Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s COVID Data Trackers website, here is the FEHBlog’s chart of new weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths over the 20th through 49th weeks of this year (beginning May 14 and ending December 9; using Thursday as the first day of the week in order to facilitate this weekly update):

and here is the CDC’s latest overall weekly hospitalization rate chart for COVID-19:

It’s interesting that the weekly rate dropped two weeks in a row. Typically the chart would show a one week drop which the FEHBlog discounted.

The FEHBlog has noted that the new cases and deaths chart shows a flat line for new weekly deaths  because new cases greatly exceed new deaths. Accordingly here is a chart of new COVID-19 deaths over the same period (May 14 through December 9):

The FEHBlog’s record high for weekly deaths remains 13,504 for the week ended April 22 which we now are approaching.

On the brighter side, the Wall Street Journal reports that

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was finalizing the work needed to clear a Covid-19 vaccine developed byPfizer Inc. and German partner BioNTech SE, after the injection was endorsed by an expert panel.  “We could see people getting vaccinated Monday, Tuesday of next week,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Fierce Healthcare reports that “CVS [Health] is planning to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines in nursing homes beginning on Dec. 21, a top executive told Reuters.” reports that “Civilian federal personnel are likely to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as Monday, officials said on Friday, though only [healthcare] employees at certain offices will receive the doses directly from their agencies. offered the most details on the Defense Department’s plans which provide a helpful perspective

The Defense Department also anticipates vaccinating 44,000 employees next week, officials said on Wednesday, the vast majority of whom will be health care staff. The Pentagon plans to provide vaccines to both military and civilian staff, though it has not committed to vaccinating to its entire civil service workforce. 

“The eligibility we defined in terms of dependents, select contractors, civilian employees, and it’s going to be then how do they match up in terms of the prioritization tiers,” said Tom McCaffery, the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. 

In the initial phase, Defense will target health care workers who are closest to patients, early emergency responders and public security staff. Defense will distribute vaccines to 16 sites in that phase, 13 of which are located within the United States. McCaffery said the department recently held a “virtual tabletop exercise” to go through the first phase “in great detail to ensure seamless distribution and dissemination” of the vaccine. Defense will ultimately be responsible for vaccinating millions of individuals, including active duty personnel, civilian workers, at-risk dependents and some contractors. 

All told, Defense maintains 83 sites that have ultra-cold storage, including all 13 of those in the initial distribution.

HHS announced that the federal government

will purchase an additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidate, called mRNA-1273, from Moderna.

If authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use as outlined in agency guidance, doses of the vaccine will begin shipping immediately. The vaccine would be provided at no cost to Americans. Vaccine administration costs for private-sector administration partners will be covered by healthcare payers: private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, and an HHS program to cover COVID-19 costs for the uninsured which is reimbursing the provider at Medicare rates from the provider relief fund.

Under the agreement, Moderna will leverage its U.S.-based manufacturing capacity to fill, finish and ship vials of mRNA-1273 as the bulk material is produced. The additional doses ordered today provide for continuous delivery through the end of June 2021. This strategy will help meet the anticipated demand for mRNA-1273 and safely accelerate the delivery schedule for all 200 million doses the U.S. government is purchasing.

“Securing another 100 million doses from Moderna by June 2021 further expands our supply of doses across the Operation Warp Speed portfolio of vaccines,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This new federal purchase can give Americans even greater confidence we will have enough supply to vaccinate all Americans who want it by the second quarter of 2021.”

In other news,

  • Congress approved the one week long extension of the continuing resolution funding the federal government. The new deadline is December 18 and Federal News Network reports that “Negotiators on a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill appeared to be moving in a positive direction, said the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.. This bill would serve as a vehicle to carry any year-end virus assistance.” Negotiations over that COVID-19 relief bill continue.
  • The HHS, the Labor Department, and the Treasury Department (a/k/a the tri-agencies) “announced a final rule that amends the [Affordable Care Act] requirements for grandfathered group health plans and grandfathered group health insurance coverage to preserve their grandfather status.”
  • The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected an ERISA preemption challenge to an Arkansas state law regulating prescription benefit manager pricing of drugs. Here is Healthcare Dive’s report. This decision will raise healthcare prices in the FEHBlog’s opinion.
  • reports that President Trump is giving a half day off to federal employees on Christmas Eve.

The FEHBlog’s link to the HHS fact sheet on the proposed HIPAA Privacy Rule changes (posted yesterday) was inoperable until the FEHBlog fixed it tonight. Here’s a link. Have a good weekend.