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The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

Will Democrats pick an antiabortion candidate with the prospect of no Roe?

The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

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Good Monday morning, and a note for all the other peanut butter lovers out there: There’s a recall for some Jif peanut butter.

Today’s edition: Pfizer covid shot is 80 percent effective for the youngest kids, according to early data. Health officials are on alert for monkeypox. But first …

Rep. Henry Cuellar faces heightened attacks over abortion rights as he fights for his seat

The House’s last antiabortion Democrat was already facing a tough primary race – and that was before the leaked draft opinion showing the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Party leaders are still sticking with nine-term Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. But the leaked opinion has stirred up more opposition to him, as his opponent Jessica Cisneros and abortion rights advocates call for an abortion-rights majority in Congress.

Tuesday's primary

Tomorrow, Cuellar faces a heated primary runoff with Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration attorney who staunchly supports access to abortion.

In March, Cisneros finished less than 1,000 votes behind Cuellar. Now, the two are squaring off again to become the Democratic Party’s candidate in Texas’s 28th Congressional District, an area where residents don’t fit squarely into the national mold of conservative or liberal. 

From the outset, prominent abortion rights groups had supported Cisneros. Now, both advocates and Cisneros have seized on the leaked draft from the Supreme Court to raise the stakes, hoping it’ll further galvanize support to defeat the only House Democrat who voted against legislation to codify Roe v. Wade last fall.

  • “With the leak happening, it has put in an even bigger spotlight on Cuellar’s position over abortion, and voters are paying attention, and they're not going to stand for a Democratic candidate to hold an antiabortion position,” said Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.

The race comes as Democrats across the country plan to use the draft opinion to energize the base, believing it’ll help mobilize voters amid attacks from Republicans over the rising prices of gas and other goods. But in South Texas, Cuellar has maintained the backing of House Democratic leaders who traditionally support their incumbents.

What's new

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) — the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — threw her support behind Cisneros late last week. But just a handful of House Democrats have publicly endorsed Cisneros, Politico reports this morning, saying the dynamic is complicated, including reluctance to back a colleague’s primary challenger and fears of potentially losing the seat come November. 

Yet, the endorsement is notable because Jayapal had initially decided to stay out of the race. Because of her position as CPC chair, Jayapal said she’d shied away from personal endorsements against sitting members of Congress, even if they aren’t part of the progressive caucus. 

  • “But when the leaked opinion came, and I have been out here telling people that the way that we’re going to fix this is to make sure that we have real pro-choice majorities in the House and the Senate, it really felt unthinkable to me that I wouldn’t get engaged in this race,” Jayapal told The Health 202.

Meanwhile … In the final stretch of the race, NARAL Pro-Choice America — a leading abortion rights organization — deployed four members of its organizing staff to the district and is making 15,000 phone calls and knocking on 2,000 doors. It also ran a digital ad and crafted a direct mail program alongside Women Vote!, the independent expenditure arm of Emily’s List, a prominent group helping elect women who support abortion rights.

The intraparty battle

Roughly 36 hours after Politico published the leaked draft, Cisneros called on Democratic leadership to withdraw their support of Cuellar as the party seeks to protect access to abortions.

That same day, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) visited the district to campaign with the longtime congressman, a trip that had been announced over a week beforehand. (Neither the Cuellar nor Cisneros campaigns responded to a request for comment from The Health 202.)

  • “I don’t believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party. I think we have to bring as many people into the party as we possibly can,” Clyburn said at the time, according to the Texas Tribune. “This whole notion that you’ve got to agree with everybody on everything is pretty sophomoric to me.”
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have also continued to stick by Cuellar. “Our platform says that we’re a pro-choice party. We are a pro-choice party. That does not mean that there’s not room in our party for alternative voices,” Hoyer told reporters this month, adding that Cuellar “has represented his district well.”

Cuellar defended his abortion position in a statement after the leak, though he said the draft opinion was “not based on precedent and is not incremental in nature.” He said he opposed outright bans, and that any prohibitions on the procedure should include exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

Cuellar after the leaked draft:

Cisneros after the leaked draft:

Coronavirus

🚨 New this morning: Pfizer says its coronavirus shot is 80 percent effective in young kids.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, said an early analysis of its three-dose coronavirus vaccine triggered an immune response in young children, and is 80 percent effective at preventing symptomic infections in children 6 months to 4 years old, our colleague Carolyn Y. Johnson reports. 

The companies plan to finish filing data with the Food and Drug Administration this week, and said the efficacy number is fluid because results are still coming in. But the results signal that the long wait for a vaccine for the youngest children could end within weeks. 

Federal officials are already reviewing Moderna’s pediatric vaccine, a two-shot regimen that was 51 percent effective in preventing illness for those between 6 months and 2 years old, and 37 percent effective in children 2 to 5 years old. One official familiar with the process suggested to Carolyn that the two vaccines may be reviewed side by side.

Also this a.m.: The Surgeon General issued an advisory on health care worker burnout.

In the courts

Title 42 will remain in place for now

A federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Biden administration from lifting Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic policy that has led to the swift expulsion of nearly 2 million migrants at the southern border, The Post’s Maria Sacchetti reports.

Catch up quick: The emergency public health order was supposed to expire today, but the termination received backlash from 24 states concerned about the potential costs associated with illegal immigration. U.S. District Judge Robert R. Summerhays sided with the Republican attorneys general, and issued a preliminary injunction Friday. Within hours of Summerhays’s ruling, the Justice Department said it would appeal the decision.

Key context: For weeks, the Biden administration’s decision to relax the pandemic restrictions at the border has stalled passage of billions more dollars in coronavirus aid. Senate Republicans want to pass an amendment keeping the border provision in place, but Democratic leadership hasn’t yet allowed such a vote. It remains to be seen whether the injunction will break the stalemate.

Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.): 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.):

Agency alert

Top health officials on alert for monkeypox

The CDC on Friday issued an alert urging doctors and state health departments to be on the lookout for cases of monkeypox following an unprecedented global spread of the virus, our colleague Fenit Nirappil reports. 

While there is no specific treatment for monkeypox, the CDC says antivirals used for smallpox could be effective. Studies suggest that the smallpox vaccine — of which the United States has licensed two — is at least 85 percent effective against monkeypox, The Post’s Annabelle Timsit and Seung Min Kim report.

The White House weighs in: Yesterday, Biden said “everybody” should be concerned about the rise of monkeypox cases. “It is a concern that if it were to spread, it would be consequential,” he added. 

But later that day, Biden’s coronavirus czar Ashish Jha said that while he expects to see a few more cases in the coming days, U.S. public health officials have the expertise and tools needed to contain and treat the virus.

  • I am confident we’re going to be able to keep our arms around it,” Jha said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
As monkeypox cases rise in Europe and other parts of the globe, health authorities are expressing concern about the unusual uptick. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard, Meryl Kornfield/The Washington Post)

On the move: There's a new head of tobacco products at the FDA

Brian King will be the new director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products starting July 3. Most recently, King has been working at the CDC, where he’s had a focus on tobacco prevention and control for more than 10 years. The news was met with high praise from Matthew Myers, the president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, but received pushback from the vapor industry.

The announcement comes as Democratic senators are pressing the FDA on its new timeline for its e-cigarette marketing reviews. The agency blew past a September deadline, and now says it likely won’t wrap up the work for major manufacturers until June 2023. 

Industry Rx

Abbott CEO apologizes for formula shortage, details next steps

Abbott Nutrition expects to restart its shuttered Sturgis, Mich., facility at the center of the nationwide infant formula shortage by the first week of June, the company’s CEO Robert Ford wrote in an opinion piece published in The Post. 

Ford’s comments come days before lawmakers on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee are expected to press a top Abbott official about the shortage.

Moving forward, Ford wrote the company would

  • Prioritize EleCare — a specialized formula for children who cannot digest other formulas and milks — when manufacturing resumes.
  • Establish a $5 million fund to offset the costs for families with medical and living expenses due to the shortage.

Meanwhile, the first shipment of infant formula from Europe was delivered via U.S. military plane to Indianapolis on Sunday, as part of the Biden administration's Operation Fly Formula, our colleagues report. A second flight is scheduled to transport another shipment this week. 

Daybook

📅 The Senate is in this week, but the House is out (though still holding hearings). Here’s what we’re watching over the next few days: 

Tuesday’s hearing: A House Financial Services subcommittee on inequities in financial services for people with disabilities, including those newly disabled because of long covid

Wednesday’s hearings: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on infant formula supply and safety; a House Appropriations subcommittee on defense health and medical readiness; a House Appropriations subcommittee on the baby formula shortage. 

Thursday’s hearing: The Senate HELP Committee on addressing the infant formula shortage

Health reads

Tracking coronavirus in animals takes on new urgency (By Ariana Eunjung Cha | The Washington Post)

Live Nation subsidiaries got millions in aid meant for independent venues (By Yeganeh Torbati and Tony Romm | The Washington Post)

D.C. Council pushes health officials on timing of covid case data (By Julie Zauzmer Weil | The Washington Post)

Sugar rush

How On Earth Did The Man In The Yellow Hat Get Monkeypox?

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.

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