The Week in Review: May 17-21
Pfizer, Moderna CEOs Say Booster COVID-19 Shots May Be Needed
During a May 19 virtual event hosted by Axios, the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna said some Americans may need a COVID-19 booster shot within 8-12 months from the original vaccination. While it is unknown how long protection from COVID-19 vaccines lasts, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci commented during the same event that immunity against most coronaviruses “is generally not lifelong.” However, some experts say the rhetoric from Pfizer and Moderna on booster shots may be tied to business goals, and they stress there is no evidence that shows immunity from COVID-19 vaccines has declined.
Emergent BioSolutions CEO Says J&J Vaccine Production Could Restart Soon
The CEO of Emergent BioSolutions told the House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee on May 19 that production of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could resume within days. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Emergent BioSolutions to halt production of the vaccine in April after FDA inspectors found overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at the biopharmaceutical company’s Baltimore facility. Just a week before FDA ordered the pause, Emergent BioSolutions was forced to toss out 15 million J&J vaccine doses after the company had accidentally mixed J&J ingredients with those used for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
Mask Guidance Partially Relaxed in Congress
Recently, the Office of the Attending Physicians issued new guidance saying fully vaccinated individuals in House Office Buildings are no longer required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The new guidance also lifted its maximum telework recommendation, meaning individual House offices can begin bringing remote staff back to the Hill. Despite the new guidance, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said the mask mandate on the House floor will remain in effect until all members have been vaccinated. In response, some Republican members have been pushing the Speaker to drop all mask requirements. On May 14, 34 House Republicans sent a letter to Pelosi urging her to waive all mask rules, and on May 19, nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers were fined for not wearing masks on the House floor. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has yet to officially weigh in on changes to mask guidelines for the Senate floor, where members of both parties have recently been spotted without masks.
Top CDC Officials Step Down
On May 17, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat announced she plans to retire in the summer. Schuchat, the CDC’s second highest-ranking official since 2015, has spent over 30 years at the agency. Schuchat’s retirement announcement follows the early May resignation announcement of Nancy Messonnier, Director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Messonnier had spent 20 years at the CDC and most recently led the agency’s COVID-19 task force. While Schuchat and Messonnier have not specifically commented on their reasons for leaving CDC, reports suggest tension between the two and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky may have been a factor. The high-level departures follow over a year of scrutiny of the CDC and its approach to issuing COVID-19 guidelines.
ICYMI: New Mask Policy for Nationals Park, DC Bars in Effect May 21
Starting on May 21, fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear a mask while visiting Nationals Parks or going to a bar or restaurant in Washington, DC. Additionally, bars and restaurants in the District are once again permitted to offer bar service to customers and allow customers to stand in common areas. However, bars and restaurants still have the option of requiring guests to wear a mask when not eating or drinking.