Thursday, February 10, 2022 | Kaiser Health News

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Skirmish Between Biden and Red States Over Medicaid Leaves Enrollees in the Balance

The Biden administration is getting rid of several policies implemented by Trump-era appointees that restricted enrollment. Federal officials now say states can no longer charge premiums to low-income residents enrolled in Medicaid and have ruled out work requirements.(Phil Galewitz and Andy Miller,)

Montana Mice May Hold the Secret to Virus Spillover

Researchers in Montana are working to figure out how climate change and biodiversity affect viruses’ jump from animals to people.(Jim Robbins,)

Political Cartoon: 'A New Varmint?'

Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'A New Varmint?'" by Tom Campbell.

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Summaries Of The News:

Pandemic Policymaking

Appeals Court Allows Block On Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate To Stand

President Joe Biden's requirement that all federal employees get vaccinated against covid remains on hold after the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 not to lift a lower court's ruling. The case is likely heading to the Supreme Court.

Reuters:U.S. Appeals Court Will Not Block Order Barring Biden Federal Staff Vaccine Mandate A U.S. appeals court panel on Wednesday declined to block a lower court ruling that President Joe Biden could not require federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. By a 2-1 vote, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stay the lower-court injunction. Judge Stephen A. Higginson dissented noting a dozen district courts rejected requests to block the vaccine rule while a single district judge issued an injunction. (Shepardson, 2/9)

CNN:Appeals Court Refuses To Reinstate Federal Employee Vaccine Mandate While It Reviews Case A federal appeals court said Wednesday it would not reinstate President Joe Biden's Covid-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees while it reviews a lower court's order putting the requirement on hold -- potentially setting the stage for the case to go to the Supreme Court. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals did not explain its reasoning in the unsigned order that said the court was expediting its review of the case. The court said the Biden administration's request to put the lower court's ruling on hold was being "carried with the case," signaling that the appeals court would not rule on the request until it had conducted a fuller review of the case. (Sneed, 2/9)

In related news about vaccine mandates —

The Hill:Biden Faces Possible Trucker Threat President Biden is facing the possibility of truck driver protests mirroring those in Canada over vaccine mandates that would come as the administration works to combat supply chain disruptions, vaccinate more Americans and strengthen the U.S. economy. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Wednesday warned police partners of protests similar to those in Canada that it said could even disrupt the Super Bowl or the State of the Union address. (Gangitano, 2/9)

Modern Healthcare:Revamped Challenge To Vaccine Policy Still Has No Legs, Experts SaySeveral states' revamped challenge to the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers likely won't make a difference in the policy's fate, but it raises new questions that could catch a judge's eye, lawyers say. Louisiana is leading 15 other states in an amended complaint filed last week against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities. The states argue in a motion to the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services improperly added state surveyors to the list of staff covered by the mandate, and say omicron's ability to spread despite vaccines makes the policy meaningless. (Goldman, 2/9)

Cincinnati Enquirer:Cincinnati Hospitals Mum As Health Workers Face Vaccine MandateHealth workers across the Cincinnati region are facing a Feb. 14 deadline to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld mandates for medical facilities federally funded by Medicare and Medicaid last month. Yet the region's health systems, which face fines if they don't comply with the rules, aren't saying much about the impending deadline, other than they will follow the mandate. The healthcare providers generally won't: Detail how many of their workers are unvaccinated. (Sutherland, 2/10)

The Atlantic:Vaccine Hesitancy Has Seeped Into Home Health CareThere was the home health attendant who sucked her thumb before touching household items. And the one who brought her unvaccinated 4-year-old into the apartment where Mary and her immunocompromised husband live, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And the one who came by after her day shift at a nursing home. Many of the aides who circulated through Mary’s household were vaccine-hesitant or outright anti-vax; many wore their mask improperly while in the apartment, she told me. A few came in with sneezes, sniffles, and coughs that—as Mary and her husband learned only after asking—were symptoms of an active COVID-19 infection. (Renault, 2/9)

Many States Dump Mask Mandates

Some states, like New York, will still require masks in schools. Others, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, will make them optional for students. Some parents and doctors say it's too risky, too soon.

USA Today:New York, Illinois To Lift Mask Mandates, Against CDC's AdviceNew York state will end a mandate requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings but will keep school masking rules in place, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday. Later in the day, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his state will follow a similar path. They are the latest in a series of states to roll back mask mandates amid a decline in daily coronavirus infection and hospitalization numbers. Still, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that for now her agency continues to recommend masking in areas of substantial transmission – most of the nation. (Bacon, Ortiz and Tebor, 2/9)

The New York Times:A Guide To Mask Requirements In N.Y., N.J. And Connecticut Masks will still be required in New York City while riding public transportation, including when taking car services and taxis. They will still be required when inside a school, in a child care or a health care setting, and at group residential facilities such as nursing homes and homeless shelters. (Otterman and Goldstein, 2/9)

The Boston Globe:Mass. School Mask Mandate Lifted, But No Road Map For What Comes NextMasks will no longer be required in Massachusetts schools as of Feb. 28, Governor Charlie Baker announced Wednesday, joining a growing list of governors, including several in the Northeast, who have recently made face coverings optional as COVID-19 cases wane across much of the country. “Given the extremely low risk to young people, and the widespread availability of, and proven effectiveness of, vaccines, and the distribution of accurate test protocols and tests, it’s time to give our kids a sense of normalcy and lift the mask mandate on a statewide basis for schools,” Baker said at a State House briefing that drew protesters who demanded an end to government vaccine mandates. (Lazar, Tziperman Lotan and Andersen, 2/9)

AP:Rhode Island Eases Mask Restrictions At Businesses, Schools Rhode Island will lift its mask or proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor businesses Friday, and plans on ending the statewide school mask mandate early next month, Gov. Dan McKee said Wednesday. The decision made in consultation with public health officials comes as key metrics used to measure the spread of the coronavirus, including new cases, percent positive rates, and hospitalizations continue to drop since the peak of the omicron surge, the Democratic governor said at a news conference. (2/10)

The Hill:Kemp Looks To Make Masking Optional In Georgia Schools Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is looking to pass legislation that would make masking optional in the state's schools, but is facing criticism from his main primary challenger that he didn't move fast enough. Kemp on Wednesday said he is working with state lawmakers on legislation that would allow parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates. (Schnell, 2/9)

AP:California To Soon Begin 'Endemic' Approach To Pandemic California health officials next week will outline a new approach to dealing with the coronavirus that assumes it’s here to stay, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday, while condemning organized disinformation efforts that limit vaccinations critical to California entering the next stage. A disease reaches the endemic stage when the virus still exists in a community but becomes manageable as immunity builds. (Thompson, 2/10)

Also —

AP:11 San Francisco Bay Area Counties To Lift Indoor Mask OrderEleven San Francisco Bay Area counties will lift their mask requirements for vaccinated people in most indoor public settings beginning Feb. 16, when the state also ends its indoor masking requirement for those vaccinated against the coronavirus, officials announced Tuesday. Unvaccinated people over age 2 will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings. Everyone will still have to wear a mask in schools, public transportation, nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, officials in the Bay Area counties said. (2/10)

AP:Mask Mandates Extended In Omaha, Lincoln Even As Cases Fall Mask mandates have been extended in Nebraska’s two largest cities because virus cases and hospitalizations remain higher than health officials want to see even though they are falling. Omaha officials announced their decision Wednesday to extend their mandate a week a day after Lancaster County officials said their mandate would continue through Feb. 25. (Funk, 2/9)

AP:As State Mask Rules End, School Leaders Are In The Middle As some of the last statewide mask mandates in the U.S. near an end, decisions about whether students and teachers should continue to wear masks in school are shifting to local leaders, who are caught in the middle of one of the most combustible issues of the pandemic. “Unfortunately, this is an issue where you are not going to make everybody happy,” said Jeffrey Solan, school superintendent in Cheshire, Connecticut. “We can’t allow those individual passions to decide the debate.” (Thompson, 2/9)

CDC May Update Mask Guidelines As It Urges States To Move Cautiously

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky stressed that it is too soon for all Americans to take off their masks in indoor public places. But Politico reports that CDC staff are considering whether the agency should use case rates as a metric or whether it should use hospitalization data.

Politico:CDC Weighs Updating Messaging Around Transmission And Masking The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering updating its guidelines on the metrics states should use when considering lifting public health measures such as mask mandates, according to four people familiar with the matter. Agency scientists and officials are debating whether to continue to publicly support using transmission data as a marker for whether to ease public health interventions such as masking, particularly in school settings, the people said. CDC staff are weighing whether the agency should use case rates as a metric or whether it should lean more heavily on hospitalization data, particularly information on hospital capacity. (Banco and Cancryn, 2/9)

The New York Times:C.D.C. Resists Pressure To Change Guidance On MasksThe White House has been meeting with outside health experts to plan a pandemic exit strategy and a transition to a “new normal,” but the behind-the-scenes effort is crashing into a very public reality: A string of blue-state governors have gotten ahead of President Biden by suddenly abandoning their mask mandates. Two of the administration’s top doctors — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, and Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both expressed qualified optimism on Wednesday about the direction of the pandemic. (Stolberg, 2/9)

The Hill:White House Faces New Pressure To Back Lifting Mask Rules The White House is facing pressure to revise its position on wearing masks, as declining COVID-19 cases and pandemic fatigue among voters leads an increasing number of Democratic states to lift requirements on public masking. Some governors and local health officials are calling for the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to release guidance for an off-ramp for mask usage. (Weixel, Chalfant and Parnes, 2/9)

ABC News:Governors Dropping Mask Mandates Preempts White House Efforts To 'Move Forward' The White House began assembling a pandemic exit strategy for the nation in recent weeks, pulling together health experts and aides to develop what one top official described as a plan "to keep the country moving forward." But the top-level push by the Biden administration was preempted by a chorus of Democratic governors this week eager to pull back restrictions, prompting gentle pushback Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House. (Haslett and Flaherty, 2/9)


Shots For Under 5s Will Be Ready By Feb. 21 — If They're Approved, That Is

The CDC is reportedly poised to quickly roll out 10 million doses. The FDA has yet to authorize the lower-dose, 3-microgram Pfizer/BioNTech shot for children ages 6 months to 4.

CNBC:The CDC Still Needs To Approve Young Kids’ Covid Shots, But It’s Telling Health Agencies To Expect Delivery By Feb. 21The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t yet approved Covid-19 vaccines for kids under 5, but it’s laying the groundwork to distribute the shots, telling state and local health officials they could receive their first shipments by Feb. 21. The CDC plans to roll out 10 million doses in three phases as soon as the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the lower-dose, 3-microgram Pfizer and BioNTech shot for children 6 months to 4 years old, according to a new planning document quietly issued Sunday. State and local health officials could start preordering the first doses Monday and will start receiving vaccine shipments on Presidents Day, according to the CDC. (Kimball, 2/9)

The Washington Post:CDC To Quickly Roll Out 10 Million Doses If Vaccine For Young Children Is AuthorizedThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has told coronavirus vaccine providers to be ready to receive shots for children younger than 5 by Feb. 21 — just a week after the Food and Drug Administration is expected to make its recommendation on emergency-use authorization. If the vaccine receives the green light, an initial 10 million doses are expected to be ready for shipment, with the first half of the batch available on Feb. 21 and the second on Feb. 25, according to an updated pediatric vaccination planning guide released this week. (Cheng and Timsit, 2/10)

The New York Times:F.D.A. Advisors Weigh Shots For The Very Young, With Key Data Outstanding Scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will decide next week whether to endorse giving two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to children 6 months to 4 years of age, before clinical trials have shown whether a full course of three doses is effective. Such an authorization would be a first for the agency, many experts say. Interim results suggested that two doses of the vaccine did not produce a strong immune response in children aged 2 through 4. Results from trials of the third dose are expected in a few weeks. (Mandavilli, 2/10)

NBC News:Covid Vaccines For Tots And Babies Could Help Biden With Burned-Out ParentsElana Banin is counting down the seconds until she can get her baby and toddler vaccinated — a moment she is hoping will finally lift a weight that has continued to bear down on her and similar parents nearly two years into the pandemic. “There isn’t a day or a minute that goes by that we aren’t acutely aware that our kids are at risk and all of our decisions are calculated accordingly,” Banin, who lives in New York City, said. “Our lives revolve around the fact that they aren’t vaccinated, which in a way I hope desperately will change the second the vaccine is available for their age group. We will be first in line.” (Pettypiece and Seitz-Wald, 2/10)

The New York Times:The Next Vaccine Debate: Immunize Young Children Now, Or Wait? Even if vaccination of young children begins in April, it will be summer before they have had three doses, noted Dr. Diego Hijano, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and an investigator for the Pfizer-BioNTech trial. “For sure, by summer we may have a variant of concern that’s spreading around.” (Mandavilli, 2/9)

In related research about covid in children —

CIDRAP:Study Reveals Risk Factors For Severe COVID-19, Related Syndrome In KidsA prospective cohort study of US children diagnosed as having COVID-19 reveals that certain demographic characteristics, preexisting chronic diseases, and initial vital sign and lab values may portend disease severity, a finding that the researchers said could help improve outcomes. The University of Colorado-led study involved 167,262 COVID-19 patients 18 years and younger tested for COVID-19 at 56 US National COVID Cohort Collaborative facilities up to Sep 24, 2021, before the emergence of the highly transmissible Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant. (2/9)

Covid-19 Crisis

Even Mild Covid Infections Could Affect Later Heart Health, Study Finds

One researcher is reported as saying the results of a new study were "stunning" in terms of the increased risk of heart illnesses a year after even a mild covid infection. Different research finds a prior infection is less protective against catching omicron than other variants.

Science:COVID-19 Takes Serious Toll On Heart Health—A Full Year After Recovery From very early in the pandemic, it was clear that SARS-CoV-2 can damage the heart and blood vessels while people are acutely ill. Patients developed clots, heart inflammation, arrythmias, and heart failure. Now, the first large study to assess cardiovascular outcomes 1 year after SARS-CoV-2 infection has demonstrated that the virus’ impact is often lasting. In an analysis of more than 11 million U.S. veterans’ health records, researchers found the risk of 20 different heart and vessel maladies was substantially increased in veterans who had COVID-19 1 year earlier, compared with those who didn’t. The risk rose with severity of initial disease and extended to every outcome the team examined, including heart attacks, arrhythmias, strokes, cardiac arrest, and more. Even people who never went to the hospital had more cardiovascular disease than those who were never infected. (Wadman, 2/9)

Fox News:COVID-19 Seems To Increase Risk Of Serious Heart Ailments Year After Recovery: ReportAny infection with COVID-19—regardless of severity—seems to increase the risk of heart ailments for survivors, according to a new study that one researcher called "stunning." The study found an increased risk of 20 different heart and vessel issues for those who’ve had the virus a year earlier, Science magazine reported. "Governments and health systems around the world should be prepared to deal with the likely significant contribution of the COVID-19 pandemic to a rise in the burden of cardiovascular diseases," the paper read, according to the report. (DeMarche, 2/10)

In other covid research —

USA Today:Prior Infection Less Protective Against Omicron, Study FindsPrevious coronavirus infection provides substantially less protection from reinfection against omicron than other variants, but still helps avoid severe disease at a high level, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research, based on an analysis of national databases in Qatar since the beginning of the pandemic, is consistent with early reports of reinfections and breakthrough cases when omicron was first detected in southern Africa in late November. Scientists have since confirmed that omicron is more adept at evading immunity, even when generated by vaccines. (Bacon, Ortiz and Tebor, 2/9)

CIDRAP:COVID-19 In College Students Tied To Socioeconomic Status, DepressionA new study surveying more than 100,000 US college students who were enrolled in the fall of 2020 finds that 7% self-reported a COVID-19 infection, and that self-reporting varied substantially with race, socioeconomic status, parenting status, and student-athlete status. In addition, students who reported COVID-19 infections were 1.4 times more likely to report anxiety and depression and 1.7 times more likely to report food insecurity. The survey results were published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). (2/9)

KHN:Montana Mice May Hold The Secret To Virus Spillover For the past 20 years, Amy Kuenzi has spent three days of every month traveling to a ranch near Gregson, Montana, and setting out traps that contain peanut butter and oats. Her quarry is deer mice. She takes blood samples, looks for scars and fleas, and attaches ear tags. “Mice are fairly trap happy and easy to catch,” she said. “But it can be kind of a miserable job in the winter.” Kuenzi’s goal is to better understand how a type of hantavirus called Sin Nombre spreads through these mouse populations. (Robbins, 2/10)

And more news about the coronavirus —

Fox News:Cases Of Inflammatory Condition, MIS-C, In Children Spike At Pediatric HospitalA significant uptick in MIS-C cases, a rare inflammatory condition that occurs in some children after a COVID infection, has been seen in the past three weeks at a pediatric hospital on Long Island, New York, according to doctors who spoke with Fox News. "These are some of the sickest children I've seen in my career as a pediatric emergency medicine attending," Dr. Matthew Harris, M.D., a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, on Long Island, shared with Fox News.(McGorry, 2/9)

Houston Chronicle:Texas COVID Death Toll Tops 80K, Though True Cost Of Omicron May Not Be Known For MonthsThe coronavirus death toll in Texas topped 80,000 Wednesday, two months after the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant that has sickened high numbers of unvaccinated and vulnerable people across the state. The official count based on death certificates is 80,005, according to new fatality data the Texas Department of State Health Services released Wednesday afternoon. Federal health forecasts predict the state could log another 4,000 coronavirus deaths by the end of February. Because hospitalizations and deaths lag weeks behind COVID-19 infections, and because it can take several weeks for fatalities to appear in official death tallies, the true cost of omicron may not be known for months, officials said. (Mishanec, 2/9)

Modern Healthcare:COVID-19 Pandemic, Staffing Shortages Widen Rural America's Care DesertsAround half of 130 rural hospital executives said they had to suspend services or consider it due to nursing shortages, an October survey from the Chartis Center for Rural Health found. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of rural hospitals cut obstetrics and chemotherapy services to stay afloat. Nearly 200 rural hospitals stopped providing obstetrics care from 2011 to 2019, while close to 300 rural hospitals dropped chemotherapy treatment from 2014 to 2020, Chartis data show. That trend explains, in part, why Black and Latino Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die prematurely or experience poverty, particularly among children, according to the report. (Kacik, 2/9)

CNBC:Covid Pandemic: Mental Health Damage Could Last A GenerationAside from the obvious physical impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, health professionals have told CNBC that many people are struggling with the immense emotional and societal changes it has brought. What’s more, they’re finding it hard to adapt to a “new normal” now that lockdowns are starting to ease. Many psychologists and psychiatrists have reported an influx of people seeking mental health support during the pandemic, with the unprecedented global health crisis causing an increase in anxiety and depression as well as exacerbating existing mental health conditions. “I have never been as busy in my life and I’ve never seen my colleagues as busy,” Valentine Raiteri, a psychiatrist working in New York, told CNBC. (Ellyatt, 2/10)

Administration News

Biden Aims To Jump-Start Efforts To Tackle Pricey Prescription Drugs

President Joe Biden will address the high cost of prescription drugs during an event Thursday, an issue on which there is some bipartisan support and could help the White House make some progress on its stalled domestic agenda.

AP:Biden Puts Focus On Drug Prices As He Tries To Revive Agenda President Joe Biden is trying to jump-start progress on his stalled domestic agenda by refocusing attention on one of his most popular proposals, limiting the cost of prescription drugs. Biden is traveling to Culpeper, Virginia, on Thursday, where White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president will call attention to the “unacceptable” cost of medications. (Megerian, 2/10)

Fox Business:Biden Trip To Put Focus On Lowering Drug Prices As He Tries To Revive AgendaPresident Biden will visit Culpeper, Virginia, Thursday and is expected to call attention to the "unacceptable" cost of medications in the U.S. as part of his effort to fulfill one of his key agenda proposals: limiting the cost of prescription drugs. The trip is seen as a chance to get his stalled domestic agenda back on track. Biden’s trip will also be an opportunity for him to start promoting his party’s candidates in November’s midterm elections. He’s expected to appear alongside Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., who is in danger of losing her seat representing a central Virginia district. Prescription drugs will be a focal point for Biden’s visit. (Martin, 2/10)

And the White House pushes back on 'misinformation' over crack pipes —

The Hill:White House Disputes Reports Of Federal Funds For Crack PipesThe Biden administration on Wednesday pushed back on what it called "misinformation," saying a federal grant program meant to reduce harm to drug users does not include taxpayer funding for pipes that can be used to smoke crack or meth. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put out a statement clarifying "no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits." (Samuels, 2/9)

AP:No Money For Drug Pipes: Feds Douse Social Media FirestormDousing a social media firestorm, the Biden administration said Wednesday that a grant program to counter harm from illicit drugs will not pay for safer pipes to smoke crack or meth. The White House was put on the defensive as outrage from the political right, some of it with racial overtones, was cresting online. “No federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and White House drug policy adviser Rahul Gupta said in a joint statement. (Alonso-Zaldivar and Dupuy, 2/9)

More details emerge after the resignation of Biden's science adviser —

Politico:Lander Held On To Vaccine Maker Stock Months Into Tenure Serving as Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, publicly promoted Covid-19 vaccination efforts while having a significant financial investment in one of the vaccine makers, according to financial disclosures. Under the White House’s ethics agreement Lander signed, he had 90 days to divest his stocks after he was confirmed by the Senate on May 28. While Lander shed the bulk of that stock in June — including shares of BioNTech SE, the German biotechnology company and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine partner — he waited until Aug. 5 to sell the remaining $500,000 to $1 million worth of stock he held in that company. When Lander ultimately sold the stock 69 days after his confirmation, it was the company’s second-highest stock price ever at $404.92 a share, having shot up more than $50 a share from two days prior. (Thompson, 2/9)

Stat:The Fall Of Eric Lander And The End Of Science’s 'Big Ego' EraThe resignation of Eric Lander as President Biden’s lead scientific adviser is not just a blow to one president’s plans for advancing research, but a signpost on the death march of a certain way of doing science. It’s not quite “big science,” which isn’t going anywhere. Call it “big ego.” In science, “big ego” isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. But in recent decades it grew with the emergence of researchers who could both handle the kind of gloves-off debate that can mark academic discourse and marshal vast resources to make certain types of scientific discoveries, like mapping genomes or understanding how molecular changes in a cell lead to cancer. (Herper, 2/9)

Capitol Watch

Crucial Democrats Voice Support For Califf's FDA Nomination

Senate Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden says he endorses Robert Califf to lead the Food and Drug Administration. His endorsement is the latest in a line of Senate Democrats who say their concerns about his nomination have been allayed. A full Senate vote has not yet been scheduled.

Stat:With Vague Commitments, Califf Earns Key Democrat’s Support For FDA JobIt took just three short paragraphs for Robert Califf to earn the public support of an undecided senator for his bid to become the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the powerful chair of the Senate Finance Committee, announced Thursday that he would support Califf’s nomination. It came just days after he implied he would need additional commitments about how the nominee would crack down on companies that thwart the rules of the FDA’s so-called accelerated approval pathway before voting to confirm him as the head of the agency. (Florko, 2/10)

The Hill:Wyden Announces Support For Biden FDA Nominee President Biden's nominee for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday picked up a key Democratic endorsement from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The support of the chair of the Senate Finance Committee is crucial for Robert Califf's potential confirmation in the closely divided Senate. (2/10)

AP:FDA's Agenda In Limbo As Biden's Nominee Stalls In Senate No vote has been set on Califf’s nomination as Senate Democrats, the White House and other administration officials make a full-court press to lock up the votes needed to pass the 50-50 chamber. Former FDA officials warn that failure to move on Califf’s nomination will make it even harder to find and confirm future nominees. “If he can’t get confirmed it bodes poorly for almost anyone else who could be nominated,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff, who twice served as acting FDA commissioner. “What you’re seeing here is a lot of extraneous issues inserting themselves into the confirmation process and the same thing would happen to virtually anyone else nominated.” (Perrone, 2/9)

In other news from Capitol Hill —

The New York Times:Stock Trading Ban For Lawmakers Gains Momentum On Capitol HillAn effort to strictly control stock ownership by members of Congress is gathering momentum on Capitol Hill for the first time in a decade, fueled by politically vulnerable lawmakers who recognize the potency of signaling to voters that they will act on the perceived corruption in Washington. ... The drive to ban congressional stock trading was touched off in 2020 by a spate of revelations that senators from both parties had traded health care stocks after closed-door briefings on the then-nascent coronavirus pandemic. (Weisman, 2/9)

NPR:Senators Announce A Deal To Reauthorize The Violence Against Women ActA bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday announced that they had reached an agreement on a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, after months of negotiations in the chamber. The legislation offers resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Democrats Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein and Republicans Joni Ernst and Lisa Murkowski led the Senate talks. Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, noted that neither party achieved everything they wanted in the reauthorization, but hailed the compromise as a step toward better addressing the needs of domestic abuse survivors. (Wise, 2/9)

Science And Innovations

New Combo Drug Could Save Many With Breast Cancer

Keytruda, a.k.a. pembolizumab, is the subject of a Press Association report that highlights how effective it is against certain aggressive breast cancers if given with chemotherapy. Everly Health, Roche in South Africa, an expensive cystic fibrosis drug and more are also in the news.

Thursday, February 10, 2022 | Kaiser Health News

Press Association:Breast Cancer Treatment: Powerful Drug Combination 'Could Save Thousands'A powerful drug combination for breast cancer could save thousands of lives, according to new results from a long-term study. The drug Keytruda (also known as pembrolizumab), if given at the right time and in combination with chemotherapy, can stop the disease coming back in women with a type of aggressive breast cancer, driving up the chance of being cured. Keytruda is an immunotherapy that works by helping the immune system to kill cancer cells. It is already a treatment for a number of cancers. (2/9)

In other news about cancer —

Axios:Everly Partnership To Offer Early-Detection Home Cancer Tests Austin-based home testing company Everly Health is gearing up to partner with a leading home cancer testing company to offer its early-detection home cancer test to members of employer health plans, sources tell Axios. Besides giving Everly Health a potential foothold in clinical testing, the deal serves as an early test of its (newish) enterprise division for employers and health plans. Everly's enterprise arm, called Everly Health Solutions, could serve to lock elbows with large pools of employees and beneficiaries, a welcome addition to the company's existing, mostly consumer user base. (Brodwin, 2/9)

Stat:South Africa's Antitrust Regulator Wants Roche Penalized For 'Excessive' Cancer Drug Pricing South Africa’s antitrust regulator has recommended that Roche (RHHBY) should be penalized for allegedly “excessive” pricing of its Herceptin breast cancer treatment, arguing it violates basic human rights by impeding access to a life-saving medicine. More than 10,000 breast cancer patients — nearly half of the total number of newly diagnosed patients — were unable to obtain the medicine due to cost between 2011 and 2020 in the private and public health care sectors, according to the Competition Commission, which referred the matter to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution. (Silverman, 2/9)

And more pharmaceutical news —

Stat:Study: Vertex Drug Cost Could Worsen Global Disparity In Cystic Fibrosis CareJust 12% of the 162,000 people estimated to be living with cystic fibrosis in nearly 100 countries are receiving a highly effective, but pricey treatment. And tens of thousands more are believed to be undiagnosed in dozens of other countries where the medicine is not available, according to a new study. The findings suggest a sizable global disparity in treating cystic fibrosis, an inherited disorder that severely damages the lungs and limits life expectancy to 46 years in the U.S., according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The average life expectancy has climbed from 38 years a decade ago, due in part to the recent arrival of new medicines. But life expectancy can be half as much in low and middle-income countries, notably many in Africa. (Silverman, 2/9)

Stat:Drugs Based On Next-Gen CRISPR Moving Toward The Clinic Faster Later this year, the now-Nobel prize-winning paper authored by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier — in which they described how a primordial immune system in bacteria could be harnessed to edit the genomes of other organisms — will turn 10 years old. The discovery that CRISPR could be turned into an easily programmable tool for rewriting DNA launched biomedical research into warp drive. In the 10 years leading up to 2012, 200 papers mentioned CRISPR. In 2020 alone, there were more than 6,000. The last decade has seen scientists use CRISPR to cure mice of progeria, fix muscular dystrophy in dogs, and eliminate symptoms for people with genetic blood disorders. Currently, there are more than two dozen human trials of the technology underway around the world. (Molteni, 2/10)

CIDRAP:Groups Urge McDonald's To Honor Antibiotics CommitmentA coalition of food safety, animal welfare, and environmental health groups is pushing the nation's largest fast-food chain to honor its commitment to reducing the amount of antibiotics used in its beef. Yesterday, the groups sent a petition with more than 25,000 signatures to McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski urging the company to fulfill its pledge to set meaningful reduction targets for the use of medically important antibiotics in its global beef and dairy supply chains. (Dall, 2/9)

Stat:Digital Pharmacy Startups Thirty Madison And Nurx To MergeHealth tech startups Thirty Madison and Nurx announced Wednesday they intend to merge, hinting at the increasing maturity in the market for companies that make it easy to connect with a doctor and get a prescription delivered to your door. Thirty Madison, which was founded in 2017 and last year raised $140 million at a valuation over $1 billion, provides care for chronic conditions under pleasant brand names, like Picnic, its service for people with allergies, or Cove, its offering for migraine sufferers. The company cleared $100 million in sales last year. Nurx, which was founded in 2016 and has raised $115 million to date, started as a birth control provider and has since expanded to other areas of sexual health as well as dermatology. The combined company will carry on under the Thirty Madison name and will offer services in 46 states. The terms of the deal and a new valuation weren’t disclosed. (Aguilar, 2/9)

Public Health

Cancer-Linked Weedkiller May Be Found In 1 In 3 Americans' Blood

Young children are at highest risk from exposure to the toxic chemicals, a George Washington University study says. Separate research links preterm births with fertility treatments, and another study says eating more legumes and less red meat is linked to longer lifespans.

The Hill:One In Three Americans Exposed To Toxic Weedkiller: Study One in three Americans may have detectable levels of the cancer-linked herbicide 2,4-D — with young children incurring the most risk from exposure to these toxins, a new study from George Washington University has found. Among more than 14,000 participants surveyed, nearly 33 percent had detectable levels of the toxin in their blood, according to study, published on Wednesday in Environmental Health. (Udasin, 2/9)

In other public health news —

Axios:Fertility Treatments, Preterm Births Connected, Study Finds Fertility treatments appear to be associated with an increased risk for preterm births, according to a study released Tuesday in JAMA Network Open. In the cohort study led by the Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, researchers looked at data from the National Vital Statistics System for more than 14.3 million live, single births by mothers in the U.S. The prevalence of preterm birth was 7.6% in natural conception, compared to 10.7% among those who used assisted reproductive technology (ART) and 9.3% among those that used non-ART treatment like oral medications or injections. (Reed, 2/9)

USA Today:Eating More Legumes, Less Red Meat Can Increase Your LifespanOpting for legumes and vegetables instead of red meat and processed foods can add years to your life span, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine. A woman in her 60s who focuses on a healthier diet can increase her lifespan by eight years while a man at the same age can add nine years to his life, the study showed. The study constructed a model of what would happen if participants replaced a "typical Western diet" that includes red meat and processed foods with a diet consisting of fruits and whole grains. (Miranda, 2/9)

AP:Toxicologist Testifies That Drugs Did Not Kill George Floyd A toxicologist testified Wednesday at the federal trial of three former officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights that it wasn’t drug use, heart disease nor an agitated state known as “excited delirium” that caused Floyd’s death after officers pinned him to the pavement in May 2020.Dr. Vik Bebarta, an emergency physician and toxicologist and professor at the University of Colorado in suburban Denver, bolstered the prosecution’s contention that Floyd died because of how Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee down on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as he pleaded “I can’t breathe.” He also backed up other experts who have faulted officers for failing to roll Floyd on his side, as they had been trained, so that he could have breathed freely. (Karnowski, 2/9)

The Washington Post:Doctors Repeatedly Told A Woman Stress Was Causing Her Symptoms. Then They Pulled Out A Volleyball-Size TumorAgain and again, Hannah Catton told doctors something was wrong with her body. Again and again, she said, the doctors dismissed her concerns. They didn’t listen in late 2018 when she told them about her frequent urinary tract infections. They didn’t listen months later when she returned to tell them she was having irregular periods. And they didn’t listen when she complained of bloating, constipation, diarrhea and extreme pain. (Edwards, 2/9)

And Bob Saget's death puts renewed focus on head trauma —

Fox News:Bob Saget's Shocking Death Highlights Dangers Of Head InjuryThe set of circumstances that reportedly killed popular comedian and TV actor Bob Saget last month are not uncommon, according to health officials. Approximately 166 Americans die from traumatic brain injury (TBI) related events each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some individuals are at greater risk for suffering a TBI or having worse health outcomes after an injury, the CDC said on its website. Falls are responsible for nearly half of the TBI-related hospitalizations, according to the federal agency. (McGorry, 2/10)

Newsweek:What Is Head Trauma? Bob Saget's Family Reveal Cause Of Comedian's DeathAccording to the Mount Sinai hospitals website, a head trauma can range from a minor bump on the skull to a serious brain injury. The term covers open head injuries, in which an object has broken the skull and entered the brain, and closed injuries, when a person has received a hard blow. The most common form of head injury is a concussion. ... For many years it was considered dangerous to allow a person with a concussion to fall asleep, but today most health professionals no longer consider this a risk. (Lea, 2/10)

CNN:Bob Saget Death: Dr. Gupta Explains What To Do If You Sustain A Serious Head Injury Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains how to identify symptoms of a serious head injury and what action should be taken after Bob Saget's family reveals the comedian died from the result of head trauma. (2/10)

Biden To LGBTQ+ Kids: 'I Have Your Back'

In the light of a controversial Florida bill limiting discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools, President Joe Biden addressed the LGBTQ+ community, and particularly children who may be affected, to stress his support for them. Transgender rights issues are reported by other news outlets.

CNN:Biden Tells LGBTQ Children 'You Are Loved And Accepted Just As You Are' After Florida Advances 'Don't Say Gay' BillPresident Joe Biden on Tuesday took the rare step of weighing in on a controversial Florida bill that would ban certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, telling LGBTQ kids that he has their back. "I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve," Biden tweeted Tuesday evening. (Vazquez and Contorno, 2/9)

NBC News:White House Condemns Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' BillLast month, a Florida House committee passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, which supporters say is about protecting parents’ ability to be in charge of their children’s upbringing, while critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay“ bill, arguing that it would prevent teachers from talking about LGBTQ issues. On Tuesday, a Senate committee passed a nearly identical version of the House bill, and on the same day, Gov. Ron DeSantis signaled support for the bill, saying it is “entirely inappropriate” for teachers to be having conversations with students about gender identity. He stopped short of saying he would sign the bill. (Yurcaba, 2/9)

In other news about transgender health care and discrimination —

Roll Call:Proposed Insurance Rule Ignites Debate Over Transgender Health CarePrivate insurance companies, patient advocacy groups and conservative organizations are at odds over a proposal to limit discrimination by health plans for medical care for transgender people and other LGBTQ consumers. The Biden administration, Democratic lawmakers and advocates say the proposal is essential for ensuring that LGBTQ people can access care, but some private insurers say the policy could drive up costs and the language describing what counts as discrimination is too vague. Meanwhile, conservative advocacy groups argue there is no clinical evidence for covering care that affirms the gender the consumer identifies with, such as hormone blockers or surgery. (Cohen, 2/9)

Montgomery Advertiser:Alabama Senate Committee Approves Criminalizing Transgender HealthcareMonroe Smith wanted the senators to understand that his gender transition was a long process and one that made him a success. Speaking in opposition to a bill to ban medical treatments for transgender individuals on Wednesday, Smith, a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, described a "slow and steady process" involving rounds of counseling and parental consultation before any medical treatments began."Not once in this process," he said, "did he or his family ever feel pressured to engage in the treatments." (Lyman, 2/9)

AP:Bill Would Ban Hormone Treatment For Transgender Minors A legislative committee has advanced a proposal that would prohibit transgender minors from being treated with puberty-blockers, hormone treatment or surgery to affirm their gender identity. The Senate Health Committee advanced the bill, which would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a doctor to prescribe puberty-blockers or hormones or perform surgery to aid in the gender transition of people 18 years old or younger. The bill now moves to the full Alabama Senate. (Chandler, 2/10)

Argus Leader:South Dakota Senate Committee Kills Anti-Transgender Bathroom BillThe Senate Judiciary committee killed a bill Tuesday night that would have segregated school facilities by sex assigned at birth, effectively preventing transgender students from using the facilities that match their gender identity. House Bill 1005 had passed in the House on a 38-29 vote last week, and passed in the House State Affairs committee last Monday on a 7-5 vote with one lawmaker excused. (Matzen, 2/8)

AP:Indiana Transgender Athlete Ban Draws Increasing Pushback A Republican-backed bill that would ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports that match their gender identity drew hours of testimony at the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday as lawmakers considered whether to move the legislation forward. Legislators in the Senate education committee weighed the ban after the House advanced the bill last month, largely along party lines. Senators did not vote on the measure, but a committee vote could take place next week. (2/9)

Also —

Bloomberg:TikTok Tightens Hate Speech Rules To Bar Transphobic Deadnaming, MisgenderingTikTok is changing its definition of hate speech to include deadnaming and misgendering, part of an overhaul of the video app’s community guidelines aimed at rooting out transphobia and other harmful behavior. The ByteDance Ltd.-owned platform also tightened its rules to bar videos that promote conversion therapy — attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity — as well as eating disorders and dangerous trends such as “suicide hoaxes.” (Ceron, 2/9)

NBC News:Texas GOP Candidate 'Not Comfortable' Around Transgender ChildrenA Texas Republican candidate and former teacher said transgender children make her uncomfortable and questioned why other kids should be punished for making fun of them. When asked Saturday how she would enact conservative priorities in a divided state Legislature, Shelley Luther — a candidate for the Texas House of Representatives — smeared trans children and tied her discomfort around them with her support for “school choice.” (Lavietes, 2/9)

State Watch

Living In The South In 2019 Meant A Shorter Life Expectancy

A CDC report says the majority of states with lowest life expectancies were in the South. Mississippi had the lowest of all: 74.4 years. In other news, Georgia advanced a bill banning mailed abortion pills; UCLA settled a physician sexual abuse lawsuit for $243.6 million; and more.

NBC News:Mississippi Had Lowest Life Expectancy In U.S. In 2019, While Hawaii's Was HighestThe majority of U.S. states with the lowest life expectancies in 2019 were in the South, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published Thursday. The report, from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, ranked all 50 states and Washington, D.C., in order of residents' life expectancies in the year before the pandemic took hold. The results showed that Mississippi had the country's lowest life expectancy, at 74.4 years, which was significantly below the national average of 78.8. Hawaii, meanwhile, had the highest: 80.9 years. (Fieldstadt, 2/10)

In abortion news from Georgia —

AP:Georgia Bill Banning Abortion Pills By Mail Advances Georgia Republicans advanced a bill Wednesday that would ban the delivery of abortion pills by mail and require women to be examined by a physician in person before the pills are dispensed. The state Senate’s health and human services committee voted 7-5 in favor of the legislation after an expedited hearing that drew abortion opponents and supporters. The bill would still need approval from the state Senate and House before it could become law. (Thanawala, 2/9)

In other news from across the U.S. —

Modern Healthcare:UCLA Settles Physician Sexual Abuse Lawsuits For $243.6MThe University of California, Los Angeles, has agreed to a $243.6 million settlement covering 50 cases involving alleged sexual abuse by a gynecologist the academic institution employed for decades. According accusations by 203 women who sued the university in state court, Dr. James Heaps committed numerous acts of sexual abuse and misconduct during his time at UCLA Health and the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center from the 1980s through 2018. UCLA announced the settlement Tuesday. (Devereaux, 2/9)

Health News Florida:House Panel Advances Measure That Would Modify Staffing Standards For Nursing Homes As nursing homes grapple with a worker shortage, Florida lawmakers began moving forward Tuesday with revamping staffing standards for the facilities. The House Finance & Facilities Subcommittee approved a bill (HB 1239) that supporters say would provide more flexibility to nursing homes in meeting changing needs of residents. The Senate Health Policy Committee will take up the Senate version of the bill (SB 804) on Thursday. “It gives the flexibility needed to provide person-centered care,” House sponsor Lauren Melo, R-Naples, said. “Direct care staffing would expand to include a broad mix of highly skilled, licensed and certified staff members.” (Saunders, 2/9)

WUSF Public Media:A Senate Committee Advances Ladapo's Confirmation As Florida's Surgeon General State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo drew more heat Tuesday from Democrats over his views on COVID-19, while landing support from Republicans as his confirmation heads to the Senate floor. After Democrats peppered him with questions for nearly two hours and said he was part of the politicization of the pandemic, the Republican-controlled Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 5-4 along party lines to back Ladapo’s confirmation. Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, called the Democrats’ questioning “hazing and badgering” and praised Ladapo for maintaining his composure. (Turner, 2/9)

The CT Mirror:Gov. Lamont Proposes $160 Million For New Mental Health ServicesNew psychiatric beds and other services for children spearheaded a list of mental health investments in the $24.2 billion budget Gov. Ned Lamont unveiled Wednesday. The administration, which recommended $160 million in new behavioral health funding, did not propose any major increase for the community-based nonprofits that provide the bulk of Connecticut’s social services. And while key leaders on the legislature’s budget, health and insurance committees ranged from cautious to hopeful in their assessments of Lamont’s plan, the state’s largest health care workers’ union charged that the governor failed to respond to a growing crisis. (Phaneuf and Carlesso, 2/9)

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:Wausau Water Wells Test Above Wisconsin Standards For PFAS LevelsAll of the municipal drinking water wells in Wausau have tested above recommended state standards for "forever chemicals," officials announced Wednesday. According to a news release from the Wausau Water Works, all six of the city's drinking water wells tested between 23 parts per trillion and 48 parts per trillion. The state's recommended standards are 20 parts per trillion. The Water Works serves 16,000 customers in the Wausau area, which is home to just under 40,000 residents. (Schulte, 2/9)

KHN:Skirmish Between Biden And Red States Over Medicaid Leaves Enrollees In The Balance When Republican-led states balked at expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s administration tossed them a carrot — allowing several to charge monthly premiums to newly eligible enrollees. Republicans pushed for the fees to give Medicaid recipients “skin in the game” — the idea they would value their coverage more — and to make the government program resemble employer-based insurance. But with studies showing that the fees led to fewer low-income adults signing up for coverage and fewer reenrolling, the Biden administration is moving to eliminate them. (Galewitz and Miller, 2/10)

In news about marijuana laws —

AP:SC Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Bill, House Up Next South Carolina senators Wednesday approved the use of medical marijuana in the state on a 28-15 vote that finished a Republican senator’s seven-year quest to pass the proposal, but the legislation still has some hurdles to pass to become law. The proposal had both bipartisan support and opposition in the Republican-dominated Senate. Seventeen Republicans voted for the bill and 10 opposed it. It faces one more routine vote before going to the House where it has never been taken up on the floor. (Collins, 2/10)

Columbus Dispatch:Odds Of Legalizing Marijuana In Ohio Through Legislature Even SlimmerThe slim chances of legalizing marijuana through the GOP-controlled Ohio Legislature just got even slimmer. Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he doesn't support the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol's effort to legalize marijuana and won't bring it to a vote in his chamber. "I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position," Huffman said. "I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it." (Balmert, 2/9)

Global Watch

Omicron Covid Spreading Quickly Across Tonga

Tonga had been almost entirely free of covid, but is now seeing community spread driven by omicron and the complexities of recovery after a volcanic eruption. Meanwhile, in the U.K. — despite relatively high infection rates — most remaining covid restrictions will be dropped.

AP:Tonga's Virus Outbreak Growing Rapidly; Omicron Confirmed Coronavirus cases continue to rise rapidly in Tonga, and tests have confirmed that the particularly contagious omicron variant is behind the isolated Pacific island nation’s first community outbreak since the start of the pandemic, officials said Thursday. Health Minister Saia Piukala told reporters that 31 more people had tested positive for the virus, nearly doubling Tonga’s active cases for the second day in a row to a total of 64, the online Matangi Tonga news portal and other media reported. (Rising, 2/10)

In other global news about the coronavirus —

Axios:Boris Johnson Signals Early End To U.K. COVID Restrictions U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined a plan Wednesday to end England's remaining domestic coronavirus restrictions — including the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive — later this month. Though COVID-19 cases have fallen since January, they remain "relatively high," CNN reported. The country lifted many of its COVID-19 restrictions last July, and last month lifted its testing requirement for fully vaccinated people arriving in England. Last month, the government indicated that remaining domestic restrictions would lift on March 24, when the current rules lapsed, the Guardian reported. (Saric, 2/9)

Reuters:COVAX Cuts N.Korea's COVID Vaccine Allotment After No Deliveries Accepted The COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing programme has scaled back the number of doses allocated for North Korea, international aid organisations said, as the country has so far failed to arrange for any shipments. A website dashboard maintained by the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, shows the number of doses earmarked for North Korea now stands at 1.54 million, down from as many as 8.11 million last year. (Smith, 2/10)

AP:South Korea To Roll Out Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine Next Week South Korea will begin offering Novavax Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine at hospitals, nursing homes and public health centers next week, officials said, adding another tool to fight a fast-developing omicron surge. The country reported a record 54,122 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, a 12-fold increase from daily levels seen in mid-January, when omicron first became the country’s dominant strain. (Tong-Hyung, 2/10)

The Washington Post:Mexico City Gave Ivermectin To Thousands Of Covid Patients. Officials Face An Ethics BacklashAs the coronavirus coursed through Mexico City early last year, ravaging neighborhoods and overwhelming hospitals, local officials made an unusual decision. They gave out tens of thousands of medical kits to covid-19 patients containing ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medication. ... Now city authorities are facing a backlash. A U.S.-based academic site that had posted their paper, SocArXiv, withdrew it last Friday, charging it was “promoting an unproved medical treatment in the midst of a global pandemic.” The site accused city officials of bad science and unethical behavior — in effect, of using citizens like rats in a giant laboratory experiment, without their consent. (Sheridan, 2/9)

In Olympics updates —

AP:What Is Trimetazidine? A Look At The Drug Behind Russia's Olympic Skating CaseThe medication trimetazidine is a metabolic agent that helps prevent angina attacks and treats the symptoms of vertigo, according to the European Union’s medicines agency. It can increase blood flow efficiency and improve endurance — both crucial to any high-end athletic performance. It is on the prohibited list managed by the World Anti-Doping Agency in the category of “hormone and metabolic modulators.” (Dunbar, 2/10)

Health Policy Research

Research Roundup: Covid; Diabetes; Neonate Thrombosis

Each week, KHN compiles a selection of recently released health policy studies and briefs.

Nature Medicine:Long-Term Cardiovascular Outcomes Of COVID-19 The cardiovascular complications of acute coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are well described, but the post-acute cardiovascular manifestations of COVID-19 have not yet been comprehensively characterized. Here we used national healthcare databases from the US Department of Veterans Affairs to build a cohort of 153,760 individuals with COVID-19, as well as two sets of control cohorts with 5,637,647 (contemporary controls) and 5,859,411 (historical controls) individuals, to estimate risks and 1-year burdens of a set of pre-specified incident cardiovascular outcomes. (Xie, et al, 2/7)

The Lancet:Data-Driven Subgroups Of Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolic Response, And Renal Risk Profile After Bariatric Surgery: A Retrospective Cohort Study A novel data-driven classification of type 2 diabetes has been proposed to personalise anti-diabetic treatment according to phenotype. One subgroup, severe insulin-resistant diabetes (SIRD), is characterised by mild hyperglycaemia but marked hyperinsulinaemia, and presents an increased risk of diabetic nephropathy. We hypothesised that patients with SIRD could particularly benefit from metabolic surgery. (Raverdy, M.D., 2/8)

The Lancet:Risk Factors Associated With Venous And Arterial Neonatal Thrombosis In The Intensive Care Unit: A Multicentre Case-Control Study Critically ill infants are susceptible to thrombosis due to several risk factors. The aim of this study was to identify risk factors associated with venous and arterial thrombosis in neonates admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and to identify differences in risk factors for venous versus arterial thrombosis. (Bhat, M.D., et al, 2/8)

Nature Medicine:Activity-Dependent Spinal Cord Neuromodulation Rapidly Restores Trunk And Leg Motor Functions After Complete Paralysis Epidural electrical stimulation (EES) targeting the dorsal roots of lumbosacral segments restores walking in people with spinal cord injury (SCI). However, EES is delivered with multielectrode paddle leads that were originally designed to target the dorsal column of the spinal cord. Here, we hypothesized that an arrangement of electrodes targeting the ensemble of dorsal roots involved in leg and trunk movements would result in superior efficacy, restoring more diverse motor activities after the most severe SCI. To test this hypothesis, we established a computational framework that informed the optimal arrangement of electrodes on a new paddle lead and guided its neurosurgical positioning. (Rowald, et al, 2/7)

ScienceDaily:A New Multipurpose On-Off Switch For Inhibiting Bacterial Growth Researchers have discovered an antitoxin mechanism that seems to be able to neutralize hundreds of different toxins and may protect bacteria against virus attacks. The mechanism has been named Panacea, after the Greek goddess of medicine whose name has become synonymous with universal cure. The understanding of bacterial toxin and antitoxin mechanisms will be crucial for the future success of so-called phage therapy for the treatment of antibiotic resistance infections, the researchers say. (Lund University, 2/8)

Nature Medicine:Time To Make Rare Disease Diagnosis Accessible To AllStudies have demonstrated the value of genomic analysis for the diagnosis of rare diseases, but accessibility is still in its infancy; global data sharing is needed to further advance our knowledge of all causes of rare disease. (Rehm, 2/7)

ScienceDaily:Genetically Informed Atlases Reveal New Landscapes In Brain StructureAn international team of scientists has used atlases of the human brain informed by genetics to identify hundreds of genomic loci. Loci is plural for locus, and in genetics indicates the physical location of a gene or variant on a chromosome. (University of California - San Diego, 2/7)

Also —

ScienceDaily:Important Step Towards Fasting-Based Therapies Voluntary fasting, for example interval fasting, is beneficial to health for many people, depending on their individual condition. For example, controlled periods of starvation can prevent and improve diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Researchers have now found that the immune system plays an important role in ensuring the positive effects of fasting on our bodies. The new findings will help develop more effective therapies based on fasting. (Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen - German Research Center For Environmental Health, 2/8)

Editorials And Opinions

Different Takes: What Have We Learned About Covid?; Is It Time To Stop Masking?

Opinion writers examine these covid topics.

Stat:Covid-19 Challenge Trial Results Can Inform New Vaccines, TherapiesResults from the world’s first Covid-19 challenge trial are (finally) in: In the study, which was conducted by Imperial College London and hVIVO at the Royal Free Hospital in London, each of the 36 participants had drops of fluid containing a tiny amount of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, placed in their nostrils. Eighteen became infected, as confirmed by PCR testing, 16 of whom showed symptoms. The data, published in a preprint that has not yet been peer-reviewed, showed intriguing aspects of the virus’ progression, and all 36 participants finished the study healthy. (Josh Morrison, 2/9)

The New York Times:When Can Masks Come Off For Covid? Policymakers need to be humble about what we don’t know, especially with Covid-19. The first Covid-19 strategy document I wrote, in April 2020, for Bill de Blasio when he was New York’s mayor had multiple pages devoted to metrics for when to relax or tighten restrictions — such as mask mandates — for offices, restaurants, sporting events and more. But I’m just as perplexed now as I was almost two years ago about the best metrics to use to monitor the pandemic and how to use them to trigger actions that slow the spread. (Jay K. Varma, 2/9)

Bloomberg:More States Should Drop School Mask Mandates For Children So far, four states — Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon — have announced that they’ll do away with requirements that K-12 students and teachers wear masks at school. Others may soon follow suit. It’s time. To be clear: There’s evidence that masks may have been useful in blocking Covid infections in schools. A recent study conducted in two large Arizona counties found that outbreaks were more prevalent in schools that did not require masks than they were in those that did. This is one reason that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — in contrast with the World Health Organization — has recommended indoor masking for all students and teachers at K-12 schools, regardless of age or community transmission levels. (2/9)

Viewpoints: Making Menopause More Manageable; The Reason Behind Increased Autism Diagnoses

Editorial writers tackle these public health issues.

Bloomberg:Menopause: Over-The-Counter HRT Is Women's Health Revolution Like Birth Control When the BBC reflected on the 50 things that made the modern economy a few years back, of course it included the pill. Oral contraception ushered in a revolution some 60 years ago that freed women to plan their lives. It meant many could enroll in graduate programs and pursue professional careers, raising long-term income levels and spurring far-reaching economic change. There is no obvious equivalent today. And yet a new move in Britain to address inequalities in health care could prove almost as revolutionary for women — and for a country that, like many others, is experiencing slowing long-term growth trends and an aging population that is living longer. (Therese Raphael, 2/10)

Stat:There's No Autism Epidemic. It's An Autism Diagnosis Epidemic Is there an autism epidemic? No. The increase in the autism rate recently reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention represent an autism diagnosis epidemic. Writing in the weekly journal MMWR, CDC researchers reported that autism rates in the United States increased from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 54 in 2016, and the rate now stands at 1 in 44 children. Some argue that autism’s prevalence is rising because of environmental causes like vaccines. There is no evidence, though, for that explanation. Others argue that the rate is increasing because of the rising age of parents, especially fathers. This doesn’t explain the whole story, however, as increased paternal age accounts for only about 3% of the increase. I believe that the rise in the autism rate is social, not biological. It’s not that more children are developing symptoms of autism, but multifaceted sociological and political factors are increasing the diagnoses and documentation of this condition. (Rachel Burr Gerrard, 2/10)

The Boston Globe:My Miscarriage Was Crushing. Overturning Roe Could Make The Ordeal Even WorseWe recently celebrated the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling protecting women’s reproductive rights. Not a radical idea, but like any issue tied to women’s equality, autonomy, and economic power, it has been under attack since the beginning. So now, the question is, will Roe make it to 50? Abortion is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to access for millions of Americans, especially low-income people and people of color. In Texas, abortion is all but outlawed, and there is a bounty for citizens who successfully sue anyone who has helped a woman get an abortion. (Katherine Clark, 2/10)

Stat:The U.S. Needs To Use A Better Measure Of Health To Set Wise Policy When decisions are driven by data, it matters what the data are and, more importantly, what they measure. The metric can become an organization’s mission, influence a policy’s objectives and goals, and steer a government’s programs or projects. A correct measure is incredibly powerful. Measuring what matters is supposedly what built Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A poor measure can be catastrophic, such as use of the “body count” to track the progress of the Vietnam War, which many have argued gave a false impression of what was happening on the ground, misled leaders, and prolonged the fighting. (Eric Coles and K. "Vish" Viswanath, 2/10)

Columbus Dispatch:What Can Be Done To Help First Responders Care For Dementia PatientsSix in 10 people with dementia will wander. When it happens, a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia may not remember his or her name or address — and they can become disoriented, even in familiar places. They could be driving a car. They could be walking down the street. They could be in a shopping center, confused about where they are trying to go and how to get there. (Trey Addison, 2/5)

Stat:Achieving 'Distant Presence' During Virtual Visits Oxymorons can elicit laughs: think jumbo shrimp or working vacation. But as a physician who works to advance virtual care, I’ve been thinking about a serious one that applies to virtual visits: distant presence. Early in the pandemic, I am leading a Zoom meeting, but no one is participating. Ironically, we are discussing — or, perhaps more accurately, I am discussing — how to optimize the doctor video visits we’d quickly rolled out. I feel tired of hearing my voice and fed up with web conferences. One silver lining: no one can see the comfortable gym shorts I’m wearing with my Zoom shirt. (Spencer Dorn, 2/9)

Modern Healthcare:Saving Lives One Kidney At A Time: A Reflection On Six Decades Of Transplantation When I started my medical career in nephrology in the late 1960s, the best treatment we offered patients with end-stage kidney disease was dialysis. Kidney transplantation once required special approval by hospital administration, but is now a standard of care. In 2020 alone, my colleagues and I at AdventHealth Orlando collectively performed 180 kidney transplants. (Dr. Robert Metzger, 2/9)

Bloomberg:Biden's War On Cancer Needs To Focus On Containment, Not Victory President Joe Biden did not use the word “war” to describe his plans for a “cancer moonshot” that aims to “end cancer as we know it.” But his announcement last week quickly drew comparisons to the program launched by President Richard Nixon a little over 50 years ago — known universally as the “war on cancer.” The new initiative also promises to bring the power of the federal government to bear on the deadly disease. Not to be outdone, the British also announced their own “national war on cancer” this past week. (Stephen Mihm, 2/9)