Coronavirus: The Hill and the Headlines, February 2021 # 14

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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:

  • The House Budget Committee released the text of the "American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.” The panel also provided a new report emphasizing the need for quick congressional action on  COVID relief to ensure workers, families, small businesses, and communities across the country can make it to the other side of these twin health and economic crises. The Committee will start markup the COVID-19 relief package on Monday. 
  • On Friday, President Biden toured a Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, seeking to highlight efforts to mass produce a coronavirus vaccine. He met with lab workers and learned about the process behind creating one of the two COVID-19 vaccines that is being widely used across the U.S. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that the company is now delivering 5 million vaccine doses per week to the government, but is working to expand that capacity. Biden during his visit pressed the company to further speed up the timeline, according to Bourla. 
  • The White House said Friday that winter storms have caused a backlog of 6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, about three days-worth of shipments, but they expect to clear the backlog within a week. Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for the coronavirus response, said the storms affected all 50 states at multiple points along the supply chain. Workers for distributors and shippers have been snowed in and unable to get to work or distribute efficiently. In addition, more than 2,000 vaccination sites are in areas without power and unable to accept doses.
  • President Biden announced Friday that he has selected Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, a longtime health policy staffer, as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The agency oversees Medicare and Medicaid, and administers the Affordable Care Act. CMS is also currently overseeing the special sign-up period for the Affordable Care Act that the Biden administration created to try to boost insurance coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the News:

  • Pfizer/BioNTech unveiled new data on Monday showing its COVID-19 vaccine can remain stable at much higher temperatures than previously reported.  The company initially said it had to be transported at ultra-low temperatures from -80 to -60 degrees Celsius.  They now say it can be stored for up to two weeks from -25 to -15 degrees Celsius, temperatures that are more commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers. The development could make the transportation and distribution of the vaccine much easier and be especially helpful in rural areas that lack infrastructure.
  • An NPR analysis shows that Indian tribes are administering COVID-19 vaccines at far faster rates than U.S. averages. The Rosebud Sioux tribe, for instance, is vaccinating at twice the rate of surrounding South Dakota. The speed is urgently needed; Native Americans are dying at twice the rates from COVID-19 as whites. Several factors are driving the pace: vaccination is open to anyone over 18 years, the federal Indian Health Service’s (IHS) centralized system outpaces states, IHS has pre-existing databases of patient info, mass testing infrastructure is now available for vaccination, and experience immunizing people in poor, rural communities.
  • The average U.S. life expectancy dropped by a year in the first half of 2020, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.8 years – a decline of 1 year from 2019. Deaths from COVID-19 are the main factor in the overall drop, the CDC says. But a surge in drug overdose deaths also contributed. The group that suffered the largest decline was non-Hispanic Black males, whose life expectancy dropped by three years. 
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is defending placing a COVID-19 vaccination event near Lakewood Ranch, an upscale retirement community near Tampa, avoiding other communities in the same county where vaccinations lag. The event was the latest in a series of state-sponsored clinics at retirement communities. At DeSantis’s order, the vaccine is available to everyone age 65 and over. Florida Democrats cried foul at the placement. When questioned by reporters, DeSantis threatened to take the distribution effort elsewhere. "If Manatee County doesn't like us doing this," DeSantis said, "then we are totally fine putting this in counties that want it."

[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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