Health Care — Democratic senators voice concerns on long COVID

Taylor Swift has been immortalized once again after a recently discovered millipede species was named after the singer; Nannaria swiftae.

Senate Democrats are demanding answers about what they say is the slow speed at which long COVID is being studied. The lawmakers are expressing concerns at the lack of proven treatments for the condition.

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Democrats press NIH over ‘slow pace’ of research

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Wednesday released a letter to the National Institutes of Health pressing the agency for answers about what they called the “slow pace” of research into long COVID-19.

Lawmakers are turning increasing attention to long COVID-19, the name for a range of symptoms like fatigue and difficulty concentrating that can linger for months after some people initially get COVID-19.

But Whitehouse and Markey say they are concerned that NIH has been slow to research potential treatments, given that there currently are not any that have been proven to work.

“We are concerned by reports that the agency has been slow to launch COVID research efforts and prioritized long COVID observational studies over investigations of possible treatments and therapeutics to help those suffering from its symptoms,” Whitehouse and Markey write in the letter to NIH acting Director Lawrence Tobacco.

They point to reporting from Stat that the NIH has been slow to enroll patients in studies of long COVID-19.

Some estimates peg the number of Americans with long COVID-19 at between 7.7 and 23 million.

Read more here.

Biden appeal of judge’s mask ruling risks backfiring

Legal experts who criticized a judge’s controversial decision this week striking down the federal mask mandate for travel say the Biden administration faces a grave risk if it moves forward with an appeal.

These court watchers warned that a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which has already upended several pandemic-era health measures, could use the Trump-appointed judge’s narrow view of the government’s public health powers to create a far-reaching precedent.

“I think that this is fairly radical administrative law,” Michael Dorf, a professor at Cornell Law School, said of the district judge’s Monday ruling. “But it’s really radical administrative law for which there might be five votes in the Supreme Court.”

The administration was sent scrambling after Tampa-based US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Trump appointee, ruled that the federal mask mandate for travel on planes, trains and buses exceeded the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Legal experts who derided the Monday ruling as overly formalistic and divorced from the practical realities of a global pandemic say there’s good reason why the Biden administration should want to prevent a deeply flawed decision from remaining on the books.

But the administration faces two key challenges: First, the appeals process could drag out beyond any practical timeframe and, second, the administration could lose again — but in a higher stakes showdown.

Read more here.

MILWAUKEE REVERSES, WILL REQUIRE MASKS IN SCHOOLS

The city of Milwaukee announced that it would reinstate its mask mandates in public schools just one day after making masks optional for students and staff in school buildings.

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) first announced in March that masks would be optional starting April 18, but on Tuesday, a day after the new rule was set to take effect, MPS announced that masks would be mandatory. The decision was made “after determining a significant transmission of the virus within the city of Milwaukee,” according to MPS.

The school district told local Milwaukee outlet WTMJ that it would revert back to a mask-optional policy if no more than 1.5 percent of a school building tests positive, a standard that only one school in the district is currently meeting.

Safety procedures will remain in place in the district for the time being, and staff and students are encouraged to take steps to protect against the spread of the virus including physical distancing and following quarantine and isolation practices, MPS said.

Read more here.

ALABAMA REACHES $276M SETTLEMENT IN OPIOID CASES

Alabama reached a $276 million settlement agreement with Johnson & Johnson, McKesson and Endo Pharmaceutical for their role in the opioid epidemic, the state’s attorney general announced on Tuesday.

Under the agreement, Johnson & Johnson will pay $70.3 million to the state this year, while McKesson will pay out $141 million over nine years. Endo will pay $25 million this year. A settlement agreement does not mean an admission of guilt.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) said the settlement agreement gives Alabama a boost of funds to support communities affected by the epidemic.

“Having encountered the utter darkness of the opioid crisis at my own doorstep, this is one of my most meaningful accomplishments as your Attorney General,” he said in a statement.

Alabama opted out of the historic $26 billion national settlement with Johnson & Johnson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, choosing to pursue lawsuits against the companies individually.

Read more here.

Novavax ‘encouraged’ by results of joint COVID-flu vax

US biotech company Novavax said on Wednesday that its COVID-Influenza vaccine was shown to induce an immune response and was well-tolerated.

“We continue to evaluate the dynamic public health landscape and believe there may be a need for recurrent boosters to fight both COVID-19 and seasonal influenza,” Gregory Glenn, Novavax’s president of research and development, said in a statement.

“We’re encouraged by these data and the potential path forward for a combination COVID-19-influenza vaccine as well as stand-alone vaccines for influenza and COVID-19,” said Glenn.

According to the company, its combined vaccine was shown to be “generally well tolerated” and serious adverse effects were “rare.”

The company’s clinical trial looked into different formulations of the potential COVID-Influenza vaccine, which Novavax said involved “powerful fine-tuning” of the different doses of its COVID and influenza vaccines.

Different formulations of the combined vaccine induced immune responses that were “comparable” to standalone COVID-19 and flu shots, Novavax said.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • America’s mask manufacturers take it on the chin (Reuters)
  • Majority of Americans support mask mandates for travel, AP-NORC poll finds (AP)
  • FDA Warns Patients About Some Prenatal Genetic Tests (The New York Times)

STATE BY STATE

  • A mental health bill in Georgia shows how conspiracy theories are affecting politics (NPR)
  • Abortion Clinic on Texas-Mexico Border Faces Unique Legal and Cultural Challenges (Kaiser Health News)
  • DNR wants Michiganders to take down bird feeders as avian flu cases spread (Detroit Free Press)

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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