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Overnight Health Care: Biden says country will pass 100 million COVID-19 shots this week | US to send surplus AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico, Canada | Senate confirms Becerra for HHS in tight vote

Overnight Health Care: Biden says country will pass 100 million COVID-19 shots this week | US to send surplus AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico, Canada | Senate confirms Becerra for HHS in tight vote
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Welcome to Thursday's Overnight Health Care. Should the government regulate what's in frozen cherry pie? Do you think frozen cherry pie should actually contain cherries? Tell the FDA by midnight.

If you have any tips, email me at nweixel@thehill.com and follow me on Twitter at @NateWeixel 

Today: President BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE took a small victory lap on vaccinations, the Biden administration will share some of its AstraZeneca stockpile, the Senate confirmed Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraNearly 940,000 sign up for ObamaCare coverage in special enrollment HHS, HUD team up to extend COVID-19 vaccine access in vulnerable communities We urgently need a COVID-level response to the US drug crisis MORE to lead HHS and the European Union declared AstraZeneca's vaccine safe.

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We'll start with Biden:

Biden says country will hit 100 million COVID-19 shots this week

President Biden on Thursday took a small victory lap, announcing that the country will hit his goal of administering 100 million coronavirus shots tomorrow.

"Behind this 100 million shots are millions of lives changed when people receive that dose of hope," Biden said, adding that number is "just the floor. We will not stop until we beat this pandemic."

Biden entered office with a goal of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. He described it as an “audacious” and “aggressive” goal, but experts at the time argued the country would need to be much more ambitious in the coming months, particularly since the U.S. was already administering hundreds of thousands of shots a day when Biden came into office.

According to federal data, the U.S. has already surpassed 100 million shots, but since Biden doesn't count Jan. 20, Thursday was slightly less than 100 million. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country has administered 115 million doses, and is on track for 200 million shots by the 100-day mark. 

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Don't get careless: But Biden added that the increased pace of vaccinations doesn't mean that the public should get complacent.

“This is a time for optimism but it’s not a time for relaxation. I need all Americans, all of you, to do your part,” Biden said.

The number of coronavirus infectious has plateaued after weeks of decline. The country is averaging 50,000 new cases a day and health officials are warning about a potential new surge as more states lift restrictions that have kept infections in check.

Read more here.

Biden to send surplus AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Mexico, Canada

The Biden administration plans to send millions of doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico and Canada, the White House confirmed Thursday, a development that comes as the U.S. faces a surge of migrants at the southern border with Mexico.

Press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBriahna Joy Gray: Biden campaign promises will struggle if Republicans win back Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Trump moves to his own blog as Facebook ban remains in place Biden on Cheney drama: 'I don't understand the Republicans' MORE confirmed the plans, which were first reported by Reuters and The Washington Post, but said that they were not yet finalized.

"Our first priority remains vaccinating the U.S. population, but the reality is the pandemic knows no borders,” Psaki told reporters. “Ensuring our neighbors can contain the virus is mission critical to ending the pandemic.”

Psaki said that officials are working to finalize plans to give Mexico 2.5 million doses and give Canada 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet been authorized in the United States. She said that the U.S. has 7 million “releasable” doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in total and suggested the administration could share extras with other countries in the future.

The Biden administration has come under pressure from countries around the world to share its excess vaccines, particularly its stock of AstraZeneca, which is authorized or approved in more than 70 countries.

It's not immediately clear if the doses will be donated outright, or loaned with the understanding that the countries will pay the U.S. back with doses in return.

Quid pro quo? The plans coincide with an effort by the administration to get a handle on the surge of migrants at the southern border. Asked Thursday whether the vaccine announcement had anything to do with conversations about addressing the border crisis, Psaki suggested the two issues were not related.

“There have been expectations set outside of, unrelated to any vaccine doses or requests for them that they would be partners in dealing with the crisis on the border. And there have been requests, unrelated, for doses of these vaccines. Every relationship has multiple layers of conversations that are happening at the same time,” she said.

Read more here.

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Senate confirms Becerra in tight vote with just one GOP defection

The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by a 50-49 vote.

Republicans were nearly unanimous in their opposition to Becerra, the current attorney general of California. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (Maine) was the only Republican to vote in favor of his confirmation. 

Collins previously cited Becerra's commitment to rural health care, and a shared goal of lowering drug prices, among her reasons for supporting him.

Becerra was attacked for his views on abortion and past support for "Medicare for All," with conservatives accusing him of being a liberal extremist with no experience in health care.

Becerra will take the helm of the health agency nearly two months into President Biden's administration, with the nation still in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Democrats have warned that the delay in confirming Becerra will hamper the country’s pandemic response.

Becerra will play a major role in the government's COVID-19 response, but he will also need to guide the massive bureaucracy through a host of other challenges, including the influx of migrants at the border. HHS is responsible for housing and caring for the thousands of detained migrant children.

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Read more here.

About those migrant children: More than 14,000 minors who traveled to the U.S. without their families are currently in federal custody, according to an administration official.

The official said that Health and Human Services (HHS) has more than 9,500 child migrants in its care, while Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has about 4,500.

Fauci clashes with Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask Overnight Health Care: WHO-backed Covax gets a boost from Moderna MORE over masks

A mostly congenial Senate hearing turned confrontational Thursday, when the nation's top infectious diseases doctor Anthony FauciAnthony FauciCDC director: Vaccinated adolescents can remove masks outdoors at summer camps The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Overnight Health Care: Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers | Moderna reports positive early results for booster shots against COVID-19 variants | Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium MORE clashed with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the need for people to continue wearing masks once they've already been infected with or vaccinated against COVID-19.

"You're telling everyone to wear a mask," Paul said. "If we're not spreading the infection, isn't it just theater? You have the vaccine and you're wearing two masks, isn't that theater?"

"Here we go again with the theater," an exasperated Fauci responded. "Let's get down to the facts."

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Paul, who was infected with COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic last March, has said he is immune to future infection. As a result, he refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol and has declared he does not need to be vaccinated. 

Fauci tried to explain the need for precautions because of more contagious variants, in addition to the fact that most of the country has not yet been vaccinated yet. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance states that those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should still wear a mask in public, especially as we’re still learning how well vaccines prevent people from spreading COVID-19. 

Not just Rand Paul: Sen. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallFauci vs. Rogan: White House works to stomp out misinformation Kris Kobach files paperwork to run for Kansas AG Kansas senator blames misinformation, bureaucrats for vaccine hesitancy MORE (R-Kan.) also doesn't see the need for vaccinated people to keep wearing masks. 

Read more here.

Fauci: CDC likely to shorten distancing guidance for schools

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will probably update its social distancing guidance for schools, reducing recommendations from 6 feet to 3 feet, Anthony Fauci said Thursday. 

"You know, I think that likely will happen," Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC's "Today" show.

Fauci mentioned a recent study in Massachusetts, which found that 3 feet of separation in schools combined with consistent mask wearing is just as safe as 6 feet. 

The study compared 251 school districts with different distancing requirements, and found little difference in case rates among students and staff members, so long as everyone wore masks.

"So the CDC is analyzing that data very carefully right now. They very well may change. I don't want to get ahead of them. But they are very much on top of this and looking at that data. So they will reconsider about that distance," Fauci said.

What's in a yard? The CDC's insistence on 6 feet of separation has been a flash point of the school reopening debate. The agency has acknowledged that in-person schooling is not a major driver of community spread and that virus transmission is rarer in schools compared with the surrounding community.

But the agency insists on six feet. Three feet is the minimum distance endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. For many schools, keeping students 6 feet apart is not feasible. In some cases, there's no distancing at all.

Read more here.

Biden administration to undo Trump changes to federal family planning program

The Biden administration announced it is planning to rewrite the rules for the Title X federally funded family planning program to undo changes made by the Trump administration.

Those changes required family planning providers participating in the program to stop providing or promoting abortions to remain eligible for funding. 

The rule, which has been in effect for more than a year now, resulted in Planned Parenthood and other providers leaving the program, meaning some states no longer have any Title X providers. 

According to an announcement, the goal is to make the program "substantively similar" to the way it was run from 2000 until the Trump administration changed the rules in 2019. 

Read more here.

EU regulator says AstraZeneca vaccine safe but can't rule out link to blood clots

The top drug regulator for the European Union announced Thursday that AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective to use, after over a dozen countries halted administering its use over concern of blood clots.

However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) also said it could not rule out a link to the blood clots, and said it would add a warning to the product in order to draw attention to the possibility of such rare side effects.

Including the warning and conducting outreach to health professionals and the public "will help to spot and mitigate any possible side effects," said Emer Cooke, the executive director of the agency. 

The EMA said the benefits of protecting people against COVID-19 with a vaccine far outweigh possible risks. 

More than a dozen countries in Europe have temporarily suspended use of the vaccine, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Norway and Denmark. They have been waiting on the EMA’s recommendations on how to proceed. 

Read more here.


What we're reading

Need amid plenty: richest US counties are overwhelmed by surge in child hunger (Kaiser Health News)

America’s Covid swab supply depends on two cousins who hate each other (Bloomberg)

Vaccine restrictions vanish in pockets of the U.S., offering a glimpse of the future (Washington Post)

State by state

As Mat-Su vaccine appointments go unfilled, fears grow about misinformation and hesitancy (Alaska Public Radio)

Maryland to broaden vaccine eligibility Tuesday; residents 16 and up eligible by April 27 (Washington Post)

Massachusetts’ COVID-19 travel order will be downgraded to an advisory on Monday (Boston Globe)

Op-eds in The Hill

The pandemic wars — vaccines vs. variants

COVID's all-hands-on-deck approach should be standard for rare diseases

The urgency to maintain workplace COVID-19 testing