Overnight Healthcare

Health Care — Pelosi shoots higher on COVID-19 funding

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to shoot higher on COVID funding, but getting any has been a struggle so far.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com), Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com), and Joseph Choi (jchoi@thehill.com).

Let’s get started.

 

Pelosi: WH should request $45B in COVID-19 aid

COVID-19 funding is still stalled, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is going for a bigger chunk so that the administration does not need to then come back for more later.

President Biden had initially asked Congress for $22.5 billion in new funding to fight the ongoing pandemic — a figure that was whittled down to $15.6 billion in the face of Republican opposition on Capitol Hill.

Pelosi on Thursday said that even the larger $22.5 billion figure was too small, arguing it would provide relief only through the early part of the summer before Congress would need to approve more.

“I think they should be double what they asked for, because even when they were asking for like 20-some [billion dollars] it was only going to get us to June,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

The comments came shortly after Pelosi and other Democratic leaders huddled in the Capitol with the Biden administration’s top health officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist.

“What I’ve said to the administration is … you must ask for more. Because we need more, and you can’t expect money, this [bill], to turn around just like that because the legislative process takes time,” she said. “We want it to be bipartisan; we need it to be paid for. And so let’s just go for a bigger chunk.”

No vote this week: Pelosi said on Monday she hoped to vote this week on more funding, but a senior Democratic aide said Thursday that negotiators won’t meet that timeline, as the House is still working to reach agreement with the Senate on acceptable offsets.

Read more here.

 

Zients stepping down

President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients will depart in April to return to private life, the White House announced Thursday.

Zients, who helped coordinate the largest vaccination campaign in American history through multiple waves of the pandemic, will be replaced by Ashish Jha, a public health expert who currently serves as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

A new approach: The departure of Zients is a sign the White House views the crisis phase of the pandemic as over, and is shifting to a longer-term strategy. Jha is a practicing internist and public health researcher who has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

The White House is in the midst of a delicate balancing act as officials try to balance getting America back to a semblance of normalcy while also grappling with the continued uncertainty and threat of the coronavirus.

“Thanks to all the progress we’ve made, Americans are safely moving back to more normal routines, using the effective new tools we have to enable us to reduce severe COVID cases and make workplaces and schools safer,” President Biden said.

“As we enter a new moment in the pandemic — executing on my National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan and managing the ongoing risks from COVID — Dr. Jha is the perfect person for the job,” he added.

Read more here.

 

LACK OF NEW FUNDS WOULD ‘DEVASTATE’ GLOBAL VIRUS EFFORT

It’s not just the domestic response that could suffer without new funding.

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power on Thursday called on Congress to provide funding for global COVID-19 vaccination efforts, warning of cutbacks the agency would have to make without new money.

Without new funds, USAID would be unable to extend its Global VAX program to help vaccinate people in over 20 additional under-vaccinated countries, Power said.

“This will devastate our ability to make sure those countries can effectively deploy safe and effective vaccines,” she said in a statement.

“We ask Congress to promptly provide the Administration with the urgent funding we need to continue this work of both vaccinating the world and protecting Americans at home,” she added.

While the supply of vaccine doses themselves is improving somewhat, many countries face daunting challenges in getting those shots into arms. Assistance can help with having the proper freezers for storage, transportation, and combatting misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.

Read more here.

 

35 GLOBAL COMPANIES TO START MAKING PFIZER’S ANTIVIRAL PILL

A United Nations-backed agency announced Thursday that 35 manufacturers had agreed to produce generic forms of Pfizer’s oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

Manufacturing companies in 12 countries including Brazil, China, Mexico, India and Serbia are among the 35 that have signed agreements to help produce the drug, known as Paxlovid.

Six companies will focus on producing the substance of the drug and nine companies will produce the product, while the remainder will do both.

This production development was made possible through an agreement made in November between Pfizer and the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), a U.N.-backed organization.

According to the MPP, this agreement will enable about 53 percent of the world population to have access to Pfizer’s antiviral nirmatrelvir, also known as Paxlovid.

Pfizer will not receive royalties from the sale of the antiviral pill made by MPP’s other licensees.

Read more here.

 

A delicate balance

The White House is simultaneously easing its own COVID-19 restrictions in an attempt to get it — and the American public — back to normal while grappling with the threat the pandemic still poses.

The delicate balance was on display this week when hundreds of maskless guests joined for in-person bill signings where President Biden mingled with lawmakers with no social distancing protocols in place.

But the ongoing risks of a return to normal were underscored on Tuesday evening when second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive for the virus.

Biden had not been tested for COVID-19 since he tested negative Sunday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. Biden is not considered to be a close contact of Emhoff, who attended an event earlier Tuesday honoring AmeriCorps week at an urban garden and park in Washington, D.C.

Emhoff is the first out of the four principals, a group which includes the president, first lady and Vice President Harris, to contract COVID-19.

Psaki, citing health officials, said Emhoff’s positive test is not a cause for concern regarding the state of the pandemic.

Read more here.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • People with ‘medium COVID’ are caught in a gray area of recovery with little support (NPR)
  • Fauci warns of potential rise in U.S. Covid cases as funding runs dry (Bloomberg)
  • With infections spiking in Europe and a variant on the rise, experts warn the U.S. could face a Covid resurgence (Stat)
  • It was already hard to find Evusheld, a Covid prevention therapy. Now it’s even harder. (Kaiser Health News

 

STATE BY STATE

  • Long waits for Montana state hospital leave psychiatric patients in jail (Kaiser Health News)
  • Kansas Senate health panel endorses vaccine opt-out for school kids, ivermectin prescriptions (Kansas Reflector)
  • Inslee signs bill prohibiting abortion lawsuits in Washington state (King 5

 

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Friday.

Tags Anthony Fauci Doug Emhoff Jeff Zients Jen Psaki Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Samantha Power Xavier Becerra

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