December 6, 2023

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The two waves hitting Europe and the U.K.- POLITICO

With help from Alice Miranda Ollstein

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WELCOME TO TUESDAY PULSE — The CDC has ended its Covid-19 program for cruise ships. Feels like the end of an era. Send news and tips to [email protected] and [email protected].

THE DOUBLE WHAMMY ACROSS THE POND — Things suddenly look pretty uncomfortable in the U.K. and Europe.

Let’s start with the weather. Temperatures hit record highs across several cities in France on Monday, with some locations hitting 107 and 108 degrees. Ireland recorded its hottest day on record, and Britain had its third hottest day on record, clocking in at around 100 degrees in Suffolk. Wildfires in several countries have forced thousands to evacuate. At at least one British airport, the runways reportedly started to melt.

Sure, it gets hotter in parts of the U.S., but those places usually have air conditioning. Many parts of the U.K. don’t — including some lines of the London underground and older buildings where many elderly residents could be in serious danger of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Hundreds of people have already died in Spain’s heat wave. British public health officials have said even healthy people are at risk, and the government has declared a national emergency. A study published last year in The Lancet estimated that more than 350,000 deaths in 2019 were linked to extreme heat.

Then, there’s the virus. As the Omicron subvariant BA.5 marches through the U.K. and Europe, cases there have been on the rise.

On Monday, European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides alerted the bloc’s health ministers to the renewed coronavirus threat, reports POLITICO’s Carlo Martuscelli.

In a Monday letter viewed by POLITICO, Kyriakides wrote that this latest wave has coincided with higher numbers of patients in hospitals and intensive care units, and that countries must prepare for a “possible worsening of the epidemiological situation.”

In the U.K. over the weekend, infections were up 30 percent over the past week, according to the BBC.

FIRST IN PULSE: HOUSE REPUBLICANS PUSH BIDEN TO UNDO PHARMACIST GUIDANCE — Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) is pushing the Biden administration to rescind its recent guidance instructing pharmacists around the country that they could be in legal jeopardy if they refuse to fill prescriptions for abortion or contraception medication.

In a letter first shared with POLITICO’s Alice Miranda Ollstein, Carter — a pharmacist by training — argues to the head of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights that the new guidance “will harm the pharmacist-patient relationship, force actions that runs contrary to a pharmacist’s conscience and moral obligation, and impede a pharmacy’s ability to freely comply with state law.”

Carter notes that many states have “conscience” laws on the books that protect a pharmacist’s right to refuse to dispense medication that conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs. Those states include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington.

Texas has already sued the Biden administration in an attempt to block another new HHS guidance that instructs hospitals to provide abortions in emergency medical circumstances regardless of state bans — and legal challenges to the pharmacy guidance are also expected.

GOP PREPARES ATTACKS ON DEMS’ DREAM BILL — After Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) scuttled Dems’ plans last week, Senate Republicans are preparing to raise their own objections before the Senate’s nonpartisan rules arbiter this week in a bid to eject more items from the ever-slimmer package Democrats once called Build Back Better, POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes report.

Republican leaders hope trimming the bill further will leave the majority party with an embarrassingly modest final product months before the midterms. Democrats had bet a comprehensive party-line victory would brighten their electoral odds in November, but they’re settling for less as the legislation shrinks to prescription drug pricing and Obamacare subsidies.

Before Democrats’ latest party-line package can pass the Senate, top budget aides for Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his Republican counterpart Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are expected to argue for and against the inclusion of specific policies in an effort to convince the parliamentarian to keep or toss certain provisions.

The parliamentarian is now reviewing the latest iteration of the prescription drug reform portion of the proposal. While Republicans are staying mum about the exact challenges they plan to mount, budget experts say the idea of a penalty for drug companies that raise prices on those with private health insurance could pose a problem.

A SHAKY START FOR 988 — New York City Mayor Eric Adams called on federal officials to fix a glitch for New Yorkers who want to call 988, the new national mental health emergency hotline, POLITICO’s Amanda Eisenberg reports.

Currently, people who call 988 will only be transferred to New York City’s NYC Well mental health hotline if they call from one of the city’s seven area codes.

If they have a different area code — as millions who work and spend time in the city do — they’re routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline associated with their area code and then manually transferred to NYC Well, which creates a delay, according to the city.

New York City expects the hotline to field up to 500,000 calls, texts and chats for the 2023 fiscal year, which started in July and ends in June 2023.

The snag in the program’s rollout over the weekend comes after many states told POLITICO they were unsure whether they had the staff or funding to respond to the flood of calls they expected to get once the hotline was live.

NYC SHIFTS TO SINGLE MONKEYPOX DOSE — New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. monkeypox outbreak, has said the city will switch to administering single doses of the two-dose monkeypox vaccine to get more people covered, POLITICO’s Amanda Eisenberg and Shannon Young report.

The city’s health department decided to switch to the single-dose strategy in light of the city’s rapidly growing case count and the ongoing national vaccine shortage that federal officials admitted was a problem on Friday.

Despite the vaccine shortfall, federal health officials urged states to stick to the two-dose regimen the Food and Drug Administration approved for the Jynneos vaccine.

“A single dose of this vaccine will not provide the kind of protection over time that is necessary,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “The two-dose regimen is the best that we can do to make sure that we actually have people get the protection that the vaccine is intended to provide.”

LAST COMMERCIAL LAB BEGINS MONKEYPOX TESTING The CDC announced Monday that Sonic Healthcare is starting to test for monkeypox using the agency’s orthopoxvirus test. The company — which will conduct testing at its Austin, Texas lab — is the last of the five commercial labs tapped by the CDC to broaden U.S. testing capacity. Nationwide, labs can conduct up to 80,000 tests a week, according to the CDC.

Zach Sentementes has been hired by PhRMA to be a director of federal advocacy focused on trade policy, starting in mid-August. He was most recently VP of boutique public affairs firm Advanced Advocacy.

Christopher Buki is joining West Front Strategies as SVP. He most recently was at Fresenius Medical Care North America and is a House GOP alum.

Courtney Tyne has joined Reservoir Communications Group as a managing director. She was previously at Real Chemistry, where she focused on cost-of-care issues and health care access communications.

The New Yorker reports on the psychologists treating victims of sexual assault in Ukraine.

Kaiser Health News writes about the conservative blocs responsible for rolling back public health authorities across the country.

The New York Times Style Magazine dives into the world of the plant breeders creating fruit designed to taste — and be marketed — like candy.