Sep 22, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,050, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: The CDC's crumbling reputation

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly removed new guidance saying that the coronavirus spreads via aerosols from its website yesterday, drawing a fresh barrage of criticism.

The big picture: Concerns about the CDC's competence and politicization have only grown as the pandemic rages on.

Driving the news: The agency posted in a note on its website saying the guidance that acknowledged airborne transmission was only a draft, and had been published in error.

  • The update came months after scientists pushed for the agency to acknowledge the disease can spread through the air.
  • "CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted," the website now states.

Between the lines: The agency only last week reversed controversial guidance that said asymptomatic people don't need to be tested for the virus, after the New York Times reported that the guidance wasn't written by CDC scientists and was posted over their objections.

  • And on Friday, NYT reported that two former top Health and Human Services officials "tried to browbeat career officials at the CDC at the height of the pandemic, challenging the science behind their public statements and trying to silence agency staff."
  • Criticism of the agency began right at the onset of the pandemic, when it produced a faulty diagnostic test that ultimately prevented the U.S. from catching the spread of the virus early on.

My thought bubble: The CDC is one of many institutions on the receiving end of scathing criticism for its handling of the pandemic. But it's a jarring about-face for an agency once globally admired and generally considered immune from political interference.

What they're saying: "As with any HHS agency, we expect the CDC to lead with science and data and communicate transparently and accurately with the American people," said an HHS spokesperson.

2. Vaccine resistance grows
Data: Axios/Ipsos surveys. 1,100 U.S adults surveyed Aug. 28-31, 2020, and 1,008 U.S. adults surveyed Sept. 18-21,2020; Chart: Axios Visuals

The share of Americans eager to try a first-generation coronavirus vaccine dropped significantly in the latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, as President Trump hyped suggestions that one could be ready before the election.

Why it matters: As the U.S. reaches a milestone of 200,000 deaths, this underscores the risks of politicizing the virus and its treatments, Axios' Margaret Talev writes.

  • The trend is taking place among Republicans as well as Democrats.
  • It's another warning of the potential difficulties health authorities will face in convincing enough Americans that a vaccine is safe and effective.

The big picture: Americans don't see the vaccine as a silver bullet right now. Many respondents in Week 25 of our national survey feel it's risky and at least want to wait and see how others do. And only half are prepared to pay out of pocket for it.

  • Just 13% say they'd be willing to try it immediately.

Between the lines: 38% of respondents expect their health insurance to pay for them to get the vaccine if they decide to get one; 11% think the federal government will cover costs; and only 4% think they'll have to pick up the tab themselves.

  • The biggest share expect to get it from their doctor (38%), followed by a pharmacy (17%), their employer (6%) or a drive-thru (5%).

Go deeper.

3. The price of Washington's stimulus failure

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

America's elected representatives have failed America.

Why it matters: The bipartisan inability to deliver economic stimulus could impede economic growth for months to come, Axios' Alayna Treene and Dan Primack write.

  • It will create widespread damage across America — from small businesses to large industries to schools and day cares — and leave many Americans without jobs or homes.

State of play: The initial economic stimulus, called the CARES Act, was only designed to last through the summer. Since then, congressional leaders have become too entrenched in their partisan positions to reach a deal on anything else.

  • Before Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death Friday, most lawmakers and Hill staff believed there was little chance of passing a new stimulus package before the election. Now, they privately admit there’s virtually no shot.

How this effects the health care industry: The hospital industry is pushing Congress for more relief, even though some health systems are reporting huge profits.

  • Safety net hospitals, which provide services regardless of a patient's ability to pay, are struggling to stay afloat just when they're needed most.
  • Consumer spending impacts health service providers, including hospitals. It is likely that more Americans would visit doctors if they had another $1,200 check in their pockets.
  • Others will forgo health care, or following public health recommendations, in favor of paying rent or grocery bills.

Read more about the fallout.

4. 2020 *wasn't* much of a health care election
Data: NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll; Note: ±3.8% margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Health care wasn't the top issue heading into the 2020 election — and then Ginsburg died.

Between the lines: This poll was conducted in the days before her death, which has significantly increased the threat to the Affordable Care Act and thus the threat to the law's pre-existing conditions protections.

  • Flashback: Democrats won the House in 2018 after running campaigns heavily focused on health care, an especially potent issue after the GOP's failed attempt to repeal and replace the ACA in 2017.
  • A pending lawsuit, brought by GOP attorneys general and supported by the Trump administration, is scheduled to be argued before the Supreme Court the week after the election. If successful, it could have a more chaotic effect than almost anything that Republicans proposed in 2017.

What we're watching: Even among Democrats, only 15% of respondents said that health care was their most important issue. But that could easily change now that the ACA is imminently at risk.

5. Catch up quick

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A coalition of 156 countries agreed Monday to a "landmark" agreement aimed at the fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the globe, the World Health Organization announced Monday. The U.S. is not participating in the scheme.

The U.K. could see up to 50,000 coronavirus cases per day by mid-October if current growth continues, top scientific advisers warned in a televised address from Downing Street on Monday.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced all domestic pandemic restrictions will be lifted in her country from midnight Monday except in Auckland, where they'll be eased late Wednesday. New Zealand has been working to stamp out a cluster in its most populous city since the re-emergence of COVID-19.

The managing editor of the conservative blog RedState, who under a pseudonym has attacked officials leading the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, was actually a public affairs specialist for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, The Daily Beast reports.