The circus is back in town — “Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli was released early from federal prison on Wednesday after serving time for securities fraud.
Health officials on Wednesday warned about rising COVID infections and said if Congress continues to stall on passing new funding, the U.S. risks not being able to buy enough updated vaccines. But first, new action on the baby formula shortage.
Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Subscribe here.
BREAKING: BIDEN INVOKES DEFENSE PRODUCTION ACT FOR FORMULA
President Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to address the infant formula shortage in the United States.
The White House announced in a fact sheet that Biden would use the Cold War-era law to require suppliers to “direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good.”
“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains,” the fact sheet said.
House poised to vote on formula legislation
The House on Wednesday was poised to vote on two bills aimed at addressing a nationwide shortage of infant formula.
The shortages have left many parents desperate, and lawmakers are scrambling to find a solution that could quickly put formula back on store shelves.
But even as Democrats praised the vote, it was unclear just how quickly the bills would help families and increase the available supply.
House Republicans knocked Democrats for giving money to the FDA without guardrails, and without forcing the agency to develop a concrete plan to solve the shortage. Republicans also said the funding legislation doesn’t hold the FDA accountable for its role in the shortage, though at least two House committees are investigating.
Senate Republicans also seemed wary of spending new money, and so the ultimate fate of the Democrats’ biggest legislative effort to fix the formula shortage was uncertain.
The formula shortages have been months in the making, but it’s only recently caught the attention of many members of Congress. Now facing pressure from frustrated families, lawmakers are casting about for a way to fix a problem with many causes and no easy answers.
Officials: US falling behind for new vaccines
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha warned on Wednesday that every day that goes by without Congress providing funding to fight the virus, the United States falls further in line to buy updated vaccines.
“My take is every day we wait, every week we wait, we just fall a little further behind in line,” Jha said at the first formal press briefing of the COVID-19 response team since he took over last month.
Pfizer and Moderna are working on new versions of their vaccines that are aimed at working better against the omicron variant that is currently circulating, and those vaccines are expected to be ready by the fall.
But the White House warns that it will not have enough money to purchase those new vaccines for all Americans unless lawmakers provide new COVID-19 funding, a request that has been stalled for months in Congress.
Officials say the clock is ticking, because there is a limited supply of the new vaccines and other countries are also angling to get them.
“The truth is other countries are in conversations with the manufacturers,” Jha said.
“It takes about three months to manufacture these and if we want to be ready for the fall, it’s not too early to start thinking about this stuff,” he noted. “And in fact, we’ve had some very preliminary conversations with the manufacturers, but the negotiations around it have not yet begun partly because we’re waiting for resources.”
Becerra tests positive for COVID during trip to Berlin
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday while traveling in Berlin, the department announced.
“This morning in Berlin, ahead of G7 meetings for health ministers, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra tested positive for COVID-19 after taking a PCR test,” said HHS spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim. “He is fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, and is experiencing mild symptoms. He will continue to perform his duties as HHS Secretary, working in isolation.”
Becerra most recently visited the White House on Thursday. However, President Biden is not considered a close contact, according to HHS.
Becerra is the latest in a string of high-profile Biden administration officials to contract the virus, as the United States sees a surge in cases. Vice President Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken both recently had the virus.
Biden so far has avoided having a known case of the virus, but the White House has acknowledged it is possible he will be infected as well. The administration argues that tools like vaccines, booster shots, and treatments now exist that make the virus much more manageable.
TWO CHILDREN HOSPITALIZED DUE TO BABY FORMULA SHORTAGE
Two children were hospitalized in Tennessee this month due to the nationwide baby formula shortage, according to a Memphis hospital.
The children, both of whom had “specific dietary requirements,” were hospitalized in mid-May at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, said Mark Corkins, division chief of pediatric gastroenterology at Le Bonheur and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
“These are young children who have health conditions and special medical needs that have specific dietary requirements,” Corkins said in a statement obtained by The Hill. “Their bodies did not adapt well to the new formula type and they required treatment via IV fluids and supplemental nutrition.”
Corkins added that pediatric experts at the hospital were “making multiple substitutions throughout a child’s care to ensure that their nutritional needs are met.”
“This can be a complicated and cumbersome process and is extremely difficult for parents to navigate on their own,” he said, noting that parents should contact their child’s pediatrician in the event they have formula-related questions.
ONE-THIRD OF AMERICANS IN NEW SURVEY SAY PANDEMIC IS OVER
Nearly 1 in 3 Americans questioned in a new survey said that the COVID-19 pandemic is over, with many stating their top concern now is spreading the virus to people who are at higher risk of serious illness.
In the Axios-Ipsos poll, 31 percent of respondents said that the pandemic is over and 69 percent disagreed.
Perception of the pandemic varied across party lines, with 59 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 10 percent of Democrats surveyed saying the pandemic is over.
Additionally, 32 percent of respondents said their top current concern with the virus is spreading it to people who are at higher risk of serious illness, which was consistent regardless of party affiliation.
Among those who were unvaccinated, 31 percent said their top concern is dealing with restrictions in their daily life.
Overall, 74 percent say that the pandemic is still a problem, but manageable, while 14 percent describe it as a serious problem.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- ‘That’s just part of aging’: long covid symptoms are often overlooked in seniors (Kaiser Health News)
- Investigation into mysterious pediatric hepatitis cases in the US expands (ABC News)
- Insiders bemoan culture, data gaps that limit CDC in crises (Bloomberg)
- Lifesaving dye used in hospital scans is in short supply (CBS News)
STATE BY STATE
- With new coronavirus wave, L.A. faring much better than New York Can it last? (Los Angeles Times)
- Oregon’s coronavirus wave expected to peak in June, new mask mandate unlikely (Salem Statesman Journal)
- Health experts call for stricter COVID measures in Massachusetts as cases and hospitalizations rise (Boston Globe)
OP-EDS IN THE HILL
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.