Health Care — Senate chair ‘concerned’ with monkeypox response

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This pet chicken from Vermont managed to travel more than 10 miles away from home in one piece and has now been reunited with her family after crossing the road — and running into a good Samaritan.

Today in health care, a letter from Senate Health Committee Chair Patty Murray is adding to pressure on the Biden administration’s monkeypox response.

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 Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi.

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Senator worried about US monkeypox response

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said she is “concerned” by the state of the U.S. monkeypox response in a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra.

“As I have raised on multiple calls with the Administration, I am concerned with the state of the U.S. response to monkeypox,” Murray said in her letter Tuesday. “The spread of monkeypox is a reminder that our work to protect families and strengthen our preparedness and response system is far from complete and cannot end with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Murray requested that Becerra provide a briefing on how HHS is currently responding to the monkeypox outbreak and specifically asked how the department is applying lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The most recent count of confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S. was more than 2,000. However, cases are believed to be undercounted due to limited testing capabilities.

Her concerns: Murray made note of the “challenges at the local level” that people, particularly men who have sex with men, have been dealing with since the start of the outbreak.

  • “Ensuring the public health system responds appropriately to monkeypox will require both decisive action from the Department and its state, local, and Tribal partners, as well as robust, sustained investments in public health,” she said.

Read more here.

FDA wants review of food safety, tobacco offices

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will undergo an independent external review of its tobacco and food safety programs, Commissioner Robert Califf announced Tuesday.

The announcement comes as the agency faces scrutiny from lawmakers and the public over its role in the infant formula shortages and its regulation of e-cigarettes.

Without citing any specific issues, Califf cited broad “challenges” that have prompted a look at how the agency conducts its operations.

Who is reviewing: Califf said the FDA will work with the Reagan-Udall Foundation, along with “an external group of experts.” The foundation is an independent organization established by Congress as an advisory group for the FDA to help the agency modernize its regulations.

Food safety: Part of the review will center on FDA’s Human Foods Program, with a focus on the Office of Food Response and Policy, the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

  • “Fundamental questions about the structure, function, funding and leadership need to be addressed,” Califf said, especially the agency’s inspectional activities.

Tobacco: The review will also focus on the Center for Tobacco Products.

  • “Even greater challenges lie ahead as we determine how the agency will navigate complex policy issues and determine enforcement activities for an increasing number of novel products that could potentially have significant consequences for public health,” Califf said.

Read more here.

LGBT GROUPS: CALIFORNIA MAY BECOME MONKEYPOX EPICENTER

A coalition of LGBT organizations called on the Biden administration on Wednesday to expand testing and vaccine access for the monkeypox virus, warning that if no action is taken, California could become the epicenter for the disease.

In a letter addressed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, the coalition raised alarm over the number of monkeypox cases — also known as hMPXV — that are affecting men who have sex with men and the transgender community.

A warning: The coalition warned that should the federal government fail to ramp up testing and access to vaccines, California could become the epicenter of virus in the U.S.

  • “We, at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, are fearful that the government’s history of not taking the necessary action to protect the LGBT community when facing a public health threat is repeating itself with the current Monkeypox response,” said Joe Hollendoner, CEO of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, in a press release. 

  • “The rate of infection and unmet needs will slowly push California to become the epicenter of the virus. Though hMPXV is known to have a short incubation period and is not fatal, fear of the virus is growing,” the groups wrote.

Read more here.

RULING PAVES WAY FOR GA’S ABORTION BAN TO TAKE EFFECT

A six-week abortion ban will take effect in Georgia after a federal appeals court ruled that the previously blocked law is allowed to stand.

The court issued an immediate stay of a lower court’s injunction, meaning the law can take effect right now. According to the ACLU, the court took this action on its own, without any request from the state.

The decision will allow the state to ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected by an ultrasound. It also redefines “person” throughout Georgia law to include an embryo or fetus at any stage of development.

  • Proponents of the law claim that a heartbeat can be detected within six weeks of gestation, which before many people know they’re pregnant. But medical experts say the term heartbeat is misleading since an embryo does not have a developed heart. Instead, ultrasounds detect faint electrical activity in embryonic cells.

The decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was expected in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and finding there is no constitutional right to an abortion.

The appeals court also rejected arguments that the “personhood” provision in the law was unconstitutionally vague.

The six-week abortion ban, passed in 2019, was previously blocked by a district court judge before it could take effect. The law was ruled unconstitutional because it violated the precedent in Roe v. Wade. 

Read more here.

Opinion sparks vote to protect contraception access

The House is scheduled to vote on a bill Thursday that would enshrine federal protection for access to contraceptives as Democrats look to safeguard the right after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called for the court to review it.

Legislative reaction: It’s the second vote this week that is essentially a response to a Thomas concurrent opinion overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that suggested he also wanted the court to review decisions on gay marriage, access to contraception and other issues.

The House passed a bill on Tuesday to codify marriage equality, seeking to ensure that same-sex and interracial couples receive equal protections as other couples under federal law. Every Democrat and 47 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 157 Republicans voted against it.

Now Democrats have set up the vote on contraception, arguing it is necessary given the conservative Supreme Court.

  • They also want to get Republicans on the record with votes likely to be featured in the midterm campaigns this fall. 

  • “As some of our colleagues have said, we want to put the Republicans on record, but we’d like to put them on record in support of contraception,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday at a press conference to promote the Right to Contraception Act.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Critics worry government surveillance of HIV may hurt more than it helps (Kaiser Health News)

  • Soaring overdose rates in the pandemic reflected widening racial disparities (The New York Times)

  • Many unvaccinated first responders distrust vaccine, study says (ABC News)

  • Critics worry government surveillance of HIV may hurt more than it helps (Kaiser Health News)

  • Soaring overdose rates in the pandemic reflected widening racial disparities (The New York Times)

  • Many unvaccinated first responders distrust vaccine, study says (ABC News)

STATE BY STATE

  • Covid cases are skyrocketing again. States have no new plans. (Politico)

  • A slew of abortion clinics are opening in New Mexico. Crisis pregnancy centers are, too (The 19th)

  • Texas officials celebrated end of abortion rights after cutting back postpartum Medicaid extension (The Texas Tribune)

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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