https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/587786-health-care

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

The omicron variant has made selling vaccine mandates a trickier proposition. We’ll explore that plus the latest on the battle over the president’s vaccine-or-test mandate for workplaces.

A programming note: Overnight Health Care will be off tomorrow and return on Monday. Happy New Year!

For The Hill, I’m Nathaniel Weixel (nweixel@thehill.com). Write with tips and feedback, and follow me on Twitter @NateWeixel.

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Let’s get started.

Omicron hurts Biden vaccine mandate efforts 

The rapidly spreading omicron variant poses a problem for the White House as officials try to convince a skeptical public that vaccine mandates are necessary. 

Opponents of mandates are seizing on early evidence that shows vaccines are not as effective at stopping transmission of the new strain, which they say undermines the administration’s key arguments for championing them. 

Many U.S. airlines require their employees to be fully vaccinated, and anti-mandate groups claimed that hundreds of otherwise-healthy crew members were sidelined, unable to help alleviate the worst of the shortages because of their vaccination status. 

Administration officials have cast vaccine mandates for health workers, and mandate-or-test requirements for large employers, as essential tools to get more people vaccinated.  

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While vaccines don’t necessarily keep someone from getting COVID-19, they greatly reduce the chances of hospitalization or death. If the mandates result in more people getting vaccinated, it could also reduce stress on the nation’s healthcare system if waves of people do get infected.

More than 85 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 18 have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but overall close to 40 percent of all Americans remain unvaccinated. 

Part of the problem: Inconsistent and sometimes fatalistic messaging from the administration.

If people are under the impression that they’re going to get COVID-19 no matter what, that will make selling mandates much more politically difficult. Also, new guidance on isolation from the CDC treats vaccinated and unvaccinated people the same, and doesn’t recommend a negative COVID test. Experts said that makes it harder to convince people the benefits of getting vaccinated, and that mandates can keep you safe.

Read more here.

Biden asks SCOTUS to keep mandate 

The Biden administration on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to leave intact a workplace vaccine-or-test mandate as public health officials contend with the surging COVID-19 pandemic.

The administration’s brief, filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), comes in response to a legal challenge brought by interest groups and employers across the country who allege the health measure is an unlawful exercise of government power.

The central question in the case is whether Congress gave the executive branch the broad authority to impose such a sweeping workplace regulation, which applies to businesses with 100 or more workers.

To date, more than 820,000 people have died in the U.S. as a result of the global pandemic. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show unvaccinated people are 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than vaccinated people.

Challengers to the mandate have asked the justices to block the policy while the case proceeds through the lower courts, or take up a formal appeal of a federal appeals court ruling that preliminarily sustained the mandate.

Read more here.

STUDY: MOST CHILDREN SERIOUSLY ILL WITH COVID NOT FULLY VACCINATED

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Only a small fraction of children hospitalized for COVID-19 have been fully vaccinated, according to a report released Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC said that 0.4 percent of children and adolescents admitted to six hospitals during July and August with serious COVID-19 infections were fully vaccinated. 

“This study demonstrates that unvaccinated children hospitalized for COVID-19 could experience severe disease and reinforces the importance of vaccination of all eligible children to provide individual protection and to protect those who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” the study said.

The new study aligns with recent comments from Anthony FauciAnthony FauciArmed man with ‘hit list’ including Biden, Fauci arrested in Iowa on way to White House Overnight Health Care — Biden officials weigh vax mandate for travel On the Money – CDC guidance, omicron threatens businesses MORE, the White House chief medical adviser, who on Thursday encouraged parents to vaccinate their children who are eligible for COVID-19 shots.

Read more here.

CDC SAYS AVOID CRUISE SHIPS REGARDLESS OF VACCINATION STATUS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised Americans to avoid traveling by cruise ships regardless of their vaccination status amid a global surge of coronavirus cases. 

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In a statement released Thursday, the health agency’s COVID-19 Travel Health Notice updated the warning from level 3 to level 4, which is the health agency’s highest level of warning. 

The agency said even people who are vaccinated and boosted are at risk of spreading the virus onboard. 

“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose,” the CDC said in its statement. 

The CDC also recommended that those who have traveled on a cruise ship who are not vaccinated get vaccinated and receive their booster shot if eligible. 

Cruise lines reported 5,013 COVID-19 infections on ships operating in U.S. waters between Dec. 15 and 29, according to CDC data, a significant increase from the 162 cases reported over the prior two weeks.

Many cruise lines have implemented vaccine requirements, and ships have put in place mask rules for common areas as omicron has spread. 

Jury finds company liable for NY opioid crisis 

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A jury on Thursday found drug manufacturer Teva Pharmaceuticals liable for fueling the opioid crisis in New York.

Jurors concluded that the actions by Teva and its subsidiaries helped create a “public nuisance” by flooding the state with pills that killed thousands of people. The public nuisance argument is being used by plaintiffs in thousands of other opioid lawsuits nationwide.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2019 and the verdict came after a six-month trial that began with dozens of defendants across the pharmaceutical supply chain. Eventually, all other defendants except for Teva and its subsidiary companies reached multimillion-dollar settlements.

Initially, the New York attorney general filed suit against six manufacturers as well as the largest distributors in the country. 

The lawsuit was the first of its kind to target companies that made the drugs along with distributors and pharmacies that filled prescriptions. It was argued jointly by the state as well as Suffolk and Nassau counties. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said other settlements from manufacturers and distributors have netted about $1.5 billion.

“While no amount of money will ever compensate for the human suffering, the addiction, or the lives lost due to opioid abuse, we will immediately push to move forward with a trial to determine how much Teva and others will pay,” James said in a statement.

Teva in a statement said it would “swiftly” appeal the verdict.

The jury did not award damages, that amount will be decided at a later date. 

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Hospitals still not fully complying with federal price-disclosure rules (Wall Street Journal)
  • Beyond case counts: What Omicron is teaching us (Stat)
  • First they ran short of PPE, then ventilators. Now, the shortage is hospital staff (Washington Post)

STATE BY STATE

  • Whistleblower alleges Maryland health officials failed to alert hundreds of patients of potentially spoiled vaccines (Baltimore Sun)
  • After losing vaccine lawsuit, Oklahoma AG John O’Connor urges Biden to consider exemptions (The Oklahoman)
  • California prisons fight virus outbreaks amid staff concerns (The Associated Press)

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

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