Axios Vitals

A briefcase with a red cross on the front.
September 27, 2021

😙 Good morning, Vitals readers. Today's newsletter is 862 words or a 3-minute read.

On tap this week: The House judiciary committee will hold a series of markups Wednesday on measures aimed at prescription drug access.

  • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra will testify before the Senate HELP committee Thursday on school reopening during COVID-19.

1 big thing: Health policies at stake in Dems' infrastructure bet

Illustration of many pills and coins falling
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Democrats are at a pivotal moment in their quest to expand health care coverage, slash the cost of prescription drugs and create a social structure that prioritizes people's health, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

Driving the news: Democrats have a clear list of health care priorities they'll be fighting for this week.

  • Among them is a measure to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits.
  • Another piece would address the overall price of many drugs — including insulin — and a new cap would be placed on how much seniors pay out-of-pocket for prescription drugs.
  • Millions of low-income people in states that haven't expanded Medicaid — including a disproportionate share of people of color in the South — would gain access to free health coverage.
  • Aspects of Democrats' plans dealing with Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act could reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 7 million in 2022 alone, according to one estimate.

Between the lines: Major health care impacts could also come from other areas of the infrastructure bill, including paid family leave.

  • Biden's plans call for 12 weeks of paid family leave to tend to a sick family member and for an additional $400 billion to expand comfort and care for elderly Americans.
  • The bill includes expansions of broadband access that could not only enable people of all means to work and study from anywhere — but to access internet capable of video telehealth visits.

🚧 Go deeper: The huge stakes of Biden's infrastructure bet

🎙 Listen up: The Axios Today podcast team looks at how negotiations in Congress this week could change your daily life.

2. Our COVID destiny

Illustration of a pattern of masks
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We're almost certainly going to have to live with the coronavirus, in some form, for the foreseeable future. What that means will be shaped in large part by what we do now, Caitlin wrote over the weekend.

Why it matters: More than half of the world — and a substantial portion of the U.S. — remains unvaccinated. Getting these rates up could mean the difference between the virus becoming a back-burner nuisance or something that continues to define our lives for years to come.

  • "You either eradicate, you eliminate it in certain countries, or you control it generally. We want to do better than just control. We want to be on the brink of elimination," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told Axios.

Between the lines: The future will be determined by three main variables: vaccination rates, variants and the duration of immunity.

The bottom line: "If the rest of the world, the developed world, pitches in, and we get essentially 70% of the world vaccinated as we finish 2022, that could make a major, major determinant of what's going to happen with COVID," Fauci said.

Read the latest Axios Deep Dive: COVID forever

3. Long COVID in kids

Studies suggest anywhere from 10% to 20% of kids who have had COVID experience some sort of persistent symptom, and there aren't yet well-established treatment standards, says Alexandra Yonts, the director of Children's National Hospital post-COVID program.

  • "I think it will come out in the long-term we're looking at a spectrum," of illnesses, she said.
  • "We've had children who literally just had lost of taste and smell ... ranging up to one of our older adolescent patients who wasn't able to stay awake for more than 30 minutes at a time."

The big picture: It highlights the importance of getting kids vaccinated when eligible, and of continuing to take precautions such as masking, especially among those who aren't vaccinated, Yonts said.

4. The new booster dilemma

Illustration of a syringe bent into the shape of a number three
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A rush of patients — and their questions — followed last week's news that the CDC and FDA would greenlight Pfizer-BioNTech COVID boosters, the Washington Post reported.

Driving the news: The recommendation that those older than 65, the immunocompromised and those in high-risk jobs includes a lot of people — but it left out most who received the Moderna shot and all who received Johnson & Johnson.

The wait for boosters news is making some non-Pfizer vaccine recipients a bit salty.

What they're saying: "After months of confusion, there remains more or less radio silence on the J&J question," wrote Benjamin Hart of the Intelligencer.

  • "Never mind that a growing body of evidence shows that we could use another dose more than the Pfizer Pfanatics or Moderna Mafia," he said.

What to watch: J&J said in a press release last week that a global study showed boosters helped increase the protection of its COVID shot. Moderna similarly has said data supports boosters and has submitted for FDA approval.

5. Pic du jour: A humanitarian crisis

A nurse tends to a malnourished child at a treatment centre in Yemen's western province of Hodeida.
Photo: Khaled Ziad/AFP via Getty Images

A nurse tends to a malnourished child at a treatment center in Yemen's western province of Hodeida on Saturday.

  • At least 5 million people in Yemen are on the brink of famine and a further 16 million are "marching toward starvation," The Guardian reports.

6. Catch up quick

Illustration of an apple wearing a covid mask.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios
  • Pfizer CEO: Company will submit data for children's vaccine to FDA in "days" (Axios)
  • The U.S. has enough COVID vaccines to meet demand for kids and boosters for adults (Axios)
  • COVID's hidden toll: 1 million children who lost parents (Wall Street Journal)
  • Masks in school help prevent COVID outbreaks and spread, CDC studies find (CNN)