Coronavirus Roundup: The Federal Response to the Omicron Variant
There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
During remarks on Monday, President Biden doubled down on his encouragement to get vaccinations and booster shots due to the new coronavirus variant, omicron, which was first detected in South Africa.
“We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed,” he said. “But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed. And I will also direct the [Food and Drug Administration] and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to use the fastest process available—without cutting any corners for safety—to get such vaccines approved and, on the market, if needed.”
The president added that on Thursday he will be releasing a strategy on fighting COVID-19 this winter, “not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
Following the data released last week on compliance with the federal employee vaccine mandate and vaccination rates, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked during the briefing on Monday if the data on how many federal workers requested exemptions and how many were granted should be released publicly. Psaki replied, for “agency by agency, I would encourage you to ask the agencies for additional data.”
In a follow-up question, a reporter said the Veterans Affairs Department has not provided such information for health care workers, despite a request. “Well, again, we put out quite a bit of transparent data about—that included what percentage of people received exemptions based on just subtraction, as well as what percentage of people were vaccinated,” said Psaki. “I can see if there's any additional data we'll provide.”
Pfizer/BioNTech are expected to apply for approval for their booster shots for 16 and 17 year olds and the FDA “could authorize extra shots within roughly a week,” The New York Times reported on Monday.
The CDC strengthened its recommendation on booster shots on Monday following the emergence of the omicron variant. “Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
The vaccine mandate for federal contractors applies to “contracts for services or real property construction, not contracts for manufacturing goods such as ships, aircraft, vehicles and weapons,” Defense News reported on Monday. “Individual companies, of course, may choose to mandate vaccines for their employees regardless of how the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] and the White House choose to enforce the executive order.”
A federal judge in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction on the vaccine mandate for certain health care workers in 10 states. “The lawsuit is one of four challenges the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services faces against the rule,” Bloomberg reported on Monday. “More than half of states are now involved in one of the challenges, which all claim the mandate will exacerbate staffing shortages. A federal judge in Florida declined to block the rule in a separate suit.”
The Public Citizen Litigation Group filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of three former Occupational Safety and Health Administration administrators on Tuesday supporting the lifting of the temporary hold on the vaccine rule for private businesses. “OSHA’s authority to protect workers against workplace exposures to viruses and other disease-causing agents is clear,” said Scott Nelson, attorney for Public Citizen Litigation Group. “The agency’s emergency COVID-19 standard must be allowed to go into effect to prevent more needless, preventable loss of life.”
The Labor Department announced on Tuesday it has extended the comment period on the emergency temporary standard for the OSHA vaccine to January 19, 2022. OSHA has suspended implementation and enforcement of the standard due to the ongoing litigation.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee released its most recent semi-annual report on Tuesday, which covers April 1 to September 30, 2021. During this period, federal workforce safety was one of the top challenges identified, as there were 12 reports issued by the inspectors general community on this.
In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Gayle Smith, outdoing coordinator for global COVID-19 response and health security, for her service as she heads back to the ONE Campaign. “Eight months after asking Gayle to join the team, the United States has donated more than 260 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries and economies worldwide—well on our way to fulfilling President Biden’s commitment of 1.2 billion doses,” Blinken said. “We have important work ahead, which is why Mary Beth Goodman, a senior member of State’s COVID team, and former special assistant to the president and [National Security Council] senior director for global development and humanitarian response, will serve as acting coordinator for global COVID response and health security.”
Upcoming: The White House coronavirus response team and public health officials will give a briefing at 12:30 p.m.
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