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Biden’s ‘Pandemic Is Over’ Comment Comes Back to Haunt Him as He Seeks $10 Billion in New COVID Funding
Key Republicans in the House and Senate are signaling opposition to President Biden’s request for another $10 billion in funding to battle COVID, a request Biden made two months after he declared “the pandemic is over.”
The White House said this week that while COVID is “no longer the disruptive force it was” a few years ago, new subvariants of the virus are still a threat. Its letter to outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said additional funding is needed to help the U.S. “stay prepared in the face of an unpredictable virus.”
“That is why we are requesting funding to help prepare for a possible winter surge, smooth the path to commercialization for vaccines and therapeutics, accelerate research and treatment for long COVID and develop next-generation vaccines and treatments,” the White House Office of Management and Budget wrote to Pelosi. The White House wants $9 billion to fight COVID domestically and another $1 billion to help other countries keep COVID at bay.
But after trillions of dollars of spending on emergency COVID relief that many blame for high inflation, Republicans are saying enough is enough.
As Few Decide to Get COVID Booster, White House Makes Year-End Vaccine Push
With a small percentage of Americans getting COVID-19 boosters ahead of the holidays, the White House announced several initiatives aimed at getting Americans boosted. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, just 11.3% of Americans ages 5 and up have gotten a COVID-19 booster.
Among the initiatives, the White House will provide community health centers with $350 million in funds to “use for mobile, drive-up, walk-up, or community-based vaccination events, partnerships with community and faith-based organizations for vaccination activities, raising awareness of the updated shot, and more.”
An additional $125 million will be targeted toward seniors “to help local aging and disability networks hold vaccination events at senior and community centers; build up confidence in the vaccine; educate people about the risks of COVID-19.”
While officials indicated they were hopeful more Americans would get booster shots as the holidays approach, it appears if anything, few are seeking booster shots this month. As of the start of the month, about 8% of the U.S. population over the age of 5 had a booster shot.
Pfizer CEO Claims 400% Price Hike on COVID Vaccines Will Be ‘Free’
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla claimed at a news event last week that the company’s COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be “free to all Americans,” despite the company’s plan to raise the price of the vaccine roughly 400% — a price difference that will be picked up by health insurers.
The company said in October that it plans to raise the price of a dose of its COVID-19 vaccine from about $30 to somewhere between $110 and $130 as it moves the shots to the commercial market next year. Until now, all COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. have been bought by the U.S. government, which paid $30.48 per dose in its latest vaccine supply agreement from June. The U.S. government had previously paid $24 per dose in July 2021 and $19.50 per dose in July 2020. The government offered all the doses to Americans for free.
“Americans will see no difference,” he said, according to Stat News, which hosted the event. The vaccine will “be free for them to get, regardless of the insurance they have.”
But outsiders were quick to point out flaws in that statement. For one, it would seem that the shots would no longer be free for those without insurance. Moreover, for those with insurance, the lack of out-of-pocket costs at the time of vaccination does not mean that the price hike is free. The hiked price will be absorbed by health insurance companies, which may pass on the extra cost in the form of higher premiums.
White House Touts Omicron-Specific Boosters Ahead of Feared Winter COVID Wave
The White House on Tuesday announced a six-week push ahead of the winter travel season to increase booster uptake in seniors, minority communities and rural areas — all of which have disproportionately suffered severe disease and death during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biden administration has faced growing frustration over its bivalent booster rollout. The United States spent nearly $5 billion to purchase 171 million bivalent boosters from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and Moderna. But efforts to market the shots to the American public have been limited and booster uptake has remained sluggish since it was approved on Aug. 31. The CDC estimates that only about 11% of people 5 and older have received a bivalent booster.
The new CDC study represents the first published estimates of efficacy based on real-world data for the bivalent booster shots. Previous studies have measured whether the bivalent vaccines increase the levels of virus-blocking antibodies in people’s blood.
It confirmed the importance of getting a new shot to boost immunity against the coronavirus as it continues to evolve and produce immune-evading variants but shows that the Omicron-specific boosters appear to offer only a modest increase in protection against infection compared to previous shots.
Fauci Makes Final Appearance in White House Briefing Room
Chief medical adviser to the president Anthony Fauci made his final appearance in the White House briefing room Tuesday as he retires from his role in the administration.
The longtime health official has worked under seven presidents, serving 54 years with the National Institutes of Health and 38 years as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. But he surged to popularity as one of the leaders of the pandemic response during the Trump administration.
However, his guidance on masks and vaccines has drawn criticism and attacks from conservative lawmakers and officials including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who he frequently sparred with during Senate hearings.
In his final message from the briefing room, he also urged Americans to get vaccinated and boosted.
U.S. Supreme Court Rebuffs Dispute Over Nursing Home COVID Suits
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear California nursing home operator Glenhaven Healthcare’s bid to avoid a lawsuit filed in state court over the COVID-19 death of a resident, turning away the company’s effort to move the case into federal court to gain immunity from such litigation.
The justices rebuffed Glenhaven Healthcare’s appeal of a lower court’s ruling allowing the family of deceased resident Ricardo Saldana to proceed with the lawsuit in a California state court.
Saldana died in 2020 at age 77 at a nursing home operated by Glenhaven Healthcare in Glendale, California. His family sued the company, accusing it of elder abuse, willful misconduct, negligence and wrongful death.
Adam Pulver, a lawyer for the family, said he hoped the decision would lead the nursing home industry to give up the “delay tactic” of trying to move lawsuits related to COVID-19 into federal courts, and “allow families to have their day in court.”
Inside the Mind of an Anti-Paxxer
Paxlovid is a paradoxlovid. The game-changing antiviral swooped in during the pandemic’s worst winter with the promise of slowing COVID deaths to a trickle. But since it became widely available this spring, death rates have hardly budged. According to the White House, the problem is not the drug but the fact that too few people are taking it.
A recent CDC report found that from April to July, less than one-third of America’s 80-plus-year-olds with COVID ended up taking Paxlovid, even though they had the most to gain from doing so.
What gives? Some Americans may be having trouble accessing Paxlovid, but clearly, a significant proportion of patients and doctors are just saying no to antiviral drugs. There are no national statistics on Paxlovid refusal, so I talked with physicians around the country to learn more about their motivations. Who are the anti-Paxxers, and how dangerous is their dogma?
Rebound COVID came up again and again when I asked doctors why their patients are hesitant to take Paxlovid. The link between the drug and a return of symptoms after an initial recovery has been the subject of much concern and debate since the spring; just last week, researchers reported in a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed that symptom rebound is more than twice as common among Paxlovid takers than among those who decline it.
The fact that so many prominent figures in the federal government — including President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci — have now had rebound certainly doesn’t help inspire confidence.
Senators Call for Release of COVID Vaccine Agreements
The senators will lodge the motion on Nov. 22, 2022, for the current Labor health minister to release agreements with Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Novavax, including details on vaccine efficacy, side effects and supply of the jab.
Further, the motion will ask for documents outlining any “indemnity, guarantee, waiver or release of liability” provided by the Australian government to pharmaceutical companies.
Japan to Grant Emergency Approval to Shionogi COVID Drug
Japan on Friday said it would grant emergency approval to Japanese drugmaker Shionogi & Co Ltd’s (4507.T) COVID-19 drug, making it the first domestically developed oral drug for patients with mild symptoms.
Regulators in Japan had previously denied emergency approval for the Shionogi pill, saying they wanted to see more data on its effectiveness. There were also concerns the drug could pose risk to pregnancies, based on results from animal studies.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato announced the decision on the oral drug, known as Ensitrelvir, after approval was granted by a health ministry panel. The company has signed an agreement to sell about a million doses to the government, pending the drug’s approval.