Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: US death rate jumps by nearly 16 percent amid COVID-19 pandemic | Pfizer says vaccine 100 percent effective in kids 12 to 15 | Top Trump adviser pursued his own COVID-19 medical supply deals

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Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. You’ve heard of the coronavirus vaccine for people. Russia now says it has one for dogs and cats

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Today: COVID-19 killed a staggering number of people, fueling a major spike in the US death rate. New documents show how a former Trump official pursued scattershot deals for medical supplies, and Pfizer reported good news about its COVID vaccine in adolescents.   

We’ll start with sobering numbers:

An eye-popping stat: US death rate jumps by nearly 16 percent amid COVID-19 pandemic

The death rate in the United States jumped by 15.9 percent between 2019 and 2020, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday. 

The coronavirus was responsible for about 1 in 10 deaths in the country in 2020, and was the third-leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer. 

The breakdown: 

Heart disease: 690,000 deaths

Cancer: 598,000 deaths

COVID-19: 345,000 deaths 

Overall, COVID-19 was the underlying cause of about 345,000 deaths last year and was a contributing cause for another roughly 32,000, which together is 11.3 percent of all deaths in the country last year, the CDC said. 

While new deaths from the virus have fallen significantly from their peaks in January, there are still about 1,000 people dying from COVID-19 every day. 

Read more here.

Not a good look: Shipments of Johnson & Johnson vaccine halted after human error ruins 15 million doses

Future shipments of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have been halted while the Food and Drug Administration investigates, after human error at a manufacturing plant ruined 15 million doses, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The plant in Baltimore is run by Emergent Biosolutions, and workers mixed up the ingredients in the vaccine, the Times reported.

The error does not affect doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that have already been distributed, since those were made in the Netherlands, but it impacts future shipments of the vaccine, according to the Times. 

The company in a statement acknowledged a batch of drugs “that did not meet quality standards” were identified at the Emergent Biosolutions plant, but did not specify how many what the problem was, or how the issue may impact its future deliveries. 

J&J said it has met its commitment of delivering 20 million doses by today.

Read more here

Pfizer says vaccine 100 percent effective in kids 12 to 15

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Wednesday morning that their COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in children ages 12 to 15.

In a clinical trial of 2,260 adolescents, researchers identified 18 COVID-19 cases among the placebo group and none among those vaccinated.  

The companies said they planned to submit their data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as soon as possible and request expansion of their emergency use authorization. 

What this means: The FDA has so far approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those 16 and older. The other two vaccines authorized in the U.S., Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are only approved for those 18 and older. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he hopes to start vaccinating the younger age group before the start of the next school year, which could alleviate concerns about reopening schools. 

Read more here.

Top Trump adviser pursued his own COVID-19 medical supply deals, documents show

A top adviser to former President Trump pursued his own ad hoc strategy for procuring key medical supplies after the president and others in the administration ignored his warnings and failed to implement a national strategy in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new documents released Wednesday by House Democrats.

In a memo dated March 1, 2020, former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro warned Trump of the urgent need to “MOVE IN TRUMP TIME” to “STAY AHEAD OF VIRUS CURVE.”

The memo was among the latest tranche of documents released by Democrats on the select committee investigating the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the memo, Navarro said there was “not enough movement” on key actions and urged the administration to invest in drug ingredients, especially those that could not be manufactured in the U.S., as well as rapid, handheld coronavirus tests.

Navarro criticized the speed of the administration’s response and noted that he had been focusing on ensuring sufficient personal protective equipment and procuring accurate diagnostics ever since the first news of a viral outbreak in China.

The fallout: Navarro wanted action, but President Trump had no interest. After being ignored, Navarro and other White House officials pursued their own strategies, bypassing federal procurement procedures and pushing federal agencies to issue noncompetitive contracts. 

One notable example, Navarro gave a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to produce ingredients for generic drugs, despite the company having no experience making drugs. The loan was stopped about two weeks later amid an SEC investigation into insider trading allegations at the company, 

Read more here.

Wisconsin Supreme Court rules against governor’s mask mandate, emergency orders

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Tony Evers (D) exceeded his authority with some of his COVID-19 emergency orders, including instituting a statewide mask mandate.

In a 4-3 decision, the court struck down two of Evers’s executive orders issued last year that extended the public health emergency beyond its original 60-day limit without legislative approval.

“The question in this case is not whether the Governor acted wisely; it is whether he acted lawfully,” the ruling said. “We conclude he did not.”

Evers’s response: “Our fight against COVID-19 isn’t over – while we work to get folks vaccinated as quickly as we can, we know wearing a mask saves lives, and we still need Wisconsinites to mask up so we can beat this virus and bounce back from this pandemic,” Evers said in a statement.

Another loss for the governor: Evers and Republicans in the state have feuded over the governor’s powers during the pandemic. Last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against his “safer at home” order, and a state appeals court determined his restrictions on indoor dining could not be implemented. 

Read more here.

What we’re reading

What kind of person signs up to be infected with the coronavirus on purpose? (Vox.com)

The fourth surge is upon us. This time, it’s different (The Atlantic)

Biden wants to give the nation hope. But a jump in Covid cases is complicating things. (Politico)

The U.S. government doesn’t have patent rights to Gilead’s remdesivir, despite investing millions in research (STAT)

State by state

Spoiled vaccines from Texas winter storms top 3,000 (Austin American-Statesman

California sheriff overruled health official, linked man’s death to vaccine (Sacramento Bee)

With statewide mask mandate set to end, Indiana COVID map shows spread increasing again (Indianapolis Star

The new normal in N.Y.: high virus rates and a steady stream of cases (New York Times)

Senate committee kills Medicaid expansion bill (Casper Star Tribune)

Tags Donald Trump Tony Evers

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