Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Merck’s COVID-19 pill reduces hospitalization risks by half

Welcome to Friday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here:

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Merck announced it is seeking authorization for a new anti-COVID pill. It’s a treatment that could be a significant boost for the effort to treat patients infected with the coronavirus.

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan ([email protected]), Nathaniel Weixel ([email protected]) and Justine Coleman ([email protected]). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

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Merck to seek emergency authorization for COVID-19 pill that cuts risks in half 

Pharmaceutical company Merck on Friday said it will seek an emergency authorization for its oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment after the medicine was shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by 50 percent during clinical trials.

The drug was also proven to be consistently effective against all strains of COVID-19, including the highly contagious delta variant.

By the numbers: An analysis of phase three trials found that 7.3 percent of patients treated with Merck’s drug, called molnupiravir, were hospitalized within 29 days, according to the company’s Friday statement

Of the study participants who received a placebo, 14.1 percent were hospitalized or died by the last day of the trial. 

No deaths were reported in patients who were given molnupiravir during the duration of the trial, while eight deaths were reported in those who were treated with placebos.

Significance: A pill to effectively treat COVID-19 has long been a major goal, and the new results quickly won praise from experts.

The company said it plans to submit an application for emergency use authorization to the FDA as soon as possible based on the trial’s results. If granted the authorization, molnupiravir could be the first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

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A new front in COVID-19 vaccine mandates: California to require it for school kids after FDA approval 

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Democrats still at odds over Biden agenda Virginia polls hint at a dug-in electorate California returns land to descendants of original Black owners MORE (D) on Friday announced that the state will mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all students in school, once it is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Newsom said the mandate would begin with older children, age 12 and over, in grades 7-12. But it will not take effect right away, given that he is waiting until the FDA gives full approval to the vaccine in that age group, rather than the current emergency use authorization. The mandate could either begin in the January school term or in fall of 2022, depending on when the FDA acts.

“I believe we will be the first state in America to move forward with this mandate and requirement, but I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination we will be the last state,” Newsom told reporters at a press conference.

He said there would be medical and religious exemptions to the mandate.

The move to mandate vaccines for students in schools comes as the Biden administration makes a push for vaccine mandates more generally, including a rule requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is vaccinated or tested regularly.

Newsom’s move brings the COVID-19 vaccine mandate debate to schoolchildren.

Perhaps anticipating pushback, Newsom noted that 10 vaccines for other diseases are already required for California school kids, and the COVID-19 vaccine would be the eleventh.

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New York’s mandate for health workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has boosted the industry’s vaccination rate, and has not resulted in widespread facility closures and mass resignations like some state officials feared.

The requirement for hospital and nursing home staff took effect at the beginning of this week. According to state data, 87 percent of hospital staff were fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, and 92 percent were partially vaccinated. Similarly, 92 percent of nursing home staff had received at least one vaccine dose.

State officials had been bracing for staffing shortages in advance of the mandate taking effect on Monday.

Gov. Kathy HochulKathy HochulThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision NY governor seeking to raise million ahead of next year’s primary The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Alibaba – Progressives ready to tank infrastructure bill MORE (D) last week outlined a plan to deal with potential staffing shortfalls in facilities, including deploying medically trained members of the National Guard or declaring a state of emergency to allow health care professionals licensed in other states or countries to practice in New York.

But Hochul said no facilities have closed since the mandate went into effect.

​​Staff at other institutions including home care, hospice and adult care facilities must be vaccinated by Thursday.

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New York City’s vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff takes effect on Monday, and the latest effort to stop it from happening has failed.

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request from a group of New York City public school teachers to block the city’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.

The teachers, who refuse to receive a COVID-19 inoculation, filed their request Thursday to Justice Sonia SotomayorSonia SotomayorAlito bristles over criticism of Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ New York City school teachers ask Supreme Court to block vaccine mandate Sotomayor tells law students: I can’t change Texas abortion law, but you can MORE, who handles emergency matters arising from New York, after losing in the lower courts. 

Sotomayor denied their request unilaterally and without comment. 

New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioDe Blasio vows ‘full investigation’ after data leak appears to link two NYPD officers to the Oath Keepers NYC mayor urges Nets star Kyrie Irving to get vaccinated ‘Your fans want to see you’ NY governor seeking to raise million ahead of next year’s primary MORE (D) on Friday said 90 percent of all Department of Education staff are at least partially vaccinated, including 93 percent of teachers and 98 percent of principals.

“There’s so much noise when you put a mandate forward … The bottom line is when the dust settled a huge number of people went out and got vaccinated,” he said.

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US reaches 700,000 COVID-19 deaths 

The United States has recorded more than 700,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 on Friday, according to a count from data compiled by by Reuters.

In its analysis of public health data, the wire service reported that over the last week, the country had seen the average number of more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths per day.

According to the latest health data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the country has recorded 10,333 deaths related to the coronavirus over the past seven days. 

The southern states have seen some of the highest death rates in the country in the past week. 

Texas has recorded 1,943 deaths over the last seven days; Georgia has recorded 746; North Carolina has tallied  512 deaths; and Tennessee has recorded 409, according to the CDC.

Pennsylvania and Ohio have also recorded high seven-day death tolls at 370 and 349 respectively, according to the health agency’s data. 

News of the grim milestone in the country comes as the nation has continued to see an average of over 100,000 new cases in the U.S. per day over the past week, according to The New York Times.

A bit of good news: New cases are declining, which means deaths, a lagging indicator, will likely fall going forward as well. 

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  • What the stalemate on Capitol Hill means for your drug prices (Kaiser Health News)
  • FDA won’t extend shelf life of J&J Covid vaccine doses, may extend life of millions of Moderna shots (NBC News)
  • Federal agencies can start enforcing Biden’s vaccine mandates next month, administration says (Washington Post)


  • Texas nursing homes turn to state for help with staffing woes as vaccine mandate looms (The Texas Tribune)
  • Kentucky in ‘ground game’ to boost COVID vaccinations, says White House official on visit (Louisville Courier Journal)
  • A Colorado town is about as vaccinated as it can get. Covid still isn’t over there. (Kaiser Health News)15% of Vermont state workers have yet to disclose COVID vaccine status as mandate begins (Burlington Free Press)

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s healthcare page for the latest news and coverage. See you next week.

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