The Biden-Harris Administration has put in effort to make it easier for people to receive the health care they need. There is an emphasis on making sure that minority and/or vulnerable groups of people are protected. This is a huge difference from the Trump-Pence Administration, that greatly restricted access to health care.
In this blog post, I have provided a collection of information about what the Biden-Harris Administration did regarding access to health care. This includes physical and mental health care. I also included information from outside of the Administration.
February 1, 2021 – February 28, 2021
February 1, 2021: Center for Reproductive Rights posted News titled: “Biden Administration Rescinds Global Gag Rule”. From the News:
President Joseph Biden has rescinded the “Global Gag Rule” – a devastating anti-abortion policy that has undermined the health and rights of women around the world. The rule denied funding for foreign organizations providing abortion information or services.
The president took the action as part of a series of executive orders aimed to improve access to affordable health care in the U.S. and around the world. Other measures included reopening the Health Insurance Marketplace, taking steps to restore Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and directing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider rescinding regulations that limited the Title X family planning program.
“Today the Biden Administration took an important first step towards righting the Trump administration’s tremendous wrongs impacting access to reproductive health, rights, and justice,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “In revoking the Global Gag Rule and acting to rescind the Domestic Gag Rule, President Biden is stopping policies that were intended to force reproductive health centers, in the U.S., and around the world, to stop providing and referring for abortion services.”…
…What has been the Global Gag Rule’s impact?
The Gag Rule’s impacts have been many: It has decreased access to abortion care and information as well as to contraceptive care. It has interfered in the patient-provider relationship and caused cuts to family planning programs. It has silenced advocates of reproductive health and rights and reduced community outreach by health workers…
…In imposing the policy, the U.S. also abdicated its important role in advancing human rights, while infringing on other nations’ sovereignty. The Gag Rule undermines the U.S.’s commitments to international health and rights initiatives such as the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The rule also infringes on many of the human rights enumerated in international human rights treaties, including the rights to health, life, information, privacy, and equality. As the Center’s report notes, “Denying women access to services only needed by women, such as abortion, is a form of discrimination against women.”..
…The U.S. is the world’s largest single donor to global health efforts. many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) depend on U.S. funding – to the tune of some $12 billion per year, according to a March 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – and thus have been forced to comply with the Gag Rule. But many health care organizations opted to decline U.S. funding rather than comply. The GAO documented 54 such organization which were then forced to reduce programs that worked to improve health outcomes in countries around the world.
Along with family planning and reproductive health, many organizations impacted by the rule provide services pertaining to HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, nutrition, water and sanitation, and maternal and child health care among other service. By forcing a choice between denial of funding or a reduced scope of care, the rule has resulted in increases in maternal deaths, unsafe abortions, and incidents of HIV and AIDS, as well as the breakdown of coalitions and partnerships that provide reproductive health care in poor and rural regions.
Rescinding the harmful Global Gag Rule is a vital first step in restoring the U.S.’s commitment to the health and human rights of women and girls around the world.Center for Reproductive Rights
February 1, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Pelosi, Schumer File Joint FY2021 Budget Resolution to Give Congress Additional Legislative Tool to Pass Urgently-Needed COVID Relief”. From the Press Release:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer today announced they have filed a joint budget resolution for Fiscal Year 2021 that gives Congress an additional legislative tool to pass the urgently-needed bipartisan COVID relief legislation that enacts President Biden’s comprehensive American Rescue Plan which helps defeat the virus and provide workers and families the resources they need to survive the pandemic while the vaccine is distributed to every American.
Introduction of a joint budget resolution is the first step to potentially enacting a Budget Reconciliation bill, one legislative tool available to Congress to quickly pass bipartisan COVID relief legislation. The Resolution outlines the “reconciliation instructions” for each House and Senate committee, or how much can be spent in their jurisdiction. If both the House and the Senate pass identical Budget Resolutions (which do not require a Presidential signature), both chambers can begin work on the Reconciliation bill that is signed by the President. According to an analysis of research from the Congressional Research Service, reconciliation bills have been passed by the Senate on a bipartisan basis 17 times in recent years, including to pass the bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997…
Specifically, the Joint Budget Resolution Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer filed offers instructions to the relevant Congressional Committees to provide relief including but not limited to:
- Immediate relief for individuals and families throughout 2021 including $1,400 per-person and per-child direct payments, an extension of Unemployment Insurance programs through September 2021 with a $400/week federal enhancement and $350 billion in critical state, local, Tribal, and territorial fiscal relief. The resolution would also provide funds to greatly increase health care coverage to Americans that have lost it through no fault of their own during the pandemic.
- Funding to help defeat the coronavirus including through support for vaccines, testing and public health programs. It also includes funding to help K-12 schools safely re-open and provides cricial support for the child care system.
- Relief funds for the millions of Americans struggling to make rent and mortgage payments, as well as those experiencing homelessness. The resolution also includes funding for transit agencies deeply impacted by the pandemic and support for the use of the Defense Production Act to expand domestic production of supplies critical to beating the coronavirus.
- Additional relief for our nation’s small businesses and hard-hit industries through increased funding for EIDL Advance grants, the creation of a dedicated grant relief program for restaurants, expanded PPP assistance for nonprofits and digital media services, more funds for Save Our Stages grants to independent live venues, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions and new community navigator technical assistance to help connect underserved communities.
- Funding for crucial unvestments in broadband and distance learning and relief for Amtrak and the aviation sector struggling with declining revenues and volumes due to COVID-19.
- Funding for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund to ramp up the President’s national vaccination program and provide flexible, targeted assistance to state, local, Tribal, territorial and the District of Columbia governments, as well as those individuals hit hardest by the pandemic.
- Support for hungry families through programs like SNAP, WIC, and Pandemic-EBT. This also includes critical funding for the food supply chain and the Agricultural Depatment’s lending and financial assistance programs to support farmers across the country.
- Health care and other support to meet the needs of veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. These funds will support vaccine distribution, expanded mental health care, enhanced telehealth capabilities, extended support for veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, PPE and suppliesfor clinical employees, and improved supply chain management.
- Critical funding for the Indian Health Service, Administration for Native Americans, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Indian Education and Native American housing programs to maintain essential health, education and social services and mitigate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native communities.
- Funding to the Economic Development Administration and environmental justice grants to help low-income, minority communities who have been hardest hit by COVID.
- Funding for critical programs to aid in the global response to and recovery from the pandemic. These instructions include significant funding for humanitarian assistance and Global Health programs.
February 2, 2021: The White House posted a FACT SHEET titled: “President Biden Announces Increased Vaccine Supply, Initial Launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, and Expansion of FEMA to Reimbursement to States”. From the FACT SHEET:
As the U.S. surpasses 26 million COVID-19 infections, President Biden took additional steps today to implement his comprehensive National Strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. These steps include increasing the vaccine supply to states, Tribes, and territories and increasing funding to jurisdictions to help turn vaccines into vaccinations. And, the President announced that starting next week, the first phase of the federal pharmacy program will launch and select pharmacies nationwide will start offering vaccinations for their communities
These new steps will help meet the President’s goal of administering 100 million shots in 100 days and expand access to vaccines to more Americans in the coming weeks.
The President is taking the following actions today:
Expanding Vaccine Supply: Building on last week’s announcement, the Biden-Harris Administration will increase overall, weekly vaccine supply to states, Tribes, and territories to 10.5 million doses nationwide beginning this week. This is a 22% increase since taking office on January 20. The Administration is committing to maintaining this as the minimum supply level for the next three weeks, and we will continue to work with manufacturers in their efforts to ramp up supply.
Launching First Phase of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination: As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines, starting on February 11, those eligible for the vaccine will have the opportunity to be vaccinated at select pharmacies across the country through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. This program is a public-private partnership with 21 national pharmacy partners and networks of independent pharmacies representing over 40,000 pharmacy locations nationwide… …It is a key component of the Administration’s National Strategy to expand equitable access to vaccines for the American public.
As the first phase of this program launches, select retail pharmacies nationwide will receive limited vaccine supply to vaccinate priority groups at no cost. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked with states to select initial pharmacy partners based on a number of factors including their ability to reach some of the populations most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Americans should check their pharmacy’s website to find out if vaccine is available as supply will be limited in the initial phase. More information is available at cdc.gov/covid19.
Increasing Reimbursements to States: Central to the Biden-Harris Administration’s COVID-19 National Strategy is ensuring states, Tribes, territories, and jurisdictions have the resources they need to defeat the virus. That’s why, in his second day in office, President Biden directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fully reimburse states for the cost of National Guard Personnel and emergency costs. Today, President Biden is announcing that the administration will go even further, retroactively reimbursing states for fully FEMA-eligible services – including masks, gloves, emergency feeding actions, sheltering at risk populations, and mobilization of the National Guard – back dated to the beginning of the pandemic in January of 2020. This reimbursement is estimated to total $3.5 billion and is only a small share of the resources to that states need to fight this pandemic – including for testing, genomic sequencing, and mass vaccination centers. To fully support states, Tribes, and territories’ needs to contain the pandemic and vaccinate their populations, President Biden is requesting $350 billion from Congress in American Rescue Plan…White House
February 2, 2021: Center for Reproductive Rights posted News titled: “Center Cheers Reintroduction of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act in U.S. Congress”. From the News:
The Center for Reproductive Rights joined partner organizations to support today’s reintroduction of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 – a package of 12 bills to advance inclusive and accessible maternal health care, especially for Black and Indigenous people who are most impacted by the U.S. maternal health crisis.
The Center was deeply involved in the coalition effort to create and advance the Momnibus, providing legal expertise, analysis, and technical assistance in crafting the legislation. Through its Maternal Health & Rights Initiative, the Center advocates for laws and policies to improve access to safe and respectful maternal health care, like the Momnibus.
“This bill package is critical and long overdue. It’s unacceptable that mothers in the U.S. are dying at the highest rate of any developed country, and those mothers are largely Black and Indigenous,” said Jennifer Jacoby, Federal Policy Council at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The Momnibus signals to Black and Indigenous birthing people that they will not be left behind any longer – not in this pandemic, not ever. Congress must act now to pass this much-needed legislation.”
The U.S. is facing a worsening maternal health crisis marked by high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity, especially for Black and Indigenous birthing people who experience far higher rates of pregnancy-related death and complications than their white counterparts.
The Momnibus of 2021 is being introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, including Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alma Adams (D-NC), and in the Senate by Cory Booker (D-NJ). The Momnibus was first introduced in 2020 with Vice President Kamala Harris as the lead sponsor in the Senate.
Maternal Health Crisis in the U.S.
The bills in the Momnibus and other maternal health legislation – like proposed bills requiring states to extend Medicaid coverage up to at least one year postpartum – seek to address racial disparities in maternal health care.
The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality ration in the developed world and is one of only 13 countries where maternal mortality is rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black and Indigenous women are approximately three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women and twice as likely to suffer from serious pregnancy complications.
The racial disparities in pregnancy outcomes are linked to discrimination and social and economic inequalities that Black and Indigenous birthing people are more likely to face, including poverty, structural racism, lack of access to health care, and implicit biases. Lack of basic health care services for people who are working to make ends meet contributes to this disparity particularly in states that have opted out of Medicaid expansion.
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting additional strain on the health care system and further exacerbating the U.S. maternal health care crisis. Pregnant people may be at greater risk for experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 and there is a growing concern that overburdened health systems have even less capacity to meet maternal health needs, especially in Black and Indigenous communities where people are experiencing much higher rates of severe COVID-19 infection and death…Center for Reproductive Rights
February 2, 2021: President Biden issued a Presidential Action titled: “Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans“. Here is a portion of the Executive Order:
…Sec. 4. Immediate Review of Agency Actions on Public Charge Inadmissibility.
The Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the heads of other relevant agencies, as appropriate, shall review all agency actions related to the implementation of the public charge ground of inadmissibility in section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8. U.S.C. 1182(a)(4), and the related ground of deportability in section 237(a)(5) of the INA, 8. U.S.C. 1227(a)(5). They shall, in considering the effects and implications of public charge policies, consult with the heads of relevant agencies, including the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
(a) This review should:
(i) consider and evaluate the current effects of these agency actions and the implications of their continued implementation in light of the policy set forth in section 1 of this order;
(ii) identify appropriate agency actions, if any, to address concerns about the current public charge policies’ effect on the integrity of the Nation’s immigration system and public health;and
(iii) recommend steps that relevant agencies should take to clearly communicate current public charge policies and proposed changes, if any, to reduce fear and confusion among impacted communities.
(b) Within 60 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall each submit a report to the President describing any agency actions identified pursuant to subsection (a)(ii) of this section and any steps their agencies intend to take or have taken, consistent with subsection (a)(iii) of this section…
What does this mean?
The short answer is, this section of this executive order is an attempt to remove the Trump Administration’s harmful public charge rule.
CBS News posted an article about it in February of 2020. The article was titled: “Trump’s controversial “public charge” rule takes effect, reshaping legal immigration”. The article was written by Camilo Montoya-Galvez. From the article:
The Trump administration on Monday began enforcing stringent income-based requirements for green cards and certain visas, instituting the most ambitious unilateral effort in recent history to change the nation’s legal immigration system.
After multiple legal barriers blocking the implementation of the new requirements were cleared by the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, most green card applicants in the U.S. and abroad will now be subjected to a redefined “public charge” test. Under the rules by the Departments of State and Homeland Security, immigration officials have more power to deny applications from petitioners they deem are, or could become, an economic burden on the country.
The sweeping policy change, one of the administration’s top immigration priorities, is expected to block the entry of hundreds of thousands of people, disproportionately affecting prospective immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America, according to experts….
…Under the new regulation, caseworkers would consider enrollment in the widely used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), certain federally funded Medicaid benefits and a variety of forms of government-subsidized housing, including the popular Section 8 vouchers.
Officials would deem an immigrant a “public charge” and deny the application if they determine he or she is more likely than not to use one of the considered benefits for 12 months or longer over the span of three years. On certain occasions, those deemed a “public charge” could post a bond for an amount no less than $8,100.
To determine whether prospective immigrants are likely to become a “public charge”, caseworkers would also take into account their income, assets, age, educational skills, English language proficiency, health and other factors. Since those expected to be affected by the rule are not eligible for most public benefits because they are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents, critics of the regulation say it is designed to severely restrict immigration based on those factors…CBS News
February 2, 2021: National Organization for Women (NOW) posted a Press Release titled: “NOW Calls for Boycott of South Carolina in Response to Abortion Ban. From the Press Release:
The National Organization for Women (NOW) has called for a boycott against the state of South Carolina in the wake of the state Senate passage of legislation that would ban abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected. The call is joined by the State President of NOW in South Carolina, Annette Bethel, and members of the Columbia NOW Chapter.
The Columbia Chapter of NOW, under the leadership of Bethel, won the bid in 2019 to host the National NOW Conference in Columbia in 2022. Bethel notes that a significant economic impact due to the loss of a national conference – and perhaps with other organizations and companies joining in the boycott – would be felt. NOW is the largest grassroots feminist activist organization in the country, with hundreds of chapters in every state and the District of Columbia, and with hundreds of thousands of members and contributing supporters.
The fetal heartbeat bill is designed to virtually ban abortion in the State of South Carolina – it is unconstitutional. Many women do not know they are pregnant when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected; this generally occurs between six and eight weeks after conception. The Legislation would also make it a felony crime if a doctor performs an abortion after a heartbeat has been detected, carrying with it a two-year prison sentence. Similar legislation in other states has been permanently enjoined or found unconstitutional. This bill, should it become law, in all likelihood will be challenged in court.
The South Carolina House is reported to be likely to approve the legislation and the Governor, a Republican, has vowed to sign it into law. A majority of Americans support abortion rights and have done so for decades. The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade protects access to abortion care as a matter of privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A woman may obtain an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy without government interference. Under Roe, the right to decide is classified as fundamental, requiring a standard of strict scrutiny, the highest level of judicial review in any legal challenge. Fetal heartbeat laws do not hold up under strict scrutiny.
NOW has long advocated for protecting the right of persons to decide whether or when to have children. This is a decision that should be made by the individual, not by legislators. And until the state of South Carolina takes action to reverse this unconstitutional act, NOW and the power of its grassroots network will be taking its financial support elsewhere.NOW
February 2, 2021: Planned Parenthood posted a press release titled: “Planned Parenthood Applauds Biden-Harris Immigration Executive Actions”. From the press release:
Today, President Biden signed executive actions to bring critical and long-overdue reforms to the immigration system. Included in these actions is beginning the process to end the so-called “public charge” rule – which forces many immigrants and their children to make the impossible choice between accessing health care and other lifesaving services or risking their status and their safety – and creating a task force charged with reuniting migrant families separated at the border. These actions are a critical continuation of the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to end the dehumanization and xenophobia that became central tenets of the Trump administration’s immigration policy…
…Under the “public charge” rule, people can be denied entry into the U.S. or an adjustment in their immigration status (i.e. obtaining a green card), simply because they have received certain public benefits in the past — including health care, nutrition assistance, and public housing — or were judged likely to use benefits in the future. It is designed to keep families separated, and to scare immigrants already in the U.S. and their families from accessing health care and other basic needs, including those to which they are legally entitled. The public charge rule cannot be stopped immediately, as the administration must go through the full regulatory process to roll it back, but it is starting the process while working to address its chilling effect and direct agencies to encourage immigrants and their families to use critical public benefits.
The Trump administration separated more than 5,500 children from their families and ultimately deported 1,400 parents without their children. While the Biden-Harris administration formally ended the policy that allowed these horrors last week, the new task force has a critical mission: More than 600 separated parents have yet to be reached — and still more have been found but not reunited with their children…Planned Parenthood
February 3, 2021: President Biden issued a Presidential Action titled: “A Proclamation on National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, 2021“. From the Proclamation:
This February, during National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, we stand with those who have known the pain and isolation of an abusive relationship, and we recommit to ending the cycle of teen dating violence that affects too many of our young people.
Together, it’s on all of us to raise the national awareness about teen dating violence and promote safe and healthy relationships.
Dating violence transcends gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. It takes many forms, among them physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, bullying, and shaming, which can occur in person or through electronic communication and social media. The spiral of violent dating relationships can lead to depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol use, as well as suicidal thoughts. Victims, especially young women, transgender, and gender nonconforming youth who face higher rats of violence, may suffer lifelong consequences. Many young people do not report the abuse for fear of retribution or unwarranted embarrassment. The pattern of abuse often continues to future relationships.
My Administration encourages all Americans to lead by example by promoting healthy relationships, protecting our teens from abuse, and ensuring they have access to good help and support.
If you or someone you know is involved in an abusive relationship of any kind, immediate and confidential support is available by visiting loveisrespect.org, calling 1-866-331-9474 (TTY: 1-800-787-3224), or texting “loveis” to 22522. For additional information and resources on dating violence, please visit VetoViolence.CDC.gov.
NOW, THEREFORE I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim February 2021 as National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. I call upon all Americans to support efforts in their communities and schools, and in their own families, to empower young people to develop healthy relationships throughout their lives and to prevent and respond to teen dating violence. It’s on all of us…President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
February 3, 2021: The White House COVID-19 Response Team issued a Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials“. From the Press Briefing:
MR. ZIENTZ: Good morning everyone. A week ago, in our first COVID-19 response briefing, we committed to providing you with transparent science-based and up-to-date information about the pandemic. I hope that five briefings in, we’re starting to establish a pattern of providing the American people with the facts they need about the crisis and our response, driven by our experts and scientists.
We act every day based on the fact that we already have more than 440,000 fellow Americans who have died, 26 million Americans infected, and our ways of life totally upended.
In his first full day in office, President Biden laid out a comprehensive national strategy to defeat this virus and get back to our way of life. On vaccinations, President Biden put it simply when he said, “We need to increase vaccine supply and get it out the door as fast as possible. We need to mobilize more medical units to get more shots in people’s arms. And we need to create more places where Americans can get vaccinated.”
The President set a goal to deliver 100 million shots in his first 600 days. Today I want to give you an update on our execution against that goal.
We will also hear a state-of-the-pandemic update from Dr. Walensky and an update on the latest science from Dr. Fauci. We will then open it up for questions.
Since entering office two weeks ago, the Biden administration has taken aggressive steps to activate the full resources of the federal government to improve our vaccination supply. First, we have increased vaccine supply to states, tribes, and territories by over 20 percent. Second, we are providing visibility on supply on a rolling three-week basis so governors and local leaders have the ability to plan and maximize the number of needles in arms. Third, we secured the equipment required to extract a sixth dose from every Pfizer vial of vaccine. and fourth, we’re purchasing an additional 200 million doses to ensure that every American can get vaccinated.
And the data shows that we are making progress. As you can see on our vaccination progress report, our seven-day average daily doses administered is, as you can see in the dark blue bar on the right, now averaging over 1.3 million shots per day for the period from January 27th through February 2nd. We are on track to meet the President’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days.
Notably, yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs delivered its one-millionth shot, ensuring those who served our country are among the first protected from this deadly virus.
We are encouraged by this progress to increase supply, but we will continue to push for every opportunity to do more. At the President’s directions, we have an all-of-government effort to provide all Americans with access to get more places to get vaccinated. Americans need more access to more places to get vaccinated.
Today I want to update you on establishing and supporting community vaccination centers across the country. These centers are helping to provide new, more efficient places for people to get vaccinated.
First, the federal government is expediting financial support to bolster community vaccination sites nationwide, including in states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. As of today, FEMA has provided more than $1.7 billion to 27 states, localities, tribes, and territories. This funding covers critical steps in the vaccination process, including transportation and storage equipment, supplies needed to administer vaccines, and safety equipment like PPE and masks.
Second, we’re deploying personnel to provide technical assistance to support vaccination sites nationwide and provide additional staff from the federal government. FEMA has already assigned over 600 staff to this effort, including experts in logistics, IT, and registration, with over 350 of these staff deployed directly to the vaccination sites across the country.
The federal government is now supporting thousands of National Guard members who are providing support to sites in 39 states, including 800 trained vaccinators. And CDC is providing on-the-ground technical assistance in jurisdictions across the country.
And, third, we are building new community vaccination centers across the country. The Department of Defense will dedicate substantial personnel and resources to help manage many of these new sites.
The profile of these community vaccination sites will vary by community need. You’ll see big centers and stadiums, sites in school gyms and community centers, mobile units in rural areas and outer boroughs, pop-up sites in parking lots and other locations.
We are working with state and local health departments to meet the communities they serve, where they are, in places they know, with people they trust. And we’ll encourage all vaccination centers to collaborate with community-based organizations and others who can help communities with the greatest need.
Today I’m pleased to announce the federal government will partner with the state of California to launch two new community vaccination centers: one in East Oakland and the second in the east side of Los Angeles — two of the communities most hard hit by this pandemic.
In the east side of Los Angeles, we’ll launch a large site on the campus of California University — California State University-Los Angeles. This is one of the most diverse public universities in the country, serving a large Latino community. And we’re opening a new center at Oakland Coliseum adjacent to the communities of Eastmont and Elmhurst, which have some of the lowest health scores in the state.
Both centers will be staffed primarily by a federal workforce from agencies such as FEMA, DOD, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and HHS. In all of this work, we’re advancing equity. FEMA has partnered with CDC to launch vaccination sites that use processes and are located in places that promote equity, deploying CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.
These sites in California are just the beginning. We are working with — in partnership in states across the country to stand up new sites, and we’ll have more to say on that in the coming weeks.
So, across the first two weeks, we’ve activated a whole-of-government response. We have increased vaccine supply, and we are ensuring that all Americans in every community have more places to get vaccinated.
Now let me turn to Dr. Walensky — Dr. Walensky for a state of the pandemic.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be back with you today, and I want to make sure we have time for questions, so I will be brief in my remarks.
As I said Monday, cases and hospital admissions continue to decrease, and we now appear to be in a consistent downward trajectory for both of these important outcomes. COVID-19 cases have declined steadily since hitting a peak on January 8th, dropping 13.4 percent to an average of nearly 144,000 cases per day from January 26th to February 1st. Cases are now back to the level we were before Thanksgiving.
Similarly, new hospital admissions have continued to decline since they peaked on January 5th, decreasing 4.1 percent to an average of approximately 11,400 admissions per day from January 25 to January 31.
While deaths have continued to increase, their pace appears to be slowing, with the average number of deaths increasing 1 percent to slightly more than 3,100 deaths per day from January 26th to February 1st.
And the recent decline in hospitalizations gives us hope that the number of deaths should start to decrease in the coming weeks.
Although we have seen declines in cases and admissions and a recent slowing of deaths, cases remain extraordinarily high — still twice as high as the peak number of cases over the summer. And the continued proliferation of variants — variants that likely have increased transmissibility, that spread more easily — threatens to reverse these recent trends.
Based on contact tracing and recent — of recent variant cases, not wearing masks and participating in in-person social gatherings have contributed to the variant spread. We must take prevention, intervention seriously. Now is not the time to let our guard down. Keep taking steps to protect each other: Wear a mask; maintain social distancing; avoid travel, crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. And please get vaccinated when it is your turn.
And this Sunday, remember: Whichever team you’re rooting for and whichever commercial is your favorite, please watch the Super Bowl safely, gathering only virtually or with the people you live with. The CDC recently posted guidance on how to safely enjoy the game.
Thank you. I’ll turn it to Dr. Fauci.
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I want to make just a couple of points related to questions and issues that have been brought up over the past couple of days to help clarify it, and I’ll be very brief.
We have heard from studies emanating out of the AstraZeneca platform that, in the UK, they’re talking about the possibility, since their data seems to show this, that if you prolong the interval between the first and second dose — in fact, even go with a single dose — you can get good results. And, in fact, the interval between the first and second dose can now be measured in months. With — according to their own data, that is actually a favorable response.
We certainly respect that the UK scientists and health officials are going by their data and letting their own data for their own platform dictate their policy. The question is asked often: “Then why don’t we do the same thing with our candidates that are now being distributed to people in the United States?” And the response is simple: We also are going very much by the data and the science that has emanated out of very large clinical trials. As you all are aware, the Moderna trial, with 30,000 people, and the Pfizer trial, with 44,000 people, indicate to us that maximum responses are given with a prime followed by a boost — 21 days with Pfizer and 28 days with Moderna.
Now, we know that sometimes, out of circumstances beyond the control of people, that they may not make it at exactly the day of 21 day and 28 day. And as we know from the CDC, under those special circumstances, that it is okay if you get the second dose in either four to six weeks later. That doesn’t mean that we want to do it at six weeks later. It means that under special circumstances, it’s better to delay that couple of weeks than not do it at all.
But we feel strongly that we will go by the science, which has dictated for us the optimal way to get the 94 to 95 percent response, which is, in fact, durable for the period of time that we’ve been following it.
One other thing I want to mention: We live in a global community, and it is encouraging to see that other countries are coming out with results from their own vaccine trial, such as the Russian trial that we heard about a day or two ago; the UK and European Union, which are now putting vaccines into people, according to the data that they’ve accumulated; the Chinese trials, et cetera.
We, in the United States, as I mentioned in a speech I gave a couple of weeks ago to the World Health Organization Executive Board, that we are back on the global scene. We reentered into our arrangement with the WHO, and we are part of COVAX.
So I just want to remind people that this is a global effort, and the more we get the virus controlled globally — and we will be part of that process as part of the global community — the better off we will be. Because I’ve said it many times, and I’ll close by saying it again: We have to be concerned about the mutants. Viruses will not mutate well if you don’t give them the opportunity to replicate in a very large way. Namely, if you have an open playing field for the virus, they will replicate, and they will mutate. The best way to prevent that is the implementation of the public health measures that Dr. Walensky just mentioned, both home and abroad, as well as the implementation of the administration of vaccines, as effectively and efficiently and as quickly as we possibly can.
So I’ll stop there and hand it back to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky. You have heard from our experts. I want to reiterate, we are at war with this virus. It is clearly a national emergency, and we are doing all we can.
But it is critical that Congress does its part as well. We need Congress to quickly pass the American Rescue Plan to provide the funding we need to continue to scale up our vaccination program, as well as for more testing, more genomic sequencing, and more emergency supplies. And we must give families, schools, businesses, and state and local leaders the support they need to fight the pandemic.
This will not be easy. Vaccinating everyone in America is one of the greatest operational challenges we’ve ever faced, and we will not stop working until this mission is complete…
February 3, 2021: President Biden issued “A Proclamation on American Heart Month, 2021“. From the Proclamation:
Tragically, heart disease continues to be a leading cause of death in the United States. It affects Americans of all genders, races, and ethnicities. Yet despite being one of the country’s most constly and deadly diseases, it is among the most preventable. During American Heart Month, we recommit to fighting this disease by promoting better health, wellness, and prevention awareness in our communities.
Heart disease can impact anyone, but risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, tobacco use, and alcohol abuse can increase the likelihood of developing the disease. By adopting a few healthy habits, each of use can reduce our risk. Avoiding tobacco, moderating alcohol consumption, making balanced and nutritious meal choices, and staying active can help prevent or treat conditions that lead to heart disease. Adults with heart conditions are also at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, which makes it even more important to follow these suggestions.
We have seen the death rate from heart attacks rise dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic because people are delaying or not seeking care after experiencing symptoms. It is important not to ignore early warning signs like chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, and sudden dizziness. And the symptoms of a heart attack can be different for men and women, an often-overlooked fact that can impact when people seek care. For more resources and information, follow your health care provider’s advice or visit www.CDC.gov/HeartDisease.
My Administration is committed to supporting Americans in their efforts to achieve heart health. Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurance plans cover preventive services like blood pressure and obesity screening at no out-of-pocket cost to the patient. By protecting and expanding access to quality, affordable health care, we will work tirelessly to provide all Americans with the care they need to prevent and treat heart disease.
We are also committed to closing the racial disparities in cardiovascular health. Despite an overall decline in death rates for heart disease, risk of heart disease death differs by race and ethnicity, and Black Americans continue to have the highest death rate for heart disease. Increased awareness and access to care will help reduce these staggering and unacceptable statistics.
This month, we also honor the health care professionals, researchers, and heart health advocates who save our fellow Americans’ lives with their hard work. Every day, they put themselves on the front lines of our fight against heart disease, as well as the scourge of COVID-19…
…In acknowledgement of the importance of the ongoing fight against cardiovascular disease, the Congress, by Joint Resolution approved December 30, 1963, as amended (36 U.S.C. 101), has requested that the President issue an annual proclamation designating February as “American Heart Month.”…President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
February 3, 2021: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) posted news titled: “Maternal Immunization Task Force and Partners Urge That COVID-19 Vaccine be Available to Pregnant Individuals”. From the News:
All pregnant individuals who choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine must be allowed to do so in alignment with their state and local vaccination allocation plan. This includes the estimated 330,000 health care workers who are pregnant and should be allowed to receive the vaccine as part of vaccine distribution plans. Reports of pregnant individuals being refused vaccination are concerning.
Pregnant individuals who otherwise meet the criteria for COVID-19 vaccines should not be denied the opportunity to be vaccinated, should they choose to do so. Although a conversation with a clinician may be helpful for patients to aid in their decision-making, it should not be required prior to vaccination.
As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues, use must reflect the vaccines’ federal regulatory authorization as well as information and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and expert healthcare organizations.
Currently, available data demonstrate that pregnant individuals are at increased risk of more severe illness and death due to COVID-19 than their non-pregnant counterparts… Providing pregnant individuals with the opportunity to be vaccinated can be critical to allowing them to protect themselves, particularly if their occupation puts them at increased risk of contracting the virus or if they have underlying and comorbid conditions.
When pregnant individuals are excluded from the opportunity to decide whether to be vaccinated, it not only violates their bodily autonomy, it also puts them at risk of severe outcomes and death related to COVID-19 illness. Excluding this critical population at increased risk of severe illness and death related to COVID-19 is unethical.
In the interest of allowing pregnant individuals who would otherwise be considered a priority population for vaccines to make their own decisions regarding their health, our groups strongly recommend pregnant individuals should be free to make their own decision in conjunction with their clinical care team. All pregnant individuals must be supported in their decision about COVID-19 vaccination, whether they choose to receive the vaccine, or they opt to decline.ACOG
February 3, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Floor Speech on Senate-Passed Budget Resolution, A Key Step in Enacting the Urgently-Needed Biden COVID Relief Package”. From the Press Release:
…Madam Speaker, we just left a meeting with President Biden, where we had a discussion about how this legislation meets the needs of the American people. As our colleagues may be aware, early this morning, before 6:00 a.m., the Senate passed a budget bill which is identical in instruction to the bill we sent there. We had the debate on that bill on Wednesday. It passed with a strong vote in the House, and then went to the Senate. It will – it comes back to use now, and we’re addressing it.
So, that’s what brings us to the Floor now. What brings us to the Floor now is the opportunity to crush the virus, to put vaccines in the arms of the American people, money in the pockets of the American people, children safely in schools, people back in their jobs. We an do that following the science and good governance to make it happen. We must do that in a way that addresses the disparities. It’s almost sinful to see how the disparity in access to some of the vaccines and everything that happened up until now.
As I mentioned the other day in the debate on the budget bill, the GAO has put out a report that at least 90 percent of their recommendations to the Trump Administration on how to address the COVID crisis were ignored – 27 out of 31 were ignored. This legislation, again, based on science and knowledge and respct for all of the people in our society and in our country, addresses many of those concerns in a more current way as now we have more access to vaccines and people more willing to participate because they have hope. And that’s what this legislation does.
It gives us hope. It is a reconciliation bill, which means we can pas it with just 51 votes in the Senate. It would be my hope that we don’t have to use it as a reconciliation bill, that we will be able to have bipartisanship, with a facing of the facts of what is needed to meet the needs of the American people, both in this body and in the United States Senate. But in order to have a guarantee that the people’s needs will be met, we’re passing this legislation today.
So, I hope we will have a very strong vote in favor of crushing teh virus, money in the pockets, people back to work and children, children, children safely in school….Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
February 4, 2021: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) posted News titled: “Medical Experts Continue to Assert that COVID Vaccines Do Not Impact Fertility”
The following is a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM):
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, patients have had questions about the impact of the virus on their health. Now, as the rollout of the COVID vaccines progresses, patients similarly have questions about whether the vaccine is right for their individual health needs.
“As experts in reproductive health, we continue to recommend that the vaccine be available to pregnant individuals. We also assure patients that there is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility. While fertility was not specifically studied in the clinical trials of the vaccine, no loss of fertility has been reported among trial participants or among the millions who have received the vaccines since their authorization, and no signs of infertility appeared in animal studies. Loss of fertility is scientifically unlikely.”ACOG
February 4, 2021: American Medical Association posted a Press Release titled: “AHA, AMA, ANA release PSA urging Americans to take COVID-19 vaccine”. From the Press Release:
Together, the American Hospital Association (AHA), American Medical Association (AMA), and American Nurses Association (ANA) released a public service announcement today urging the American public to get the COVID-19 vaccination when it is their turn. The PSA stresses that COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and help us all as we work together to defeat COVID-19. Today’s effort continues the work the three associations have done over the past year to increase public acceptance of the essential actions to curb the spread of COVID-19, which also include: wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing and washing hands frequently. The organizations have released several previous PSAs encouraging the public to adhere to these critical public health measures, which will be increasingly important as more communicable COVID-19 variants appear and spread in the U.S.
As national associations representing physicians, nurses, and hospital health system leaders, the AHA, AMA, and ANA remain committed to supporting the rigorous scientific and regulatory process, establishing safe and effective processes for administering vaccines to all who are eligible and choose to get vaccinated, and to making critical information about vaccines available as it is released…AHA, AMA, ANA
February 8, 2021: The White House COVID-19 Response Team posted a Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials“. From the Press Briefing (up to the point where questions were asked and answered):
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Good morning, and welcome to the COVID Response update. Thank you for joining us. I’m Andy Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor for the COVID Response Team. Now, we’ve been battling this pandemic for the better part of a year. More than 450,000 Americans’ lives have been taken, we’ve separated from our friends and family, thousands of schools and businesses have been sitting empty, and Americans have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are doing everything in their power to put the country and the world back on the right course. Millions of you are wearing masks, and the evidence Dr. Walensky has discussed here demonstrates that in communities where that happens, lives are being saved. That needs to continue and improve in the face of the threats we confront.
We know that millions of Americans are also waiting patiently to be vaccinated. Today, I want to begin the briefing by updating you on what is happening while you’re waiting. In the weeks and months that you are waiting, the nation’s efforts are being spent focused on many who are most at risk of hospitalization and death from this virus: the elderly, seniors, frontline health care workers, and many essential workers.
According to a recent CDC report, the Long-Term Care Program has administered now over 4.8 million doses to more than 3.7 million of our most vulnerable. Those who were dying in large number over the last year are now on a path to protection. And in skilled nursing facilities that have had at least one vaccination clinic, an estimated median of almost 80 percent of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.
As vaccinations at these facilities are completed, that will mean that many more lives are saved, many more vaccines that can be moved into the inventory for the next priority groups. And in total, of the over 40 million doses that have been administered, over 17 million doses have been administered to people 65 or older.
Now, this is a great representation of the American spirit of generosity and American selflessness because our ability to vaccinate millions of the elderly, seniors, and healthcare workers is a testament to a society that has put our parents and grandparents, those who have served us, and those who continue to sacrifice for us on the frontlines of the healthcare system first.
Now at the same time, we need to step up efforts to increase vaccinations of racial and ethnic communities that have suffered disproportionately. Health equity is a cornerstone of all our work, and we’ll be talking more about progress there in upcoming briefings.
Even with that perspective in progress, we understand that the process moves more slowly than anyone would like. But each day, we are putting forth efforts to increase vaccine supply, including by use of the Defense Production Act; to create more places to get vaccinated, including new large community vaccination centers and retail pharmacies; and mobilize more vaccinators by allowing retired physicians and nurses and deploying the military.
This is a national emergency and the approach we are taking reflects this. We are putting every resource and tool that the federal government has into this battle, and we’re taking a whole-of-government – indeed, a whole-of-country approach. As soon as the Congress puts the American Rescue Plan on the President’s desk, we will be able to further increase this effort.
We understand this is a long journey, but thanks to the sacrifice of so many of you and the step-by-step plan we are executing, for many of our most vulnerable Americans, the risk of death is being reduced. And we are committed to leaving no stone unturned.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Walensky for a state-of-the-pandemic update and Dr. Fauci for the latest in science before we answer your questions.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you so much, Andy. I’m so glad to be back and joining you today. Today, I’m going to give you a brief update on the pandemic. As I mentioned on Friday, despite trends moving in the right direction, we remain in a very serious situation. COVID-19 continue to affect too many people, as we continue to mourn all of those lives that have been lost.
Cases have continued to decline over the last four weeks. An average 119,900 new cases were reported between January 31st and February 6th. That’s a drop of nearly 20 percent from the prior week, but still dramatically higher than the last summer’s peak. We must continue to drive these cases down.
New COVID-19 hospital admissions also continued to decline. An average of 9,977 admissions per day were reported between January 30th and February 5th, a decline of nearly 17 percent from the week prior.
This is promising, but hospitalizations also remain incredibly high. Over 83,000 Americans are hospitalized right now with COVID-19 – much higher than the summer and fall.
Today, we are reporting that COVID-19 deaths increased 2.4 percent to an average of 3,221 deaths per day from January 31st to February 6th. As I mentioned on Friday, sometimes delays in reporting can lead to fluctuations in the data. This is the case for the average number of deaths reported today, which includes a delayed report of 1,570 confirmed deaths from one state. These deaths were reported last week, but actually had occurred over the prior several months. We may continue to see the variation in daily deaths for different reasons, including reporting delays.
We are continuing to watch these data closely. And although hospital admissions and cases consistently – are consistently dropping, I’m asking everyone to please keep your guard up. The continued proliferation of variants remains of great concern and is a threat that could reverse the recent positive trends we are seeing.
As of February 7th, 699 variant cases have been confirmed across 34 states, with 690 of these cases being the B117 variant, the variant first reported in the UK.
Please continue to war a mask and stay six feet apart from people you don’t live with. Avoid travels, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces. And get vaccinated when it is available to you.
I recognize that the pandemic has taken an enormous toll on all of us. But if we all work together and take these preventative steps, we can finally turn the tide. Thank you. I look forward to your questions, and I will now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to address, briefly, two issues that have come up for discussion over the last several days, and one is the question of: Given the fact that there is a greater demand than there is supply, should we be putting all our effort into getting the first dose into people, with less emphasis on the second dose?
Now, the reason for that – I have explained in the past – because the science has shown in both of the vaccines that we have currently available, the Moderna and the Pfizer – strong data indicates that a prime boost gives a maximum response of 94 to 95 percent efficacy. But the question has arisen, “Why not study in detail whether or not you can get away with a single dose?”
It is not an unreasonable thing to suggest a study. The only issue is that the practicality of that really makes that a situation that I don’t think is able to be done for the following reason: If you look at the number of people that would be required in a study to answer that question – again, one versus two – with the currently available vaccines, the time it took to get information on the phase three and the number of people – that that study, with all due respect, would take several months to get a meaningful answer. At that time, the amount of vaccine that would be available would almost be making that question somewhat of a moot point.
So then let’s ask ourselves – the question is: What do we know about one dose versus two dose? And the data, I think, are important to present. We know from the original studies that, following a single dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer, you had a response that gave you a neutralizing antibody above the threshold of protection. So it did give some degree of protection. And the question was: It was protection, clearly, against the wild type. However, the boost, either 21 or 28 days later, was tenfold higher. So it went, for example, from 1 to 100 to well over the 1,000 in the titer.
The reason that’s important: not only because of the height of the response and the potency of the response, but as you get to that level of antibody, you get a greater breadth of response. And by “breadth of response,” we mean it covers not only the wild type and currently circulating virus, but also the variants that we see circulating, particularly the 117 and the 351. So it’s not just a matter of potency; it’s a matter of the breadth of what you can cover.
The other theoretical issue that could be problematic with regard to only a single dose: that if you get a suboptimum response, the way viruses respond to pressure, you could actually be inadvertently selecting for more mutants by a suboptimum response. So, for that reason, we have continued to go by the fact that we feel the optimum approach would be to continue with getting as many people on their first dose as possible, but also making sure that people, on time, get their second dose.
And finally, one thing I want to emphasize: As we know, and we’ve heard, and it’s true, that the projection is that the 117 lineage would likely become dominant in the United States by the end of March. Please remember that the efficacy of the currently utilized vaccines — the two mRNA — are a quite effective against the 117 lineage. So, underscoring what Dr. Walensky just said, the two things that we can do is, A, make sure we adhere to the public health measures that Dr. Walensky just mentioned, and, B, get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can. That’s the best defense against the evolution of variants.
I’ll stop there, and back to you, Andy…
February 8, 2021: National Organization for Women posted a Press Release titled: “NOW is Proud to Support the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act” From the Press Release:
NOW is proud to endorse the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021, a historic legislative package unveiled today by Representatives Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and members of the Black Maternal Health Conference.
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 will build on existing maternal health legislation, like policies to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage, with 12 bills to comprehensively address every dimension of America’s maternal health crisis. It makes investments in social determinants of health, community-based organizations, the growth and diversification of the perinatal workforce, improvements in data collection, and support for moms and babies exposed to climate change-related risks. In addition to direct efforts to improve Black maternal health outcomes, the Momnibus focuses on high-risk populations, including veterans, incarcerated people, Native Americans, and other women and birthing people of color.
The United States has the highest pregnancy-related death rate in the developed world and the only rate that is rising. The maternal mortality rate is significantly higher among Black women, who are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications. Other birthing people of color, including Hispanic, Native American, and AAPI women, also suffer from disproportionate rates of adverse maternal health outcomes…
…The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act is composed of 12 individual bills. The legislation will provide funding to community-based organizations working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity, invest in programs to support maternal mental health, and much more.NOW
February 9, 2021: The White House issued a FACT SHEET titled: “President Biden Announces Community Health Centers Vaccination Program to Launch Next Week and Another Increase in States, Tribes & Territories Vaccine Supply“. From the FACT SHEET:
As the U.S. surpasses 26 million COVID-19 infections, President Biden is taking additional steps today to speed up vaccinations across the country. The President announced the launch of the Federally Qualified Health Center program that will provide more vaccines for Community Health Centers that are reaching our underserved and most vulnerable communities. And, the administration will increase the vaccine supply to states, Tribes, and territories by 5% over last week, for a total of a 28% increase since President Biden came into office three weeks ago.
These new steps will help meet the President’s goal of administering 100 million shots in 100 days and ensure that vaccines are administered equitably.
The President is taking the following actions today:
Launching First Phase of the Federally Qualified Health Center Program for COVID-19 Vaccination: As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to ensure that the nation’s hardest hit populations are receiving the vaccine, starting the week of February 15, Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (FQHCs) will begin directly receiving vaccine supply. Many people know these as Community Health Centers. Community Health Centers provide primary care services in underserved communities across the country. There are more than 1,300 Community Health Centers serving almost 30 million people across the country. Two-thirds of the population that these centers serve are living at or below the federal poverty line and 60% are racial and/or ethnic minorities. The program will be phased in, with the first centers able to start ordering vaccines as early as the week of February 15. The initial phase will include at least one Community Health Center in each state, expanding to 250 centers in the coming weeks.
This program is part of a broader effort to ensure all communities are being reached in the national push to get people vaccinated. Community Vaccination Centers in underserved areas, the retail pharmacy program, mobile clinics, and efforts to increase vaccine confidence are also key tools to help states and communities vaccinate their most vulnerable populations. More information on this program is available at www.hrsa.gov/coronavirus/health-center-program.
Expanding Vaccine Supply: Building on last week’s announcement, the Biden-Harris Administration will increase overall, weekly vaccine supply to states, Tribes, and territories to 11 million doses nationwide beginning this week. This is a 28% increase since taking office on January 20. The Administration is committing to maintaining this as the minimum supply level for the next three weeks, and we will continue to work with manufacturers in their efforts to ramp up supply.White House
February 9, 2021: A Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials” was issued. From the Press Briefing:
MR. ZIENTS: Thank you for joining us. I’m Jeff Zients, White House COVID Coordinator. I’m pleased to be joined today by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. We’ve just completed our weekly call with governors from around the country who – where we provided updated on our efforts to defeat COVID-19.
President Biden has laid out a comprehensive national strategy to tackle this pandemic. The national strategy utilizes all of the powers and resources of the federal government, working closely with state and local leaders, tribal leaders, and those on the frontlines in communities across the country. Central to the strategy is getting all Americans vaccinated as quickly and equitably as possible.
Increasing vaccine supply, increasing the number of vaccinators, and providing more places for people to get vaccinated, including supporting local and state partners in their efforts to get needles in arms: all three are critical. Today, we’re taking new actions on vaccine supply and on the number of places for people to get vaccinated.
I’ll start with our efforts on vaccine supply. When we came into office three weeks ago, the weekly delivery was 8.6 million doses. And today we’re announcing that we will increase weekly vaccine doses going to states, tribes, and territories to 11 million. So that is a total of a 28 percent increase in vaccine supply across the first three weeks.
I know Americans are eager to get vaccinated, and we’re working with manufacturers to increase the supply of vaccines as quickly as possible. As supply ramps up, we’re also creating new convenient locations for vaccinations. These include standing up community vaccination centers, deploying mobile vaccine units, and launching new programs with pharmacies.
Today, we are announcing another step in this effort, focused on some of our hardest-hit populations. Starting next week, we will begin a new program with federally qualified health centers, or as many people know them, “community health centers.” Community health centers provide primary care services in underserved areas, reaching almost 30 million people. Under this new program we will begin directly sending vaccine supply to community health centers, enabling them to vaccinate the people they serve. Community health centers are an important part of our broader strategy to ensure we are reaching everyone with our response.
I will turn it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith to provide more information on the community health center program, but before I do, I want to mention another important point that we discussed in our governors meeting today.
Equity is core to our strategy to put this pandemic behind us, and equity means that we are reaching everyone, particularly those in underserved and rural communities and those who have been hit hardest by this pandemic. But we cannot do this effectively at the federal level without our partners on the state and local level sharing the same commitment to equity. They need to lead this work, as they know their communities better than anyone.
Through efforts like community vaccination centers located in the hardest-hit areas, mobile units, the community health center program we’re launching today, and efforts to build vaccine confidence, we are providing tools to communities around the country to do this work. And we look forward to partnering with them to ensure equity.
Over to Dr. Nunez-Smith, who will provide more information on the community health center program.
DR. NUNEZ-SMITH: Thanks so much, Jeff. You know, as Jeff said, we are providing a suite of tools to state and local leaders as they work to reach their underserved and hardest-hit populations. We are very excited about the announcement of this additional program today towards that effort.
So, as you just heard, we are very excited to be partnering with federally-qualified health centers, also known as community health centers. They do provide really substantial primary care services across many underserved areas. You know, in our country there are more than 1,300 community health centers spanning every U.S. state and territory, and serving over 30 million people. Two thirds of their patients live at or below the federal poverty line, and 60 percent of patients at community health centers identify as racial or ethnic minorities.
So, in addition to the doses that have already been allocated to states and then additionally through the pharmacy program, we will begin shipping doses directly to these community health centers. We will be starting with a phased approach and will ramp up over time. But we anticipate a subset of FQHCs or community health centers to be able to start ordering vaccines as soon as next week.
Ultimately, in this initial program phase, we plan to reach 250 community health centers. And again, across this initial phase, our goal is to allocate 1 million doses during this phase. That’s 500,000 first doses and 500,000 second doses.
You know, to Jeff’s point, equity is our North Star here. This effort that focuses on direct allocation to the community health centers really is about connecting with those hard-to-reach populations across the country. So this includes people who are experiencing homelessness, you know, agricultural and migrant workers, residents of public housing, and those with limited English proficiency. And as always, we plan to be very inclusive across jurisdictions. So in this initial phase, we will include at least one community health center in each state and territory.
You know, as the program further scales, vaccines will become available to all 1,400 community health centers across states and territories should they want to participate.
So as we said, this new community health center program is just one tool to reach underserved communities, and it really does build on other efforts like the community vaccination centers, mobile clinics, and the pharmacy program. And a really critical part of this work is also addressing vaccine confidence, which we know is lower in underserved communities than it is for the national average.
So the tools that we are deploying at the federal level are meant to aid state and local leaders, but are in no way a substitute for the important work that they must lead on the ground to address equity. So we look forward to continue to work hand in hand with our partners and provide the federal resources necessary to ensure that everyone gets vaccinated.
So thank you for your time. With that, I’ll turn it back over to you, Jeff…
February 10, 2021: A Press Briefing titled: “President Biden Announces Members of the Biden-Harris Administration COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force“. From the Press Briefing:
The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force will provide recommendations for addressing health inequities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the country, it has had a disproportionate impact on some of our most vulnerable communities. Shortly after COVID-19 was first identified in the United States, disparities in testing, cases, hospitalizations, and mortality began to emerge. These inequities were quickly evident by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors.
President Biden and Vice President Harris have released a National Strategy to combat the pandemic that has equity at its core. To help ensure an equitable response to the pandemic, the President signed an executive order on January 21 creating a task force to address COVID-19 related health and social inequities. This Task Force is chaired by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Today, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced the following individuals to serve as non-federal members of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Individuals selected by the President are:
- Mayra Alvarez of San Diego, CA
- James Hildreth of Nashville, TN
- Andrew Imparato of Sacramento, CA
- Victor Joseph of Tanana, AK
- Joneigh Khaldun of Lansing, MI
- Octavio Martinez of New Braunfels, TX
- Tim Putnam of Batesville, IN
- Vincent Toranzo of Pembroke Pines, FL
- Mary Turner of Plymouth MN
- Homer Venters of Port Washington, NY
- Bobby Watts of Goodlettsville, TN
- Haeyoung Yoon of New York, NY
The twelve Task Force members represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, a range of racial and ethnic groups, and a number of important populations, including: children and youth; educators and students; health care providers, immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ+ individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments; and unions.
As Chair, Dr. Nunez-Smith will also ask six additional Federal agencies to be represented on the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force as federal members. This includes the United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, and Department of Labor.
The Task Force is charged with issuing a range of recommendations to help inform the COVID-19 response and recovery. This includes recommendations on equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds, effective outreach and communication to underserved and minority populations, and improving cultural proficiency within the Federal Government. Additional recommendations include efforts to improve data collection and use, as well as a long-term plan to address data shortfalls regarding communities of color and other underserved populations. The Task Force’s work will conclude after issuing a final report to the COVID-19 Response Coordinator describing the drivers of observed COVID-19 inequities, the potential for ongoing disparities faced by COVID-19 survivors, and actions to ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbate health inequities…
February 10, 2021: Lambda Legal posted news titled: “Foster Youth and LGBTQ Advocacy Groups Celebrate Biden Administration’s Agreement to Halt Discriminatory HHS Rule Change in Response to Legal Challenge“. From the news:
Lawsuit Challenges Trump-Era Regulation Axing Prohibition on Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Religion by Service Providers in HHS’s $500 Billion Grant Programs.
In response to a lawsuit filed by a foster youth alumni group as well as LGBTQ service and advocacy organizations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has agreed to a court order that immediately stayed the effective date of a discriminatory Trump-era rule. If it were to go into effect, that rule would have eliminated essential protections preventing service providers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other characteristics when providing HHS grant-funded services.
In response to the plaintiff groups’ motion to stay or enjoin the rule, the Biden-Harris administration agreed to postpone the rule’s effective date, stated that the Trump-era policy is under review, and agreed to advise the court on its progress. The court order – issued on Tuesday – postpones the effective date of the rule for 180 days, until August 2021.
“We are thrilled to see this Administration taking immediate steps to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of the communities that HHS is charged with protecting, particularly when it comes to their ability to access the critical services that HHS funds. If this Trump administration rule were to ever become law, our plaintiffs – youth and alumni in foster care and advocacy organizations dedicated to safety and equity for LGBTQ children and families, LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, and LGBTQ seniors – would be harmed, along with other youth and families who would face potential denial of services and discrimination.” said Currey Cook, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Youth In Out-Of-Home Care Project Director.
The lawsuit was filed on February 2 by Lambda Legal, Democracy Forward, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP on behalf of foster youth and alumni group, Facing Foster Care in Alaska (FFCA) and three LGBTQ advocacy organizations – Family Equity, True Colors United, and SAGE.
In response to the agreed stay of the rule, the groups issued the following joint response:
“There was simply no excuse for the Trump administration’s unlawful policy sanctioning taxpayer-funded discrimination against people who receive services from HHS grant programs, including youth and families in the child welfare system, youth experiencing homelessness and older adults, among vulnerable populations.
We commend the Biden-Harris administration for hitting pause on this harmful and unlawful Trump-era rule, and hope that it will move forward expeditiously to ensure that all persons receive equal treatment under the law.”Lambda Legal
February 10, 2021: A Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials“. From the Press Briefing:
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning. Three weeks ago, the President launched his comprehensive whole-of-government strategy to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Central to that strategy is getting shots into the arms of the American people. We’ve been making steady progress over the past few weeks, getting more vaccine supply, getting more vaccinators on the ground, and creating more places to get vaccinated. We are on track to meet the President’s goal of delivering 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.
Today I want to give you an update on our execution against that goal. We’ll also hear from Dr. Nunez-Smith, get a state-of-the-pandemic update from Dr. Walensky, and an update on the latest science from Dr. Fauci. We’ll then open it up for questions.
The President has made clear that we’re not going to solve this crisis overnight, but we are using every tool at our disposal to make progress in our effort to put this pandemic behind us.
First, we continue to take steps to increase the vaccine supply and get it out the door as fast as the manufacturers can make it. Yesterday we announced another increase in the weekly allocations of vaccine doses to states, tribes, and territories. We have achieved a 28 percent increase in the first three weeks of the administration.
We’re helping states administer the supply more efficiently and equitably by providing them with visibility into the supply they will receive over the coming three weeks.
Second, we’re mobilizing teams to get shots in arms. At the President’s direction, we’re moving quickly to get more vaccinators on the ground, including retired doctors and nurses. We’ve deployed hundreds of personnel across the federal government, from FEMA to USDA to HHS and other federal agencies, to support vaccination operations nationwide. And we have plans to deploy thousands more.
Third, we’re creating more places where Americans can get vaccinated. To do so, we’ve expedited financial support to bolster community vaccination centers nationwide, with over $3 billion in federal funding across 35 states, tribes, and territories. We’re putting equity front and center, partnering with states to increase vaccinations in the hardest-hit and hardest-to-reach communities. We’ve launched efforts to get more vaccines to pharmacies and community health centers.
And we’re building new vaccination centers from the ground up, in stadiums, community centers, school gyms, and parking lots across the country.
And the data show that these efforts are working. As you can see in our vaccination progress report, our seven-day average daily doses administered is now 1.5 million shots per day, up from 1.1 million only two weeks ago.
But let me be very clear: We have much more work to do. This is just the start.
Today we have two updates on how we continue to increase the number of places to get vaccinated and ensure our response is equitable.
First, we are building new vaccination sites. Last week, we announced new mass vaccination centers in California. And today I’m pleased to announce that we’ll partner with the state of Texas to build three new major community vaccination centers in Dallas, Arlington, and Houston — communities hit hard by the pandemic. In Houston, we’re building a major site at NRG Stadium; in South Dallas, a new site at Fair Park; and in Arlington, a site at AT&T Stadium. Together, these sites will be capable of administering more than 10,000 shots in arms a day.
We are deploying federal teams immediately to work hand in hand with the state and local jurisdiction.
We appreciate Governor Abbott, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, Representative Mark Veasey, and Representative Ron Wright. Local mayors and county leaders are also part of this partnership.
We expect these sites to start getting shots in arms beginning the week of February 22nd.
Importantly, FEMA has partnered with CDC to launch these and other vaccination sites that use processes and are in locations that promote equity, deploying CDC’s social vulnerability index.
Second on this point, we continue to put equity at the center of our work more broadly, guided by Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
Today we’re pleased to announce the members of our Health Equity Task Force. Ensuring that we reach every person in our response is something that the President and Vice President feel very strongly about.
On his second day in office, President Biden signed an executive order to create this task force. And we could not have picked a better leader in Dr. Nunez-Smith to help drive this work.
I also want to note that Vice President Harris’s work in the Senate informed the development of the mission and work of the Health Equity Task Force. Then, Senator Harris introduced the COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparity Task Force Act to gather data about disproportionally affected communities and provide recommendations combat the racial and ethnic disparities in the COVID-19 response. Today, that vision becomes a reality as we create this task force to help lead our national response.
So now I’ll turn it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith.
So, thank you, Jeff. And good morning to everyone. You know, shortly after COVID-19 was first identified in the United States, we began to see disparities in testing, in cases, and in rates of hospitalization and mortality. And these inequities were quickly evident by race, ethnicity, geography, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and other factors.
You know, as the pandemic has progressed over the past year, so too have the inequities. And over the fast — the past few months, we’ve seen new disparities emerge — you know, most notably with regards to access to therapeutics and vaccines.
So, absolutely, make no mistake about it: Beating this pandemic is hard work. And beating this pandemic while making sure that everyone in every community has a fair chance to stay safe or to regain their health, well, that’s the hard work done the right way.
So President Biden and Vice President Harris have made it clear since the beginning that they are committed to centering their administration’s COVID-19 response on equity. And as Jeff mentioned, Vice President Harris set a blueprint for how to advise this commitment during her time in the Senate. And President Biden not only agreed with the necessity of such a task force — you know, as Jeff said, he signed an executive order requiring its formation in his first full day in office.
Next slide, please.
And today, that vision for our federal COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force officially becomes a reality. Not only am I humbled and honored that President Biden has asked me to serve as the chair of this COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, but I am truly excited to share that the President has announced the 12 individuals he has selected to serve as non-federal members.
These individuals were identified through conversations with stakeholder groups, on recommendation by organizations and individuals, and through the visible effort and expertise they have lent to their communities in the fight against COVID-19. And their bios are available on the Department of Health and Human Services website.
But in addition to their noteworthy backgrounds and expertise, these individuals represent a range of racial and ethnic groups and also key constituencies, including children and youth; educators and students; healthcare providers; immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ-plus individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, and tribal governments; and unions.
And in my discretion as chair of this task force, I will be asking representatives from the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor to sit on this task force, as well, to offer their critical perspective on some of the most effective levers we can pull in our efforts for COVID-19 health equity.
Next slide, please.
Just a quick word on the actual work of this task force. This advisory body is charged with issuing a range of recommendations to help inform the COVID-19 response and recovery. So this includes thinking about the equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds; you know, effective outreach and communication to underserved and minoritized populations; and improving cultural responsiveness within the federal government.
You know, additional recommendations will advise on efforts to improve our data collection and use, as well as a long-term plan to address data shortfalls regarding communities of color and underserved populations.
And the work of the task force will conclude after issuing a final report to the COVID-19 response coordinator on the drivers of observe (inaudible) COVID-19 inequities, the potential for ongoing disparities facing COVID-19 survivors, and actions to ensure that future pandemic responses do not ignore or exacerbated health inequities.
We want everyone to feel connected to this work. So, in addition to this COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, the administration has already begun — will, of course, continue. And that will include the launch of a series of constituent listening sessions to engage with key communities whose voices we know are so important to (inaudible) conversation about equity. We will always, always (inaudible) endeavor to engage with every community to inform (inaudible) necessary to drive positive change…
…MR. ZEINTS: We’re having a bit of technical difficulty. Why don’t we do this: Why don’t we go to Dr. Walensky, sort through those technical difficulties. We’ll come back to you at the end for you to complete your remarks.
So let’s go to Dr. Walensky on the state of the pandemic.
Great, thank you so much, Jeff. And thanks to all of you again for being with us today. Cases and new hospital admissions continue to fall. Deaths have decreased slightly in the most recent seven days. And we are watching these data closely. Because cases, hospitalizations, and deaths remain high, and because we are still losing more than a thousand Americans daily to this disease, we must continue to take every action we can to protect our loved ones and our communities.
One of the simple things we can all do, one thing that will make the biggest difference, is to wear a mask. I know some of you are both tired of hearing about masks, as well as tired of wearing them. Masks can be cumbersome. They can be inconvenient. And I also know that many of you still have questions about masks. You may be unsure if they work, what kind is best, and whether two masks are better than one.
We’ve learned a lot about masks over the past year. Today, I want to share with you some new science that is emerging about masks and what we know now that we didn’t know when the pandemic started.
The science is clear: Everyone needs to be wearing a mask when they are in public or when they’re in their own home but with people who do not live in their household. This is especially true with our ongoing concern about new variants spreading in the United States.
Masks offer two kinds of protection. When I wear a mask, it protects you and it protects me. But to get the most protection possible, we all have to wear them.
Research has demonstrated that COVID-19 infections and deaths have decreased when policies that require everyone to wear a mask have been implemented. So with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths still very high, now is not the time to roll back mask requirements.
I have also seen very — many well-meaning people wearing masks that do not fit well or fit incorrectly. In fact, recent survey data from Porter Novelli found that among adults who reported wearing masks in the past week, half said they wore their masks incorrectly in public.
New data released from CDC today underscore the importance of wearing a mask correctly and making sure it fits closely and snugly over your nose and mouth.
In this new study, researchers used experiments in the laboratory, not the real world, to assess how different strategies to improve the fit of masks impacts masks’ ability to block aerosolized particles emitted during a simulated cough, as well as to reduce exposure to aerosol particles emitted during simulated breathing.
The size of the aerosol particles in the experiment were designed to mimic the respiratory droplet particles most important for person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Specifically, the experiments compared the performance of no mask, a single cloth face mask, and a single medical procedure mask with two approaches to improve the mask fit of the surgical mask: wearing a cloth mask over the procedure mask, and knotting and tucking the ear loops of the medical procedure mask.
In the study, wearing any type of mask performs significantly better than not wearing a mask, and well-fitting masks provided the greatest performance both at blocking emitted aerosols and exposure of aerosols to the receiver.
In the breathing experiment, having both the source and the receiver wear masks modified to fit better reduced the receiver’s exposure by more than 95 percent, compared to no mask at all.
These experimental data reinforce CDC’s prior guidance that everyone two years of age or older should wear a mask when in public and around others in the home — in the home, not living with you.
We continue to recommend that masks should have two or more layers, completely cover your nose and mouth, and fit snugly against your nose and the sides of your face.
I want to be clear that these new scientific data released today do not change the specific recommendations about who should wear a mask or when they should wear one, but they do provide new information on why wearing a well-fitting mask is so important to protect you and others.
Based on this new information, the CDC is updating the mask information for the public on the CDC website to provide new options on how to improve mask fit. This includes wearing a mask with a moldable nose wire, knotting the ear loops on your mask, or wearing a cloth mask over a procedure or disposable mask.
There are also new options available to consumers, called “mask fitters” — small, reusable devices that cinch a cloth or medical mask and that can create a tighter fit against the face and thus improve mask performance.
The bottom line is this: Masks work, and they work best when they have a good fit and are worn correctly.
Importantly, as per our usual guidance, masks should be used in combination with other prevention measures to offer you and your community the most protection from COVID-19. Stay at least six feet apart from other people you don’t live with, avoid crowds and travel, and wash your hands often.
When we take all of these prevention steps and wear masks that fit well, we protect ourselves and we take care of each other.
I also want to follow up on a question I received during Monday’s briefing from Kaitlan Collins. I was asked about CDC’s best estimate on the prevalence of variant cases in the United States based on current case data and volume of sequencing.
Our latest estimate nationally is that between 1 and 4 percent of cases in the United States are due to the B117 variant, the variant most frequently found in the United States.
It’s important to note that some states have seen higher numbers of variant cases, and thus the proportion attributable to B117 in these states is likely to be higher than in other states. We do not believe the variants are distributed equally across the country at this time.
And with that, I will say thank you, and I will look forward to your questions and pass it back to Dr. Fauci.
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I would like to just take a couple of minutes to preemptively answer three types of questions that I have been asked over the last several days that I believe are important to address preemptively because they will come up.
The first relates to the fact that many states, cities, and locations, who have gone from 1A to 1B, will soon or already — or have already gone into the 1C of the phase.
Within 1C are persons 16 to 64 years of age with underlying conditions, including those that might be immunosuppressed because of certain drugs such as glucocorticoids or corticosteroids for diseases like autoinflammatory diseases or allergic diseases.
There has been a number of individuals who feel that they should not get vaccinated because of those underlying conditions. I want to set the record straight for these individuals because they are more vulnerable to the more severe effects of if they do get infected. Therefore, they are the very people who should get vaccinated.
When you think in terms of having an immunosuppressed state — for example, if you’re on glucocorticoids for rheumatoid arthritis or you’re on some of the monoclonal antibodies that block the markers of inflammation — that under those circumstances, if that’s where you are, there is not a safety issue with regard to the vaccine. Safety issues in immunosuppressed individuals relate to live, attenuated vaccines which are contraindicated in people who are immunosuppressed. There is no safety reason not to get vaccinated.
So for those who are thinking of getting vaccinated or soon will come up for vaccination, this is something that would be beneficial to you. The only potential downside might be that you might not have as robust a response to the vaccine as if you had a normal immune response.
But clearly, getting a less-than-optimal response is much better than no response at all. And I’m sure we’ll be getting back to this question as more vaccines become available and more people in that category will be ready to get vaccinated.
The next is the question of the vaccination of children, namely pediatrics and pregnant women. As we all know, these were not included in the original clinical trials that led to the EUA for the two vaccines that are currently available.
But I want to point out that since the EUA and under the EUA, approximately 20,000 pregnant women have been vaccinated with no red flags, as we say, and this is being monitored by the CDC and the FDA. So that’s where we’re going there.
With regard to children and pregnant women, as I mentioned on a prior discussion with this group, the fact remains that we will be starting clinical trials, and some have already started. We will not need to do tens of thousands of people; we will need just enough measured in hundreds to thousands for safety and whether or not we induce an immune response that is equivalent to the immune response that has been proven to be protective under the trials that have now shown to be 94 to 95 percent effective.
And finally, the last issue relates to something that Dr. Walensky just said about the prevalence of the B117 or UK variant. The models tell us that this very well might become dominant in the United States by the end of March. That being the case, we should not despair at that because there are things that we can do to prevent that. It is not outside of our power to do that.
For example, the vaccines that we are using clearly are effective against this. We know that from in-vitro correlate studies, as well as for vaccines that are other candidates.
So the two things that we can do are some of the things that Dr. Walensky just mentioned: wearing of masks, avoiding congregate settings, keeping your distance, and washing your hands — together, when vaccine becomes available to you, to please get vaccinated.
So I’ll hand it back to you, Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Dr. Fauci. And, Dr. Nunez-Smith, I understand that you were at the end of your comments. So hopefully the technical issues are behind us and you’ll be available for questions.
I just want to pick up where you left off, and that is that equity is core to our strategy to put this pandemic behind us. And we’re grateful to you for your expertise and leadership. Through efforts like community vaccination centers located in the hardest-hit areas, mobile units, the community health center program we announced yesterday, along with efforts to build vaccine confidence, we are providing tools to communities around the country to do this work.
After this briefing, Dr. Nunez-Smith and I will join Governor Cuomo to announce two new community vaccination centers in underserved communities in the state of New York, another example of this work coming to life on the ground.
With that, let me open it up for questions…
February 10, 2021: American Medical Association posted a Press Release titled: “Health care, employer groups announce principles for universal coverage”. From the Press Release:
Today, a broad coalition of health care and employer groups called for achieving universal health coverage by expanding financial assistance to consumers, bolstering enrollment and outreach efforts, and taking additional steps to protect those who have lost or are at risk of losing employer-based coverage because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Affordable Coverage Coalition encompasses groups representing the nation’s doctors, hospitals, employers and health insurance providers that collectively serve hundreds of millions of American patients, consumers, and employers. The joint commitment by such a broad array of interests is a significant milestone on the path toward universal coverage which has remained an elusive goal within the U.S. healthcare system.
“While we sometimes disagree on important issues in health care, we are in total agreement that Americans deserve a stable health care market that provides access to high-quality care and affordable coverage for all,” the organizations said in a joint statement of principles. “Achieving universal coverage is particularly critical as we strive to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and work to address long-standing inequities in health care access and outcomes.”
Kim Keck, president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said, “While the country has made enormous strides in expanding coverage over the past decade, we must close the remaining gaps. Having health coverage means people can get the care they need, when they need it, so they can live healthier, more secure lives.”
The groups included in the coalition are: America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Benefits Council, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Federation of American Hospitals, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.AMA
The organizations support the following steps to make health coverage more accessible and affordable:
- Protect Americans who have lost or are at risk of losing employer-provided health coverage from becoming uninsured.
- Make Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions more generous, and expand eligibility for them.
- Establish an insurance affordability fund to support any unexpected high costs for caring for those with serious health conditions or to otherwise lower premiums or cost-sharing for ACA marketplace enrollees.
- Restore federal funding for outreach and enrollment programs.
- Automatically enroll and renew individuals eligible for Medicaid and premium-free ACA marketplace plans.
- Provide incentives for additional states to expand Medicaid, in order to close the low-income coverage gap.
February 11, 2021: Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) posted a Press Release titled: “Biden Administration purchases additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna“. From the Press Release:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Defense (DOD) have purchased an additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. to help meet demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.
The orders placed today bring the vaccine purchased by the U.S. government from these two companies to a total of 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate 300 million people. Each company is delivering 300 million doses in regular increments through the end of July 2021. Each company will leverage U.S.-based manufacturing capacity to fill, finish and ship vials as the bulk material is produced.
“As the President directed, we are expanding our supply of COVID vaccines to protect people as quickly as possible,” said Acting HHS Secretary Norris Cochran. “These purchases will allow us to accelerate our vaccination efforts to get shots into the arms of the American people. While we rapidly ramp up the pace of vaccinations, I encourage everyone to take actions now to protect themselves and their families: wear a mask, wash your hands often, and practice physical distancing.”
The companies began manufacturing doses of their vaccines at the same time that clinical trials were getting underway last year. Beginning the complex process of scaling up to large-scale manufacturing in parallel with clinical trials expedited the traditional vaccine development timeline so that initial doses could begin shipping when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization.
The vaccine is available at no cost. Vaccine administration costs for private-sector administration partners are being covered by healthcare payers: private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, and an HHS program to cover COVID-19 costs for the uninsured which is reimbursing providers at Medicare rates from the Provider Relief Fund.
The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, collaborated with the DOD Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND ) and Army Contracting Command to provide approximately $2 billion for the additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, bringing the total purchase from Pfizer to approximately $6 billion.
BARDA, JPEO-CBRND and Army Contracting Command also collaborated to provide up to approximately $1.65 billion to Moderna, bringing the total federal investment in Moderna’s vaccine development, clinical trials, manufacturing and purchase to approximately $5.75 billion. Moderna’s vaccine was co-developed with scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, with NIAID also supporting the vaccine’s nonclinical studies and clinical trials. BARDA supported phase 2/3 clinical trials, vaccine manufacturing scale up and other development activities for this vaccine.
Moderna’s Phase 3 clinical trial began July 27 as the first government-funded Phase 3 clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. and enrolled approximately 30,000 adult volunteers who did not have COVID-19. An independent data safety monitoring board overseeing the Phase 3 clinical trial reviewed the trial data and concluded that the vaccine was safe, prevented disease in 94 percent of the volunteers who received the vaccine, reduced the severity of illness in the small percentage of volunteers who contracted COVID-19, and was generally well tolerated.
The Phase 3 clinical trial for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine enrolled approximately 43,000 adult volunteers in the U.S. who did not have COVID-19. The clinical trial showed that the vaccine was safe, prevented disease in approximately 95 percent of the volunteers who received the vaccine, reduced the severity of illness in the five percent of volunteers who contracted COVID-19 and was generally well-tolerated.
The clinical studies of both vaccines are ongoing to gather additional data such as the vaccines’ efficacy in younger populations, the duration of immunity after vaccination, and the impact of vaccination on transmissibility of the virus.
Messenger RNA vaccines take advantage of the process that cells use to make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to a virus. In contrast, most vaccines use weakened or inactivated versions or components of a disease-causing virus to stimulate the body’s immune response to create antibodies.
HHS and DOD have contracted with four other companies to expedite development and production of vaccines that use a variety of vaccine platform technologies and are manufacturing COVID-19 vaccine doses while clinical trials are underway. If any of these other vaccine candidates are authorized by the FDA for emergency use, HHS and DOD can negotiate agreements with the respective companies to purchase additional vaccine doses to meet the demand in the United States.
February 12, 2021: Department of Health and Human Services posted a Press Release titled: “2021 Special Enrollment Period for Marketplace Coverage Starts on Healthcare.gov Monday, February 15“. From the Press Release:
SEP allows consumers to enroll in health coverage during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Today, in accordance with the Executive Order signed by President Biden, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is announcing that the Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for the Health Insurance Marketplace® will officially be available to consumers in the 36 states that use the HealthCare.gov platform on Monday, February 15, and will continue through Saturday, May 15. At least 13 States plus the District of Columbia, which operate their own Marketplace platforms, have decided to offer a similar opportunity.
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has affected millions of people throughout the country, and many Americans remain uninsured or underinsured and need access to affordable health coverage. The SEP will allow individuals and families to enroll in the health coverage they need. Consumers who are uninsured can take this opportunity to look for coverage and find out if they qualify for financial assistance to help pay for health insurance. Currently 9 out of 10 consumers enrolled in coverage through HealthCare.gov receive financial help and 75 percent of consumers can purchase a plan for $50 or less per month after financial assistance. In addition, all of the plans at HealthCare.gov cover essential health benefits, such as primary care visits, and cover many preventive care services with no out-of-pocket costs to the consumer.
“President Biden was clear: we need to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and give more Americans access to health care, especially during this pandemic, which has further demonstrated the importance of having the right coverage. This Special Enrollment Period will give Americans who need affordable, quality health insurance an opportunity to get covered, and we encourage folks to head to HealthCare.gov starting on Monday to explore their options,” said HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran.
Beginning today, CMS is launching outreach efforts through stakeholders and partners to get ready and amplify education and awareness across communities. A consumer-facing education campaign will launch on Monday, February 15, including broadcast, radio and digital advertising. The campaign will focus most on increasing awareness among the uninsured that there is an SEP available now and raise awareness among the uninsured about affordable options for coverage and the availability of assistance to pay for premiums for those that qualify. CMS will communicate with current enrollees to let them know they can also take advantage of this opportunity.
This SEP is one of the Biden Administration’s first steps in pursuing health equity across the country. Collaborating closely with community partners, CMS will focus its outreach and education efforts on reaching groups that historically have experienced lower access to health coverage and greater disparities in health outcomes. These efforts include placing advertisements in media used by targeted audiences as well as developing partnerships with media outlets that engage communities of color. CMS is working with several organizations, including those that focus on helping the uninsured and other vulnerable communities, to ensure consumers get timely and accurate information about the SEP.
CMS intends to release data on consumer activities during the SEP for each month as consumers apply and enroll in coverage. The first report is anticipated in early March, which will cover consumers who applied and enrolled through this SEP in February and have coverage starting March 1. CMS intends to release a report for each month, February, March, and April shortly after the month ends and then a final report after May 15 covering the full period…HHS
February 12, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Pelosi Statement on the CDC’s School Reopening Guidance”. From the Press Release:
“The CDC’s new and welcomed school re-opening guidance accelerates the urgency for Congress to pass President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
“There is no higher priority than ensuring that our children and teachers can return safely to school, as soon as possible. But without strong assistance from Congress, our schools cannot afford to enact the science-based safety precautions required – particularly in low-income, under-resourced communities that were already struggling before the pandemic. Yet, Republicans in Congress are attempting to block and hold this funding hostage.
“Our House Committees are working expeditously to draft and pass by the end of the month President Biden’s American Rescue Plan legislation, which makes a strong and necesary $130 billion investment for safe school re-opening and for our K-12 students. The funding will be used to repair ventilation systems, reduce class sizes and implement social distancing, purchase PPE, hire support staff and take robust meaures to help students make up for lost classroom time. At the same time, the legislation secures an additional $7 billion to close the digital divide, especially important for students and teachers in communities at high risk – which the Republicans oppose.
“The Democratic Congress and Biden-Harris Administration are united in our mission to keep our students, educators and their families safe from the vicious coronavirus, while ensuring equity for all children to get the education and the support that they need and deserve.”Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
February 13, 2021: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan posted a Statement titled: “Statement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan“. From the Statement:
The mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) has never been more important, and we have deep respect for its experts and the work they are doing every day to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and advance global health and health security. That is why President Biden rejected and reversed the Trump Administration’s decision to disengage from the WHO. But re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards. And at this critical moment, protecting the WHO’s credibility is a paramount priority. We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them. It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak. Going forward, all countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies — so that the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible.National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
February 16, 2021: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) posted News titled: “Medicaid Coverage Extension Fast-Tracked Through House”. From the News:
On February 12, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce advanced fast-track legislation to enable states to more easily extend Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. This critical step for women’s health comes after years of passionate and vocal advocacy from ACOG members and staff and works toward ACOG’s key goals of reducing maternal mortality in the United States.
The United States is the only industrialized nation in which maternal mortality rates are increasing; approximately 700 maternal deaths occur in the United States each year, of which an estimated 60% are preventable. With over 30% of maternal deaths occurring between one week and one year postpartum, extending Medicaid coverage up to 12 months postpartum is an invaluable step toward reducing preventable maternal deaths and increasing access to care.
The fast-tracked legislation would create a state plan option under the Medicaid program that would enable states to provide 12 months of postpartum coverage for individuals with a Medicaid-covered birth. This is a welcome and necessary change from the current federal mandate of 60 days of coverage after the end of pregnancy, as one year of postpartum coverage is a leading recommendation of state maternal mortality review committees and has been endorsed by more then 275 national and state-based organizations. The state plan option would create an easier glidepath for implementation, eliminating the need for a Section 1115 waiver…ACOG
February 15, 2021: President Joseph R. Biden posted a Statement titled: “Statement by President Joe Biden on the 2021 Special Health Insurance Enrollment Period Through HealthCare.gov“. From the Statement:
Health care is a right, not a privilege. No one should have to lay awake at night staring at the ceiling wondering what they are going to do to get the care they need or to pay the bills if a family member gets sick. That is why I will do everything in my power to ensure that all Americans have access to the quality, affordable health care they deserve – and the peace of mind it brings.
That is especially critical in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has already taken the lives of more than 470,000 of our fellow Americans and infected more than one out of every 12 additional Americans, often with devastating consequences to their health.
Starting today and running through May 15, 2021, we are opening HealthCare.gov for all Americans to have the opportunity to sign up for health insurance. Now, everyone will be able to use a special enrollment period to help secure some peace of mind as we work to beat the pandemic and strengthen and build on the Affordable Care Act.
As more Americans get covered, it is encouraging to see Congress moving quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan, which will ramp up testing, tracing, and our national vaccination program to get shots into as many arms as possible as quickly as we can. The American Rescue Plan will also take big steps to lower health costs and expand access to care for all Americans, including those who have lost their jobs. It will increase federal subsidies and decrease premiums in order to ensure that no one pays more than 8.5 percent of their income to purchase meaningful and comprehensive health coverage. And it incentivizes states to expand coverage to an additional four million people with low incomes, and provides states the opportunity to extend coverage for a year to low-income women who have recently given birth.
I encourage everyone who needs health insurance to go to HealthCare.gov from today through May 15. If you already have coverage, then help your family and friends to sign up and enroll.
We will get through this crisis if we look out for one another and work together to expand coverage, lower cost, and ensure that health care truly is a right for all Americans.President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
February 15, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Pelosi Statement on President Biden Expanding Access to Health Care”. From the Press Release:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement on President Biden’s opening of a special enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act for Americans to access health care during the pandemic:
“Access to health care is a matter of life-or-death, as our nation has tragically seen during the devistation of the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. President Biden’s actions to expand access to health care through the Affordable Care Act will be a lifeline for potentially millions during their time of need, protecting the health and financial security of those who have lost their health insurance through no fault of their own.
“At the same time, our House Committees are advancing and preparing to pass Biden American Rescue Plan, which will take the action needed to defeat this pandemic, putting shots in people’s arms, money in their pockets, children back to school and people back to work. With nearly half a million Americans having died, over 27 million having been infected and tens of millions without jobs, it is imperative that we send this legislation to President Biden’s desk to be signed as soon as possible.
“Together with the Biden-Harris Administration, the Democratic Congress will continue to work to save lives and livelihoods, and to protect the right of all Americans to affordable, quality health care.”Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
February 16, 2021: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki posted a Statement titled: “Statement by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Cases of Ebola“. From the statement:
Infectious diseases are transnational health and national security threats. While the world is reeling from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola has again emerged, simultaneously, in both Central and West Africa. The world cannot afford to turn the other way. We must do everything in our power to respond quickly, effectively, and with commensurate resources to stop these outbreaks before they become largescale epidemics.
President Biden has been briefed on the situation in both Central and West Africa, and his prayers are with the families of those who have died and those who are impacted by Ebola, COVID-19, and other ongoing global health challenges. The Biden Administration will do everything in its power to provide U.S. leadership to stop these outbreaks, working with the affected governments, the World Health Organization, the African Union and the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and neighboring states.
On February 16, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with the Ambassadors of Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia to the United States to convey the United States willingness to work closely with the governments of affected countries, and neighboring countries whose citizens would be at risk of the current outbreak spread. Mr. Sullivan emphasized President Biden’s commitment to provide U.S. leadership to strengthen health security and create better systems for preventing, detecting, and responding to health emergencies.
Outbreaks require swift and overwhelming response in order to avoid catastrophic consequences. Since the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the United States has endeavored to elevate and prioritize health security assistance with partners through the Global Health Security Agenda and with strong support from Congress. We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas – even as we battle COVID, we must ensure capacity and financing for health security worldwide. President Biden’s first National Security Memorandum directed that U.S. leadership in health security and global health be elevated, prioritized, and strengthened. The United States stands ready to do everything in its power to ensure a robust global response and to stop these outbreaks.White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki
February 17, 2021: The White House posted a FACT SHEET titled: “FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces New Actions to Expand and Improve COVID-19 Testing“. From the FACT SHEET:
As part of his National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness, President Biden announced today a series of new actions to expand COVID-19 testing, improve the availability of tests, and better prepare for the threat of variants. As the Administration is working around the clock to vaccinate the population, we need to continue what we know works to protect public health: universal masking, physical distancing, and robust testing. These down payments will serve as a bridge to comprehensive testing investments in the American Rescue Plan.
Today, President Biden announced that the Biden-Harris administration will:
Expand COVID-19 Testing for Schools and Underserved Populations:
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in partnership with the Department of Defense (DOD), will make a $650 million investment to expand testing opportunities for K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters. HHS will establish regional coordinating centers to organize the distribution of COVID-19 testing supplies and partner with laboratories across the country, including universities and commercial labs, to collect specimens, perform tests, and report results to the relevant public health agencies. Too often, testing can be hard to implement in non-medical settings or it can be hard for schools or other congregate settings to find the right partner to make testing work. These coordinating centers will identify existing testing capacity, match it up to an area of need, and fund that testing.
Increase Domestic Manufacturing of Testing Supplies:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will invest nearly $200 million to identify, track, and mitigate emerging strains of SARS-CoV-2 through genome sequencing. This down payment will increase CDC’s sequencing more than threefold from about 7,000 samples per week to approximately 25,000. Increasing samples will improve our ability to detect emerging variants and understand their spread with greater precision. Expanded testing is critical to support more genomic sequencing, because sequencing only occurs after a COVID-19 test comes up positive.
These investments are only the beginning of what is needed to expand testing nationwide and get the pandemic under control. The American Rescue Plan will invest $50 billion to expand and support testing, including in priority settings like schools and shelters, and invest in U.S. testing capacity so that public health officials can track the virus in real time and Americans can efficiently get results.White House
February 17, 2021: A Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials“. From the Press Briefing:
MR. ZIENTS: Good morning, everybody. It’s been 27 days since the President launched his comprehensive whole-of-government strategy to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Central to the strategy is vaccinating all Americans. When we started this work 27 days ago, we inherited many challenges: There was not enough vaccine supply. There were not enough vaccinators to help get shots in arms. And there were not enough places to get vaccinated.
And 27 days later, while we’ve made a lot of progress, there is a long road ahead. We’re executing our strategy across multiple fronts, and that execution is yielding results. Today I will give you the latest update on our execution in those three key areas: vaccine supply, number of vaccinators, and places to get vaccinated.
We’ll also hear from Dr. Walensky on the state of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci on the latest science, Dr. Nunez-Smith on our equity work, and Carole Johnson, White House Testing Coordinator, will discuss important progress on testing.
First, I’ll start with vaccine supply. We’ve acted aggressively to increase the vaccine supply. Yesterday we announced another increase in the weekly allocations of vaccine doses to states, tribes, and territories from 11 million doses last week to 13.5 million doses this week. That’s an increase in vaccine allocations of 57 percent during the first four weeks of the Biden-Harris administration.
In addition, we’re doubling the weekly vaccine supply to local pharmacies from 1 million to 2 million doses. And thanks to the President’s leadership, we’re on track to have enough vaccine supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July.
Second, we’re mobilizing teams to get shots in arms. We signed an order to allow retired doctors and nurses to give shots. Today we’ve deployed over 700 federal personnel as vaccinators. The federal government is funding 1,200 National Guard members who are serving as vaccinators. For the first time, we have activated over 1,000 members of the military to support community vaccination sites, and we’ve deployed an additional 1,000 federal personnel to support community vaccination sites in operational roles. We continue to take action to increase the number of vaccinators and federal support teams.
Third, we’re creating more places where Americans can get vaccinated. We’ve expanded financial support to bolster community vaccination centers nationwide, with over $3 billion in federal funding across 40 states, tribes, and territories. We’re bringing vaccinations to places communities know and trust — community centers, high school gyms, churches, and stadiums nationwide. And we’re standing up innovative, high-volume, federally run sites that can give over 30,000 shots a week. We’ve also launched efforts to get vaccines to pharmacies and community health centers.
And the data shows that we’re making progress. As you can see in our weekly vaccination progress report, our seven-day average daily dose administered is now 1.7 million average daily shots per day, up from 1.1 million only four weeks ago. Our seven-day daily average of 1.7 million compares to an average of 892,000 the week before President Biden took office. That is almost double in just four weeks.
Throughout this work, we’re putting equity front and center, partnering with states to increase vaccinations in the hardest-hit and hardest-to-reach communities; increasing supply to convenient and trusted locations like community health centers; deploying mobile units; and improving data collection so that we have a better understanding of the inequities currently experienced.
Let me be very clear: We have much more work to do on all fronts, but we are taking the actions we need to beat this virus. There is a path out of this pandemic. But how quickly we exit this crisis depends on all of us. That’s why I encourage everyone to take the advice of Dr. Walensky, Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Nunez-Smith. Follow the public health guidance. Wear masks, social distance, and get vaccinated when it’s your turn.
We will do everything we can as a federal government to defeat this virus, but it will take all of us stepping up to do our part.
With that, let me turn it over to Dr. Walensky. Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you. I’m so glad to be back with you today to share the latest information on the status of the pandemic.
Let’s first begin with an overview of the data, and then I want to briefly discuss with you what CDC knows about recently detected COVID-19 variants and what we’re doing in response.
COVID-19 cases have now been declining for five weeks. The seven-day average in the past week — cases have decreased nearly 22 percent to an average of slightly more than 86,000 cases per day. Similarly, new hospital admissions have been consistently declining since early January, with a 21 percent decline in the seven-day average over the past week, averaging approximately 7,700 cases per — admissions per day.
We continue to see the daily number of reported deaths fluctuate. The latest data indicate deaths declined by 0.6 percent to an average of 3,076 deaths per day from February 9th to February 15th. These numbers are a painful reminder that we have — of all those we have lost and continue to lose — our family members, our friends, our neighbors, and our co-workers — to this pandemic.
While cases and hospitalizations continue to move in the right direction, we remain in the midst of a very serious pandemic, and we continue to have more cases than we did, even during last month’s — last summer’s peak.
And the continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made in the last month if our — if we let our guard down. As of yesterday, we have confirmed 1,277 cases of the B117 variant across 42 states, including the first case of the B117 variant with the E484K substitution that had previously been found in the UK. Nineteen cases of B1351 variant have been found across 10 states, and three cases of the P1 variant has been found in two states.
Reflective of our commitment to communicate openly and often about the latest science on variants today, CDC is releasing two studies in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, as well as a commentary in the Journal of the American Medical Association, on variants specifically.
In the MMWR reports, one study describes the different ways eight people in Minnesota were infected with the B117 variant that emerged late last year in the UK. None of the eight individuals had traveled to the UK, but three of them appeared to have been infected during international travel to other destinations, and three during travel to California. One person was exposed to the virus in their home and another in their community.
The second report examines the initial spread of the B1351 variant in Zambia, where the average number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases increased sixteen fold from December to January, which coincided with the detection of the B1351 variant in specimens collected in December.
The B1351 variant was first detected in South Africa. And Zambia shows substantial commerce and tourism linkages with South Africa, which may have contributed to the transmission of this variant across the two countries.
In the JAMA viewpoint, co-authored by Dr. Fauci, we provide a synopsis of what we know about the primary variants circulating in the United States and the interagency steps the federal government is taking to address these variants. I know these variants are concerning, especially as we’re seeing signs of progress. I’m talking about them today because I am concerned too.
Fortunately, the science to date suggests that the same prevention of actions apply to these variants. This includes wearing a well-fitting mask that completely covers your nose and mouth; social distancing when around others who don’t live with you; avoiding travel, crowds, and poorly ventilated spaces; washing your hands often; and getting vaccinated when the vaccine is available to you.
It is more important than ever for us to do everything we can to decrease the spread in our communities by increasing our proven measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19. Fewer cases means fewer opportunities for the variant to spread and fewer opportunities for new variants to emerge.
Finally, a quick comment on masking. As I stated last week, the science is clear: Consistently and correctly wearing a mask is one of the most effective tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19. For reasons supported by science, comfort, cost, and practicality, the CDC does not recommend routine use of N95 respirators for protection against COVID-19 by the general public. Abundant scientific laboratory data, epidemiologic investigations, and large population-level analyses demonstrate that masks now available to the general public are effective and are working. And there is little evidence that, when worn properly, well-fitting medical and cloth masks fail in disease transmission.
CDC continues to recommend the use of masks that have two or more layers, that completely cover your nose and mouth, and that fit snugly and comfortably over your nose and the side of your face.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions. I will now turn it over to Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci?
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’d like to spend the next couple of minutes addressing an issue that we have been asked about continually since the successful demonstration of the high efficacy of the vaccines that are currently being implemented right now in our country: the mRNA vaccines of Pfizer and of Moderna.
And the question is — we do know now that we have a 94 to 95 percent efficacy in preventing clinically recognizable disease, but the looming question is: If a person gets infected, despite the fact that they’ve been vaccinated — we refer to that as a “breakthrough infection” — does that person have the capability of transmitting the infection to another person? Namely, does vaccine prevent transmission?
And I had mentioned to you that we, together with the Moderna company — and the Pfizer group is going to do it also — are also going to be looking at the viral load in the nasal pharynx to determine if, in fact, a person who’s vaccinated but has a breakthrough infection, compared to a person who’s unvaccinated and has an asymptomatic infection, is there a difference in the viral load? That will be very important.
What has happened over the past couple of weeks is there have been some studies that are pointing into a very favorable direction that will have to be verified and corroborated by other studies.
But let me spend a minute to just describe it to you. The real question is: Is there a relationship between viral load and transmissibility? We know from ample studies over many years with HIV is that there’s a direct correlation between the viral load that an individual has — usually measured in the blood — and the likelihood that they will or will not transmit their infection, for example, to a sexual partner. The lower the viral load, the less likelihood of transmissibility. The higher the viral load, the higher the likelihood of transmissibility.
Well, when you’re dealing with COVID-19, you’re talking about viral load in the nasopharynx. So a study has just come out about a week and a half ago from Spain that directly looked at it with a group of 282 clusters of infections. And what it showed, in a Lancet article that came out on February the 2nd, was something that we were hoping we would see: that there was a direct correlation with the viral load and the efficiency of transmission, very much the same as what we’ve seen in diseases like HIV, only now it’s in the nasopharynx. In other words, higher viral load, good transmissibility; lower viral load, very poor transmissibility.
Now, together with that is another study that came out on February the 8th on an online journal, which I believe is worthy of being noted here — even though, as I mentioned, you want corroboration with other studies. It was a study from Israel. It looked at the following question: If, in fact, you assume that decreased viral load is due — will result in a decreased transmission, when you follow breakthrough infections in the individuals in Israel who had been vaccinated, compared to infections in individuals who were not, there was a markedly diminished viral load in those individuals who were vaccinated but had a breakthrough infection, compared to individuals who were not.
It’s very interesting the Israelis were able to do that study. It is noteworthy that when you look at the amount of vaccinations per hundred people — mainly how many vaccinations were given per hundred people — Israeli — Israel is way up there, with 78 doses per 100 people, compared to the United States, which is 16.7 doses per 100 people. So we have been hearing and seeing in the press that Israel has a remarkable diminution in cases associated with the efficiency of their vaccine.
The reason I bring this out to you is that it is another example of the scientific data starting to point to the fact that vaccine is important not only for the health of the individual — to protect them against infection and disease, including the variants that Dr. Walensky has mentioned just a moment ago — but it also has very important implications from a public health standpoint for interfering and diminishing the dynamics of the outbreak.
So the bottom-line message is one that you just heard from Dr. Walensky that I said the last few times that we had these press briefings, and that is: When your turn to get vaccinated comes up, get vaccinated. It’s not only good for you and your family and your community, it will have a very important impact on the dynamics of the outbreak in our country. And with that, I’ll hand it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith.
DR. NUNEZ-SMITH: Thank you so much, Dr. Fauci. So, over these past few weeks, you know, I’ve been — it’s been a great pleasure to be here giving updates in how we’re centering equity in our response. You know, spent time describing the critical need for data, in particular from states and localities, you know, to guide an equitable response.
And last week, I introduced you to the individuals selected for the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, a group that will convene to develop recommendations to inform the work.
So today, just very briefly, I wanted to zoom out a little bit and, just at a high level, describe some of the elements of an equitable COVID-19 response that we’ve built and that we are building so far.
So in terms of the federal COVID-19 response, we have developed robust efforts in three key areas on the continuum of COVID-19 impact, and that’s vaccination, treatment, as well as testing.
So first, vaccination, as we’ve been discussing so far today, is just critical. And the federal programs — those include the community health center partnerships, retail pharmacy program, the community vaccination centers, and the mobile vaccination sites — those are being executed to make sure we also reach the hardest hit. And we’re working directly with state and local leadership on these programs.
So second, I want to spend a little time today discussing equity in COVID-19 treatment options. We have been working very closely with the Food and Drug Administration to discuss the promise and the potential of three antibody therapies authorized for emergency use. And in brief, these therapies have been shown to reduce hospitalization and improve outcomes for high-risk patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
You know, the potential for these therapies is especially high in the communities that have been most affected by the pandemic. And in fact, the 25 locations currently participating in the administration’s rollout of these therapies include 32 percent of the American population, and also includes significant racial and ethnic diversity. You know, from Houston, to Detroit, L.A., to Atlanta — in coordination with community leaders in these areas, we have the ability to reach 38 percent of the black community, 42 percent of the Hispanic/Latino community, and 41 percent of the Asian community in the country. And we also have reached into rural populations. So with regard to these therapies in particular, we will continue to keep you updated.
And then third, we have been hard at work developing robust efforts in COVID-19 testing as well.
And so, with that, I want to pass it over to my colleague, Carole Johnson, to describe the latest developments in the efforts to streamline and increase COVID-19 testing. Carole.
Thank you, Dr. Nunez-Smith, for your leadership on testing, on equity, and on so much more. I’m really delighted to be here with you today. I’m Carole Johnson, the COVID Response Team Testing Coordinator.
For the last three years, I served as a Human Services Commissioner for the state of New Jersey, providing healthcare and social services for our most vulnerable residents. So when COVID came early and quickly to our state, I experienced firsthand the difference access to accurate, affordable testing could make in slowing the spread.
I’m here today because while we’re working around the clock to vaccinate folks, we also need to continue doing what we know works to protect public health, and that includes robust testing. We need to test broadly and rapidly to turn the tide of this pandemic. But we still don’t have enough testing and we don’t have enough testing in all the places it needs to be.
Today, we’re taking a critical step along that path. Thanks to Pre- — President Biden’s leadership and his commitment to testing, we’re announcing that the federal government will invest $1.6 billion in three key areas: supporting testing in schools and underserved populations, increasing genomic sequencing, and manufacturing critical testing supplies.
First, we’ll invest $650 million for testing to begin to help schools with reopening and to reach underserved populations. While this funding will serve as a — only as a pilot until the American Rescue Plan is enacted, we want to act quickly to help get support underway in these priority settings. The Department of Health and Human Services will use these funds to create regional coordinating centers that will partner with labs to leverage their underutilized testing capacity. They’ll use that capacity to support schools, underserved communities, and congregate settings.
Too often, testing can be hard to implement in non-medical settings or it can be hard to find the right partner to make testing work. These coordinating ceters [sic] — centers will help match lab capacity with demand from schools, congregate settings like homeless shelters or other underserved populations. These are places that typically don’t have the resources or the bandwidth to build partnerships with academic or commercial testing labs, and that’s where the government can be a facilitator. We’ll identify existing testing capacity, match it to an area of need, and support and fund that testing.
Second, we’ll invest almost $200 million to rapidly expand genomic sequencing to identify, track, and stop the COVID-19 variants that we’ve all heard and talked much about. Essentially, genomic sequencing is the process that tells us which COVID variants are in the country. And this surge in funding will result in a threefold increase in CDC’s genomic sequencing capacity to get us to 25,000 samples a week.
As a result, we’ll identify COVID variants sooner and better target our efforts to stop the spread. We’re quickly infusing targeted resources here because the time is critical when it comes to these fast-moving variants.
Finally, we’ll address the shortage in testing supplies. Talk to anyone who has focused on COVID testing over the last year, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Our nation faces a shortage of critical supplies and raw materials, including pipette ti- — tips; the specialized paper used in antigen tests; and the specialized molded plastics needed to house testing reagents, as a couple of examples.
So our administration will invest $815 million in building and surging domestic manufacturing capacity of these critical testing supplies. We need to build — to build the capacity to produce these materials or we’ll continue to face shortages that will sidetrack our work in expanding access to testing.
To be clear, these resources are a significant help in the short term, but they are far from what’s necessary to meet the need for testing in communities across the country. They are merely a bridge until Congress passes the American Rescue Plan to fully expand testing and ensure that any American can get a test when they need one.
With that, I’ll turn it back over to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTZ: Well, thanks, Carole, and thanks, team. I want to emphasize the importance of testing. Carole just laid out the case, but I just want to add my two cents here. We have too little capacity for diagnostic screening and genomic sequencing. It can take way too long to get a test and there are too many barriers to widespread testing and screening.
Quality, affordable testing can be important to reopening our businesses and schools, and keeping them open. And genomic sequencing testing is how we will spot variants early, before they spread. So we need to make a significant investment and ramp up testing across the country.
We’re using available funds, so we can pilot programs and make progress. But make no mistake: We need the American Rescue Plan to double testing capacity, promote innovation, and drive down costs per tests.
Finally, before we open it up for Q&A, I want to make one last point. We know that millions of Americans have lost their health insurance as a result of this pandemic. This week, the administration opened a Special Enrollment Period to get more people covered. Between now and May 15th, Americans can go to Healthcare.gov and enroll in quality, affordable healthcare.
We encourage people to check out their options and to take steps to protect you and your family.
With that, let’s open it up to questions.
February 17, 2021: Department of Health and Human Services posted a Press Release titled: “Biden Administration Announces Actions to Expand COVID-19 Testing“. From the Press Release:
As part of President Biden’s National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness – PDF, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is announcing new actions to expand COVID-19 testing capacity across the country. These actions will improve the availability of tests, including for schools and underserved populations; increase domestic manufacturing of tests and testing supplies; and better prepare the nation for the threat of variants by rapidly increasing virus genome sequencing.
First, the Administration will expand COVID-19 testing for schools and underserved populations. HHS will partner with the Department of Defense (DOD) to make a $650 million investment to expand testing opportunities for K-8 schools and underserved congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, directly through new coordination “hubs.” HHS and DOD will establish regional coordinating centers to organize COVID-19 increased testing capacity, and to partner with laboratories, including universities, across the country to collect specimens, perform the tests, and report results to the relevant public health agencies for up to 25 million additional tests per month. This effort will bring more testing to teachers, staff, and students—an important step to support President Biden’s plan to re-open schools for in-person learning.
Second, the Administration will ramp up the domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials to address testing shortages. HHS and DOD will make an $815 million investment to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials, including filter pipette tips, nitrocellulose used in antigen point-of-care tests, and specific injected molded plastics needed to house testing reagents. These investments will help create more domestic sources and expand existing facilities to increase production capacity.
Third, the Administration, through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will rapidly increase genomic sequencing of the virus to better prepare for the threat of variants and slow the spread of disease. CDC will invest nearly $200 million to expand genomic sequencing capabilities, including bioinformatics, reporting, and modeling, to increase sequencing three-fold per week. This is integral to identifying new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and preventing and mitigating their spread. CDC will leverage large commercial laboratories, academic and research institutions, small-to-medium commercial laboratories, and federal laboratories to increase sequencing capacity to-scale and as needed, based on the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Department of Health and Human Services is committed to ensuring that we expand COVID-19 testing capabilities and invest in a diverse array of testing technology, capacity, and human resources to identify and contain the spread of the virus. As part of the President’s national strategy to combat COVID-19, we will deploy every available resource to ensure that more individuals and families have access to testing options during this unprecedented time and that our nation is prepared to contain and prevent the spread of possible variants,” said HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran.HHS
February 17, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Coronavirus Relief Checks Boosted Economy, Republicans Want to Stop it From Happening Again”. From the Press Release:
Retail Sales Surged in January as a Direct Result of the $600 Stimulus Checks
After months of troubling economic reports, January finally saw a glimmer of hope: a surge in retail sales as a result of the $600 direct payments to the American people. These strong retail numbers prove once again that direct payments not only provide urgently-needed relief, they also boost our economy.
It is critical that we build on this boost by putting $1,400 stimulus checks in the pockets of struggling Americans – an essential part of the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan. The country is looking for action, for progress, and for solutions to the crises we are facing. Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans “overwhelmingly oppose” proposed relief plans and, instead of proposing ideas to help our country out of this crisis, Republicans have been attempting to cut benefits for millions of Americans.
Through their relentless opposition to additional help for hardworking American families and small business owners across the country, Republicans are disregarding economic experts and ignoring the will of the American people. But, this is not a moment in the country when obstructionism from the GOP will be rewarded.
- Experts Across the Political Spectrum Agree: Trump’s own Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers told CNN he “absolutely” supports the framework of President Biden’s stimulus plan and Moody’s Analytics found the plan will create 10 million additional American jobs between 2021 and 2022.
- The American People Support Additional Relief: More than 75% of Americans support an additional round of $1,400 stimulus checks and more than 65% support a comprehensive package including state and local aid, expanded unemployment insurance, and more.
If Republicans won’t listen to experts or to their own constitutients, perhals they can follow common sense. The American people and small businesses across the country are struggling to make ends meet. A survey from the Federal Reserve foudn that 9 million small business owners fear their businesses won’t survive the pandemic without more government relief. The direct payments have proven time and again their efficacy in supporting the American people while also stimulating our economy and helping businesses in need.
The $1,400 direct relief payments included in the American Rescue Plan will help families, small businesses and local economies, and it is supported by a bipartisan majority of the country. It’s time for Republicans to listen to reason and get out of the way.
February 18, 2021: White House posted a Fact Sheet titled: “President Biden to Take Action on Global Health through Support for COVAX and Calling for Health Security Financing“. From the Fact Sheet:
As the virus continues to spread throughout the world, and with new variants emerging, the facts are clear that it is critical that we vaccinate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Tomorrow at the G7, the President will announce that he is taking concrete steps to improve the health and the safety of Americans by protecting vulnerable populations worldwide. He will also call on G7 partners to prioritize a sustainable health security financing mechanism aimed at catalyzing countries to build the needed capacity to end this pandemic and prevent the next one.
COVID has shown us that no nation can act alone in the face of a pandemic. Today, President Biden is taking action to support the world’s most vulnerable and protect Americans from COVID-19.
Using money appropriated by a bipartisan Congressional vote in December 2020, the United States will provide an initial $2 billion contribution to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, the innovative financing instrument of the COVAX Facility, which supports access to safe and effective vaccines for 92 low- and middle-income economies.
The United States will also take a leadership role in galvanizing further global contributions to COVAX by releasing an additional $2 billion through 2021 and 2022, of which the first $500 million will be made available when existing donor pledges are fulfilled and initial doses are delivered to AMC countries. In close cooperation with Gavi, this additional $2 billion in funding will serve to expand COVAX’s reach. We also call on our G7 and other partners to work alongside Gavi, to bring in billions more in resources to support global COVID-19 vaccination, and to target urgent vaccine manufacturing, supply, and delivery needs.
Finally, at the G7 President Biden will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to global health security and advancing the Global Health Security Agenda. All countries should have the capability to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks. The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing outbreaks of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea highlight the need for sustainable health security financing to catalyze country capacity to prevent biological catastrophes.
Today, the President is announcing that he will:
Protect the most vulnerable, protecting America: The United States’ contribution is designated to help Gavi prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus through vaccine procurement and delivery for the world’s most vulnerable. In partnership with Gavi, the bulk of these funds will be targeted to support direct vaccine procurement, and a portion will also support broader country readiness and vaccine service delivery.
Encourage the global community to action: Under President Biden, the United States will take a leadership role in galvanizing new donor commitments toward the COVAX Facility. The next $2 billion of support from the US government, which will be additional to today’s initial $2 billion contribution, will be released as we work with other donors to elevate pledge commitments. The goal is clear: vaccinate vulnerable populations, and reach those without other options. This funding from the Administration will enable Gavi to address urgent needs, while also supporting efforts to diversify and increase contributions from other donors in 2021.Fact Sheet
February 18, 2021: Lambda Legal posted news titled: “Lambda Legal Hails Introduction of the Equality Act“. From the news:
“[W]e need the absolute clarity of the Equality Act, and we need it now: nearly 50 years of waiting for federal action is long enough.”
Today, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced the introduction of the Equality Act, federal legislation that will update existing federal nondiscrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act, to confirm that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unlawful discrimination based on sex. The Equality Act clarifies that sex discrimination laws to prohibit LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, credit, education, and other areas, explicitly extends sex discrimination protections to public accommodations and federally funded programs.
Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings issued the following statement:
“Lambda Legal applauds the re-introduction of the Equality Act, long past-due federal legislation which provides clear, comprehensive, and explicit protections for LGBTQ people in federal law. Coupled with President Biden’s early action applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County to all federal laws currently prohibiting sex discrimination, we can see true equality on the horizon. And it can’t happen soon enough: the LGBTQ community has been asking Congress for protections since Reps. Bella Abzug and Ed Koch first introduced the Equality Act of 1974 years ago, and nearly fifty years of waiting is long enough.
“LGBTQ people across the country remain vulnerable to discrimination on a daily basis and too often have little recourse. Without comprehensive federal protections the basic rights of LGBTQ people vary state to state. In some instances, individuals lose rights and protections the moment they cross into a neighboring state, underscoring that the current patchwork of protections for LGBTQ people is inadequate. In addition, as evidenced by the thousands of phone calls to our Help Desk we receive every year, many employers, landlords and lenders still haven’t gotten the message that discrimination is just wrong, which is why we need the absolute clarity of the Equality Act, and we need it now.”
The Equality Act makes clear that federal law comprehensively prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It also updates the public accommodations law to add protections from discrimination in public places and services on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion where those protections are not already in existing law, such as for retail stores, transportation services like airports, taxis and bus stations, and service providers like accountants.
The Equality Act was first introduced in 2015 by U.S. Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and John Lewis (D-GA) and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker(D-NJ)…Lambda Legal
February 18, 2021: Planned Parenthood posted a press release titled: “BREAKING: South Carolina Passes First Abortion Ban of 2021; Lawsuit Filed”. From the Press Release:
South Carolina politicians ignore dire need for COVID-19 pandemic relief, passing abortion ban that includes provisions targeting sexual assault survivors
Moments ago, South Carolina politicians passed the first abortion ban of 2021 – a ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy. A legal challenge and request for emergency relief is imminent. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, P.A. intend to sue in federal court by the end of today, as this abortion ban is to take effect as soon as Gov. Henry McMaster signs int into law. By banning abortion at just six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant, the law targets South Carolinians who already struggle to access health care.
This legislation could ban almost all abortions for the nearly 1 million South Carolinians of reproductive age. Under this law, even sexual assault survivors will be barred from having an abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy unless doctors report their names to law enforcement, potentially over the survivor’s objection. It is the latest in a concerning trend of state politicians passing extreme abortion bans and restrictions aimed at eliminating abortion access and overturning the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade.
In less than two months, state politicians have introduced or filed abortion bans and restrictions at a staggering pace— more than 200 bills to restrict or ban abortion and counting, more than 40 percent seeking to ban abortion at various points of pregnancy…Planned Parenthood
February 18, 2021: Center for Reproductive Rights posted News titled: “South Carolina Passes First Abortion Ban of 2021; Lawsuit Filed”. From the News:
South Carolina politicians ignore dire need for COVID-19 pandemic relief, passing abortion ban that includes provisions targeting sexual assault survivors.
Moments ago, South Carolina politicians passed the first abortion ban of 2021 – a ban on abortion at six weeks of pregnancy. A legal challenge and request for emergency relief is imminent. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, P.A. intend to sue in federal court by the end of today, as this abortion ban is set to take effect as soon as Gov. Henry McMaster signs it into law. By banning abortion at just six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant, the law targets South Carolinians who already struggle to access health care.
This legislation could ban almost all abortions for the nearly 1 million South Carolinians of reproductive age. Under this law, even sexual assault survivors will be barred from having an abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy unless doctors report their names to law enforcement, potentially over the survivor’s objection. It is the latest in a concerning trend of state politicians passing extreme abortion bans and restrictions aimed at eliminating abortion access and overturning the constitutional right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade.
In less than two months, state politicians have introduced or filed abortion bans and restrictions at a staggering pace – over 200 bills and counting to restrict or ban abortion, have of which seek to ban abortion…Center for Reproductive Rights
February 18, 2021: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) posted News titled: “ACOG Releases Guidance on Health Care for Transgender and Gender Diverse Individuals”. From the News:
Obstetrician-gynecologists should be aware of the unique needs of transgender individuals and should be prepared to assist them with preventative health care in safe and affirming environments, according to a new Committee Opinion released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Heath Care for Transgender and Gender Diverse Individuals was prepared jointly by ACOG’s Committee on Gynecologic Practice and Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women. This document provides clinical guidance for caring for transmasculine and transfeminine patients and information to assist obstetrician-gynecologists in offering inclusive patient care.
The Committee Opinion notes that the majority of medications used for gender transition are common and can be safely prescribed by a wide variety of health care professionals with appropriate training and education, including, but not limited to, obstetrician-gynecologists, family or internal medicine physicians, endocrinologists, psychiatrists, and advanced practice clinicians.
“With at least 1.4 million adults and 150,000 youths living in the United States who identify as transgender, obstetrician-gynecologists should work to make their offices open and inclusive to all patients, and should be prepared to provide all individuals with compassionate, evidence-based care,” said Beth Cronin, MD, FACOG, one of the authors of the Committee Opinion.
Additional findings of the Committee Opinions include:
- Fertility and parenting desires should be discussed early in process of transition, before the initiation of hormone therapy or gender affirming surgery.
- Gender-affirming hormone therapy is not effective contraception. Sexually active individuals who do not wish to become pregnant or cause pregnancy in others should be counseled about the possibility of pregnancy if they are having sexual activity that could result in pregnancy.
- To guide preventative medical care, any anatomical structure present that warrants screening should be screened, regardless of the patient’s gender identity.
The Committee Opinion notes that pregnancies are still possible during and after transitioning, so contraceptive counseling is crucial to prevent unintended pregnancies.
In addition, acknowledging that transmasculine individuals may pursue and achieve pregnancy, the Committee Opinion notes that pregnancy can be a gendered experience and may lead to feelings of dysphoria or isolation for some patients. Obstetrician-gynecologists caring for these patients should be aware of language used, should be prepared to counsel patients about when to restart testosterone therapy, and should consider referrals for mental health support if needed.
Recognizing the importance of clinical guidance to assist in the delivery of care to transgender and gender diverse individuals, the Committee Opinion also discusses the many barriers to health care that this population commonly faces and the steps that obstetrician-gynecologists can take to create a welcoming, inclusive environment…
…ACOG opposes discrimination on the basis of gender identity, urges public and private health insurance plans to cover necessary services for individuals with gender dysphoria; and advocates for inclusive, thoughtful, and affirming care for transgender individuals.
February 19, 2021: The White House posted a Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials“. From the Press Briefing:
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Good morning.
Thank you for joining our COVID-19 Response briefing. First, I want to start by saying that our hearts go out to the people in Texas, Louisiana, and across the country who have been impacted by the severe weather this week.
Now, I want to give an update on how severe weather across the country has impacted vaccine deliveries and administration, and how we intend to catch up. As of now, we have a backlog of about 6 million doses due to the weather. All 50 states have been impacted. The 6 million doses represents about three days of delayed shipping, and many states have been able to cover some of this delay with existing inventory.
So let me first walk you through the situation and then tell you how we, as an entire nation, will have to pull together to get back on track. There are three places along the distribution chain that have been impacted by the weather. First, FedEx, UPS, and McKesson — our logistics and distribution teams — have all faced challenges as workers have been snowed in and unable to get to work to package and ship the vaccines, kits, and the required diluent.
Second, road closures have held up delivery of vaccines at different points in the distribution process, between manufacturing sites to distribution, and to shipping hubs.
Third, more than 2,000 vaccine sites are located in areas with power outages, so they’re currently unable to receive doses. General Perna’s guidance to the team was to ensure safety of personnel, preservation of the vaccines and supplies, and constant communication with the states. Because of 72-hour cold chain constraints, we don’t want to ship doses to those locations and have them sitting at a site where they might expire. So the vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hubs, ready to be shipped out as soon as the weather allows.
Now, as weather conditions improve, we’re already working to clear this backlog. 1.4 million doses are already in transit today, and we anticipate that all the backlog doses will be delivered within the next week, with most being delivered within the next several days. And we expect we will be able to manage both this backlog and the new production coming online next week.
With everybody’s hard work and collective effort, we will be able to catch up, but we understand this will mean asking more of people. UPS and FedEx both will support Saturday deliveries tomorrow. We are working with the jurisdictions to see which ones are able to take Saturday deliveries. The packaging plant for Moderna vaccines is just now coming online. Roads are being cleared for the workforce to leave their homes. They’re working today through Sunday to package the backlogged orders, and will put the vaccines and ancillary supplies on aircraft on Sunday night for Monday-through-Wednesday delivery.
As we get back on track, we’re asking states, sites, and ventilate — and vaccinators to help us catch up and to get Americans vaccinated. We know many Americans are awaiting their second dose, and many more, their first dose. We’re asking vaccine administration sites to extend their hours even further and offer additional appointments, and to try to reschedule the vaccinations over the coming days and weeks as significantly more supply arrives. States and vaccination sites are going to want to be prepared for the additional volume.
Whatever reduction we see in our seven-day average this week in vaccinations from the weather, if we all work together — from the factory, all the way to the vaccinators — we will make up for it in the coming week.
I want to personally thank the men and women who have continued to keep our operations up and running throughout this storm and have been working 24 by 7 with the states, and with local vaccination sites. And my thoughts remain with all of those impacted.
I’ll be happy to answer any questions about this topic.
But before we turn it over to Dr. Walensky and Dr. Fauci, I do want to briefly touch on our work to stand up more federally run sites. Even as we manage the weather, on the one hand, we are pushing ahead with plans to get more vaccines to more places to get more Americans vaccinated.
Today, I’m pleased to announce we’ll be opening five additional vaccination centers: one in Pennsylvania and four in Florida. In Florida, we will stand up four major new community vaccination centers, in partnerships with the state, in Orlando, Miami, Jacksonville, and Tampa. These sites will have the capacity to vaccinate a total of 12,000 individuals per day in total.
In Pennsylvania, we’re announcing a major new community vaccination center at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. This site will have the capacity to deliver 6,000 doses per day.
Selection of all of these sites is based on a CDC-FEMA framework that has been developed to target vaccinations to those who are most vulnerable. The goal is to launch vaccination sites that use processes and are in locations that promote equity and deploy the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.
The federal government will be deploying teams immediately to work hand in hand with state and local jurisdictions to get these sites set up, and we expect both — we expect them all to be up and running in the next two weeks.
So that’s a brief status from the White House COVID Response Team here. We’ll have more announcements to come next week.
Now, with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Walensky to overview a state of the pandemic and public health.
Thank you so much. I’m delighted to be back with you today.
I have new information to share from CDC regarding ongoing safety monitoring of the COVID-19 vaccines. But before I go into those findings, I want to provide a brief overview of the latest data on the pandemic.
We continue to see a five-week decline in COVID cases, with cases decreasing 69 percent in the seven-day average since hitting a peak on January 11th. The current seven-day average of approximately 77,000 cases is the lowest recorded since the end of October but still higher than the height of last summer’s peak.
Like new COVID-19 cases, the number of new hospital admissions continues to drop. The seven-day average of new admissions on February 16th, approximately 7,200, represents a 56 percent decline since the January 9th peak.
As I reported on Wednesday, the number of deaths continues to fluctuate. The latest data indicate that deaths have declined modestly in the past week to an average of approximately 2,700 per day. These numbers are a stark reminder of the thousands of lives lost to this pandemic.
Another reminder of the devastating impact of the pandemic has had on our country was brought into clear view yesterday in a report released by the CDC on the provisional life expectancy in the first half of 2020. The report found that life expectancy was at its lowest level in 15 years, dropping by a full year compared to the life expectancy in 2019. This represents a substantial decline in life expectancy in our nation.
Importantly, like the populations most heavily affected by this pandemic, the declines in life expectancy were again most pronounced in certain racial and ethnic minority groups. The largest declines in life expectancy occurred in non-Hispanic black persons, dropping 2.7 years — levels not seen since 2001. And Hispanic persons had lost the second largest life expectancy, dropping 1.9 years.
These findings, though not surprising, are sobering and representative of the continued need to take this pandemic, and actions to stop the spread of COVID-19, seriously.
Now more than ever, with continued spread of variants that stand to threaten the progress we are making, we must recommit to doing our part to protect one another: wear a well-fitting mask, social distant, avoid travel and crowds, practice good hand hygiene, and get vaccinated when the vaccine is available to you.
I also want to spend a moment talking about vaccine safety. To date, more than 41 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but we continue to hear that people might be reluctant to roll up their sleeve because they are worried about adverse effects.
I will reiterate: The CDC is committed to monitoring vaccine safety and frequently reporting on what we know. Today, CDC is releasing a study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that describes findings from our COVID-19 vaccine safety monitoring in the United States from December 14th through January 13th, 2021.
During the first month of vaccinations, approximately 1.6 million people enrolled in V-safe, CDC’s new phone-based COVID-19 vaccine safety monitoring system. Among those enrolled, 71 percent reported pain where the shot was given, 34 percent reported fatigue, and 30 percent reported a headache. These are common with most vaccines, and they typically resolve within a day or two of vaccination.
It’s important to know that about half the people don’t feel very well after getting their second dose. This should not deter you from getting your second dose, but you need to have a light day of activity after getting vaccinated.
There were also rare reports of severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis, a serious but treatable reaction. In fact, there were 4.5 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million doses given during this time — a rate similar to what we’ve seen in other commonly used vaccines.
In the first month of experience, a total of 113 deaths were reported of which approximately 65 percent were among long-term care facility residents. A thorough review of the available data indicated that these deaths were not related to the COVID-19 vaccine. And the death rate in this population, though truly sad and unfortunate, was consistent with the expected background death rate in this demographic.
I want to emphasize that we’ve implemented the most comprehensive vaccine safety monitoring system program in our history, and the data released from the CDC today are reflective of this effort. We will continue to closely monitor these events and report back as further data emerge.
I want to be sure that you know the facts and not the myths about the vaccine safety — about vaccine safety. The fact is they are safe and they will save lives. And that is why we are committed to working with state and local public health partners, as well as partners in the private sector, to support getting people vaccinated and quickly and as safely as possible.
To help advance our collective efforts to scale up vaccines in communities, on Monday, CDC is convening a three-day virtual National Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine. The forum will bring together a broad range of governmental and non-governmental partners to share information and best practices on how to build trust and confidence in COVID-19 vaccines; how to use data to optimize vaccine implementation; and how to provide practical, real-world experience on how to increase vaccination capacity in communities, especially for those at increased risk of COVID-19 and for those who may face barriers to vaccination.
I’m excited about this forum and the rich dialogue it will stimulate. And I invite those who are involved in vaccine efforts to register and attend this important meeting. Thank you. As always, I look forward to your questions. But before that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Fauci.
Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I’d like to do is to just take a couple of minutes, very briefly, reviewing the status of the vaccines and vaccine trials that we have, but then to, as I’ve done in the past, pick out a question that I believe is being asked more frequently to try and preemptively address it and perhaps generate some discussion.
With regard to the trials that we have: As you know, the U.S. government had been involved in the development of and/or facilitation of the testing of three separate platforms represented by six different companies. You’re all aware of the data of the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech, which have their EUA now, having shown a 94 to 95 percent efficacy.
Right now, as we speak, the data from the Johnson study — which, as you know, showed a 72 percent efficacy in the United States, but was also done in South Africa and Latin America and showed a diminished efficacy against the variant, but very good against severe disease — that is being reviewed at the FDA for the U.S. data. And on February the 26th, the FDA will consult with their independent Advisory Committee, their VRBPAC, and we should be hearing from them soon.
With regard to the AstraZeneca and the Novavax, those trials are both fully enrolled. These are event-driven decisions, so when they reach a certain amount of events, they will then look at the data and make decisions as to whether or not to go ahead with a request for an EUA.
So, having said that, let me just now, very briefly, address a question that is a very relevant question that we are now more commonly being asked: If you look at the existing trials — those that have already gotten an EUA, and those that we anticipate and hope will get and EUA — when will we be able to say we can vaccinate children — children in the high school range and children in the elementary school range?
You know from Pfizer that they started off with the trial of 44,000 individuals, down to 16-year-olds and then progressed it down to 12-year-olds. So what they’re going to be doing in April — starting in April, they are going to be studying 12-year-olds down to five- to six-year-old. That will take likely one year to get the information on that — likely not until the first quarter.
However, we anticipate data on high-school-age individuals, namely individuals 12 years old to 17 years old, by the beginning of the fall. Maybe not exactly coinciding with the first day of school, but sometime in the fall, we will have that. Moderna, as you know, started off with already 18-year-old. They are now currently enrolling 12- to 17-year-olds.
So let me take a moment to explain the process of how you get relevant information regarding these younger individuals. This is a representative trial, which very likely will reflect other trials. It’s a 3,000-person trial. So, right off, you’re not dealing with the 30,000- and 44,000-person trial that gave the efficacy signal in the original Moderna and Pfizer study.
What the trial is, is the trial is what’s called a “non-inferiority by immunogenicity,” which is a lot of big words to really mean what they’re asking: Is it safe in the children, and does it induce an immune response that’s comparable or not inferior to the immune response that we know is associated with efficacy in the other trials? And that’s the way that trial will go.
And then, we’re starting, by the end of March, they will do what’s called an “age de-escalation study.” We’re already enrolling on the 12 to 17. They will go to the 6 to 12, then 2 to 6, then 6 months to 2 years. Again, we will likely get information for high schoolers at some time in the fall, but it is, I would say, more than unlikely we will not have data on elementary school children until at least the first quarter of 2022.
Similar types of approaches are being taken by the other candidates, the other companies, namely J&J, Novavax, and AZ.
So, the bottom line of all of this is as follows: It is highly likely that sometime in the fall, we will have data that will give us the capability of saying the safety and comparable efficacy in children 12 to 17, 18 years old. Again, the final decisions we always leave to the FDA. I’m trying to give you a roadmap of what likely will happen. But then also, with the studies that I just mentioned, to getting the information to make the decision in elementary school children almost certainly will not be firmed down until the first quarter of 2022.
I will stop there and hand it back to Andy…
February 19, 2021: Planned Parenthood posted a Press Release titled: “Court Will Block South Carolina Abortion Ban One Day After Gov. McMaster Signed It Into Law”. From the Press Release:
Today, a federal district court announced that it will temporarily block a law passed yesterday in South Carolina that bans abortion before many people know they’re pregnant. The law took effect yesterday after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law. If this abortion ban had been allowed to stay in effect, abortion would have essentially been banned for nearly 1 million South Carolinians of reproductive age. The emergency lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel.
This ban is the latest in a worrisome trend of state politicians passing extreme legislation like abortion bans aimed at eliminating abortion access and overturning the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade. In fewer than two months, state politicians have introduced abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions at a staggering pace – more than 200 bills and counting to restrict or ban abortion, with more than 40% seeking to ban abortion at various points of pregnancy…Planned Parenthood
February 19, 2021: Center for Reproductive Rights posted News titled: “Court Will Block South Carolina Abortion Ban One Day After Gov. McMaster Signed It Into Law”. From the News:
Today, a federal district court announced that it will temporarily block a law passed yesterday by South Carolina that bans abortion before many people know they’re pregnant. The law took effect yesterday after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law. If this abortion ban had been allowed to stay in effect, abortion would have essentially been banned for nearly 1 million South Carolinians of reproductive age. The emergency lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Greenville Women’s Clinic, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the law firm Burnette Shutt & McDaniel.
This ban is the latest in a worrisome trend of state politicians passing extreme legislation like abortion bans aimed at eliminating abortion access and overturning the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade. In fewer than two months, state politicians have introduced abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions at a staggering pace – more than 200 bills and counting to restrict or ban abortion, with more than 40% seeking to ban abortion at various points of pregnancy…Center for Reproductive Rights
February 19, 2021: Planned Parenthood posted a Press Release titled: “Planned Parenthood Federation of America Applauds President Biden’s Historic Choice to Head CMS“. From the Press Release:
Today, President Biden announced his intent to name Chiquita Brooks-LaSure as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), who would make history as the first Black woman to lead the agency. This news follows previous announcements of Xavier Becerra, Dr. Vivek Murthy, and other experienced public health champions to lead the country’s health and COVID-19 efforts. After years of Trump administration attacks, the CMS administrator role will be critical to protect and advance sexual and reproductive health care and rights for all people in this country…
…CMS is the office within the Department of Health and Human Services that directly oversees Medicaid and Medicare, and implements the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid is a crucial women’s health program. Women compromise the majority of adult Medicaid enrollees, and women of color comprise the majority of women enrolled in Medicaid. Two-thirds of women covered by Medicaid are in their reproductive years.Planned Parenthood
Through CMS, the Biden-Harris administration must:
- Fully roll back harmful policies from the Trump administration, including by affirming Medicaid patients’ right to access care from providers they know and trust – like Planned Parenthood health centers – and eliminating discriminatory work and cost-sharing requirements that make it harder for enrollees to gain and maintain coverage.
- Go beyond stopping harm and start making progress for sexual and reproductive health and rights by incentivizing the remaining states to expand Medicaid, strengthening the safety net provider network, and more.
- Help protect people against the physical, emotional, and economic consequences of COVID-19 with comprehensive relief that invests in public health care programs and safety net providers.
- Help reckon with systemic racism, injustice, and state-sanctioned violence in this country, including making progress on the Black maternal health crisis through expanding comprehensive Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum.
The Biden-Harris administration has already taken some important first steps. In their initial days, they issued an executive order to strengthen Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), directing HHS to review and consider whether to rescind approvals of harmful Medicaid programs that cut off access to care, setting in motion the process for relevant agencies to start rolling back harmful policies like the Trump administration’s birth control rules and more. They recently reaffirmed their commitment to protect patients’ right to choose the provider they know and trust by publicly opposing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to block Texas Medicaid patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood health centers. They have also taken steps toward rescinding discriminatory Medicaid work requirements that have caused thousands to lose health coverage and make it harder for people to access the care they need.
Chiquita Brooks-LaSure has a long history of working to expand access to health care as a policy expert and thought leader, and her work will be critical to advancing this mission. She has spent more than two decades honing her health policy expertise and has previously served the nation in the White House, in Congress, and at CMS. Planned Parenthood Federation of America is ready to work with Brooks-LaSure and the entire Biden-Harris team — in the days, weeks, and years ahead — to advance the health and rights of all communities…Planned Parenthood
February 21, 2021: American Medical Association posted a Statement titled: “AMA, AHA, ANA urge continued vigilance as U.S. exceeds 500,000 COVID-19 deaths”. From the Statement:
The following statement is attributable to: American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association.
“Today’s milestone is a grim one – but one we, as leaders in health care, urge you to recognize. In three months, the number of Americans who have died of COVID-19 has doubled. We mourn the loss of 500,000 people in this country, a toll that has left gaping holes in the lives of those they left behind. We also recognize the significant declines in life expectancy (PDF) our country has experienced, largely as a result of the pandemic. We urge you to remain vigilant in taking precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. With new, more contagious variants of the virus circulating throughout the U.S., now is not the time ti let your guard down and scale back on the measures that we know will work to prevent further illnesses and death – wearing masks, practicing physical distancing, and washing hands.
“Though we’re face-to-face with the grim toll that COVID-19 is taking on our lives and loved ones, there’s also hope for the future as millions of people across the country are getting vaccinated and additional vaccines are on the way. We encourage everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn. Vaccines are safe, effective, prevent illnesses and safe lives, and are key to protecting you from COVID-19 and ending the pandemic.”AMA
February 22, 2021: American Medical Association posted a Press Release titled: “Joint statement on Supreme Court decision to review Title X ‘gag rule'”. From the Press Release:
Joint statement from: American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Essential Access Health
“We welcome the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the Ninth Circuit’s erroneous opinion upholding a Trump administration rule that imposed drastic changes on the Title X federal family planning program. This rule continues to bring immense harm to people across the country who depend on affordable reproductive health care like birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and STI testing and treatment, among other essential health services that Title X provides. Tragically, but predictably, this disproportionately impacts Black and Brown patients who are more likely to face the worst health and economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In a petition, to the high court last fall, we urged a review of the Title X ‘gag rule,’ which, among many harmful restrictions, inappropriately interferes with the patient-physician relationship and conflicts with the ethical obligations of physicians and other health care providers—ultimately jeopardizing patient access to safe care.
“Title X has an essential role in ensuring that all Americans—regardless of where they live or how much money they make—have access to comprehensive reproductive health care. We remain committed to securing a swift outcome, whether from the Court or the Biden administration, that will protect Title X patients, physicians, providers, and the health of the nation from further irreparable harm imposed by the current rule.”AMA
February 22, 2021: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services posted a Press Release titled: “CMS Offers Comprehensive Support to the State of Texas to Combat Winter Storm”. From the Press Release:
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today that efforts are underway to support Texas in response to severe winter storms that have affected the state over the past several days. On February 17, 2021, Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Norris Cochran declared a public health emergency (PHE) for Texas retroactive to February 11, 2021. CMS is working to ensure hospitals and other facilities can continue operations and provide access to care despite the effects of the storm.
Below are key administrative actions CMS is taking in response to the PHE declared in Texas:
Waivers and Flexibilities for Hospitals and other Healthcare Facilities: CMS has already waived many Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP requirements for facilities because of the pandemic.
The CMS Dallas Survey & Enforcement Division, under the Survey Operations Group, will consider other provider-specific requests for healthcare facilities in Texas.These waivers work to provide continued access to care for beneficiaries. CMS announced last month a new web-based tool that streamlines access for providers in documenting and submitting waiver requests and PHE-related inquiries. Access to that web-based tool can be found at https://cmsqualitysupport.servicenowservices.com/cms_1135
Dialysis Care: CMS is helping patients obtain access to critical life-saving services. The Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) program has been activated and is working with the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Network: Network 14 –Texas to assess the status of dialysis facilities in potentially impacted areas. The program will assess issues such as generators, alternate water supplies, education and materials for patients, and more. Patients are educated to have an emergency supply kit on hand including important personal, medical, and insurance information; contact information for their facility, the ESRD NW hotline number, and contact information of those with whom they may stay or for out-of-state contacts in a waterproof bag. They have also been instructed to have on hand supplies to follow a three-day emergency diet…
…Ensuring Access to Care in Medicare Advantage and Part D: During a PHE, Medicare Advantage Organizations must take steps to maintain access to covered benefits for beneficiaries in affected areas. These steps include allowing Parts A and B and supplemental Part C plan benefits to be furnished at specified non-contracted facilities and waiving, in full, requirements for gatekeeper referrals where applicable. Part D plan sponsors are allowed to take certain actions to ensure pharmacy access during a disaster or state of emergency.
Special Enrollment Opportunities: CMS encourages people who are seeking health insurance coverage to take advantage of the Federal Health Insurance Exchange special enrollment period currently available now through May 15 on HealthCare.gov…
Additionally, individuals who were eligible for another special enrollment period during the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-declared emergency period may also qualify for another SEP to gain coverage based on when their coverage could have started if they had been able to enroll sooner…
…Medicare regulations provide a special enrollment period for certain Medicare beneficiaries who reside in the area where an emergency/disaster declaration has been made (or rely on help making health care decisions from someone who lives in the affected area). Medicare beneficiaries who were eligible for another enrollment period, but did not make an election as a result of the emergency, will be able to make the missed enrollment election during the declared emergency/disaster or up to two months after the end of the emergency/disaster.
Medical equipment and supplies replacements: Under the COVID-19 waivers, CMS suspended certain requirements necessary for Medicare beneficiaries who have lost or had damage to their durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies because of the PHE. This will help to make sure that beneficiaries can continue to access the medical equipment and supplies they rely on each day. Medicare beneficiaries can contact 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for assistance.
Current COVID-19 Waivers: CMS has compiled a list of current Waivers already available for health care providers to use during the COVID-19 PHE. These waivers remain available to providers in the State of Texas who have been affected by the consequences of the winter storm. The New 1135 Emergency Waiver and Public Health Emergency (PHE)-related Inquiries Web Tool launched on the CMS Waiver and Flexibilities webpage: https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/emergency-preparedness-response-operations/current-emergencies/coronavirus-waivers
Disaster Preparedness Toolkit for State Medicaid and CHIP Agencies: CMS developed an inventory of Medicaid and CHIP flexibilities and authorities available to states in the event of a disaster. CMS will provide technical assistance to the state upon request in accessing any needed flexibilities. The Toolkit also includes resources for Medicaid beneficiaries to assist them connect to helpful resources during the emergency.
Nursing home reporting to the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN): CMS expects that nursing home providers will continue to accurately report COVID-19 cases to the NHSN. However, in light of the public health emergency in Texas, CMS will not impose civil money penalties for non-reporting through March 4, 2021, as residents continue to be displaced amid power and water concerns. Any facility that requires extended repairs or arrangements should contact its State Survey Agency to ensure proper coordination with CMS.
3-Day Prior Hospitalization: Using the authority under Section 1812(f) of the Act, CMS is issuing a separate waiver of the statutory requirement for a 3-day prior inpatient hospitalization for coverage of a Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) Part A stay, which provides temporary emergency coverage of SNF services without a qualifying inpatient hospital stay, for those people who experience dislocations, or are otherwise affected by the public health emergency.
Emergency Preparedness Requirements: Providers and suppliers are expected to have emergency preparedness programs based on an all-hazards approach. CMS has prepared webinars on emergency preparedness requirements, including topics such as emergency power supply; 1135 waiver process; Best Practices & Lessons Learned from past disasters; Helpful Resources; and more…CMS
February 22, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Pelosi Statement on Biden Executive Actions on Relief for Small Businesses”. From the Press Release:
Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement on executive actions taken by the Biden-Harris Administration to increase equitable assistance for small businesses:
“Today, President Biden has extended a lifeline that will make a difference for struggling small businesses, save American jobs and power the American economy, while promoting equity and fairness across Main Street.
“These vital reforms will expand access to the Paycheck Protection Program to the hardest-hit businesses that anchor our low and middle-income and communities of color. Importantly, they will ensure that sole proprietors, which are overwhelmingly women and minority-owned and also serve our immigrant communities, are not left behind. The Biden Administration’s reforms will also build on recent PPP successes in increasing assistance to businesses with ten or fewer employees in underserved and rural areas and through community-based lenders that specialize in serving those markets.
“As President Biden advances these actions, the House is preparing this week to pass the President’s American Rescue Plan: transformative legislation to crush the virus and deliver urgently needed relief. We urge Republicans in Congress to join us in support of this necessary relief package for families and small businesses in their communities and throughout the country.”Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
February 22, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Pelosi Statement on 500,000 American Coronavirus Deaths”. From the Press Release:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued this statement after our nation passed the tragic milestone of having lost half a million American lives to the coronavirus:
“The loss of 500,000 American lives from the coronavirus is an horrific human toll of staggering proportions and incomprehensible sadness. Every life lost is a profound tragedy that we mourn and that breaks America’s heart.
“Members of Congress join Americans in prayer for the lives lost or devastated by this vicious virus. As we pray, we must act swiftly to put an end to this pandemic and to stem the suffering felt by so many millions.
“With the passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan this week, the American people will know that Help Is On The Way.”Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
February 23, 2021: National Organization for Women posted a Press Release titled: “Pass the Equality Act NOW”. From the Press Release:
This week’s anticipated vote on the Equality Act brings the federal government one step closer to codifying something that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe is long overdue. Discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs and jury service must be against the law. Until all of us are equal, none of us are equal.
From Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg making history as the first openly gay Cabinet member to the nomination of Rachel Levine for assistant secretary of health, who if confirmed would become the first openly transgender federal official – this administration is demonstrating the value of the LGBTQIA+ community by placing them in some of the highest roles in government.
It’s time for Congress to step up to the plate by passing the Equality Act.
Polls show support for the Equality Act at more than 70 percent, but after passing the House in 2019, it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Now, with Democrats in the majority, and the tie-breaking vote cast by Kamala Harris, who co-sponsored the bill for years, we expect a different outcome.
The Equality Act will fix a broken patchwork of current laws that haphazardly protects some people from some discrimination in some places—leaving millions of LGBTQIA+ people without protection, essential services, and access to justice.
In 29 states, Americans can still be evicted from their homes, denied service in a restaurant or a wedding cake in a bakery, or be turned down for a loan because of their gender identity. And a future administration could refuse to apply existing civil rights law to the wide range of areas where discrimination occurs, including education, housing, and health care.
NOW calls on Republicans to join House Democrats in voting for the Equality Act, and for a similar bipartisan majority to rise up in the Senate. We must repair the flaw in our legal system that perpetuates discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Pass the Equality Act—NOW.NOW
February 24, 2021: The White House posted a FACT SHEET titled: “FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces New Actions to Deliver Masks to Communities Hit Hard by the Pandemic“. From the FACT SHEET:
As part of his National Strategy to defeat COVID-19, President Biden announced a new effort to make masks more easily available to communities hard hit by the pandemic. The Administration will deliver more than 25 million masks to over 1,300 Community Health Centers across the country as well as 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens, reaching some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends mask wearing as a critical step to help slow the spread and protect people from getting COVID-19, but many low-income Americans still lack access to this basic protection.
Today, President Biden is announcing that, over the next few weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration will:
Deliver masks to community health centers. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), will deliver millions of masks to Federally Qualified Community Health Centers across the country. These approximately 1,300 health centers will be eligible to receive high-quality masks for free. Two-thirds of the people served by Community Health Centers are living in poverty, 60% are racial and/or ethnic minorities, and nearly 1.4 million are unhoused. Anyone in the community will be eligible to pick up masks from their local Community Health Center. Recipients will be encouraged to take an individually wrapped package of two masks for each person in their household. The staff of the Community Health Centers will distribute the masks to recipients.
Distribute masks through the nation’s food bank and food pantry system. The Department of Defense (DOD), working with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), will deliver masks to many of the nation’s roughly 300 food banks. These food banks reach a vast network of 60,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, and other food distribution points where masks will be distributed to individuals and families. Recipients will be encouraged to take an individually wrapped package of two masks for each person in their household.
About the masks:
These masks will be no cost, high-quality, washable, and consistent with the mask guidance from the CDC. All of these masks will be made in America, and will not impact availability of masks for health care workers.
The masks will be available beginning in March and into May. As a result of these actions, an estimated 12 to 15 million Americans will receive masks. More than 25 million masks total will be distributed.White House
February 24, 2021: A “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials” was posted on the White House website. From the Press Briefing:
MR. ZIENTZ: Thank you for joining us. I want to begin by acknowledging that we have passed a grim milestone in this pandemic: Half a million people dead from COVID-19. This pandemic has touched each of us. So many have lost loved ones. We’ve been separated from our friends and families. Too many of our businesses and schools have been closed for way too long.
President Biden is clear: We are at war with this virus, and we’re using every resource at our disposal to defeat it.
We’re keeping equity at the front and center of our response, partnering with states, tribes, and territories to increase vaccinations in the hardest-hit and hardest-to-reach communities – increasing supply to convenient and trusted locations, like community health centers; deploying mobile units to meet people where they are; and improving data collection so that we have a better understanding of the inequalities currently experienced.
Today we’re announcing action we’re taking ti ensure an equitable response. In the month of March, we will begin to deliver masks to food banks and community health centers around the country. These are nationwide networks that serve populations hit hard by the pandemic. While masks are widely available in many different shapes and sizes, many low-income Americans still lack affordable access to this basic protection. That’s why we’re taking this important action to keep Americans safe.
We will deliver more than 25 million masks across the country. These masks will be available at more than 1,300 community health centers and at 60,000 food pantries nationwide. Any American who needs a mask will be able to walk into these health centers or food pantries and pick up high-quality, American-made masks. These masks will be available at no cost. They’ll be well-fitting cloth masks available in children’s and adult sizes, and they can be washed for reuse — all consistent with CDC guidance, and all made in the USA.
Once again, our decisions here have been made with equity at the center. Not all Americans are wearing masks regularly. Not all Americans have access. And not all masks are equal. With this action, we are helping to level the playing field, giving vulnerable populations quality, well-fitting masks.
When President Biden delivered his inaugural address, he made a very clear request to the country: Mask up. And he’s taken action to require masks in federal buildings, on federal lands, and on public transportation, like planes, trains, and buses.
The action we’re announcing today is a targeted step to help Americans respond to the President’s challenge to mask up to protect themselves and their fellow Americans.
As we encourage people to continue to mask up, we’re focused on vaccinating people quickly and equitably.
Today, I will give you the latest update on our execution on vaccinations in the three key areas that we’re focused on: more vaccine supply, more vaccinators, and more places to get vaccinated.
First, on vaccine supply: Yesterday, we announced the fifth consecutive week of supply increases to states, tribes, and territories, from 8.6 million doses when we took office to 14.5 million doses this week. That’s an increase in vaccine allocations to states of nearly 70 percent during the Biden-Harris administration.
The Retail Pharmacy Program we launched a few weeks ago has performed well so far. And this week, we will increase the allocation to pharmacies to 2.1 million doses.
So, with 14.5 million doses allocated to states, tribes, and territories and 2.1 million through the federal Retail Pharmacy Program, we’ve nearly doubled weekly supply of doses in just five weeks.
Second, we’re mobilizing teams to get shots in arms. We’ve deployed over 800 federal personnel as vaccinators. And the federal government is now funding 1,200 National Guard members to serve as vaccinators. We’ve also deployed 1,000 federal personnel to support community vaccination sites in operational and support roles.
Third, we continue creating more places where Americans can get vaccinated. We’ve now expanded financial support to bolster community vaccination centers nationwide, with over $3.6 billion in FEMA funding to 44 states, tribes, and territories for vaccination efforts. We’re bringing vaccinations to places communities know and trust: community centers, high school gyms, churches, and stadiums nationwide.
And we continue to work with states to set up innovative, high-volume, federally run sites that can each give over 30,000 shots a week. These sites are up and running in California and are ramping up in Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
We’ve also launched federal programs to get vaccines to pharmacies and local community health centers. As we’ve always said, we’re committed to providing clarity on our progress, and that includes when we hit bumps in the road.
Last week, we got hit with the very severe weather, which impacted the vaccination supply chain — from manufacturing, to shipping, to the ability to get shots in arms. The manufacturers, the shipping firms, the states, the tribes, the territories, and pharmacies worked to overcome these challenges.
And despite all the temporary weather-related delays, our seven-day average daily doses administered is at 1.4 million. And we’ve already caught up on the weather-related shipping backlog.
Teams worked throughout last weekend to pack and ship doses. On Monday, yesterday, 7 million doses — two days ago — 7 million doses were delivered. That, coupled with the 14.5 million doses allocated this week, results in record supply going to the states. We’ve encouraged states to get needles into arms by extending vaccine clinic hours, offering services 24 hours a day where possible, adding weekend appointments, and having more staff on hand.
On this point, I want to stress that if states do not have the staff to work around the clock and on the weekends, the federal government stands ready to help.
I also want to spend a couple minutes on our plans for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is currently pending approval for emergency use authorization by the FDA. Yesterday, I again updated and reviewed with our nation’s governors our plans to distribute the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if the EUA is granted.
The governors are carefully planning their efforts and getting ready for the possible new vaccine. If authorized, we are ready to roll out this vaccine without delay. Our distribution approach will mirror the current allocations process across jurisdictions, pharmacies, and community health centers.
If an EUA is issued, we anticipate allocating 3 to 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week. Johnson & Johnson has announced it aims to deliver a total of 20 million doses by the end of March. We’re working with the company to accelerate the pace and timeframe by which they deliver the full 100 million doses, which is required by contract by the end of June.
While we await the FDA’s decision, we want the American people to know that we’re doing the work so that if the EUA is granted, we will waste no time getting this lifesaving vaccine into the arms of Americans.
With that, let me turn it over to Dr. Walensky to talk about the state of the pandemic.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, Jeff. I’m again delighted to be with you today.
We continue to see trends heading in the right direction. In the past week, average daily cases declined 25 percent to approximately 64,000 cases per day. This is slightly less than the summer peak of 67,000 daily cases reported last July. While this is good news, cases still remain high, and we continue to watch these data closely.
We also see continued declines in new hospital admissions for the most recent week. An average of 6,500 patients with COVID-19 were admitted per day, a decrease of 16 percent from the week prior. The number of reported deaths is also dropping with a seven-day average of slightly less than 2,000 per day. This represents a 35 percent decline compared to the prior week.
On Monday, I announced that we were kicking off our three-day National COVID-19 Vaccine Forum, and since that time, we’ve had an extraordinary few days.
Our final tally — we’ve virtually assembled over 12,000 participants from across the United States, representing state, tribe, local, and territorial governments, private sector partners, medical and public health institutions, community-based organizations, faith-based groups, and educators, among others.
The discussions and presentations from over 100 speakers showcased promising practices and critical scientific information for those involved in vaccination efforts in communities across the nation.
I’d like to share a few examples of what we’ve learned over the last three days.
First, trust and community confidence are cornerstones of our national vaccine efforts. Trusted voices are critical to building confidence in vaccines and addressing misinformation. Our community leaders are often those trusted voices.
We heard from national, state, and local health leaders about communication and public education campaigns they are deploying to combat myths and disinformation, and instill confidence and interest in COVID-19 vaccines, as well as tools and strategies healthcare providers can use when talking with their patients about COVID-19 vaccination.
For example, we learned about a new communications campaign in New Orleans that is grounded in the local flavor and culture as a way to resonate with the city’s residents.
Second, one of the most powerful benefits of the forum was learning about on-the-ground experiences and new innovations to expand vaccination efforts. We heard about creative ways providers and volunteers have been getting vaccinations into communities using boats, ferries, and snowmobiles in Alaska; leveraging emergency medical services to provide vaccinations to homebound individuals in Indiana; and using awareness campaigns, featuring trusted elders and healthcare workers, in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Finally, forum sessions taught us that every person, community, faith-based organization, governmental and non-governmental partner, and business has a role to stop — to play in supporting our nation’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy.
We learned about faith-based efforts, like the outreach to people of color being led by the Metropolitan
International [Interdenominational] Church in Nashville, Tennessee, where faith ambassadors engage with local clergy to help spread accurate information on COVID-19 vaccines to these high-risk communities.
We also heard about successful public-private partnerships, like in San Diego, where vaccination “super sites,” like the one in Petco Park Stadium, are vaccinating thousands of people a day; and in Colorado, where there is a government-private partnership — the Champions for Vaccine Equity task force — where the health department and 10 medical Champions of color are working with and through community-based organizations to create opportunities for listening and sharing information about COVID-19 vaccines.
These are just a few of many practical innovations and solutions shared during the forum. And I want to let you know that all of these sessions, as well as resources and materials, will be posted on the CDC website following the forum. I encourage you to check it out when you’re able.
Next, I would like to take a moment to highlight the progress made so far in our efforts to rapidly expand and open sequencing nationally, including through our $200 million investment announced last week. This work is more important than ever, given the continued spread of COVID-19 variants in the United States.
As of February 23rd, we now have identified nearly 1,900 cases of B117 variant in 45 states, 46 cases of B1351 variant in 14 states, and 5 cases of the P1 variant in four states.
The pace of our genomic sequencing has scaled up from about 400 samples a week, when I started as CDC Director, to now more than 9,000 samples as of the week of February 20th.
We are continuing to increase this pace with our state public health and private lab partners with a goal of 25,000 samples per week in the coming weeks.
The increased volume of sequence information is helping us to better understand the diversity of variants circulating in the United States, where they are located, and how they are spread. With the samples in hand, we can then scientifically examine how variants impact vaccines and therapeutics moving forward.
Finally, I want to say that we are proud to be partners in the announcement made today about sending masks to underserved and vulnerable populations. One of the most impactful things we can do is wear a mask, and this is so important during this critical period where cases are declining but variants that spread more easily are increasing throughout our country.
CDC continues to recommend that everyone two years of age or older wear a mask when in public and around others in the home not living with you.
The mask you should wear should have two or more layers, completely cover your nose and mouth, and fit snugly against your nose and the sides of your face. It’s essential that you wear your mask correctly and that it fits well in order to get the most protection.
By wearing masks in combination with social distancing, washing your hands, avoiding crowds and travel, and getting vaccinated when it’s available, we can bring an end to this pandemic.
Thank you. I, of course, look forward to your questions, but I’ll first turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. What I’d like to do over the next couple of minutes is just update you on an important component of the spectrum of COVID-19 disease.
If I can have the first slide.
Many of you are now aware of what had long been called “long COVID.” But actually, what that really is is post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which we’re now referring to as “PASC,” or P-A-S-C.
The reason I’m bringing it up with you today will become apparent in just a minute or two. Just to refresh your memory, the symptoms of this include fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disorders, fevers, GI symptoms, anxiety and depression, and what some have been referring to as brain fog, or an inability or a difficulty in concentrating or focusing.
Remember, these are post-acute sequelae — after the virus essentially has been cleared from the body. And actually, new symptoms sometimes arise well after the time of infection, or they evolve over time and they may persist, as I’ll get to in a moment, for months and can range from mild annoying to actually quite incapacitating. The magnitude of the problem is not yet fully known.
There have been a number of papers that have described in some detail large cohorts. Here is one from China, which was published online on January 8th, in more than 1,700 patients who actually had been hospitalized. I point out that you can get this post-acute syndrome even in individuals who did not require hospitalization. The six-month follow-up showed a variety of signs and symptoms, shown here, with many having fatigue and weakness — as I mentioned on the prior slide — sleep difficulties, anxiety or depression. And the greater proportion of patients with more severe illness had impaired lung diffusion capacity.
Most recently, in a study from the University of Washington that appeared just a few days ago, it was found really now something alarming: that approximately 30 percent of the patients who are enrolled at the University of Washington reported persistent symptoms for as long as nine months after illness. Fatigue was the most common reported symptom, and persistent symptoms were reported by one third of outpatients with mild disease.
What we did — “we” being an interagency group: the NIH, the CDC, and others — put together a workshop in Rockville, just a little bit north of Washington, D.C., on December the 3rd and the 4th of last year, in which we looked at various organ systems and brought in experts in all of these areas — cardiovascular, pulmonary, renal, neurologic, immunologic, and pediatrics — to scope out the kinds of things that we would need to be looking at with this puzzling syndrome.
Now, the reason I’m bringing it up at this press conference — next slide — is that just yesterday, on February the 23rd, the NIH launched a new initiative to study this PASC, or post-acute sequelae. Now, looking back a bit in December of last year, the Congress provided $1.15 billion in funding over four years for the NIH to support research looking into this. And I’m happy to say that yesterday there was the first in what will be a series of research opportunity announcements released for NIH initiative on this puzzling syndrome.
The research studies will be looking at SARS-CoV-2 recovery cohorts, some that are already established and some that will be established. They’ll be looking at large data banks from resources, such as electronic health records and health symptoms. And they’ll be studying a number of biological specimens.
And finally, on the last slide, there are selected questions that this initiative hopes to answer, and they are important:
- What does the spectrum of recovery from this infection look like across all the entire population — young individuals, middle-aged, elderly?
- How many people continue to have symptoms of COVID-19 or even, as we’ve seen, develop new symptoms that they did not have even as part of their acute infection?
- Importantly, what is the underlying biological cause of these prolonged symptoms? We refer to that as pathogenesis.
- What makes certain people vulnerable, while others recover fully and quickly and have no sequelae?
- And finally, does SARS-CoV-2 infection trigger changes in the body that actually increase the risk, later on, of such abnormalities, such as chronic heart or brain disorders?
A lot of important questions that are now unanswered that we hope, with this series of initiatives, we will ultimately answer.
So I’ll stop there and hand it back to Jeff.
MR. ZIENTS: Well, thank you, Doctors Fauci and Walensky. Why don’t — why don’t we open it up for questions…
February 24, 2021: President Joseph R. Biden Jr. posted a Notice titled: “Notice on the Continuation of the National Emergency Concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic“. From the Notice:
CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY CONCERNING THE CORONAVIRUS DISEASE 2019 (COVID-19) PANDEMIC
On March 13, 2020, by Proclamation 9994, the President declared a national emergency concerning the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant risk to the public health and safety of the Nation.
For this reason, the national emergency declared on March 13, 2020, and beginning March 1, 2020, must continue in effect beyond March 1, 2021. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing the national emergency declared in Proclamation 9994 concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.
This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
February 24, 2021: President Joseph R. Biden Jr. posted an Executive Order titled: “Executive Order on the Revocation of Certain Presidential Actions“. From the Executive Order:
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Revocation of Presidential Actions. The following Presidential actions are revoked: Executive Order 13772 of February 3, 2017 (Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System), Executive Order 13828 of April 10, 2018 (Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility), Memorandum of January 29, 2020 (Delegation of Certain Authority Under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute), Executive Order 13924 of May 19, 2020 (Regulatory Relief To Support Economic Recovery), Memorandum of September 2, 2020 (Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients of Federal Funds That Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities), Executive Order 13967 of December 18, 2020 (Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture), and Executive Order 13979 of January 18, 2021 (Ensuring Democratic Accountability in Agency Rulemaking)…
Here is some context about why one of those Presidential Actions was revoked:
Executive Order 13828 “Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility” was issued by (then) President Trump on April 10, 2018.
On April 11, 2021, CBS News posted an article titled: “Trump signs executive order pushing work requirements for welfare recipients”. From the article:
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that aims to add and strengthen work requirements for public assistance and other welfare programs.
The order, signed in private, promotes “common-sense reforms” that policy adviser Andrew Bremberg said would reduce dependence on government programs…
…The order focuses on looking for ways to strengthen existing work requirements and exploring new requirements for benefits such as food stamps, cash and housing assistance programs.
…Most people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, who are able to hold jobs do work, but they don’t earn enough to pay for food and cover other expenses. According to 2015 data from the Department of Agriculture, 44 percent of the total households using the SNAP program had someone in the family earning money…
…In January, officials announced that states would be able to impose work requirements for Medicaid. And they’ve proposed tightening the existing requirements that able-bodied adults who want to receive SNAP benefits for more than three months at a time must work in some capacity…
…The administration has also been exploring more stringent work requirements for those who receive assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, as well as minimum weekly work hours for those who receive housing assistance…
…Such requirements could have dire consequences for those already experiencing barriers to finding, and keeping, a job, including single mothers who can’t afford child care, people who lack access to transportation and those who suffer from mental illness…CBS News
February 25, 2021: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi posted a Press Release titled: “Floor Speech on the Equality Act”. From the Speech:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 5, the Equality Act, which will extend federal anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Below are the Speaker’s remarks:
…Mr. Speaker, I rise to join our entire Caucus in saluting Congressman David Cicilline, our long-time champion of the Equality Act, who has been courageous, relentless and persistent in his leadership on this legislation.
We are proud to bring this important legislation to the House Floor under the leadership of the most diverse House Democratic Majority, nearly 70 percent women, people of color, and LGBTQ, with 224 co-sponsors on this legislation. Mr. Speaker, many of use were gathered together nearly five years ago to first introduce the Equality Act. That day in the LBJ Room on the Senate side, named after the President who fought for and signed the Civil Rights Act, we stood with an icon of the civil rights struggle, our colleague, John Lewis, the Conscience of the Congress.
The Civil Rights Act is a sacred pillar of freedom in our country. It is not amended lightly. So, how proud were we to be with our beloved John Lewis and the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom are here now, Maxine Waters, and others, Mr. Green, thank you, as they gave their imprimature to the opening of the Civil Rights Act to end discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.
As we remember John Lewis’s life, we remember his words, spoken at the Pride parade in Atlanta shortly before being diagnosed with cancer. He said, “We are one people and one family. We all live in the same house.”
As we prepare to pass this landmark legislation, we must salute the countless advocates, activists, outside organizers and mobilizers who have, for decades, demanded the full rights of all Americans.
Personally, my thoughts are with my friends, the late Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who shared their lives together for decades. I have spoken of them with their photo here on the Floor year in and year out. They were mentors of so many of us in San Francisco who for decades were engaged in civic engagement on many issues related to LGBTQ rights. They were an inspiration, teaching us to take pride, and I say that with pride.
When people say to me, ‘It’s easy for you to support LGBTQ equality because you’re from San Francisco where people are so tolerant’ Tolerant, to mean, that’s a condescending word. This is not about tolerance. This is about respect. This is about taking pride. For Phyllis and Del and the older LGBTQ couples, for the LGBTQ workers striving to provide for their families, and for LGBTQ youth struggling to find their place, this is a historic, transformative moment of pride.
Here in the House, this pride goes – this pride goes back many years. When we first got the Majority in 2006 and 2007, as we took office, House Democrats had four goals relating to equality. Passing a comprehensive hate crimes bill, and when I say comprehensive, I mean LGBTQ T. People said to us at the time ‘Take out the “T” and you can pass this bill in a minute.’ I said take – ‘if we take out the “T” we are not going to pass this bill in 100 years, because we are not bringing it up without the word transgender in the bill.’ We passed the bill with the help of – the lead of Barney Frank, our former colleague, and the family of Matthew Shepard, who came here, touched our hearts, got the votes to help us pass the legislation.
Then, we had ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and under the leadership of President Obama and the courage of so many Members, Patrick Murphy, our former colleague, an Iraq combat vet leading the way here, we repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Thank you, President Obama.
Securing marriage equality was done for us by the courts. I took great pride in attending the oral arguments that day when it was argued in the courts and what a victory it was for libery and justice in our country when that decision came down.
Next on the agenda was somethign called ENDA, ending discrimination in the workplace. Well, it’s really called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, hence ENDA. But then, with the successed that we had, it was why are we just talking about the workplace? Why aren’t we talking about every place in our society? And hence came forth – ENDA became the Equality Act, finally, fully ending anti-LGBTQ discrimination on employment, education, housing, credit, jury service and public accomodations. It removes all doubt that sexual orientation and gender identity warrant civil rights protection in every arena of American life, codifying the recent decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court Bostock case. It takes a momentous step towards full equality that brings our nation closer to the founding promise of liberty and justice for all, enshrined in the Preamble of our Constitution by our Founders in their great wisdom, also in our pledge to the flag.
And it is sadly necessary. I wish that it weren’t. Sometimes I just wonder why it is, but it is sadly necessary because many members of the national LGBTQ community we live in states where, though they have a right to marry, they have no state-level non-discrimination protections in other areas of life. In more than 20 states, Mr. Speaker, LGBTQ Americans do not have specific protections against being denied housing because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and over 30 states lack protections regarding access to education. And nearly 40 states lack protections regarding jury service.
Passing the Equality Act in the last Congress was historic, a day for hope and happiness for millions. Now, with a Democratic Senate Majority and President Biden in the White House and Vice President Harris there as well, we will oass it once more and we will not stop fighting until it becomes a law. We will never stop fighting until the Equality Act becomes law.
Let me conclude by returning to John Lewis and recalling his words spoken on this House Floor on the passage of the Equality Act for the first time. John Lewis said, “We have a decision to end discrimination and set all of our people free,’ and set all of our people free. today with this legislation, we have an opportunity to set all of our people free and to advance the future of justice, equality and dignity for all.
With that, I urge a strong bipartisan vote for the Equality Act, salute Mr. Cicilline and Senator Merkley on the Senate side for their leadership, commend the distinguished Chair of the Judiciary Committee for, once again, bringing this to the Floor. Thank you, Congresswoman for your leadership on this issue as well…
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
February 25, 2021: Planned Parenthood posted a Press Release titled: “U.S. House Approves Historic Legislation to Halt LGBTQ+ Discrimination”. From the Press Release:
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 224-206 to approve the historic Equity Act (H.R.5). As an inclusive and compassionate sexual and reproductive health care provider, Planned Parenthood applauds this historic legislation to protect and strengthen the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people across the country.
Currently, our federal civil rights do not explicitly protect LGBTQ+ people in the United States, leaving people vulnerable to discrimination in health care, employment, housing, credit, public spaces and services, education, federally assisted programs, and jury service. In 30 states, LGBTQ+ people can be fired, refused housing, or denied services simply because of who they are. The Equality Act – which was introduced by Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and passed today with bipartisan support – can begin to change that…
…The Equality Act will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex stereotypes, pregnancy and childbirth across many systems, including health care. People do not live single issue lives and the Equality Act recognizes that a single instance of discrimination may have more than one basis. By expanding some of our civil rights laws to include protection on the basis of sex for the first time and including additional public spaces and services where discrimination is prohibited, all people will be better protected from the myriad and insidious forms of sex discrimination.
Planned Parenthood is proud to provide health care to LGBTQ+ people across the country, including services such as breast and cervical cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, birth control, and abortion. Planned Parenthood is an essential and irreplaceable provider of gender-affirming hormone therapy and health care for transgender and nonbinary patients, especially in areas outside of major cities, where Planned Parenthood health centers we are often the only provider of these services.
Over 300 Planned Parenthood health centers in 39 states and the District of Columbia currently offer gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender patients, and some also provide puberty blockers. Many health centers also offer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) a daily pill that can help reduce transmission for people who are at high risk for HIV – and post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) – a series of pills that, if taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV, can lower your chances of getting it.
We know that LGBTQ+ people experience high rates of discrimination from medical providers: In a 2017 survey, nearly 30% of transgender people surveyed said a doctor or health care provider refused to treat them due to their gender identity. LGBTQ+ people also experience discrimination when interacting with police, applying for jobs, and more; LGBTQ+ people of color report discrimination at twice the rates of their white counterparts across these kinds of situations. The frequent harms experienced by LGBTQ+ people of color are compounded because they face multiple forms of discrimination at the same time.
While the Biden-Harris administration must continue to undo the harm done by the previous administration – by rescinding the refusal of care rule, for example – the Equality Act will help us move forward by making clear that these kinds of attacks are not acceptable.Planned Parenthood
February 26, 2021: White House posted a Press Briefing titled: “Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials“. From the Press Briefing:
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you for joining us for our White House COVID Response briefing. I have a few important updates for you this morning, and then I will turn to Doctors Fauci and Walensky.
FIrst, on our efforts to mobilize the country to defeat COVID-19, and second, on our progress in supporting 100 community vaccination centers nationwide to vaccinate more people, more quickly, and more equitably.
Before I get there, let me begin by taking stock of where we are. Even as we have crossed the grimmest of milestones – the loss of over 500,000 American lives – we are pulling together as a country. In the time since the President has taken office, we’ve now double the pace of vaccinations and are rapidly on our way to vaccinating many of the people most at risk of dying or being hospitalized from COVID-19, with nearly one in five adults and nearly half of Americans over 65 having received their first shot.
What is important and what I want to cover today is that any progress is a result of the hard work of many – people and entities working together for the greater good: vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna; distribution partners at McKesson, FedEx, and UPS; governors, mayors, county officials, and their health departments; the thousands of providers, pharmacies, and members of the military; FEMA; and other states and federal employees that had been part of this vaccination effort. And, of course, all the people in science in the NIH, NIAID, the CDC, BARDA, and FDA.
This is all one effort. There is so much more to do, but one thing that has become clear is that while none of us on our own could defeat COVID-19, all of us working together can. And today I want to highlight what people across America can contribute to this cause at this critical time.
From day one, President Biden has been pulling the country together to unify against the virus. This begins with Congress. We cannot defeat this virus as rapidly as we need to without action from Congress.
Today, the House will start the vote process on the American Rescue Plan. This legislation will enable Americans across the country to defeat COVID-19 and get back to normal life more quickly. The bill is critical to allowing us to do some things that we all need to do to defeat this virus: needed funding to make schools safer to open; the ability to stay ahead of the virus as it mutates by funding greater sequencing; testing and tracing to contain outbreaks and stay ahead of new variants; addressing supply shortages; investing in high-quality treatments for people with COVID-19; providing paid sick leave and other support to contain the spread of the virus; and providing relief to the communities hardest hit by the disease.
We urge the Senate to quickly follow and pass this legislation. Just as Congress is taking action, so too are the nation’s private and civil sectors and the small and large companies that are at the heart of our economy and provide jobs to so many.
One of the benefits of being and providing honest and clear communication with the public about the challenges we face are all of the people who raise their hands and offer to help.
Since the President’s first day on the job 37 days ago, he’s called us to come together and defeat this as a nation.
Since January 20th, we have been engaging in literally hundreds of conversations with hundreds of companies who are eager to help put an end to COVID-19, get people safely back to work, rehire workers, and grow the economy, as the President outlined in his national strategy to defeat COVID-19.
So today, the administration is announcing a new partnership with America’s leading business organizations to enlist the full force of the private sector to defeat COVID-19 with a call to action. The Biden administration is joining with the Chamber of Commerce; leaders of the black, Latino, and Asian business community; the National Association of Manufacturers; and the Business Roundtable to call on businesses, big and small, to promote three critical efforts across the country.
Our call asks three things of America’s businesses to increase the safety of employees, customers, and the community, and will help us put a more rapid end to this pandemic.
First, require masking and social distancing to protect workers, customers, and others on their premises.
Second, reduce barriers to vaccinations. Make a plan to get employees vaccinated and make it easier for employees to get vaccinated by providing incentives, like paid time off or compensation for employees to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
Third, communicate with customers and educate the public about the benefits of masking and vaccinations. We are asking businesses to amplify CDC messages about masking and vaccinations on their products, properties, and websites.
Through these partner organizations, step-by-step resources to help businesses operate safely will be available. HHS and CDC are collaborating with them so they can take advantage of our research and approaches to talking about vaccines and vaccinations most effectively.
Together, we hope to reach hundreds of thousands of businesses, representing over 100 million people, to promote efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
This afternoon at 4:00 p.m., I will be hosting a call with thousands of business owners to lay out this call to action and ask for their help and participation.
But the work has already begun. Since we’ve arrived, we have had over 250 conversations with business leaders in sectors as diverse as technology, retail, social media, medical products, airlines, health insurance, hospitals, utilities, and we’re having more every day. Each of them has something valuable to add.
Ford and The Gap are producing and donating millions of masks. Professional sports leagues and the live events industry have offered their more than 100 stadiums and venues to local communities to be used as vaccination sites. Retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Dollar General all are giving more than a half a million workers paid time off or compensating employees who get vaccinated. Uber, PayPal, and Walgreens are teaming up to provide $10 million worth of free rides to vaccination sites. And Lyft is partnering with CVS and the YMCA to provide 60 million free or discounted rides to vaccination sites.
In both of these efforts, we are encouraging organizations to target the benefits to people who need them the most so communities hit hardest bounce back. CVS has also agreed to improved access and appointment times for people looking for vaccines and special efforts to reserve vaccine appointments. This is critical to health equity.
The utility company, Avangrid, has committed to include more — to include public health information in more than 3 million paper bills.
These are examples, but examples that others can replicate in addition to their own unique efforts.
Our call to action today will ask companies to make similar, unique commitments that bring their unique skills and resources to the problem of keeping Americans safe and ending the pandemic as quickly as possible while also following the lead of these other companies.
Over the coming weeks, the Biden administration will highlight more innovative ways, and America’s private sector is rising to the challenge as we put this crisis to bed by working together.
Let me talk now about the progress we’re making to reach the President’s goal — to reach the President’s goal of 100 community vaccination centers within the next — within his first month in office.
Thanks to the incredible work of FEMA, the Department of Defense, and colleagues across the government, since January 20, the Biden-Harris administration has already supported the establishment or expansion of 441 community vaccination centers across 37 states, territories, and the District of Columbia.
Over the past month, we’ve provided 171 sites with federal personnel. We’ve deployed nearly 3,500 total personnel nationwide to support vaccination operations, including expert logisticians, vaccinators, greeters, clerks, and others in support roles. Personnel are assigned from agencies across the federal government, including FEMA, CDC, DOD, National Guard, and the Forest Service, Department of Interior, Veterans Affairs Department, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
A hundred and seventy-seven sites have received federal funding, and the President — and at the President’s direction, FEMA is reimbursing 100 percent of costs for vaccination operations. This funding covers critical supplies, staffing, training, and transportation needs that support increased vaccination distribution and administration.
Sixty-two sites have received federal equipment, from folding chairs to containers to dry ice. The federal government has provided a range of equipment to meet state, tribal, territory, and local needs, and help establish and expand sites. This will get done in the details. Thank you to everyone involved in these efforts.
The President is visiting a federally established community vaccination site today in Houston, Texas. This site opened yesterday and has the capacity to vaccinate 6,000 people per day. And today we’re announcing two new federal vaccination sites, one in North Carolina and the other in Illinois. Starting in two weeks, the United Center in Chicago will be used to vaccinate up to 6,000 people per day. And in North Carolina, a new site in Greensboro will have the capacity to vaccinate 3,000 people per day.
The selection of both of these sites was based on a CDC-FEMA framework developed to target those most vulnerable. The goal is to launch vaccination sites that use processes and are in locations that promote equity, deploying the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.
In closing, I want to come back to the important milestone of where we are this week, with over 50 million shots that have been administered since President Biden took office — 50 million shots in 37 days. That’s ahead of our target, even with the setbacks we faced during the recent winter storm, which devastated millions of people in the Midwest and in the South.
As the President has said, if we do the right things and we have the right plan, we will get things moving. We’ve doubled the pace of administering shots in six weeks. We’ve increased vaccine distribution to near — to nearly — to states by nearly 70 percent. And nearly 60 percent of people over 75 now have received at least one shot; that was 14 percent six weeks ago. Close to 50 percent of people over 65 have at least one shot now; that was 8 percent six weeks ago.
I want to repeat that: 8 percent of people over 65 and now 50 per- — six weeks ago had received their first shot. Now that’s close to 50 percent. That’s important because people over 65 accounted for 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths, and 75 percent of people who live in long-term care facilities have gotten their first dose, and those cases are at the lowest level since reporting began in May.
So, yes, we are making progress, but we are not there yet, and there’s lots of hard work to do. But I want to thank everybody — everybody across the country that’s been involved in helping us make this progress.
And with that, I will turn it over to Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you so much, Andy. I’m glad to be back with you today. Let’s get started on an overview of the pandemic.
Over the last few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the United States had been coming down since early January, and deaths had been declining in the past week.
But the latest data suggests that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at, still, a very high number.
We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory. The most recent seven-day average of cases — approximately 66,350 — is higher than the average I shared with you on Wednesday. In fact, cases have been increasing for the past three days compared to the prior week.
And while deaths tend to fluctuate more than cases and hospital admissions, the most recent seven-day average — approximately 2,000 per day — is slightly higher than the seven-day average earlier in the week.
We are watching these concerning data very closely to see where they will go over the next few days. But it’s important to remember where we are in the pandemic. Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions.
Although we have been experiencing large declines in cases and admissions over the past six weeks, these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic.
So I want to be clear: Cases, hospital admissions, and deaths all remain very high, and the recent shift in the pandemic must be taken extremely seriously.
CDC has been sounding the alarm about the continued spread of variants in the United States, predicting that variants such as the B117 variant, which is thought to be about 40 percent — 50 percent more transmissible than the wild-type strain, would become the predominant variant of COVID-19 by mid-March. We may now be seeing the beginning effects of these variants in the most recent data.
Our estimates now indicate that B117 accounts for approximately 10 percent of cases in the United States — up from 1 to 4 percent a few weeks ago — and prevalence is even higher in certain areas of the country.
And earlier this week, new research came out about additional emerging variants in New York — the B1526 variant — and in California — the B1427 variant — that also appear to spread more easily and are contributing to a large fraction of current infections in those areas, adding urgency to the situation.
We may be done with the virus, but clearly, the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us — not now; not when mass vaccination is so very close — when what we need to prevent this is truly imminent.
We must continue to be vigilant and committed to consistently taking the steps we — work to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Where the pandemic goes from here is dependent on our collective behavior and resolve to do our part to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Together, we have the capacity to avoid another surge in our nation. I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal. But we’re not there yet. Give us time we need to get more vaccines into our communities and to get more people vaccinated. This is our path out.
Here in the United States, over 46 million people, or 14 percent of the population, have already received at least one dose of the vaccine. And so many more of you are ready to roll up your sleeves as soon as vaccine becomes available to you, and, indeed, more vaccine is on the way. We are at the precipice of having another vaccine in our toolboxes: the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
Like many of you, I’m excited about news that another safe and effective vaccine option could be coming as quickly as next week. We are closely watching FDA’s advisory committee today and the actions they may take today and tomorrow on this vaccine.
Following FDA’s actions, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, is prepared to meet over the weekend and continue — the same data being discussed at FDA’s advisory meeting. Then, ACIP will make recommendations for the use of the vaccine, and I will stand by to review them and ready to sign.
Having an additional safe and effective vaccine will help protect more people faster. I look forward to the ACIP discussion, receiving their recommendations, and sharing with you about ACIP’s recommendations and our next steps moving forward.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions. And with that, I will turn things over to Dr. Fauci.
DR. FAUCI: Thank you very much, Dr. Walensky. I’m going to give now a brief update on the science, particularly focusing on the vaccine.
If I can go to the first slide.
This is the slide that I’ve shown to this group before. But just building on what Dr. Walensky just said, we really are looking forward with the very positive anticipation to the final determination of the VRBPAC and the FDA concerning the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen vaccine.
What this means from the data we looked at: that we now have three highly effective vaccines. Importantly, each of them are very effective against severe disease, and virtually all of them say that you look at the data, and it’s clear that you get essentially no hospitalizations or deaths in any.
This is very good news. So, again, we have three candidates now that are in play. We look forward to the results, as Dr. Walensky said. This should be forthcoming, hopefully within the next day or two, together with the recommendations about how it is to be utilized.
In addition, on this particular slide, there are other candidates that have fulfilled enrollment, and we’re looking forward with them too.
The bottom line is that the more vaccines that have high efficacy that we can get into play, the better there is.
Now, one of the things that was mentioned by Dr. Walensky is the fact that we have variants that are in play. We have the 117 that is increasing in its prevalence now in the country, with modeling telling us that, by the end of March, it might be the overwhelming candidate for — not candidate, but the overwhelming strain that is actually spreading.
We also have the others that Dr. Walensky mentioned: the 427 in California, the 526 in New York. We must address these. There are a couple of ways of doing that.
Let’s take a look at the 351 that has attracted a lot of attention, which was originally in South Africa, is not dominant at all here in the United States, but we need to pay attention to it. One of the ways to do that is to make a version of the vaccine, which actually directly addresses the particular variant in question.
Could I have the next slide?
And what we’ve seen: that, just two days ago, that the Moderna company began the clinical trials to booster the — to provide booster shots for the variant from South Africa. What they did, actually, as the first step to beginning these trials, which will begin in mid-March, they sent material to the NIH for a phase one study.
Now, if you take a look at this, what this will be is that it’s a variant-specific vaccine candidate, which we’re referring to as mRNA 1273.351, with the 351 designated that is against specifically the variant which is a 351, which was first identified in South Africa. And as I mentioned, we will conduct a phase one study, which we will begin in mid-March, in both naive and previously vaccinated adults.
On this last slide, I show you the two cohorts to just give you an example of what the prototype model approach that is being taken when you want to directly address a specific variant. One of these studies — the cohort one — will be in previously vaccinated volunteers, namely looking at individuals — and again, this is a phase one study — not looking at efficacy, but looking at safety and immunogenicity. And that is the way things will likely go over the next several months as this company and others approve, namely taking a look at can you induce a level of antibodies specifically against the variant in question. In this case, it’s the 351.
And as you can see, the first cohort is in previously vaccinated volunteers, and the second cohort is in individuals who are either unvaccinated and not previously infected to determine if you were going to have a vaccine program that would be specifically directed against this particular variant, how would you design it. And this is the way to go.
I want to make one comment that I believe is important. One would ask: Are you going to have to do this with every variant? Because we cannot determine now where the 526 or the 427 or other variants will go. So there are two ways — actually three ways — one that’s common to both — that you address these variants.
First and foremost is to continue what Dr. Walensky mentioned at the close of her comments: to continue to double down on the public health measures that prevent the transmission. Because, as I’ve said often, and it’s true in virology, that viruses will not mutate if you don’t give them the opportunity to spread and replicate. So public health measures are paramount.
Secondly, you can go after the specific mutants, the specific variants, as I’ve shown here. But there’s another way to do it, and this has to do somewhat indirectly with what we heard yesterday from Albert Bourla, who is the CEO of Pfizer, when he was talking about the idea of maybe yet again another boost, meaning the higher the titer of antibody against even the wild type will have spillover effects in mitigating the problem that is created by the variants. And we know that from experience with the 351, in which the effect of vaccination was diminished by multiple fold, but it wasn’t obliterated because of the cushion of a high level of antibody.
So, a couple of things going on: A, you can directly address it specifically, or you can get as high a robust response from the vaccine in question that would have an effect on the variant.
So let me stop there and hand it back to Andy.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Thank you. And before we turn to the — for questions, I want to maybe pose a question to Dr. Fauci. This — thank you for providing all of us with an overview of the strategy to stay ahead of and target variants as needed on an ongoing basis, but I want to ask a simple question: If you are someone who today is contemplating whether or not you should get a vaccination, should any of this cause you to delay your thinking about getting a vaccination until some of these developments occur, or should people go out and quickly and hastily get their vaccines?
DR. FAUCI: Overwhelmingly, the latter, Andy. Right now, get vaccinated. The vaccine that’s available to you, get that vaccine. It is important to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. A very firm answer to that question.
ACTING ADMINISTRATOR SLAVITT: Okay. Thank you for clarifying that.
All right, let’s go to questions.
February 26, 2021: Centers for Reproductive Rights posted News titled: “Tennessee’s Medically Unsound ‘Abortion Reversal’ Law Remains Blocked by Federal Courts”. From the News:
Today, a federal court in Tennessee issued a preliminary injunction, blocking a state law that would have forced doctors to provide false and misleading information to their patients about the potential to “reverse” a medication abortion; the unproven claim has no basis in credible medical research. This injunction comes after the court issued a temporary restraining order against the law last year.
This law was an attempt by politicians to erode the trust between patients and their providers by forcing doctors to lie to patients and share misinformation that isn’t backed up by credible science. Had it gone into effect, providers would have been forced to share misinformation with patients – telling them it may be possible to “reverse” a medication abortion – at least 48 hours in advance of providing a medication abortion and again after the patient has taken the first medication, as well as post signs throughout their health centers informing patients about abortion “reversal” in large, bold print. Providers who refused to comply would have faced criminal prosecution for a Class E felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, and health centers would have faced a $10,000 daily fine for failure to display the required signs.
“Reversal” laws are opposed by leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA), the Society of Family Planning, and the American College for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). In fact, the AMA is a party to a lawsuit in North Dakota challenging a similar “reversal” law.
In today’s preliminary injunction, Judge William Campbell, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee said: “In the Court’s view, misleading an undecided patient into beginning a procedure that may have unalterable consequences by suggesting she can ‘reverse’ it later is not a result desired by either side.”…Center for Reproductive Rights
February 26, 2021: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services posted a Press Release titled: “Biden Administration Strengthens Requirements that Plans and Issuers Cover COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing Without Cost Sharing and Ensures Providers are Reimbursed for Administering COVID-19 Vaccines to Uninsured”. From the Press Release:
In accordance with the Executive Order President Biden signed on January 21, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), together with the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury, (collectively, the Departments) issued new guidance today removing barriers to COVID-19 diagnostic testing and vaccinations and strengthening requirements that plans and issuers cover diagnostic testing without cost sharing.
This guidance makes clear that private group health plans and issuers generally cannot use medical screening criteria to deny coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic tests for individuals with health coverage who are asymptomatic, and who have no known or suspected exposure to COVID-19. Such testing must be covered without cost sharing, prior authorization, or other medical management requirements imposed by the plan or issuer. For example, covered individuals wanting to ensure they are COVID-19 negative prior to visiting a family member would be able to be tested without paying cost sharing. The guidance also includes information for providers on how to get reimbursed for COVID-19 diagnostic testing or for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to those who are uninsured.
This announcement clarifies the circumstances in which group health plans and issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage must cover COVID-19 diagnostic tests without cost sharing, prior authorization, or other medical management requirements to include tests for asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected exposure to COVID-19. In addition, the guidance confirms that plans and issuers must cover point-of-care COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and COVID-19 diagnostic tests administered at state or locally administered testing sites.
The Departments have received many questions about plan and issuer responsibility to cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing for individuals who are asymptomatic and have no known or suspected recent exposure to COVID-19. Today’s guidance clarifies that plans and issuers generally must cover, with no cost sharing, COVID-19 diagnostic tests regardless of whether the patient is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to COVID-19 when a licensed or authorized health care provider administers or has referred a patient for such a test. Additionally, plans and issuers are prohibited from requiring prior authorization or other medical management for COVID-19 diagnostic testing.
This guidance also reinforces existing policy regarding coverage for the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine and highlights avenues for providers to seek federal reimbursement for costs incurred when administering COVID-19 diagnostic testing or a COVID-19 vaccine to those who are uninsured. One such existing program is through the Provider Relief Fund program, which has a separate effort for providers to submit claims and seek reimbursement on a rolling basis for COVID-19 testing, COVID-19 treatment, and administering COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured individuals (the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program)… The HRSA Uninsured Program has already reimbursed providers more than $3 billion for the testing and treatment of uninsured individuals, and expects to see vaccine administration claims as states scale up their vaccination efforts. To further build awareness about the availability of this program, this announcement seeks comment on strategies to connect those without insurance to care from providers participating in this fund…CMS
February 27, 2021:The White House posted a Statement titled: “Statement by President Joe Biden on Emergency Use Authorization of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine“. From the Statement:
Today, after a rigorous, open, and objective scientific review process, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a third safe and effective vaccine to help us defeat the COVID-19 pandemic — the Janssen COVID-19 (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. This is exciting news for all Americans, and an encouraging development in our efforts to bring an end to the crisis.
We know that the more people get vaccinated, the faster we will overcome the virus, get back to our friends and loved ones, and get our economy back on track. Thanks to the brilliance of our scientists, the resilience of our people, and the eagerness of Americans in every community to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated, we are moving in the right direction. I look forward to speaking more about today’s news and updating the American people on our progress this coming week.
But I want to be clear: this fight is far from over. Though we celebrate today’s news, I urge all Americans — keep washing your hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks. As I have said many times, things are still likely to get worse again as new variants spread, and the current improvement could reverse. My Administration will not make the mistake of taking this threat lightly, or just assuming the best: that’s why we need the American Rescue Plan to keep this fight going in the months ahead.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable. We must continue to remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively, and look out for one another — that is how we are going to reach that light together.White House
This blog post will be updated if and when additional relevant information is found.
Health Care Under Biden-Harris – February 2021 is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites. If you enjoyed this blog post please consider supporting me on Ko-fi. Thank you!