Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. Take a mental break with these photos of the very large dog greeting lawmakers and reporters at the Capitol today.
Today: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause will continue, the Biden administration takes steps to rollback Trump-era family planning changes, and drug overdoses are on the rise amid the pandemic.
Let’s start with J&J:
There was a big CDC advisory committee meeting today….and no decision on the J&J vaccine
An independent advisory group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday postponed making a recommendation about the continued use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
As a result, the current pause is likely to continue until the panel can gather more evidence about the risk of rare blood clots.
During an emergency meeting, members of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said they did not feel comfortable making a decision about whether to continue vaccinations yet, because there was not enough evidence about the patients who experienced the serious, but rare, side effects.
Panel members said they wanted more information about the people who may be most at risk for blood clots, like age, gender and other factors.
Check back soon: The panel did not set a date on when they will meet again, but it could be in the next week to 10 days. There is also a regularly scheduled meeting on May 5.
Federal health officials recommended the pause on Tuesday, to allow the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to review six cases of a rare and severe blood clot reported among the 7 million people who received the shot.
Biden administration begins to undo Trump changes to family planning program
The Biden administration on Wednesday took the first steps to undo Trump-era restrictions on the Title X federally funded family planning program, which effectively prevented clinics that referred patients for abortions from receiving federal funding.
A proposed rule from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published Wednesday would eventually revoke the restrictions put in place by the Trump administration, which critics called a domestic “gag” rule.
Not an immediate change: However, the proposal did not immediately revoke the prior policy, and the Trump rules will remain in place until the current administration formally ends them through a final rule, which could take months.
A 30-day public comment period begins April 15, when the proposal is formally published.
The proposed rule would largely revert the Title X program to the way it was run from 2000 until the Trump administration changed the rules in 2019.
Background: The Trump administration issued rules in 2019 banning any providers that receive Title X funds from referring people for abortions while mandating referrals to prenatal services for all pregnant patients.
After the rules took effect, about one-quarter of nearly 4,000 providers left the program, arguing they could not in good conscience agree not to provide patients with information about abortion. As a result, several states were left with no Title X providers.
Drug overdose deaths climbed during early months of pandemic
The U.S. drug overdose death toll climbed during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to preliminary data from the CDC.
In statistics released Wednesday, the CDC said more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period that started in October 2019 and ended in September 2020.
The largest increases in drug overdose deaths occurred in the 12-month periods that ended in April and May 2020, months early in the pandemic when many states had some form of shutdown in place.
Overall, the preliminary data found a 29 percent increase in overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, when compared to the year period ending in September 2019.
What this means: The surge in drug overdose deaths represents a setback after overdose fatalities fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades. But the COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed the issue, drawing resources away from addressing drug use and toward the pandemic.
And in the other vaccine having blood clot issues: Denmark becomes first European country to drop AstraZeneca vaccine
Denmark on Wednesday announced that it will no longer be administering AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine amid concerns on links to rare blood clots, making it the first European country to make its suspension permanent.
Danish Health Authority head Soren Brostrom said in a statement that investigations into the blood clots among some individuals who received the AstraZeneca shot “showed real and serious side effects.”
“Based on an overall consideration, we have therefore chosen to continue the vaccination program for all target groups without this vaccine,” Brostrom said Wednesday, according to Reuters.
Denmark was the first in a wave of countries to announce a suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March over concerns of a potential connection between the inoculation and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a brain blood clot.
While a safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said last week that a “possible link” exists between the vaccine and blood clots, it argued that the benefits of the inoculation to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the risks.
CDC study: Leaving middle seat open on planes could reduce COVID-19 exposure
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found leaving the middle seat vacant on planes could reduce COVID-19 exposure for passengers, supporting a practice that has now been abandoned by most airlines.
The research released on Wednesday predicted that keeping the middle seat empty on flights could reduce the risk of exposure by 23 percent to 57 percent depending on the seating occupancy model.
The highest reduction of exposure, at 57 percent, was observed when studying three rows of passengers with and without passengers in the middle of three seats.
“These data suggest that increasing physical distance between passengers and lowering passenger density could help reduce potential COVID-19 exposures during air travel,” the study reads. “Physical distancing of airplane passengers, including through policies such as middle seat vacancy, could provide additional reductions in SARS-CoV-2 exposure risk.”
No masks: But the study did not examine how masks could affect the COVID-19 exposure in different seating arrangements because the original portion of the study at Kansas State University was conducted in 2017, before the coronavirus pandemic.
Delta Air Lines is the only U.S. airline that is currently blocking passengers from booking middle seats but has announced the seats will become available starting in May.
What we’re reading
Underserved communities bear brunt of paused Johnson & Johnson rollout (Washington Post)
What the Coronavirus Variants Mean for Testing (New York Times)
Red states on U.S. electoral map lagging on vaccinations (Associated Press)
State by state
Only 30% of L.A. County men got COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 44% of women. Why the disparity? (Los Angeles Times)
Texas House gives initial OK to Medicaid coverage expansion for mothers until one year postpartum (Austin American-Statesman)
COVID tests provide crucial clues about how to fight coronavirus, but they’ve fallen in Washington state (Seattle Times)
North Dakota legislature passes bill requiring the state health officer to be a physician (KFYR)