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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Michael Caputo. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In September, Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo privately pitched one branch of the agency's $250 million coronavirus ad campaign with the theme: "Helping the President will Help the Country," according to documents released by House Democrats on the Oversight Committee on Thursday.

Why it matters: These are the latest documents that suggest the deep politicization of the Trump administration's coronavirus response.

  • Context: Caputo, a former member of the Trump campaign with no scientific background, reportedly accused career government scientists of "sedition" in September and said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a “resistance unit” that's trying to undermine Trump, per the New York Times.
  • Politico and trade publication PRWeek first detailed the agency's $250 million contract with a communications firm to "defeat despair and inspire hope" about the coronavirus pandemic.

Details: In a Sept. 15 meeting with subcontractor Burson Cohn & Wolfe and Atlas Research, which received a separate $15 million contract with HHS, Caputo pushed to title the agency's coronavirus ad campaign "Helping the President will Help the Country."

  • Caputo "attempted to insert himself into the process for reviewing public service announcements (PSAs)," the committee says — which "eventually provoked FDA career staff to warn contractors against compliance with his unauthorized and unethical interference."
  • Fors Marsh, the strategic communications firm that received the initial $250 million contract, laid out four "crisis scenarios" when planning for the campaign ad — including "accusations of using a pubic health campaign to promote a political message, instead of a scientific one."

Of note: One document obtained by the Oversight Committee indicated the Trump administration asked contractors to vet at least 274 celebrities for the ad campaign and rejected those who had publicly criticized the president or supported gay rights.

The other side: "While testifying before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Secretary Azar announced that he had 'ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,'" an HHS spokesperson said.

Read the Oversight Committee’s letter to HHS.

Go deeper

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

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