KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Sharing vaccines with the world

The Biden administration — keeping a campaign promise — announced it would back a temporary waiver of patent protections for the Covid-19 vaccines, arousing the ire of the drug industry.

The administration is also picking a fight with tobacco companies, as the Food and Drug Administration prepares to ban menthol flavorings in cigarettes and small cigars. Tobacco makers have long promoted menthol products to the African American community, and the action is controversial.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Tami Luhby of CNN and Kimberly Leonard of Business Insider.

Among the takeaways from this week's podcast:

  • It is unclear whether the Biden administration's decision to support a patent waiver for covid vaccines foreshadows Democrats' willingness to take on the powerful pharmaceutical industry. There is a school of thought that the patent issue is more about trade and intellectual property than it is about health care.
  • President Joe Biden has issued a new goal for vaccinations — getting at least one dose into the arms of 70% of adults by July 4. And the FDA is expected to grant emergency authorization to vaccinate teens age 12 and up in the coming days. But the vaccination effort is slowing down as most of those who want a shot have been vaccinated. Now the challenge is to reach people who are hesitant and those with access problems, either because of where they live or because it is difficult for them to find the time.
  • Even without a plan from the administration, Democrats on Capitol Hill say they plan to press ahead with legislation to reduce prescription drug prices. But the prospects remain cloudy. Democrats have only a slim majority in the House and no votes to spare in the Senate, so finding a compromise will not be easy, despite the popularity of the issue.
  • The FDA's move to ban menthol flavoring for cigarettes has directly raised the issue of racial disparities in health care. On one hand, African Americans are far more likely to smoke menthol products than white or Hispanic populations, in part because the tobacco industry has strongly promoted menthol within Black communities. If people stopped smoking as a result, that would promote better health. But some people are worried about creating another legal hurdle that would give law enforcement a reason to harass people of color.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read too:

Julie Rovner: KHN's "The Vulnerable Homebound Are Left Behind on Vaccination," by Jenny Gold

Tami Luhby: Stat's "Biden's Medicaid Pressure Tactics Could Put His Team at Odds With Hospitals," by Rachel Cohrs

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The Washington Post's "Many Police Officers Spurn Coronavirus Vaccines as Departments Hold Off on Mandates," by Isaac Stanley-Becker

Kimberly Leonard: Business Insider's "Big Insurers Like UnitedHealth, Humana, Cigna, and Anthem Are Moving Beyond Paying for Care. A New Report Reveals Just How Much Their DNA Has Changed," by Shelby Livingston

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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