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Overnight Health Care: Trump official pushed for herd immunity, calling for low-risk Americans to be infected | Congress close to coronavirus deal, including stimulus checks

Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care.



a group of people standing next to a person in a suit and tie: Overnight Health Care: Trump official pushed for herd immunity, calling for low-risk Americans to be infected | Congress close to coronavirus deal, including stimulus checks | US officials had to return Pfizer vaccine doses after they got too cold


© Greg Nash
Overnight Health Care: Trump official pushed for herd immunity, calling for low-risk Americans to be infected | Congress close to coronavirus deal, including stimulus checks | US officials had to return Pfizer vaccine doses after they got too cold

Congress is closing in on a coronavirus stimulus agreement, HHS says some Pfizer vaccine doses got too cold, and a Trump administration official was pushing for herd immunity as an official policy.

We’ll start with a startling report about a former top Trump official:

Trump official pushed for herd immunity, calling for low-risk Americans to be infected, emails show

A Trump administration official pushed for a herd immunity strategy to respond to coronavirus, writing that it is good for lower-risk people to be infected with the virus, according to emails obtained by Congress.

Paul Alexander, at the time a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) science adviser, referred to younger people and lower-risk people in an email and wrote, “we want them infected.”

“Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…and recovered…with antibodies….hospitals are NOW geared, PPE in place, ICUs beds are on the ready, doctors and nurses alert, the syndrome is crystalized… etc,” he wrote in a July 4 email to other HHS officials obtained by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

A wide range of health experts has denounced the herd immunity strategy he advocated as leading to unnecessary deaths.

HHS response: “His emails absolutely did not shape department strategy,” an HHS spokesperson said Wednesday in response to the emails’ release. “Dr. Paul Alexander previously served as a temporary Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and is no longer employed at the Department.”

Read more here.

Related: CDC appointees describe messaging winning out over science at the agency

The elusive deal could finally be here: Congress close to coronavirus deal that includes stimulus checks

Senate and House leaders are on the cusp of a coronavirus relief deal that will include direct $600 to $700 direct stimulus payments and $300-per-week supplemental unemployment assistance, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The $900 billion package is the result of months of stop-and-start negotiations that received a boost in early December when a bipartisan group of senators and House members unveiled their own $908 billion package after talks between Democratic leaders and the White House stalled.

However, nothing is a done deal and negotiations are running into 11th-hour snags, threatening to push Congress into a rare weekend session.

The emerging deal will not include $160 billion in new state and local aid or liability protection for businesses and other organizations – two of the most contentious issues of the talk.

The new round of stimulus checks cost approximately the same as the $160 billion in state and local aid that negotiators have set aside in hopes of reaching a deal by week’s end.

Senate and House leaders want to attach the new coronavirus relief package to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package that needs to pass by Dec. 18 to keep the government funded. That means Congress has to pass the sweeping legislation – or another continuing resolution (CR) – by the end of Friday in order to prevent a government shutdown.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP senator, pointed to a myriad of moving parts, including lawmakers trying to hitch their legislative pet projects on the final moving train of the year, that are throwing a curveball into the timing of an agreement.

“We’re close enough that these could close pretty quickly but they might not,” he said. “You’ve got the omni, you’ve got COVID and then you’ve got all these little extraneous pieces.”

Read more here.

US officials had to return Pfizer vaccine doses after they got too cold

Federal officials had to quarantine and return several thousand doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine in two different states after they became too cold during the transport process.

Video: Who is next in line to get the Covid vaccine? (NBC News)

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Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the CEO of Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Wednesday that an “anomaly” caused two trays at separate locations in California to fall to minus 92 degrees Celsius.

Pfizer’s vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 80 degrees Celsius.

Perna said they don’t know how it happened, or what the effect on the vaccines will be.

“We locked those trays down. They never left the truck, and we returned them immediately back to Pfizer and we sent immediate shipments to replace those,” Perna said.

Perna said the same “anomaly” happened in Alabama.

More doses coming? Meanwhile, the Trump administration is continuing negotiations with Pfizer for additional doses by the middle of next year.

Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui said the government is in active talks with Pfizer to secure 100 million additional doses, despite the company warning it won’t be able to deliver more until next summer– raising the possibility of a shortage as the U.S. races to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters he was “optimistic,” and that the administration has been working to help Pfizer maximize manufacturing capacity after the company recently informed the administration about “manufacturing challenges.”

Federal officials have insisted they have enough doses, with Azar saying Wednesday that the government has contracted for the delivery of 900 million doses of vaccines across different companies, with the option to increase it to 3 billion.

Read more here.

Alaskan health worker experiences serious but rare reaction to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine

A health worker in Alaska experienced what appears to be a rare but serious allergic reaction to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, according to The New York Times.

The worker, who had no history of allergies, was under observation in a hospital on Wednesday morning, according to the Times, and is set to be discharged later in the day.

The worker experienced flushing and shortness of breath, which subsided after being treated with epinephrine, according to the Times.

“She is healthy and she is doing well,” Dr. Lindy Jones, emergency department medical director at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, told the newspaper.

Two health workers in Britain experienced similar allergic reactions after receiving the vaccine last week, but have both recovered.

The United Kingdom issued a warning that anyone with a history of allergic reactions to medicine or food should not get the shot. One of the British health workers had a history of egg allergies while the other was allergic to several different medications.

What’s next: An FDA spokesperson said the agency is working with Pfizer to determine what happened.

Read more here.

On Christmas plans, avoid the big gathering: Fauci says he won’t be seeing his children for Christmas for first time since they were born

Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said this week that he won’t be seeing his three adult daughters for Christmas for the first time since they were born.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post’s Power Up that his family will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations and avoid gathering for the holiday.

“I’m going to be with my wife – period,” he said in the Monday interview. “The Christmas holiday is a special holiday for us because Christmas Eve is my birthday. And Christmas Day is Christmas Day. And they are not going to come home.”

“That’s painful,” the expert, who will be turning 80, added. “We don’t like that. But that’s just one of the things you’re going to have to accept as we go through this unprecedented challenging time.”

Fauci cautioned that the U.S. has “a big problem” with the “quite dramatic” number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations increasing, and Christmas gatherings could make the situation worse, similarly to Thanksgiving.

Read more here.

What we’re reading

Health workers ‘feeling good as hell’ as hospitals begin COVID vaccine injections (NPR)

‘Like a hand grasping’: Trump appointees describe the crushing of the CDC (The New York Times)

Pompeo cancels final holiday party after he comes into contact with coronavirus (Washington Post)

State by state

California adds over 40,000 new Covid-19 cases in one day as Americans await vaccine rollout (CNN)

Judge says D.C. violated law in awarding three lucrative Medicaid contracts (Washington Post)

NC Senate leader’s staff exposed to virus at holiday party (WRAL)

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