Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announced he is stepping down at the end of the year.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announced he is stepping down at the end of the year. Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP, File

​​Coronavirus Roundup: Vaccine Guidance for Defense Civilians; NIH Director to Step Down

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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on Tuesday about mental health challenges among adults during the pandemic. “The frequency of anxiety and depression symptoms experienced among U.S. adults increased after August 2020 and peaked during December 2020–January 2021,” said the report. “The frequency of symptoms subsequently decreased but in June 2021 remained elevated compared with estimates from the 2019 [National Health Interview Survey]. The relative increases and decreases in frequency of reported symptoms of anxiety and depression at both the national and state levels mirrored the national weekly number of new COVID-19 cases during the same period.” 

The results of the study show that “mental health services and resources, including telehealth behavioral services, are critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, announced on Tuesday he will be stepping down at the end of the year. He is the longest serving presidentially appointed NIH director, having served under three presidents. Overall, Collins has been with the agency for three decades. 

“He helped finish the sequencing and mapping of the human genome to unlock the mysteries of our DNA,” said President Biden in a statement. “Dr. Collins was asked to continue to lead the NIH by President Trump and was central in the NIH’s unprecedented efforts to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. After I was elected president, Dr. Collins was one of the first people I asked to stay in his role with the nation facing one of the worst public health crises in our history.” Biden said he also wanted Collins to stay “to help lay the groundwork for the first-of-its-kind Advanced Research Project Agency for Health, ARPA-H, to harness all of our knowledge and resources to better detect, treat, and cure diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer.” 

When asked about a replacement for Collins during a press gaggle on Tuesday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she wouldn’t be making any announcements today. “In the meantime, the American people can rest assured that there is strong leadership across NIH and the department management—managing the COVID-19 pandemic and more.”

Jean-Pierre was also asked about a Food and Drug Administration commissioner nominee in the wake of this news. “The role of the FDA commissioner is critically important, as you all know, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “We have strong acting leadership in place that is playing an important role in our COVID-19 response and beyond and look forward to sharing a nominee with the required expertise and leadership for this job. So, hopefully, we'll have something soon to share.”

Defense Department civilian employees must be fully vaccinated by November 22, unless they receive an exemption, according to guidance released on Monday. “New DoD civilian employees must be fully vaccinated by their entry on duty (start) date or November 22, 2021, whichever is later,” said the memo. “Additional guidance, including procedures for processing vaccination exemption requests, will be published by the under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.” 

Johnson & Johnson announced on Tuesday it submitted an application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its booster shot. Also on Tuesday, AstraZeneca said it applied to the FDA for approval for its preventative coronavirus treatment.

Carlo de Notaristefani the “guru of COVID-19 vaccine production and manufacturing, has left the administration after working for 17 months on the team formerly known as Operation Warp Speed” that is now called the “Countermeasures Acceleration Group,” Politico reported on Tuesday. “Several additional [group] members, including [Gen. Gustave] Perna and other officials from the Department of Defense, left the team this summer, and it’s now fully under [Health and Human Services Department] leadership.”

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis is seeking records from the Trump administration following new evidence that suggests a “questionable” role the Trump White House had in approaching a national security loan to a trucking company using coronavirus relief funds. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., select committee chairman, sent a letter to David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, on Tuesday asking for a slew of documents by November 5. 

The union that represents Smithsonian employees told members in an email, obtained by Government Executive, on Tuesday that it is working to “encourage Smithsonian upper management to cooperate more with the union in keeping everyone that has to report to work each day safe,” but “unfortunately” has been met with “resistance.”

“Positive COVID-19 cases are not being reported to the union in a timely manner, and when this was raised with [Labor and Employee Relations] yesterday, part of their response was, ‘please note that while we try to ensure that information regarding COVID-19 positive cases is provided to the union when received, it is done as a courtesy for your general awareness, not an obligation,’” the email said. “This was after informing the Local of 12 new COVID-19 cases within the last 14 days at different museums on the Mall. Each time we are told there were no contacts, which equates to no risk for COVID-19 transmission.” The Smithsonian declined to comment as they don’t discuss their negotiations with the labor board. 

Upcoming:

  • The White House COVID-19 Response Team and public health officials will give a briefing at 3 p.m.
  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will give a briefing at 3:30 p.m.

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the coronavirus? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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