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Health Library

Health Highlights: Jan. 21, 2021


Hahn Resigns as Head of FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock New Interim Chief

Dr. Stephen Hahn resigned as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.

Hahn became head of the agency just weeks before the start of the coronavirus pandemic and was widely criticized during the public health crisis, including accusations that he gave in to former President Donald Trump by granting emergency use authorizations for unproven treatments like hydroxychloroquine, despite no evidence that they were effective, The New York Times reported.

Hahn's resignation was expected, as senior political appointees routinely leave when a new administration takes office.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, who's long led the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Review, will serve as acting commissioner, an agency official said. She' s worked at the FDA since 1986 and had a range of important positions, including chief medical officer and deputy commissioner, The Times reported.

Woodcock, 72, was assigned in the spring to Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's program to speed development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

A permanent FDA commissioner has not been nominated by the Biden administration, but Woodcock is one of the candidates under consideration, according to Biden transition team members, The Times reported.

The new administration has not indicated when a new FDA commissioner would be named.


Studies Pinpoint Genes That Raise Risk for Breast Cancer

New research into exactly which genetic mutations increase breast cancer risk in women without a family history of the disease may help guide decisions about screening and preventive surgery, doctors say.

The two large studies also examined how common these genetic flaws are in the general population, the Associated Press reported.

They were published Jan. 20 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The research shows that the breast cancer risk conferred by some genes "is very high," Mary-Claire King, a University of Washington scientist, told the AP.

"The lives of many women could be saved if all women were offered the opportunity to learn if they carry mutations in these genes before they are diagnosed with cancer," said King, who discovered the first breast cancer predisposition gene, BRCA1.

She was not involved in the new studies.

About 276,000 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in the United States last year, according to the American Cancer Society. The new research suggests that at least 13,800 of them occur in women with inherited gene mutations that increase breast cancer risk, the AP reported.

Genetic testing isn't recommended for the general population, but it's becoming more common and many Americans get direct-to-consumer tests, the wire service noted.


NYC May Run Out of COVID-19 Vaccines

New York City's COVID-19 vaccination rate has outpaced its supply of vaccine, and the city could run out of doses in the next few days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

"If we don't get more vaccine quickly, a new supply of vaccine, we will have to cancel appointments and no longer give shots," he said during a media briefing, CBS News reported.

"At the rate we are going we will begin to run out on Thursday… we will have literally nothing left to give as of Friday," de Blasio warned.

The mayor asked the federal government to send more vaccine as soon as possible, CBS News reported.

More than 220,000 people in the city were vaccinated last week -- one every 3 seconds -- and the city could vaccinate 300,000 more this week if it had enough vaccine, according to de Blasio.

He said that 53,000 doses arrived Tuesday, giving the city only 116,000 doses for the week ahead, CBS News reported.