American Oversight’s Covid-19 Oversight Hub provides news and policy resources to help you keep track of investigations into the government’s pandemic response. The project brings together a public documents database, an oversight tracker of important ongoing investigations and litigation, regular news updates, and deeper dives into key issues.
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This Week’s Congressional Hearings
Tues., March 2: The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing to discuss health and safety protections for meatpacking and agricultural workers.
Tues., March 2: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on Covid-19’s effects on the U.S. aviation industry.
Tues., March 2: The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing about the future of telehealth and virtual health care.
Third Vaccine Authorized
On Feb. 27, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate was granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, making it the third authorized vaccine in the United States. The company has pledged the U.S. 100 million doses by the end of June, and recently announced it would provide 20 million of those by late March. The vaccine is one-dose and can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures, making it easier to distribute than previously authorized vaccines, which had stricter storage requirements and required two doses.
Increases in Vaccine Supply
Companies that have already created successful Covid-19 vaccines, including Moderna and Pfizer, are working to create vaccines that target new coronavirus variants. Moderna has begun clinical trials for booster shots that target some variants, while Pfizer is testing the efficacy of a third dose of its vaccine. Research has shown that both companies’ existing vaccines are effective against multiple variants.
The Pfizer vaccine has also become more accessible, as last week, the FDA allowed for the vaccine to be held in cold temperatures common in pharmacy freezers. When the vaccine was authorized in December, it could only be stored and transported in ultra-cold temperatures. And as vaccine supply grows, the Biden administration is now planning to provide states with estimates of expected vaccine shipments months ahead of time, a bigger window that may make it easier for states to plan distribution and schedule appointments.
Inequities in Vaccine Distribution
- NPR reported that One Medical, a San Francisco-based national health care provider, was administering Covid-19 vaccines to ineligible people who have connections to company leaders. One Medical staffers in Washington, Oregon, and California all expressed concerns that people who were ineligible were jumping the line.
- The LA Times reported that wealthy Californians were taking advantage of a program designed to vaccinate underserved communities. The program provides access codes that could be used to schedule vaccinations, but the codes were circulating among wealthier individuals who work from home and who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.
- The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that residents and members of yet another affluent Florida neighborhood, the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Sarasota County, were offered special vaccine access.
- Only 15 states have begun vaccinating people in prisons, even though 28 percent of incarcerated people have tested positive for Covid-19 (as opposed to 9 percent of the total U.S. population).
In the States
- In California, researchers identified a homegrown coronavirus strain that they say will soon become the dominant strain in the state. The strain is more easily transmissible, but has been circulating since May 2020. Researches also found a unique coronavirus strain in New York, which has been spreading since November.
- After significantly delaying sharing information about the next phase of vaccine distribution in Florida, last Friday Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that now allows physicians and pharmacists to inoculate those they deem “extremely vulnerable” to Covid-19. DeSantis and other Florida officials have defended the state’s lack of a detailed vaccination plan.
Outbreak on Navy Ships
The U.S. Navy said a Covid-19 outbreak on a warship in the Persian Gulf has infected about a dozen service members. Another ship in the region has also reported several Covid-19 cases. The Navy has recorded more than 53,000 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.
‘Presidential Communications Privilege’ Obscures CDC Testing Documents
Last year, as the U.S. was falling far behind in testing goals, we requested testing-related directives and guidance sent to officials at health agencies. We recently received records from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention regarding testing decisions, but the records are heavily redacted under the presidential communications privilege, suggesting that there was heavy and high-level White House involvement with key testing directives in the early days of the pandemic.
- Black-Owned Small Businesses: The House Small Business Committee released a report detailing the impact of the pandemic on U.S. Black-owned businesses, which the report noted were less equipped to handle pandemic-related closures and were more likely to be located in areas with high numbers of Covid-19 cases and less access to relief.
- The VA’s PPE Inventory: The VA Inspector General assessed how the Veterans Health Administration reported and monitored its personal protective equipment supply levels during the pandemic. It found problems with how expired supplies were recorded, the double counting of some supplies, and inconsistent methods for verifying inventory data. More than a year ago, VA health officials had raised the alarm about PPE shortages in emails later obtained by American Oversight, with one official writing on Feb. 25, 2020, “We should plan assuming we won’t have enough PPE—so need to change the battlefield and how we envision or even define the front lines.”
- Vaccine Safety: The Government Accountability Office released a report on Covid-19 vaccine safety and challenges in ensuring public confidence in the vaccine, addressing misinformation, and identifying rare side effects. GAO concluded that the protection provided by the vaccines currently licensed and available in the U.S. outweighs potential risks.
- Tenth Report of the Congressional Oversight Commission: The Congressional Oversight Commission published a report providing an in-depth examination of the Main Street Lending Program, which was created under the CARES Act to support small and medium-sized businesses.
- Pandemic Preparedness: Sens. Ron Wyden, Robert Menendez, Susan Collins, and Sherrod Brown introduced the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021, which would create an independent commission to assess the nation’s response to Covid-19 and future pandemic preparedness.
- Addressing Covid-19 in Nursing Homes: The House Ways and Means Committee asked Acting CMS Administrator Elizabeth Richter to reinstate patient protections waived by the Trump administration in nursing homes. The committee also asked CMS to reinstate staffing and training requirements; to address reporting gaps in Covid-19 nursing home data; to publicly report Covid-19 demographic data in nursing homes; and to reinstate a requirement that financial penalties be imposed on facilities for deficiencies.
- Request to DHS to Investigate ICE Allegations: Seven senators wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Tae Johnson expressing concern about reports that staff at two ICE facilities threatened to expose asylum-seekers to Covid-19 if they did not surrender their rights and submit to deportation. The senators asked what actions ICE and DHS are taking to investigate these allegations and what actions will be taken to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.