ACIP Makes Recommendations for COVID Vaccine Prioritization; Other Key Vaccination Plans

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has made its formal recommendations for determining the allocation of an eventual coronavirus vaccine, deciding that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities should be first in line to receive the vaccine. The recommendations for phase 1a of vaccine distribution passed by a vote of 13-1. On Thursday, CDC Director Robert Redfield accepted the recommendations, making them officially CDC guidance. ACIP will discuss other high-priority groups – phase 1b – later this month, after the FDA reviews the emergency use authorization (EUA) for its first vaccine and late-stage trial data is available for review. The panel expects most jurisdictions to be able to vaccinate every health care worker within three weeks of receiving initial vaccine doses. The first doses will be targeted toward those with direct patient contact.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is targeting authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines about a week after they are reviewed by the agency’s advisory committee. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will be reviewed by the advisory panel on December 10, followed by Moderna’s vaccine on December 17. A CDC official told ACIP that there will likely be 5 to 10 million doses a week once a vaccine is authorized. The first shipments of Pfizer’s vaccine could be delivered as early as December 15, while the first shipment of Moderna’s vaccine could be delivered on December 22.

States will still have the authority to make their own prioritizations in determining their vaccine distribution plans. Some states have decided to defer to health care providers about who should receive the initial doses of coronavirus vaccine, arguing that hospitals and the health care industry best understand the populations most at risk for the virus. Kentucky, Mississippi, and New York are asking hospitals to develop a tiering system to decide which employees will be first to receive the vaccine.

Lawmakers Push to Make Telehealth Changes Permanent; Other Telehealth Information

Abipartisan, bicameral group of more than four dozen lawmakers have sent a letter to congressional leadership calling for legislation to make permanent expanded coverage of Medicare telehealth services. The letter argues that extending temporary coverage expansions instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic would provide much-needed certainty about Medicare telehealth coverage for health care providers and improve access to care for patients. The letter was led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The members of congress express support for the inclusion of immediate action to permanently waive geographic restrictions for originating sites, authorize health centers in rural and underserved areas to provide telehealth, and to allow beneficiaries to use telehealth in their homes in end of the year legislation.

In related news, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided that telehealth services can be offered across state lines during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), regardless of state and local regulations. The declaration, which was made under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), gives immunity to health care providers using treatments authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to combat COVID-19. It also expands the number of providers able to administer vaccines by modifying and clarifying the training requirements for pharmacists, pharmacy interns, and pharmacy technicians pursuant to the PREP Act.

Ways and Means Dems Call for Rescinding of Retrospective Regulatory Review

Democratic leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee have sent a letter criticizing a regulation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would require older regulations to be reviewed or automatically expire. “This sweeping and improper change would waste resources, undermine smooth program operation, and force the next administration to divert resources away from addressing the COVID-19 pandemic,” Health Subcommittee Chair Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Oversight Subcommittee Chair Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), and Worker and Family Support Subcommittee Chair Danny Davis (D-Ill.) write. They ask Secretary Alex Azar to immediately rescind the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).

Democratic Staff Report on COVID-19 in Behavioral Health Centers

House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have released a staff report investigating coronavirus outbreaks in behavioral health and addiction treatment programs. The probe found that 14 percent of facilities had experienced COVID-19 outbreaks of 10 or more cases, which is comparable to the rate of infection for the general population. The report expresses concerns, however, about the limited testing capabilities in such facilities.

Sen. Kelly Sworn In

Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly has been sworn in as a member of the Senate following his victory over incumbent Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) in the state’s special election in November. Kelly narrows the chamber’s Republican majority during the lame-duck session to 52-48. Kelly is a former astronaut and retired Navy captain and the husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

House of Representatives 2021 Schedule

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released the schedule for the House of Representatives for the first session of the 117th Congress. The schedule continues the use of committee work days, which were created earlier this year to facilitate the House’s work during the pandemic. The House is scheduled to have 101 voting days and 59 committee work days. On the first day of each week, votes will occur in the House at 6:30 p.m. The last votes of the week will not occur after 3:00 p.m. The House is scheduled to convene on January 3, 2021. View the schedule for the U.S. House of Representatives for calendar year 2021 here.

House Committee Leadership for 117th Congress

House Democrats and Republicans have selected their committee chairs and ranking members for the 117th Congress. The positions were ratified by the full party conferences following recommendations from each respective steering committee. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) will remain the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, while Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) was selected as Energy and Commerce ranking member. McMorris Rodgers was in competition with Reps. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Bob Latta (R-Ohio) for the position. She will replace outgoing Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is retiring at the conclusion of the 116th Congress. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will begin chairing the Appropriations Committee next year. DeLauro was in competition with Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) for the position. She will likely remain chairwoman of the Labor- Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee as well.

GAO Releases Latest Report on COVID-19

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report detailing the concerns of many states that they will not have adequate supplies to administer an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. The report also details the issues states continue to face regarding a deficit of testing materials. The GAO makes recommendations for states to ensure an adequate supply of coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), improve safety in nursing home settings, and to make decisions around vaccines and public-health guidance more transparent. The report makes 11 recommendations and one suggestion for Congress to consider.

CDC Updates Coronavirus Guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its guidance to reduce the quarantine time for individuals exposed to the coronavirus. The agency previously recommended that people who have been exposed should stay home for 14 days after their last contact with a COVID-19 positive individual. The new recommended quarantine time would be seven days for those who test negative (with the test performed on day 5 after exposure or later), and 10 days for those who do not take a test. The CDC also issued new guidance recommending universal face mask use to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, as well as guidelines for reducing travel risks.

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