Health Highlights: April 14, 2021

Trump Ban on Clinic Abortion Referrals to be Reversed by Biden Administration

A Trump-era ban on federally-funded clinics referring women for abortions will be reversed by the Biden administration, but the process could take months.

Some opponents of the ban -- called a "gag rule" by women's groups and condemned by medical associations -- wanted it immediately suspended, but White House officials believe that going slowly will ultimately increase the likelihood that the reversal will withstand legal challenges, the Associated Press reported.

The Trump ban forced Planned Parenthood out of the federal family planning program called Title X and made it more difficult for womento get birth control.

The program provides about $286 million a year in grants for clinics that serve mainly low-income women and provide birth control and basic health care services such as cancer screenings, the AP reported.

The law that created the program in 1970 stipulates that taxpayer money may not be used "where abortion is a method of family planning."

In the decades since, there's been ongoing debate between abortion rights supporters and opponents about whether counseling women about abortion or referring them to a different provider for an abortion violates that language, the AP reported.

FDA to Set Limits on Toxic Elements in Baby Food

Limits on toxic elements such as arsenic, lead and mercury in baby food will be proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the next few years, but adhering to them will be voluntary for manufacturers.

The FDA made the announcement two months after a congressional report said baby food products from several of the largest makers were "tainted" with toxic heavy metals, CBS News reported.

"We recognize that Americans want zero toxic elements in the foods eaten by their babies and young children. In reality, because these elements occur in our air, water and soil, there are limits to how low these levels can be," the FDA said in a statement.

It said it's goal with its multi-year strategy called Closer to Zero "is to reduce the levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury in these foods to the greatest extent possible."

The agency said it will assess the science, set maximum acceptable levels and monitor baby food makers' compliance. Regulators plan to draft a standard for maximum levels of lead in baby food by April 2022 and for arsenic by April 2024, with a final ruling on lead coming by April 2024 followed by one on arsenic. The agency said it would also gather and review data on cadmium and mercury.

"It's good that the FDA is finally proposing to propose limits on metals in baby food," Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement released Tuesday. "Setting draft levels will send a powerful signal to the food industry to do better. But proposing to propose is not the same as setting mandatory standards that baby food companies must meet. Parents should not have to wait – and Congress should not wait, but instead set interim levels in the law that companies must meet right away."

Gerber, the country's biggest baby food manufacturer, said in a statement that it welcomed the opportunity to work with the FDA to make "the food supply even safer for infants and young children."

Experts say that exposure to heavy metals over time can cause neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, in children, CBS News reported.

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine 90% Effective Six Months After Second Dose

Moderna's two-dose COVID-19 vaccine continues to provide strong protection against the new coronavirus six months after people have received their second shot, the company reported Tuesday.

It said that findings from its late-stage trial follow-up showed that six months after the second dose, the vaccine remained 90% effective against all cases of COVID-19 and 95% effective against severe cases of the disease, the Washington Post reported.

Moderna also said that it's testing vaccine candidates that target specific variants of the new coronavirus, including the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa. Some studies have suggested that the variant can escape immunity provided by current vaccines.

One of the candidates combines the vaccine targeting the B.1.351 variant with Moderna's original shot, which the company said "provided the broadest level of immunity" when tested on mice, the Post reported.

The company said its early results on vaccines that target specific variants would be submitted for peer-reviewed publication, the Post reported.

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