Health Care — Second booster shots get the go-ahead

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Ghana will be heading to the World Cup for the first time since 2014 after a draw with Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, earning a spot at the games in Qatar later this year.

Today we’ll look at second booster shots getting a green light for people 50 and older, a short-term solution that comes as a more contagious subvariant of omicron becomes dominant.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Send us tips and feedback at psullivan@thehill.com, nweixel@thehill.com and jchoi@thehill.com.

Let’s get started.

FDA authorizes second booster shot for those 50+

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light on Tuesday to a second coronavirus vaccine booster shot for people aged 50 and older in an effort to ward off another potential spike in infections due to a subvariant of omicron.

The agency said anyone aged 50 and older can get a second booster dose of an mRNA vaccine at least four months after the first booster, regardless of which vaccine was administered the first time.

FDA granted emergency use authorization to the vaccines from Pfizer as well as Moderna. Pfizer had initially requested authorization for people aged 65 and older, while Moderna requested broader authorization for all adults.

Peter Marks, head of the FDA’s vaccine division, told reporters Tuesday the agency went with the lower age limit because those people are most likely to have medical conditions that put them at high risk of serious outcomes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyWHO: Omicron BA.2 sub variant now prevalent globally Title 42 anniversary marks headaches for Biden, stalemate with lawmakers Officials wary of new COVID-19 surge as country relaxes MORE updated the agency’s guidance to match FDA’s action, though the agency stopped short of making a full recommendation. The CDC said anyone aged 50 and older who wants a second booster is now able to get one.

Read more here.

BA.2 subvariant now dominant strain in US: CDC

A subvariant of omicron known as BA.2 is now the dominant strain in the US, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The variant has been steadily rising in proportion because of its increased transmissibility compared to the original omicron strain, and it represented 54.9 percent of new cases for the week ending March 26, according to CDC data. That is up from about 27 percent two weeks earlier.

The BA.2 subvariant is thought to be about 30 percent more transmissible than the original BA.1 omicron strain, which itself was already more contagious than earlier versions of the virus.

But don’t panic: Importantly, though, experts say there is no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe disease than the original omicron strain or that it evades the protection from vaccines to a greater degree.

The subvariant may cause some increase in cases after weeks of steady declines that have led to a relative lull in the virus. But it is unclear how sharp the increase will be, and people who are vaccinated and boosted are still well-protected against severe disease.

Read more here.

AN ‘AGREEMENT IN PRINCIPLE’ ON INSULIN

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenHealth Care — Schumer searches for path forward on COVID-19 aid Schumer says he supports bipartisan talks on bill to lower insulin costs Arizona Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (DN.H.) said Tuesday she has an “agreement in principle” with Sen. SuzanneCollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRomney planning ‘a much deeper dive’ on Jackson after opposing her for appeals court Collins to have follow-up call with Ketanji Brown Jackson This week: House set to vote on marijuana legalization bill MORE (R-Maine) on legislation aimed at lowering the cost of insulin.

Shaheen and Collins have been in bipartisan talks on the issue, and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhy does Congress want China to win? Romney working on GOP counteroffer to new Dem COVID-19 funding plan Advocacy groups: Title 42 ‘undermines our trust in the administration’ MORE (DN.Y.) last week gave his support to the discussions, saying that he hopes to hold a vote in the Senate soon after the Easter recess.

Shaheen’s comments are a sign of progress, although she noted that there is not yet finalized legislative text.

Asked about Shaheen’s “agreement in principle” comment on Tuesday, Collins replied optimistically.

“We’ve been working very well together, and our staffs have been working hard, so I think we have an outline of where we want to go,” Collins said.

Tough path forward: However, even if Shaheen and Collins finalize a deal, it will be a challenge to find the nine other Republicans needed for the bill to pass the Senate.

Read more here.

CDC SUGGESTS MRNA BOOSTER FOR J&J RECIPIENTS

People who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine should seriously consider getting a booster dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Tuesday.

The CDC said data showed that J&J vaccine recipients are at higher risk of serious illness and hospitalization than those who received an mRNA vaccine.

The agency’s study of 10 states during the height of the omicron wave found that people who received a single J&J dose combined with an mRNA booster shot had better protection against severe outcomes than those with just the J&J dose.

A single J&J dose provided only 31 percent protection against hospitalization. A booster dose of the J&J vaccine was better than a single dose, but people with three doses of mRNA vaccines had the best protection, with 90 percent effectiveness.

The findings on emergency department visits were similar to hospitalizations. A single J&J dose was only 24 percent effective against urgent care or emergency room visits. Adding an mRNA booster resulted in 79 percent effectiveness, while three mRNA shots were 83 percent effective.

The study showed that any booster shot is better than none, but the CDC said an mRNA booster is strongly suggested.

Read more here.

Biden admin requiring COVID-19 vax for some migrants

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be expanding its vaccination policy at the southwestern US-Mexico border, requiring some migrants who are taken into custody to get immunized against COVID-19.

“The effort to vaccinate those in our care and custody, which is a public health best practice, has been ongoing for many months,” a spokesperson for the department told The Hill in a statement.

“DHS has been providing the COVID-19 vaccines to noncitizens in ICE custody since summer 2021,” they added. “In order to further safeguard public health and ensure the safety of border communities, the workforce, and migrants, DHS is now expanding these efforts and requiring that noncitizens taken into CBP custody for further immigration processing at the Southwest country border be given age-appropriate COVID-19 vaccines.”

Read more here.

What We’re Reading

  • ‘A slow-moving glacier’: NIH’s sluggish and often opaque efforts to study long Covid draw patient, expert ire (Stat)
  • Opioid pill peddling case threatens future of pain treatment (Bloomberg Law)
  • Experts warn of racial disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of long Covid (The New York Times)

State By State

  • Colorado doubles down on abortion rights as other states — and the high court — reconsider (Kaiser Health News)
  • Oregon ends residency rule for medically assisted suicide (The Oregonian)
  • At a Tennessee crossroads, two pharmacies, a monkey, and millions of pills (Kaiser Health News)

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Wednesday.

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