KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Closing In on Covid Vaccines for ‘The Littles’

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Children younger than 5 are the only population not eligible for a covid-19 vaccine in the U.S. But that may be about to change as an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration recommends authorization for that group.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, senators are struggling to write into legislative language a tentative deal reached over the weekend on gun control and mental health, and the Supreme Court says no to certain administration cuts to hospitals under the Medicare program.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Shefali Luthra of The 19th, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, and Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Even as vaccines will soon become available for the youngest Americans, the nation is mired in confusion surrounding vaccination and infectious disease. Some people have an easier time grasping how the science routinely shifts, while others feel they have been let down or even betrayed by the varying strength of vaccines and changing advice on how to avoid getting sick. This makes messaging extremely difficult. For instance, with the very young eligible for shots, parents would have to understand that, even vaccinated, their young children could still be infected with covid. Vaccination only makes it less likely their illness would be serious or require hospitalization.
  • The Supreme Court this week ruled on a complicated case involving a drug discount program known as 340B. It stems from a Trump administration effort to cut some payments to hospitals under the program. The court ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services did not have the authority to make the cuts. But the court did not, as some predicted it might, try to weaken the “Chevron deference,” a legal doctrine that effectively lets executive branch departments interpret the way they enforce federal laws. The court didn’t directly mention Chevron in this decision, but it might in another case waiting to be decided involving the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The situation surrounding the gun package pending in Congress gets more complicated the closer one looks. For instance, it is described as a gun bill, but it is also a mental health bill: A major component is funding for behavioral health community clinics. But that provision makes the measure pricey and requires finding cost offsets. Negotiations are likely to quickly grow partisan, making the July 4 deadline for the legislation quite challenging.
  • Abortion rates are rising, according to the latest analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, which for four decades has surveyed providers offering abortion services. The reasons for the increase aren’t clear. However, among the possibilities are that more states are allowing Medicaid programs to cover abortion, and that cuts made under the Trump administration to the federal family planning program, Title X, may have led to more unintended pregnancies and, consequently, more abortions.
  • The very states most likely to take steps to outlaw or restrict abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned are also the least likely to provide social programs to low-income parents, including tax credits, health insurance, and paid parental leave.
  • Legislation to renew expiring user fees that help pay for drug and device reviews by the FDA is making its way briskly through Congress, in contrast to just about every other legislative priority. In the Senate, though, the bill is attracting controversial add-ons, such as language to facilitate the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other developed nations. That could slow the progress of its reauthorization. In general, though, the bill is not the “Christmas tree” of amendments that in the past it may have been considered to be.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: Stat’s “The FTC Says It’s Getting Tougher on Hospital Consolidation. Antitrust Experts Aren’t Buying It,” by Tara Bannow

Shefali Luthra: Politico’s “Michigan’s Abortion Providers Brace for a Ban — Or a Surge,” by Alice Miranda Ollstein

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The Washington Post’s “You Agreed to What? Doctor Check-In Software Harvests Your Health Data,” by Geoffrey A. Fowler

Sandhya Raman: KHN’s “Race Is Often Used as Medical Shorthand for How Bodies Work. Some Doctors Want to Change That,” by Rae Ellen Bichell and Cara Anthony

Also discussed on this week’s podcast:

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


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