Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From the Omicron front, the Wall Street Journal reports that

The seven-day average of daily reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. reached a pandemic record 403,385 on Sunday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. The fresh peak arrived even as most states paused reporting during the New Year’s holiday weekend. Reporting delays will likely lead to spikes in reports of cases this week as states catch up. While Covid-19 tests remain in short supply in much of the U.S., Covid-19 testing was less robust last year, complicating comparisons between pandemic surges.

Hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected Covid-19 reached a seven-day average of 97,855 on Monday, according to data posted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. That is up 41% in the past two weeks but below both the pandemic peak of 137,510 on Jan. 10, 2021, and the smaller peak of 102,967 on Sept. 4, 2021, during the Delta surge.

Bloomberg adds that

While omicron may be good at evading the attacks of antibodies, recent studies have also shown that it has far less success avoiding the second-line defenses of vaccines and prior infections: T-cells and B-cells.

T-cells are responsible for attacking a virus once it makes its way into the body’s cells if antibodies fail to prevent infection in the first place. In a recent study by Burgers and colleagues, scientists used white blood cells from Covid patients to show that about 70-80% of the T-cell response is preserved compared with previous strains of the virus. That means that for those who are either vaccinated or had a Covid infection in the past 6 months, it is likely their T-cells can recognize omicron and fight it off relatively quickly. 

This latest research will need to be followed up with further study. If it holds up to additional scrutiny, it just might explain why current infections appear to be more mild than in previous waves of the virus.

Yet, AP reports that

As the COVID-19 omicron variant surges across the United States, top federal health officials are looking to add a negative test along with its five-day isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus, the White House’s top medical adviser said Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now considering including the negative test as part of its guidance after getting significant “pushback” on its updated recommendations last week.

Adding to current mandatory testing is not going to push the COVID ball further toward endemic status particularly when people who actually may be infected soon will need a test to gain access to a COVID pill. It is time for the government to rethink its testing strategy. As a physician explained in a thought provoking Atlantic article

I will admit to being as self-interested as any other human. Despite recognizing the need for vaccine and test equity, I received three Pfizer shots as soon as I was eligible, and I’ve kept a stash of rapid-detection kits in my closet. But my own cognitive dissonance, and that of other privileged people, has become untenable in the face of Omicron’s case surge. Given the reality of our testing shortages, it’s time we started cutting back, where and when we can.

From the COVID vaccine front, AHIP tells us that

“Today the Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to expand the use of a single booster dose of the vaccine to include its use in individuals as young as 12 years of age.

“The FDA reviewed real-world data from Israel, including safety data from more than 6,300 individuals 12 through 15 years of age who received a booster dose of the vaccine at least 5 months following completion of the primary two-dose vaccination series. The data shows there are no new safety concerns following a booster in this population. There were no new cases of myocarditis or pericarditis reported to date in these individuals.

“The amended EUA additionally:

  • Decreases the time between the completion of primary vaccination of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine and a booster dose to at least five months.
  • Allows for a third primary series dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years of age.

“Peer-reviewed data from multiple laboratories indicate that a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine greatly improves an individual’s antibody response to be able to counter the omicron variant. Authorizing booster vaccination to take place at five months rather than six months may therefore provide better protection sooner for individuals against the highly transmissible omicron variant.

“Children 5 through 11 years of age who are fully vaccinated and are not immunocompromised do not need a third dose at this time, but the FDA will continue to review information and communicate with the public if data emerges suggesting booster doses are needed for this pediatric population.”

From the Health and Human Services Department front —

  • Prof. Katie Keith has published in the Health Affairs Forefront the third installment of her review of the proposed 2023 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters. This one focuses on the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment provisions.
  • The Department issued today its own upbeat discussion of the recently implemented consumer billing protections provided by the No Surprises Act.
  • While the ACA risk adjustment provisions don’t apply the FEHB, the consumer billing protections do. Indeed the consumer billing protections wisely apply to both insured and uninsured folks. All consumers should become familiar with these protections.

From the prescription drug front, STAT News informs us that

As 2022 gets under way, pharmaceutical companies have so far raised wholesale prices by a median of 4.9% on more than 450 prescription medicines, an overall annual increase that is comparable to the price hikes seen over the past three years, according to a new analysis.

The numbers are preliminary, though, because still more price increases are expected to be disclosed by drug makers later this month, since not every company has reported their latest prices to industry databases. Nonetheless, the early indication is that many drug makers are keeping price hikes in check due to ongoing bad publicity that has sparked sustained political pressure.

Analyzing pharmaceutical price hikes has become a ritual each January as drug makers boost prices to meet financial goals. But as poll after poll finds more Americans are complaining about the cost of prescription medicines, these companies have gradually shied away from mid-year increases and also generally limited price hikes below double digits in hopes of avoiding still more negative headlines.

Drug Channels adds

Reality has again failed to cooperate with the politically motivated cries of “skyrocketing drug prices” or anecdotes about companies “jacking up prices” 

Brand-name drug prices continue to decline, while the prices of other healthcare products and services continue to rise. For 2021, brand-name drugs’ net prices dropped for the fourth consecutive year. Meanwhile, brand-name drug list prices grew more slowly than overall inflation. What’s more, we project that the gross-to-net bubble for patent-protected brand-name drugs will exceed $200 billion in 2021. See our updated analysis [that may be found in the linked article]. 

The factors that drive declining brand-name drug prices remain for 2022, suggesting that these trends will continue. 

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