Health Care — Health officials eyeing subvariant

Health Care — Officials roll out end-of-year booster campaign
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Tea Buffalo Bills are encouraging their fans to show support for Damar Hamlin — the Bills’ safety who collapsed on the field last week after suffering cardiac arrest — by learning CPR.

Today in health, the XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant has swept across the Northeast and while data is limited, health officials have shared some important details on the mutation.

Welcome to The Hill’s Overnight Health Care roundup, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. We’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter?

What we know about the XBB.1.5 subvariant

The XBB.1.5 omicron subvariant is raising concerns of a potential surge in COVID-19 cases as it sweeps across the Northeast.

Officials have warned in recent weeks that the strain is highly transmissible, can more easily evade the immunity offered by vaccines or prior infections than past variants and is likely to drive cases up around the country.

  • The subvariant has already rapidly spread in the Northeast, where it is currently estimated to be causing about 72 percent of infections.
  • But while another omicron subvariant, BQ.1.1, is still dominant in the country beyond the Northeast, XBB.1.5 has also reached all other regions of the US, and officials predict it will continue to spread. Due to its recent ascent, data on XBB.1.5 is limited, but health officials have disclosed some key insights into the strain, as well as what questions remain unanswered.

Most transmissible: XBB.1.5 is “the most transmissible subvariant that has been detected yet” of the already highly contagious omicron strain, Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 response, said in a recent briefing.

Cases likely to rise: Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf said when speaking about XBB.1.5 this week that he expected a further increase in cases.

Treatments should still work: Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said the updated bivalent COVID-19 booster is still the “best protection” against infection and severe illness

Oral antivirals like Paxlovid and molnupiravir are also still expected to be effective against XBB.1.5, as they don’t function by boosting antibodies — which the strain appears better able to evade — but by hindering the virus’s ability to replicate itself.

Read more here.

Guidance suggests drugs, surgery for obese kids

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued new guidelines for treating children and adolescents with obesity in an effort to address the growing toll of the disease on the nation’s youth.

The update, which marks the first comprehensive guidance from the AAP in 15 years on the subject, includes recommendations for different medications, along with metabolic and bariatric surgery.

It also touts a holistic approach to treating the disease by recognizing the complex genetic, physiologic, socioeconomic and environmental factors that contribute to the increased risk of obesity.

  • According to the new guidelines, only those with a BMI equal to or greater than 120 percent of the 95th percentile should be evaluated for metabolic and bariatric surgery. This recommendation is also limited to youth ages 13 or older.
  • Medications are only recommended as an adjunct to health behavior and lifestyle treatment in those ages 12 and older.

Obesity affects around 20 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 in the United States, while rates have tripled in the last 30 years. When left untreated, obesity can lead to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression and other chronic conditions.

“Weight is a sensitive topic for most of us, and children and teens are especially aware of the harsh and unfair stigma that comes with being affected by it,” said Sarah Hampl, a lead author of the guideline, in a statement.

“Research tells us that we need to take a close look at families — where they live, their access to nutritious food, health care and opportunities for physical activity — as well as other factors that are associated with health, quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Our kids need the medical support, understanding and resources we can provide within a treatment plan that involves the whole family.”

Read more here.


President Biden on Monday declared an emergency in California in response to the severe winter storms, flooding and mudslides the state has experienced since last week.

Deadly impact: The storm, which has caused millions of thousands of homes and businesses in California to lose power, has killed 12 people in the last 10 days, Yahoo News reported.

Damage conditions: In the San Francisco Bay Area, the storm reached a Level 5 last week and flooded roads and highways. As of Monday morning, the storm is at Level 3 and is expected to continue throughout the week, according to ABC7.

  • The emergency declaration allows for federal assistance to supplement the local response efforts and it authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sunday evening said that he’s “in close contact with the White House to ensure we have the aid we need as we prepare on the ground.”

Read more here.


More than 7,000 nurses from two New York City hospitals went on strike on Monday morning amid failed bargaining for better contracts.

The New York State Nurses Association announced early in the morning that nurses at Mount Sinai Medical Center, on the Upper East Side, and Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx, will go on strike to demand fair working conditions, increased wages and health care and retirement security.

“After bargaining late into the night at Montefiore and Mount Sinai Hospital yesterday, no attempted agreements were reached,” the press release states. “Today, more than 7,000 nurses at two hospitals are on strike for fair contracts that improve patient care.”

  • Mario Cilento, the president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said nurses are forced to work in “unimaginable conditions,” including short staffing, which has left them no other option but to strike.
  • “The hospitals treatment of these nurses is proof that all their words of adulation for their healthcare heroes during the pandemic were hollow,” Cilento said in a statement. “It is time for the hospitals to treat these nurses fairly, with the dignity and respect they deserve, to ensure nurses can get back to serving their communities by providing superior care to their patients.”

Read more here.

Damar Hamlin injury revives football safety debate

Damar Hamlin’s tragic gridiron collapse underscores a longstanding societal dilemma over a game that, however deeply engrained in American culture, might just be too dangerous to play.

Participation in tackle football among children has been slipping for years amid mounting safety concerns. The signal moment in that decline was probably the release of a 2017 study that examined the brains of 111 deceased NFL players and found a degenerative disease in all but one.

Together with a landmark 2013 book et un 2015 Will Smith moviethe Boston study seeded public awareness of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), inspired reforms and sent thousands of families searching for safer sports.

Head injuries may get the most ink, but football poses a risk to many parts of the human body, including the heart. Hamlin, a 24-year-old safety on the Buffalo Bills, suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field Monday night after tackling an opponent. Doctors restarted his heart on national television.

Though Hamlin has recovered enough to be transferred from the ICU back home to a hospital in Buffalo, his high-profile injury has reignited debate over the fundamental safety of a game that, even after a century of progress in protective equipment and medical protocols, still requires its participants to crash into each other .

Read more here.


  • Private equity acquires a taste for drug development (Reuters)
  • ‘I want people to see us’: A writer gives voice to long Covid and mothering from bed (Status)
  • Tranq dope: Animal sedative mixed with fentanyl brings fresh horror to US drug zones (The New York Times)


  • Planned Parenthood asks judge to rule in Texas Medicaid fraud suit (The 19th News)
  • Medicaid and Abortion top health agenda for Montana lawmakers (Kaiser Health News)
  • Tested: How West Virginia incurred and paid heavy COVID test costs amid price gouging, procurement challenges (Charleston Gazette-Mail)


That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

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