Good morning, and TGIF. 

Today, House Democrats plan to pass a bill guaranteeing the right to abortion through federal law. But first: We have breaking news. 

Rochelle Walensky is recommending boosters for an additional group of people

The American public finally knows who’s eligible for the nation’s first coronavirus booster shot.

Early this morning, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky overruled her agency advisory panel by recommending boosters for people at risk of the coronavirus because of their jobs, The Post’s Lena H. Sun and Laurie McGinley report. It's an additional category of people beyond those the advisory panel had recommended for boosters, which include nursing home residents, seniors and younger people with preexisting conditions.

The rare move caps off a tough stretch for the Biden administration’s booster shot campaign.

The plan for the additional dose has undergone several iterations over the past month — and even over the past 36 hours. The decision Friday paves the way to a booster for a potentially large share of the 26 million Americans six months past their last Pfizer shot. But the changing message may confuse some vaccinated Americans eager for a third dose. 

The rundown:

  • In mid-August, the administration proposed making boosters available to everyone 18 years and older who had received Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine eight months earlier.
  • On Wednesday, the FDA greenlit a third shot of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine after six months for Americans 65 and older, as well as those at risk of serious illness or who have high exposure to the virus at work.
  • On Thursday, the CDC advisory panel’s recommendations mostly reflected the FDA’s authorization. But in a contentious 9 to 6 vote, the panel declined to recommend boosters for people at risk of contracting the coronavirus from their job.
  • Early Friday morning, Walensky went against that vote. The agency recommends boosters for people at risk of exposure or transmission from their workplace or in an institutional setting.

In a statement, Walensky said it was her job “to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact.”

  • “At CDC, we are tasked with analyzing complex, often imperfect data to make concrete recommendations that optimize health,” Walensky said, emphasizing that CDC’s guidance aligns with FDA’s booster shot authorization. “In a pandemic, even with uncertainty, we must take actions that we anticipate will do the greatest good.”

Jeannie Baumann, Blooomberg Law

Broadly defined

Privately, administration officials had hoped the booster recommendations would be as expansive as possible and include workplace exposure, Lena and Laurie write. But some on the CDC’s advisory panel were afraid to allow workers to get the booster, worried it would essentially open the door too wide.

  • “We might as well just say give it to anyone 18 and over,” Pablo J. Sanchez, a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University, said at yesterday’s meeting. “We have a really effective vaccine, and it is like saying that it is not working, and it is working.”

The definition of underlying health conditions is also pretty broad, state health officials point out, and will likely encompass millions of people. For example, it includes those who are obese, smoke or have conditions like cancer or diabetes.

“I think this is tough,” Patrick Allen, the head of the Oregon Health Authority, said. “It really is why our advice is going to be: Call your doctor, visit your pharmacy.”

Honor system

It’s no secret that Americans who want a booster will find a way — even if they don’t technically qualify. 

Pharmacies, where over 70 percent of vaccine doses are being given, won’t require additional documentation. Doctors’ notes aren’t needed. And some state officials told The Health 202 that they don’t have the ability to quickly determine eligibility on the spot.

  • Case-in-point: “With the number of people who are going to be showing up for booster doses, we're not going to be able to verify it,” Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said.
  • The quiet part out loud: “In reality, anyone who wants a booster will get one, as has already been happening,” one federal health official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment publicly, told my colleagues.

Reproductive wars

Abortion providers ask Supreme Court to take up Texas law ahead of key vote

Abortion providers and advocates asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to review Texas’s restrictive abortion law banning abortions once a fetus's heartbeat can be detected, The Post’s Robert Barnes reports. The coalition filing the request argued it was taking too long to challenge the law through the traditional procedures.

“Texans are in crisis,” said the brief filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and others.

Happening today: An abortion rights fight on the House floor. 

Legislation guaranteeing the right to an abortion through federal law, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, is up for a vote. The bill is expected to pass in the Democratic-controlled House but is unlikely to pass the Senate. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate, has expressed opposition to the bill.

These latest developments come as Texas women travel hundreds of miles in search of abortions at health clinics across the country, The Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Findell reports. In Shreveport, La., health-care professionals at Hope Medical Group for Women are booked more than three weeks out. And in Oklahoma, nearly 70 percent of the patients at Tulsa Women’s Clinic are from Texas.

Chart check

Inside America’s hospitalization and vaccination divide

The delta variant has created stark differences across the country in vaccination and hospitalization rates, leaving regions with fewer vaccinations swamped with covid hospitalizations, The Post’s Zach Levitt and Dan Keating report.

Chart breakdown: 

  • Purple regions (e.g. Florence, S.C.) — low vaccination, high hospitalization
  • Green regions (e.g. Boston and Philadelphia) — high vaccination, low hospitalization
  • The trend shows that rates of vaccination are disproportionate to rates of hospitalization in areas across the country.

Even many highly vaccinated regions are considered covid hot spots, according to the CDC, due to steady community transmission from the infectious delta variant. But despite the virus’ prevalence, hospitalization remains low in those communities.

Coronavirus

Here’s what else you need to know: 

  • Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced his support for mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for eligibile schoolchildren, Politico’s Juan Perez Jr. reports.
  • The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has mandated vaccines for all athletes and team staff members ahead of Beijing’s 2022 games. They must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, The Post’s Cindy Boren reports.
  • A Department of Defense watchdog issued a report criticizing the country’s pharmaceutical supply chain’s overreliance on foreign suppliers. The report called the DOD's failure to analyze the origins of unfinished medicines or active ingredients a threat to national security, Stat News’s Ed Silverman reports.
  • Alachua County Public Schools became the first school district in the country to receive a federal grant funding after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) penalized the district for mandating masks, The Post’s Paulina Firozi reports.
  • Penn State has suspended 117 students for failing to comply with weekly coronavirus testing, The Post’s Paulina Firozi reports.
  • New York health commissioner Howard A. Zucker, who came under fire for his possible role in helping obscure coronavirus death numbers in nursing homes, resigned, The New York Times’s Luis Ferré-Sadurní reports.
  • Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel predicted that the pandemic would end in a year and that there would be enough vaccines for “everyone on this Earth.” Vaccination rates remain in single digits across Africa, with Moderna selling its early doses to rich countries, The Post’s Ellen Francis reports.

Agency alert

It’s time to start prepping for the next pandemic, top scientists say

It’s time for governments to start preparing for future pandemics by developing a robust global surveillance system to detect emerging pathogens, top science advisers from the U.S. and the U.K. said this week, Axios’s Alison Snyder reports.

Policymakers need to learn from the last 19 months, and take steps now to get ready for the next pandemic, White House science adviser Eric Lander and the U.K.’s chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance said during a pandemic preparedness event.

Rick Bright, head of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute, told Snyder that countries can do more: “Traditional epidemiological information could be coupled with new data about people’s travel patterns and social behavior, or even from wastewater systems, all to provide earlier signals of an emerging threat.”

Industry Rx

Methamphetamine deaths skyrocket, hitting Black and Native Americans the hardest

Methamphetamine-related overdose deaths are skyrocketing across the country, with the drug spreading into new communities, NPR’s Brian Mann reports. While Native Americans and Alaskan Natives continue to maintain the highest rates of methamphetamine use, Black communities have seen a tenfold increase in methamphetamine use.

  • By the numbers: From 2015 to 2019, deaths linked to methamphetamine use rose from 5,526 a year to 15,489 a year. That's roughly a 180% increase.

The increase in deaths has been linked to fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid. 

Policy watch: Last week, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy asked Congress to approve $10.7 billion for drug treatment.

Quote of the week

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.