Overnight Health Care — Nicki Minaj stokes uproar over vaccines

© Getty Images Overnight Health Care — Nicki Minaj stokes uproar over vaccines

Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Rap star Nicki Minaj is under scrutiny from many critics for tweeting about her decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and for promoting an unsubstantiated story to her millions of followers.

“She should be thinking twice about propagating information that really has no basis as except a one-off anecdote,” White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “That’s not what science is all about.”

At least one global leader has been asked about the controversy: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson said he is not “as familiar … as I probably should be” with the rapper and added he’s much more familiar with “superstar” Nikki Kanani, England’s top doctor.

Back in the U.S., House moderates are flexing their muscles and threatening to tank Democrats’ signature drug pricing plan before it ever leaves committee. It’s not yet clear what happens next.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan (psullivan@thehill.com), Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com) and Justine Coleman (jcoleman@thehill.com). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

Let’s get started.

Trouble in drug pricing land

© Provided by The Hill

Three moderate House Democrats announced that they would vote against their party’s legislation to lower drug prices in committee on Tuesday, threatening a defeat for one of Democrats’ signature measures.

Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) announced in separate statements on Tuesday that they would vote against the section of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion package dealing with lowering drug prices during a markup in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is currently ongoing.

The committee has not yet turned to the drug pricing section, but if all three lawmakers stick to their statements and vote no, it would be enough to defeat that section, given that all Republicans are also expected to vote no.

All three lawmakers last week put forward scaled-back, rival drug pricing legislation that they said would “preserve innovation” and could gain bipartisan support. The pharmaceutical industry has attacked the drug pricing bill backed by Democratic leaders, known as H.R. 3, as threatening innovation from drug companies.

So, what now? The markup is still ongoing on Tuesday, and there could be new developments. There’s also the Senate, anyway.

The drug pricing provisions were already expected to be changed before the final version of the $3.5 trillion package, given that Senate Democratic moderates also have concerns.

But this is a show of force from the moderates.

Read more here.

‘CRITICAL MISTAKES’ IN TRUMP-ERA PANDEMIC RESPONSE

Top advisers to former President Trump used private emails to warn of the government’s “critical mistakes” in response to the coronavirus pandemic, even as the president was downplaying the severity of the virus, according to emails obtained by the House coronavirus subcommittee and released Tuesday.

Steven Hatfill, a virologist who worked as an outside consultant for the Trump administration, privately warned White House trade director Peter Navarro at the end of February 2020 that the U.S. did not have any accurate sense of just how many people were infected with the virus.

“In truth we do not have a clue how many are infected in the USA. We are expecting the first wave to spread in the US within the next 7 days,” Hatfill wrote to Navarro on Feb. 29.

“This will be accompanied by a massive loss of credibility, and the Democratic accusations are just now beginning. This must be countered with frank honesty about the situation and decisive direct actions that are being taken and can be seen in the broadcast news.”

What happened next: Navarro sent a memo to President Trump the next day, warning that the government was not moving fast enough. He said there was “NO” downside in being overly cautious in the face of what could be a global pandemic. But Trump ignored it, and continued to downplay the severity of the virus.

Context: The Democrat-led House select committee on the coronavirus has been investigating political interference into the pandemic response by Trump and other officials. They have also been investigating Navarro, who after he was rebuffed by Trump, decided to pursue his own ad hoc strategy for procuring key medical supplies, pushing federal agencies to issue noncompetitive contracts.

Read more here.

Biden vaccine mandate puts McConnell, GOP leaders in a tough spot

© Provided by The Hill Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) arrives to the Capitol on Saturday, August 7, 2021 for a weekend session to finish up work on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Republican leaders in Congress aren’t quite sure what to do with President Biden’s embrace of vaccine-or-test mandates. The idea polls well, but has sparked a revolt from GOP governors and the party’s base.

Biden’s aggressive move puts a spotlight on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a childhood polio survivor who has been outspoken in urging fellow Republicans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

McConnell’s advocacy for the vaccine sets him apart from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has done little to crack down on House GOP colleagues who spread misinformation about vaccines.

Contrast McConnell to Republican governors such as Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts and Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who are crusading against it as a defining constitutional issue.

While McConnell isn’t about to do battle with fellow Republicans, he appears more sensitive than other GOP leaders to how the party is viewed by swing voters – especially women and suburban voters, who fueled Democratic victories in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

McConnell seems open to the idea of requiring workers to get vaccinated, though in past comments he has said it should be up to employers, not the federal government, to enforce.

Loud in the House: McConnell has so far declined to comment about the specifics of Biden’s plan to force the issue on COVID vaccines. But McCarthy, his House counterpart, struck a much different tone on Sunday when he lashed out against Biden’s order by tweeting: “NO VACCINE MANDATES.”

Democrats pounced on McCarthy’s declaration, accusing him and other Republican officials who have balked at vaccine and mask mandates of putting lives at risk.

Polls show a majority of Americans favor requiring vaccinations for office workers returning to the workplace, but the breakdown of opinion falls largely along party lines. Some Republicans think it’ll be a winning issue, and seem eager for a fight.

Read more here.

Fauci pushes back on coronavirus vaccine booster criticism

© Provided by The Hill

Anthony Fauci said he disagrees with an article in the medical journal The Lancet that argues there isn’t enough compelling evidence to support giving widespread booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines.

A notable thing about the paper? It was co-authored by two outgoing federal vaccine regulators.

During an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fauci called the article “controversial” and said it conflates things that are not supposed to be connected.

Specifically, Fauci said the U.S. can embark on a program of giving booster shots without sacrificing doses needed by the rest of the world.

“You can do both. The way we’re doing in this country, you can have a program to give booster, in this case third shots for people who’ve gotten the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, you can get them boosted if you put a considerable amount of resources and effort into getting low and middle income people vaccinated. And that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Fauci said.

Booster drama: The Biden administration is pushing for boosters to be widely available to all Americans beginning Sept. 20, pending approval or authorization from federal health agencies, and is trying to rally behind a consistent message across all agencies.

The administration, and Pfizer, will present evidence at an FDA advisory committee on Friday.

Good data? Fauci, like other administration health officials, has hinted that the data from Israel, which has been administering third doses for a few months, is compelling.

“The data are strongly suggestive in this country, and more than just suggestive in Israel, that you have a waning of immunity among people across age groups, not just the very very elderly, you have clearly waning of immunity against infection and clear cut indication of waning of immunity against severe disease,” he said.

Read more here.

GOP PRESSES FDA ON BOOSTERS

House Republicans, saying they care about political interference in federal health agencies, are requesting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide information on any potential White House pressure to approve COVID-19 booster vaccines for the general population.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, sent a letter Tuesday to the FDA requesting documents on Biden administration communications about booster shots amid concerns of “potential political interference.”

In the letter, lawmakers accused Biden of announcing its plan to allow mRNA vaccine recipients to get boosters beginning on Sept. 20 “without evidence and data.”

“President Biden, instead of following the science, is attempting to distract from his numerous crises by playing politics and moving out ahead of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) when it comes to the science on coronavirus vaccine booster shots,” the letter to acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock reads.

What they request: For their probe, the Republicans set a Sept. 28 deadline for receiving all documents and communications, including those between the FDA and the White House on booster shots, studies into booster shots for mRNA vaccine recipients and Biden’s announcement on booster availability.

The request also involves documents and communications related to the departure of two FDA officials, as well as “any effort by political appointees or White House personnel to review, revise, edit, delay, or prohibit publication of information related to booster shots” and any employment action “taken or considered … related to the science” of booster shots.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Biden administration moves to stave off shortage of monoclonal antibodies (Washington Post)
  • Unwilling to wait for approval, some healthy Americans seek booster shots (The New York Times)
  • COVID-19 cases climbing, wiping out months of progress (The Associated Press)

STATE BY STATE

  • All Anchorage ICU beds full as Alaska COVID hospitalizations keep rising (KTOO)
  • Error on state’s COVID-19 dashboard incorrectly labeled some schools as ‘not reporting’ (Indianapolis Star)
  • Maryland legislative panel votes to require masks in K-12 (The Associated Press)

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

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

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