Biden Outlines Plan to Combat COVID-19 through Winter
On December 2, President Joe Biden announced a new strategy aimed at preventing a winter surge of COVID-19 as concerns loom over the newly discovered Omicron variant. Key components of the plan include requiring travelers entering the US by air to test negative for COVID-19, launching a public education campaign to encourage booster shots, extending the requirement for masks to be worn on public transit and airplanes, and requiring health insurers to completely reimburse the cost of at-home tests for COVID-19. While Biden stopped short of recommending shutdowns of schools or businesses, he did warn that case numbers are likely to rise in the coming weeks as temperatures drop, and more people gather indoors.
FDA Panel Narrowly Recommends Merck’s COVID-19 Antiviral Pill
On November 30, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) narrowly voted 13-10 to recommend an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Molnupiravir, Merck’s oral antiviral to treat COVID-19. While initial clinical trial results showed Molnupiravir was 50% effective in reducing the risk of hospitalization or death, a new data set released by Merck last week showed the drug was only 30% effective in preventing hospitalization, sparking discussion among the advisers on Molnupiravir’s efficacy. VRBPAC members also discussed concerns that the drug could potentially create immune-resistant variants and whether the drug posed any risk to pregnant women. While most advisers agreed the benefits of oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment outweigh the risk, the FDA could be compelled to write a narrower EUA than initially expected.
Congress Passes Stopgap Funding Bill through February 18, Averts Shutdown
On Thursday, the House approved by a 221-212 vote a continuing resolution to ensure government funding through February 18, 2022. Notably, the stopgap funding measure does not address looming cuts to Medicare that are scheduled to go into effect next year, although a Democratic aide has reportedly said that lawmakers intend to address the Medicare cuts in a separate bill before the end of the year. Later that evening, the Senate passed the continuing resolution in a 69-28 vote. Initially, several Republican Senators threatened to hold up debate on the spending measure in protest of the administration’s vaccination mandate for employers. However, Senate leaders eventually ended the stalemate by allowing Republicans to take a simple majority vote on an amendment to defund the vaccine mandate that ultimately failed along a party line vote.
Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio Announces Retirement
On December 1, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced he will not seek reelection in 2022, thus ending his 36-year career in Congress. DeFazio represents a competitive district in eastern Oregon that President Biden won by only four points in 2020, fueling concerns among Democrats that Republicans are poised to retake the majority in the House in 2022. The Oregon Congressman currently chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which he has served on since 1987. Since DeFazio’s retirement announcement, Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) have declared their candidacy for the top Democratic spot on the committee.
ICYMI: White House Hosts 99th National Christmas Tree Lighting
On Thursday night, the White House hosted its 99th National Christmas Tree lighting on the Ellipse in President’s Park. The event was hosted by LL Cool J and featured performances by Billy Porter, H.E.R., Keb’ Mo’, Maren Morris, Patti Labelle, and the Howard Gospel Choir. The event will be broadcast on TV Sunday December 5, and the tree will be open to the public from Saturday, December 4 until January 1, 2022. The National Christmas Tree is separate from the official White House Christmas Tree, which is displayed annually in the Blue Room of the Executive Mansion.