Vice President Kamala Harris attends the official launch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Southeast Asia regional office in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday.

Vice President Kamala Harris attends the official launch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Southeast Asia regional office in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday. Evelyn Hockstein/Pool Photo via AP

Coronavirus Roundup: Still No FDA Chief Nominee, CDC Opens New Southeast Asia Regional Office

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

The Food and Drug Administration's first full approval of a novel coronavirus vaccine on Monday draws attention again to the fact that over seven months into his administration, President Biden has yet to name an FDA commissioner nominee. Dr. Janet Woodcock, who has been serving as acting commissioner, was ruled out as a contender, Bloomberg reported on August 19. For comparison, President Trump and President Obama’s first FDA commissioners were confirmed in May of their first years in office. 

“I wish I had a nominee for the FDA commissioner standing behind that door so that I could present them to all of you,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, during the briefing on Monday. “There are a range of qualified and talented medical experts and doctors out there. We have not identified the right person yet, and hopefully we'll be able to do that soon.” 

Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, told Government Executive on Tuesday, “they have a phenomenally capable acting commissioner right now.” However, “the way our system is designed right now, having confirmed leadership is quite important” because confirmed leaders tend to take on larger projects and initiatives. 

The position of FDA commissioner became subject to Senate confirmation in 1988. The Partnership recently released a report that said the number of Senate-confirmed positions increased 59% from 1960 to 2016 and proposed reforms to streamline the appointments process. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

The Defense Department issued guidance on Wednesday about mandatory vaccinations for service members, including the National Guard.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told NPR on Tuesday it is unlikely that children under the age of 12 will be eligible for coronavirus vaccines before the end of 2021. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of NIH, gave a speedier timeline on Tuesday, saying the approval could come as early as the fall, Politico reported

Johnson & Johnson announced on Wednesday morning its booster shot provides a “rapid and robust” coronavirus antibodies increase, based on new interim data. “The company is engaging with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, European Medicines Agency and other health authorities regarding boosting with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine,” said a press release. “Johnson & Johnson continues to diligently generate and evaluate data from ongoing trials as well as emerging real-world evidence.”

For many federal contractors, it was “feast or famine” in 2020 due to the pandemic, according to the 12th annual Clarity Government Contracting Industry Survey by Deltek, Federal News Network reported on Tuesday. “The survey showed vendors with established relationships and long-term contracts saw business increase in 2020, while others who were trying to break into a market struggled more,” said the report. “Survey respondents said their win rate was relatively flat at 40%, with medium-sized businesses struggling more than others at 34% and small businesses seeing an increase of 3% over 2019.”

So far, only nine evacuees from Afghanistan to the United States have tested positive for the coronavirus, Yahoo News reported on Tuesday. Despite the low number, “COVID procedures and testing have slowed down the processing of evacuees,” said the report. “The Pentagon, the Department of Health and Human Services and the International Organization for Migration ‘are still identifying processes for transitioning evacuees that test positive for COVID-19.’” 

On Tuesday, President Biden received a classified report from the intelligence community about the origins of the coronavirus and it was inconclusive about whether the virus jumped from another animal to humans or was the result of a lab leak, The Washington Post reported. The intelligence report was the result of the 90-day review Biden ordered. “The intelligence community will seek within days to declassify elements of the report for potential public release, officials said.”

In a piece on Tuesday, Meritalk looked at the future of work for the federal workforce. “For the majority of federal employees – about 60% worked full-time from home during the pandemic, with that total cracking 80% or higher at many federal agencies – the future of work location continues to hang in the balance of evolving government policy that will be greatly influenced by the future track of the coronavirus,” said the report. “Heading toward two years of the ongoing experiment in distributed work, the evidence is compelling that the next normal is already here.”

Vice President Kamala Harris opened a new CDC Southeast Asia regional office in Vietnam on Wednesday. “Our longstanding partnership with the countries of the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region has strengthened public health laboratories, emergency operations centers, surveillance systems – all tools that are being called upon during the current pandemic,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, in a statement. “This new regional office will build upon these existing partnerships and help us grow stronger together.” The CDC noted in the press release it also recently opened regional offices in Eastern Europe/Central Asia (Georgia), the Middle East/North Africa (Oman), and South America (Brazil).

Upcoming: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 1 p.m. 

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