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Cherry Blossoms: The Harbingers of Spring

Hot Topics | March 19th, 2021

Spring in Washington D.C. would hardly seem complete without the city’s famous cherry blossoms, yet these trees did not always line the shores of the Potomac.

The origins of Washington’s cherry trees can be traced back to Mrs. Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, a woman who made it her personal mission to see these trees planted in the nation’s capital after returning from a trip to Japan in 1885. For 25 years, Mrs. Scidmore unsuccessfully petitioned every Superintendent of the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds to plant Japanese cherry trees along the Potomac. Eventually, Scidmore found a supporter in First Lady Helen Taft who took up the cause. Just one day after Taft wrote a letter expressing her support for planting the trees, the Japanese consul in New York got wind of the plan and proposed the City of Tokyo donate the trees. After some fits and starts with trees that were infested with pests, the city was able to plant the thousands of trees that tourists and locals alike gather to gawk at each spring.

Washington D.C. is closing off many of the most popular cherry blossom viewing areas this year as a public health precaution, but you can follow the virtual cherry blossom celebrations here: https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/

Who’s in and who’s out

  • This week the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Rachel Levine as the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). (The Hill, Axios) With her confirmation, Levine became the first openly-transgender person confirmed by the Senate to a federal appointment. The Senate also confirmed Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, returning the physician to the role he held during the Obama administration. (The Washington Post) Amid these confirmations, the FDA’s second-highest ranking official (principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs) Amy Abernethy announced she would be leaving the agency. (Endpoints News)

At the intersection of infrastructure and drug pricing

  • Drug pricing is back in the spotlight as Congress turns its attention to its next legislative priority: infrastructure. The two policy issues are being discussed in tandem, as Congress would like to use the cost savings from drug pricing reforms to pay for an infrastructure package. While the Industry has become adept at weathering these types of challenges, POLITICO notes, “Pharma may not be able to fight it off this time.” However, it is still unclear if the drug pricing measures would satisfy reconciliation requirements and could be included in an infrastructure bill. (POLITICO, The Hill)

Sign up season extended

  • The Biden administration announced it would extend the Obamacare special enrollment period to August 15. The announcement gives Americans additional time to enroll or change their coverage, as well as access new subsidies made available through the American Rescue Plan (the 2021 COVID-19 relief bill). (The Hill, The Washington Post)

Vaccine makers in the hot seat

  • Just hours after AstraZeneca announced data from the U.S. trial of its COVID-19 vaccine, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) issued a statement that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) expressed concerns the company may have included outdated information in its analysis. (Axios, STAT) AstraZeneca issued another press release Wednesday evening with new figures that had been shared with the DSMB confirming the vaccine’s efficacy. Meanwhile, the Biden administration expressed concerns Johnson & Johnson will not be able to fulfill its obligation to deliver 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March. (POLITICO, Roll Call)
    • Read more: Go deeper to understand why the credibility of AstraZeneca’s vaccine matters. (Axios)

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