Overnight Healthcare

Overnight Health Care: Pentagon to require all troops to get vaccine by mid-September | Dems unveil $3.5T budget resolution | Biden yet to nominate new FDA chief even as delta surges

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Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care. The White House is trying hard to reach Gen-Z’ers who have yet to be vaccinated — and they’ve enlisted another “influencer” on social media to help. 

If you have any tips, email us at nweixel@thehill.com, psullivan@thehill.com and  jcoleman@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter at @NateWeixel, @PeterSullivan4 and @JustineColeman8.

Today: The Pentagon is going to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all military personnel. A former top federal scientist settled one part of a whistleblower complaint against HHS, and the Democratic budget resolution includes a lot of health priorities.

We’ll start at the Pentagon: 

A big new vaccine mandate, from the Pentagon: Troops will be required to get the coronavirus vaccine by mid-September.

The Pentagon will require all military personnel to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, according to a new memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin released on Monday.

“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” final approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “whichever comes first,” Austin wrote in the memo to troops. 

He added that Pentagon officials “will also be keeping a close eye on infection rates,” currently on the rise due to the highly contagious delta variant. If the rates begin to impact military readiness, “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force,” Austin said.

Biden — who late last month told Defense Department officials to come up with a plan to require troops to get shots — on Monday said he “strongly” supports Austin’s new message.

“Secretary Austin and I share an unshakable commitment to making sure our troops have every tool they need to do their jobs as safely as possible,” Biden said in a statement.

Read more here

Dems release their $3.5 trillion budget, with lots of health care

Democrats said the budget will provide funding for a slew of big health care moves, from adding Medicare benefits to lowering drug prices.  

One of the top priorities of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other progressives is set to be included: adding dental, hearing and vision benefits to Medicare.

However, the final package is not expected to include another progressive priority, lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, which is more politically fraught and opens up debate about Medicare for All.  

Democrats said the reconciliation package will include measures to have the federal government step in and provide health coverage in the 12 GOP-led states that have declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, though the exact mechanism for doing so remains to be seen. 

The measure is also expected to extend enhanced ObamaCare subsidies that help lower people’s premiums, which were provided for two years in the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. 

The package will fund care for elderly people at home, known as “home and community-based services,” and create a paid family and medical leave benefit, Democrats said in a list of top-line items for the fiscal 2022 plan.

Helping pay for it all is “hundreds of billions” of dollars in savings from lowering prescription drug costs, Democrats also said. The exact amount of savings is not yet clear, as Senate Democrats look to craft a measure that can satisfy both moderates and progressives. 

Read more here.

What’s going on with the FDA chief search? 

President Biden has yet to nominate a permanent head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at a time when the government is navigating a surge in COVID-19 cases from the delta variant.

​​It’s unclear why the post remains vacant more than six months into Biden’s presidency, but some experts suggest politics may be getting in the way.

Some Democratic senators are pushing back on the prospects of acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock being named to the permanent role, but health care experts are warning that the administration needs to fill the position immediately.

The tensions come as the FDA is coming under increasing pressure to grant full approval for the COVID-19 vaccines to boost confidence in the shots and potentially the country’s vaccination rate, with just half of the population now fully vaccinated.

The White House has been adamant that it is taking its time so that Biden can nominate someone with the right expertise for the job.

Read more here.

Vaccine mandates come to political campaigns: McAuliffe will require the shots 

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) gubernatorial campaign announced Monday that all staff will be required to receive the full coronavirus vaccine as the virus’s delta variant rages in parts of the country. 

“In the interest of public health and the safety and wellbeing of our team, Terry for Virginia has made the decision to require full vaccination against COVID-19 as a condition of employment with the campaign,” McAuliffe’s campaign manager Chris Bolling said in a statement. 

“The only way we’re going to truly end this pandemic and keep our economy strong is by getting every eligible Virginian vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he continued. “The health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, supporters and volunteers is our top priority, and this is another important step to protect our community and get through this pandemic.”

McAuliffe’s GOP opponent, Glenn Youngkin, has not said whether he will require his staff to receive the vaccine. Youngkin encouraged Virginia voters to get their shots in a tweet earlier this month but added that they have the right to make that decision on their own. 

Read more here.

Whistleblower scientist settles complaint over Trump COVID-19 response

A former leading government scientist who says he was ousted from his job by the Trump administration has settled his whistleblower complaint against the federal government.

Rick Bright led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority until he was removed in April 2020.

Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging the Trump administration prioritized politics above science, and claimed his efforts to push back on the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus contributed to his removal.

According to the complaint, Bright pressed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about the threat of the virus and the urgent need to act, but “encountered indifference which then developed into hostility from HHS leadership.”

While Bright was pressing HHS officials to provide necessary resources to begin vaccine, drug and diagnostic development to combat COVID-19, he alleged former HHS Secretary Alex Azar was instead focused on downplaying the threat of the virus. 

Read more here.

What we’re reading

Fake COVID-19 vaccination cards worry college officials (Associated Press)

The delta variant is sending more children to the hospital. Are they sicker, too? (New York Times)  

Injuries mount as sales reps for device makers cozy up to surgeons, even in operating rooms (Kaiser Health News)

State by state 

Kids sick with Covid are filling up children’s hospitals in areas seeing spikes (NBC News

Florida Hospitals Are Filling Up As COVID-19 Cases Hit An All-Time High (NPR

Abbott Criticized for Ban on Covid Mandates as Cases Soar in Texas (New York Times

The Hill op-eds

A strategy to defeat the delta variant and end the pandemic

‘Delta panic’ and the ‘forever pandemic’

Is it fair to ask children to wear face masks in schools?

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