Wednesday, April 7, 2021 | Kaiser Health News

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Trump And Biden Officials Knew of J&J Contractor’s Problems

Problems with Emergent BioSolutions, the Johnson & Johnson contractor that botched 145 million doses of its vaccine, were known to officials of both administrations. The federal government was also funding the company. In other news, the Biden administration wants to send $9,000 for funeral expenses to every family who lost someone to covid.

Senior Trump And Biden Officials Knew For Months About Problems At Vaccine Plant

Senior officials in the Trump and Biden administrations knew of oversight and quality assurance problems at Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore plant months before the company accidentally contaminated 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter and an internal report. Officials with the Trump administration’s vaccine program, Operation Warp Speed, and the Department of Health and Human Services were sent a report in June 2020 on Emergent’s inner workings. Written by a government official, the document concluded that the company’s plan for manufacturing urgently needed Covid-19 vaccines was inadequate. Emergent’s problems hiring and retaining skilled workers meant that it could not guarantee success in producing the shots, said the two people, who read the report and described it to POLITICO. (Banco and Owermohle, 4/6)

The New York Times:
U.S. Bet On Covid Vaccine Manufacturer Even As Problems Mounted 

More than eight years ago, the federal government invested in an insurance policy against vaccine shortages during a pandemic. It paid Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland biotech firm known for producing anthrax vaccines, to have a factory in Baltimore always at the ready. When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, the factory became the main U.S. location for manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, churning out about 150 million doses as of last week. (Hamby, LaFraniere and Stolberg, 4/6)

The Washington Post:
Biden Administration To Launch $9,000 Funeral Assistance Program For Covid Victims

The Biden administration next week will launch a funeral assistance program that will provide up to $9,000 to cover the burial costs of each American who died of covid-19 — the largest program of its type ever offered by the federal government. The program is open to families regardless of their income, as long as they show documentation and have not already received similar benefits through another program. (Jordan and Sullivan, 4/6)

In other news from the federal government —

NBC News:
CDC’s Messaging Problem Highlights Pandemic’s Uncertain Future

At a particularly crucial juncture in the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a messaging problem. The CDC and its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have been the subjects of growing criticism over statements and guidance that have been revised or walked back. The U.S. faces something of a conundrum. Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, and state and local governments are relaxing restrictions. Meanwhile, as case numbers rise in parts of the country, public health experts worry about the possibility of a fourth surge. There are no easy answers. (Chow, 4/6)

Fox News:
Trust In CDC During Coronavirus Pandemic Saw Declines, Survey Suggests

Public trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the coronavirus pandemic dropped between May and October 2020, a survey found, with the most significant decline reported among non-Hispanic White and Hispanic respondents. The survey, conducted by the RAND Corporation, involved 2,000 Americans and rated the trust on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest. The average drop in trust among respondents was by about 0.7 points or 10%, the researchers said. The survey broke groups down into subgroups by ethnicity, voting intentions, age, and rural versus urban. (Hein, 4/6)

Congress Shoveled Out Billions To Boost Contact Tracing. It May Have Come Too Late. 

Beleaguered state and local coronavirus contact tracing programs are about to get billions of dollars in aid from Congress. But that likely won’t be enough to overcome the latest surge of cases, reporting gaps and other complications that now make it all but impossible to quickly track chains of transmission. It’s the latest challenge for a public health effort that’s been stymied by a shortage of disease trackers — and by infected patients who are unwilling to quarantine or turn over close contacts. (Ollstein and Goldberg, 4/6)

Covid Survivors Look To Turn Grief Into Lobbying Clout

Activists with chronic illnesses helped save Obamacare from repeal. Gun violence survivors built a movement to take on the NRA. Now, a cohort of Covid survivors is working to turn their grief into political power. As President Joe Biden pitches a multi-trillion-dollar package to shore up the country’s physical infrastructure, the new advocates — including people who lost loved ones to the virus — are focusing their grassroots lobbying on the follow-up plan Biden is expected to unveil later this month addressing the country’s “human infrastructure.” They’ll press the White House and Congress to prioritize mandatory paid sick leave and make permanent the temporary expansion of Obamacare subsidies that was approved as part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, among other goals. (Ollstein, 4/5)

In updates on Obamacare —

Roll Call:
Democrats Hope To Extend New Insurance Subsidies Before 2022 Midterms

Health insurance shoppers who buy coverage on the state and federal exchanges are likely to see a discount in their premiums as soon as next month, thanks to the recent COVID-19 relief law, but prices could rise again in 2023 if Congress doesn’t extend new subsidies before then. As Democrats consider what aspects of their health agenda their next legislative push may include, lawmakers say they plan to extend the enhanced premium tax credits that were authorized through 2022 in the COVID-19 relief law enacted last month, but they haven’t laid out a specific plan for doing so. (McIntire, 4/7)

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