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Coronavirus Roundup: Concerns Over Lack of FDA Administrator Nominee; Agencies Consider Post-Pandemic Work Structure

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

After touring the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, President Biden announced, “we're now on track to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July,” due to recent vaccine contracts with Pfizer and Moderna. In three weeks since Inauguration Day, “we've now purchased enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all Americans,” he said. “In just three weeks, you deployed over 1,000 federal staff to vaccination sites around the country” and “to date, we’ve also provided $3 billion to 37 states and territories and tribes to bolster existing vaccination centers and create more of the centers to administer.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Government Accountability Office launched a tracker to follow the vaccine development progress by the six companies that received funding under “Operation Warp Speed,” which started in May 2020. It should be noted that Pfizer/BioNTech, one of the two companies to receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine, did not receive any federal money for vaccine development, but rather large-scale manufacturing. Moderna, the second company, received funding for vaccine research and development. A few days before Inauguration, incoming White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is “phasing in a new structure” for “Operation Warp Speed,” which they will rename. 

The Associated Press published a deep dive on Thursday about the Biden administration’s “war” on the pandemic. “In one key instance, the more hands-on federal response has meant the Biden White House has taken a step back,” the report said. “Where the Trump White House got involved in editing [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance for businesses, travel and schools — prompting complaints about meddling with science and leading some states to adopt their own more stringent protocols — the Biden administration is leaving it to career scientists to craft policies.” 

The CDC is expected to release new guidance on Friday about school reopenings; however, that “won’t necessarily end the legal and political battles playing out across the country between parents, teachers, labor unions and state and local officials,” Politico reported

Some FDA veterans and public health and pharmaceutical experts are frustrated that Biden has yet to name an administrator to lead the agency, after making selections to lead the CDC and Health and Human Services Department in early December, The Washington Post reported. This has “helped fuel an increasingly bitter battle between supporters of the two people most frequently mentioned for the post: longtime FDA drug regulator Janet Woodcock and Johns Hopkins health expert Josh Sharfstein, a former top FDA official and former top Maryland health official,” said the report. “Biden named Woodcock acting commissioner after Stephen Hahn, the Trump administration’s last commissioner, left in January.” 

After almost a year of maximized telework, some agency human capital officers are looking at the post-pandemic work structure, Federal News Network reported on Thursday. “There’s a lot more work than we thought that could be performed fully remotely,” Jane Datta, associate administrator and chief human capital officer for NASA, said at a virtual event on Tuesday. “That then opens the door for us to consider what workforce needs there might be that could be addressed by full time telework or remote work. It’s really a way to keep people blending their work and home lives, addressing their particular needs for how they want to work.”

In October, President Trump was much sicker with coronavirus than publicly acknowledged, The New York Times reported on Thursday. “His prognosis became so worrisome before he was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center that officials believed he would need to be put on a ventilator,” said the report. Also, “on the night of his diagnosis, Oct. 1, White House officials scrambled to get the Regeneron antibody cocktail — not at that point authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment — to Mr. Trump.” FDA officials “worked to clear the drug through a standard process known as an emergency investigational new drug application, often used for very ill patients who agree to take an experimental drug still being tested in clinical trials.” 

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 12:30 p.m.

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