Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 2021 #17

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Your guide to the latest Hill developments, news narratives, and media headlines from Hogan Lovells Government Relations and Public Affairs practice.

In Washington:

  • Senate Democrats made their final pitch on Wednesday to Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough to include a minimum wage hike in coronavirus relief legislation. The Parliamentarian decides whether legislative provisions meet the reconciliation rules’ strict germaneness requirements. Reconciliation bypasses a filibuster and is the $15-per-hour wage hike’s only realistic path to enactment near-term. MacDonough’s ruling is expected Wednesday or Thursday. Votes in each chamber on the relief bill are expected this week and next.
  • The Biden administration plans to send states, pharmacies, and community health centers 3 million to 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine should the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorize it for use. The doses could ship as early as next week, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Wednesday. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to roll out than prior vaccines because it’s administered in one shot and can be refrigerated at normal, not ultra-cold, temperatures.
  • On Wednesday,  President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday to review global supply chains to avoid the shortages of critical goods during the pandemic. The order will require 100-day reviews of the global producers and shippers for several industries including pharmaceuticals and their active ingredients. Specifically, the review will target semiconductors, key minerals and materials, pharmaceuticals and their ingredients, and advanced batteries like the ones used in electric vehicles.
  • The White House announced Wednesday that it will send more than 25 million masks to community health centers and food pantries across the country in an effort to increase access for low-income people. "Many low-income Americans still lack affordable access to this basic protection," White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said. The shipments of washable cloth masks, beginning in March, will go to approximately 1,300 community health centers, as well as 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens.

  • Biden Health and Human Services Nominee Xavier Becerra appeared before the Senate Finance Committee for his second confirmation hearing this week. The California governor faced more criticism for his stance on abortion and his past comments regarding moving toward a Medicare for All type system to replace private insurance.   Questions also focused the costs of insurance coverage, drug prices, and reopening schools during the pandemic.  Becerra avoided direct answers on reopening schools responding that the Biden administration will defer to local officials on when and how to reopen schools, but noted that he views the threat of COVID-19 more serious than the consequences from continued distance learning.  

  • Top government health officials say they will soon have more information about what people can safely do once they are vaccinated. Right now, guidelines require a vaccinated person to continue masking and distancing. White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci says it is still unclear if those vaccinated can carry the virus in their nasopharnx, therefore capable of passing the virus to others that are not vaccinated.   
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to be challenged in finding a way to deliver $2 billion in pandemic funeral assistance after the money was set aside in the in the $2.3 trillion spending package passed December. Progress has stalled due to concerns within the agency that the program is vulnerable to widespread fraud.  FEMA plans to allocate anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 to people whose family members died as a direct result of COVID-19 in 2020.

In the News:

  • Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine candidate is safe and effective at preventing moderate-to-severe cases of COVID-19, according to an analysis of trial data the FDA published on Wednesday. The vaccine is 66 percent effective against moderate-to-severe cases. It’s 85 percent effective at preventing severe cases specifically and it completely prevents hospitalizations and deaths. An FDA advisory committee could grant the vaccine emergency use authorization as soon as this weekend. The vaccine is only 57 percent effective against moderate-to-severe cases in South Africa, where a new coronavirus variant is prevalent. But its efficacy against severe or critical infections in South Africa was just as high as in the U.S.
  • A new COVID-19 variant is spreading through New York City and researchers say it has a mutation that may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.  Two versions of the B.1.526 variant accounts for about 27 percent of viral sequences in databases used by scientists   A Caltech study of the new variant was posted online on Tuesday. Another study by researchers at Columbia University, has been submitted to a preprint server but is not yet public. Neither study has been vetted by peer review nor published in a scientific journal.  
  • Ghana was the first country to receive the first shipment of the international COVAX program.   Ghana will receive 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.   The program is designed to ensure equitable access to vaccines with plans to deliver tow billion doses around the world this year.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced on Wednesday that he is lifting a statewide curfew and easing other coronavirus restrictions amid a decrease in infections. Northam told reporters that the state’s midnight to 5 a.m. curfew will be lifted next Monday. In addition, outdoor social gatherings will be allowed to have 25 people, up from the current 10-person limit. The state has vaccinated about 13.5 percent of its population.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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