Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care.
Top Trump health officials told a Senate panel to trust science, despite recent political interference. But current and former CDC employees described to The Hill just how much of an impact that interference is having on them. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson said they have started final stage clinical trials on its coronavirus vaccine candidate.
We’ll start in the Senate:
Health officials tell public to trust in science
Trump administration health officials on Wednesday told a Senate panel that Americans should not lose faith in public health agencies or the vaccine development process, despite a recent spate of political interference.
The officials sought to defend the scientific integrity of the administration’s response to the pandemic while reassuring Americans growing increasingly skeptical over the politicization of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I will fight for science,” Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn told the Senate Health Committee during a hearing on the federal government’s coronavirus response.
“I have complete and absolute faith in the expertise of the scientists who are terrific at FDA. If they were to make a determination that a vaccine would be safe and effective, I would do that. And I would encourage my family to take the vaccine,” Hahn said.
Timing: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said it could take as long as next summer before every American is vaccinated against COVID-19, despite what President Trump has been claiming.
Redfield said he thinks there could be 700 million doses of a vaccine ready by March or April, but actually getting those doses into the American public would take longer – possibly until July.
The Trump factor: Redfield made similar comments at a different Senate hearing last week, which prompted a public rebuke from Trump, who said he personally called Redfield to express his displeasure. Time will tell if that happens again this week.
Read more here.
More from the hearing…Fauci scolds Rand Paul during tense exchange
Things got a bit heated between Anthony Fauci and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during the Senate hearing.
Fauci scolded Paul after the senator claimed that COVID-19 cases might not be rising in New York because the state has reached a point of herd immunity.
Fauci, the country’s top infectious diseases doctor, told Paul he was wrong to make the suggestion, as well as in other public comments about the concept of herd immunity.
“No, you’ve misconstrued that, senator, and you’ve done that repeatedly in the past,” he said.
“If you believe 22 percent is herd immunity, I believe you’re alone in that,” Fauci told Paul, referring to the ratio of New Yorkers thought to have had COVID-19.
Read more here.
Despair at CDC after Trump influence: ‘I have never seen morale this low’
It is not a very happy time to be a staffer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Trump administration’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent efforts to meddle with recommendations from the CDC are taking a substantial toll on the nation’s foremost public health institution, our colleague Reid Wilson reports.
In interviews with half a dozen current and former CDC officials, staffers described a workforce that has seen its expertise questioned, its findings overturned for political purposes and its effectiveness in combating the pandemic undermined by partisan actors in Washington.
“I have never seen morale this low. It’s just, people are beaten down. People are beaten down partially by a public who not only distrusts us but who actually think we want to infringe on their civil liberties,” said one current CDC employee. “The other factor is the active undermining by senior members of our own administration.”
Added former CDC Director Rich Besser: “As I talk to former colleagues at CDC, the feeling I get is just an overwhelming sense of despair. People are working incredibly hard to reduce the impact of the pandemic and the sense that they’re being blocked by people at the political level, and that the work that they’re doing is not being appreciated by the American public.”
Read more here.
Another vaccine in the mix: Johnson & Johnson launches phase three trials
Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday announced that it has begun phase three trials of its potential coronavirus vaccine, making it the fourth potential vaccine to begin the late-stage trials in the United States.
The move adds to the array of potential vaccines that are being tested, with the hope that multiple candidates will prove safe and effective and help meet the enormous national and international demand.
While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not furthest along in the timeline, trailing candidates from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, it does have some potential advantages if it proves safe and effective.
Unlike some of the other potential vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson candidate requires just one dose, not two, which would make an inoculation campaign easier. It also does not require storage at extremely cold temperatures, unlike some of the other candidates.
Read more here.
Study: Less than 1 percent of teachers, students infected since schools reopened
There’s some possible good news on schools.
A new study has found minimal evidence that the novel coronavirus is transferring inside K-12 school buildings despite reports of students and faculty across the country contracting the disease.
Brown University researchers collaborated with school administrators and released data Wednesday from a new National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard.
COVID-19 cases recorded in the dashboard show a relatively small degree of spread among staff and students. The study looked at data collected from more than 550 schools across 46 states over a two-week period starting Aug. 31, with more than 300 schools maintaining some level of in-person classes.
Researchers found 0.23 percent of students had confirmed or suspected cases of the virus, while the rate among educators was 0.51 percent. The rates for confirmed cases were lower at 0.076 for students and 0.15 for teachers. The data included those for public and private schools, with many of the schools located in smaller communities.
Read more here.
What we’re reading
Massive genetic study shows coronavirus mutating and potentially evolving amid rapid U.S. spread (Washington Post)
Fauci tells Congress the U.S. could have enough coronavirus vaccine doses for every American by April (CNBC)
9 experts reflect on the US reaching 200,000 COVID-19 deaths (Vox.com)
State by state
Indiana governor extends mask order, moves state to Stage 5 reopening (Indianapolis Star)
White House calls for ramped up COVID-19 testing, transparency at Iowa universities (Des Moines Register)
Contact tracing app tells Pennsylvanians if they’ve been exposed to coronavirus (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Op-eds in The Hill
It shouldn’t be so hard to find an in-network doctor
Video: Trump: CDC head ‘confused’ about vaccine timeline (Associated Press)