Health Care — Highly transmissible subvariant now dominant in US

·6 min read
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An 8-year-old boy is helping a NASCAR driver put a new spin on the “Let’s Go Brandon” chants.

In health news, an omicron subvariant is now the most dominant strain in the U.S., though there are large gaps in data reporting.

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

New subvariant now a majority of US COVID cases

A new omicron subvariant known as BA.5 now comprises a majority of U.S. COVID-19 cases, according to data released Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The data is a sign of the rise of the highly transmissible subvariant, which has prompted concern about a new increase in cases.

BA.5, along with a related subvariant known as BA.4, has mutations that have shown an increased ability to evade the protection from vaccines and previous infection.

  • BA.5 now makes up 53.6 percent of U.S. cases, according to the CDC.

  • BA.4 makes up another 16.5 percent, putting the two together at around 70 percent of infections.

New vaccines coming: The Food and Drug Administration last week advised vaccine makers to target the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants in updated vaccines they are preparing for this fall.

But waiting is risky: Celine Gounder, an infectious disease expert at New York University, stressed that people should not wait for the updated vaccines to be available to get a booster shot.

“The updated vaccines won’t be available until October at the earliest,” she wrote. “That’s 4+ months away. That’s a big window of risk.”

Only about half of adults who received the initial two shots have received their booster, according to the CDC, leaving them more vulnerable to the new subvariants.

Read more here.

Why Kansas will be a bellwether in abortion fight

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, President Biden pointed to the November elections, saying, “This fall, Roe is on the ballot.”

But in Kansas, abortion rights are on the ballot even sooner.

Mark your calendars: Kansans will vote on a state constitutional amendment on abortion on Aug. 2, setting the state up as a key bellwether for how abortion rights resonate as a voting issue ahead of the midterm elections.

The amendment would overturn a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling finding that the Kansas constitution protects abortion rights, and then leave it up to the GOP-controlled legislature to decide how far to go in adding restrictions or bans on abortion.

The significance: The result in Kansas, the first statewide vote on abortion rights after the Supreme Court ruling, could help shed light on how successful Democrats can be nationally in using abortion to try to energize supporters for the November elections, despite stiff political headwinds given rising inflation, Biden’s lagging approval ratings and the history of a president’s party losing seats in a midterm.

In an added challenge for abortion rights supporters, Republican legislators put the measure on the August primary ballot, which generally has much lower turnout than the November general election.

Read more here

COVID THIRD LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH MARCH 2020-OCTOBER 2021

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. between March 2020 and October 2021, according to an analysis of federal data published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

  • Researchers at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, analyzed death certificate data and found that the coronavirus accounted for 350,000 deaths — 1 in every 8 — in the U.S. during that 20-month period.

  • Compared with 2020, deaths from COVID-19 in 2021 decreased in ranking among those aged 85 years and older but increased in ranking among those aged 15 to 54 years and became the leading cause of death among those aged 45 to 54 years.

Among those aged 85 and older, the coronavirus was the second-leading cause of death in 2020 but dropped to third in 2021, likely because of targeted vaccination efforts in this age group.

Read more here.

JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF DRUG DISTRIBUTORS IN OPIOID CASE 

A federal judge ruled in favor of the nation’s three largest drug distributors on Monday in a lawsuit accusing them of being responsible for the opioid epidemic in certain communities in West Virginia.

Judge David Faber rejected arguments from the city of Huntington, W.Va. — one of the hardest-hit communities of the opioid epidemic —  and the Cabell County Commission that AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.’s distribution of millions of prescription opioids in the region caused an opioid epidemic and a “public nuisance” in those areas.

The fatal overdose rate in Cabell County increased to 213.9 from 16.6 per 100,000 people, from 2001 to 2017, according to the ruling.

“[W]hile there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law,” Faber wrote in his ruling.

  • The plaintiffs had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have gone toward abatement efforts.  

  • Earlier this year, Cabell County and Huntington rejected a settlement the distributors reached to pay states and local governments tens of millions of dollars over dozens of years, electing instead to go to trial.

Read more here.

Advocates warn US risks losing control on monkeypox

Infectious disease experts and public health advocates are warning that the Biden administration has been too slow to respond to the monkeypox outbreak and that the U.S. is at risk of losing control of the disease.

The response to monkeypox is mirroring the worst parts of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, they say, with severely limited testing and a sluggish rollout of vaccines leading to a virus that’s spreading undetected.

“Where we have lagged is streamlining testing, making vaccines available, streamlining access to the best therapeutics. All three areas have been bureaucratic and slow, and that means we haven’t contained this outbreak,” said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD).

Expanding response: The administration is ramping up its response by expanding testing capacity and broadening access to vaccinations.

  • The White House recently announced a plan to immediately send out tens of thousands of doses of Jynneos, the only FDA-approved vaccine specifically for monkeypox.

But critics say the efforts may be coming too late.

“We’ve been sort of screaming for a month about how bad the diagnostic situation is for monkeypox. And that really was a clear error, preventable, and it’s very clear that this administration has not learned lessons from early COVID,” said James Krellenstein, co-founder of the HIV treatment advocacy group Prep4All.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • World’s Covid vaccine, drugs equity program set to wind down this fall (Politico)

  • Advocates struggle with how much they can help with self-managed abortions (NPR)

  • Infertility patients and doctors fear abortion bans could restrict I.V.F. (The New York Times)

STATE BY STATE

  • Florida’s 15-week abortion ban remains in effect despite judge’s order (CNN)

  • Court battles continue across South in wake of Roe decision (Associated Press)

  • How companies offering to cover travel for out-of-state abortions might work (NPR)

THE HILL OP-EDS

Does Dobbs mark the beginning of the end of natural rights?

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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