Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, April 2021 # 2

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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.

Reminder: We are scaling back to publishing the Hill and the Headlines COVID-19 Update three days a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

In Washington:

  • On April 13, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) paused the production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women participants in the U.S. developed a rare blood clotting disorder within about two weeks of receiving the vaccine. The FDA says the move is out of an “abundance of caution” while it examines any links between clots and the vaccine and is likely to last just a few days. All cases are women and were between the ages of 18-48. The six cases are among 7 million people that received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.  
  • The White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said Tuesday that the FDA's recommendation to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine would not hinder the Biden administration's distribution strategy. Zients said in a statement that the disruption would be limited because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the recorded shots in the U.S. Over the last few weeks, we have made available more than 25 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna each week...This is more than enough supply to continue the current pace of vaccinations of 3 million shots per day, and meet the President’s goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office—and continue on to reach every adult who wants to be vaccinated." the statement said. 
  • A panel of vaccine experts that advises the CDC was deadlocked Wednesday on whether to limit the use of the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine based on age or sex, requiring more time to assess the risks involved.  Though the panel’s decision is non-binding, the CDC said it would rely on the experts and an independent review by FDA officials to assist with their decision on the vaccine.
  • A CDC study found that leaving the middle seat vacant on planes could reduce COVID-19 exposure for passengers, supporting a practice that most airlines have now abandoned. The research released on Wednesday predicted that keeping the middle seat empty on flights could reduce the risk of exposure by 23 percent to 57 percent, depending on the seating occupancy model. The CDC requires masks on airplanes and recommends that only fully vaccinated people against COVID-19 should travel.
  • The FDA released guidance on Wednesday outlining how it will conduct remote, voluntary evaluations of drug, biologic, and veterinary firms during the pandemic and how the agency will use those findings.
  • President Biden will address a joint session of Congress on April 28, the eve before his 100th day in office. The White House says that there will be a limited number of members and senators attending the address on the House floor and social distancing measures due to COVID.  
  • On Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told pharmaceutical companies to be prepared to make “sacrifices” to ensure that people in developing countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines.  India and South Africa have called on the  WTO to approve a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights protections for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics so that manufacturers globally can increase production to alleviate shortages. Pharmaceutical companies oppose such a waiver.  Tai’s remarks were delivered at  the opening session of the World Trade Organization (WTO) virtual conference titled “COVID-19 and vaccine equity: what can the WTO contribute?"
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspectors General found that inconsistent documentation has left the agency with the inability to determine whether a quarter of the residents in its nursing homes received coronavirus vaccine and the reasons for not administering doses. 
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that the agency is looking to end the Trump administration’s food box program and replace it with a more efficient program to assist families in need better. 

In the News:

  • Denmark on Wednesday announced that it would no longer be administering Astra Zeneca’s coronavirus vaccine amid concerns on links to rare blood clots, making it the first European country to make its suspension permanent.  While a safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said last week that a “possible link” exists between the vaccine and blood clots, it argued that inoculation benefits to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the risks.  
  • Twenty-one percent of U.S. adults say they will forgo vaccination against the coronavirus, according to a poll released Wednesday by Monmouth University. Another 12 percent said they will let other people get the vaccine first “to see how it goes.” Forty-three percent of registered Republicans said they would not get a shot, compared with 22 percent of independents and 5 percent of Democrats. Twenty-four percent of men said they would forgo a shot compared with 19 percent of women.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) unlawfully imposed capacity limits on restaurants, bars, or other businesses to combat COVID-19, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The 5-4 ruling from the conservative-majority court found that Evers should have gone through the non-emergency rulemaking process before promulgating last fall’s order. The court sided with a bar and the anti-abortion group Pro-Life Wisconsin. Two weeks ago, the court blocked Evers from issuing multiple emergency orders, including a mask mandate.
  • Global Citizen announced on Tuesday that Selena Gomez will host "Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World," which will air next month. The group says the event will include calls for "world leaders to prioritize the equitable distribution" of COVID-19 vaccines. The concert will be pre-taped, featuring performances from Jennifer Lopez, Eddie Vedder, Foo Fighters, J Balvin, and H.E.R. The concert will be supporting the vaccine-sharing program COVAX to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries.

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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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