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Coronavirus Roundup: CDC Data Show Booster Effectiveness Against Omicron; the Pandemic’s Impact on Biden’s Regulatory Agenda

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

As the Biden administration marks its one year anniversary, Bridget Dooling, research professor at The George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, published a report for the Brookings Institution about Biden’s regulatory efforts. The coronavirus pandemic “continues to sop up an enormous amount of regulatory capability within the government,” as seen by the attempted vaccine rules for private businesses and health care workers, she wrote. “On the other hand, a bright spot is that the administration is signaling plans to continue certain pandemic flexibilities that have had large social benefits. One example is regulatory flexibilities that help people get access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.” 

Overall, the first year of the Biden administration involved the stopping and rolling back of Trump era policies and charting its own regulatory agenda, she continued. “Because regulatory policy takes time, years two and beyond will establish how much of Biden’s own agenda gets implemented, and how much of it can last.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

During the briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked whether or not the Office of Management and Budget will be requesting supplemental funding from Congress for pandemic-related purchases, such as antiviral treatments. “Well, as Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi said last weekend—and we agree with this— we're never going to let resources stand in the way of addressing the pandemic,” Psaki replied. “We have what we need to fight this moment in the crisis. But we have continued discussions and engagements with Congress about what we may need.” 

The Labor Department is delaying bringing employees back to offices until the end of February due to the Omicron variant, Bloomberg Law reported on Thursday.  

The Food and Drug Administration extended its temporary pause on certain domestic inspectors through February 4 due to Omicron, the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society reported

The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee published a “where are they now?” for seven major pandemic relief programs that have ended. Some ended as recently as December 31, 2021.

Data published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based on a recent study show that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna’s booster shots are 90% effective in protecting individuals from ending up in the hospital from the Omicron variant, The New York Times reported. “Booster shots also reduced the likelihood of a visit to an emergency department or urgent care clinic,” said the report. “The extra doses were most effective against infection and death among Americans aged 50 and older, the data showed.”

The Government Accountability Office issued a new report on the transition of vaccine responsibilities from the “Countermeasures Acceleration Group” (a collaboration of the Health and Human Services and Defense departments that was known as “Operation Warp Speed” under the Trump administration) to just HHS. This was required to happen by the end of 2021, per an April 2021 memo. “While HHS and DoD officials said they achieved transition milestones indicating that HHS is ready to assume responsibilities formerly led by DoD, it is unclear how HHS will address its workforce needs now that the [Countermeasures Acceleration Group] has dissolved,” said the report. “Moreover, HHS does not have a schedule that is consistent with best practices to help it manage remaining vaccine-related activities. Such a schedule could help HHS better plan actions and mitigate delays and be a source for identifying lessons learned for any future pandemics.” 

On Thursday, the Internal Revenue Service issued a list of five things to remember this tax season due to the “unprecedented circumstances around the pandemic and unique challenges for this tax season.” Government Executive previously reported on the challenges ahead for the agency for the third tax filing season during the pandemic.

Psaki was asked during the briefing on Friday about the IRS’s underfunding, backlog of unprocessed returns and other issues going into tax season. She said that much of this “predates this administration” and while the pandemic has challenged the IRS in terms of backlogs and customer service, years of underfunding have also had an impact. Psaki also noted that the president has proposed for $80 billion the IRS over the next decade to boost enforcement and fix the staffing storage. The Biden administration is calling Congress to "act now" to provide more funding to the agency.  

Starting on Saturday, the Homeland Security Department will require non-U.S. individuals coming into the United States through land ports of entry and ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders to show proof of their vaccination. This was previously announced in October. 

Upcoming: The White House COVID-19 team and public health officials will give a briefing at 1 p.m.

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