Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care.
The White House is taking steps to increase COVID vaccine availability, following a similar plan from the Trump administration. Russia’s Sputnik vaccine shows promising effectiveness, and President Biden told Democrats to go big on COVID relief.
We’ll start with Senate action on COVID relief:
Biden calls Democrats, urges big COVID-19 relief bill
Senate Democrats took a first step on Tuesday toward passing a coronavirus relief bill, following a call with President Biden, who urged them to “go big.”
Biden signaled that he is rejecting a $618 billion proposal sponsored by 10 GOP senators as “too small” even though he is open to some of their ideas.
“It was clear,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) after the call. “Go big and be prompt because the American public is really hurting and really needs this.”
Biden told Democrats that his clear preference is for Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion package, despite concerns voiced by Republicans about the impact on the deficit.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Biden dismissed a $618 billion proposal sponsored by 10 moderate Republicans, which does not include aid to state and local governments and limits the size of direct checks to individuals to $1,000, as falling short of what’s needed.
After the call concluded, the Senate voted 50-49 on a straight party-line vote to proceed to a budget resolution that greenlights passing a separate coronavirus relief bill through reconciliation, avoiding a 60-vote legislative filibuster.
The House is expected to pass its budget resolution Wednesday. The Senate will now need to go through tens of hours of debate and a marathon session known as a vote-a-rama, before they can hold a final vote on the budget resolution.
Meanwhile, the White House took a few different steps to increase the amount of COVID vaccine being distributed.
White House announces some COVID-19 vaccines will be sent directly to pharmacies
The White House has been rolling out a flurry of steps to try to speed the vaccination process in the early days, and we got another on Tuesday.
The administration announced that it will begin providing COVID-19 vaccines directly to pharmacies around the country in an effort to expand access.
The vaccines will be available in 6,500 pharmacies to start with, said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. Supplies will be limited at first, with 1 million vaccine doses per week given to pharmacies starting Feb. 11.
In addition, the administration is increasing by 5 percent the vaccine doses given to states each week, to 10.5 million per week. That is on top of a 16 percent increase announced last week.
Caveats: Still, Zients was careful to temper expectations that far from everyone will be able to walk into a CVS for a vaccine in the near future.
“This will be limited when it begins next week,” he said. Some pharmacies “may have very limited supply,” he added.
Flashback: It’s a policy similar to one announced by the Trump administration in November, before any vaccines were available. HHS partnered with several independent and chain pharmacies including Albertsons, Rite Aid, Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Publix to administer COVID vaccines.
Another promising vaccine result: Russian COVID-19 vaccine is 91.6 percent effective in study
Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine was 91.6 percent effective in an interim analysis of a phase 3 clinical trial published Tuesday.
The strong results from a clinical trial in Russia, published by the British medical journal The Lancet, indicate that another safe and effective vaccine is joining the world’s arsenal against the virus. On safety, no serious adverse reactions were reported from the vaccine.
There had been some skepticism given the….unusual process. Russia approved the vaccine in August before the phase 3 trials were complete. But two British scientists wrote in an accompanying article in The Lancet that despite the skepticism, the results appear strong now that the data is out.
“The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency,” wrote the British scientists Ian Jones and Polly Roy. “But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19.”
Study shows UK coronavirus variant with potentially vaccine-resistant mutation
This was likely inevitable: a variant of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom has gained a mutation that could make it more resistant to vaccines, according to a new analysis from Public Health England.
The mutation, known as E484K, is linked to strains in Brazil and South Africa that have proved more resistant to existing vaccines.
According to the analysis, estimated rates for cases with the mutation are 25 to 40 percent higher than estimated attack rates for other strains.
The variant B.1.1.7 was first discovered in December and spread rapidly across the U.K. It has since turned up in 72 countries. It is much more transmissible than other strains, and there is some evidence it could cause more deaths.
According to Public Health England, preliminary investigation has found the E484K mutation appearing more than once among the B.1.1.7 variants. If that’s the case, it is a sign that the mutation is a relatively easy way for the virus to gain an advantage.
Line cooks, agriculture workers at highest risk of COVID-19 death: study
Essential workers in kitchens and in agricultural settings are most at risk of death from the coronavirus, according to a study that adds a new urgency to the race to vaccinate those on the front lines of the pandemic.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, examined the occupations of those who have died in California since the beginning of 2016. In the past year, researchers found an especially high rate of excess mortality – the measure of how many people died over what might have been an ordinary period – among those who work in proximity to others.
Key results: Line cooks experienced the most substantial number of excess death in 2020, the study found, followed by agriculture workers, bakers and construction laborers. Those who work in delivery occupations – shipping clerks, truck operators and delivery drivers – also experienced higher rates of death last year.
The risk of death for those groups was between 30 and 60 percent greater than in an otherwise normal year, the study found. Deaths spiked especially in the months after California began reopening its economy.
What we’re reading
When will Biden ask the Supreme Court to uphold Obamacare? (CNN.com)
U.S. response to coronavirus variants emphasizes masks and vaccines instead of lockdowns (Washington Post)
How a bounty of vaccines flooded a small hospital and its nearby college (Kaiser Health News)
UK tests house-to-house in hunt for new COVID-19 variant (Associated Press)
State by state
These states found the secret to COVID-19 vaccination success (Stateline)
Despite months to prep, why California lags on COVID vaccination (Cal Matters)
Even in poorer neighborhoods, the wealthy are lining up for vaccines (The New York Times)