What Happened, What You Missed: March 21-25

Moderna to Seek EUA for COVID-19 Vaccine for Children under Age 6

Moderna announced on Wednesday that it will ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine “as soon as possible.” Moderna’s initial data demonstrated that the vaccine is 44% effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant in children ages 6 months to under 2 years and about 38% effective for children 2- to 5-years-old. Importantly, none of the children who participated in the trial developed severe disease.  The announcement is promising news for parents of young children and toddlers who’ve been previously disappointed by setbacks on vaccine development for this age group.  It’s unclear when the FDA advisory panel will hold a meeting to discuss approving vaccines for children under age 6.

Fauci: Surge Unlikely Despite Uptick in Infections

According to recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), COVID-19 cases have increased in nine states in the past 14 days, with the most growth in Arkansas, New York, and Connecticut.  The uptick in cases is largely driven by the more transmissible Omicron variant BA.2, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates accounts for more than one-third of COVID-19 cases nationwide and more than half of cases in the Northeast.  Despite the growth of BA.2, nationwide COVID-19 cases still saw a 19% decrease over the past 14 days.  While White House Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci has acknowledged that the more transmissible subvariant is likely to cause case numbers to grow and he believes another major surge resulting in high levels of hospitalization is unlikely.

Airlines Push Administration to Drop Mask Mandates

Leaders of 10 major commercial and cargo airlines sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday urging his administration to end the federal transportation mask mandate as well as pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements for international flights.  According to the letter, declining hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19, the high level of immunity in the US, and the widespread availability of effective vaccines have rendered federal travel restrictions that were put in place two years ago unnecessary.  Several British airlines dropped mask mandates in the past few weeks, despite a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom.  Current federal travel mandates are set to expire on April 18, and CDC is still reviewing how best to proceed.

HHS Doles Out $413 Million in New Provider Relief Fund Payments

On March 22, HHS announced more than $413 million in Provider Relief Fund payments to over 3,600 providers across the country.  This recent distribution is part of the fourth round of Phase 4 payments, which targeted  smaller providers that took on a higher percentage of financial losses during the pandemic.  To date, HHS has delivered $12 billion in Phase 4 funds to over 82,000 providers nationwide.  Providers will have until the end of June 2023 to use this latest round of payments.  Despite the additional payments, providers are still calling for more financial relief.  On Wednesday, LeadingAge sent a letter to congressional leaders urging $28 billion in additional Provider Relief Fund support citing continued  COVID-19 expenses on aging services providers.

ICYMI: Cherry Blossoms Hit Peak Bloom in DC

On Monday, Washington’s famous cherry blossoms hit peak bloom – the eighth earliest peak bloom since records were first taken in 1921.  Peak bloom is defined when 70% of the cherry trees’ buds are flowering. The March 21 peak bloom coincides with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs this year from March 20 to April 17.  The cherry blossoms’ peak bloom is expected to pass this weekend due to cooler temperatures and windy conditions, so be sure to check them out before it’s too late.