Health Care — Moderna says new vaccine effective


In another example of how some people have too much money, an auction bidder purchased an old pair of Steve Jobs’s Birkenstocks over the weekend. 

In health news, Moderna said its updated COVID vaccine gives a strong immune response against omicron subvariants. We’ll also look at an extension in the federal health emergency for the coronavirus.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi.

Moderna: COVID booster effective for subvariants

Moderna on Monday announced its updated, bivalent booster shot creates “significantly higher” antibody levels to defend against the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants compared to the biotechnology company’s original shot formula.

  • Moderna made the announcement in a Monday news release but has not published the data in a medical journal, and the findings have not been peer-reviewed. The updated shot was authorized in late August without human data. 
  • The new findings, which come from a trial of more than 500 adults who were boosted under the original formula before receiving the updated shot, mark a positive sign for the new boosters, which were created by the company to more effectively combat the subvariants. 

“We are pleased to see that both of our bivalent booster vaccine candidates offer superior protection against Omicron BA.4/BA.5 variants compared to our original booster, which is encouraging given COVID-19 remains a leading cause of hospitalization and death globally,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in the release.

The subvariants until recent weeks made up the majority of cases nationwide, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that share has now fallen to roughly one-third of cases. 

Efficacy against newer subvariants: 

  • “Our bivalent boosters also show, in research assays, neutralizing activity against BQ.1.1, an increasingly dominant emerging variant, confirming that updated vaccines have the potential to offer protection as the virus continues to evolve rapidly to escape our immunity,” Bancel added. 

Read more here. 

US to keep public health emergency through January

The COVID-19 public health emergency will remain in effect until at least mid-January, after the Biden administration did not notify states and health providers of any plans to lift it. 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promised to give stakeholders 60 days’ notice if it intended to let the public health emergency expire. That deadline was Friday. 

  • In October, HHS extended the public health emergency until Jan. 11. The public health emergency was first declared in January 2020 and has been renewed every 90 days since.
  • Once the public health emergency ends, the federal government will stop paying for COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, shifting the costs to the commercial sector.  

“The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in effect, and as HHS committed to earlier, we will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration,” an HHS spokesperson said.

Daily deaths and case rates have been falling, though the U.S. continues to see more than 300 people dying due to the coronavirus each day.  

Read more here. 

COLORADO VOTES TO DECRIMINALIZE ‘MAGIC MUSHROOMS’

Coloradans were projected to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms and other plant-based psychedelic substances this week, becoming the second state in the U.S. to legalize the hallucinogens after Oregon.

  • Oregon legalized psilocybin in 2020, allowing for its use in supervised facilities.
  • Proposition 122 decriminalizes psilocybin and psilocin — the hallucinogenic substances often found in mushrooms — as well as other plant-based psychedelics such as dimethyltryptamine, ibogaine and mescaline, excluding peyote.

Regulation: The proposition will also create a state-regulated system for Coloradans over the age of 21 to access the hallucinogenic substances. 

Read more here. 

ADVOCATES PRESS CONGRESS TO ADDRESS HIGH INSULIN COSTS

Dozens of health care advocacy groups on Monday, World Diabetes Day, called on Congress to pass legislation ensuring access to affordable insulin, particularly for uninsured people.

  • In a letter to congressional leadership, more than 40 medical advocacy groups asked that Congress expand insulin access.
  • Acknowledging the recent $35 monthly insulin cap that was established for Medicare Part D beneficiaries in the Inflation Reduction Act, the groups said the measure “barely scratches the surface of what is needed” and did nothing to address “excessive prices” set by insulin manufacturers. 

Widespread impact: Noting the urgent need for expanded insulin access, the groups cited recent studies that found as many as 1 in 4 people with Type 1 diabetes ration their insulin, with Black Americans disproportionately rationing the crucial medication. 

Priorities: The letter stated that any legislation to expand insulin access must include two measures: to ensure that people with no insurance or private have sufficient access to insulin and to stop manufacturers from charging “excessive prices.” 

Read more here.

Biden: Codifying abortion unlikely given House projections

President Biden on Monday said he doesn’t believe Democrats will ultimately maintain a majority in the House, acknowledging the outcome means it is unlikely the next Congress will codify abortion rights.

  • “I don’t think they can expect much of anything other than we’re going to maintain our positions,” Biden said at a press conference in Indonesia.
  • “I don’t think there’s enough votes to codify unless something happens unusual in the House. I think we’re going to get very close in the House, but … I don’t think we’re going to make it.” 

Biden’s comments marked the first time he seemed to acknowledge Democrats were not on track to keep a majority in the House following Tuesday’s midterm elections. Before departing for Asia on Friday, the president had said the possibility was “still alive.” 

Since those comments, however, a few closely contested House seats were called for Republicans, shrinking Democrats’ path to the 218 seats needed for a majority. With some races still not called, Republicans currently hold 212 seats, while Democrats hold 204. 

  • Democrats made protecting abortion rights a central part of their campaign after the Supreme Court in June struck down Roe v. Wade, which had for decades protected the right to an abortion.
  • Biden in the closing weeks of the campaign pledged to supporters that the first bill he would send to the new Congress would be one to codify the abortion protections afforded under Roe v. Wade if Democrats were able to hold the House and add to their Senate majority. 

Democrats avoided catastrophic defeats in both chambers, but they did not gain enough support to keep both the House and Senate.  

And even if Democrats gain a seat advantage in the Senate after next month’s runoff in Georgia, some members of the party have been unwilling to sidestep the filibuster to pass an abortion law. 

Read more here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Many patients with weak immune systems don’t realize their Covid-19 medicine isn’t as effective as it used to be (CNN) 
  • White House to seek more covid funding in lame-duck session (Washington Post) 
  • Sick Profit: Investigating private equity’s stealthy takeover of health care across cities and specialties (Kaiser Health News) 

STATE BY STATE

  • Abortion is technically both legal and illegal in Mississippi. New lawsuit asks Supreme Court to clarify (Mississippi Today)
  • As flu hospitalizations surge in the U.S., the Southeast is the hardest hit (CNBC) 
  • As recreational marijuana prices plummet in Massachusetts, medical sales slump (Boston Globe)
  • Kentucky Children’s Hospital at capacity due to RSV surge (WKYT)

THE HILL OP-ED

How the ‘red ripple’ could impact health policy in 2023 and beyond

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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