First Edition: Oct. 19, 2021


Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.


KHN:
Hygienists Brace For Pitched Battles With Dentists In Fights Over Practice Laws 


This year, the Illinois legislature was considering measures to expand oral health treatment in a state where millions of people live in dental care deserts. But when the Illinois State Dental Society met with key lawmakers virtually for its annual lobbying day in the spring, the proposals to allow dental hygienists to clean the teeth of certain underprivileged patients without a dentist seemed doomed. (Bruce, 10/19)


KHN:
Children With Disabilities Face Special Back-To-School Challenges 


Christopher Manzo, a boy with curly brown hair and bright-blue-and-yellow glasses, has lived a third of his five years at home because of the pandemic. nd he is more than ready for kindergarten. Hand in hand with his mother, Martha Manzo, he walks into the Blind Children’s Center, a low-rise building nestled among apartment complexes in East Hollywood. In the brightly colored hallway, filled with paintings of animals, Manzo kneels to hug Christopher before he scurries unsteadily to his cubby. “God take care of you and be with you,” she says. “And have fun.” (de Marco, 10/19)


Newsweek:
EPA Takes Steps To Regulate ‘Forever Chemicals’ In Drinking Water, Consumer Products


A new strategy from the White House to regulate toxic industrial compounds linked to serious illness was announced Monday, putting everything from cookware and carpets to firefighting foams under revised standards, the Associated Press reported. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Michael Regan said his agency is taking a series of steps to reduce pollution from “forever chemicals,” or PFAS, long-lasting chemicals that are contaminating public drinking water, wells and even food. (Cagnassola, 10/18)


AP:
EPA Unveils Strategy To Regulate Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’


The Biden administration said Monday it is launching a broad strategy to regulate toxic industrial compounds associated with serious health conditions that are used in products ranging from cookware to carpets and firefighting foams. Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency is taking a series of actions to limit pollution from a cluster of long-lasting chemicals known as PFAS that are increasingly turning up in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food. (Daly, 10/19)


The Washington Post:
FDA To Allow ‘Mix-And-Match’ Approach On Coronavirus Booster Vaccines


A key matter of debate: If Moderna is used as a booster for Johnson & Johnson, what should be the correct dose? Some officials say it should be a half dose of the regular shot — the dosage that will be authorized for Moderna boosters in general — while others say it should be a full dose, which was the amount tested as part of a National Institutes of Health study released last week. (McGinley, 10/18)


The Wall Street Journal:
FDA Nearing Approval For Mixing And Matching Covid-19 Booster Shots 


The Food and Drug Administration is moving to soon allow people to receive booster shots that are different from their first Covid-19 vaccine doses, people familiar with the matter said. The FDA won’t recommend any booster over the others but will permit people to get a booster shot that is different from the shot they first received, one of the people familiar with the matter said. (Schwartz, 10/18)


AP:
Why COVID Boosters Weren’t Tweaked To Better Match Variants


More COVID-19 booster shots may be on the way — but when it’s your turn, you’ll get an extra dose of the original vaccine, not one updated to better match the extra-contagious delta variant. And that has some experts wondering if the booster campaign is a bit of a missed opportunity to target delta and its likely descendants. “Don’t we want to match the new strains that are most likely to circulate as closely as possible?” Dr. Cody Meissner of Tufts Medical Center, an adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, challenged Pfizer scientists recently. (Neergaard, 10/18)


CNN:
Seniors Are Particularly Vulnerable To Covid-19 But Just 1 In 7 Have Taken A Booster Shot 


As the US tries to bring Covid-19 under control before a potential winter spike, health experts are encouraging vulnerable people to get a booster vaccine dose. So far, about 15% of seniors have done so. Overall, about 10.7 million people have received an additional booster dose and more than half were people over 65, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Holcombe, 10/19)


Bloomberg:
Colin Powell’s Death From Breakthrough Covid Is Rare Event 


Colin Powell died at age 84 from Covid-19 complications despite being fully vaccinated, his family announced on Monday. A decorated former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he was being treated at the Walter Reed National Medical Center. Powell, who previously underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 2003, had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma prior to falling ill with Covid-19. The available data show that such deaths are exceptionally rare. Out of the more than 187 million people who had been fully vaccinated in the U.S. as of Oct. 12, 7,178, or 0.004%, had died from a breakthrough infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that group, 85% were over the age of 65. (Court, 10/18)


The New York Times:
What Scientists Know About The Risk Of Breakthrough Covid Deaths


Although Mr. Powell’s death is a high-profile tragedy, scientists emphasized that it should not undermine confidence in the Covid-19 vaccines, which drastically reduce the odds of severe disease and death. “Nothing is 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Paul A. Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The point of getting a vaccine is that you want to know that the benefits clearly and definitively outweigh the risks. And we know that for this vaccine.” (Anthes, 10/18)


AP:
New Mexico Clears Way For Hospitals To Ration Care If Needed


New Mexico on Monday cleared the way for hospitals to ration care if necessary, saying the state’s health care system has yet to see a reprieve as the nursing shortage continues and as many patients with non-COVID-19 illnesses and those who have delayed care over the last year are now filling hospital beds. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said hospitals already have been juggling patients with fewer resources since the pandemic began, and the order he signed sets up an “equitable procedure” for making tough decisions. (Bryan, 10/18)


Indianapolis Star:
More Indiana Schoolchildren Have Had COVID-19 This Fall Than All Of Last School Year


Roughly a quarter of the way through the current school year and Indiana has already topped last school year’s total number of COVID-19 cases reported among the state’s K-12 students. The number of newly reported cases in students dropped for the sixth straight week and was likely depressed by the fall break, which many schools started last week, but still pushed the school year-to-date total above the total number reported last school year. (Herron, 10/18)


AP:
3 Montana School Districts Go Virtual Or Close Due To COVID


At least three Montana school districts are taking advantage of a two-day school break for statewide educator conferences this week to hold remote classes or close for a few days to help prevent further cases of COVID-19. The Darby school district also announced it was switching to remote learning on Tuesday and Wednesday due to staff shortages. (10/18)


The Washington Post:
Miami School Says Vaccinated Students Must Stay Home For 30 Days To Protect Others, Citing Discredited Info


In April, a Miami private school made national headlines for barring teachers who got a coronavirus vaccine from interacting with students. Last week, the school made another startling declaration, but this time to the parents: If you vaccinate your child, they’ll have to stay home for 30 days after each shot. The email from Centner Academy leadership, first reported by WSVN, repeated misleading and false claims that vaccinated people could pass on so-called harmful effects of the shot and have a “potential impact” on unvaccinated students and staff. (Peiser, 10/18)


AP:
Federal Judge Rejects Bid To Block Oregon Vaccine Mandate


A federal judge on Monday denied a last-minute bid by more than three dozen state employees, health care providers and school staff to temporarily stop the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate. U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon rejected their motion for a temporary restraining order, marking the first federal judge’s ruling after several state court decisions thwarting similar efforts to block Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s and the Oregon Health Authority’s power to require that certain workers to get the vaccines or risk losing their jobs, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. (10/19)


AP:
Seattle Touts 99% Compliance With Employee Vaccine Mandate


The city of Seattle reported Monday morning that 99% of its employees are in compliance with the mayor’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. By 11:59 p.m. Monday, all Seattle city employees have to be vaccinated against COVID-19, per an August order by Mayor Jenny Durkan. As of Monday morning, 94% of the city’s 11,000 employees had been vaccinated and an additional 5% have filed paperwork for an exemption, The Seattle Times reported. The remaining 150, or about 1%, had not yet complied. (10/18)


Fox News:
Nearly 100 Unvaccinated Staff At Yale New Haven Health Lose Their Jobs


Nearly 100 employees in the Yale New Haven Health system lost their jobs Monday because they failed to get a COVID-19 vaccine, officials said. The employees were on suspension and had until Monday to get vaccinated following a June 30 mandate announcement by Yale New Haven Health, and other hospital-based health systems in Connecticut, according to reports. “We did pretty well, I think, all things considered,” Associate Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Ohm Deshpande told the New Haven Register. “We’re at 94 at this moment who are subject to termination. They’re getting notified today that they’re being separated from the organization.” (Aaro, 10/19)


The Boston Globe:
Mass General Brigham Employees Sue Hospital System For Denying COVID-19 Vaccination Exemptions


A group of Mass General Brigham employees are suing the health care system for denying their medical or religious exemptions for getting a COVID-19 vaccine, arguing that the denials are discriminatory and violate protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to court documents. The lawsuit was filed Sunday in US District Court as Mass General Brigham, the state’s largest hospital system, nears its Wednesday deadline for employees to show they have received at least one shot or be placed on unpaid leave. Employees who have not received at least their first shot by Nov. 5 will be terminated. (Stoico, 10/18)


The Washington Post:
Fake Vaccine Cards, Will Travel: People Confess To Using Counterfeit Cards To Their Travel Advisers


A travel adviser, once known as a travel agent, can easily become a client’s confidant over years of trip planning. … The Ocean Reef Club travel adviser Stephanie Fisher said she has had three people ask her about using fake vaccination cards. She declined to book their trips. “It’s not something I’m willing to touch,” Fisher said. Instead of being shy about the admission, Fisher said, the prospective clients have seemed proud. “There’s a weird glee about trying to find a way to short-circuit the system,” she said. (Compton, 10/18)


CIDRAP:
Hospital COVID Patients May Owe Thousands As Insurance Waivers End


COVID-19 patients hospitalized in 2021 could be on the hook for thousands of dollars in bills  for hospital, physician, and paramedic care after insurance companies started charging members for these costs again, an analysis of 2020 US data today in JAMA Network Open suggests. In 2020, most health insurers voluntarily waived copays, deductibles, and other cost sharing for hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but many did away with those waivers in early 2021. (Van Beusekom, 10/18)


Bloomberg:
Health Pros Get Benched At Conference Until Covid Tests Clear


This week, the main lobby of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center includes a central purgatory: dozens of white chairs in a holding pen where visitors await Covid-19 test results.  Some 6,500 people have registered for in-person attendance at HLTH, a digital health conference where more than 5,000 have already checked in on-site. To enter, attendees must show proof of vaccination and the results of a recent PCR test. No recent test to show? Then get swabbed, take a seat, and wait roughly a half hour for results, depending on the line. (Goldberg and Griffin, 10/18)


Bloomberg:
Covid Led To Closer Work Between FDA, Pharma, Genentech CEO Says


Close collaboration between U.S. drugmakers and regulators in the pandemic is speeding the way for new therapies in other areas including Alzheimer’s disease, the head of Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit said. The Food and Drug Administration’s flexibility in terms of data submission and clinical trials endpoints “offers so much possibility to bring treatments, meaningful treatments, to patients sooner,” Genentech Chief Executive Officer Alexander Hardy said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television from the HLTH conference in Boston. (Tozzi, 10/18)


The Atlantic:
What If MRNA Vaccines Could Cure Cancer?


The fact that mRNA technology had never delivered an authorized therapy before the coronavirus pandemic could tell us one of two things. Perhaps synthetic mRNA is like a miraculous key that humankind pulled out of our pockets in this pandemic, but it was so perfectly shaped for the coronavirus that we shouldn’t expect it to unlock other scientific mysteries any time soon. Or perhaps mRNA is merely in the first chapter of a more extraordinary story. This month, BioNTech announced that it had initiated Phase 2 trials of personalized cancer vaccines for patients with colorectal cancer. It is working on other personalized cancer vaccines and exploring possible therapies for malaria using a version of the mRNA technology that had its breakout moment in 2020. (Thompson, 10/18)


Detroit Free Press:
CVS Health Names Khaldun Its First Chief Health Equity Officer


Dr. Joneigh Khaldhun, who led Michigan through the first 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic as the state’s chief medical executive, has been named vice president and chief health equity officer of CVS Health, the company announced Monday. “Her expertise in creating solutions to help improve health outcomes will help us continue addressing health inequities for the customers and communities we serve,” said Dr. Kyu Rhee, CVS senior vice president and Aetna CMO, in a statement. (Jordan Shamus, Boucher and Hall, 10/18)


Stat:
Amazon Is Beefing Up Its Health Care Lobbying Operation 


Amazon is bulking up its efforts to influence health care policy at the federal and state levels. The tech giant recently hired Claire Winiarek, a top policy official from the trade association for pharmacy benefit managers, as its director of health policy. And Amazon has started a search for three additional health care policy advocates who will focus on federal health care policy, health devices and services, and state-level health policy, according to postings on LinkedIn this month. (Cohrs, 10/19)


Modern Healthcare:
Expect A Permanent Boost To Healthcare Wages, Experts Say


Healthcare workforce labor costs will remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, which has prompted new recruitment and retention strategies. Nearly all of the 73 health system administrators surveyed have had trouble filling vacancies as more clinical staff burn out, according to a new poll from Kaufman Hall. Nearly three-quarters of executives have raised clinicians’ wages as a result, while around 90% have boosted pay for support staff. (Kacik, 10/18)


Stat:
UnitedHealthcare Launches A Virtual-First Health Insurance Plan


The pandemic prompted a mad dash to figure out how to deliver health care virtually. As the dust settles, UnitedHealthcare, the country’s largest insurer, is laying the foundation for the future with a health plan built primarily around telemedicine services designed to be more affordable and accessible. (Aguilar, 10/18)


NPR:
Telehealth Is OK, Patients Say, But Most Prefer In-Person Appointments


New Yorker Charlie Freyre’s sinuses had been bothering him for weeks last winter, during a COVID-19 surge in the city. It was before vaccines became widely available. “I was just trying to stay in my apartment as much as possible,” Freyre says, so checking in with his doctor via an online appointment “just seemed like a more convenient option. And you know, it was very straightforward and very easy.” The $20 copay was well worth it for the 26-year-old ad salesman, whose girlfriend also routinely relies on telehealth to see her nutritionist. “It’s a very easy way to get an expert opinion without having to necessarily leave your apartment,” fill out forms or spend idle time in waiting rooms, Freyre says. “We all know what going to the doctor can be like.” (Noguchi, 10/18)


Modern Healthcare:
Insurers Want CMS To Toss Rule On ‘Breakthrough’ Technology Coverage


Insurers are backing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services plan to repeal a Trump-era rule allowing Medicare to cover medical devices designated as “breakthrough” technology by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to public comments on the proposed rule. Payers, patient safety advocates and independent experts had recommended that President Joe Biden’s administration walk back the rule, citing concerns over patient safety and questions about the value of automatically providing Medicare coverage for unproven technologies. If the original rule had taken effect, CMS would have lost its ability to withdraw approval for devices later found to be harmful to people on Medicare. (Brady, 10/18)


Stat:
FDA Approves Interchangeable Humira Biosimilar, But Savings Are Dubious


For the first time, U.S. regulators have approved an interchangeable, biosimilar version of Humira, a hugely popular medicine used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, among other ailments. But the extent to which the approval might make a real difference to the U.S. health care system is uncertain, because availability is a long way off and the dosing regimen may not be competitive. (Silverman, 10/18)


CIDRAP:
Elbow Bumps May Transfer MRSA Just As Much As Fist Bumps


Researchers from the Cleveland VA Medical Center reported that both a fist bump and an elbow bump are associated with frequent transfer of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Elbow bumps have been increasingly used as greetings over fist bumps and handshakes with the idea that they lessen the potential for pathogenic microorganism transfer. To test this hypothesis, the researchers enrolled 40 patients in isolation for MRSA colonization and paired them with a research staff member wearing sterile gloves and a piece of cotton cloth over their elbows. Each MRSA-colonized patient performed one greeting with a staff member using their right fist or elbow, and one greeting using their left fist or elbow, with the order of the greetings alternating among consecutive participants. The researchers then analyzed the fists and elbows of the MRSA-colonized patients, along with the gloves and elbow cloth from the staff members, for the presence of MRSA. (10/18)


The New York Times:
How Lifelong Cholesterol Levels Can Harm Or Help Your Heart 


LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. Now a new study suggests that, like smoking, it has a cumulative effect over a lifetime: The longer a person has high LDL, the greater their risk of suffering a heart attack or cardiac arrest. Coronary heart disease, also known as “hardening of the arteries,” is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries that narrows the vessels and blocks the flow of oxygenated blood to the heart. Often, people have no symptoms and remain unaware they have the disease for years until they develop chest pain or suffer a catastrophic event like a heart attack. (Bakalar, 10/18)


AP:
NYC’s Board Of Health Calls Racism A Public Health Crisis


New York City’s Board of Health on Monday passed a resolution that names racism as a public health crisis, joining the growing list of state and local governments around the country that have done so in recent years. The resolution calls on the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to take steps including reviewing the city’s health code to look for structural racism, and find ways to make changes as necessary. (10/19)


The Wall Street Journal:
Texas Passes Sports Ban For Transgender Students 


Lawmakers in Texas passed a bill Sunday that bans transgender public-school students from competing in interscholastic sports leagues that are designated for a gender other than the one listed on their birth certificates. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill, after adding it to the agenda of a special legislative session intended to address redistricting. The University Interscholastic League, which oversees K-12 sports in Texas, has the responsibility for enforcing the law in public or charter schools. (Findell, 10/18)


Houston Chronicle:
Houston Doctor Who Prescribed More Than 1.3 Million Doses Of Opioids Faces Lengthy Prison Term


A federal jury found a Houston physician guilty on Monday of prescribing more than 1.3 million doses of opioids through a strip mall clinic on Gessner in Spring Branch, according to a Justice Department news release. On a busy day, the doctor sometime doled out more than 90 unlawful prescriptions to “patients,” prosecutors said. Dr. Parvez Anjum Qureshi, 56, a geriatric and family medicine specialist from Houston, was convicted of unlawfully prescribing controlled substances between 2014 and 2016 to patients at Spring Shadows Medical Clinic of Houston. A fellow clinic employee, Rubeena Ayesha, 52, of Houston, previously pleaded guilty to aiding in the pill mill scheme. (Banks, 10/18)


AP:
Group Decries Sentencing Of Oklahoma Woman For Miscarriage


A national advocacy group for women on Monday blasted the sentencing of a 21-year-old Oklahoma woman to prison for a manslaughter conviction after she suffered a miscarriage while using methamphetamine. Brittney Poolaw, of Lawton, was sentenced to four years in prison this month after a jury convicted her of first-degree manslaughter. An autopsy of Poolaw’s fetus showed it tested positive for methamphetamine. But there was no evidence that her meth use caused the miscarriage, which the autopsy indicated could have been caused by factors including a congenital abnormality and placental abruption, a complication in which the placenta detaches from the womb, said Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. (Murphy, 10/18)


Los Angeles Times:
Congresswoman Calls For Emergency Declaration Over Foul Odor In Carson


Calling it an “issue of health and environmental injustice,” Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) on Monday asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency over an overpowering foul smell that has sickened residents of Carson and surrounding communities for more than two weeks. The ongoing stench — which Los Angeles County officials say is caused by hydrogen sulfide coming from decaying vegetation in the Dominguez Channel — was first reported to the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Oct. 3 .It took 12 days for county crews to begin treating the flood control channel to mitigate the odor. (Branson-Potts, 10/18)


AP:
Organizations Launch Yearlong Campaign On Lung Health


A coalition of organizations are launching a yearlong educational campaign about lung health issues in Kentucky. The Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care and the Anthem Foundation aim to educate residents through the campaign called “Breathe Better Kentucky,” the organizations said in a joint statement. (10/19)


Reuters:
WHO-Led Program Aims To Buy Antiviral COVID-19 Pills For $10 


A World Health Organization-led programme to ensure poorer countries get fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments aims to secure antiviral drugs for patients with mild symptoms for as little as $10 per course, a draft document seen by Reuters says. Merck & Co’s experimental pill molnupiravir is likely to be one of the drugs, and other drugs to treat mild patients are being developed. (Guarascio, 10/19)


The New York Times:
Russia’s Low Vaccination Rates Leads To Record-Breaking Toll 


After Sofia Kravetskaya got vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine last December, she became a pariah on the Moscow playground where she takes her young daughter. “When I mentioned I volunteered in the trials and I got my first shot, people started running away from me,” she said. “They believed that if you were vaccinated, the virus is inside you and you’re contagious.” (Hopkins, 10/18)


Houston Chronicle:
Australia Responds To Sen. Ted Cruz’s Criticism Of Vaccine Mandate: ‘Glad We Are Nothing Like You’


A top Australian official called out U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Twitter over the weekend after the Texas Republican accused the country of “COVID tyranny” as it imposes new vaccine requirements. “I love the Aussies. Their history of rugged independence is legendary; I’ve always said Australia is the Texas of the Pacific,” Cruz tweeted. “The COVID tyranny of their current government is disgraceful & sad.” Australia’s Northern Territory rolled out new vaccine mandates last week, which require workers who interact with the public to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 24 or face a $5,000 fine. Michael Gunner, the chief minister for the region, responded to Cruz in a statement posted last Sunday, saying the Texas Republican knows “nothing about us.” (Wermund, 10/18)


The Washington Post:
U.N. To Launch A Polio Vaccination Campaign In Afghanistan With Taliban Permission 


U.N. agencies will launch a nationwide effort next month to vaccinate children in Afghanistan against polio with the permission of the Taliban, the United Nations announced Monday. The campaign, slated to start Nov. 8., will mark the first polio immunization drive since the Taliban took control of the country in August — and the first in more than three years to reach all children in Afghanistan, according to a news release from UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency. (Parker, 10/18)


This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.



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