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Overnight Health Care: Senate confirms Levine for HHS, first openly transgender official | Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver | Former Operation Warp Speed chief fired over sexual harassment allegations

Overnight Health Care: Senate confirms Levine for HHS, first openly transgender official | Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver | Former Operation Warp Speed chief fired over sexual harassment allegations
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Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. In the most important news of the day, we are happy to see that President BidenJoe BidenBiden taps California workplace safety leader to head up OSHA Romney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS US mulling cash payments to help curb migration MORE's dogs Champ and Major are back at the White House.

If you have any tips, email us at nweixel@thehill.com and psullivan@thehill.com and follow us on Twitter at @NateWeixel and @PeterSullivan4

Today: Rachel LevineRachel LevineOvernight Health Care: Senate confirms Levine for HHS, first openly transgender official | Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver | Former Operation Warp Speed chief fired over sexual harassment allegations Senate confirms first openly transgender official, approving Levine for HHS The Hill's Morning Report - Biden leans heavily into gun control MORE was confirmed at HHS, states are pushing forward with vaccine eligibility, and progressives want the administration to support waiving patent protections for COVID vaccines. Plus, the former chief scientist of Operation Warp Speed was fired from a biotech board over sexual harassment allegations. 

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We'll start with Levine:

Senate confirms first openly transgender official, approving Levine for HHS post

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rachel Levine to be assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, making her the first openly transgender official ever approved by the upper chamber.

Levine, previously physician general and secretary of health in Pennsylvania, was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 48 on a mostly party line vote, with GOP Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate MORE (Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTop GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate MORE (Alaska) supporting the nomination.

Historic confirmation: Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday ahead of the vote, Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally H.R. 1/S. 1: Democrats defend their majorities, not honest elections McCarthy asks FBI, CIA for briefing after two men on terror watchlist stopped at border MORE (N.Y.) praised the confirmation as historic. 

“The arc of history is long but it keeps bending in the direction of justice,” he said. “As transgender Americans suffer higher rates of abuse, homelessness, and depression than almost every other group, it’s important to have national figures like Dr. Levine who, by virtue of being in the public spotlight, will help break down barriers of ignorance and fear.”

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GOP opposition: Republicans opposing her pointed to Pennsylvania’s record in fighting COVID-19, arguing that the state’s experience does not bode well for Levine to move up to fighting the virus on the national level. 

Read more here

 

Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver

An interesting pressure point between progressives and the Biden White House is emerging on patent waivers for COVID-19 vaccines. 

Progressives want President Biden to support a waiver for COVID-19 vaccine patent protections at the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing the move is crucial for helping lower-income countries fight the coronavirus.

Taking sides: The push features leading Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups calling on Biden to take action, but the White House has not made clear its position.

“The Biden administration has an obligation to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration and reestablish our nation’s global reputation as a public health leader,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHonoré says Jan. 6 stemmed from 'propaganda' that gave people 'a little BS' American Rescue Plan: Ending child poverty — let's make it permanent Overnight Health Care: Senate confirms Levine for HHS, first openly transgender official | Progressives up pressure on Biden to back COVID vaccine patent waiver | Former Operation Warp Speed chief fired over sexual harassment allegations MORE (D-Conn.), head of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersHillicon Valley: Amazon wins union election — says 'our employees made the choice' On The Money: Biden .5T budget proposes major hike in social programs | GOP bashes border, policing provisions Overnight Defense: Biden proposes 3B defense budget | Criticism comes in from left and right | Pentagon moves toward new screening for extremists MORE (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, released a video calling on Biden to support the proposal.

“We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine,” Sanders says in the video.

On the other side, key vaccine makers: The effort is fiercely opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, including key vaccine makers like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. 

Read more here.

 

Former Operation Warp Speed chief fired by GSK over sexual harassment allegations 

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Moncef Slaoui, the former chief scientist for the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed, was fired from the board of directors of Galvani Bioelectronics over "substantiated" allegations of sexual harassment, the company announced Wednesday.

Galvani is a partnership between the Google spinoff Verily and the drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

What happened: The termination comes after GSK received a letter containing "allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct towards an employee of GSK by Dr. Slaoui, which occurred several years ago when he was an employee of GSK," the company said in a Wednesday statement.

"Upon receipt of the letter, the GSK Board immediately initiated an investigation with an experienced law firm to investigate the allegations. The investigation of Dr. Slaoui’s conduct substantiated the allegations and is ongoing," it said.

Apology: In a statement emailed to The Hill, Slaoui apologized. 

"I have the utmost respect for my colleagues and feel terrible that my actions have put a former colleague in an uncomfortable situation," he wrote. "I would like to apologize unreservedly to the employee concerned and I am deeply sorry for any distress caused."

Slaoui also apologized to his wife and family "for the pain this is causing," and said he was taking a leave of absence from his current "professional responsibilities." 

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Read more here

  

One-quarter of Americans have now had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, per CDC

More than a quarter of all Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nearly 85.5 million Americans have received at least one shot, accounting for 25.7 percent of the U.S. population.

Vaccine progress: More than 46 million people — approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population — are now fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

The data show that 70 percent of adults above the age of 65 have received at least one dose and a third of those under the age of 65 have received one dose.

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Overall, more than 130 million doses have been administered out of the nearly 170 million that have been delivered.

Of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S., 67 million Pfizer vaccines doses, 61.7 million Moderna doses and 2.6 million Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered.

Read more here.

 

CDC: Asian, Black, Hispanic communities hit hardest, earliest by coronavirus

Counties with high proportions of Asian, Black and Hispanic populations were hit harder by the coronavirus pandemic’s first and second waves than were predominantly white counties, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The report is the latest indication of the disproportionate burden the outbreak has had on racial and ethnic minorities.

In the CDC's findings, to be published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found counties with high levels of Asian and Black residents were the first to experience big waves of coronavirus infections.

The report adds to a body of research that shows a respiratory virus like SARS-CoV-2 can spread more easily in communities that have been historically left behind by health care systems. 

“Inequalities in social, economic an environmental conditions among racial and ethnic minority groups lead to disparities in health risks and outcomes, including those related to Covid-19,” the researchers wrote.

Read more here.

 

What we’re reading

EU announces plan for tougher controls on coronavirus vaccine exports (CNBC)

National Guard troops ambushed at gunpoint while transporting coronavirus vaccine, police say (Washington Post)

Birx joins air-cleaning industry amid land grab for billions in federal covid relief (Kaiser Health News)

India sees spike in confirmed coronavirus cases — and variants (NPR

 

State by state

All Louisiana adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccine Monday (Associated Press)

Ohio lawmakers override Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineJohnson & Johnson vaccine doses will take major drop next week TV host and zookeeper Jack Hanna diagnosed with dementia Here's who's eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in each state MORE's veto of health order bill (Columbus Dispatch

White Republicans are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine more than any other demographic group in Texas (Texas Tribune)

Michigan sees ‘alarming increase’ in COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults (M Live

 

The Hill op-eds

Protecting freedom without killing it: Combating vaccine disinformation

COVID vaccines: Are you 'primed' for the best outcome?