Coronavirus Roundup: Lawmakers Look to Expedite Stimulus Payments to Beneficiaries; NIH Questions AstraZeneca’s Data
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
About 25% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and 13.7% are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data. The states/territories that have administered the most doses per 100,000 of the total population are: Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Guam, American Samoa and the Republic of Palau. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee called on the president to prioritize giving vaccines to National Personnel Records Center employees, so they can go back into offices and resume providing the records veterans need to receive their benefits, Federal News Network reported on Tuesday. They said the center has been doing everything it can during the pandemic, but that “is not enough to keep up with the increasing backlog of record requests.”
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released a report earlier this week about how the Internal Revenue Service handled tax-filing season in 2020 amid pandemic disruptions. Looking forward, “IRS management stated that they will continue to offer overtime and plan to increase fiscal year 2021 staffing,” said the report. Also, the agency will allow telework for the current filing season that is underway and “is looking into ways to expand telework opportunities to transition the majority of its workforce to telework and to make certain types of work portable.” The review was conducted from November 2019 through December 2020, so some of these changes could have already occurred.
House Democrats wrote to the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration on Monday urging them to move faster to deliver stimulus payments to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement Board and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries. “We were alarmed to learn recently that most [of them] who are not required to file a tax return have not yet received their payments and the IRS is unable to provide an expected timeline for these payments,” the lawmakers wrote. “Some of our most vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities, including veterans who served our country with honor, are unable to pay for basic necessities while they wait for their overdue payments.”
On Tuesday the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases released a statement saying AstraZeneca “may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data,” on its coronavirus vaccine that it developed with the University of Oxford. It was the agency’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board, specifically, that raised concerns. The U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority and National Institutes of Health, which houses NIAID, provided funding for the trial.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Stat News he “was sort of stunned” by this revelation. “We just felt we could not remain silent. Because if we did remain silent, we could be understandably accused of covering something up. And we definitely didn’t want to be in that position.”
AstraZeneca said the results it released “were based on a pre-specified interim analysis,” and it would “immediately engage with the independent data safety monitoring board to share our primary analysis with the most up to date efficacy data.”
A group of bipartisan senators that introduced a bill to extend the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program shared a letter from 95 organizations on Tuesday endorsing the legislation. “While we realize the [SBA] is under tremendous time constraints and is struggling with internal resource issues, our members are highly concerned by the lack of progress on major [PPP] processing issues, including hold/error codes and application rejections due to taxpayer identification number issues or mismatches, in addition to many unresolved technical problems with the current PPP process,” the organizations wrote. “These delays and denials may put many applicants in danger of not making the March 31st authorization deadline.” The bill would extend it to May 31, 2021. The House passed a similar version last week.
Michael Horowitz, Justice IG, testified before a House subcommittee on Wednesday about management challenges at the Justice Department, which included the coronavirus response. He said the department is still challenged with keeping employees, contractors, federal inmates and detainees safe and “performing its enforcement and national security responsibilities” during the pandemic. Also, the pandemic has made it even more difficult for the IG’s office to access and store "highly sensitive classified information outside of the Washington, D.C. area,” which has led to more delays in its “efforts to perform critically important national security-related work.”
The Biden administration enlisted the Christian Broadcasting Network Inc., Nascar and the American Farm Bureau Federation to persuade those they think they can’t reach to get the vaccine, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
Moncef Slaoui, the former co-leader of “Operation Warp Speed” was fired from the board of directors of Galvani, a joint venture between Verily and GlaxoSmithKline to develop bioelectronic medicines, due to allegations of sexual harassment, Stat News reported on Wednesday. The allegations were from a few years ago when Slaoui worked at GlaxoSmithKline. In addition to the board removal, GlaxoSmithKline is going to rename its Slaoui Center for Vaccines Research in Rockville, Maryland, according to the report.
Upcoming: Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse, and Member of the Council of Economic Advisers Heather Boushey will give a briefing at 12:30 p.m.
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