Thursday's health stories

Ivana Saric
Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements

A woman gets vaccinated in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Puerto Rico will require booster shots for all public school students over the age of 12, as well as people working in entertainment and tourism, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced in a series of tweets Thursday.

Why it matters: Puerto Rico is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant. While the island had a positivity rate below 5% at the end of 2021, it has spiked to 36% in the new year, AP reported.

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Democratic Reps call on FDA to revise blood donation policy for gay men

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

LGBTQ advocates and Congress members are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to revise its blood donor policy on sexually active gay and bisexual men as the country faces a blood shortage.

Why it matters: The FDA requires gay and bisexual men abstain from same-sex sexual activity for 90 days in order to donate blood.

Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers, but it will allow a similar mandate to continue for workers at federally funded health care facilities.

Driving the news: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency measure went into effect on Monday. It said that employers with more than 100 workers must require their workers to either get vaccinated or tested every week.

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols

Teachers denounce the absence of protective materials in schools on Jan. 13 in Paris. Photo: Vincent Koebel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Teachers across France staged a mass walkout Thursday to protest ever-changing COVID-19 rules in the education sector, which they say fail to protect teachers and students.

Why it matters: Protests took place in towns across the country, forcing schools to close, though officials did not specify how many schools had to close Thursday. Some 58% of teachers in Paris participated, leading to nearly 200 school closures, the mayor's office said.

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Jumpstart launches fund for Black founders

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Nashville-based Jumpstart Health Investors launched Jumpstart Nova, the first U.S. venture fund to exclusively back Black-founded and led health care companies.

  • Major players including Eli Lilly, HCA Healthcare and the American Hospital Association injected $55 million.

Why it matters: A tiny fraction of existing health tech companies have Black leaders at the helm — a result of decades of systemic racism and the institutional barriers it has created.

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

The cost of testing

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Note: Prices vary within countries. France and Malaysia prices reflect legal price caps. Data: Axios research; Chart: Axios Visuals

The average cost of a single at-home rapid COVID test is about $12 in the U.S., more than twice the cost of a test in France and more than three times as much as in India.

The big picture: Places like Canada and the U.K. make tests available for free.

Biden announces purchase of additional 500 million COVID-19 tests

Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden announced Thursday that his administration is buying an additional 500 million rapid tests to distribute to people in the U.S. for free.

Driving the news: The administration previously bought 500 million rapid tests in December, which are scheduled to arrive this month. With the purchase announced today, the U.S. will have 1 billion tests in total "to meet future demand," Biden said.

Biden deploying military medical staff to help overwhelmed hospitals

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday announced a "surge" deployment of military medical personnel to support hospitals currently dealing with a spike of COVID-19 cases largely driven by the Omicron variant.

Driving the news: Omicron's surge in cases has led to a "high number of total hospitalizations," and hospitals are having to treat "more and more patients in the midst of staffing challenges and faced with a highly transmissible virus that does not spare our health care workers," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
Jan 13, 2022 - Health

America rethinks its endgame for COVID

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans' views of life with COVID, and the ultimate goal we're trying to achieve, appear to be evolving quickly at this point in the pandemic.

The big picture: In the beginning, efforts were aimed at reducing the overall spread of COVID. Over time, the focus has shifted to preventing the worst outcomes — hospitalizations and deaths.

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Biden's FDA nominee faces uncertain Senate vote

FDA commissioner nominee Robert Califf. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Robert Califf, President Biden's nominee to lead the FDA, is facing a surprisingly tight confirmation vote in the Senate.

Between the lines: A handful of Democrats have already announced their opposition to him over concerns about his drug industry ties or the FDA's record on the opioid epidemic, and several others may be on the fence.

  • But abortion politics — not to mention the opportunity to sink a Biden nominee — are complicating efforts to make up for these defectors with Republican votes.
Jan 13, 2022 - Health

FTC cracks down on DaVita's market power

DaVita has caught the FTC's attention. Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Federal Trade Commission has the dialysis industry in its crosshairs after it finalized restrictions on DaVita's latest deal in Utah.

The big picture: The FTC under Lina Khan has been heavily focused on antitrust authority over Big Tech, but the agency also has taken more critical looks at health care deals that further hurt competition and could lead to higher prices.

COVID deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket

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Data: N.Y. Times; Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Daily COVID infections have more than doubled over the past two weeks, reaching an average of more than 760,000 new infections per day in the U.S.

By the numbers: COVID deaths are also on the rise, up from about 1,200 per day two weeks ago to an average of over 1,700 per day now. The toll is a reminder that while Omicron is not as deadly as past variants, it’s still a serious threat for vulnerable people.

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Army disciplines nearly 3,000 soldiers for refusing COVID vaccine

Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The U.S. Army announced Wednesday it issued 2,994 written reprimands to soldiers for failing to comply with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate and relieved six active-duty commanders from leadership positions for refusing to get vaccinated.

The big picture: Two battalion commanders were among those removed, per an Army statement. It's received 2,128 religious exemption requests but has yet to grant any. It approved five medical exemptions. 96% of active-duty soldiers are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Go deeper: More than 200 Marines removed for defying COVID vaccine mandate

Jan 13, 2022 - Health

Quebec tax on unvaccinated Canadians drives surge in vaccine appointments

Quebec Premier François Legault. Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Quebec health officials said Wednesday bookings for COVID-19 vaccine first-dose appointments have jumped — with some 7,000 residents signing up after they announced plans to tax people who are unvaccinated for non-medical reasons.

The big picture: Quebec Premier François Legault said the Canadian province would impose a health tax on residents who refuse to get their first dose in the coming weeks that would be more than $100, per CBC News.