Wednesday’s roundup covers the J&J vaccine pause fallout, new Moderna shot data, covid variants, maternal health, Medicaid and more.
From Kaiser Health News – Latest Stories:
Changes would allow N95 sales for industries other than health care and signal an end to the hospital practice of reusing the masks considered essential for worker safety. (Christina Jewett,
The messaging surrounding vaccine safety and efficacy may mean as much as the science. (Phil Galewitz,
New data released Tuesday from the CDC shows sexually transmitted infections reached an all-time high in 2019. The biggest spike was in syphilis cases, which rose 74% between 2015 and 2019. Leading the country in syphilis is California, where men who have sex with men make up half the cases. (April Dembosky, KQED,
The United States has undergone a cultural, definitional, practical shift on guns and what they are for. (Elisabeth Rosenthal,
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“Political Cartoon: ‘Nearing the Finish Line?'” by Nick Anderson
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Summaries Of The News:
The Biden administration is pressured to space out two-dose covid vaccines and address local surges, even as rollout efforts have to be adjusted for the J&J vaccine pause–an issue which will last “days to weeks” but not “weeks to months” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Biden administration officials are preparing for the possibility that the pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine could last for weeks — and perhaps longer for certain portions of the American population. “It’s going to be more like days to weeks, rather than weeks to months,” Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Tuesday at a White House briefing. His remarks came hours after the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the break, citing six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot among the 6.8 million Americans who have received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. (Banco and Roubein, 4/13)
President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign hit a snag when federal regulators recommended a “pause” in administering Johnson & Johnson shots. But the White House portrayed the action as important validation of his measured approach throughout the rollout. Biden declared Tuesday that even with a temporary loss of J&J ’s one-shot vaccine, there is a huge supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, enough that “is basically 100% unquestionable, for every single, solitary American.” (Miller, 4/14)
When top Biden administration health officials gathered on a Zoom call Monday night, they knew they faced a difficult decision. Six women in the United States had developed extremely rare but potentially life-threatening blood clots after getting the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine — a problem with disturbing parallels to the one in Europe linked to AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Initially, some suggested the government could just issue a warning to consumers and doctors. They didn’t want to undermine confidence in vaccines given the danger of covid-19. But as they talked, two big worries emerged. They feared there might be additional cases of brain blood clots they didn’t know about. And what if the government didn’t act quickly, and as a result more people got the wrong diagnosis and treatment and were hurt or died? (McGinley, Sun and Stead Sellers, 4/14)
Calls to administer as many first doses of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible are growing and the White House faces questions about why it’s not redirecting vaccines to hot spots as some U.S. regions see surges of the disease and problems have halted the delivery of millions of doses. Manufacturing mistakes and reports of an extremely rare but serious blood clot have put on hold millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, stretching supply. (Kopp, 4/13)
More on the Biden administration’s pandemic response —
Federal officials announced new measures to help get fresh, new N95 masks to health care workers and expand their use in other industries after scientists argued that the highly protective masks are essential to keep workers safe from covid-19. The changes come as U.S. mask-makers say the demand from hospitals is so sluggish that they’ve laid off 2,000 workers and fear some new protective gear companies could collapse. Yet in a letter to lawmakers, hospitals cite ongoing concerns about scarce supplies, saying limits on which workers should get N95s must stay in place. (Jewett, 4/14)
State after state has announced it’s following FDA guidelines to pause Johnson & Johnson covid vaccinations, leading to cancelled appointments and a rush to reorganize efforts around alternative vaccines.
More than two dozen states took steps Tuesday to halt inoculations with Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, shortly after the Food and Drug Administration recommended to pause its use after reports some women developed a rare blood clotting disorder. The states, like the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stressed that they were acting out of an abundance of caution, as more than 6.8 million doses of J&J’s vaccine have been injected and only six of the blood clotting cases have so far been reported. (Breuninger, 4/13)
States trying to fend off a new, dominant strain of coronavirus have a new challenge: having to stop Johnson & Johnson vaccinations for now. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration are recommending the country pause the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine after six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot. The six cases were among about 6.8 million Americans who have received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Maxouris and Yan, 4/14)
Federal officials say they expect the recommended pause of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to last only a few days and said it should not impact the United States’ vaccination goals. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced early Tuesday morning that the agencies recommended a pause in Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations while the agencies reviewed safety data. (Cohen and Kopp, 4/13)
The pause in Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout could have a significant impact on the US — but not in the way you might think. Practically speaking, the effect is likely to be minimal. Even if the pause is prolonged, the US hasn’t relied very heavily on J&J’s vaccine, and the government said the US can meet its vaccination goals without the shot. The worry is that the J&J pause could deliver a serious psychological blow. (Cohen, 4/13)
The student union had been converted into a vaccination center. The doses had arrived on campus. The first appointments were minutes away. Then, at 7:23 a.m. on Tuesday, news of the pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations reached Youngstown State University. “We were ready to go,” said Shannon Tirone, an associate vice president at the university, in eastern Ohio, who instead started calling students to tell them they would not be able to get the vaccine after all. (Smith and Shear, 4/13)
For colleges and universities, the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot has been the simplest solution for quickly and fully vaccinating students who will soon disperse around the country in early May, otherwise risking both infection and transmission as they go. But when it was paused on Tuesday in order for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration to further investigate rare blood clots in a very small percentage of patients, those schools had to temporarily return to the drawing board. (Haslett, 4/14)
The American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living are calling for the federal government to prioritize the vaccination of long-term care residents and staff after federal regulators suggested temporarily halting use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine over concerns about blood clots. “Unfortunately, today’s development essentially halts vaccinations in long term care, as the federal government was primarily allocating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to nursing homes and assisted living communities,” Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for AHCA/NCAL, said in a prepared statement. “Without swift action to replace these vaccines, we could see tragic consequences.” (Christ, 4/13)
For people who recently got the Johnson & Johnson shot, news outlets report on the extremely rare symptoms to look out for, as well as the science behind blood clots. Longer-term, the suspension could have a huge impact on vaccination fears.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control recommended on Tuesday that states temporarily halt using Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine due to “extremely rare” blood clotting disorders that occurred in six women who received the vaccine in the U.S. For context, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the United States to date. (Stieg, 4/13)
Have you had the single-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine within the last month? If you experience a severe headache that does not go away, significant abdominal or leg pain that does not subside, or increasing shortness of breath, health officials want you to call your doctor immediately. Those could be signs of an extremely rare, severe type of clot that may be linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — so rare that only six cases have been reported in the United States out of the approximately 7 million Johnson & Johnson doses administered to date. (LaMotte, 4/14)
The FDA says the clots are a rare and severe type that happens in the blood supply that drains the brain. It’s called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, and it is being seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (a condition called thrombocytopenia). The symptoms of CVST vary, but they can include headache, blurred vision, fainting or loss of consciousness, loss of control over movement in part of the body and seizures. (Godoy and Harris, 4/13)
Worries grow about the impact on vaccine hesitancy—
The messaging surrounding vaccine safety and efficacy may mean as much as the science. That was true when the first covid vaccines were introduced in December at hospitals and nursing homes and even more so after the federal government on Tuesday paused the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after reports of extremely rare but very serious side effects emerged. Most health experts largely applauded the government for its decision, saying it showed regulators making vaccine safety their top priority. (Galewitz, 4/14)
The sidelining of J&J, however temporary, leaves the U.S. with two other shots that already made up the bulk of its vaccination campaign — from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. Vaccines from those two companies account for 95% of the shots allocated in the U.S. this week. Pfizer’s top executive said Tuesday that the company would speed up promised deliveries of its shots to the U.S. in coming weeks. (Wingrove and LaVito, 4/13)
The FDA’s decision to pause the use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine has set off a chain reaction of fear — about the safety of the vaccine, and about whether the FDA is overreacting — that’s causing unnecessary drama just as the vaccine effort is finally picking up speed. Throughout the pandemic, the public and the media, and sometimes even regulators, have struggled to keep risks in perspective — to acknowledge them without exaggerating them, and to avoid downplaying them because other people will exaggerate them. (Baker, 4/14)
But on Tuesday morning, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine became the focus of international scrutiny after federal health authorities recommended pausing its use after six women ages 18 to 48 developed a very rare type of blood clot in the brain after they got the shots. A review from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration is expected in the coming days. And while White House officials have stressed that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will help pick up the slack, it’s the kind of jarring news that some public health experts worry could deepen suspicions among people who are already skeptical of vaccines and introduce new uncertainties for those who might be on the fence at a precarious time when new cases are surging in many states. (Chow, Ingram and Zadrozny, 4/14)
More on the science —
A week after receiving the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, a 37-year-old woman in Norway went to the emergency department with fever and persistent headaches. A CAT scan of her head showed a blood clot in blood vessels involved in draining the brain, but her levels of platelets, involved in clotting, were low. She was treated with platelet infusions and a blood thinner, but had a bleed in her brain the next day. She underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain but died two days later. (Herper, 4/13)
Scientists are racing to gain a better understanding of a rare blood-clotting disorder that affected six recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ -1.34% Covid-19 vaccine and led health authorities on Tuesday to recommend a pause in its use. “It is quite a rare disease, and an unusual manifestation of abnormal blood clotting in the body, but it is very serious,” Thomas Oxley, an interventional neurologist and stroke expert at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, said of the clotting disorder. The six people in the U.S. known to have been affected by the disorder after vaccination are among almost seven million Americans to have received the vaccine. (Hernandez and Abbott, 4/13)
Clinical trial data also says that Moderna’s vaccine is 95% effective at stopping severe disease for half a year after full vaccination. The company highlights its vaccine has no links to blood clots. Meanwhile, Pfizer is upping production of its version.
Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective at protecting against Covid and more than 95% effective against severe disease up to six months after the second dose, the company said Tuesday, citing updated data from its phase three clinical trial. The update brings Moderna a step closer to filing its request for full U.S. approval for its vaccine. Full approval requires a more rigorous review process to show the shot is safe and effective for its intended use. Once it gets full approval, Moderna can begin marketing the shots directly to consumers and selling them to individuals and private companies in the U.S. (Lovelace Jr., 4/13)
Moderna Inc.’s coronavirus vaccine remained more than 90% effective after six months, according to a new analysis of data from the company’s final-stage trial. Beginning two weeks after the second dose, the shot was more than 90% effective overall, and more than 95% effective at preventing severe cases, according to a statement. The company didn’t release further details and said the follow-up results were preliminary as the study is continuing. (Langreth, 4/13)
Moderna released a statement Tuesday reassuring people of the safety of its coronavirus vaccine hours after the FDA recommended pausing the administration Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines due to reported cases of “extremely rare” blood clots. After over 64.5 million doses administered globally, a comprehensive assessment using data through March 22 “does not suggest an association with” blood clots in the brain or veins, Moderna said. (Chen, 4/13)
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Tuesday announced the company has ramped up production of its coronavirus vaccine and can deliver 10% more doses to the U.S. by the end of May than it previously agreed to produce. Bourla added that the company can deliver the full 300 million doses two weeks earlier than expected. (Gonzalez, 4/13)
Pfizer’s CEO said Tuesday that the company has ramped up its vaccine production to deliver doses more quickly following a pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, tweeted that the company could complete an order of 300 million COVID-19 vaccines two weeks early following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier Tuesday urging states to halt distribution of the J&J vaccine. Bourla wrote that his company is on pace to finish the order of 300 million doses it agreed to provide by the end of July two weeks early, adding it could provide 10 percent more than it originally agreed to by the end of May. (Bowden, 4/13)
Since the federal government doesn’t maintain a national database of vaccinations, people face confusing methods of record keeping. The upshot: It’s on you. Meanwhile, tech companies work on digital health passes–not passports, mind you–for vaccine verification.
States are taking various approaches to keeping track of COVID-19 vaccine recipients in the absence of a national database. That’s led to a variety of methods for providing residents with documentation should they lose the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) card that’s often handed to recipients for their own records. The CDC does not keep track of individual vaccinations, and records usually are left with patients, doctors and clinics. From there, states can decide how much or how little data they want to collect. (Gans, 4/13)
As the vaccine rollout continues to accelerate and the broader US economy prepares to reopen, talk of vaccine verification apps has heated up. Tech companies, health care providers and even retail stores are working on digital health pass apps that will allow users to show proof of vaccination before entering events and businesses. The state of New York is already scanning IBM’s Excelsior app at the door of venues such as Madison Square Garden ahead of sporting events; if you’ve tested negative for Covid-19 or received a vaccine, you can watch a Rangers hockey game in person. (Murphy Kelly, 4/13)
As government-issued documents go, the “COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card” is about as bland as a 1099 from the IRS. The 3-by-4-inch piece of white card stock bears the logo of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and contain a few key pieces of information, including the recipient’s name, date of birth, and the type and lot number of the shot administered. Yet the country is convulsed by a debate over the information it bears and whether it will become the basis for government-issued vaccine passports. (Healy, 4/13)
Airlines are battling a scourge of passengers traveling with falsified Covid-19 health certificates. The documents are often the Covid-19 test results required by many countries on arrival. The International Air Transport Association industry body says it has tracked fake certificates in multiple countries, from France to Brazil, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Border control authorities and police forces have also reported arrests of people selling documents in the U.K., Spain, Indonesia and Zimbabwe, among others. (Katz, 4/13)
The NFL outlined in a memo sent to all 32 teams that support staff, including coaches and trainers, should be vaccinated against COVID-19 “unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so.” Anyone who doesn’t fit this category and refuses vaccination will be ineligible for Tier 1 or 2 status and “will not be permitted access to the ‘football only’ restricted area and may not work directly or in close proximity with players,” according to the memo, first reported by the NFL Network. (Falconer, 4/13)
Vaccine hesitancy among Black and Hispanic Americans is highlighted in reports from Roll Call and Bloomberg. Home health workers, Stateline notes, are lagging behind other health care workers’ vaccination rates.
States and the federal government are trying to stop the COVID-19 vaccine equity gap from growing as vaccine eligibility opens up to all adults — but officials don’t have much time. Black and Hispanic individuals are getting shots at a lower rate than white Americans, and polling indicates this is due more to challenges in getting the vaccine than a vaccine hesitancy problem. President Joe Biden has said states would open up vaccine eligibility for all adults by April 19, and public health experts say that could exacerbate the equity gap unless states work quickly to level the playing field. (Cohen, 4/13)
Over the past few months, you’ve probably heard a lot about the Tuskegee experiment. That was a study that began in 1932 in which hundreds of Black men with syphilis were told they were being treated for “bad blood.” In fact, researchers wanted to study what would happen if their syphilis went untreated. The study ran for 40 years—in that time, the men never received the proper treatment to cure their illness. The study has become shorthand for why people of color may hesitate to trust vaccines, even though Black Americans have died at twice the rate of White Americans due to Covid-19, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prvention data. (Brown, 4/13)
Health care workers were among the first U.S. residents eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. But months into the vaccination rollout, survey data suggests that nurses and aides who work in people’s homes are less likely to have had shots than their counterparts in hospitals and nursing homes. Just a quarter of home health care workers were vaccinated by early March, compared to about two-thirds of hospital workers and half of nursing home workers, according to a joint poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post. (Quinton and Hernández, 4/13)
The biggest vaccination campaign in history is underway. More than 797 million doses have been administered across 154 countries, according to data collected by Bloomberg. The latest rate was roughly 18 million doses a day. In the U.S., more Americans have received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. So far, 190 million doses have been given. In the last week, an average of 3.21 million doses per day were administered. (4/12)
The outspoken comedian and director says the Department of Veteran Affairs is obstructing care for those affected by burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another star, Mark Ruffalo, joins efforts for legislation on toxic chemicals. And the House moves to avert Medicare sequestration cuts.
Former “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart on Tuesday accused the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of being “an obstacle” to providing medical coverage and care to service members who have developed illnesses from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview on Fox News’ “The Story with Martha MacCallum,” Stewart, who has in recent years become increasingly involved in advocacy on behalf of veterans and 9/11 first responders, brought attention to the open air piles of burning trash and fuel that the VA estimates that more than three million service members have been exposed to. (Castronuovo, 4/13)
Comedian Jon Stewart joined lawmakers on Tuesday to announce legislation that would make it easier for veterans with diseases linked to burn pits to access Veterans Affairs benefits. “For those that have fought and defended and served this country, for them to come home and have to fight against the very government that they volunteered to defend is immoral,” Stewart said, with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. standing nearby with a group of advocates, some of them veterans. (Robinson, 4/13)
Actor Mark Ruffalo joined two Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday to announce the introduction of legislation that would increase regulations on certain chemicals. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D) and Fred Upton (R) introduced the PFAS Action Act, a measure designed to protect consumers from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances that can be found in water, food and fish. Prolonged exposure to the chemical substances can lead to cancer and thyroid disruption, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (Gans, 4/13)
Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have reintroduced legislation targeting so-called forever chemicals that previously passed the House, expressing optimism that the Democratic Senate is more likely to pass the measure. The legislation would establish a national drinking water standard for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean up sites contaminated by such substances under its Superfund program. (Budryk, 4/13)
The House on Tuesday approved a bill that would put off automatic cuts to Medicare provider payments until the end of the year. The bill passed with a strong bipartisan majority of 384-38.Technically, the House vote comes nearly two weeks after the cuts were set to take effect, but the delay came with knowledge that action could be postponed until Congress returned from recess and passed the legislation. (Elis, 4/13)
Most of us are familiar with Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Rep. Andy Barr knows them entirely too well — his wife, Carol, died suddenly last June, just a few weeks shy of her 40th birthday. In the last few months, Barr’s worked through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but there’s still one more step to go: lawmaking. (Saksa, 4/13)
Black women are 2.5 times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women, in what Vice President Kamala Harris called a “maternal health crisis” during a roundtable event. Separately, reports note the pandemic effect on fostering babies and innovations in pregnancy tests.
The White House on Tuesday issued its first-ever presidential proclamation marking Black Maternal Health Week as part of an effort to highlight racial gaps in pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths. The U.S. retains the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, largely due to high mortality rates among Black mothers, according to research by Commonwealth Fund. Black women in the U.S. are 2.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. (Chen, 4/13)
“Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who hosted a round table on the issue alongside Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council. “We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias,” Ms. Harris added. The U.S. continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, driven in large part by the high mortality rates among Black mothers. (Haridasani Gupta, 4/13)
When state child welfare officials place kids in foster care due to parental neglect (as long as there’s no physical or sexual abuse), their parents are typically entitled to regular, supervised in-person visits that allow hugging, playing, and, in the case of newborns, breastfeeding. But as the pandemic raged last spring, these visits went virtual in all 50 states, forcing thousands of new parents to attempt the impossible: bonding with their children — even infants in some cases — over video chat. Recently, The Marshall Project posted questions on national listservs of family court lawyers, asking how these virtual visits have been going over the past 12 months. We received dozens of responses, overwhelmingly negative, from advocates for parents and children alike. (Hager, 4/13)
The unwritten rituals of home pregnancy tests are known to many: Don’t linger too long in front of the shelf in the drugstore. Hide the box under other items in your basket. Wrap up the used test before throwing it in the trash. Pregnancy tests have evolved since they first hit aisles in the 1970s, but the anxieties around them have not. Multiple scenarios can bring on varying degrees of disquiet, from bumping into someone you know while furtively buying a test, to feeling alone and bewildered once the result is known. “There’s so many other experiences and feelings involved, other than the actual peeing on a stick,” said Cynthia Plotch, the co-founder of Get Stix Inc., which does business as Stix. (Deighton, 4/14)
Connecticut legislators consider extending Medicaid coverage to undocumented immigrants in that state while in Virginia, legal immigrants get coverage. Also, Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion is in jeopardy while a ballot initiative is launched in Mississippi.
Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislators approved a budget last year that eliminated the rule. The change went into effect this month. Northam’s line budget amendment includes $4.4 million in state funds for this change, according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center. Freddy Mejia, a policy analyst at the Commonwealth Institute, said the old rule was a roadblock for legal permanent residents. The Commonwealth Institute is an organization that analyzes the impact of fiscal and economic issues on low-income communities. (Jones, 4/13)
Supporters of legislation that would extend Medicaid insurance coverage in Connecticut to undocumented immigrants rallied at the state Capitol Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to pass the measure. Senate Bill 956 advanced out of the legislature’s human services committee on April 1 but supporters say they are concerned about discussion during that meeting where lawmakers supported limiting the coverage to only those under 19. (Blair, 4/13)
The effort to keep Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion another year faced uncertainty on Tuesday, with the program falling short of the votes needed for its reauthorization in the state Legislature. The House voted 53-31 for the budget bill for Medicaid and the expansion program, falling short of the 75 votes needed for its reauthorization. Another vote was scheduled Wednesday on the legislation, which has already been approved by the Senate. (4/13)
A non-profit has filed paperwork to start a ballot initiative to allow Mississippi voters to decide on Medicaid expansion. Dr. Jeffrey Ross thinks that’s a good idea. Chief Medical Officer of King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven, Ross said it would be a benefit to both the state government and its citizens. KDMC CEO Alvin Hoover agrees. Hoover explains it as a $10 deal. (Campbell, 4/13)
A federal appeals court agrees with the Federal Trade Commission that a 2010 deal between Endo International and Impax Laboratories to delay a generic version of Endo’s painkiller for three years in exchange for $112 million was anti-competitive. And drug makers try to prepare for the next viral pandemic.
In what is being called a win for consumers, a U.S. appeals court upheld a decision by the Federal Trade Commission that a so-called pay-to-delay deal between two drug makers was anti-competitive. At issue was a deal reached in 2010 between Endo International (ENDP) and Impax Laboratories, which agreed not to market a generic version of the Endo’s Opana ER painkiller for three years in exchange for $112 million. (Silverman, 4/13)
Despite dire warnings, a stockpile of ready compounds to fight viral pandemics was sorely lacking. Can drugmakers finally do the right thing? Despite dire warnings, a stockpile of ready compounds to fight viral pandemics was sorely lacking. Can drugmakers finally do the right thing? (Dolgin, 4/14)
In other health industry news —
Mayo Clinic is forming a pair of companies to collect and analyze data from remote monitoring devices and diagnostic tools, a move that comes as part of a broader bid to harness patient data to deliver continuous care guided by artificial intelligence. The ultimate goal of the companies is to deliver more precise physiological information to patients and doctors around the clock, allowing them to make faster decisions to head off disease and deliver care without the usual morass of extra office visits and trips to the pharmacy. (Ross, 4/14)
Other research results are reported on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment for covid, the covid-related inflammatory syndrome that affects some children and Zoom burnout.
A history of being consistently active is strongly associated with a reduced risk of severe Covid-19, according to a new study released Tuesday. The Kaiser Permanente study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at nearly 50,000 adults with Covid-19. The research found that those who met the target of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines — of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity — showed significantly lower incidences of hospitalization, ICU admission and death due to Covid-19 illness. (Santas, 4/13)
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment for COVID-19 resulted in a 45.9% in-hospital mortality rate for those hospitalized with COVID-19 and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)—roughly half the rate reported in previous publications—according to a study late last week in the Annals of Surgery. The researchers looked at 11,182 US patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and ARDS between April and September 2020. The average length of stay was 36.8 days, including 29.1 days in the intensive care unit. Most patients (57.9%) were younger than 50 years, while roughly 37% were 51 to 64, and about 5% were 65 and older. (4/13)
Reports about the mysterious Covid-related inflammatory syndrome that afflicts some children and teenagers have mostly focused on physical symptoms: rash, abdominal pain, red eyes and, most seriously, heart problems like low blood pressure, shock and difficulty pumping. Now, a new report shows that a significant number of young people with the syndrome also develop neurological symptoms, including hallucinations, confusion, speech impairments and problems with balance and coordination. The study of 46 children treated at one hospital in London found that just over half — 24 — experienced such neurological symptoms, which they had never had before. (Belluck, 4/13)
For all the advantages and disadvantages of remote work, video calls have emerged as such a widespread pain point that the term “Zoom fatigue” has entered our lexicon — a catchall phrase referring to the tiredness related to video calls on any number of platforms. Now, research from Stanford University published on Tuesday found that women experience significantly more Zoom fatigue than men. The research, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, suggests that video calls simply amplify the longstanding gender dynamics in group settings and exacerbate an already wide gender stress gap, with women consistently reporting more stress and stress-related health conditions than men, according to the American Psychological Association. (Haridasani Gupta, 4/13)
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected healthcare programs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that work to protect populations against HIV, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria, according to a new report by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The fund found that, from April to September 2020, HIV testing fell 41%, TB referrals declined 59%, and malaria diagnoses fell 31% among 502 health facilities in 32 LMICs in Africa and Asia. According to 85% of the surveyed facilities, COVID-19 was the main reason patients no longer sought healthcare, with most reporting fear of transmission (28%), disruption to public transit (20%), lockdown or stay-at-home orders (20%), and general delayed care-seeking behaviors (15%). For instance, antenatal care visits fell 43%, and in seven Asian countries, they fell 66% while consultations for children under 5 dropped 74%. (4/13)
More than two dozen of the nation’s leading scientists, sponsored by Schmidt Futures, the Skoll Foundations, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Stand Together, are creating the Covid Commission Planning Group (CPG), the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs announced today in a news release emailed to journalists. The goal of the commission is, according to the press release, to “seize this once-in-a-century opportunity to help America—and the world—begin to heal and safeguard our common future from new existential threats.” Already, the team has debriefed nearly 100 experts and defined nine task forces in areas such as COVID-19’s origins and the prevention of future pandemics, national readiness and initial responses, communities at risk, care for the sick (including COVID-19 long-haulers), data solutions, and diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. (4/13)
In other medical research news —
School food is often given a bad rap, but a new study found it can be the healthiest meal children eat in a day. Researchers analyzed the diets of over 21,000 children and 40,000 adults between 2003 and 2018 and found that the percentage of “poor nutritional quality food consumed from schools” declined from 55% to 24% over the 15-year period, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Network Open. (Marples, 4/13)
In other covid news across the states, Baltimore’s vaccination efforts are reaching more vulnerable residents, a report highlights how having covid relates to getting medical parole and young Minnesota wrestlers catch covid at a South Dakota event.
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte has issued an executive order banning the development or use of vaccine passports in Montana. Vaccine passports are documents that could be used to verify coronavirus immunization status and allow inoculated people to more freely travel, shop and dine. The move by Gianforte on Tuesday comes as vaccine passports have drawn criticism as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. Gianforte says in a statement that he encourages all Montana residents to get vaccinated but that it is “entirely voluntary.” (4/13)
Joanne Bennet eagerly slipped off the blue jacket covering her right arm so a nurse could inject a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Bennet was all smiles, despite a dislike of needles, sitting in a chair in a community room of her own apartment building. “It’ll be nice to get back to a little bit of normal after being incarcerated,” said the 68-year-old resident of Bolton North apartments in Midtown Baltimore. “I call it incarcerated, but it was really me spending the past year in my apartment.” (Cohn, Miller and Mann, 4/14)
During his 39 years in prison, the closest Joseph Messere ever came to walking free was when he was intubated, unconscious, and dying of Covid-19. The opportunity pinged onto his attorney’s phone just before Christmas, in a series of voicemails from the Massachusetts Parole Board. (Boodman, 4/14)
Minnesota health officials are urging those who attended a recent youth wrestling tournament in South Dakota to get tested for COVID-19 after a number of wrestlers contracted the coronavirus. Officials have been concerned about youth sports fueling an increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Positive infections have been found in 16 of the 2,000 wrestlers plus spectators from Minnesota who were in Sioux Falls for a state meet held by the Northland Youth Wrestling Association March 31-April 3, the Star Tribune reported. (4/13)
A federal appeals court ruling backing an Ohio law that prohibits abortions because of fetal Down syndrome also challenges Supreme Court decisions. In other non-covid news from around the country, more syphilis in California, more overdoses in Maryland and more groundwater contamination elsewhere.
A US appellate court decision on Tuesday upholding an Ohio law that prohibits abortions because of fetal Down syndrome evades major Supreme Court precedent and is certain to reverberate in cases nationwide. The decision by a 9-7 vote implicitly challenges Supreme Court decisions dating to 1973 that protect the abortion choice in the early weeks of a pregnancy and could open up a new front in the enduring battle over a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy. (Biskupic, 4/13)
In certain circles of San Francisco, a case of syphilis can be as common and casual as the flu, to the point where Billy Lemon can’t even remember how many times he’s had it. “Three or four? Five times in my life?” he struggles to recall. “It does not seem like a big deal.” At the time, about a decade ago, Lemon went on frequent methamphetamine binges, kicking his libido into overdrive and silencing the voice in his head that said condoms would be a wise choice at a raging sex party. (Dembosky, 4/13)
More than 2,700 people in Maryland died from drug and alcohol overdoses last year, the most ever recorded in a single year as fatalities jumped during the heart of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new state report. A report released Tuesday by Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center shows that 2,773 people died to drug and alcohol overdoses, 394 more than in 2019 and 376 more than the previous record set in 2018, when 2,406 people died from overdoses. (Davis, 4/13)
Even with the stomach cramps, nausea and hurried trips to the bathroom several times a day, Gary Cuppels never suspected his tap water. He kept drinking it, brushing his teeth with it and bathing in it. Not until he came home one night and found a large pallet of water bottles on his porch did Cuppels start to worry. A note from his “friends at Mountaire,” the chicken processing plant up the road in rural Delaware, said he should drink the bottled water instead of the groundwater his deep well pulled from the northern Chesapeake aquifer. That was in 2017. Investigators would later find that abnormally high level of nitrogen produced by the plant had long made the drinking supply dangerous, possibly even deadly. (Fears, 4/13)
Johnson & Johnson will delay its European vaccine rollout, Denmark says it found a link between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and rare blood clots and the EU Commission intends to end contracts for both companies’ vaccines.
Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it will delay its COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Europe, after the U.S. recommended a pause on administering it “out of an abundance of caution” after several women developed a rare blood clot disorder after getting the shot. J&J was set to send 50 million doses of its one-shot coronavirus vaccine to the European Union within the next few weeks. But the company now says it is reviewing cases of the “extremely rare” blood clotting with European authorities. (Perano, 4/13)
Denmark, which has suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine the past month, said there’s a plausible link between the shot and blood clots. The side effect of patients getting so-called thrombosis in combination with thrombocytopenia is “very rare” but of a higher probability than in the general population, the Danish Medicines Agency said in a statement on Tuesday. Denmark has since March 11 suspended AstraZeneca’s vaccine and is due to announce whether to start using it again later this week. (Buttler, 4/13)
The EU Commission has decided not to renew COVID-19 vaccine contracts next year with companies such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Italian daily La Stampa reported on Wednesday citing a source from the Italian Health Ministry. “The European Commission, in agreement with the leaders of many (EU) countries, has decided that the contracts with the companies that produce (viral vector) vaccines that are valid for the current year will not be renewed at their expiry,” the newspaper reported. It added that Brussels would rather focus on COVID-19 vaccines using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. (4/14)
A UK study into using different COVID-19 vaccines in two-dose inoculations is being expanded to include shots made by Moderna and Novavax, researchers said on Wednesday. The trial, known as the Com-Cov study, was first launched in February to look at whether giving a first dose of one type of COVID-19 shot, and a second dose of another, elicits an immune response that is as good as using two doses of the same vaccine. The idea, said Matthew Snape, the Oxford University professor leading the trial, “is to explore whether the multiple COVID-19 vaccines that are available can be used more flexibly”. (Kelland, 4/14)
The lower protection rates of China’s Covid-19 vaccines have raised concerns about shots that are key to inoculation rollouts from Brazil to Indonesia, especially after their efficacy was questioned by one of the most senior Chinese health officials. Bloomberg spoke to two experts about the vaccines, zeroing in on the Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shot, which has been the focus of a crisis in confidence after it posted efficacy levels of just above 50% in a final stage trial in Brazil — the minimum level required by leading global drug regulators. Other Chinese immunizations have delivered rates from 66% to 79%, still far behind the shots developed by Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and even Russia’s Sputnik vaccine that have logged protection rates of more than 90%. (4/13)
And ahead of the Olympics —
When 2020 Tokyo Olympics volunteers have in recent weeks asked officials how they’ll be protected from Covid-19, given the foreign athletes pouring into Japan for the event and the country’s low vaccination rate, the answer has been simple. They’ll be given a small bottle of hand sanitizer and two masks each. “They don’t talk about vaccines, they don’t even talk about us being tested,” said German volunteer Barbara Holthus, who is director of Sophia University’s German Institute for Japanese Studies, in Tokyo. (Essig, Jozuka and Westcott, 4/14)
For the first time, Canada has more daily covid cases, as a percentage of its population, than the United States. Hospitals are stressed as more patients arrive.
For the first time since the pandemic began, Canada has passed a grim milestone, with more new Covid-19 cases per capita than the U.S. There have been roughly 22 new recorded cases per 100,000 people in the country over the past 7-days. Ontario is being hit the hardest with hospitals coming under increasing strain, especially in Toronto, the country’s largest city. “This is the worst moment of the pandemic, thus far,” Kevin Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the University Health Network, said in an interview Monday. “Our ICUs are full.” (Bochove and Hertzberg, 4/12)
Hospitals in Canada’s most populous province are canceling surgeries, transferring patients and preparing for the possible need to ration care as they face a surge in Covid-19 variants that is putting more pressure on Ontario’s healthcare system than at any other time in recent history. As of Monday, the number of adult Covid-19 patients in intensive-care-unit beds had risen 44% from the beginning of the month to reach 623, according to data compiled by Critical Care Services Ontario. About two-thirds of those patients were on ventilators. Previously, the number of Covid-19 patients in critical-care beds had peaked at 415 in mid-January. (Mackrael and Vieira, 4/13)
Latin America reported more Covid-19 cases and deaths than at any time since the pandemic started in the seven days through Sunday, as new variants rip through the region. Most of those cases and deaths are in Brazil, which has the region’s biggest population but also its deadliest outbreak on a per capita basis. The P.1 variant, first spotted in the Amazon city of Manaus in December, has pushed the health system to breaking point and is spreading beyond Brazil’s borders. Uruguay, which came through the first wave of the virus relatively unscathed, reported more than 1,000 cases per million inhabitants in the past week. That’s the most in the world. (Boyd, 4/13)
The ability of scientists to successfully adapt Covid-19 vaccines for use against coronavirus variants of concern will turn in part on the ability to spot infectious mutations in the virus’s genetic makeup quickly. For that, a computer that comprehends human language may help. (Browdie, 4/14)
Read about the biggest pharmaceutical developments and pricing stories from the past week in KHN’s Prescription Drug Watch roundup.
Pharmaceutical companies have a frank new message for Washington: Don’t take us for granted. The industry’s lobbying group, PhRMA, launched a new, seven-figure ad campaign Tuesday with that sentiment prominently laid out across the top, just above a clear reminder of the industry’s role in developing medicines and vaccines for Covid-19.The group is, at the same time, unveiling a new policy agenda that includes several unprecedented endorsements for drug pricing reforms that will actually ding industry profits, unlike past support for policies that focused on competitors or tiny tweaks. (Florko, 4/13)
Steve Ubl, who leads the drug industry lobbying powerhouse PhRMA, has a bold prediction: Democrats might control the House, Senate, and White House, but Covid-19 has given pharma the advantage in the debate over drug pricing. It’s bold because there is not a single House Democrat who voted against H.R. 3, the ambitious Democratic drug pricing bill that the pharmaceutical industry detests. (Florko, 4/13)
On Friday, April 9 supporters of a Colorado bill that would create an independent board of experts to limit prescription drug prices gathered at the state Capitol building. The rally featured health care advocates and patients sharing their stories of having dealt with high prescription drug prices. The legislation, SB-175, introduced last month would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (or a PDAB) consisting of five non-partisan health care experts who could set upper pricing limits on exorbitantly priced prescription drugs. (Price, 4/12)
Tyson Foods Inc. is using the power of technology to help its U.S. employees and their families save money on prescription drugs, according to a company news release. The company is partnering with Rx Savings Solutions to provide a free, confidential online tool that gives team members and their covered dependents ways to pay less for the medications covered through the company’s health plan. The prescription drug savings software examines the medications a member takes and finds lower-cost options to treat the same conditions. The savings can be generic, less expensive forms of a name-brand drug or various options based on prescriptions taken. (4/13)
“It’s just appalling,” says Molly Smith, group vice president for public policy at the American Hospital Association. She’s talking about a new report from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA). “Hospitals’ Practices Increase Costs of Medicines for Patients & Employers,” the press release blared, further claiming “the system routinely rewards hospitals for extracting two to three times more revenue from the sale of a medicine than the company who discovered and made it” when administered under a government program for getting drugs to the most vulnerable patient populations. Smith, steaming, is having none of it. “The program was solely created because of the high drug prices that [drugmakers] and they alone set,” she says. “And then when they’re upset that such a program got set up because of their egregious pricing practices, they come after it. They’re making hand over fist in profits. But, you know, anything that cuts into their bottom line …” (Colvin, 4/8)
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is revisiting a problem she’s fought against more than once during her time in office: high drug prices. The Wisconsin Democrat — joined by colleagues on both sides of the aisle — reintroduced legislation on March 23, 2021 that would require manufacturers to disclose and justify their decisions to increase prescription drug costs. Baldwin previously co-sponsored the bill with the late U.S. Sen. John McCain and highlighted it during her 2018 reelection bid. (BeMiller, 4/7)
Read recent commentaries about drug-cost issues.
If there was a silver lining in the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the response of the biopharmaceutical industry in generating multiple new vaccines with unprecedented speed – vaccines that promise to bring a sense of normalcy to the world. Social media is awash with selfies of people getting vaccinated (myself included!) universally expressing thanks to the science and scientists that helped to make this happen. Furthermore, it is not unusual to see people get emotional when getting their first shot after more than a year of masks, isolation and, most regrettably, the loss of loved ones. The development of Covid-19 vaccines has been a stunning achievement. Yet, just as we can see the end of the pandemic, numerous proposals are being made to start reining in drug costs. These proposals take many forms: importing drugs from Canada; letting the government negotiate drug prices; allowing the government “march in rights” (revoking patents thereby enabling anyone the rights to a company’s intellectual property). (John LaMattina, 4/12)
Patients who face high out-of-pocket costs for their prescription drugs are too often forced to decide between purchasing their medicine or putting food on the table. In Maryland, many of the highest-cost prescription drugs treat conditions that disproportionately impact seniors and Black patients, such as diabetes and sickle cell disease. Not filling, delaying, or curtailing the use of prescription medications for such conditions can have life-threatening consequences. (Susan Peschin, 4/8)
Amid dire economic conditions brought on by the pandemic and exacerbated by the recent weather conditions, Texas legislators are eyeing policies on prescription drug prices that could jeopardize Texas employers’ ability to provide vital accompanying health care and prescription drug coverage. Health insurance costs for prescription drugs are now higher than for any other expense, including patient hospital costs and doctors’ payments. The cost of health insurance is ranked as the single biggest problem and priority for Texas small-business owners in a recent National Federation of Independent Business survey of members. (Bill Hammond, 4/7)
The second most important issue in the last presidential election – right after the economy, and ahead of the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to an August 2020 Pew Research Center survey – was healthcare. Key components of healthcare for Americans are prescription drug coverage, insurance costs and drug co-pay amounts. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 70 percent of Americans aged 40 through 79 take at least one prescription drug daily; more than 22 percent take five or more drugs on a daily basis. Pharmacy costs are top-of-mind for both employers and employees, one reason that many employers have turned to pharmacy benefit managers. (Theresa O’Brien, 4/13)
Opinion writers tackle these Covid and vaccine issues.
A few weeks ago I wrote a column in which I briefly referred to the concept of “cave syndrome.” The term was coined by a psychiatrist in Florida to describe people who are feeling scared or unwilling to reenter post-pandemic society — even after being vaccinated — because they have grown too accustomed to isolation. I mentioned it only in passing, having heard something about it on a local news broadcast. But when the column appeared, I was surprised by how many people wrote or spoke to me about it, saying it was something they were experiencing themselves. “Thanks for giving me a name for how I’m feeling,” wrote one woman. “I love it when something has a name.” (Nicholas Goldberg, 4/11)
When I received an email saying I was eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine — containing a link to register for an appointment — I was elated. Eager to protect my family, myself and my community, I signed up and drove to my designated location, a megasite run by the National Guard. As I approached the building entrance and saw a cluster of masked Guardsmen separating people into different lines, shouting instructions that I could not hear or see. I began to feel panicky. (Sara Novic, 4/13)
In a prime-time address to the nation in March, President Biden said he is eyeing the Fourth of July 2021 as the beginning of our independence from Covid-19. As restrictions lift and businesses and schools reopen with increased capacity, many will start to sense regular, back-to-normal kinds of feelings. If vaccination keeps Covid-19 and its variants at bay, as we hope it will, and most Americans get vaccinated, as we hope they will, reports about the pandemic will gradually retreat from the front pages. Hospitals and health care systems will start closing Covid-19 departments and resume elective medical care, hoping to work themselves out of the Covid-induced financial hole they find themselves in. They will also work hard to fill vacancies in medical personnel, having lost some to the pandemic and others to burnout. (Yotam Dagan, 4/14)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to recommend a pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine has been roundly — and rightly — condemned across the political spectrum. It’s clear that the hypersensitive “abundance of caution” standard the FDA applied is inappropriate for a global pandemic. Less well recognized is that the same standard, applied during normal times, also has enormous costs for lives and health of Americans. The FDA acted after blood clots were observed in less than one in a million people who have received the J&J vaccine in the U.S. By contrast, Covid has already killed 1,712 out of every million Americans. What’s more, from the information the FDA released initially, it was not clear that any of the blood clots were fatal, though officials later said one woman had died. By its own admission, the agency does not know if there is a causal link between the vaccine and the clotting. (Karl W. Smith, 4/13)
When data linked a potentially fatal blood clotting disorder to Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did what they have promised to do, and what they nearly always do, in such situations: They advised doctors and pharmacists to temporarily halt use of the vaccine while they investigate the matter. The pause is expected to last just a few days. The risk of developing this potential side effect is expected to be very small relative to the risks associated with the coronavirus for unvaccinated people. Only six clotting cases have been reported in the United States so far, out of the 6.5 million Johnson & Johnson vaccinations that have been administered. It’s not even clear yet if the condition resulted from the shot. The F.D.A. is expected to clear the company’s vaccine for continued use, possibly with some exceptions for people who have a high risk of clotting and nearly certainly with some guidance on how to watch for and treat the condition in question. (4/13)
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a joint recommendation on Tuesday to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on the basis that it could be associated with a rare blood clotting disorder. I am a doctor and a participant in the Johnson & Johnson clinical trial who received the vaccine myself less than two weeks ago; here is how I’m processing the news. First, federal health officials made exactly the right decision. Any concerning safety signals should be investigated immediately. Even with an incidence of one in a million (there have been six cases of this clotting disorder out of nearly 7 million doses administered), the FDA and CDC made the right call to recommend this vaccine be put on hold. With so much scrutiny on vaccine safety, an abundance of caution bolsters public confidence. (Leana S. Wen, 4/13)
Editorial pages address these various public health issues.
A year after the pandemic began, people with disabilities finally can obtain the tools and assistance they need to earn a living and stay independent. The American Rescue Plan, recently passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, allocates $12.7 billion for what’s known as home and community-based services, or HCBS, through 2021. This is truly something to celebrate — finally dedicated funding to support people with disabilities who want to get back to work. HCBS is an important source to keep people with disabilities at home, in their communities and out of costly nursing homes or group living setting, where we now know COVID-19 thrives. And it provides a critical lifeline to employment. (Judith Heumann and Tom Ridge, 4/14)
The COVID pandemic, combined with growing support for racial justice, has brought the issue of inequity in health care to the fore. This issue is nothing new—racial and ethnic disparities have been well documented in terms of unequal medical delivery and measures of health treatment outcomes—but now is the time for the medical community to make meaningful changes and address these gaps in care. As a woman of color in the biotech industry, I have a personal and professional interest in addressing these disparities. Furthermore, as a researcher, I have often wondered exactly what causes racial differences in disease rates and treatment response, and whether we might be able to reduce disparities and combat some diseases more effectively with a better understanding of the factors involved. Systemic racism clearly plays a major role, as do socioeconomics, environment and culture. Although race is a social rather than biological construct, there are inherited genetic variations that play a role in drug response and adverse drug reactions—and genetic variations differ among different ethnicities. (Saba Sile, 4/13)
Racism is a serious threat to public health, the head of the Centers for Disease Control declared last week. The federal agency was a little late to a conclusion long backed by streams of research and other medical groups. The American Public Health Association says there are more than 170 municipalities that have embraced the concept. But the endorsement of the country’s top public health agency is significant in what it can mean for the direction of research dollars and the focus on health strategies in this country — and in whose life experiences matter. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also unveiled a new web portal focused on racism and health to show the agency is taking the issue seriously. (Andrea K. McDaniels, 4/13)
A massive, debt-fueled buyout of Medline Industries would be bad medicine for a health care sector stressed by COVID. The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that Northfield-based Medline is considering possible transactions, including an initial public offering, sale of a minority interest and a leveraged buyout valuing the company as high as $30 billion. With $17.5 billion in revenue, Medline is the largest privately held medical products company in the U.S. and a key source of personal protective equipment essential to fighting infectious diseases like COVID. (Joe Cahill, 4/13)
Anniversaries represent an opportunity for revisiting the past to make a leap forward. I’m using a 15-year anniversary of an act of scientific rebellion that changed my life — and affected the lives of many others — to look beyond Covid-19. In March 2006, Europe and other parts of the world were threatened by H5N1, the so-called bird flu virus. As a virologist working in Italy on viruses of pandemic potential, I ignited an animated international debate by refusing to send the sequence of the H5N1 viral genome to a password-protected database, but made it publicly available instead. And I urged my colleagues the world over to do the same. (Ilaria Capua, 4/14)
Policymakers across the globe are attempting to vilify the same private companies that have been invaluable partners in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. If these efforts are successful, it will be patients who are harmed the most. Globally, the World Trade Organization (WTO) wants to waive the patent rights for the companies that developed effective COVID-19 vaccines in record breaking time. Here in the U.S., states as diverse as Arkansas, California, and Texas are considering policies that use the pandemic as an excuse to violate device manufacturers’ intellectual property rights. In both cases, the proponents of violating companies’ intellectual property rights try to frame the problem as an issue of people over profits. Nothing could be further from the truth. (Wayne Winegarden, 4/13)
Today, we know what is “in” a caterpillar: its DNA, which can tell us a lot, but obviously not everything. The deeper layers of meaning to these words, when applied to pediatric healthcare, can be fuel for discovery. During my eight years as CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital, the most profound lessons I learned came from those who care for children. I have been fortunate to witness their search for answers with one goal in mind: to advance and improve the health and well-being of children. The caterpillar-to-butterfly journey is their everyday path. There’s a tremendous amount of work ahead of us to secure our children’s future. Here are five of the most important lessons I’ve learned that can guide our work going forward: (Sandra L. Fenwick, 4/13)
Many who know me might be shocked by this: I shot my first pistol when I was 8 or 9, taught by my father, a physician, aiming at targets in our basement. At summer camp, I loved riflery the way some kids loved art. Staring through the sight, down the barrel, I proved an excellent shot, gathering ever more advanced medals from the National Rifle Association. As a reward, for my 13th birthday, my uncle gave me a .22 Remington rifle. I did not grow up on a farm or in a dangerous place where we needed protection. I grew up in the well-off, leafy suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y. (Rosenthal, 4/14)
The Supreme Court — and its post-Donald Trump conservative majority — is currently deciding whether to take up a case that could be the final blow to Roe v. Wade. Overturning Roe, the 48-year-old decision protecting the right to an abortion in America, would leave abortion regulation up to the states. But some abortion opponents think that’s not far enough and are pushing the movement to change its focus to securing a 14th Amendment declaration of fetal personhood. Ross Douthat wrote about the diverging anti-abortion movement and why both factions are doomed to fail as long as the movement is shackled to a Republican Party that refuses to enact public policy to help struggling families. Michelle Goldberg wrote a response column to Ross’s, claiming his argument was a fallacy. To bring their dueling columns to life, Jane Coaston brought the two writers together to debate the future of abortion protection and restriction in America. (4/14)
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