The hunt for the origin of Covid-19 intensifies
With Rachel Roubein
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– The origins of the coronavirus pandemic are now subject to further examination from the White House and Congress.
– President Joe Biden could use his next budget request to fulfill a major campaign pledge on abortion rights.
– Georgia’s two Democratic senators urge lawmakers to use Biden’s infrastructure package to expand Medicare in the dozen states that have so far refused to do so.
WELCOME TO THURSDAY PULSE – where some parts of the United States are inundated with cicadas, while others are overrun with delicious fruit and don’t even know it. Send medlars and advice to [email protected] and [email protected].
THE HUNT ORIGIN OF COVID-19 RAMPS MOUNTED – Amid calls from Congressional Democrats and Republicans for responsibility for the pandemic’s beginnings, Biden said on Wednesday he had ordered the intelligence community to spend the next three months probing the issue in hopes of making it happen. to a “final conclusion”.
This represents the most transparency on the part of the administration about his Covid-related intelligence efforts. The government is divided between two theories about the origin of the virus, Biden said: either the virus naturally jumped to humans from an animal host, or its release was the result of a laboratory accident in China.
The “lab leak” theory has long been dismissed as unlikely by federal health officials. But it has received renewed attention in recent weeks, after top scientists called for further investigation and reported that three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in 2019.
On the hill, Lawmakers on both sides have signaled their willingness to look into the theory themselves, report Andrew Desiderio and Erin Banco of POLITICO. This could further intensify the pressure on the administration, which argued that any investigation would have a better chance of succeeding if led by an outside multinational entity like the World Health Organization (rather than a government with which the China has had strained relations).
In a statement, the Chinese embassy called the comments of a laboratory leak a “conspiracy theory” and a “smear campaign.” Yet by early 2020, Biden had expressed openness to the possibility – with Republicans, now saying their long-held suspicions have been validated.
Wednesday night came another sign of bipartisan interest: The Senate unanimously passed a law requiring the Biden administration to declassify information related to any possible connection between the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the origins of the pandemic.
SUBJECT TO TAKE ABORTION RIGHTS STAND – The president is expected to leave the Hyde Amendment and other anti-abortion provisions in his next budget plan, his first attempt as president to deal with this divisive issue, reports Alice Miranda Ollstein of POLITICO.
Biden’s omission of the Hyde Amendment – the long-standing provision banning almost all federal funding for abortion – would be largely symbolic, given Democrats’ narrow margins in Congress. But it sends a clear message at a time when states attempt to limit access to abortion and the Supreme Court plans to hear a direct challenge. Roe vs. Wade.
Biden first promised to remove the Hyde Amendment as a candidate, saying in 2019 that there was “no rationale” for withholding federal funding to care for people covered by federal programs.
While many Democrats have long opposed the ban, appropriators chose last year not to fight its inclusion, fearing the political cost of a repeal that, regardless of their votes, would ultimately be blocked by then-President Donald Trump.
Any effort to remove Hyde this year is likely to fail, too; even some moderate Democrats in the Senate are still in favor of keeping the ban in place.
Still, abortion rights advocates are pressuring Biden and Democrat lawmakers to make an effort anyway. Ensuring that the poor, disproportionately affected by cuts in access to abortion, can still benefit from the procedure is a matter of racial and economic justice, they say.
Republicans and anti-abortion organizations are also watching Biden’s budget closely, particularly noting his past support for Hyde during his decades as a senator.
SENATORS FROM GEORGIA: FEDERALIZING MEDICAID EXPANSION – Sense Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff wrote a letter to Senate leaders on Wednesday, urging them to “close the coverage gap in states without Medicaid expansion through federal action,” reports Rachel Roubein of POLITICO.
The coronavirus relief bill Biden signed in March offered new incentives for reluctant states to expand their programs, but so far none have taken advantage. The White House and Democratic lawmakers have since considered using their infrastructure package as a way to cover the 2.2 million people in recalcitrant states that lack coverage.
Warnock and Ossoff have not approved a specific policy. But both wrote in their letter that they were working on a legislative solution. The letter also noted that CMS could potentially close the coverage gap by creating its own federal workaround.
BELGIUM LIMITS THE USE OF J&J VACCINE – Johnson & Johnson’s single-injection Covid vaccine took another blow on Wednesday when Belgium decided to no longer administer this vaccine to women aged 41 or younger, reports Helen Collis of POLITICO Europe.
Belgian authorities made the switch after a woman died from a rare bleeding problem previously linked to the J&J vaccine. Belgium has asked the European Medicines Agency to investigate this potential link and, in the meantime, will limit access to the vaccine.
FDA AUTHORIZES COVIDE TREATMENT – The agency cleared monoclonal antibody therapy for emergency use in some vulnerable Covid patients on Wednesday, two months after trial data showed its effectiveness, reports Lauren Gardner of POLITICO.
The treatment, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, is intended for use in the elderly or those with underlying conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe infection. Provisional data from an advanced stage trial suggested that it may reduce hospitalization or death in these types of patients by 85 percent.
CMS PROPOSES TO DELAY VALUE-BASED DRUG ACTIONS – The agency wants to pause on several provisions of a Trump-era drug rule that is supposed to allow states and manufacturers to pay for Medicaid drugs based on their effectiveness, Rachel writes.
Drugmakers were originally expected to declare multiple best prices charged for a drug as part of a value-based purchase agreement starting in January 2022. But CMS is proposing a six-month deadline before that date. He also wants to delay plans to include American territories in the Medicaid drug rebate program for two years.
FIRST IN PULSE: AFFORDABLE MEDICINES ACT REVIVED – Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) Plans to introduce a bill this morning to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a long-sought Democratic priority that has been left out in the next infrastructure package.
The details: The Affordable Medicines Act – backed by a range of original cosponsors, including proponents of drug pricing, Senses. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) And Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) – would also encourage generic competition and stimulate incentives for the development of new antibiotics.
Smith also introduced a bill on Wednesday with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) To increase mental health coverage for low-income families and people with disabilities.
SENATE BILL WILL HELP RECRUIT RURAL DOCTORS – Biparty legislation expected to be reintroduced today would extend a program that allows physicians to stay in the United States after completing their residency, provided they practice in areas with physician shortages.
The bill, led by the senses. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) And Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) also proposes to increase the number of physicians who can participate in the program and would allow also spouses of doctors to work also.
Kasey Hampton joins Families USA. Hampton will be the senior director of organizing storytelling and engagement communications. She was previously press secretary for Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
HHS appoints Anjali Forber-Pratt to its administration for community living. Forber-Pratt is the new director of the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, and was previously an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University.
New York’s Mount Sinai Health System will open a lab capable of processing 100,000 tests a day in hopes of serving public schools in the city, reports Emily Anthes of the New York Times.
The COVAX global immunization program is well below its goal of quickly inoculating the world, thwarted by countries racking up photos, report Gabriele Steinhauser, Drew Hinshaw and Betsy McKay of the Wall Street Journal.
The first winner of the Ohio Million Dollar Vaccine Lottery is Abbigail Bugenske, an engineer and recent college graduate, writes Reis Thebault of the Washington Post.