Health Care — Vaccines for kids clears key hurdle

We have our first peek at Ryan Gosling in his role as Ken for the new Barbie movie set to come out next year.

Today in health care, parents of kids under 5 are one step closer to a vaccine (likely available next week). And Anthony Fauci has COVID.

Welcome to Overnight Health Carewhere we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

FDA advisers back COVID vax for kids 5 and under

Long-awaited COVID-19 shots for the youngest children are one step closer to being available after a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Wednesday recommended the agency grant emergency authorization to vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

  • The agency’s vaccine advisers Wednesday unanimously recommended the shots should be authorized.
  • Moderna’s vaccine is for children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and Pfizer’s is for kids 6 months to 4 years old.

Next up: The FDA will need to follow the recommendation.

Then an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet this weekend to issue its own recommendation. If the panel votes in the affirmative and the CDC director signs off, children could start to get vaccinated next week.

Key difference: While the vaccines are largely interchangeable for adults, the pediatric versions are very different. The shots also haven’t been tested against each other, so there’s no way to tell parents if one is superior.

Moderna’s two-dose mRNA vaccine is intended to be administered four weeks apart, and is one quarter the strength of an adult dose. Pfizer’s vaccine is three doses, spread much further apart.

  • The FDA previously said the vaccines are safe and effective, though neither performed very well in preventing symptomatic infection, mainly against the omicron variant.
  • Moderna found its vaccine was 51 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infection in children 6 months to 2 years old, and 37 percent effective in children 2 through 5. Pfizer was only about 28 percent effective.

Read more here.

Fauci tests positive for COVID-19

Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday but is experiencing “mild symptoms,” the National Institutes of Health said.

“He is fully vaccinated and has been boosted twice,” the agency said. “He is currently experiencing mild symptoms. Dr. Fauci will isolate and continue to work from his home. He has not recently been in close contact with President Biden or other senior government officials.”

Fauci has been the face of the government’s response to COVID-19 for more than two years and has previously avoided testing positive for the virus.

  • Biden is so far one of the few top government officials who has avoided getting it, though the White House acknowledges he could.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra tested positive a second time in less than a month this week.

Advanced age, but new tools: While Fauci is 81, cases are significantly less worrisome today than they were in the early days of the pandemic, before vaccines and booster shots were available, though there remains some risk.

The Pfizer treatment pills called Paxlovid also lower the risk for high-risk people who test positive.

Fauci’s positive case illustrates how widespread infections have become, with many people having tested positive at least once.

Read more here.

MOST OLDER AMERICANS SEE HEALTH CARE AS FINANCIAL BURDEN

At least two-thirds of older Americans see health care costs as a financial burden, according to a new West Health-Gallup survey published Wednesday.

  • About 24 percent of Americans ages 50-64 — also known as “baby boomers” say health care costs are a major financial burden, compared to 48 percent who say the costs are a minor burden, according to the survey.
  • Implications for the future: About 10,000 boomers a day cross the age threshold. By 2030, all boomers — about 77 million people — will be at least 65 years old, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

At the same time, health care costs are expected to increase. The out-of-pocket costs for older Americans averaged $6,883 in 2019, up 41 percent from 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported.

Although most older Americans are covered under Medicare, they pay more than $1,000 on average than the general population because Medicare does not cover all expenses, such as dental, vision and hearing services. Increased demand because of the high number of older adults is also pushing up costs.

Read more here.

ASSOCIATION SAYS ABORTION BANS ‘VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS’

The largest medical association in the country has declared it will take any necessary legal steps to protect patients and doctors that seek and administer reproductive health services — including abortion and contraception.

The American Medical Association (AMA) announced Tuesday it was implementing a new policy that will expand legal protection for patients and physicians against government systems of control and punishment that criminalize reproductive health services.

It’s taking direct aim at multiple states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Idaho, Mississippi and more, that have enacted strict abortion bans. Many do not include exceptions for rape or incest and allow abortion providers to be sued and charged.

The AMA described governments intruding into medicine and impeding access to reproductive health services as “a violation of human rights.”

Read more here.

Why have US COVID-19 cases hit a plateau?

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. have hit a plateau of around 100,000 new cases per day with little indication on whether they will rise or fall in the coming weeks and months of summer.

  • The current wave of cases began in April with the spread of the BA.2 “stealth” variant. Cases began to hover at the 100,000 per day mark in mid-May.
  • Previous waves in the U.S. have typically declined a few days after reaching a peak, but the current plateau has now lasted more than a month.

A possible look at what’s to come: For the past few weeks, cases have undulated only slightly up and down and public health experts say this trend may be indicative of what we can expect going forward.

“I do think that there will be ups and downs, but I think they’ll be increasingly less dramatic. The highs won’t be as high and I don’t think the lows will be as low, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Eric Toner, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The world at large: Globally, COVID-19 cases and deaths have been trending downward, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The global decline in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths is continuing. Reported cases and deaths have now both fallen more than 90 percent from their peaks earlier this year. This is a very welcome trend,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Many Blue Cross Blue Shield plans aren’t paying taxes — and instead are swimming in refunds (Stat)
  • Supreme Court sides with hospitals on Medicare reimbursement (Bloomberg)
  • When Covid came for Provincetown (Wired)

STATE BY STATE

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

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