Overnight Health Care — COVID-19 funding in limbo

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

Unfortunate news for arachnophobes: extremely large spiders could soon be literally falling from the sky across much of the Eastern seaboard.

House Democrats removed from the omnibus funding bill a deal for $15.6 billion in COVID relief funding, after some members objected to how it was paid for.

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Let’s get started.

Dems yank relief after revolt by own members

Speaker N. Pelosi (D-Calif.) is seen during a press conference on Wednesday, February 23, 2022 to discuss a recent congressional delegation trip to Israel and Europe.

Speaker N. Pelosi (D-Calif.) is seen during a press conference on Wednesday, February 23, 2022 to discuss a recent congressional delegation trip to Israel and Europe.

COVID-19 funding that the White House says is “urgent” for buying new treatments, developing next-generation vaccines and more is now in serious jeopardy after it was stripped out of the government funding bill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) confirmed the news in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Wednesday afternoon, largely blaming Republicans for the impasse that sparked the stunning last-minute revision to the larger spending package.

“Because of Republican insistence – and the resistance by a number of our Members to making those offsets – we will go back to the Rules Committee to remove COVID funding and accommodate the revised bill,” she wrote. “We must proceed with the omnibus today, which includes emergency funding for Ukraine and urgent funding to meet the needs of America’s families.”

“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance,” she continued, “but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill.”

Pelosi placed the blame largely on Republicans, but it was irate members of her own caucus who ultimately forced her hand.

The dispute: The move came after a tumultuous morning of internal talks between Pelosi, leaders of the Appropriations Committee and other key panels, and a number of lawmakers who were up in arms that the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending package – released just hours earlier – proposed to offset $15.6 billion in new COVID-19 spending by clawing back unspent money sent to certain states as part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed by President Biden one year ago.

It was lawmakers from those states who threatened to block passage of the omnibus unless the clawback provision was removed.

Read more here.

Pfizer begins antiviral treatment trials on kids

Pfizer on Wednesday announced it has begun the Phase 2 and 3 stages of its study into the use of its antiviral COVID-19 treatment in young children.

The oral COVID-19 treatment called Paxlovid is currently one of two authorized SARS-CoV-2 antiviral treatments in the U.S. It is permitted for use in people as young as 12 who weigh at least 40 kg (88 lbs).

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 11 million children under the age of 18 in the United States alone have tested positive for COVID-19, representing nearly 18% of reported cases and leading to more than 100,000 hospital admissions,” Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, said.

“There is a significant unmet need for outpatient treatments that can be taken by children and adolescents to help prevent progression to severe illness, including hospitalization or death.”

The trial: Pfizer’s trial will include about 140 participants under the age of 18. The participants will be split into two groups of participants between the ages of six and 17. One group will be of participants weighing at least 88 lbs and the other will be of participants weighing between 44 and 88 lbs.

The pharmaceutical company said it was also working on an antiviral treatment for participants under the age of 6.

Read more here.

DEMOCRATS LOSE FIGHT OVER HYDE AMENDMENT ON ABORTION

Democrats failed in their effort to strip a decades-old amendment from annual government funding legislation that blocks people from using Medicaid or other federal health programs to cover abortion services amid fierce opposition from Republicans.

Senate Democrats previously omitted the provision, also known as the Hyde amendment, from legislation to fund the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments last year. It marked the first time in decades that Senate Democrats removed the amendment from their annual government appropriations bills.

However, the amendment has since been included in the latest text for a government spending omnibus package for fiscal 2022 that was unveiled by Senate appropriators early Wednesday.

Republican appropriators said on Wednesday that the omnibus legislation will also include the Weldon amendment, a rider Democrats also previously sought to drop that bars entities that don’t want to provide abortion care from being denied federal dollars.

The Hyde amendment prohibits use of federal funds for abortions in most cases. The rider has been included in annual appropriations bills since it was introduced by then-Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the 1970s.

Read more here.

Congress on verge of closing vaping loophole

Congress is on the verge of giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate synthetic nicotine, which would close a loophole some lawmakers and anti-tobacco advocates said allows vaping companies to evade agency oversight and keep selling to teenagers.

A bipartisan provision in long-term government funding legislation agreed to this week would allow the FDA to regulate synthetic nicotine products, which are made in a lab and not from tobacco plants, the same way it regulates tobacco products.

The massive legislation, which is still being debated, provides FDA with authority over tobacco products containing nicotine from any source.

The FDA in recent years has stepped up enforcement of e-cigarette rules, and has removed from the market disposable vape products, refillable pods and flavored liquids. But just as the agency has cracked down, companies such as Puff Bar have exploited the loophole by selling products containing only synthetic nicotine.

“This bipartisan legislative fix will help protect our kids from highly addictive products like flavored e-cigarettes containing synthetic nicotine – which have fueled the youth vaping crisis – by ensuring there’s FDA oversight of all synthetic nicotine products,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Senate Health Committee chairwoman, said in a statement.

Read more here

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WHO: DROP IN GLOBAL COVID-19 CASES CONTINUES

The World Health Organization said Wednesday the drop in global COVID-19 cases has continued this week.

The agency stated cases have dropped 5 percent from the previous week as the downward trend has continued for a more than a month, The Associated Press reported.

The health body also reported that global deaths from the coronavirus were down 8 percent in the past two weeks.

The steepest declines in cases this past week were seen in the Middle East, at 46 percent, and in Africa, at 40 percent.

The only area that saw an increase in infections was the Western Pacific, at 46 percent, according to the AP.

Worldwide deaths from the pandemic surpassed 6 million this week after two years combating the disease.

The U.S. saw a 51 percent decrease in cases over the last 14 days, according to data collected by The New York Times. On Tuesday, Hawaii became the last state to drop its mask mandate.

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Trump backed a start-up to make drug ingredients on U.S. soil. Its new products rely on foreign supplies (Washington Post)

  • As U.S. COVID deaths near 1 million, advocates press for a memorial day (NPR)

  • Empty stores and an exodus: Hong Kong’s Covid crackdown stirs panic (The New York Times)

STATE BY STATE

  • One California university has unified town and grown to fight Covid. Why haven’t others? (Kaiser Health News)

  • MyMichigan Health CEO Diane Postler-Slattery, husband die in plane crash (MLive.com)

  • Missouri nursing home patients receive fewer hours of care than almost any other state (KCUR)

OPEDS IN THE HILL

Why ventilation and filtration won’t make indoor air COVID-free

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

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