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HEALTH POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Health Policy Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with women’s health, the Affordable Care Act, Head Start, child care and child support services, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and federal food and drug policy. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the department of Health and Human Services, the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Latest Health & Gender Posts

 

The Public Health System in the US: Does it Work?

Brief #91—Health & Gender
By Justin Lee
Newly inaugurated President Biden nominated Xavier Becerra to lead and be the next Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS is comprised of various public health and human services agencies and offices that provide guidance, oversee and regulate operations, and establish laws and regulations. Agencies like the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (lead by the Surgeon General) all branch within the HHS.

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The Public Health System in the US: Does it Work?

The Public Health System in the US: Does it Work?

Brief # 91

Health and Gender Policy

The Public Health System in the US: Does it Work?

By Justin Lee

January 19,2021

 

Policy

Newly inaugurated President Biden nominated Xavier Becerra to lead and be the next Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS is comprised of various public health and human services agencies and offices that provide guidance, oversee and regulate operations, and establish laws and regulations. Agencies like the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (lead by the Surgeon General) all branch within the HHS.

As the HHS presides as the federal entity in setting public health policies and guidance, the responsibility of protecting the public health of Americans primarily lies within  state and local governments. State health agencies collect and analyze health data and are responsible for implementing national and state mandates. The states also have the power to set certain policies and standards of their own. Local health departments are more the “front line” agencies, responsible for health education, screening, immunizations, disease control and health/mental/ambulatory services within its jurisdiction.

This system of distributing public health responsibility and power between federal, state, and local levels provides a level of autonomy and governance to the state and local health agencies. But does this system work? Like China, should the federal government dictate public health and decrease the power of state and local agencies to ensure federal orders are carried out nationwide?

 

Analysis

It is clear that China, and many east Asian countries, have handled the COVID-19 pandemic more efficiently than the US and Europe. Some of the east Asian countries had existing agencies and organizations already established to track and implement measures in an infectious disease outbreak, such as Japan. Many of the same countries also have previous experience with large scale coronavirus outbreaks, such as SARS and MERS. For many of these governments in regards to social distancing, wearing facial coverings, and contact tracing, the question was not if these measures should be implemented but rather how quick can these measures be implemented.

So given the failure of the US to establish any real nationwide contract tracing measures, and the inconsistent messaging from federal, state, and local agencies in regards to social distancing, facial coverings, and other protective measures for protecting Americans, should the US reconsider how we structure our public health system? The answer is no. The American public health system is designed to protect the public health system of all Americans, from those living in urban Los Angeles to those living in the Kentucky countryside. The state and local health agencies should have the direct power and authority to regulate and implement measures needed for the benefit of their citizens. Federal lockdown measures will affect urban Americans differently than Americans living the countryside. State and local governments should know and be able to take federal guidance and implement specific measures to their jurisdiction.

That being said, the federal government and HHS plays a critical role in American public health by setting the tone and guidance for state and local governments. The failure of the US in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and distributing approved vaccines lies from the failure of the Trump administration to provide effective leadership and guidance. Inconsistent messaging and directives regarding the importance of facial coverings, social distancing, and contact tracing in combination of delayed decisions critical in controlling the spread of the pandemic has lead to the worst health crisis in American history. Despite many east Asian countries having had a pandemic blueprint that America could have built their own response from quickly, the federal government failed to provide the consistent messaging and guidance needed to exemplify its role in protecting public health for Americans.

President Biden comes into power at a critical time where COVID-19 continues to surge in urban cities across the US, but also has the means to finally take control of the pandemic through the distribution of treatment and vaccines. President Biden and his new administration has made it clear that the pandemic is a priority in his first 100 days in office; a hopeful sign for state and local health agencies that the federal leadership and guidance that was missing could finally arrive to help.

Learn More

Helpful links

NCBI: Summary of Public Health

HHS: Family of Agencies

Reuters: Biden Pick for HHS Secretary

MarketWatch: Asia Response to COVID

Engagement Resources

The American Red Cross heavily relies on volunteers to assist during a health crisis; including the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers play active roles in clinical and non-clinical settings. The American Red Cross also operates one of the largest blood donation networks in the US. To volunteer in a clinical setting and/or to give blood, use the links below:

ARC: Become a Volunteer

ARC: Give Blood

Trust for America’s Health is a public health policy and research organization that advocates for a nation that values the health and well-being of Americans. Their organization has valuable information regarding health policies and issues on a federal and state level, and also actively publishes reports regarding public health on their website. To find more information or to get involved, use the link below:

TFAH Website

The American Public Health Association is an organization aimed to Improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status. As the main publishers for the American Journal of Public Health and The Nation’s Health newspapers, APHA educates the public on public health, policy statements, and advocacy for public health. To volunteer or become a member, use the link below:

APHA Website

Biden’s Health Policy Priorities

Biden’s Health Policy Priorities

Health and Gender Policy

Brief # 90

Biden’s Health Policy Priorities

By Erin McNemar

January 12, 2021

Policy

In March of 2010 after a long fought battle between Democrats and Republicans, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. The policy made instrumental changes to healthcare in the United States. According to Reuters, over 23 million people are now insured by Obamacare. Since that law passed, Congressional Republicans have continuously tried to repeal it.

During his campaign, President-elect Joe Biden presented his healthcare policy as an expansion of Obamacare. In this expansion, Biden’s plan highlights how he will increase coverage to insure 97 percent of Americans by giving individuals a public health insurance option similar to Medicare. By negotiating with providers, this new public option will be more affordable to those who struggle to pay health insurance costs.

Additionally, the plan calls for lowering prescription drug prices by limiting price increases for drug companies facing no competition, allowing Americans to purchase prescriptions from other countries and getting rid of pharmaceutical corporations’ tax break. The plan also says Biden will repeal laws that prevent Medicare from negotiating lower prescription prices with drug corporations.

Lastly, Biden’s plan implements the idea that healthcare is a human right. Focusing on women’s healthcare rights, Biden states that his plan will expand access to contraceptive, reduced maternal mortality rate, especially among women of color, and protect the constitutional right to an abortion. Biden has also said he supports striking down the Hyde Amendment and restoring federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Overall, Biden’s plan aims to protect healthcare coverage for those who are covered and expand coverage for those who are not. By bringing down the costs, repealing laws that prevent negotiating and investing in community healthcare, Biden hopes to expand and protect the policies created by Obamacare.

Analysis

Going into his first term in office, Biden has something that Obama didn’t; a Democratic majority in congress. With the Democrats maintaining their lead in the House and the Senate being split 50/50, making Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie breaking vote, Democrats will should be able to move their bills through Congress and sign them into law with ease. While this works in theory, it doesn’t necessarily ring true.

With division among Democrats and Republicans, there is also division among members of the Democratic party itself. More progressive Democrats often criticize moderate Democrats for creating policies liberals believe do not go far enough to help people. This interparty division could prove to be a challenge for Biden in implementing his plans such as healthcare reform.

Additionally, history shows us that healthcare reform can be difficult even with a one party majority in Congress. During President Bill Clinton’s time in office, he attempted to pass major healthcare reform. With Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, this task shouldn’t have been terribly difficult. However, the bill was declared dead on September 26, 1994 by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

During the time of COVID-19, healthcare has become a pillar issue for many Americans. We will be watching carefully to see what kind of relief is provided for people in this country. While Biden’s plan to expand and protect Obamacare looks like it definitely has the potential to make it through Congress, we are going to have to see what kind of opposition it gets from Repuboicans as well as within his own party.

Engagement Resources

Biden Expected to Reverse Trump Rollbacks and Strengthen Policies Affecting Americans with Disabilities

Biden Expected to Reverse Trump Rollbacks and Strengthen Policies Affecting Americans with Disabilities

Brief # 89 Health and Gender

Biden Expected to Reverse Trump Rollbacks and Strengthen Policies Affecting Americans with Disabilities

By Linda F. Hersey

January 8, 2021

For people with disabilities and their advocates, the victory of Joe Biden over Donald Trump offers hope the incoming president will renew support of, and emphasis on, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which offers protections to people with disabilities in the workplace and in the community.

It is with some irony that Trump, who has openly mocked people with disabilities, lost the presidency to an accomplished U.S. senator who himself has a disability. Biden has a neurological disorder that causes stuttering, which he has experienced since childhood.

Trump has a well-documented history of deriding people with disabilities and of allegedly violating the ADA at his properties and businesses. In one high-profile lawsuit, a Purple Heart veteran sued Trump International Hotel and Tower for lacking handicapped-accessible emergency exits, guest rooms and restrooms.

In 2015, when Trump sought a first term in office, he mimicked a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter afflicted with spasms. According to the New York Times, Trump said at a South Carolina rally: “Now the poor guy, you ought to see this guy,” Mr. Trump said, before jerking his arms around and holding his right hand at an angle. “ ‘Ah, I don’t know what I said! I don’t remember!’ ”

Environment of Increased Intolerance

Providing legal protections for and upholding the civil rights of workers with disabilities, under ADA, impacts millions of Americans.

  • At least one in four people has a disability.
  • More than half of American voters have a disability or a loved one with a disability.

“By ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to work, free from discrimination based on disability, the ADA is an affirmation of our nation’s founding ideals and a cornerstone of our efforts to ensure a fully inclusive American workforce and economy,” according to the EEOC and Labor and Justice Departments, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the landmark civil rights act in 2020.

While the Trump Administration points to the number of people with disabilities hired by the federal government each year, advocates in the disabled community have described an environment of increasing intolerance to people with disabilities, encouraged by the Trump administration.

Trump, after taking office, was criticized for proposing to end funding under the Autism CARES Act. He also proposed to defund the Special Olympics, which led to such an outpouring of complaints and negative publicity that he reversed his position and denied ever suggesting it.

When Special Olympics athletes visited the White House, Trump told reporters: “And I watched [them on TV] — it’s a little tough to watch too much, but I watched as much as I could.”

People with Disabilities Losing Work at Higher Rate Than Non-Disabled

Statistics underscore discrimination that people with disabilities have experienced in the workplace during the four years Trump has been in the Oval Office.

  • Since Trump has been in office, adults with disabilities have lost federal jobs at a much faster pace than working people without disabilities.
  • The EEOC reported that people with disabilities in federal jobs were fired at twice the rate of people without disabilities.
  • Under Trump, there has been a significant increase in the number of people with disabilities in federal jobs who report discrimination in the workplace.
  • There was a 20 percent increase from 2016 to 2017, in the number of disability discrimination complaints filed by federal employees of cabinet-level agencies, according to an NBC News report based on EEOC data.

Subminimum Wage Criticized as Exploitative

Led by Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a disabled Iraq War veteran, Democratic senators have complained about the treatment of disabled federal workers by the Trump administration.

Duckworth has made it a priority that people who need workplace accommodations for disabilities are able to receive them, under ADA. She also has worked to make sure that the federal government remains a “model employer” that does not harass or fire people because of their disabilities.

While the ADA is designed to protect workers, it also allows employers to get a special certificate to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage. Advocates are hoping the Biden administration ends the practice of sub-minimum wage.

The Transformation to Competitive Employment Act would provide grants to states to help employers pay disabled workers minimum wage and better integrate them in the workplace. Attorneys argue that the provision is discriminatory.

“The subminimum wage sends a message to the disability community that their work isn’t as valuable as the work done by able-bodied people,” Duckworth, the first woman with a disability elected to the Senate.  She described the provision as exploiting people with disabilities.

Biden is expected to take additional steps as well to protect the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace and support diversity. The new administration is expected to:

  • Overturn Trump’s order that banned diversity training and implicit bias training by government agencies and contractors
  • Advance employment opportunity equality regardless of sexual orientation
  • Emphasize and prioritize OSHA protection laws in the workplace.
  • Prioritize employee rights.

In his campaign for office, Biden offered a detailed plan for supporting the rights of people in the disabled community. It is a distinct departure from the tone and practices of the past four years under Trump.

“Biden will work with the disability community to build a stronger, more expansive middle class so that everyone—regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability—can find a place,” according to his policy statement. “That means amending our laws, policies, and culture to ensure full inclusion of the 61 million individuals with disabilities in the United States in all parts of our society.”

Engagement RESOURCES

The New COVID-19 Variant: What We Know, and What Should be Done

The New COVID-19 Variant: What We Know, and What Should be Done

Brief # 88

Health and Gender Policy

The New COVID-19 Variant: What We Know, and What Should be Done

By Justin Lee

January 5, 2021

Policy

In early December 2020, President-elect Joe Biden announced the new members of his public health team and objectives he plans to implement within in his first 100 days in office. These objectives include a federal requirement for Americans to wear masks where Biden is legally able to enforce compliance and seeking strategies to open the majority of schools across the country.

Since then, a new COVID-19 virus variant has been detected in over 30 countries. First publicly recognized in the UK, the variant has forced British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to issue a nationwide lockdown for England on January 4th, 2021. The variant has also since been detected in California, Colorado, Florida, and New York. California alone continues to report over 35,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, with public health experts cautious the current surge across the nation will only get worse as millions of Americans defied pleas not to travel during the holiday season.

More than 350,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. Healthcare infrastructures in major US cities are collapsing. Vaccine distribution and administration has been at a snail pace. Are masks and social distancing enough? Should Biden also consider a federally mandated lockdown?

Analysis

When looking at this situation, it is important to analyze what we currently know.

What We Know: It is important to first state that viruses undergo mutations constantly, and there are currently multiple COVID-19 strains globally. The variant detected in the UK is more distinct because the variant has more mutations than other variants. Scientists and clinicians have reported the new variant is more easily contagious and transmissible by 50-70%. The new variant also seems to affect younger people more than previous strains.

There is no evidence, however, that the new variant is deadlier or more dangerous. There is also no evidence that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are ineffective on this new variant.

We also know that lockdown measures have profound effects on people. As the socio-economic factors are rather clear and obvious, studies have shown lockdown measures also affect mental health. These studies have shown that participants, particularly young adults and women, had increases in rates of suicide, anxiety, depression, and risks for self-harm.

What Should be Done: As dire as the current pandemic is for the US, a nationwide lockdown should be one of Biden’s last options. Instead, the next administration should focus on:

  • Establishing federal leadership and presence: Since the election, the current administration has shown a lack of interest and concern regarding the pandemic. With President Trump more concerned about his re-election and staying in office, states are forced to scramble in maintaining their healthcare infrastructures and navigate through vaccine distribution delays. Biden has the opportunity to step in at one of the worst moments of the health crisis and show true leadership through establishing concrete, viable plans for states to follow and allowing public health experts to do their jobs in advocating vaccines, wearing masks, and social distancing.
  • Expediting COVID-19 variant research and testing: The more we know about the COVID-19 variants, the faster the CDC, FDA, and life science industry can work together to develop or adjust treatments and vaccine candidates. The FDA should also keep a close eye on upcoming AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccine candidates, as more late-stage data will be available for their review in the coming weeks.
  • Addressing and creating a vaccine distribution network: It comes as no surprise the current vaccine distribution system is failing, with the US far behind in inoculating Americans and millions of doses sitting in storage. Biden’s COVID-19 team will have to rethink the current distribution network. Some solutions could be involving major pharmacy retailers in administering vaccines or temporarily allowing other licensed health professionals (such as dentists) to administer vaccines. Other reports suggest having more Americans have access to receiving their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and focus less on ensuring inoculated recipients receive their second dose.

Learn More

Helpful links

Engagement Resources

The American Red Cross heavily relies on volunteers to assist during a health crisis; including the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers play active roles in clinical and non-clinical settings. The American Red Cross also operates one of the largest blood donation networks in the US. To volunteer in a clinical setting and/or to give blood, use the links below:

ARC: Become a Volunteer

ARC: Give Blood

Trust for America’s Health is a public health policy and research organization that advocates for a nation that values the health and well-being of Americans. Their organization has valuable information regarding health policies and issues on a federal and state level, and also actively publishes reports regarding public health on their website. To find more information or to get involved, use the link below:

TFAH Website

The American Public Health Association is an organization aimed to Improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status. As the main publishers for the American Journal of Public Health and The Nation’s Health newspapers, APHA educates the public on public health, policy statements, and advocacy for public health. To volunteer or become a member, use the link below:

APHA Website

Biden and COVID-19: 100 Million Vaccine Doses in 100 Days

Biden and COVID-19: 100 Million Vaccine Doses in 100 Days

Brief # 87 Health and Gender Policy

Biden and COVID-19: 100 Million Vaccine Doses in 100 Days 

By Justin Lee

December 28, 2020

Policy

In early December, President-elect Joe Biden announced the new members of his public health team and objectives he plans to implement within in his first 100 days in office. These objectives include a federal requirement for Americans to wear masks where Biden is legally able to enforce compliance and seeking strategies to open the majority of schools across the country.

Another objective Biden specifically mentioned is his plan to distribute 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine within his first 100 days in office. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 11th, 2020 and for the Moderna vaccine on December 18th, 2020. Since then, over 9.5 million doses have been distributed across the nation, yet only a little more than a million people have been vaccinated as of the end of December.

The Trump administration had a federal goal of inoculating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020; a goal that was missed by a laughable margin. Is Biden’s plan to vaccinate 50 million Americans before May 2021 another laugh for skeptics?

Analysis 

In short, Biden’s road to vaccinate 50 million Americans is possible but filled with many challenges. Here are some basics to consider:

Vaccine delivery timing: In late December, the Trump administration reached a second deal with Pfizer to secure an additional 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. This news follows a similar agreement with Moderna, with the government reaching a second agreement to double their initial order by 100 million doses. In total, the US has secured 400 million doses; enough to vaccinate 200 million Americans (over 65% of the US population) with additional options with both companies to purchase hundreds of millions of more doses.

The potential issue here is not necessarily “how much”, but of “when”. The government’s second agreements with Pfizer and Moderna for over 200 million doses indicate delivery completion well into Q2 and early Q3 of 2021. As the first 200 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are currently being distributed, Biden’s estimate of 100 million doses by mid Q2 does seem realistic. However, both vaccines have had slower-than-anticipated launches and distributions. As the supply seems to be readily available to hit Biden’s goal, administrating the vaccine into patients seem to have its own separate hurdles.

Manufacturing supply chain: Both vaccines are composed of the active ingredient messenger RNA, a series of lipids (fats), salts, and sugars. Each ingredient serves a different purpose as the vaccine is frozen/refrigerated, thawed, and administered. A shortage of one of these components, or a shortage of the laboratory equipment used to manufacture the vaccines, can lead to delays in dose delivery. As Pfizer, a global biopharmaceutical giant which generated over $50 billion in revenue in 2019, has experience in mass-scale global supply chains, Moderna is the opposite. Moderna has never had a marketed product, and their inexperience in global launches and the current unprecedented demand can lead to future supply chain bottlenecks.

Vaccine storage: As many are aware, both vaccines require storage under specific temperatures. Pfizer, in particular, require their vaccines to be stored in minus 70 Celsius, which in turn requires administering health clinics to have the specialized freezers for storage. Distributing vaccines requiring sub-arctic temperatures also require large amounts of dry ice and packaging compartments suitable for freeze delivery. A shortage or unavailability of either can also pose  critical risks to delays in vaccine distribution.

Learn More

Helpful links

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/biden-covid-vaccine-100-million-doses-first-100-days/

https://www.fda.gov/media/144412/download

https://www.fda.gov/media/144636/download

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/23/covid-vaccine-us-has-vaccinated-1-million-people-out-of-goal-of-20-million-for-december.html

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/12/23/949541001/u-s-reaches-deal-with-pfizer-for-100-million-more-vaccine-doses

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/12/05/operation-warp-speed-coronavirus-vaccine-shortfall/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2020/12/12/pfizer-covid-vaccine-ingredient-list-nothing-too-surprising-there/6520511002/

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/11/17/935563377/why-does-pfizers-covid-19-vaccine-need-to-be-kept-colder-than-antarctica

Engagement Resources

The American Red Cross heavily relies on volunteers to assist during a health crisis; including the COVID-19 pandemic. Volunteers play active roles in clinical and non-clinical settings. The American Red Cross also operates one of the largest blood donation networks in the US. To volunteer in a clinical setting and/or to give blood, use the links below:

https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer.html#step1

https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive?scode=RSG00000E017&cid=nonbrand&med=cpc&source=google&gclid=CjwKCAiA25v_BRBNEiwAZb4-ZTVUgQWZI38TYhnwpjE6tlzT7vSAflWYudRcZuYuWVIpYpEhFHf1zBoCLc0QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Trust for America’s Health is a public health policy and research organization that advocates for a nation that values the health and well-being of Americans. Their organization has valuable information regarding health policies and issues on a federal and state level, and also actively publishes reports regarding public health on their website. To find more information or to get involved, use the link below:

https://www.tfah.org/

The American Public Health Association is an organization aimed to Improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status. As the main publishers for the American Journal of Public Health and The Nation’s Health newspapers, APHA educates the public on public health, policy statements, and advocacy for public health. To volunteer or become a member, use the link below:

https://www.apha.org/

Pfizer and BioNTech Vaccine Receives US Approval

Pfizer and BioNTech Vaccine Receives US Approval

Brief #86 – Health and Gender

Author Taylor J Smith

Brief Title: Pfizer and BioNTech Vaccine Receives US Approval

The Policy

The US saw a million new COVID-19 cases in the first five days of December and states have begun reimplementing restrictions; However, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer & BioNTech vaccine last weekend and Moderna was approved this week. First doses of the Pfizer & BioN Tech vaccine have arrived in the US with health care workers and nursing home residents are at the top of distribution lists.

Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine’s data review confirmed that it is highly protective, with an efficacy rate of 94.1%. Side effects of the vaccine include a fever, a headache and fatigue, while all were found to be unpleasant, none were in fact dangerous. Once approved, the distribution of millions of doses could begin as early as next week.

Over the summer, the US government signed deals with both companies to acquire 200 million doses by early 2021, and last week, the White House announced they had purchased an additional 100 million doses from Moderna. With 300 million expected doses, 150 million Americans can be expected to be vaccinated with one of the two-dose vaccines developed through Operation Warp Speed. However, that number is less than half of the US population and it is unclear how long it will take to get everyone vaccinated.

COVID-19 Internationally

-Puerto Rico reports it has received only half of the doses of the 32,500 doses expected for the island. The mix up is said to be a result of logistical error, with the other half of doses expected to arrive in the next two days.

-The first doses of the Pfizer & BioNTech vaccine has been administered in the United Kingdom. Notably, a William Shakespeare was the second patient in the UK to receive a vaccination. For the first time in the organization’s history, humanitarian organization UNICEF will help feed people in Britain as children struggle with food insecurity amid the pandemic.

-Ecuador’s health ministry has approved the use of Pfizer & BioNTech’s vaccine, with doses arriving in January 2021.

-Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that mass vaccination is necessary to end the pandemic, a shift from his previous stance on the pandemic. With this statement, he still has not been vaccinated with Russian-made Sputnik V, as it is not advised for people older than 60 and Putin is 68.

-French President Emmanuel Macron has tested positive for the virus on Thursday morning. Currently no Prime Ministers who recently met with the President have tested positive.

-European Union plans on vaccinating citizens on December 27, 28, and 29, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

-Japan’s capital Tokyo reported the highest single-day rise in cases since the start of the pandemic on Thursday.

Analysis:

There have been over 300,000 American deaths due to the coronavirus. Multiple vaccines during what is expected to be one of America’s darkest winters is a feigned beacon of hope, as experts say the vaccine is too late to stop the impending wave of infections and deaths. New estimates put covid-19 related deaths over 500,000 by April, another 200,000+ deaths in the next three months.

The expected approval of Moderna’s vaccine reassures vaccine shortage fears, as both manufactures are capable of mass production, with hopes of having enough for the entire country by late 2021. Both vaccines are provided free of charge, quelling fears of accessibility. However, Pfizer & BioNTech’s vaccine requires much colder storage, making shipping, storage, and handling more complicated, especially for communities with limited or insufficient infrastructure. These potential issues are small in comparison to the very real possibility that a good portion of Americans will not want to get vaccinated. A new survey found that around a quarter of Americans simply don’t want the vaccine, most citing lack of government trust and possible side effects as top concerns.

Here’s how some of the vaccines compare:

Producers Type Doses Needed Efficacy Storage Cost Per Dose
Oxford / AstraZeneca Viral Vector Two 62-90% Regular fridge temp  

$4

Moderna RNA Two 95% -20C, up to 6 months $33
Pfizer / BioNTech RNA Two 95% -70C $20
Gamaleya (Sputnik V) Viral Vector Two 92% Regular fridge temp $10

 

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

Subscribe HERE to stay up to date with COVID-19

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of December 17, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 74,467,555 1,654,461
United States 17,011,532 308,098
India 9,956,557 144,451
Brazil 7,040,608 183,735
Russia 2,736,727 48,568
France 2,465,246 59,472
Turkey 1,928,165 17,364
United Kingdom 1,918,786 65,618
Italy 1,906,377 67,220
Spain 1,773,290 48,596
Argentina 1,517,046 41,365

 

Supreme Court Sides with Religious Groups Over COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies

Supreme Court Sides with Religious Groups Over COVID-19 Mitigation Strategies

Policy

The US Supreme Court upheld challenges from New York Churches and synagogues to state pandemic restrictions on religious services just before Thanksgiving. This 5-4 ruling comes after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted an executive order on pandemic safety measures that applied to houses of worship in early October. This rule created graded color zones, classifying COVID-19 risks, and applying restrictions to those zones. For example, houses of worship in red zones are limited to 10 people in attendance, and in orange zones, the cap is set at 25 people. The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, among others, asked the Supreme Court to block the restrictions on houses of worship, claiming the rules unfairly target religion, as other establishments had different or no caps for capacity.

Analysis

While this official ruling is a win for religious groups, Governor Cuomo had already lifted the restrictions amid criticisms. Supporters of Cuomo’s decision cite the growing COVID-19 cases, the multiple cases of mass infections because of large religious gatherings, and the traditional aspects of religious services (i.e., gathering inside, large gatherings of people, singing and shouting) as strong reasons to limit religious services. Opponents criticize the move as an infringement on religious freedom and an overreach of power. As forementioned, the executive action was already lifted, but the Supreme Court found this case worthy of hearing and ruling on to prevent future infringements on religious rights during the ongoing pandemic.

An important question that has come from this executive order is where do we place religious services, in essential or nonessential services? The order places restrictions on essential businesses and different restrictions on nonessential ones, while placing harsher restrictions on religious institutions. Such actions support the Diocese’s argument that religious institutions are not being treated fairly. Circling back to the initial question, it is imperative to establish where religious institutions fall. Once that is determined, it will be easier to implement fair restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Nevertheless, amid a global pandemic, restrictions are key to preserving public health.

Lawyers for the Church argued that spacious houses of worship are capable of social distancing and an hour-long mass is safer than a typical trip to the grocery store or working a 9-5 in the workplace; Therefore, these restrictions are aggressive, targeting, and unnecessary, and houses of worship should be given the opportunity to operate as other establishments.

Given the rising cases and hospitalizations, all restrictions should be considered to mitigate COVID-19. Without an order like the one enforced by Cuomo it is likely that gatherings for religious services will continue to contribute to the spread of COVID-19.

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

Subscribe HERE to stay up to date with COVID-19

Pfizer and BioNTech Vaccine Receives US Approval

Effective COVID-19 Vaccines Emerge as the Pandemic Rolls On

Brief #84 – Health and Gender

Author Taylor J Smith

Brief Title: Effective COVID-19 Vaccines Emerge as the Pandemic Rolls On

The Policy

As the globe inches towards month ten of the coronavirus pandemic, promising vaccine advancements were announced last week. Companies Pfizer & BioNTech and Moderna released trial results deeming their vaccines to be 90%* and 94% effective, respectively. Both Companies have requested emergency FDA authorization in the US, with the hopes of distributing by the new year. The United Kingdom approved the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine earlier this week.

This news comes after the US reported record smashing 217,664 new cases, and over 100,000 of hospitalizations and 2,978 deaths on Thursday. With the continuous increase in cases and deaths, more than a quarter of a million people in the US have died from the disease, surpassing the White House’s projections. Experts like top infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, conclude that the globe is reaching troubling waters and warned that January will be exceptionally terrible. To mitigate the current outlook, another lockdown in states is being considered. Just Thursday, Californian Governor Gavin Newsom announced a second round of regional stay-at-home orders for the state. This comes as intensive-care beds fill up across California, the lockdown will take effect in communities with intensive-care bed capacities below a 15% threshold. As cases rise from Thanksgiving holiday, it is expected that other states will follow suit.

This week, the Center for Disease Control issued new guidelines to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Most notably, specialists advise “universal” mask usage indoors, particularly for Americans, in addition to continued mask use in outdoor-public spaces. The CDC also recommended people avoid non-essential indoor spaces and postpone travel. 

*Pfizer later released data stating that their vaccine was in fact 94.5% effective, an increase from the initial 90%.

COVID-19 Internationally

Canada has extended the closure of its shared border with the US until at least December 21st. The border has been closed since March 18th and the closure has been renewed every month since.

UK Health Minister Matt Hancock announced on Wednesday that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use within the UK. Initial doses are already en route, with elderly people in care homes and care home staff placed at the top of the list for distribution. The UK government has already ordered 400 million doses of the vaccine, enough to vaccinate 20 million people, which is less than a third of the UK’s entire population of roughly 67 million.

Friday afternoon, Bahrain became the second country to approve the Pfizer vaccine for mass distribution. Officials granted emergency authorization for the vaccine, with little else known regarding roll-out or how many doses were purchased, but 800,000 doses are expected to be distributed next week.

Chinese officials have announced that China will have 600 million doses, produced by two Chinese manufacturers Sinopharm and Sinovac, by the end of 2020. These manufactures are also expected to create and distribute an additional 200 million doses for other nations.

Analysis:

Operation Warp Speed is seemingly meeting expectations, in creating a safe and effective vaccine in such a short period of time. However, as previously discussed, the haste of the operation, while necessary to save lives, has a very real potential of prompting hesitancy and uncertainty for widespread vaccinations.

With the Pfizer / BioNTech being approved for distribution in the United Kingdom, vaccinations are expected to start Tuesday. Some are asking why the UK was first to approve a vaccine and why the US is yet to approve any vaccine. According to UK officials, they simply have “the best medical regulators”, while American officials say the contrary, that the UK is not being as careful as the FDA is being. However, on Friday afternoon, US Vice President Pence announced he was very optimistic that a vaccine may be approved within two weeks’ time. It can be expected that there will be at least one vaccine approved for widespread distribution in multiple countries before the years end, creating some hope in a year of despair.

Here’s how some of the vaccines compare:

Producers Type Doses Needed Efficacy Storage Cost Per Dose
Oxford / AstraZeneca Viral Vector Two 62-90% Regular fridge temp  

$4

Moderna RNA Two 95% -20C, up to 6 months $33
Pfizer / BioNTech RNA Two 95% -70C $20
Gamaleya (Sputnik V) Viral Vector Two 92% Regular fridge temp $10

*note not yet peer reviewed, numbers are preliminary phase three results.

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

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Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of December 4, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 65,669,150 1,514,387
United States 14,282,494 277,958
India 9,571,559 139,188
Brazil 6,487,012 175,270
Russia 2,382,012 41,730
France 2,321,492 54,858
United Kingdom 1,694,790 60,714
Italy 1,688,939 58,852
Spain 1,684,647 46,252
Argentina 1,447,732 39,305
Colombia 1,343,322 37,305

 

OxyContin Maker, Purdue Pharma, Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges

OxyContin Maker, Purdue Pharma, Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges

Author Taylor J Smith

Brief Title: OxyContin Maker, Purdue Pharma, Pleads Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges

The Case
In late October, Purdue Pharma agreed to plead guilty to three federal criminal charges for its clear and impactful role in the nation’s deadly opioid crisis. In addition to pleading guilty, the Purdue will pay more than $8 billion and permanently close the company. The financial contributions will primarily go to opioid treatment and abatement programs, on top of $3.5 billion fine, $2 billion forfeiture of past revenue, and $2.8 billion in civil liability fees. Because the company does not have $8.3 billion in cash, the company will dissolve, and its assets will be used to create a “public benefit company” controlled by a trust.

Purdue has pled guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, and violating anti-kickback laws from 2009 -2017.

Analysis

This is the highest-profile settlement, finally holding a major drug maker responsible for a twenty plus yearlong opioid crisis, resulting in over 400,000 overdose fatalities. Democratic attorneys general criticized the settlement, claiming the settlement is feigned justice and the company likely will not fulfill its promise of paying fines and penalties. However, those who have been impacted by the opioid crisis say this is a step in the right direction and hope that the next step in justice will have members of the Sackler family found criminally liable. A hope that is possible as the plea bargain notably does not absolve any of Purdue’s company executives or owners – the Sackler family- from criminal liability. Such charges are still under investigation.

As expected, the Sackler family will lose control of their company and it will become a public benefit company, governed by a trust that must balance the trust’s interests against the interests of the American public and public health. Currently, the new company is expected to continue manufacturing Oxycontin and other painkillers, as well as lifesaving overdose medication. The idea of dissolving Purdue and creating a new company to sell OxyContin has raised concerns and objections across the country. Twenty-five state attorneys general oppose the government taking control of the company, arguing the federal government should have no business in selling OxyContin and playing a role in the ongoing crisis.

Many argue the settlement is far too lenient and the settlement was rushed, wrapping up the case before election day. Having a giant like Purdue Pharma held responsible in the largest opioid case adds to Trump’s re-election portfolio. While his promises of combatting drug addiction and holding Big Pharma responsible was an early pledge, Trump has done little in this area. However, the outcome here may provide a much-needed boost to his approval ratings. Only time will tell if the recent court cases against Big Pharma will repair the decades long damage it has caused.

Lawsuit Timeline

2001 – CT Attorney General Richard Blumenthal urges Purdue to take action regarding OxyContin abuse.

2003 – Federal Drug Administration issues a warning letter to Purdue about OxyContin’s misleading advertisements.

2004 – West Virginia – Purdue sued for reimbursements of “excessive prescription costs” paid by the state. Result: $10 million settlement.

May 2007 – Purdue pleads guilty to misleading the public about OxyContin’s addiction risk, company ordered to pay $600 million.

Oct 2007 – Kentucky – Purdue sued for the state’s widespread Oxycontin abuse. Result: $24 million settlement 8 years later, Dec 2015.

Jan 2017 – Washington – Purdue sued for not upholding agreement in previous suit to track suspicious excessive ordering and potential black-market sales. Result: Case is ongoing, Washington has dismissed offers to settle.

March 2019Oklahoma – Purdue sued for its contribution in the death of thousands in the state. Result: $270 million settlement.

Sept 2019 – Purdue Pharma sued for deceptive marketing practices and their role in the opioid crisis by thousands of municipal governments and nearly two dozen states. Result: A $10-12 billion settlement and Sacklers are to pay 3 billion over 7 years.

Sept 2019 – New York – Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family file for bankruptcy. Result: $10 – 12 billion settlement for company dissolvement.

Oct 2020 – Purdue pleads guilty to 3 federal crimes. Result: $8 billion settlement.

Engagement Resources:

The Trump Administration Threatens Hospital Funding Over COVID-19 Reporting

The Trump Administration Threatens Hospital Funding Over COVID-19 Reporting

Brief #82 – Health and Gender

Author Taylor J Smith

The Policy

After the Trump Administration’s July announcement requiring all hospitals to submit COVID-19 data to private company, TeleTracking Technologies, exclusively sharing data with the Department of Health and Human Services, critics opposed the White House’s move to bypass the Centers for Disease Control, raising transparency concerns. However, the requirements have continued, and President Trump has become dissatisfied with the level of compliance amongst the nation’s hospitals. Such dissatisfaction has prompted an emergency rule threatening Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospitals’ non-compliance. Hospitals that fail to comply with federal requirements on COVID-19 and influenza data are at risk for losing U.S. funding. Hospitals will be given 14 weeks, from the late August announcement, to make adjustments and comply before enforcements take effect. Nursing homes and labs are also included under this rule and therefore subject to fines and punishments.

The information the White House wants completed is a general report on hospitals’ COVID-19 and influenza data. Among the data requested is the number of Covid-19 patients in each hospital and availability of medical equipment such as ventilators and protective gowns for employees. One of the most difficult requirements for hospitals, especially small ones, is that they are required to submit reported data every day, even on weekends. Should a hospital worker responsible for completing the form be sick or out of the hospital, partially fill out the form, or simply forget to complete the form, the hospital falls into noncompliance.

Previous to this crackdown, hospitals were participating in the voluntary reporting system, however, full compliance has been low, only 24% of hospitals reported all required elements every day. As mentioned, the Administration was not satisfied with the 86% reporting rate, by implementing this rule, Trump leaves hospitals no choice but to reach a 100% reporting rate.

Analysis:

Supporters of this rule emphasize how critical the data is in understanding the severity of the coronavirus and how central the data is for the national response to the pandemic. Seema Verma, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator, said the changes “represent a dramatic acceleration of our efforts to track and control the spread of COVID-19”.

However, withholding of Medicare and Medicaid funding would be a major blow to almost any hospital and would be too hard on the communities they serve, many experts say. For many hospitals, Medicare and Medicaid account for 40-60% of total funding and revenue. The American Hospital Association immediately denounced the rule, highlighting the risk of hospitals going out of business, and noting the penalty would be “too severe a penalty on a community”, a community that should not suffer because of subjective rules.

This rule is detrimental to the very institution serving as the American people’s first line of defense against the coronavirus. While the pursuit for COVID-19 and influenza data is just, the penalty is excessive and unnecessary. Such penalties jeopardize patient access to hospital care during a pandemic, likely resulting in widespread complications, suffering and/or deaths, which can only be exacerbated by the current pandemic.

Engagement Resources:

For concerns about COVID-19, please seek assistance with the Center for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, or local health officials.

Subscribe HERE to stay up to date with COVID-19

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths as of October 17, 2020 – Consult the CDC or Johns Hopkins for an update in numbers.

Nation Confirmed Cases Deaths
Globally 39,415,643 1,105,621
United States 8,052,978 218,618
India 7,432,680 112,998
Brazil 5,200,300 153,214
Russia 1,376,020 23,857
Argentina 965,609 25,723
Colombia 945,354 28,616
Spain 936,560 33,775
France 876,342 33,325
Peru 859,740 33,577
Mexico 841,661 85,705

 

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