Health Highlights: March 25, 2021

White House Announces $10 Billion More to Increase COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

Another $10 billion in funding to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in low-income, minority and rural areas across the United States was announced Thursday by the Biden administration.

About $6 billion will go to community health centers to expand COVID-19 vaccinations, testing and other preventive health measures for high-risk populations, the Associated Press reported.

There will be $3 billion to boost ""vaccine confidence" in 64 jurisdictions. That funding is available to rural, faith-based organizations and food assistance and housing nonprofit groups to do door-to-door outreach and education to encourage eligible people in low-income areas to make appointments for COVID-19 shots.

Some of that $3 billion will also be used by dialysis clinics to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to clients and staff, the AP reported.

There will be about $300 million for community health worker services to support COVID-19 prevention and control, and another $32 million for training, technical assistance and evaluation, according to the White House.

The $10 billion in funding was announced Thursday and is part of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed earlier this month, the AP reported.

Drug Company Fires Former 'Operation Warp Speed' Science Chief Over Sexual Harassment Claims

Sexual harassment allegations have prompted GlaxoSmithKline to fire Moncef Slaoui, the former scientific director of COVID-19 vaccine development at the Trump Administration's Operation Warp Speed.

GSK announced Wednesday that Slaoui had been removed as chairman of the board of the medical research company Galvani Bioelectronics, a joint venture between GSK and Verily Life Sciences. Galvani develops bioelectronic medicines to treat chronic illness, CBS News reported.

After becoming aware of claims against Slaoui in February, GSK hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation that "substantiated the allegations and is ongoing," about behavior by Slaoui that "occurred several years ago when he was an employee of GSK," the company said in a statement.

Slaoui was appointed as science chief of Operation Warp Speed by former President Donald Trump last May. He left that position in January and briefly worked as an adviser to the Biden Administration, CBS News reported.

New U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Is First Openly Transgender Federal Official

Rachel Levine has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as assistant secretary of health, becoming the first openly transgender federal official to win Senate confirmation.

The vote Wednesday was 52-48 and the result was mostly along party lines. Only two Republicans -- Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine -- voted with all Democrats in supporting Levine, the Associated Press reported.

Levine, who had been Pennsylvania Health Secretary since 2017, is expected to be in charge of Health and Human Services offices and programs nationwide.

Levine's achievement is considered a historic breakthrough by transgender-rights activists because few trans people have held high-level state or federal offices, the AP reported.

A graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School, Levine is president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She's written in the past on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine, the AP reported.

State AGs Urge Facebook, Twitter to Tackle Vaccine Misinformation

Facebook and Twitter should "take immediate steps" against vaccine misinformation as efforts are underway to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19, 12 state attorneys general said in a letter to the two companies.

The officials urged Facebook and Twitter to "identify and enforce" their terms of service to reduce misleading information about vaccines, CBS News reported.

"A small group of individuals use your platforms to downplay the dangers of COVID-19 and spread misinformation about the safety of vaccines," the attorneys general wrote. "These individuals lack medical expertise and are often motivated by financial interests."

The attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Virginia signed the letter, CBS News reported.

"Anti-vaxxer" accounts on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter reach more than 59 million followers, the group said, citing a recent report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate. The attorneys general added that anti-vaccine social media accounts target individuals of color and Black communities in particular, who have been hit harder by the virus and whose vaccination rates lag behind other groups, CBS News reported.

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