What Happened, What You Missed: April 17-21, 2023


CDC Approves Second Omicron Booster for Seniors & Immunocompromised

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidelines on Wednesday to allow an additional COVID-19 booster dose for adults who are 65 years or older and immunocompromised adults at least four months from their last dose. The move comes two days after a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel voted to authorize an additional booster for high-risk groups. The CDC’s updated guidance also recommends that the original monovalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccines be no longer used in the US. Also, the United Kingdom and Canada already are offering spring booster shots for high-risk populations.

White House to Nominate NCI Director to Lead NIH

Reports indicate that the White House is poised to nominate National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Monica Bertagnolli to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the coming days. A surgical oncologist by training, Bertagnolli has earned the respect of top Biden administration officials since taking the reins of NCI in October 2022. The NIH has been without a permanent director since longtime chief Francis Collins stepped down in December 2021. Since then, Larry Tabak has been serving as acting director. Bertagnolli would be the second female NIH leader if confirmed by the Senate. The next NIH director will face a slew of challenges, including responding to congressional inquiries into the agency’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic, advancing the pace of innovation, and ensuring that the agency can continue to invest in biomedical research amid a tough budgetary environment.

mRNA Vaccines Show Promise in Treating Skin Cancer

An individually tailored vaccine combined with an immunotherapy drug has been shown to reduce a patient’s risk of reoccurrence or death from a deadly type of skin cancer, according to phase 2 clinical trial results posted by Moderna and Merck. All 107 melanoma patients who participated in the trial had their cancerous tumors removed in surgery but were at a high risk of recurrence. The trial found that the vaccine decreased patients’ risk of recurrence or death by 44% compared to treatment with the immunotherapy alone. mRNA vaccine technology, which was widely used to immunize people against COVID-19, works by sending messenger RNA into cells to instruct them to build proteins that trigger an immune response that fights off future disease. Merck and Moderna expect to begin a phase 3 trial later this year, and if the results show the mRNA technology to be effective, the treatment could be approved for patients within three years.

CMS Finalizes ACA Plan Policies, Health Equity Standards

Released on Monday, the 2024 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP) finalizes a number of rules pertaining to Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans. Some of the more notable changes included increasing the number of nonstandard plans insurers can offer per region from two to four and adding a new special enrollment period for people who lose Medicaid eligibility. To boost health equity, the NBPP permits navigators and other assisters to conduct door-to-door outreach and enrollment assistance, which the administration hopes will improve access to coverage for underserved populations that face barriers to getting insured.

McCarthy Seeks Support for Debt Limit Plan

A proposal from Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) would increase the current $31.4 trillion statutory borrowing limit by $1.5 trillion or suspending it through March 31, 2024 by capping topline Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 discretionary spending at the FY 2022 level. While the proposal is intended to bring the Biden administration and congressional Democrats to the negotiating table, both have since communicated that the proposal is a non-starter. Although McCarthy’s leadership team is confident that his proposal will win the support of congressional Republicans, it remains uncertain if the proposal can garner 218 votes in the House, especially among moderate GOP members in the Problem Solvers Caucus who are putting forth their own bipartisan debt limit plan.

ICYMI: Rare Gem Goes On Display at the Smithsonian

Yesterday, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History put on public display the “Lion of Merelani,” which is one of the most finely detailed colored gemstones in the world. Known as a tsavorite, the original crystal was found in northern Tanzania in 2017 before being cut into a gem by Victor Tuzlukov in 2018. According to the Smithsonian, the gem is the largest precision-cut tsavorite in the world and the largest tsavorite gem. A private donor gifted the tsavorite to the National Gem Collection, which contains 350,000 mineral specimens and 10,000 gems.

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