves, "the governor's office is getting out of the business of telling people what they can and can't do."
When Abbott imposed the mask mandate in July, there were 7,434 new cases and 44 deaths. On March 1, there were 8,140 new cases and 129 deaths.
Mississippi had 199 new cases, but no deaths.
The announcements come after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Overnight Health Care — Biden faces pressure from Democrats on COVID-19 MORE said she was concerned states were lifting restrictions too early, but the Biden administration has so far been reluctant to call out any states by name.
Biden tells Senate Democrats to stick together, quickly pass coronavirus relief
President Biden on Tuesday urged Senate Democrats to stay united and quickly pass a coronavirus relief bill, as the caucus is trying to navigate some high-profile squabbles.
Biden's message, delivered during a virtual conference call, comes as the Senate could take up a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill as soon as Wednesday.
"Senate Democrats are committed to passing the American Rescue Plan. ... He said that we need to pass this bill and pass it soon," Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the call.
Biden and Schumer will need every member of the Senate Democratic Conference in order to get the bill through the chamber.
According to the White House, Biden "highlighted the broad support the package has received – including from a bipartisan majority of the American people, state and local leaders, labor, and the business community – and noted the urgency of passing the bill to speed up vaccinations and the safe reopening of schools."
Biden's unity message comes as the caucus is still trying to work out high-profile divisions. But senators say he's largely leaving it to them to work out the policy details.
Becerra tells Warren he will do 'thorough review' of executive actions on drug prices
Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE told Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Biden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Trump by the numbers: 2024 isn't simple MORE (D-Mass.) that if confirmed he would conduct a “thorough review” of potential administration actions to lower drug prices, in response to a question about using a major executive power on the issue.
Warren asked Becerra in a written question known as a “question for the record” about taking a drastic action, which does not require Congress, to break the patent on a drug and allow other companies to make it at a lower price.
“If I am fortunate to be confirmed, we will conduct a thorough review to identify and analyze the tools at our disposal to reduce the price of drugs and make treatments more affordable for the American people,” Becerra wrote in response, according to a document compiling the questions for the record obtained by The Hill.
Why it matters: The answer is noncommittal, but it notably does not rule out using the authority. Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry are closely watching Becerra’s answers on the topic, given that he has previously supported using the power.
Virtual Event Announcement: Thursday, March 4 at 1:00 PM ET, COVID-19: Trust and Communication
From countering disinformation and building public trust, to reaching disadvantaged communities and broadband deserts – governments at all levels must find a way to engage, educate and get the vaccination message out to all Americans. Gov. Jim Justice, Mayor Eric GarcettiEric GarcettiBass raises nearly million since launching LA mayor campaign Los Angeles mayor nominates city's first female fire chief Former aide says she felt 'abandoned' by Democrats who advanced Garcetti nomination as ambassador to India MORE, Andy Slavitt, The Ad Council's Lisa Sherman and more join The Hill's Steve Clemons for a discussion on the value of fact-based health communication and building trust in the COVID-19 vaccine. RSVP here.
What we’re reading
Biden's COVID-19 relief bill includes an expansion of Obamacare. Here's how it would work (USA Today)
US needs to hold on for another 2 or 3 months without easing Covid-19 measures, experts say. Here's what's at stake (CNN.com)
The Trump administration quietly spent billions in hospital funds on Operation Warp Speed (Stat)
State by state
Tennessee to move to next COVID vaccine phase, in part due to lack of demand (Tennessean)
Publix makes its own vaccine distribution plan. Officials don’t know where shots will go (Miami Herald)
California's vaccine sites don't all require proof of eligibility, leaving room for line jumpers (SF Chronicle)
New federal coronavirus vaccine site opens in Tampa (Tampa Bay Times)