Capitol Correspondence - 02.09.21

News Round Up and Resources: The Administration’s Latest Actions on Vaccines and Testing

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As our members navigate overlapping federal and state processes to obtain vaccines and testing for the individuals they support and their frontline staff, the broader news compilation below could help inform their processes:

Biden orders surge in testing and PPE. “The Biden administration will use wartime powers to significantly increase the supply of rapid at-home and point-of-care COVID-19 tests. The Defense Production Act (DPA) will be used to ‘rapidly surge’ domestic testing capabilities, investing money in six suppliers to produce 61 million at-home and point-of-care tests to be available by the end of the summer, said Tim Manning, the White House COVID-19 response team supply coordinator.” (The Hill) While COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization have decreased, as have cases in nursing homes, the amount of cases overall remains very high, making access to testing and PPE still essential to combating the spread of the virus.

Federal response continues to be hampered by uncertainty on number of vaccines currently available in states. “The federal government is still wrestling with significant discrepancies between the number of vaccines distributed and the number of shots in arms. About 35 million doses have been administered, out of the more than 57 million shipped to states, according to federal data.” (Politico Pulse). This is further complicated by technical difficulties with the reporting system use to track vaccines.

States begin cracking down on people crossing state lines to receive the vaccine. “With states varying widely in prioritizing who can get shots, ‘vaccine hunter’ groups, which scour the country for places where people qualify for the vaccine, have sprung into action on social media. That has public health officials grappling with how to handle pandemic travelers: Should strict rules be followed, turning away all outsiders, or should as many shots be administered as possible, even if some may go to people from other places?” (New York Times)

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will review Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine on February 26. “The FDA’s expert panel will review the company’s data. The final decision rests with the agency itself, which could authorize it quickly thereafter. State health officials are eagerly awaiting more vaccines. The J&J single-dose shot could serve as a critical tool to immunize rural and other hard-to-reach populations, alleviating the logistical hurdles of a second shot.” (Politico Pulse)

As a side note, a fourth vaccine developed in Russia has been found to be over 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 cases. (Politico Europe) This could in theory help reduce global competition for vaccines by meeting European demand.

FDA prepares new standards for COVID-19 booster shots to address more contagious variants. The FDA “is preparing to release new standards for Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, tests and drugs in the coming weeks — all aimed at preparing the country to beat back fast-spreading virus variants that are less susceptible to existing shots. The guidance is slated for release in two to three weeks, according to four people familiar with the discussion. In the meantime, federal and state officials are scrambling to track how widely the coronavirus variants first found in South Africa, Brazil and the United Kingdom are spreading in the United States.

The strains’ arrival threatens to reverse the country’s slow progress in curbing new infections, hospitalizations and deaths after a post-holiday surge — the worst yet in the nearly year-old U.S. outbreak. The variants have raised the stakes for the Biden administration as it strives to deliver on the new president’s promises to ramp up the pace of vaccinations and bring the pandemic under control.

FDA’s new strategy for adapting drugs, tests and vaccines for the variants is a cornerstone of the administration’s battle plan, drawn in part from years of experience fighting the fast-mutating flu virus.” (Politico Pro)