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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Good morning! This is STAT health tech reporter Erin Brodwin filling in before Shraddha’s return tomorrow. And if you’re interested in more health tech news, subscribe to my team’s twice-weekly newsletter here.

In Q&A, Vice President Kamala Harris calls for urgent action on the Black maternal health crisis

Vice President Kamala Harris says the need to address the Black maternal health crisis "grows more urgent" every day. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It’s a crisis that has long been ignored at the highest levels of U.S. government: Black women are roughly three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Now, breaking new ground for a vice president, Kamala Harris is calling for sweeping action to address racial inequities in pregnancy and childbirth. “With every day that goes by and every woman who dies, the need for action grows more urgent,” Harris told STAT’s Nicholas St. Fleur in an emailed interview. As a senator, Harris was the lead sponsor in the Senate for the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, a package of bills that would diversify the perinatal workforce and fund community-based maternal health groups. “Black women deserve to be heard — and treated with dignity and respect — throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period,” Harris said. Read the full interview here.

HHS reverses Trump-era ban on fetal tissue research 

On Friday, HHS reversed a series of restrictions on human fetal tissue research put in place under the Trump administration. Of unique value to biomedicine, the tissue — which comes from women who have chosen to donate it after an elective abortion — has helped scientists develop vaccines and study viral infections including HIV and Covid-19. A number of anti-abortion-rights groups oppose the work on religious and moral grounds. Under the Trump-era restrictions, the NIH was barred from conducting fetal tissue research outright; external research applicants had to obtain approval from an ethics advisory board which, in August 2020, rejected all but one of more than a dozen funding applications. In a statement Friday, the International Society for Stem Cell Research applauded HHS’ move, calling the previous limitations “arbitrary” and adding that the tissue “remains essential” for health research.

Biden administration building $1.7B network to track virus variants

In preparation for the possibility of a mutation-driven fourth wave of Covid-19 cases, the Biden administration announced Friday a three-pronged, $1.7 billion federal program to track viral mutations. The effort comes on the heels of a surge in cases with the B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the U.K. The new proposal, which is aimed at establishing the first permanent national infrastructure for biological threats, will involve:

  • Directing funding to the CDC and state health departments to map the genes of Covid-19 samples. 
  • Partnering with universities to create six “centers of excellence” for research and development efforts that would help monitor for signs of new and emerging genomic pathogens.
  • Creating a national data information-sharing network to exchange information related to emerging disease threats.

Inside STAT: American Hospital Association loses its top lobbyist at a critical time

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Tom Nickels, the top lobbyist at the American Hospital Association, is retiring. (Screen Grab via C-SPAN)

Tom Nickels helped build the American Hospital Association into one of Washington’s biggest lobbying forces. The resignation of the health policy dealmaker — whose old-school lobbying style is described by a former staffer as “coming on like a freight train” — raises key questions about the AHA’s future and the new tactics it may have to forge to defend its members from increasing scrutiny about its prices and profits, STAT’s Rachel Cohrs writes. The association boasts nearly 5,000 hospitals, health systems, and other members and has an operating budget of over $132 million. “If Tom is the brain trust there, and he is gone, then what does that mean for their strategy?” one hospital lobbyist told Rachel. “The jury is still out on that question.” More for STAT+ subscribers here.

New research suggests mRNA-based vaccines may offer less protection for people with blood cancers

One of the most remarkable achievements to emerge from the pandemic are several, highly effective vaccines. But for people with certain health conditions, that boon isn’t so clear-cut. A new pair of studies suggest that mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines may not work as well in people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and multiple myeloma, two kinds of blood cancer. In the first study, of 167 patients with CLL given the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, just 39.5% showed a positive immune response to the shots, compared with nearly 100% of healthy, similarly aged people. There was some potential good news: The study suggests timing the shot with patients’ cancer treatment regimen could help elicit a better response, as people who’d completed treatment saw significantly higher rates of immune reactivity. The second study found similar results in older patients with multiple myeloma.

Report offers guidance for pediatricians to prevent abuse of children with disabilities

Compared with their peers, children with disabilities are at least three times more likely to experience abuse and neglect. But there’s an inherent problem in identifying this kind of abuse: Because of communication difficulties, some children with disabilities may be unable to report it. A new American Academy of Pediatrics report offers guidance on how pediatricians can and should support families in preventing such abuse. An update to a 2007 paper, the new guidelines provide seven suggestions for pediatricians, from being alert for signs of maltreatment to establishing reasonable expectations of a child’s abilities for caretakers. The document is aimed at helping busy pediatricians — including those without specific expertise on child maltreatment or disability — to approach the issue in an informed and sensitive way.

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 42,018
Deaths yesterday
: 313
Vaccine doses distributed, per CDC264,505,725
Total doses administered: 209,406,814

What to read around the web today

  • Half of US adults have received at least one Covid-19 shot. Associated Press
  • The Covid-19 plasma boom is over. What did we learn from it? New York Times
  • HHS employee dies while helping at shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in Houston. Washington Post
  • First dose of Chinese Covid-19 vaccine offers little protection, Chile learns. Wall Street Journal
  • Opinion: The FDA should embrace remote and automated drug inspection technology. STAT+

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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