Health Care

Overnight Health Care: US to start booster shots on Sept. 20 | Biden to require COVID-19 vaccination of all nursing home staff | Democrats embrace COVID mandates in governor races

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Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. One school district in Texas thinks they’ve found the way to require masks without running afoul of the governor’s ban on mandates: add them to the dress code.

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Today: The administration outlined its plan to start giving COVID-19 booster shots. Nursing homes will need to require vaccinations or lose federal funding. And Democratic candidates for governor are embracing mandates. 

We’ll start with boosters:

Biden administration to start booster shots on Sept. 20

The Biden administration is recommending booster doses for most Americans who received a coronavirus vaccine in order to combat waning immunity and the prevalence of the delta variant.

“It will make you safer, and for longer, and it will help us end the pandemic faster,” President Biden said in a speech Wednesday. “This is no time to let our guard down. We just need to finish the job with science, with facts, and with confidence.”

Top administration health officials said people would need boosters beginning eight months after their second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Data for Johnson & Johnson is still being reviewed.

Administration of the boosters will begin Sept. 20. At that time, the individuals who were fully vaccinated earliest in the vaccination rollout, including many health care providers, nursing home residents and other seniors, will likely be eligible for a booster, the officials said. 

Why: Health officials cited new data that showed that vaccines’ ability to protect from mild and moderate COVID-19 decreased over time, in large part due to the rise of the delta variant. Protection against severe disease and hospitalization did not decrease.

Context: The announcement represents a rapid and dramatic shift in policy for the administration, which for months has been trying to tamp down a push for booster doses. Officials have repeatedly said it was not clear whether boosters would be needed.

Pushback: But some experts were skeptical of the arguments, and argued it was too premature a decision and could undermine confidence in the vaccine. The key to getting the pandemic under control is making sure more unvaccinated people get the shot, they say, rather than boost the people who are already vaccinated. 

Read more here.


Biden administration to require COVID-19 vaccination of all nursing home staff

The Biden administration will require nursing home staff across the country to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and will withhold Medicare and Medicaid funding from those facilities that don’t comply.

The new regulations would apply to over 15,000 nursing home facilities, which employ approximately 1.3 million workers and serve approximately 1.6 million nursing home residents, the White House said.

“For this announcement, I’m using the power of the federal government as a payer of health care costs to ensure we reduce those risks to our most vulnerable seniors,” Biden said when officially announcing the plan during a Wednesday address.

Why this matters: Vaccination rates among nursing home staff are lagging, threatening the progress the nation has made in protecting the vulnerable elderly. 

More than seven months after becoming eligible, only about 60 percent of staff in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide are partially or fully vaccinated, according to federal data compiled by CMS.

Only about one-quarter of nursing homes had at least 75 percent of staff vaccinated, which is the benchmark goal the industry has set for vaccinations in facilities.

Read more here.


Biden calls out governors who oppose school mask mandates

President Biden on Wednesday called out Republican governors who have been preventing local schools from requiring masks, and said the administration was prepared to pay the salaries of teachers and officials who are punished for pushing back.

“They’re setting a dangerous tone,” Biden said of governors who block local mask mandates. “This isn’t about politics. It’s about keeping our children safe. It’s about taking on the virus together, united. I’ve made it clear that I’ll stand with those who are trying to do the right thing.” 

During his Wednesday remarks, Biden said he is directing Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “use all of his oversight authorities, and legal action if appropriate, against governors who are trying to block local school officials and educators.”

Battleground: Schools have emerged as the new battleground in the mask wars as millions of children return to classrooms across the country. 

Some GOP governors, such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Greg Abbott of Texas, have issued orders barring local school districts from requiring masks in the classroom.

“You know, we’re not going to sit by as governors try to block and intimidate educators protecting our children,” Biden said.

If a governor wants to cut the pay of an educator for requiring masks in school, Biden said money from the American Rescue Plan can be used to pay that person’s salary.

Read more here


On the other side of the aisle: Democrats embrace COVID mandates in governor races

Democratic candidates for governor are embracing calls for new mask and vaccine mandates in a high-stakes bet that voters are more willing to play it safe before returning to normal.

The candidates are taking a page from President Biden’s playbook, according to advisers and observers: They hope to prove that the loudest voices in the room — or on Twitter — are not broadly reflective of public opinion, which they see as squarely on the side of a cautious approach to what still remains a global crisis.

In the process, they have painted themselves in stark contrast to Republican candidates who have eschewed new restrictions or rules, with GOP governors in some cases going so far as to block local jurisdictions from implementing their own mandates.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who faces a recall election next month, has ordered school staff and health care workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the Republican leading recent polls ahead of next month’s recall — radio host Larry Elder — has said he would lift those mandates on his first day in office.

“With delta surging, Gavin Newsom is protecting California, requiring vaccination for health workers and school employees,” says a new advertisement from Newsom’s anti-recall committee. “The top Republican candidate? He peddled deadly conspiracy theories and would eliminate vaccine mandates on day one, threatening school closures and our recovery.”

Read more here


Democrat unveils bill to redirect Pentagon spending toward global vaccination efforts

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) introduced legislation Wednesday that would shift about $9.6 billion in U.S. defense spending toward global COVID-19 vaccination efforts as much of the world’s population remains without access to vaccines.

Pocan estimated that nearly $10 billion directed to the COVAX initiative, a joint effort between the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other international organizations, could help vaccinate another 30 percent of the population in low-income countries based on an equivalent amount of funding already pledged.

“Right now, COVID is the greatest risk to our national security as well as the world’s security. Shifting funds from weaponry and military contractors to producing COVID vaccines will save hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of lives around the world,” Pocan said in a statement.

Donations: President Biden announced earlier this month that the U.S. has already donated and shipped more than 110 million doses of American-manufactured COVID-19 vaccines to more than 60 countries. The White House said that the majority of the vaccines were shipped through COVAX.

Still, about 24 percent of the world’s population is fully vaccinated, and just 1.3 percent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

Read more here.


What we’re reading

‘It’s soul-draining’: Health workers deployed to Covid hot zones are overwhelmed by deaths among the unvaccinated (Stat News

Israel, once the model for beating Covid, faces new surge of infections (New York Times

The delta variant is putting America’s hospitals back in crisis mode (Washington Post


State by state

The new Texas COVID-19 surge could be worse than anything the state has seen yet (Texas Tribune

Florida’s COVID hospitalizations now exceed 17,000 and take up 55% of ICU beds (Miami Herald)

An Alabama doctor watched patients reject the coronavirus vaccine. Now he’s refusing to treat them. (Washington Post


Op-eds in The Hill 

COVID-19: Booster shots are the right call

Tags Doug Ducey Gavin Newsom Joe Biden Mark Pocan Miguel Cardona Ron DeSantis

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