Health Highlights: March 11, 2021

Arguments Over Medicaid Work Requirements Called Off by Supreme Court

A request by the Biden administration to call off arguments over a Trump administration plan to require Medicaid recipients to work has been agreed to by the Supreme Court.

The issue had been scheduled to be taken up by the court on March 29, but the Biden administration decided that the work requirements don't fit with Medicaid's goal of providing health care to lower-income people, the Associated Press reported.

In December, the Supreme Court agreed to review lower-court rulings that the Trump administration's work requirements went beyond what's allowed by law.

Those cases involved Arkansas and New Hampshire, and Arkansas opposed the Biden administration's request that the cases be dropped, the AP reported.

Gene Therapy for Sickle Cell Didn't Cause Patient's Leukemia

There's no evidence that a promising gene therapy for sickle cell disease triggered leukemia in a patient, according to the company testing the experimental treatment.

Bluebird Bio announced a few weeks ago that a sickle cell patient treated with the gene therapy five years ago in a clinical trial had developed acute myeloid leukemia, and that another patient developed acute myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of cancer that is often a precursor to leukemia, The New York Times reported.

Bluebird Bio halted its trials of the therapy for sickle cell patients and those with another blood disorder called beta thalassemia while it investigated if the gene therapy was at fault.

On Wednesday, the company said it had not found evidence that the gene therapy caused the sickle cell patient's leukemia, theTimes reported.

Bluebird Bio is still assessing whether the gene therapy may be linked to acute myelodysplastic syndrome, but has asked the Food and Drug Administration to allow its clinical trials to continue.

Before the trials were halted, Bluebird Bio had been on track to apply next year for FDA approval of the gene therapy, theTimes reported.

Most Employees Want Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination at Work

Seven in 10 U.S. employees who started working at home during the pandemic say their companies should introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccination before workers are called back to the office, a new survey reveals.

It also found that 76% of the more than 2,000 adults polled from Feb. 16 to 18 plan to get vaccinated as soon as they can, CBS News reported.

About 70% of employees said they'd like their companies to provide incentives -- such as cash bonuses and extra time off -- to get vaccinated, according to the findings from the employment website Glassdoor.

With a few exemptions, employers are allowed to require the vaccine and to ban unvaccinated people from the workplace, CBS News reported.

"COVID-19 has triggered a new wave of employee expectations, from incentives to get a vaccine to more flexible work options, even after it's safe to return to the office," Carina Cortez, Glassdoor's chief people officer, said in a statement. "Employers must take employee feedback into account to determine what is best for their workforce, including how to best support employees who plan to get the vaccine, and employees who do not."

The Glassdoor survey also shows that working from home has proven to be a popular. Nearly nine in 10 respondents said they want to continue working from home, even when it's safe to return to the office.

Nearly one quarter of U.S. adults surveyed said they would consider quitting their jobs if they were called back to the workplace before all employees are vaccinated. A slightly smaller share of workers are so happy at home they said they might quit anyway should they be called back to the office.

U.K Variant of Coronavirus Much More Deadly: Study

The so-called U.K. variant of the coronavirus has a "significantly higher" death rate than earlier versions of the virus, researchers say.

The B.1.1.7 variant was first identified in Britain last fall and experts say it's up to 70% more infectious than the original strain. A new study found that people infected with the variant were between 32% and 104% more likely to die than those with previous variants, the Washington Post reported.

Of 543,906 patients infected with the B.1.1.7 variant, 227 died. There were 141 deaths among the same number of patients infected with other variants, according to the study published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

"The variant of concern, in addition to being more transmissible, seems to be more lethal," the study authors wrote, the Post reported.

The B.1.1.7 variant is now circulating in more than 100 countries and nearly 3,300 cases of the variant have been identified in the United States

"Coupled with its ability to spread rapidly, this makes B.1.1.7 a threat that should be taken seriously," study co-leader Robert Challen, a researcher at the University of Exeter, U.K., told Reuters, the Post reported.

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