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Paragon Takes on Omicron and State Health Reform

President at Paragon Health Institute
Brian Blase, Ph.D., is the President of Paragon Health Institute. Brian was Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the White House’s National Economic Council (NEC) from 2017-2019, where he coordinated the development and execution of numerous health policies and advised the President, NEC director, and senior officials. After leaving the White House, Brian founded Blase Policy Strategies and serves as its CEO.

I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that your new year is off to a good start. Over the last month, American life has once again become disrupted by COVID with the Omicron variant leading to a resurgence in cases, testing shortages, flight cancellations, and schools returning to virtual learning. 

Public health officials have been grappling with how to best respond to Omicron, issuing new policies related to schools, quarantine guidelines, vaccines, and more. Unfortunately, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, many government responses have been misguided.

Dr. Joel Zinberg, who leads Paragon’s Public Health and American Well-Being Initiative, has been at the forefront of documenting where policymakers are getting it right and where they are not. His writings appear several times per week, and he’s made numerous high-profile radio appearances. 

In a recent New York Post opinion piece, Dr. Zinberg said New York City Mayor Eric Adams was right to keep city schools open, bucking the online learning and school canceling trends of other cities, such as Atlanta, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Detroit.

“Policymaking involves trade-offs,” writes Dr. Zinberg. “Here the decision is easy: the benefit of limiting in-person classes is far outweighed by the damage remote learning inflicts on children. As an editorial in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) concluded a year ago, ‘Closing schools is not evidence-based and harms children.’”

Although New York City’s decision to keep schools open was sound, New York state’s directives that providers consider race and ethnicity when dispensing oral antiviral medications are, as Dr. Zinberg wrote in another opinion piece, “immoral, illegal, and bear no relation to the science.”

“While it is possible that ‘longstanding systemic health and social inequities’ could lead to an increased incidence of these conditions [obesity, diabetes with complications, and chronic kidney disease] in minority communities, race and minority status do not, on their own, lead to more severe COVID-19 disease,” wrote Dr. Zinberg. 

“This sort of discriminatory, politically correct decision-making should not be tolerated,” he wrote. “New York health-department bureaucrats should revise these guidelines immediately or risk having them struck down in court.”

The Potential Silver Lining from Omicron

According to Dr. Zinberg, Omicron “offers hope for a more promising path forward.” Writing in City Journal, Dr. Zinberg opined that “Omicron’s spread has been so rapid and widespread that it will lead to many people having mild disease, while developing immunity to subsequent infection by earlier variants, including Delta. Moreover, it is possible that widespread Omicron infection could help limit transmission of future variants…

“This expansion of natural immunity will be especially important in countries with low levels of vaccination,” wrote Dr. Zinberg. “Omicron is spreading worldwide, and the resulting immunity could limit the ongoing circulation of the virus and the emergence of new variants.”

College and University Responses: Failing Grade

Paragon public advisor Dr. Marty Makary published a recent blog post in which he outlined non-science-based measures that colleges and universities are imposing on students, even though the Omicron variant “is a far milder version of COVID.”

“This news should be welcomed by our institutions of public health and higher learning,” wrote Dr. Makary. “Instead, despite all evidence about this variant, fear of Omicron is driving more harmful policies imposed on society’s lowest risk people.” 

He added, “The medical establishment is intoxicated with groupthink, just as it had in believing that COVID spreads through surface transmission, in instituting barbaric policies that prohibited people from visiting their dying loved ones, and in shutting children out of school for a less contagious variant last year. Concerned citizens should challenge medical dogma with data.”

Vaccine Mandates before the Supreme Court
On Friday, January 7, the Supreme Court heard arguments on vaccine mandate issued by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Paragon Public Advisor Doug Badger weighed in on the underlying legal issues in a December Heritage Foundation legal memorandum with Paul Larkin. According to the authors:
“Congress has not conferred on OSHA the authority to issue a general vaccine mandate. OSHA is a workplace safety agency, not a public health agency. Congress has tasked the FDA with determining whether vaccines are safe and effective and the CDC with recommending who should be immunized. … There is only one entity established to weigh those considerations and formulate policy. That entity is not OSHA; it is Congress.”
Chief Justice Roberts seemed to agree, saying during Friday’s hearing that “it’s hard to argue” that Congress granted OSHA such “free rein.”
Paragon Prominently Featured at Cato’s State Health Policy Summit
Last week’s Cato Institute State Health Policy Summit featured several authors of chapters in Paragon’s recently published bookDon’t Wait for Washington: How States Can Reform Health Care Today.
I participated in a panel discussion with Hayden Dublois of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) on “Medicaid: Taming State’s Largest Budget Items.” FGA’s Jonathan Ingram authored the chapter on making Medicaid more accountable. 
Paragon public advisor and telehealth chapter author Naomi Lopez participated on a panel discussing “Realizing the Promise of Telehealth.” And Mercatus Center’s Matt Mitchell addressed the conference on the topic of his chapter, eliminating certificate of need laws. Mitchell was joined by Ursula Newell Davis, a locally beloved social worker with a very moving story of how Louisiana denied her certificate of need application to provide services to special needs children.  
If you would like to receive a printed copy of Paragon’s state policy book, email us at [email protected], or you can download the full book here.

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