- President Donald Trump invoked a Korean War-era law Wednesday morning, which will allow the private sector to ramp-up production and distribution of emergency supplies and equipment like masks, ventilators, and respirators.
- The move comes as multiple governors have said the federal government isn’t doing enough to help states.
- It also comes after Trump told governors on Monday to see if they can try to find medical supplies and equipment on their own, though he did say the federal government is “backing you.”
Trump Invokes War-Era Law
After repeated calls of inaction by multiple governors, President Donald Trump announced he is invoking the Defense Production Act, which will allow the private sector to ramp-up production and distribution of emergency supplies and equipment like masks, ventilators, and respirators.
The act, which Trump announced at a White House press briefing on Wednesday, was first invoked during the Korean War and has been re-invoked more than 50 times since.
Alongside that act, Trump announced several other measures Wednesday:
- Trump has activated FEMA at Level 1, which is its highest level.
- His administration has dispatched two military hospital ships, which are now headed to New York City and the West Coast (however, those ships will likely not be deployed for another two weeks).
- Housing and Urban Development has been told to suspend all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April.
- Health and Human Services are suspending regulations that prevent medical professionals from practicing across state lines. It is also calling the nation to postpone all elective medical procedures.
Before the press conference this morning, Trump announced that he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have mutually agreed to close the U.S.-Canada border.
Notably, that will not affect trade, and the border will still be open for essential traffic.
This announcement comes after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that he was closing the border, though at the time, the U.S. had been exempt.
Also on Wednesday, the Treasury Department laid out the details for a $1 trillion stimulus package Trump wants to Congress to pass. That would notably include relief checks for Americans that could be sent out as soon as April 6.
Trump Criticizes Michigan and New York Governors in Tweets
Trump’s invocation comes after a series of spats between him and several governors. Several of those arguments came after Trump met with U.S. governors via a conference call on Monday.
In that call, multiple governors reportedly asked for more federal support, but according to The New York Times, Trump then told them, “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves. We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Also according to The Times, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham then told Trump in that call, “If one state doesn’t get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk.”
Grisham reportedly went on to say that the federal government was impeding states’ abilities to respond to the virus, as well as creating a situation where states are competing against one another for the needed products.
After that conference call, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters that the federal government had been “behind from day one of this crisis,” calling the administration’s response “inexcusable.”
On Tuesday morning, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer criticized Trump’s response in an interview with MSNBC.
“To hear the leader of the federal government tell us to work around the federal government cause it’s too slow is just, it’s kind of mind-boggling to be honest. We are pulling out all the stops here in Michigan,” she said. “But we need the federal government to work. We need respirators and ventilators and personal protection equipment. We need more test kits and the resources to process those test kits.”
Some governors have supported the president’s recommendation and even tried to clarify it. In fact, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Trump was telling them to “cut out the federal bureaucracy and potentially get it quicker. What he was saying was sensible.”
Trump’s War of Words With Governors
With criticism from those governor’s, however, Trump has unexpectedly fought back.
Monday afternoon, after Cuomo made his comments calling the response “inexcusable,” Trump then said on Twitter: “Cuomo of New York has to “do more”.
Following that, Cuomo responded, “I have to do more? No — YOU have to do something! You’re supposed to be the President.”
Tuesday morning, Trump then took another swing at Cuomo, telling the governor to “…keep politics out of it….”
The two seemingly reconciled later Tuesday and now they are trying to work together more amicably. Cuomo told reporters “put [his] hand out in partnership.”
“There’s no time for” hyper-partisan politicking right now,” Cuomo told reporters after saying he put his hand out in partnership. “The president is doing the right thing in offering to step up with New York, and I appreciate it.”
In turn, Trump then said, “…we had a really good talk this morning. We’re both doing a really good job.”
Trump, however, did not stop at Cuomo. Shortly after saying Cuomo needs to do more on Twitter, Trump called Whitmer a “Failing Michigan Governor.”
About an hour later, Whitmer responded with a list of actions she has put into place since the coronavirus outbreak in her state., including ensuring Medicaid waiver for copays and cost-sharing for testing, declaring a State of Emergency, closing all K-12 schools, restricting entry into care facilities and juvenile justice facilities, enhancing restrictions on price gouging, and expanding unemployment benefits.
“Ironically, he made my point that [the federal government is] not taking this as seriously as they need to,” Whitmer told The New York Times, also saying Trump had been “watching TV.”
Concerns That Trump Isn’t Taking the Coronavirus Seriously
Although Trump has called for unity and told people to keep partisan politics out of the coronavirus outbreak, it is unsurprising to see him and Democrats fighting on Twitter.
However, many politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns over how Trump has been treating this pandemic.
Many have pointed to Trump’s language regarding the outbreak. In January, he said, “We have it totally under control. It’s going to be just fine. ” In February, he said the virus would hopefully go away once the weather warms. On March 15, he said, This is a very contagious virus. It’s incredible. But it’s something that we have tremendous control over.”
They’ve then compared that to Trump’s language on Tuesday, when he said, “I’ve always known this is a real— this is a pandemic … I’ve felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
But the fact does remain that Trump has become increasingly serious about the outbreak in the U.S. In fact, because of that, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said, “His messaging sounds a lot more like the way I’ve been talking and some of my colleagues have been talking about it for weeks.”
Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge also commented on the difference in Trump’s tone, saying, “I’d want to take a clue from my governors. It seems that message has finally caught up with the White House.”
How Has Trump Acted More Seriously?
Trump announced Tuesday that he was making a commitment to a “whole of government” process.
“We are starting the process,” he said at a White House press briefing of working with New York. “The state is working on it very hard themselves, but we’ll probably supplement what they’re doing.”
That, of course, comes after the situation with ventilators, but also after the mayor of Seattle, which is one of the hardest-hit areas, asked for “mass tents” to rapidly build shelters. It also follows New York asking for days for the Army Corps of Engineers to quickly build hospitals.
Tuesday night, the Army Corps of Engineers finally said it will work with New York to find more hospital beds.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also announced the Pentagon will give up to 5 million masks to protect health care workers and vulnerable people. Esper said the first million would be made available immediately.
And while it’s expected to fall way short of the number needed, the Pentagon has also made available 2,000 ventilators for hospitals.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee said that he now expects the Department of Defense to help provide resources “that could help bolster new medical hospitals.”
Also, following that aforementioned conference call, New Mexico Governor Grisham said that Pence had pledged to work with her to increase New Mexico’s supply needs.
Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation
Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.
Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed
A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.
The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.
In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.
“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”
Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.
“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”
If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.
A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”
Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.
Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.
Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)
Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11
Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works
Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.
While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.
Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults.
Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage.
That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.
While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course.
With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.
“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air
While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.
Booster Rollout in Flux
President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.
The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.
However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.
The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.
Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.
Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.
Debate Continues in Crucial Week
More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.
On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.
The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide.
On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.
The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.”
Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.
Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.
“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”
It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.
Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.
Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.
Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.
“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”