If you visited Washington, D.C. as a child, you probably snickered when your parents brought you to Foggy Bottom. The somewhat silly name was a fitting description of the neighborhood at the time it was established rather than a joke gone awry. Foggy Bottom was built on low-lying lands next to the Potomac River, which made the area prone to fog. With the arrival of the industrial revolution, the area became even foggier with factories such as the Washington Gas Light Company belching gas and exhaust fumes. Today Foggy Bottom is known as the home of the U.S. State Department, JFK Center for Performing Arts, the George Washington University and other D.C. institutions.
Speaking of D.C. institutions, this week saw a flurry of health hearings, as Biden is trying to secure his administration. Nominees were met with sharp questions leading to big headlines.
Becerra: Foe of pharma
Xavier Becerra, California’s Attorney General and President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), faced criticism from Republicans during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing for his support of abortion and his qualifications. (The Hill, Roll Call) These critiques might be expected in the current partisan climate, but in an unexpected twist several senators attacked Becerra for not being a friend of the pharmaceutical industry. STAT pointed out the “line of attack runs counter to most Americans’ starkly negative view of the pharmaceutical sector, and the fact that before [former HHS Secretary Alex] Azar, no health and human services secretary had ever previously worked for a drug company.”
Other health hearings on the hill
Dr. Rachel Levine (Assistant Secretary of HHS Nominee): Dr. Levine, a pediatrician from Pennsylvania, went before the Senate HELP Committee on Thursday. While she received many questions on issues of public health and COVID-19, it was Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) line of questioning that made headlines. The Senator faced criticism for remarks that characterized gender-affirming care as “genital mutilation,” a term not used by the mainstream healthcare profession to describe these treatments. (The Hill, The Washington Post)
Dr. Vivek Murthy (Surgeon General Nominee): Dr. Murthy, whose hearing was held in tandem with Dr. Levine’s, was questioned by Senate Republicans for his position that gun violence is a public health issue. What was not discussed was Dr. Murthy’s work as a COVID-19 consultant for the cruise industry, Airbnb and other companies. (The Washington Post)
Your guide to FDA guidance
This week the FDA issued a flurry of guidance for industry and for the public:
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can now be stored at conventional pharmaceutical freezer temperatures. (FDA)
The FDA released a briefing document endorsing the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which will be reviewed by an advisory committee today. (Axios)
The FDA issued guidance allowing vaccine developers to forego large randomized placebo-controlled trials for clinical trials testing COVID-19 vaccines tailored to fight specific variants. (The Hill, FDA)
And coming soon: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working on safety recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (The Hill)
It’s Up to You
An Ad Council campaign funded by the US government called “It’s Up to You” was revealed this week, which aims to encourage Americans to get vaccinated when it is their turn. The campaign is one of the largest public education efforts in US history, and calls for viewers to visit www.getvaccineanswers.org for more information about COVID-19 vaccine safety and availability. (The Washington Post)
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