Overnight Health Care: White House pushes for independent investigation on COVID-19 origins | Former Trump FDA chief cites growing circumstantial evidence on lab theory | US advises against traveling to Japan ahead of Olympics

Overnight Health Care: White House pushes for independent investigation on COVID-19 origins | Former Trump FDA chief cites growing circumstantial evidence on lab theory | US advises against traveling to Japan ahead of Olympics

Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care. Cicadas have finally emerged, and they're loud. In distress over the cicadas and their “songs," local officials are begging residents of one Georgia county to stop calling 911 over the insects, after getting reports of “alarms” going off.

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Today: The White House presses for an independent investigation and more data from China on the origins of COVID-19. The U.S. advises against going to Japan two months ahead of the Olympics, and the World Health Organization’s director-general aims for all countries to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their population by September.  

We’ll start with the still unknown origins of COVID-19:

White House pushes for independent investigation on COVID-19 origins

The White House on Monday said that officials cannot draw a conclusion about the origins of COVID-19 without an independent investigation and more data from China.

“We are and we have repeatedly called for the [World Health Organization] WHO to support an expert-driven evaluation of the pandemic’s origins that is free from interference and politicization,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden walks fine line with Fox News White House on Cleveland Indians' name change: 'We certainly support their change of name' US delegation departs Haiti after reports of gunshots at ex-president's funeral MORE told reporters at a briefing Monday.

She insisted that officials would not get “ahead of an actual international process,” saying “We don’t have enough data and information to jump to a conclusion at this point in time.”

Responding to: Psaki was questioned about a Wall Street Journal report that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology tried to get hospital care in November 2019, raising questions about whether the COVID-19 virus first appeared in a laboratory.

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“It doesn’t mean we can draw a conclusion,” she said. We don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion about the origins. There is a need to look into a range of options. We need data, we need an independent investigation, and that’s what we’ve been calling for.”

Background: Scientists have said they believe it’s most likely the virus came from an animal, with a previous WHO-led report concluding a laboratory origination was “extremely unlikely.” But the Biden administration and others raised questions about whether China influenced that report.  

Read more here

More on COVID-19 origins: Former Trump FDA chief cites growing circumstantial evidence on lab theory

Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the FDA, said Monday that there is growing circumstantial evidence suggesting that COVID-19 may have originated in a lab and not in nature.

The former FDA commissioner responded to The Wall Street Journal’s report that three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers sought hospital care in November 2019 on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I think the challenge right now is that the side of the ledger that supports the thesis that this came from a zoonotic source, from an animal source, hasn’t budged,” Gottlieb said. “And the side of the ledger that suggests this could have come out of a lab has continued to grow.”

“People a year ago who said this probably came from nature, it’s really unlikely it came from a lab, maybe a year ago that kind of a statement made a lot of sense because that was the more likely scenario,” he added.

Gottlieb pointed out that the source of COVID-19 has yet to be identified and noted that the origins of related diseases were usually identified at this point following the initial outbreak, adding, “It’s not for lack of trying.”

“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “Because unless we have a whistleblower — assuming it did come out of a lab, and I’m not saying it did, but assuming it did — unless we have a whistleblower or a regime change in China, you’re not going to truly find out.”

Read more here

GOP want answers on virus origins

Rep. Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrats question GOP shift on vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel McConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message MORE (R-La.), the GOP Whip and ranking member of the Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, co-signed a letter with Rep. James ComerJames (Jamie) R. ComerTop House Democrat presses Senate to take up watchdog bill House passes bill to strengthen authority of federal watchdogs Overnight Health Care: Fauci urges vaccination to protect against Delta variant | White House: 'Small fraction' of COVID-19 vaccine doses will be unused MORE (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, demanding both committees launch investigations into the origins of the virus.

They said the blame falls squarely on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

According to the Republicans, "there is evidence the CCP started the pandemic, covered it up, and is responsible for the deaths of almost 600,000 Americans and millions more worldwide."

Next up: Rep. Bill FosterGeorge (Bill) William FosterWe must address the declining rate of startup business launches Republicans seek vindication amid reemergence of Wuhan lab theory Overnight Health Care: White House pushes for independent investigation on COVID-19 origins | Former Trump FDA chief cites growing circumstantial evidence on lab theory | US advises against traveling to Japan ahead of Olympics MORE (D-Ill.) last week said he would hold a hearing. 

"I can assure you that our hearings will be a rational discussion among scientists, rather than a blizzard of semi-informed talking points designed for social media," Foster said.

But Foster is chairman of the Science and Technology oversight subcommittee, which is not where Republicans want it. 

US advises against traveling to Japan ahead of Olympics

The State Department on Monday issued an advisory warning Americans not to travel to Japan, citing a “high level” of COVID-19 in the country. 

The U.S. instructed Americans to avoid nonessential travel just two months before the Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin in Tokyo after a year’s delay due to the pandemic. 

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"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Japan due to COVID-19, indicating a very high level of COVID-19 in the country,” the advisory read. “There are restrictions in place affecting U.S. citizen entry into Japan.” 

The advisory did not specify whether the guidance differs for vaccinated Americans. 

A different Olympics: The Olympic Games are set to begin in Tokyo on July 23. Foreign spectators have already been banned from attending, but thousands of athletes and support staff are expected to attend.

Japan is facing growing calls to cancel the Olympics, including from about 6,000 doctors, as the country documented its record high week of new COVID-19 deaths last week at 794 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“We will do whatever it takes to accomplish the project so that the people can get vaccinated and return to their ordinary daily lives as soon as possible," Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday, according to The Associated Press.

Read more here

Related: Mass vaccine centers opening in Japan ahead of Olympics

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WHO leader calls for countries to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations by September

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) director-general on Monday called for all countries to vaccinate at least 10 percent of their populations by September and at least 30 percent by the end of 2021 in a “Drive to December”

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared during a speech to the annual World Health Assembly that WHO member states should back the “massive push” to reach these COVID-19 vaccination goals.

“This is crucial to stop severe disease and death, keep our health workers safe and reopen our societies and economies,” Tedros said. 

What needs to happen: In order to reach the September target, 250 million more people in low- and middle-income countries have to get vaccinated, he said, “including all health workers and the most at-risk groups as the first priority.”

Tedros said WHO member nations need to share vaccine doses through COVAX — a program designed to get shots to low- and middle-income countries — to accomplish both goals.

More than 75 percent of all vaccines have been administered so far in only 10 wealthy countries, he said, noting that the number of shots would have been enough for all health workers and older people in the world. 

“Right now, there is not enough supply,” he said. “Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries. That’s the reality.”

Background: The U.S.’s FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be given to 12- to 15-year-olds earlier this month, leading states to open up vaccinations to this age group.  

Read more here.

Ohio started a trend: More states turn to lotteries in vaccine hesitancy fight

States are increasingly turning to lotteries as a way to try to get hesitant people vaccinated against the coronavirus and boost lagging numbers.

New York and Maryland on Thursday announced that residents who get the COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible for prize money, with Oregon unveiling similar plans on Friday. All three states are following in the footsteps of Ohio, which launched a lottery-focused campaign earlier this month.

Health officials in the Buckeye State are already reporting some promising results: Vaccinations for people 16 and older increased 28 percent the weekend after the lottery announcement, compared to the previous weekend.

Before the lottery effort, vaccinations were trending down in the state.

“Really the only thing that has changed was the availability of the Vax-a-Million incentive,” Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineAmericans' confidence in institutions slips after uptick: Gallup DeWine bans Ohio universities, schools from mandating COVID-19 vaccines Biden to participate in CNN town hall in Ohio MORE (R), said, adding about 10 other states have talked to the governor about the effort.

White House: The White House also gave its support to the idea on Friday.

“From the data we've seen, they appear to be working,” White House senior adviser for the COVID-19 response Andy Slavitt said during a Friday press briefing.

Background: The lottery initiative comes as health officials are looking for new ways to spur people to get vaccinated, after the most eager Americans have already received their shots. Nationally, vaccinations have fallen from over 3 million per day in April to about 1.8 million per day, according to Our World in Data.

Read more here

What we’re reading

Push for vaccines reduced drug options for Covid patients (Politico)

Intelligence on sick staff at Wuhan lab fuels debate on Covid-19 origin (The Wall Street Journal)

With engineered proteins, scientists use optogenetics for the first time to help a blind patient see again (STAT)

State by state 

Texas lawmakers split over how long to extend Medicaid health coverage for new mothers (The Texas Tribune)

A little US city, battered by the virus, tells its stories (The Associated Press)

Colorado lawmakers wage multi-front assault on high drug costs (Fortune)