Health Highlights: Jan. 11, 2017

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

VA Health Care Remains on ‘High Risk’ List

U.S. veterans health care will again be on the “high risk” list to be released next month by the Government Accountability Office.

The list is released every two years and identifies federal programs that are plagued by problems such as waste, fraud, mismanagement or structural shortfalls, the Associated Press reported.

The draft version of the forthcoming list says the VA has made only limited improvements since the agency was rocked by a scandal over long wait-times for veterans seeking care, according to Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The nonpartisan GAO says the VA has been slow to improve access to medical care and is lagging on implementation of a “Choice Program” approved by Congress in 2015 to make it easier for veterans to get private care, the AP reported.

The GAO also cites continuing problems with ambiguous VA policies and inadequate oversight, and the risks to the federal budget due to the growing need for veterans health care as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

In response, the VA said it’s made steady progress in its health system, which includes more than 1,700 medical facilities and is responsible for 9 million veterans, the AP reported.

“We are meeting regularly with the GAO and are making significant and irrefutable progress,” according to the VA. “We must stay focused and build on that progress in order to continue to provide veterans the high quality care and services they deserve.”


Massachusetts Considering Doing Away With Fall Time Change

Massachusetts is considering remaining on Eastern Daylight Time year-round.

On Wednesday, an 11-member commission will begin assessing the economic and health effects of such a move, the Associated Press reported.

Critics say turning clocks back on hour on the first Sunday of November makes winter days seem even shorter, with the sun setting before 5 p.m. through much of November, December and January.

Proponents of the fall switch to Eastern Standard Time say that ending it means it will be darker when students head to school in the morning, the AP reported.


Vaccine Skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. Asked to Head Trump ‘Vaccination Safety’ Committee

Robert Kennedy Jr., long a vocal skeptic of childhood vaccinations, told reporters Tuesday that president-elect Donald Trump has asked him to “chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity.”

According to CBS News, Trump met Tuesday with Kennedy, who said the meeting was held at Trump’s request. Incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the meeting was to focus on “issues pertaining to vaccines and immunizations.”

Kennedy, the son of slain US. Presidential candidate Sen. Robert Kennedy, has spent years focusing on the alleged dangers of vaccines.

The meeting comes after numerous instances in which Trump has seemed to cast doubt on the safety of vaccines — a notion not backed up by the vast majority of science on the issue.

“I am totally in favor of vaccines,” Mr. Trump said in a GOP primary debate. “But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump — I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me … [in which] a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back and a week later had a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Kennedy has also supported a link between thimerosal — a preservative once widely used in childhood vaccines — and autism, according to published reports.

The vast majority of medical experts say there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, and the study that popularized the idea was found to be fraudulent and retracted.

“Research does not show any link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder,” the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

And in response to today’s announcement, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that vaccines, “have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are the most significant medical innovation of our time. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives.”