Last Thursday, Massachusetts residents aged 65 and older and those with 2+ comorbidities became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Due to supply constraints and the number of newly eligible individuals, approximately 1 million residents, it will likely take more than one month for this cohort to secure an appointment, according to the announcement. MassBio will provide further updates on the vaccine distribution timeline as they become available. Also last week, Governor Baker announced a new outreach program targeted towards the 20 Massachusetts communities hardest hit by the pandemic. Through this program, the Department of Public Health will work with local community leaders and health centers to help overcome barriers to vaccination. And in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh issued an executive order to increase the city’s use of minority and women-owned contractors. According to the order, at least 25% of Boston’s contractor spending will be allocated to these businesses, with the city aiming to spend at least 15% of contracting dollars on women-owned businesses and 10% on minority-owned businesses.
In Washington, President Biden unveiled actions to expand and improve COVID-19 testing. According to the fact sheet released Wednesday, the Administration will invest $650 million to expand testing for schools and underserved populations; invest $815 million to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies; and invest nearly $200 million to increase virus genome sequencing.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will meet on Friday to discuss the request for emergency use authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Meeting information can be found online, here.
Also this week, the United States Senate will hold two hearings to consider the nomination of Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee will hold its hearing on February 23, followed by the Finance Committee’s hearing on February 24. And on Tuesday, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing entitled, “Pathway to Protection: Expanding Availability of COVID-19 Vaccines.” According to Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA), “This hearing will provide Congress and the American people an update from manufacturers on efforts to develop and scale up production of these critical vaccines, so that every American can be vaccinated in the coming months.”
In Massachusetts, the newly created Joint Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management will host a hearing on Thursday, the first in a series of oversight hearings to review Governor Baker’s vaccine rollout plan. The invite-only hearing, chaired by Representative William Driscoll and Senator Joanne Comerford, will “seek testimony from Baker administration officials on their vaccine distribution operation and future plans for distribution.” And, two new mass vaccination sites open this week – in Natick on Monday and Dartmouth on Wednesday.
Additionally, MassBio will host its 2021 Rare Disease Day on Friday. This year’s program will focus on how we can better address health inequity and racial disparities among the rare disease community and will also feature a free movie screening of keynote speaker Chris Bombardier’s groundbreaking documentary Bombardier Blood. Learn more and register, here.