Overnight Health Care: J&J vaccine production could resume in days | Fauci: Americans ‘misinterpreting’ mask rules | Texas governor signs ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion bill
Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. Remember the COVID-19 sniffing dogs? Companies and countries are hiring more of these pups as more research shows canines can detect these infections with their snout. So maybe your next COVID-19 test could be administered by a dog?
Today: The top executives at embattled vaccine manufacturer Emergent BioSolutions faced a House panel to answer questions on dose contaminations. Abortion rights groups are warning about the fallout from a negative ruling in the Mississippi case, and Texas’s governor signed a fetal heartbeat bill.
We’ll start with Emergent:
Emergent CEO: J&J vaccine production could resume in days
Emergent BioSolutions could resume manufacturing doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine “within a matter of days,” the company’s CEO Robert Kramer told a House panel Wednesday.
The company is facing scrutiny from Congress after it was awarded a $628 million contract last year to establish the primary U.S. facility for manufacturing vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.
Democratic lawmakers on the House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee pressed Kramer on Emergent’s ability to fix a host of manufacturing issues identified by a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection of its Baltimore facility in April.
At least one of those issues led to the contamination of 15 million J&J doses with ingredients from AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which the company was also manufacturing at the time.
As a result, the FDA paused production and essentially quarantined the remaining doses on hand to conduct thorough quality checks. The Biden administration also ordered AstraZeneca to find a new manufacturing partner.
How many doses are we talking about? There are more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine on hold, Kramer said, disclosing for the first time just how much of the vaccine has been affected.
“We have made significant progress against all of those commitments, we are very close to completing them, and I would expect we would be in a position to resume production within a matter of days,” Kramer said.
Significance: If that were the case, the resumption of manufacturing would be a major boon to the U.S. vaccination effort. The nation is relying only on two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, as supplies of the single-dose J&J vaccine have essentially dried up.
Related: Emergent has been paid more than $270 million without actually making a usable vaccine yet.
Democrats on the Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found that under a May 2020 contract issued by the Trump administration, taxpayers have already paid Emergent more than $271 million.
Emergent has charged the federal government $27 million per month in reservation fees to maintain its “readiness” to manufacture vaccines, but has not been able to distribute any doses.
The documents raise new questions about Emergent’s oversight from the Trump administration, and the outsize role it played in Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing plan.
Fauci: Americans ‘misinterpreting’ mask rules
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, said in a new interview that some Americans do not have a full understanding of the latest guidelines put forth by the federal government relative to mask wearing and coronavirus vaccines.
“I think people are misinterpreting, thinking that this is a removal of a mask mandate for everyone. It’s not,” Fauci told Axios at an event on Wednesday. “It’s an assurance to those who are vaccinated that they can feel safe, be they outdoors or indoors.”
Texas governor signs ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion bill
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed legislation that would ban virtually all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, joining other Republican-led states that have set up legal challenges to the 1973 Supreme Court decision granting a woman’s right to seek an abortion.
Under the law set to take effect in September, abortions are only permitted before a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. The law makes an exception for medical emergencies.
The legislation also allows private citizens to sue an abortion provider if they suspect the provider has violated the new ban.
Background: Federal courts have blocked similar bills passed in other states, beginning with North Dakota in 2016 and extending to Iowa, Kentucky and Mississippi in 2019.
But Texas legislators hope they have gotten around the federal objections by prohibiting public officials from enforcing the law. Instead, they will leave it up to private citizens to sue those abortion providers.
Abortion rights advocates react: Elizabeth Nash, who heads state-level policy at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, called the lawsuit provision “uniquely cruel.”
“By allowing anyone, anywhere to sue people involved in providing or obtaining an abortion, this ban would open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits, bury clinics under court cases and legal fees, and make it difficult for providers to remain open,” Nash said.
Abortion rights groups warn of imminent crackdown if Roe v. Wade overturned
Abortion rights advocates are warning that dozens of states, particularly in the South and Midwest, are likely to enact severe restrictions and even outright bans on the procedure if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The warning follows the court’s announcement Monday that it will review a Mississippi law that takes aim at the constitutional right to abortion first established in the court’s landmark 1973 decision.
“The court cannot uphold this law in Mississippi without overturning Roe’s core holding,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The stakes here are extraordinarily high.”
What we’re reading
Racism derails Black men’s health, even as education levels rise (Kaiser Health News)
Even with the no-mask guidance, some pockets of the U.S. aren’t ready to let go (NPR)
How the Covid pandemic ends: Scientists look to the past to see the future (Stat)
State by state
Cyberattack targeting Alaska’s state health department website disrupts some online services (Anchorage Daily News)
How a restarted New York Will Look (The New York Times)
Gov. Greg Abbott signs into law one of nation’s strictest abortion measures, banning procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy (The Texas Tribune)
Op-eds in The Hill
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