Overnight Health Care: Science inconclusive on use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients | Fauci says Pence listens to him even though he’s ‘the skunk at the picnic’

Welcome to Monday’s Overnight Health Care.

a plastic bag on a table: Overnight Health Care: Science inconclusive on use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients | Fauci says Pence listens to him even though he's 'the skunk at the picnic' | First confirmed coronavirus reinfection found in Hong Kong, researchers say

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Overnight Health Care: Science inconclusive on use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients | Fauci says Pence listens to him even though he’s ‘the skunk at the picnic’ | First confirmed coronavirus reinfection found in Hong Kong, researchers say

The Trump administration is facing criticism after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 infection was found in Hong Kong, the first night of the Republican National Convention kicks off Monday, and the pandemic stands as President Trump’s biggest roadblock to reelection.

Let’s start with plasma:

Science inconclusive on use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients

President Trump’s announcement that his administration would authorize the emergency use of convalescent plasma in patients suffering from COVID-19 has put the government out of step with scientists who say there is no firm indication yet that such treatment actually works.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) late Sunday issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma, allowing it to be administered to those hospitalized with COVID-19. In a letter, FDA chief scientist Denise Hinton said the agency had concluded “that it is reasonable to believe that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may be effective for the treatment” of those in the hospital.

Convalescent plasma is derived from the blood of those who have had and recovered from a virus. It uses antibodies created by the immune system to help a recipient’s body learn to fight off a pathogen on its own.

Though Trump touted convalescent plasma as a “very historic breakthrough,” it is one of the oldest tools in modern medicine, a technique that goes back to the development of the modern understanding of viruses. It has been used to treat everything from influenza to, more recently, the Ebola virus.

Why it matters: In the case of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there are conflicting signs about whether convalescent plasma even works. Studies across the globe have given mixed signals. Last week, top American health officials including National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, raised objections to an emergency use authorization, The New York Times reported.

Read more here.

First confirmed coronavirus reinfection found in Hong Kong, researchers say

But don’t panic! Even though it sounds bad, researchers said this one case is not cause for alarm.

What happened: Scientists at the University of Hong Kong said a patient got coronavirus a second time 4 1/2 months after the initial infection and that the genomic sequence of the virus strain for the first infection was different than that of the second.

What it means: It’s important to note the patient did not have any symptoms in the second infection.

“This is interesting but not alarming,” tweeted Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“First, this appears to be rare,” he added. “Though we don’t go looking often enough so unclear. Second, person was asymptomatic during the re-infection. This is exactly what one would want to see with immunity – that you can pick up virus again but that it won’t cause serious illness.”

Read more here.

Fauci says Pence listens to him even though he’s ‘the skunk at the picnic’

Vice President Pence was praised by Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, for his willingness to listen to the latter’s dire warnings about the scope of the U.S.’s COVID-19 outbreak in an interview published Monday.

Answering emailed questions from The Washington Post, Fauci told the newspaper that Pence was doing his best to serve in his new role as head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, on which Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is a member.

“I am sometimes referred to as ‘the skunk at the picnic’ but Pence never directly asks me, the skunk, to be quiet or leave,” said Fauci in response to the questions, adding that Pence was “a truly decent person, and very smart, who is trying to do his best in a very difficult and fluid situation.”

“Some may say that Pence and his team are ‘too ideological’ but they are after all political people. This is not unexpected,” Fauci added, according to the Post.

Read more here.

Trump’s biggest roadblock to reelection is COVID-19

President Trump‘s biggest obstacle to winning a second term in office is the coronavirus pandemic, which has dramatically altered the course of the presidential race and raised serious questions about his leadership.

Trump and his campaign have sought to contend with criticism by arguing that China is to blame for the global spread of the virus and that the U.S. government has done everything in its power to steer resources to states.

The president has repeatedly highlighted his decision to cut off travel from China and Europe, noting it was criticized at the time but was then followed by other countries.

Republicans believe Trump will have a compelling and optimistic story to tell at the national convention this week about the extreme measures he’s taken in pursuit of a vaccine, but there are real questions about whether the Trump administration took the virus seriously when it first arrived in the U.S., and polls reflect voter disappointment with the White House.

More than 170,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, more than in any other country. The nation has had 5.5 million cases and counting. Beyond the terrible death toll, the pandemic has wrecked the economy and interrupted life, preventing children from going to school and curtailing everything from summer evenings at the ballpark to date night at the weekend movie blockbuster.

Read more here.

As COVID-19 surges on campuses, in-person learning becomes less of a reality

Colleges and universities are already shifting from in-person instruction to online classes after hundreds of students on campuses across the country tested positive for COVID-19, throwing cold water on hopes for the fall semester.

In the past week, big-name schools such as Notre Dame, Michigan State and University of North Carolina have moved classes online after briefly resuming in-person instruction, and other universities are likely to do the same in the coming weeks as the explosion of cases continues.

Clusters have also been identified at other universities that remain open, threatening to spill over into the college towns and cities across America. But as cases continue to rise in these communities, experts warn that in-person instruction at universities will most likely prove infeasible in the middle of a pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that young adults are becoming major spreaders of the virus, particularly those who don’t know they have it because their symptoms are mild or nonexistent.

“We know from several studies that young adults spread the virus at very high rates. Bringing college and university students to campus, living in close proximity, will be a perfect set up for the virus to spread, quickly,” said Katherine Auger, associate chair for outcomes at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Read more here.

Trump seeks health care victory on prescription drugs

President Trump is searching for a health care victory ahead of the 2020 election, and has turned to executive action to try to achieve it.

The administration is looking to fend off attacks from Democrats, who see the president as particularly vulnerable on health care.

Trump’s coronavirus response has put him on the defensive. More than 175,000 people have died in the U.S. as the virus continues to spread, and the economy is stymied.

In addition, the administration is actively pursuing a lawsuit at the Supreme Court to completely overturn ObamaCare, which would result in more than 20 million people losing health insurance.

Trump has no replacement plan if his lawsuit is successful.

Facing that backdrop, Trump in the past month has taken executive action, signing four orders aimed at lowering drug prices.

The strategy: Even if the orders won’t have an immediate – or possibly any – impact, the point is to show he’s taking action, and send a message about priorities for his second term. Trump has long painted himself the enemy of “Big Pharma,” and this continues with that type of messaging.

But COVID: It’s not a bad strategy, but 2020 is not a normal year. The problem: anything Trump says on health care has to be taken in the context of the pandemic, which makes it harder for other issues to break through.

Read more here.


As election day approaches, the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ever-present threat. On the sidelines of the 2020 Republican Convention, The Hill will host a discussion with policymakers and hospital and medical school leaders about lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of research and innovation in battling healthcare crises, and the value of a resilient and responsive health care ecosystem. Rep. Michael Burgess, M.D. (R-Texas) joins The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

RSVP for event reminders.

What we’re reading

Biden, Harris to get regular COVID testing ahead of election (Bloomberg)

As child COVID cases rise, doctors watch for potential long-term effects (The Wall Street Journal)

How Trump let COVID win (Vox)

State by State

Florida’s cautionary tale: how gutting and muzzling public health field COVID fire (Kaiser Health News)

Articles of impeachment drawn up against Gov. Mike DeWine over coronavirus orders (Cleveland.com)

As union leaders call for slower line speeds, COVID-19 spreads in Mississippi poultry plants (Clarion Ledger)

Op-eds in The Hill

The USPS is a vital part of our health care system

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