HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Pfizer Approval Boosts Minority Outreach

Covid-19 vaccination rates in minority communities—driven by fears of the delta variant—surged past those of White Americans, but not enough shots are getting into arms to close the racial gap on new infections and hospitalizations.

Full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine and a similar upcoming review of Moderna’s dose could shift the conversation among holdouts in communities with histories of medical and government skepticism, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. But it will take conversations from trustworthy friends and community leaders to potentially win them over.

“With the FDA approval, we need the people that can have that local conversation and that family to family conversation, to really double down that we know we all care for each other,” said Juliet Choi, president and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “It’s not that government official that’s going to crack that net.”

Prior to the delta surge, Black and Hispanic Americans were almost three times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die of Covid-19 than were White Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The more infectious delta strain has pushed more people to get the vaccine, but minority advocates said additional outreach is necessary even as their rates of vaccination outpace the White community.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Aug. 23. Moderna said on Aug. 25 it had completed the application process for full approval of its Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S.

Because communities of color aren’t monolithic, vaccine advocates plan to shift the talks away from the federal approval to other concerns around the virus, such as misinformation and distrust in the vaccine process.

Despite concerns around the injection, Covid-19 vaccinations among Black and Hispanic communities saw a slight uptick, particularly in southern states where the virus has hit the hardest, according to Aug. 13 data from Bloomberg News. Overall, states tracked by Bloomberg have vaccinated 4.3% of Hispanic people, 3.7% of Black people, and 2.6% of White people from mid-July to mid-August. Read more from Ayanna Alexander.

More on the Pandemic

Supreme Court Lifts Biden’s Eviction Pause: A divided U.S. Supreme Court lifted the Biden administration’s moratorium on evictions, ending protections for millions of people who have fallen behind on rent payments during the Covid-19 pandemic. Siding with landlords who said they were being subjected to unwarranted hardships, the court said the moratorium exceeded the authority of the CDC. The court had left intact a previous CDC moratorium in June, but Justice Brett Kavanaugh said at the time that congressional authorization would be required for any further extension. Read more from Greg Stohr.

U.S. to Ship 2 Million Vaccines to South Africa: The U.S. will ship 2.2 million coronavirus vaccine doses to South Africa today, a show of support to one of the countries that has led the push to loosen restrictions on global production and shrink the gap between wealthy and developing nations. The 2.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be shipped today through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative, and arrive Saturday, an official familiar with plans said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The U.S. has now donated nearly 8 million doses to South Africa and 25 million to Africa overall, the official said. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

Senators Want Provider Relief Fund Disbursements: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) led 41 colleagues in a bipartisan letter calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to distribute remaining funding in the Provider Relief Fund and other relief programs. Congress has appropriated $178 billion for the fund, but “the Government Accountability Office recently reported that 25 percent of the funding remains unspent,” they said in their letter.

CVS Limits Purchases of Rapid Tests: CVS Health is limiting customers’ purchases of rapid, over-the-counter Covid-19 tests, with a maximum of six packages available online and four in its pharmacies, as the spread of the delta variant spurs demand. Put in place this week, the limits apply to Abbott’s BinaxNOW along with a test from the startup Ellume, according to a CVS spokesperson. Both tests, which are available without a prescription, have seen growing interest amid the delta variant’s surge. Emma Court has more.

FCC Approves $42 Million for Pandemic Telehealth Program: The Federal Communications Commission yesterday approved $42 million in funding for telehealth services during the pandemic. This is the second round of funds allocated under the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program and covers an initial set of 62 applications. The applicants that received funding include the hardest-hit and lowest-income parts of the U.S., tribal communities, and unfunded states, acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said, Maria Curi reports.

Israeli Outbreak Hits Record Despite Vaccinations: Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, posted a record number of coronavirus infections as it struggles to contain the latest delta wave of the virus. It took an early and aggressive approach to immunizing its people, with more than 72% of the population now covered using the most effective mRNA shots available. It was also the first to approve booster doses in late July. Deaths and hospitalizations also remain lower, though the trends are showing a worrisome increase for both. Read more from Jinshan Hong and Michelle Fay Cortez.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Cigna Expands ACA Footprint in Latest Lift for Health Law: Cigna is expanding its offerings of Affordable Care Act health plans next year to three new states, the latest sign that insurers are embracing a market that some had fled when Obamacare’s political fortunes looked shakier. Health insurers that were once lukewarm on selling ACA coverage now see it as a growing and profitable business. The marketplaces have been bolstered by expanded subsidies passed in the American Rescue Plan. John Tozzi has more.

Notre Dame Students’ Suit for Birth Control Coverage on Hold: University of Notre Dame students’ lawsuit to force the school to comply with an Obamacare provision requiring it to include birth control coverage in its health plans has been paused for now, pending federal action. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana paused the lawsuit at the parties’ request after HHS said it’s planning to release rules governing the coverage mandate in the next six months. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

USDA Prepares Swine Fever ‘Protection Zone’: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing to set up a “Foreign Animal Disease Protection Zone” around Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to prevent the spread of African swine fever to the U.S. mainland in case the pig disease jumps to the islands from the Dominican Republic. Once the zone is established, movement of live swine and products out of the region will be restricted and surveillance measures stepped up to quickly detect any outbreak, the agency announced, Mike Dorning reports.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at [email protected]; Giuseppe Macri at [email protected]; Michaela Ross at [email protected]