The FDA’s vaccine committee will consider a proposal for an annual COVID-19 immunization schedule, similar to that for the flu shot. We’ll get into the details.
Also: President Biden issued a memorandum to further protect access to medical abortion.
Welcome to The Hill’s Healthcare Roundup, we’re following the latest on policies and news that affect your health. I’m Joseph Tsai. Subscribe here.
Panel deliberates on annual COVID vaccine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccine Advisory Group will consider an annual timetable for a coronavirus vaccine when it meets this week, similar to how the flu shot is administered.
- The FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will meet on Thursday to discuss ways to simplify and streamline the COVID-19 vaccination process, including the components of the coronavirus vaccine and the recommended timing of those shots.
- The rapid evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has resulted in variants with a higher ability to evade immune protection, which means “regular updating of the components of COVID-19 vaccines as needed”—as has been done with newer bivalent boosters That — needs to be considered, according to the group paper that was released on Monday.
Potential plans: The panel said it expected to review the components of a COVID-19 vaccine every June and make recommendations for the coming year – although it acknowledged the difficulties of developing globally coordinated vaccine recommendations.
- “FDA anticipates evaluating SARS-CoV-2 strains at least annually and engaging VRBPAC with respect to fall strain selection around early June each year,” the document states.
- While acknowledging that COVID-19 and influenza are not the same, the panel said the bivalent COVID-19 booster was deployed to target both the ancestral strain of the virus and the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants. “Similar to” getting a yearly flu shot.
Read more here.
Biden issues memo to protect access to abortion pills
President Joe Biden on Sunday issued a presidential memorandum to further protect access to medical abortion by ensuring doctors can prescribe and fill prescriptions across the United States.
Vice President Harris announced the memorandum during a speech in Florida on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
- The memorandum directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services, as well as the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Homeland Security, to consider new guidance to support patients, providers, and pharmacies who wish to legally obtain, prescribe, or deliver mifepristone.
- The memo will also ensure patients know they have a right to reproductive healthcare, including medical abortion from a pharmacy
Mifepristone, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical abortion, has become an increasingly common method of terminating pregnancy, especially after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It accounts for more than half of all abortions in the country.
Earlier this month, the FDA said it would allow U.S. retail pharmacies to supply abortion pills directly to patients with a prescription in states where abortion is legal.
Medication abortion has been used in the United States since the FDA approved its use in 2000, but many states with strict abortion bans have also limited mifepristone’s availability, either by limiting who can prescribe and dispense it or outright banning it.
Read more here.
Opponents of Wisconsin ban on conversion therapy
Wisconsin LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers are recalibrating after state Republican lawmakers voted for the second time last week to block a conversion therapy ban from going into effect.
- “I am very concerned about young people in Wisconsin who are living in communities that are allowed again, to be treated in this very cruel and unscientific way,” said Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Wisconsin), one of six openly LGBTQ members of Wisconsin The state’s Republican-controlled legislature, told The Hill.
- “Conversion” or “restorative therapy” is an umbrella term referring to a range of interventions designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been condemned by leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychological Association, in part because the practice is based on the belief that LGBTQ identity is a pathological condition that needs to be cured.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies prohibiting conversion therapy for minors, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that tracks state legislation affecting the LGBTQ community. Five states, including Wisconsin, have implemented partial bans through a 2021 executive order issued by Gov. Tony Evers (D).
Three states — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — were unable to enforce their bans on conversion therapy because of an 11th Circuit injunction preventing them from doing so.
Read more here.
57% support the government ensuring universal healthcare
A majority of adults in a new survey said they believed it was the federal government’s job to ensure health care coverage for all Americans, but the majority also preferred a private health care system over the government-run option.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents support the view that ensuring health care coverage is the job of the federal government, the highest score in a Gallup poll since 2018. Democrats overwhelmingly agree with that sentiment in the new survey, as do 59 percent of independents. Only 28 percent of Republicans support the idea.
- While the poll showed a majority saying the federal government should ensure health insurance, it also found that a majority of respondents preferred a private health care system to a government-run one. That was driven by a government-run system that has the support of just 13 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents.
- More than 7 in 10 Democrats (72%) support the idea of a government-run health care system.
The findings suggest that most Americans hold mixed stances about the country’s health care system. Balancing the government’s responsibility for health insurance while maintaining a private health insurance system has been a conundrum for lawmakers and successive presidential administrations for decades.
Read more here.
Health experts still learning about omicron subvariants
More than 80% of coronavirus cases in the Northeast are now caused by XBB.1.5.
According to health authorities, XBB.1.5 appears to be the most transmissible omicron subvariant detected so far, but it is unclear whether it causes more severe disease.
Doctors from across the Northeast who spoke to The Hill said they haven’t noticed a significant difference in the severity of illness among COVID-19 patients recently.
Bernard Cummings, medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, said the proportion of patients who were sick enough to need to be admitted to the intensive care unit was the same as in previous variants.
Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford Healthcare in Connecticut, said XBB.1.5 does not appear to be more lethal, noting that as long as there are more cases of COVID-19, morbidity and mortality will in turn rise.
“The presentation was largely the same. Maybe they weren’t sick, but we still saw a lot of sick patients, and we’re definitely seeing dead patients,” Wu said.
- Shira Doron, chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Boston, said the new major strain is “not a huge problem” in her area. According to Doron, her hospital has seen a “modest” increase in new admissions, but she noted that most patients who test positive for the coronavirus are not admitted with a COVID-19 infection but with another illness.
- “I do feel like we’re in a really good place. I want to make sure we don’t lose access to testing, we don’t lose access to treatment,” Doron said, adding that in ensuring access to treatment for COVID-19 There is still work to be done with regard to effective medicines. 19.
Read more here.
hat we are reading
- Three years on, the pandemic — and our response — has been shocking. This is something that even the experts didn’t see coming (statistics)
- DOJ investigates troubled baby formula plant (New York Times)
- ‘Unprecedented Bird Flu Pandemic’ Is Wreaking Havoc on the U.S. Poultry Industry (Fortune)
- Vaccination rates drop in all preschools except 3 WA counties (Seattle Times)
- Transgender people in rural America struggle to find doctors willing or able to provide care (Kaiser Health News)
- Tennessee says it’s cutting federal HIV funding. Will other states follow suit? (NBC News)
Roy’s Requiem and the Path to a Brighter Future
That’s all for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s healthcare page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.