Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The Boston Globe reports today that

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday that as many as 20 million people could get coronavirus vaccinations around the end of the year.

He said that by that time there could be as many as 25 million doses of vaccine available from Pfizer and 15 million doses available from Moderna. The vaccination takes two shots so that would mean 20 million people could get protection.

He said it could happen by the end of December, or early January if the timeline slips a bit. “That’s what we’re anticipating and hoping,” he said in an interview at the 2020 STAT Summit.

The Wall Street Journal adds that

The strong early results for two leading Covid-19 vaccines have implications that go far beyond the current pandemic: They suggest the time has come for a gene-based technology that could provide new treatments for cancer, heart disease and other infectious diseases.

The [previously] unproven technology, named messenger RNA after the molecular couriers that deliver genetic instructions, has long eluded researchers. An mRNA vaccine has never been cleared by regulators. It is now the basis for Covid-19 vaccines from Moderna Inc.  and Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE. * * *

The mRNA vaccines’ early success [with COVID-19] “gives us some encouragement for the technology for other vaccine targets in the future,” said Dr. Mark Mulligan, director of the Vaccine Center at NYU Langone Health. 

One of the advantages of mRNA vaccines, [Biotech co-founder] Dr. [Ugur] Sahin said, is that they can be quickly adjusted so vaccines can better respond to an eventual decline in immunity or virus mutations, which could render other vaccines less effective. Dr. Sahin said that regulator authorization [of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines] could potentially lead to a “whole new category of medicines.”

Hope springs eternal.

Healthcare Dive informs us that “After years of speculation, Amazon finally announced Tuesday that it will sell and deliver prescription drugs on its online platform, Amazon Pharmacy.” Moreover —

Here’s a key distinction in how Amazon Pharmacy will operate: “Before checking out customers can compare their insurance co-pay, the price without insurance, or the available savings with the new Prime prescription savings benefit to choose their lowest price option,” Amazon said.

A previously vexing problem for patients was that sometimes prescription drugs would be cheaper using cash, or without using insurance coverage. But pharmacists were sometimes barred from alerting patients to the discrepancy due to “gag clauses.” In 2018, Congress passed a bill to ban gag clauses in certain plans.

Amazon Pharmacy shoppers will be able to input their insurance information and their clinicians will be able to send prescription information directly to the Amazon Pharmacy.

Speaking of market disruption, Plan Sponsor advises us about the growing popularity of “individual coverage health reimbursement arrangements (ICHRAs) to provide their workers with tax-preferred funds to pay for the cost of health insurance coverage that workers purchase in the individual market [/ the ACA marketplace].” This is the one major Trump Administration reform to the Affordable Care Act that did not attract opposition, in court or elsewhere, because it unquestionably strengthened the ACA marketplace.

On the healthcare studies front –

  • The National Library of Medicine informs us about the susbtantial patient safety benefits of including the patient’s photograph in the top line of their electronic health record when used at healthcare facilities, particularly emergency rooms
  • The National Institutes of Health announced $21 million of funding into research examining racial and ethnic disparities in pregnancy-related complications and deaths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 700 women die each year in the United States from pregnancy-related complications.

Research will include original, innovative, and multidisciplinary efforts to advance the understanding, prevention, and reduction of pregnancy-related complications and deaths among disproportionately affected women. This includes women from racial and ethnic minority groups, women with underprivileged socioeconomic status, and those living in underserved rural settings.

The racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality are stark: respectively, African American and American Indian/Alaska Native women are 3.2 and 2.3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women. In the case of African American women, the disparity increases with age. Black women under 20 are 1.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women in the same age group, but black women ages 30-34 are 4.3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than are white women ages 30-34. Approximately two thirds of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, underscoring the need for more research to improve the maternal health outcomes for women before, during, and after delivery.

In addition to maternal deaths, over 25,000 women each year experience severe maternal morbidity(link is external) (SMM), requiring unexpected short- or long-term life-saving healthcare interventions. Like maternal mortality, SMM has a high rate of preventability. All racial and ethnic minority populations have higher rates of SMM than do white women.