Coronavirus Update: Biden’s COVID program faces uncertainty after funding dropped from bill, and Moderna to trial omicron-specific booster
President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 program faced some uncertainty Thursday, after U.S. lawmakers passed a massive new bill that would fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, as well as further aid Ukraine, but a last-minute snag resulted in COVID-19 money being dropped.
The bill originally contained $15.6 billion for both domestic and international efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes testing, treatment and prevention.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the funding is being dropped, as Democrats disagreed over how it was paid for — by taking money from states — as Republicans refused to spend new money to respond to COVID.
The California Democrat suggested lawmakers would look for another avenue to approve the money.
“It is heartbreaking to remove the COVID funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed COVID assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues.
The news comes as the U.S. is averaging 37,685 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 51% from two weeks ago. The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 33,761, down 44% from two weeks ago.
Deaths are averaging 1,369 a day, down 28% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.
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Vaccine maker Moderna Inc.
said it began dosing patients in a Phase 2 clinical study assessing its experimental bivalent omicron-specific booster. This booster candidate has two components: an omicron-specific booster, and the COVID-19 vaccine, which is based on the original strain of the virus.
“Our goal has been to remain ahead of the virus, and we are committed to generating and sharing data with public health authorities as they prepare for the fall booster season,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release.
The study will enroll 375 adults at 20 sites in the U.S. Moderna is also testing a standalone omicron-specific booster candidate in a separate study.
What is an endemic and how will we know when Covid-19 becomes one? WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez breaks down how public-health experts assess when a virus like Covid-19 enters an endemic stage. Photo: Michael Nagle/Zuma Press
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Germany set another record one-day COVID case tally on Thursday, just as the country is set to drop its restrictions, Reuters reported. Germany reported 262,752 new infections, 52,079 more than a week ago, with the seven-day incidence rate rising to 1,389 infections per 100,000 people, from 1,319 a day earlier. Another 259 people died, bringing the total death toll to 125,023. The health ministry declared that the peak of the latest wave of the pandemic had been passed last week, when the country’s federal states agreed to relax coronavirus rules, including allowing discos and nightclubs to open again.
See: Global tally of COVID cases tops 450 million, but WHO’s weekly update shows cases falling in most of the world
• Slovakia has started to administer the COVID vaccine developed by Novavax Inc.
the Slovak Spectator reported, and officials are hoping the more conventional vaccine will persuade the vaccine-hesitant to get their shots. Unlike the current vaccines that are based on either mRNA technology or is a viral vector vaccine like the Johnson & Johnson one, Novavax’s vaccine is similar to the ones that have been used for decades for flu, hepatitis or cervical cancer. Some 1,929 Slovaks have registered for the shot as of March 10.
• Korean boy band B TS performed live in Seoul for the first time in over two years since the start of the pandemic, the New York Times reported. The multibillion-dollar act performed live in Los Angeles in November, but for most of the pandemic it has been live streaming instead. It set a Guinness world record for attracted the most viewers to a livestreamed event.
• Australian virologists have found a drug-resistant mutation in the COVID virus associated with the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab and say it could spread in the community, the Guardian reported. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday and are based on an analysis of the first 100 patients in western Sydney during the delta outbreak in 2021 to be given the treatment. The whole genome sequence of the virus analyzed from the patients before and after sotrovimab treatment uncovered mutations in a few patients that “made the drug effectively inactive,” said Dr. Rebecca Rockett from the University of Sydney’s Institute for Infectious Diseases.
See now: Even mild cases of COVID-19 can leave a mark on the brain, such as reductions in gray matter—a neuroscientist explains emerging research
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 toped 451.9 million on Thursday, while the death toll rose above 6.02 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 79.4 million cases and 963,869 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 216.3 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.2% of the population. But just 95.4 million are boosted, equal to 44.1% of the vaccinated population.