Health Care — Georgia court reinstates six-week abortion ban

It was a mixed day for abortion rights advocates. We’ll look at the details. Plus: Why the COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant drop-off in worldwide measles vaccinations for children.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? 

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Georgia’s highest court OKs six-week abortion ban

Georgia’s state Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. 

The court granted the state’s emergency petition, and pauses a lower court ruling from last week where a judge called the ban “unconstitutional.” 

Reproductive rights groups had argued the state’s abortion ban violates the state’s constitution.  

They won a decision from the Superior Court of Fulton County, where Judge Robert McBurney ruled earlier this month that the ban was invalid. 

According to the ACLU, patients who had scheduled abortion appointments last week are being turned away. 

  • Georgia’s Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, passed in 2019, would ban abortions in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.  
  • After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, a complex patchwork of state laws emerged with conservative states, particularly in the South and Midwest, moving swiftly to impose new abortion restrictions and even near-total bans.  

Many people do not yet know they are pregnant at six weeks, which is the earliest that fetal cardiac electrical activity can be detected. The electrical activity is not the same as a heartbeat, though the legislation is often called a “heartbeat law.”  

Read more here.

Kansas court allows telemedicine for abortion pills 

A Kansas state court blocked a 2011 law that prohibited doctors from providing medication abortion via telemedicine. 

Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson granted a temporary injunction barring the enforcement of a state law that requires physicians to administer abortion-inducing drugs while they are in the room with the patient. 

Still, the Kansas Supreme Court may ultimately weigh in before telemedicine abortions are allowed to resume. 

  • Since the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June, women have increasingly turned to abortion pills if they need to terminate a pregnancy. It has been found to be extremely safe. 
  • There are two pills needed for a medication abortion, which is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.  

Mifepristone, a drug that blocks hormones necessary for pregnancy, was approved in 2000. It is then followed by misoprostol. 

The FDA temporarily lifted a requirement that mifepristone be dispensed in-person at a clinic or hospital because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Biden administration made the change permanent in December, paving the way for doctors to prescribe the drug digitally and then mail the pills to patients. 

In 2020, medication abortion accounted for 54 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the U.S.  

But 18 states have laws that prohibit the use of telemedicine for medication abortion.

BACTERIAL INFECTIONS LINKED TO 1 IN 8 DEATHS IN 2019

In a study published Monday in The Lancet, a massive group of collaborators report the first global estimates of mortality rates from bacterial pathogens.  

The study found that in 2019, 7.7 million deaths around the world were associated with bacterial infection. That estimate made up 13.6 percent, or about 1 in 8, of all global deaths that year.  

This analysis highlights the importance of understanding how many deaths can be attributed to bacterial infection, and the related issue of antimicrobial resistance, which has been steadily on the rise in recent decades.  

Taking a global view puts into perspective how many more deaths could occur if the antibiotics currently in use become less effective.  

The team used 343 million individual records and pathogen isolates to estimate deaths and type of infection responsible. 

Read more here. 

MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDER SHORTAGES CAN INCREASE YOUTH SUICIDE RATES: STUDY

Increased suicide rates among youths between ages 5 and 19 have coincided with growing shortages of mental health care providers at the county level, according to the results of a new study.  

Findings were published in JAMA Pediatrics and reflect data from 2015 and 2016.  

However, national data show more than 157 million Americans currently live in an area with a shortage of mental health care professionals.  

A total of 5,034 youth died by suicide within the study window, the majority of whom were male and white.  

Before adjusting for confounding factors, researchers found counties with provider shortages had a 41 percent higher youth suicide rate, at 5.09 deaths per 100,000 youths, compared with 3.62 deaths per 100,000 in areas without shortages.

Of the 3,133 counties included in the study, more than two-thirds had shortages of mental health care providers. These counties were more likely to have more uninsured children, lower educational attainment, higher unemployment and poverty, and were more often rural.  

Read more here. 

Missed measles vax put up to 40M children at risk

Worldwide measles vaccinations in children declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, making the disease an “imminent threat” worldwide, according to a joint report released Wednesday from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

In 2021, a record high of nearly 40 million children missed a measles vaccine dose: nearly 25 million children missed their first dose, an 11 percent increase from 2020. An additional 14.7 million children missed their second dose, the report found, the lowest levels of vaccination since 2008. 

Delays increase the risk of measles outbreaks, and the agencies said now is the time for public health officials to accelerate vaccination efforts and strengthen surveillance. 

  • Measles is extremely contagious, but is almost entirely preventable through vaccination. A country needs at least a 95 percent vaccination rate in order to achieve herd immunity and eliminate the virus.  
  • But the world is well under that, as only 81 percent of children have received their first measles-containing vaccine dose, and only 71 percent of children have received their second vaccine dose. 

“For a disease like measles that’s so highly infectious, that really leaves us with an enormous number of unvaccinated children and just very high levels of risk for outbreaks and for the disease to cross borders. … Measles anywhere is a threat everywhere,” said Cynthia Hatcher, one of the report’s authors who oversees CDC’s African measles elimination work. 

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Trickle of covid relief funds helps fill gaps in rural kids’ mental health services (Kaiser Health News) 
  • One-third of U.S. labs have stopped using race-based equations to diagnose kidney disease (Stat) 
  • Adderall and amoxicillin shortages raise questions about transparency and accountability in Big Pharma (NBC) 

STATE BY STATE

  • A work-from-home culture takes root in California (Sacramento Bee) 
  • With term drawing to close, Baker reappointed chief medical examiner, his administration’s highest-paid employee (Boston Globe) 
  • Oklahoma State Health Department mum on nonexistence of a Pandemic Center, problems at health lab (KRMG) 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you next week.

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