January 23, 2021

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The Health 202: Coronavirus vaccines may have partly protected some members of Congress during the riot

9 min read

It all depends on when members got their first vaccine dose.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) all announced this week they tested positive after being forced to huddle in close proximity with more than 100 other members for more than four hours, as insurgents stormed the Capitol grounds and building.

It’s unlikely the trio had any protection from the vaccine at that point. Coleman received her first shot on Dec. 29 — eight days before the invasion. Jayapal got vaccinated three days before and Schneider, just two days.

In trials for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it took about 12 days for any amount of protection to kick in after participants got their first shot. But after that, protection levels continued rising exponentially, with the vaccines showing more than 50 percent effectiveness before the second shot was given a few weeks later.

There’s reason to believe the first shot can be even more effective on its own, if given more time to work.

It’s likely that protection from the first shot will continue rising even if the second shot is delayed, vaccine experts say. 

That’s because the vaccines work by gradually training the body’s immune cells to recognize the coronavirus proteins. The first vaccine shot starts that process, which can continue for months. Greg Poland, a vaccine researcher at the Mayo Clinic, said effectiveness of the first shot on its own may be more like 70 percent, if it is given enough time to work.

The point of the second shot, he said, is to ensure peak antibody levels for the fullest protection possible.

“You give a second dose and it’s like saying, ‘This is for real,’ ” Poland said.

These scientific realities are one reason the incoming Biden administration — and now the Trump administration — has chosen to ship out vaccine doses more quickly rather than holding half back. It’s better to give more people one shot of the vaccine than to absolutely ensure a smaller group of people can get both shots within the precise recommended time frame, many experts say. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still recommending people get the second shot if they’re able — three weeks later for the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks later for the Moderna vaccine.

So it’s likely that members of Congress who received their shots before Christmas had some level of protection.

“I wish I had the vaccine earlier and I might not be in this situation now,” Schneider told reporters on a call yesterday to discuss his positive test result.

But it’s unclear exactly how many lawmakers have been vaccinated at this point. House and Senate leaders have shared photos of themselves receiving the shots, as have some rank-and-file members. The Office of Attending Physician, which has been administering the shots to members, didn’t respond to questions about how many have received the first shot so far.

It’s of course difficult to prove that’s where Coleman, Jayapal and Schneider contracted the virus. 

But it’s a fair assumption, considering that spending hours in an enclosed space is a prime opportunity for spread. Brian Monahan, the attending physician to Congress and the Supreme Court, wrote to members on Sunday warning that those who sheltered together may have been exposed to someone with the virus. 

“I am angry that after I spent months carefully isolating myself, a single chaotic day likely got me sick,” Coleman wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

To make matter worse, a number of GOP members refused to wear masks while sheltering, despite requests from others to do so. Footage first published by Punchbowl News showed maskless Republicans, including Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Michael Cloud (Tex.), Markwayne Mullin (Okla.) and Scott Perry (Pa.). Those four also refused to take masks that were offered to them by another member.

“I do know my exposure in that room was greater than at any other time in this pandemic,” Schneider said.

House Democrats are cracking down on mask requirements in the Capitol, moving to fine those who refuse to comply. They included the rule as part of a procedural vote last night, which clears the way for the House to pass a measure urging Vice President Pence to use his powers under the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office immediately.

Mike DeBonis, congressional reporter for The Post:

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: The Trump administration announced major changes to its vaccine rollout.

“The steps, part of an effort to accelerate a delayed and disjointed rollout, depart from the administration’s original strategy, and come just days after President-elect Joe Biden announced plans to release nearly all the vaccine supply,” our colleagues write.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the administration plans to redirect shots to states based on the size of their 65-and-older population and the pace at which they are administering vaccines. Vaccine allocations are currently based on the size of states’ population, not the number of residents who are in higher-risk categories. Azar, a Trump Cabinet secretary who will leave office in a little over a week, said that the changes would provide incentives for states to do a better job reporting their vaccinations.

Some federal officials raised concerns the changes could spur confusion, and state health officials called the plan to reallocate doses punitive. Other supporters have praised the decision to release all available doses, saying that it may help curb the spread of a new, more contagious variant of the virus.

Biden is expected in the coming days to provide a blueprint of his vaccine rollout plan. While he is expected to push for expanded eligibility, advisers to the President-elect said that opening it up to everyone 65-and-older, as well as people of any age with high-risk medical conditions, could overwhelm the system. Those changes would add roughly 100 million more Americans eligible for vaccines.

OOF: Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder will face criminal charges in Flint water crisis.

The former GOP governor is expected to be charged alongside several former officials for his role in the 2014 Flint water crisis, according to a report by the Associated Press, our colleagues Kim Bellware and Brady Dennis write. The crisis, which started when the city switched its water supply to the Flint River as a cost-saving measure, left at least a dozen dead from a Legionnaire’s outbreak and harmed the health of many more residents in the predominantly Black city.

The office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel notified Snyder, his former health department director Nick Lyon and former adviser Rich Baird of pending indictments, the Associated Press reported, citing unnamed sources. Nessel’s office declined to provide comment on the probe or provide information about the nature of the charges.

Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose research in 2015 first documented dangerously high lead levels in children’s blood in the city, described the charges as a crucial step toward justice.

“As a pediatrician privileged to care for our Flint children, I have increasingly come to understand that accountability and justice are critical to health & recovery,” Hanna-Attisha told The Post in a text message Tuesday. “Without justice, it’s impossible to heal the scars of the crisis.”

OUCH: The Supreme Court restored requirements that women seeking medication abortions visit a clinic.

The court sided with the Trump administration, which had sought to reinstate Food and Drug Administration rules that require women to pick up abortion pills at a medical facility rather than receive them by mail or other delivery, Robert Barnes reports.

The ruling comes after lower courts had relaxed the requirements over concerns that women and health care workers could be exposed to the coronavirus.

“The court’s conservative majority did not explain its reasoning, as is common in emergency applications. But it has been strengthened by the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who joined the court since it last considered the issue and refused to reinstate the requirements,” Robert writes.

The court’s three liberal justices opposed reimposing the requirements.

“This country’s laws have long singled out abortions for more onerous treatment than other medical procedures that carry similar or greater risks,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Elena Kagan. “One can only hope that the government will reconsider and exhibit greater care and empathy for women seeking some measure of control over their health and reproductive lives in these unsettling times.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted his dissent but did not join Sotomayor’s opinion.

Coronavirus latest

  • The U.S. will require coronavirus testing for all international travelers entering the country in an effort to thwart a faster-spreading variant of the virus, The Post’s Lori Aratani reports.
  • Shutdowns, mask-wearing and other public health precautions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus have also quashed the spread of other common viruses. Doctors say that they are seeing far fewer cases of influenza, RSV, norovirus and other enterovirus. Some scientists worry, however, that infections could rebound after the pandemic dissipates, Dan Hurley writes for The Post.
  • Even as the U.S. goes through the most lethal period of the pandemic yet, governors and local officials from both major political parties have shown little appetite for new restrictions, the Associated Press’s Julie Watson and Terry Tang report.

More than 200 drug and health-focused groups are urging the incoming Biden administration to address opioid abuse and end the drug war.

The letter, provided first to The Health 202, says the Justice Department should stop fighting supervised injection facilities in court and the new administration should instead work with Congress to revise federal laws to permit their operation. It also requests additional funding for treatment and recovery program through both the annual budget and covid-19 relief bills and a permanent extension of special pandemic accomodations making it easier to access methadone and buprenorphone – two drugs used in treating those who misuse opioids.

“Like the President-elect, we too have experienced the insurmountable grief brought on by the loss of family members,” the letter says. “It is our strong hope and belief that ending the drug war that has inflicted incredible harm in communities across this nation, and centering evidence-based solutions to address the overdose crisis, could be a great catalyst for a national transformation.”

The letter, led by People’s Action, VOCAL-NY, the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Harm Reduction Coalition, was sent to Rahul Gupta, team lead for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on Biden’s transition team.

The FDA cycled through three different top lawyers on Monday.

The personnel changes appear to be yet another in a series of clashes between the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees it.

“The unusual sequence began with Trump appointee Stacy Cline Amin abruptly stepping down as chief counsel and the FDA announcing that career civil servant Mark Raza would be her acting replacement. Then, HHS on Monday night announced that Trump political appointee James Lawrence would instead serve as chief counsel — a move that unnerved health officials as the Trump administration heads into its final week,” Politico’s Dan Diamond reports.

Two officials told Politico that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows backed Lawrence for the chief counsel position.

There is little love lost between the FDA and HHS. Over the summer, HHS withdrew the FDA’s authority to regulate tests from certain laboratories, including tests for the coronavirus.

On Monday, Azar approved a rule that limits the FDA’s authority to conduct premarket review on a range of medical devices. HHS is also pushing a plan that would strip the FDA of its oversight of genetically modified animals, Politico’s Sarah Owermohle and Adam Cancryn report.

HHS eliminated LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.

The department finalized a rule change that will permit social-service providers that receive government funds to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Critics claim the new guidance could have wide-ranging implications for agencies that address adoption and foster-parenting, as well as homelessness, HIV prevention, elder care and other public services,” NBC’s Dan Avery reports.

In a submission published in the federal register, HHS said Obama-era nondiscrimination rules violated religious freedom protections.

“Given the careful balancing of rights, obligations, and goals in the public-private partnerships in federal grant programs, the Department believes it appropriate to impose only those nondiscrimination requirements required by the Constitution and federal statutes,” the rule states.

LGBTQ advocacy groups say that the rule is targeted at child welfare organizations. A pending case before the Supreme Court could determine whether adoption agencies receiving taxpayer money can deny services to same-sex prospective parents.

Sugar rush

Paige Winfield Cunningham


2021-01-13 07:49:20


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