Weekend update

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Both of Houses of Congress are engaged in Committee business this week. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet Wednesday morning to consider moving Kiran Ahuja’s OPM Director nomination to the Senate floor. The Senate will be engaged in floor business this week. Among other business items, the Senate will consider confirming Jason Miller to be OMB Deputy Director for Management. The President will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.

From the COVID-19 front —

According to the CDC, over 1/3 of Americans over age 18 and over 2/3s of Americans over 65 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Bloomberg reports that “in the next few weeks, what the vaccine campaign is going to look like is going to change dramatically. The Biden administration is pursuing a strategy of abundance, which the White House has referred to as an “overwhelm the problem” approach. That means that there will likely still be widespread shipping of vaccines to pharmacies and health centers, inoculation clinics and mobile vaccine resources. But what’s likely to disappear are lines and scarcity.”

The FEHBlog has been looking for news that Pfizer and Moderna have applied for full Food and Drug Administration marketing approval for their vaccines. A San Diego television station reports on the implications of full marketing approval for these vaccines.

Companies want full approval for several reasons. Once the pandemic is no longer officially designated as an emergency, only fully approved products can remain on the market. And the stamp of approval from the FDA carries valuable credibility, [Dr. Sidney] Wolfe [co-founder of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group] said. “Aside from what benefit for marketing it does in this country, it will clearly have an international benefit,” he said.

The FEHBlog also understands that full marketing approval would allows the companies to distribute the vaccines directly to physicians’ offices.

Typically it takes the FDA about six months to review a licensure application for a high-priority drug. Pfizer said it expects to apply in the first half of 2021, and it expects a decision from the FDA in the second half of the year.

Another news source indicates that Moderna recently filed its licensure application with the FDA.

Good Housekeeping offers a timeline for when children will receive COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer has applied to extend its COVID-19 vaccine’s emergency use authorization to people aged 12 to 15. However, the FEHBlog sees no FDA advisory committee scheduled to consider this request as yet.

From the artificial intelligence and telehealth fronts, the Wall Street Journal reports that

  • A journalist writes on her experience with telehealth over the past year.

For me, both in-person conversations and remote conversations have their unique advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes, eye contact or hands-on care is just what I need to feel confident in my doctor’s diagnosis or advice. But other times, there’s nothing like leveling the playing field with video or phone chat to make everything feel a bit more intimate and safer. One of the lessons we’ve learned from a year of remote everything is that in-person interactions have strengths that virtual conversations can’t quite match, and vice versa. Healthcare may be one more area where the future is hybrid.

It’s a reminder that health plans should focus their telehealth efforts on mental health services because people are comfortable with it and it extends the plan’s network.

  • In the other article three experts weigh in on whether artificial intelligence can replace human mental health therapists. Of course, the answer to that question is no. Nevertheless the experts’ responses on exciting uses of artificial intelligence in the mental health field is interesting, e.g., “In the near term, I am most excited about using AI to augment or guide therapists, such as giving feedback after the session or even providing tools to support self-reflection.” and

We can generate a vast amount of data about the brain from genetics, neuroimaging, cognitive assessments and now even smartphone signals. We can utilize AI to find patterns that may help us unlock why people develop mental illness, who responds best to certain treatments and who may need help immediately. Using new data combined with AI will likely help us unlock the potential of creating new personalized and even preventive treatments.

Encouraging.

From the federal employment front, the Federal Times informs us that “Even during the worst global pandemic of the century, increased demands on public jobs and a radical shift to predominantly remote work, federal employees are confident in their agencies’ ability to keep them safe and recognize their hard work, according to results of the [OPM] 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.” Bravo.

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