KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Delta blues

The U.S. is experiencing another surge of covid-19, particularly in Southern states where vaccination rates are generally lower than in other regions. But partisan fights rage on over what role government should play in trying to tamp down the highly contagious delta variant.

Meanwhile, Democrats spent the week fighting amongst themselves about how to extend a moratorium on evictions, after the Supreme Court said Congress would need to act.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week's episode:

  • The surge caused by the delta variant has put public health officials in a difficult position. While extolling the value of the vaccines and urging people to get a shot, they have suggested it would allow the public to go back to a more normal life. But now — because large pockets of the country have low vaccination rates, which is allowing the delta variant to take hold — officials are urging mask-wearing again. The switch in messaging has the potential to undermine confidence in the inoculations.
  • The Biden administration's move this week to extend the covid eviction moratorium appears to be an effort to buy time so that federal officials can push states to get money already approved by Congress out to tenants and landlords. But the Supreme Court has already said the administration doesn't have authority to extend the moratorium, so it may be a race between federal officials trying to get money moving and opponents of the moratorium trying to get their case before the high court.
  • Food and Drug Administration officials say they are working furiously on an application by drugmaker Pfizer to grant its vaccine final approval. All the vaccines being used in the U.S. have received only emergency authorizations, not the more formal and rigorous full FDA approval. But that process is always time-consuming because federal officials must comb through a manufacturer's data, re-crunch the numbers and inspect production sites. FDA had said they would try to get that done in six months — a fairly rapid pace for normal approvals. But the hope that final approval will persuade more people to get a shot is pushing the agency to speed up even more.
  • All that work is ongoing even though the Biden administration still has not named anyone to be the next FDA commissioner.
  • Tension is building over the need for covid vaccine boosters. Several countries, including Israel and Germany, have said they will begin using booster shots for vulnerable populations, but the World Health Organization has asked countries to not begin giving boosters until more people around the globe have access to the vaccine. U.S. officials and drugmakers said evidence suggests the initial shots are still working well and boosters are not required at this time.
  • Despite playing down the need for boosters, government officials and industry are preparing behind the scenes for the possibility of starting a campaign and getting additional vaccines to people who need them.
  • The FDA last week approved allowing pharmacists to automatically substitute a biosimilar — or copy of a brand-name insulin — for patients’ prescriptions. Although the biosimilar is like a generic drug, it's not clear whether this move will quickly lead to lower costs for patients.

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

Julie Rovner: NPR's "Vaccination Status Questions Do Not Violate HIPAA, Consumer Health Expert Explains," by Kelsey Snell and Deven McGraw

Rachel Cohrs: Axios' "Justice Department Goes After Kaiser Permanente's Medicare Advantage Plans," by Bob Herman

Sarah Karlin-Smith: KHN's "12,000 Square Miles Without Obstetrics? It's a Possibility in West Texas," by Charlotte Huff

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Task & Purposes' "'We Are All Suffering in Silence' - Inside the US Military's Pervasive Culture of Eating Disorders," by Haley Britzky


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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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