Following reported success of both the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty and the antiviral pill Paxlovid, Pfizer has announced that it will move forward on new vaccines to combat the coronavirus pandemic and influenza at the same time. Meanwhile, stakeholders are requesting an extension of the public health emergency declaration beyond its expected expiration at the beginning of next year.
In Arizona, COVID-19 cases have jumped again to 7,360 new cases reported this week. Deaths related to the coronavirus have followed suit, with 40 reported according to AZCentral. Epidemiologists and public health officials are warning of a coming winter surge, and urging Arizonans to stay up to date on boosters when recommended.
A new study has found that patients who receive Paxlovid, the Pfizer antiviral drug used to treat severe symptoms of COVID-19, are less likely to experience long COVID several months later, the New York Times reports. The study suggests that seniors and people with certain comorbidities are not only less likely to be hospitalized, but have a reduced risk of long-term symptoms.
Pfizer has also reported findings that the bivalent COVID-19 booster shot that targets the Omicron variant of the coronavirus increases antibodies present in older adults. According to Modern Healthcare, Pfizer said that people 55 and older who received the booster had more than four times higher antibody levels than someone who received the original dose of vaccine.
With the confidence of these new studies in tow, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have announced a Phase 1 study of a combination COVID-19 and flu vaccine. Inside Health Policy says that the vaccine candidate combines the quadrivalent modified mRNA-based flu vaccine and the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine.
PHE Extension Requests
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra requesting an extension of the public health emergency (PHE). The groups cite the looming winter surge and stresses on the nursing and assisted living industries, including the ongoing nursing workforce shortage. Of special concern are the enhanced Medicaid FMAP, Medicaid policy flexibilities and the waiver for Medicaid redeterminations, which could eliminate large groups of Medicaid enrollees from eligibility.
All long term care providers are struggling with soaring labor costs and inflation; they cannot absorb additional losses due to delayed Medicaid redeterminations or beneficiaries being found ineligible due to state errors. We strongly encourage the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services within HHS to work with states on strategies to ensure long term care populations are made a priority. This will take additional time, especially with more than half of the states not prepared to implement this massive undertaking come January. Therefore, we urge you to protect the social safety net by extending the PHE.
Consumer advocacy group Families USA has also requested that the Biden administration extend the PHE, with many of the same concerns about the re-verification process for more than 90 million Medicaid enrollees. According to Inside Health Policy, Families USA recommends that HHS allow states to take the time of a final PHE extension to implement guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on streamlining redetermination. From Families USA Director of Medicaid Arielle Kane:
The Biden administration has made great strides in keeping people connected to health insurance during the pandemic. Ending the PHE before states have adequate time to prepare and avoid catastrophic coverage losses will be a massive setback to that progress. We must ensure states can and are taking all the necessary and available steps to contact Medicaid enrollees and quickly reestablish their eligibility and transfer them to other sources of coverage, where applicable.