‘I’m fighting a war against COVID-19 and a war against stupidity,’ says CMO of Houston hospital

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-physician-relationships/i-m-fighting-a-war-against-covid-19-and-a-war-against-stupidity-says-cmo-of-houston-hospital.html?utm_medium=email

 

After two hours of sleep a night for four months and seeing a member of his team contract the virus, Joseph Varon, MD, is growing exasperated.

“I’m pretty much fighting two wars: A war against COVID and a war against stupidity,” Dr. Varon, MD, CMO and chief of critical care at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told NBC News. “And the problem is the first one, I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult.”

Dr. Varon noted that whether it’s information backed by science or common sense, people throughout the U.S. are not listening. “The thing that annoys me the most is that we keep on doing our best to save all these people, and then you get another batch of people that are doing exactly the opposite of what you’re telling them to do.”

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Varon said he has woken up at dawn every day for the past four months and has headed to the hospital. There, he spends six to 12 hours on rounds before seeing new admissions. He then returns home to sleep two hours, at most.

He said his staff is physically and emotionally drained. 

UMMC nurse Christina Mathers spoke with NBC News from a hospital bed in the segment, noting that she had recently tested positive for COVID-19 after not feeling well during one of her shifts. “All the fighting, all the screaming, all the finger pointing — enough is enough,” Ms. Mathers told NBC. “People just need to listen to us. We’re not going to lie. Why would we lie?” 

Ms. Mathers has worked every other day since April 29, according to The Atlantic, which created a photo essay of Dr. Varon and the UMMC team at work.

 

 

A large racial divide exists in the concern over ability to pay for COVID-19 treatment

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/large-racial-divide-exists-concern-over-ability-pay-covid-19-treatment

Nonwhite adults say they’re either “extremely concerned” or “concerned” about the potential cost of care.

People of color are far more likely to worry about their ability to pay for healthcare if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 than their white counterparts, according to a new survey from nonprofit West Health and Gallup.

By a margin of almost two to one (58% vs. 32%), nonwhite adults report that they are either “extremely concerned” or “concerned” about the potential cost of care. That concern is three times higher among lower-income than higher-income households (60% vs. 20%).

The data come from an ongoing survey about Americans’ experiences with and attitudes about the healthcare system. The latest findings are based on a nationally representative sample of 1,017 U.S. adults interviewed between June 8 and June 30.

There’s also a disturbing trend when it comes to medication insecurity. Overall, 24% of U.S. adults say they lacked money to pay for at least one prescribed medicine in the past 12 months, an increase from 19% in early 2019. Among nonwhite Americans, the burden is growing even more quickly. Medication insecurity jumped 10 percentage points, from 21% to 31%, compared with a statistically insignificant three-point increase among white Americans (17% to 20%).

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

All of this results in what Tim Lash, chief strategy officer for West Health, called a “significant and increasing racial and socioeconomic divide” in Americans’ views on the cost of healthcare and the impact it has on their lives. When polling started in 2019, one in five Americans were unable to pay for prescription medications within the past 12 months. That number now stands at one in four. The bottom line is that the situation is getting worse.

Amid broad concern about paying for the cost of COVID-19 or other medical expenses, health insurance benefits are likely more important than ever to U.S. workers. The survey found that 12% of workers are staying in a job they want to leave because they are afraid of losing healthcare benefits, a sentiment that is about twice as likely to be held by nonwhite workers as white workers (17% vs. 9%).

However, Americans step across racial lines in their overwhelming support for disallowing political contributions by pharmaceutical companies, and for government intervention in setting price limits for government-sponsored research and a COVID vaccine.

Nearly 9 in 10 U.S. adults (89%) think the federal government should be able to negotiate the cost of a COVID-19 vaccine, while only 10% say the drug company itself should set the price. Similarly, 86% of U.S. adults say there should be limits on the price of drugs that government-funded research helped develop.

Regarding the influence of pharmaceutical companies on the political process, 78% of adults say political campaigns should not be allowed to accept donations from pharmaceutical companies during the coronavirus pandemic.

THE LARGER TREND

Concerns over payment aren’t the only race-related disparities found in healthcare. Dr. Garth Graham, the vice president of community health at CVS Health, said during AHIP’s Institute and Expo in June that although African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for about 24% of COVID-19 deaths.

He attributed some of the driving factors for these particular COVID-19-related disparities to the social determinants of health, the over-predominance of African American and Latino frontline workers, and the higher incidence-rates of chronic illness such as diabetes and hypertension in minority groups.

On June 19 – Juneteenth, as it’s known for many Black Americans – 36 Chicago hospitals penned an open letter declaring that systemic racism is a “public health crisis.”

“Systemic racism is a real threat to the health of our patients, families and communities,” the letter reads. “We stand with all of those who have raised their voices to capture the attention of Chicago and the nation with a clear call for action.”

 

 

 

 

A Viral Epidemic Splintering into Deadly Pieces

Once again, the coronavirus is ascendant. As infections mount across the country, it is dawning on Americans that the epidemic is now unstoppable, and that no corner of the nation will be left untouched.

As of Wednesday, the pathogen had infected at least 4.3 million Americans, killing more than 150,000. Many experts fear the virus could kill 200,000 or even 300,000 by year’s end. Even President Trump has donned a mask, after resisting for months, and has canceled the Republican National Convention celebrations in Florida.

Each state, each city has its own crisis driven by its own risk factors: vacation crowds in one, bars reopened too soon in another, a revolt against masks in a third.

“We are in a worse place than we were in March,” when the virus coursed through New York, said Dr. Leana S. Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner. “Back then we had one epicenter. Now we have lots.”

To assess where the country is heading now, The New York Times interviewed 20 public health experts — not just clinicians and epidemiologists, but also historians and sociologists, because the spread of the virus is now influenced as much by human behavior as it is by the pathogen itself.

Not only are American cities in the South and West facing deadly outbreaks like those that struck Northeastern cities in the spring, but rural areas are being hurt, too. In every region, people of color will continue to suffer disproportionately, experts said.

While there may be no appetite for a national lockdown, local restrictions must be tightened when required, the researchers said, and governors and mayors must have identical goals. Testing must become more targeted.

In most states, contact tracing is now moot — there are simply too many cases to track. And while progress has been made on vaccines, none is expected to arrive this winter in time to stave off what many fear will be a new wave of deaths.

Overall, the scientists conveyed a pervasive sense of sadness and exhaustion. Where once there was defianceand then a growing sense of dread, now there seems to be sorrow and frustration, a feeling that so many funerals never had to happen and that nothing is going well. The United States is a wounded giant, while much of Europe, which was hit first, is recovering and reopening — although not to us.

“We’re all incredibly depressed and in shock at how out of control the virus is in the U.S.,” said Dr. Michele Barry, the director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University.

With so much wealth and medical talent, they asked, how could we have done so poorly? How did we fare not just worse than autocratic China and isolated New Zealand, but also worse than tiny, much poorer nations like Vietnam and Rwanda?

“National hubris and belief in American exceptionalism have served us badly,” said Martha L. Lincoln, a medical anthropologist and historian at San Francisco State University. “We were not prepared to see the risk of failure.”

Since the coronavirus was first found to be the cause of lethal pneumonias in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, scientists have gained a better understanding of the enemy.

It is extremely transmissible, through not just coughed droplets but also a fine aerosol mist that is expelled when people talk loudly, laugh or sing and that can linger in indoor air. As a result, masks are far more effective than scientists once believed.

Virus carriers with mild or no symptoms can be infectious, and there may be 10 times as many people spreading the illness as have tested positive for it.

The infection may start in the lungs, but it is very different from influenza, a respiratory virus. In severely ill patients, the coronavirus may attach to receptors inside the veins and arteries, and move on to attack the kidneys, the heart, the gut and even the brain, choking off these organs with hundreds of tiny blood clots.

Most of the virus’s victims are elderly, but it has not spared young adults, especially those with obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes. Adults aged 18 to 49 now account for more hospitalized cases than people aged 50 to 64 or those 65 and older.

Children are usually not harmed by the virus, although clinicians were dismayed to discover a few who were struck by a rare but dangerous inflammatory versionYoung children appear to transmit the virus less often than teenagers, which may affect how schools can be opened.

Among adults, a very different picture has emerged. Growing evidence suggests that perhaps 10 percent of the infected account for 80 percent of new transmissions. Unpredictable superspreading events in nursing homes, meatpacking plants, churches, prisons and bars are major drivers of the epidemic.

Thus far, none of the medicines for which hopes were once high — repurposed malaria drugs, AIDS drugs and antivirals — have proved to be rapid cures. One antiviral, remdesivir, has been shown to shorten hospital stays, while a common steroid, dexamethasone, has helped save some severely ill patients.

One or even several vaccines may be available by year’s end, which would be a spectacular achievement. But by then the virus may have in its grip virtually every village and city on the globe.

Some experts, like Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, argue that only a nationwide lockdown can completely contain the virus now. Other researchers think that is politically impossible, but emphasize that localities must be free to act quickly and enforce strong measures with support from their state legislators.

Danielle Allen, the director of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, which has issued pandemic response plans, said that finding less than one case per 100,000 people means a community should continue testing, contact tracing and isolating cases — with financial support for those who need it.

Up to 25 cases per 100,000 requires greater restrictions, like closing bars and limiting gatherings. Above that number, authorities should issue stay-at-home orders, she said.

Testing must be focused, not just offered at convenient parking lots, experts said, and it should be most intense in institutions like nursing homes, prisons, factories or other places at risk of superspreading events.

Testing must be free in places where people are poor or uninsured, such as public housing projects, Native American reservations and churches and grocery stores in impoverished neighborhoods.

None of this will be possible unless the nation’s capacity for testing, a continuing disaster, is greatly expanded. By the end of summer, the administration hopes to start using “pooling,” in which tests are combined in batches to speed up the process.

But the method only works in communities with lower infection rates, where large numbers of pooled tests turn up relatively few positive results. It fails where the virus has spread everywhere, because too many batches turn up positive results that require retesting.

At the moment, the United States tests roughly 800,000 people per day, about 38 percent of the number some experts think is needed.

Above all, researchers said, mask use should be universal indoors — including airplanes, subway cars and every other enclosed space — and outdoors anywhere people are less than six feet apart.

Dr. Emily Landon, an infection control specialist at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said it was “sad that something as simple as a mask got politicized.”

“It’s not a statement, it’s a piece of clothing,” she added. “You get used to it the way you got used to wearing pants.”

Arguments that masks infringe on personal rights must be countered both by legal orders and by persuasion. “We need more credible messengers endorsing masks,” Dr. Wen said — just before the president himself became a messenger.

“They could include C.E.O.s or celebrities or religious leaders. Different people are influencers to different demographics.”

Although this feels like a new debate, it is actually an old one. Masks were common in some Western cities during the 1918 flu pandemic and mandatory in San Francisco. There was even a jingle: “Obey the laws, wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws.”

“A libertarian movement, the Anti-Mask League, emerged,” Dr. Lincoln of San Francisco State said. “There were fistfights with police officers over it.” Ultimately, city officials “waffled” and compliance faded.

“I wonder what this issue would be like today,” she mused, “if that hadn’t happened.”

Images of Americans disregarding social distancing requirements have become a daily news staple. But the pictures are deceptive: Americans are more accepting of social distancing than the media sometimes portrays, said Beth Redbird, a Northwestern University sociologist who since March has conducted regular surveys of 8,000 adults about the impact of the virus.

“About 70 percent of Americans report using all forms of it,” she said. “And when we give them adjective choices, they describe people who won’t distance as mean, selfish or unintelligent, not as generous, open-minded or patriotic.”

The key predictor, she said in early July, was whether or not the poll respondent trusted Mr. Trump. Those who trusted him were less likely to practice social distancing. That was true of Republicans and independents, “and there’s no such thing as a Democrat who trusts Donald Trump,” she added.

Whether or not people support coercive measures like stay-at-home orders or bar closures depended on how scared the respondent was.

“When rising case numbers make people more afraid, they have more taste for liberty-constraining actions,” Dr. Redbird said. And no economic recovery will occur, she added, “until people aren’t afraid. If they are, they won’t go out and spend money even if they’re allowed to.”

As of Wednesday, new infections were rising in 33 states, and in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, according to a database maintained by The Times.

Weeks ago, experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, were advising states where the virus was surging to pull back from reopening by closing down bars, forbidding large gatherings and requiring mask usage.

Many of those states are finally taking that advice, but it is not yet clear whether this national change of heart has happened in time to stop the newest wave of deaths from ultimately exceeding the 2,750-a-day peak of mid-April. Now, the daily average is 1,106 virus deaths nationwide.

Deaths may surge even higher, experts warned, when cold weather, rain and snow force Americans to meet indoors, eat indoors and crowd into public transit.

Oddly, states that are now hard-hit might become safer, some experts suggested. In the South and Southwest, summers are so hot that diners seek air-conditioning indoors, but eating outdoors in December can be pleasant.

Several studies have confirmed transmission in air-conditioned rooms. In one well-known case cluster in a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, researchers concluded that air-conditioners blew around a viral cloud, infecting patrons as far as 10 feet from a sick diner.

Rural areas face another risk. Almost 80 percent of the country’s counties lack even one infectious disease specialist, according to a study led by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

At the moment, the crisis is most acute in Southern and Southwestern states. But websites that track transmission rates show that hot spots can turn up anywhere. For three weeks, for example, Alaska’s small outbreak has been one of the country’s fastest-spreading, while transmission in Texas and Arizona has dramatically slowed.

Deaths now may rise more slowly than they did in spring, because hospitalized patients are, on average, younger this time. But overwhelmed hospitals can lead to excess deaths from many causes all over a community, as ambulances are delayed and people having health crises avoid hospitals out of fear.

The experts were divided as to what role influenza will play in the fall. A harsh flu season could flood hospitals with pneumonia patients needing ventilators. But some said the flu season could be mild or almost nonexistent this year.

Normally, the flu virus migrates from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere in the spring — presumably in air travelers — and then returns in the fall, with new mutations that may make it a poor match for the annual vaccine.

But this year, the national lockdown abruptly ended flu transmission in late April, according to weekly Fluview reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. International air travel has been sharply curtailed, and there has been almost no flu activity in the whole southern hemisphere this year.

Assuming there is still little air travel to the United States this fall, there may be little “reseeding” of the flu virus here. But in case that prediction turns out be wrong, all the researchers advised getting flu shots anyway.

“There’s no reason to be caught unprepared for two respiratory viruses,” said Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University’s School of Public Health.

Experts familiar with vaccine and drug manufacturing were disappointed that, thus far, only dexamethasone and remdesivir have proved to be effective treatments, and then only partially.

Most felt that monoclonal antibodies — cloned human proteins that can be grown in cell culture — represented the best hope until vaccines arrive. Regeneron, Eli Lilly and other drugmakers are working on candidates.

“They’re promising both for treatment and for prophylaxis, and there are companies with track records and manufacturing platforms,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, a former director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council. “But manufacturing capacity is limited.”

According to a database compiled by The Times, researchers worldwide are developing more than 165 vaccine candidates, and 27 are in human trials.

New announcements are pouring in, and the pressure to hurry is intense: The Trump administration just awarded nearly $2 billion to a Pfizer-led consortium that promised 100 million doses by December, assuming trials succeed.

Because the virus is still spreading rapidly, most experts said “challenge trials,” in which a small number of volunteers are vaccinated and then deliberately infected, would probably not be needed.

Absent a known cure, “challenges” can be ethically fraught, and some doctors oppose doing them for this virus. “They don’t tell you anything about safety,” Dr. Borio said.

And when a virus is circulating unchecked, a typical placebo-controlled trial with up to 30,000 participants can be done efficiently, she added. Moderna and Pfizer have already begun such trials.

The Food and Drug Administration has said a vaccine will pass muster even if it is only 50 percent effective. Experts said they could accept that, at least initially, because the first vaccine approved could save lives while testing continued on better alternatives.

“A vaccine doesn’t have to work perfectly to be useful,” Dr. Walensky said. “Even with measles vaccine, you can sometimes still get measles — but it’s mild, and you aren’t infectious.”

“We don’t know if a vaccine will work in older folks. We don’t know exactly what level of herd immunity we’ll need to stop the epidemic. But anything safe and fairly effective should help.”

Still, haste is risky, experts warned, especially when opponents of vaccines are spreading fear. If a vaccine is rushed to market without thorough safety testing and recipients are hurt by it, all vaccines could be set back for years.

No matter what state the virus reaches, one risk remains constant. Even in states with few Black and Hispanic residents, they are usually hit hardest, experts said.

People of color are more likely to have jobs that require physical presence and sometimes close contact, such as construction work, store clerking and nursing. They are more likely to rely on public transit and to live in neighborhoods where grocery stores are scarce and crowded.

They are more likely to live in crowded housing and multigenerational homes, some with only one bathroom, making safe home isolation impossible when sickness strikes. They have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.

Federal data gathered through May 28 shows that Black and Hispanic Americans were three times as likely to get infected as their white neighbors, and twice as likely to die, even if they lived in remote rural counties with few Black or Hispanic residents.

“By the time that minority patient sets foot in a hospital, he is already on an unequal footing,” said Elaine Hernandez, a sociologist at Indiana University.

The differences persist even though Black and Hispanic adults drastically altered their behavior. One study found that through the beginning of May, the average Black American practiced more social distancing than the average white American.

Officials in ChicagoBaltimore and other communities faced another threat: rumors flying about social media that Black people were somehow immune.

The top factor making people adopt self-protective behavior is personally knowing someone who fell ill, said Dr. Redbird. By the end of spring, Black and Hispanic Americans were 50 percent more likely than white Americans to know someone who had been sickened by the virus, her surveys found.

Dr. Hernandez, whose parents live in Arizona, said their neighbors who had not been scared in June had since changed their attitudes.

Her father, a physician, had set an example. Early on, he wore a mask with a silly mustache when he and his wife took walks, and they would decline friends’ invitations, saying, “No, we’re staying in our bubble.”

Now, she said, their neighbors are wearing masks, “and people are telling my father, ‘You were right,’” Dr. Hernandez said.

There was no widespread agreement among experts about what is likely to happen in the years after the pandemic. Some scientists expected a quick economic recovery; others thought the damage could persist for years.

Working at home will become more common, some predicted, while crowded, open-plan offices may be changed. The just-in-time supply chains on which many businesses depend will need fixing because the processes failed to deliver adequate protective gear, ventilators and test materials.

A disease-modeling system like that used by the National Weather Service to predict storms is needed, said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Right now, the country has surveillance for seasonal flu but no national map tracking all disease outbreaks. As Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former C.D.C. director, recently pointed out, states are not even required to track the same data.

Several experts said they assumed that millions of Americans who have been left without health insurance or forced to line up at food banks would vote for politicians favoring universal health care, paid sick leave, greater income equality and other changes.

But given the country’s deep political divisions, no researcher was certain what the outcome of the coming election would be.

Dr. Redbird said her polling of Americans showed “little faith in institutions across the board — we’re not seeing an increase in trust in science or an appetite for universal health care or workers equity.”

The Trump administration did little to earn trust. More than six months into the worst health crisis in a century, Mr. Trump only last week urged Americans to wear masks and canceled the Republican convention in Florida, the kind of high-risk indoor event that states have been banning since mid-March.

“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Trump said at the first of the resurrected coronavirus task force briefings earlier this month, which included no scientists or health officials. The briefings were discontinued in April amid his rosy predications that the epidemic would soon be over.

Mr. Trump has ignoredcontradicted or disparaged his scientific advisers, repeatedly saying that the virus simply would go away, touting unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine even after they were shown to be ineffective and sometimes dangerous, and suggesting that disinfectants or lethal ultraviolet light might be used inside the body.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their health insurance, and are in danger of losing their homes, even as they find themselves in the path of a lethal disease. The Trump presidency “is the symptom of the denigration of science and the gutting of the public contract about what we owe each other as citizens,” said Dr. Joia S. Mukherjee, the chief medical officer of Partners in Health in Boston.

One lesson that will surely be learned is that the country needs to be better prepared for microbial assaults, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, a former director of the C.D.C.

“This is not a once-in-a-century event. It’s a harbinger of things to come.”

 

 

 

Three Predictable Covid Nightmares — and How Congress Can Help Prevent Them

https://www.politico.com/news/agenda/2020/07/29/states-congress-covid-nightmare-vaccine-385217?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTVRNNU0yWXpNMlk1TVRsaiIsInQiOiJ1Vlg3dlBCYytaWTdtcGtMd3ZaUVh6TTBZRlMxXC9MaW9UMk9MRHhpdkFpSFFJMHFVWWpocUhWR1ZEZTM2NFBXb0xOVUZTSXNJMzYxWk90Yld

Opinion | Three Predictable Covid Nightmares — and How Congress ...

The good news is that they aren’t partisan, and they’re fixable.

In our response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the United States has all too often been caught flat-footed. Our public officials have tried to avoid or deny problems until they have been right on top of us, and legislative measures have tended to react to major challenges rather than avert them.

That has left policymakers with a lot to react to. And the relief and assistance bill now being worked out in the Senate will need to do that on several fronts. But to do better in the future, that bill should also take on several predictable problems that will face our country over the remainder of the year and which could benefit enormously from some advance attention and action.

Three sets of such predictable problems stand out above all, and in all three cases there are measures that can be taken now that should be able to attract bipartisan support.

First, states are going to face a monumental fiscal crisis.

The pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns of economic activity have left state governments with immense revenue shortages. Balanced-budget amendments in all but one state severely restrict their capacity to run deficits, in many cases even in major emergencies. That means states will have to either find other ways to raise revenue quickly or make major cuts to basic services. Such cuts in spending, jobs and public assistance would exacerbate the deep recession we are in and leave millions who need help in the lurch.

Most state fiscal years begin in July, so in many cases budgets designed or enacted before the severity of the crisis was clear are now starting to take effect, leaving states facing gaps they can easily predict but haven’t formally accounted for. In fact, 16 states are now starting the second year of biennial budgets enacted in 2019, before anyone could have imagined the sort of crisis we now face. Over the coming months, there will be no avoiding the fiscal crunch.

The states have already begun pleading with Congress for help, and sooner or later Congress will need to provide it. Taking steps sooner rather than later would make an enormous difference. The federal government has often been called on to serve as a fiscal backstop for states in extreme emergencies, since its borrowing power vastly exceeds that of the states. And that role is particularly appropriate in a truly national—indeed global—crisis of this magnitude.

But to provide such help responsibly, Congress will need to clearly delineate what kinds of assistance it can offer and on what terms. Congressional Republicans are not wrong to be wary of state efforts to use the emergency to fill fiscal holes dug over decades of irresponsible state policies. Yet that can’t mean that they deny state governments the help they need to contend with this crisis. Rather, it means they must draw some distinctions.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, Congress would do well to divide state needs into three tranches: direct pandemic spending (which should be covered by federal dollars), lost state revenue (which states should be given the opportunity to make up with federally guaranteed loans on favorable terms), and longstanding obligations like pension and retiree health costs made untenable by the recession (for which affected states should be given options only for strictly conditional support, like a new state bankruptcy code or federal support conditioned on major pension reforms).

To be effective, that sort of response would need to take shape now, before states have truly hit the wall. It should be part of the bill the parties are now beginning to negotiate.

Second, this fall’s election is going to be seriously complicated by the pandemic.

There is pretty much no way around that. We’ll be voting while the virus is still spreading, which means that far more people than usual will vote by mail. Only a few states have real experience with voting by mail in large numbers, and the logistics involved are not simple. Primary elections in many states have already made the challenge clear.

To take just one example among many, mailed ballots require signature verification. In states that haven’t spent years building the required infrastructure, such verification will probably need to be done by hand, creating huge risks of confusion and error. States will need to develop new processes to handle this, to train election workers to use unfamiliar equipment, and to take on problems in real time. Signature verification also requires a process for notifying voters whose handwriting is challenged and giving them time to respond. All that, and similar challenges on other election administration fronts, makes it easy to imagine that many races will be impossible to call on election night, and perhaps for quite some time afterward.

Particularly in an era already overflowing with cynical mistrust and conspiracy mongering, such problems raise the prospect of a legitimacy crisis around the election. And policymakers need to take steps now to reduce the risk of such a crisis.

The first step must be to prepare the public. Elected officials, candidates, journalists and others must start speaking plainly about the likelihood of logistical challenges around the election so that voters are not shocked if things don’t go smoothly. People must know in advance that we should not expect every race to be called straight away and that results which take days or even weeks to determine are not therefore illegitimate.

But beyond setting voter expectations, policymakers should also be looking for ways to reduce the strain on the system and to deal with predictable problems. One simple step Congress could take now is to push back the deadlines involved in the work of the Electoral College, to give the states more time to count votes in the presidential race if they need it. A simple change in the federal law governing these dates, which wouldn’t give either party an advantage, could give every state about three more weeks to count. Such a change would be essentially impossible after the election—when partisans looking at partial results would argue over which side it would advantage. But it could easily be done today, it would just take a few sentences of legislative language, and it too should be part of the relief bill now being worked out.

Opinion | Three Predictable Covid Nightmares — and How Congress ...

Finally, if we’re lucky, we’re going to need to figure out how to distribute a Covid-19 vaccine early next yearThat would be a good problem to have, of course, but a huge problem nonetheless. And getting it wrong could catastrophically undermine the effort to defeat the virus.

Vaccine development itself is one area where our country has not been behind the curve: The federal government has invested heavily in the effort, the National Institutes of Health has played a key coordinating role, and the administration is prepared to pay for “at risk” manufacturing of millions of doses of any vaccine that makes it into Phase III trials, so that if a vaccine is found to be safe and effective there will immediately be doses to provide to high-risk individuals. But who will be first in line to get these early doses? And who will decide?

Here, too, there is an enormous danger of a legitimacy crisis. Both public fear about the safety of a vaccine (building on decades of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories on the right and left alike) and the danger of corruption, or at least perceived corruption, in the distribution of doses could undermine the potential of effective vaccination to end the nightmare of this pandemic.

Widespread uptake is essential to the effectiveness of any vaccine. It is not so much by protecting each vaccinated individual as by vaccinating enough Americans to achieve broad-based communal (or “herd”) immunity that a vaccine could truly change the game. That means public trust in the process and wholesale vaccination across our society will be crucial.

To achieve that, it is essential that both the safety of the vaccine-development process and the basic fairness of the ultimate distribution formula be established in advance, and in a very public way. Congress has a crucial role to play here, too. Hearings should begin very soon to put before the public all available information about the efforts taken by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the safety of the vaccine-development process, even as that process proceeds with unprecedented speed. And Congress should establish, ideally in this next relief bill, a public commission to develop a formula for equitable distribution of early vaccine doses: setting out tiers of priority (for front-line health workers, vulnerable populations, the elderly, and those with particular preexisting conditions), and seeking out ways to make sure that economic and other disadvantages do not translate into lesser or later access to vaccination.

The work of such a group should be reasonably transparent and would need to begin very soon if it is to bear fruit in time to be useful. Policymakers must not underestimate the danger of a loss of public confidence in a Covid-19 vaccine, and must take steps now to avoid such a foreseeable disaster.

The same is true on all three of these fronts. These may not be the greatest problems we confront in the remainder of this dark and difficult year, but they share some features that ought to make them high priorities: All three are predictable and serious, each would amount to a disaster if left unchecked, but each could be made much easier to handle with some straightforward preparation. The relief bill being negotiated this summer could easily, without sparking a partisan war, take concrete steps on all three fronts.

Leadership in a crisis demands a combination of planning for foreseeable difficulties and responding to the unexpected. Getting the former right can make the latter far more doable. To make the rest of this year less disastrous, our leaders need to look ahead.

 

The economy is in deep trouble again. Coronavirus is to blame

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/23/business/coronavirus-economy-recovery/index.html

The economy is in deep trouble again. Coronavirus is to blame - CNN

Restaurant reservations are waning. The rebound in air travel is leveling off. And foot traffic at stores is dwindling once again. There is mounting evidence that America’s fragile economic recovery is already stalling as the number of coronavirus infections and deaths spike.

Real-time economic indicators bottomed out in May as stay-at-home orders were lifted and many Americans felt safe enough to start visiting shopping centers, restaurants and even airports.
That gave hope, perhaps prematurely, of a rapid V-shaped recovery for the United States from the historic collapse caused by the pandemic.
But there is now a growing sense that the recovery is losing steam as coronavirus infections surge in California, Texas, Florida and other Sun Belt states.
“The premature reopening of the U.S. economy has resulted in an intensification of the pandemic, which is now causing growth in the economy to slow,” Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM International, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.
The stall of the fragile recovery comes as Congress debates whether the economy needs more stimulus — and if so, how much to provide. The $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits expire this month unless lawmakers take action.
Economists say there is nothing to debate: The recovery is faltering.
“Activity is now clearly contracting in COVID hot spots, including the Sun Belt and the West,” Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies, wrote in a report on Monday.
That is hardly surprising, given that 22 states have either reversed or paused their reopening due to health concerns.

Recovery hopes overdone?

This doesn’t mean the US economy will keep shrinking in the third quarter. Economists are still betting GDP will turn sharply positive after having collapsed by an estimated 34% during the second quarter. But now they worry that the forecasts for blockbuster growth may be overly optimistic.
For instance, S&P Global Economics warned Wednesday that its estimate for a surge in third quarter GDP at an annualized pace of 22.2% is “at risk of weakening” because of the health crisis.
“Although our base case is for a gradual recovery through next year,” S&P economists wrote, “the [recent] surge in COVID-19 and hospitalizations has raised concerns that a more likely scenario is that the COVID-19 recession has not bottomed out.”
The latest real-time economic indicators suggest those concerns are warranted.
More turbulence for air travel: The resurgence of coronavirus infections is derailing the travel industry’s modest recovery. The number of air passengers processed through TSA security lines fell during the week ended July 20, compared with the prior week, according to Bank of America. This metric is down more than 70% from a year ago.
United (UAL) CEO Scott Kirby told CNBC on Wednesday that the airline doesn’t “expect to get anywhere close to normal until there’s a vaccine that’s been widely distributed to a large portion of the population.”
Restaurant trouble: As the CNN Business Recovery Dashboard clearly shows, restaurant reservations on OpenTable have weakened in recent weeks. During March and April, as the pandemic wreaked havoc, reservations were down nearly 100% from a year ago. That figure rebounded to down “only” 50% in mid-June, but has since rolled over and stood at -65% as of Monday.
Foot traffic to Chipotle (CMG) was down 47% during the first week in June, according to Placer.ai, an analytics platform that uses anonymized location data. Traffic improved to down just 30% by the end of June, but has since “stagnated” through mid-July, Placer.ai said.
Retail slowdown: In April, US retail traffic declined by a staggering 98%, according to Cowen. Traffic steadily improved, with June traffic down 57%, but that rebound has stalled. US retail traffic fell 47% from a year ago during the second week of July, Cowen said, a slight deterioration from the first week in July when traffic was down 45%.
Small business shutdowns: As of Sunday, 24.5% of small businesses in the United States were closed, according to Jefferies. That is worse than late June, when only 19% were closed. Jefferies pointed to “particular weakness in COVID hot spots” and noted that small business employment had dropped to levels unseen since the end of May.
Weaker spending: After plunging by as much as 31% year-over-year in early April, purchases on credit cards issued by Synchrony turned positive in late June. However, Synchrony (SYF) said Tuesday that spending during the first two weeks of July was down 2%.
Unemployment website visits: Web traffic to state unemployment portals “leveled off at still-high levels, suggesting labor market momentum has stalled,” Jefferies said. That jibes with official government statistics in the CNN Business Recovery Dashboard that show unemployment claims have tumbled from their spike this spring but remain elevated. In fact, another 1.4 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week — the first increase in weekly claims since late March.
“The spread of the virus since mid-June has clearly had an adverse effect on economic activity,” economists at Bank of America wrote in a note to clients Wednesday. “It is clear that the path of the economic recovery cannot be disentangled from the path of the virus.”

No vaccine, no recovery?

That’s not to say all real-time indicators are negative right now. For instance, Jefferies said one of the last metrics to bottom out, a US job listing index that the bank created with alternative data platform Thinknum, continued to improve even last week.
Still, the New York Federal Reserve’s weekly economic index, which is composed of metrics on the labor market, consumer behavior and goods production, dropped for the first time since hitting the pandemic low point in late April.
All of this raises stakes in the race to develop a vaccine that is effective against Covid-19.
Vaccine hopes, on top of unprecedented easy money from the Federal Reserve, have helped catapult the stock market. The S&P 500 has spiked 46% since the March 23 low and is now positive for the year.
Real progress is being made on the vaccine front, underscored by a $1.95 billion deal announced Wednesday for Pfizer (PFE) to produce millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses for the US government.
Yet healthcare execs remain more cautious than Wall Street. Seventy-three percent of healthcare industry leaders polled by Lazard estimate that a vaccine won’t be widely available until at least the second half of 2021.
“It is becoming quite clear that absent an accessible and widely distributed vaccine,” RSM’s Brusuelas said, “there will be no complete economic recovery.”

 

 

Grim statistics mount in the battle with COVID

https://mailchi.mp/9075526b5806/the-weekly-gist-july-24-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Coronavirus US: Cases rise in 40 states though death rate falls ...

It was a week of unhappy milestones in the nation’s battle with the coronavirus. On Thursday, the US crossed the threshold of 4M confirmed COVID cases, just 15 days after it hit the 3M cases mark. That’s three times as fast as it took to go from 2M to 3M cases, with daily new case counts now hovering near 70,000.

As the virus proliferates across the country, California has now overtaken New York as the epicenter of the outbreak, with more than 422,000 total cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic, versus New York’s 413,000.

Of greater concern, the daily US death toll from COVID stayed stubbornly above 1,000 for most of the week, the highest it’s been since late MayMore Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID than at any time since the middle of April, with the Gulf Coast states showing some of the highest per-capita hospitalization rates in the country. For good reason, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar officially renewed the Trump administration’s declaration of a public health emergency for another 90 days, clearing the way for the nation’s hospitals to receive more emergency financial assistance in battling the virus, and for continued relaxation of regulations that have allowed them to provide care virtually, and in non-traditional settings.

Meanwhile, as part of its Operation Warp Speed initiative to accelerate the development of a COVID vaccine, the Trump administration inked a $1.95B deal with pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and a German biotech company, BioNTech, to purchase 100M doses of the vaccine those companies are developing, with an option to buy an additional 500M doses. That’s in addition to contracts already in place to purchase 100M doses of a vaccine from Novavax, and 300M doses from AstraZeneca.

Americans would have free access to the Pfizer vaccine under the new arrangement, with the government subsidizing the entire cost of each dose, estimated to be about $19.50. Similar deals struck by the British government with AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline carry a much lower per dose price tag—between $4 and $10—raising concerns of “profiteering” by pharmaceutical companies in the US vaccine hunt.

The forward purchasing of millions of doses, coupled with rapid progress on vaccine development (at least 25 of the 150 potential vaccines being developed are already in human trials), raises hopes that help is on the way in our battle with the virus. On Friday, however, top White House science advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he doesn’t expect a vaccine to be “widely available” to the American public until the second half of next year. Until then, our hand-to-hand combat with the virus—using non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask wearing, social distancing, hand hygiene, testing, and contact tracing—must intensify, particularly in light of increasingly worrisome data on the spread and impact of the disease.

US coronavirus update: 4.0M cases; 144K deaths; 48.8M tests conducted.

 

 

Six reasons to be optimistic amid COVID-19

Six reasons to be optimistic amid COVID-19

Being more optimistic lowers the risk of CVD and early death: JAMA

Although COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising, there is also some positive news on the horizon, according to Joseph Allen of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a July 14, 2020 Washington Post op-ed, Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, wrote that progress is being made in treatments, testing, and vaccines, and that there’s growing agreement about ways to curb the spread of infection.

Among positive developments, Allen cited:

  • Therapeutic treatments, such as cloned antibodies, are showing to be effective both to treat and prevent COVID-19.
  • Rapid, low-cost saliva tests for COVID-19 are being developed and could be a game-changer.
  • Universal mask-wearing is catching on.
  • Consensus has emerged that airborne spread of the coronavirus is happening, and the World Health Organization and other organizations are now recommending the use of healthy building strategies such as higher ventilation, better filtration, and the use of air-cleaning devices.
  • Several studies suggest that past exposure to common-cold coronaviruses may help protect some people from COVID-19 infection.
  • Vaccine trials seem to be working and drug makers have said they may be able to deliver doses as early as October.

“For the first time in history, nearly every scientist in the world is focused on the same problem,” Allen wrote. “This is starting to pay real dividends.”

Read Joseph Allen’s Washington Post op-ed: Need some good news about covid-19? Here are six reasons for optimism.

 

 

 

 

Pinning hopes on vaccine is not the right coronavirus strategy, expert says

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/22/health/us-coronavirus-wednesday/index.html

As cases continue to rise, Americans looking to a vaccine as the way out of the coronavirus pandemic should consider a more comprehensive approach, a leading medical expert told CNN on Wednesday.

“Pinning all our hopes on a vaccine that works immediately is not the right strategy,” Dr. William Haseltine, a former professor at Harvard University’s medical and public health schools, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Haseltine said a broad public health strategy is a better way to contain the spread of the virus along with the help of a vaccine and therapeutic drugs. Mandating masks will help but Haseltine said, “we need a lot more than masks to contain this epidemic that’s running through our country like a freight train.”
Haseltine recommended closing bars and other places where young people congregate at night and ban holding large meetings in the worst-hit regions. Life won’t get better until people make major changes to their behavior and public health services come forward with more resources, he said.
He said a vaccine is still six months away at the earliest and he warned not to underestimate a coronavirus. Haseltine, known for his work on fighting cancer and HIV/AIDS, said it won’t be easy to develop a vaccine.
“These are tricky viruses,” he said. “It’s not as simple as measles or mumps. It’s going to be a lot more complicated”.
Any Covid-19 vaccine that’s sponsored by the US government will be free or affordable for the American public, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC on Wednesday.
“For any vaccine that we have bought — so for instance the Pfizer vaccine — those hundred million doses would actually be acquired by the US government, then given for free to Americans,” Azar said.
He said the same would apply with the AstraZeneca and the Novovax vaccines.
“We will ensure that any vaccine that we’re involved in sponsoring is either free to the American people or is affordable,” Azar said.
And while some anti-mask protesters refuse to wear a piece of cloth to help save American lives, enormous signs of altruism have emerged.
More than 100,000 people have volunteered to participate in Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I think we’ll be fine with regards to getting enough people,” Fauci said during a webinar Wednesday with the TB Alliance.

1 million more cases in two weeks

The US is heading in the wrong direction with Covid-19 numbers, and it’s doing so with astonishing speed.
Just after 1,000 people died in a single day, the country is about to reach 4 million Covid-19 cases.
To put that in perspective, the first reported case came on January 21. After 99 days, 1 million Americans became infected.
It took just 43 days after that to reach 2 million cases.
And 28 days later, on July 8, the US reached 3 million cases. The 4 millionth case could come just two weeks after that.
As of Wednesday night, more than 3.96 million people had been infected across the US, and more than 143,000 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Some states are reporting record-breaking numbers of new cases. Johns Hopkins reported at least 68,706 new cases and 1,152 deaths in the US on Wednesday.
More governors are requiring masks, and dozens of hospitals are out of intensive care unit beds.
President Donald Trump said the United States has now conducted more than 50 million coronavirus tests. He told reporters at a White House briefing that people should wear masks, pay attention to social distancing and wash their hands. While hot spots like Florida and Texas have popped up, it’s all going to work out, he said.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.

Covid-19 a leading cause of death in L.A. County

California, the most populous state and the first to shut down months ago, appeared to have Covid-19 under control — only to suffer a massive resurgence and surpass New York with the most coronavirus cases in the nation.
This month, state Gov. Gavin Newsom shut down bars and indoor restaurant services again due to an influx of cases after reopening.
Covid-19 is set to become one of the leading causes of death in Los Angeles County, according to Barbara Ferrer, the county’s health director.
“It’s killing more people than Alzheimer’s disease, other kinds of heart disease, stroke and COPD,” Ferrer said, referring to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which causes airflow blockage and breathing issues.
Comparing Covid-19 to the flu, Ferrer said data shows Covid-19 killed twice as many people in six months as the flu did in eight months.

Where cases are surging

Some politicians, including the President, have insisted that much of the soaring case numbers are a reflection of increased testing.
But the surge is new cases has greatly outpaced the increase in testing, with troubling rates of transmission and test positivity in many states.
A CNN analysis of testing data from the Covid Tracking Project reveals the positive test rate — or the average number of positive test results out of 1,000 tests performed — has increased significantly in many of the current hotspots, including Florida, Arizona, Texas and Georgia.
Florida saw an average rate of 35 positive results per 1,000 tests during the month of May. But in June, that number nearly tripled to 105. So far in July, the average rate of test positivity has been 187 out of 1,000.
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is on the “right course” in the fight against the virus.
“I think we will continue to see improvements,” the governor said Tuesday. “We just have to, particularly Floridians, have to continue doing the basic things.”
Over the weekend, nearly 50 Florida hospitals said they were out of ICU beds. Statewide, the ICU bed availability had dwindled to 15.98% on Tuesday, down from about 18.1% on Monday.
And new data from the CDC also show infections could be more than 10 times higher than the number of reported cases in some parts of the US.

More mask mandates lead to decreased death projections

Researchers estimate the US will have 219,864 total Covid-19 deaths by November 1, according to the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington.
That’s actually a decrease of about 5,000 deaths from the IHME’s previous forecast of 224,546 by that date.
The reasons for the slightly better forecast include more face masks mandates, more people wearing masks, and more people practicing social distancing, the researchers said.
“So a mandate is very important and helping, and a national mandate, of course, would do much better,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the IHME.
If Americans wore masks nationwide, the number of total deaths by November 1 would drop to 185,887, the researchers project. But if the mandates ease more, the US could have 231,012 deaths by November 1.
At least 41 states have some kind of mask requirement in place or planned. Starting Saturday, Minnesota will require people to wear masks inside businesses or indoor public settings. People who have conditions that make “it unreasonable for the individual to maintain a face covering are exempt from the order,” Gov. Tim Walz said.
Trump said Wednesday he would make a decision over the next day on whether to mandate masks on federal property.

Major testing delays make tracing almost useless

With the high transmission levels of the virus, traditional contact tracing has now become “impractical and difficult to do,” said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
The state is working to refine strategies and continue to work with counties to build up their “tracing army,” but Ghaly warns that “even a very robust contact tracing program will have a hard time reaching out to every single case.”
Contact tracing is now harder all over the nation while testing results take days, Fauci said.
Quest Diagnostics, a leading commercial testing lab, said in a news release Monday that for some patients, testing results can take up to two weeks.
“The time frame from when you get a test to the time you get the results back is sometimes measured in a few days,” Fauci said Tuesday.
“If that’s the case, it kind of negates the purpose of the contract tracing because if you don’t know if that person gets the results back at a period of time that’s reasonable, 24 hours, 48 hours at the most … that kind of really mitigates against getting a good tracing and a good isolation.”

 

 

 

Fauci on coronavirus: ‘I don’t really see us eradicating it’

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/508530-fauci-on-coronavirus-i-dont-really-see-us-eradicating?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-07-23%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:28659%5D&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Wednesday he doesn’t think COVID-19 will ever be fully eradicated but noted it can be controlled.

“I don’t see this disappearing the way SARS 1 did,” Fauci said during a livestreamed event hosted by the TB Alliance, a nonprofit focused on finding better tuberculosis treatments.

The SARS outbreak that started in 2003 lasted several months and mostly affected Asian countries before eventually vanishing. But in the process the disease sickened more than 8,000 people in 29 countries and claimed 774 lives.

Because COVID-19 is more contagious, it has had a far greater impact, with more than 15 million cases worldwide, including 618,000 deaths.

“It is so efficient in its ability to transmit from human to human that I think we ultimately will get control of it. I don’t really see us eradicating it,” Fauci said.

President Trump has repeatedly said the virus will eventually disappear, even though that is rare for most infectious diseases.

Fauci, who is a member of the White House coronavirus task force, recently responded to Trump’s characterization of him as “a little bit of an alarmist” on the pandemic by saying he prefers to think of himself as “a realist.”

During Wednesday’s interview, Fauci described ways that the U.S. can get the coronavirus under control.

“I think with a good combination of good public health measures, a degree of global herd immunity and a good vaccine, which I do hope and feel cautiously optimistic we will get, I think when you put all three of those together we will get very good control of this. Whether it’s this year or next year, I’m not certain,” he added.

“We’ll bring it down to such a low level that we will not be in the position we are right now for an extended period of time.”

 

 

 

The state of the global race for a coronavirus vaccine

https://www.axios.com/race-for-coronavirus-vaccine-us-china-oxford-eace8d13-59b6-404f-9dd9-569d00e01f58.html

The state of the global race for a coronavirus vaccine - Axios

Vaccines from the U.K., U.S. and China are sprinting ahead in a global race that involves at least 197 vaccine candidates and is producing geopolitical clashes even as it promises a possible pandemic escape route.

Driving the news: The first two candidates to reach phase three trials — one from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, the other from China — both appear safe and produce immune responses, according to preliminary results published today in The Lancet.

  • A vaccine from Moderna, the U.S. biotech firm, is heading into phase three trials after similarly encouraging initial results.
  • There are at least 16 other vaccines currently in clinical trials in Australia, France, Germany, India, Russia, South Korea, the U.K., the U.S. and China, which is experimenting with a variety of vaccine types and has five candidates already in trials.

What they’re saying: Experts are increasingly confident that it’s no longer a question of if but when vaccines will be available.

  • “Absolutely, for sure, we will get more than one vaccine,” Barry Bloom, a professor of public health at Harvard, told reporters today.
  • He cautioned that it’s not yet clear which vaccines will win the race and that we won’t know how effective they are in protecting against COVID-19 — and for how long — until after phase three trials.

Pressed on when a vaccine could be approved, Bloom said that while it seemed “utterly crazy seven months ago,” January was looking increasingly realistic.

  • Richard Horton, The Lancet‘s editor-in-chief, is more cautious: “If we have a vaccine by the end of 2021, we will have done incredibly well.”
  • Zeke Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, splits the difference: “Seven months after we got the genome, to have three vaccines in phase three is literally unprecedented. If in six to eight months we get a license, that will be, again, totally unprecedented in world history.”

But, but, but: “Getting something approved doesn’t protect you from COVID,” Emanuel warns.

  • The challenges of producing, distributing and delivering a vaccine (particularly in two doses, as the Oxford vaccine requires) around the entire world are hard to even fathom.
  • Even distributing a vaccine in one country will require an unprecedented buildup of facilities, materials (like glass vials), personnel and protocols, assuming enough people are even willing to take it.

Illustration of syringe in the earth

The global picture is even murkier. Several countries and pharmaceutical companies have committed to “fair and equitable” distribution.

  • In principle, that would suggest a vulnerable front-line worker in Uganda, say, should get the vaccine before a young, healthy person in the United States.
  • In practice, well … no one really knows.

The bottom line: “It’s very fragmented, and in some ways that’s understandable,” Horton says. “But the danger of that is that many countries will lose out and only the strongest country, the country with the most money, will win.”

  • If countries hoard supplies rather than prioritizing at-risk people elsewhere, Bloom says, “that should be a cause not just of global concern but of global shame.”

For now, governments are prioritizing their own populations.

  • The Trump administration is pouring at least $3.5 billion into the development and manufacture of three leading vaccine candidates, with the promise of hundreds of millions of doses should they prove safe and effective.
  • Even as the homegrown Oxford vaccine takes a global lead, the U.K. is hedging its bets by purchasing 90 million doses being developed by German and French companies.
  • The U.K. and U.S. have both also put in large pre-orders of the Oxford vaccine, though AstraZeneca says 1 billion doses will also be manufactured in India and distributed mainly to other low- and middle-income countries.
  • The WHO and EU are attempting to create a framework for distributing the vaccine globally, though the U.S. has declined to take part.

Illustration of syringes forming a health plus/cross

What to watch: Managing the largest vaccination project in history will clearly require global collaboration — but it’s also becoming a competition between rival powers.

  • Six months from now, we will be in a situation where a few countries will have vaccines, and we believe those countries will be the UK, Russia, China and the US,” Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, told the FT.

Between the lines: Others are less certain Russia will be in that group, though Dmitriev says a vaccine bankrolled by his fund and developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute will move into phase three trials next month.

“Basically other countries will decide, you know, which vaccine to buy … and who do you trust?”

— Kirill Dmitriev

State of play: There’s a clear lack of trust among the competitors.

  • According to the U.S, U.K. and Canada, hackers linked to Russian military intelligence have attempted to steal vaccine research in order to aid their own efforts.
  • The U.S. has also accused China of pilfering American research.
  • House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will introduce a bill on Tuesday that would sanction foreign hackers attempting to steal U.S. vaccine research, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Axios’ Alayna Treene.

Zoom out: It will be a victory for humanity when the first coronavirus vaccines are approved. But the competition to obtain one early goes beyond national pride.

  • Vaccines will save countless lives, drive economic recoveries, and could provide rare opportunities to generate goodwill and influence abroad.
  • “There’s a huge soft power advantage to the U.S. ensuring that other countries can get the vaccine and protect themselves,” Emanuel says. The same would, of course, be true for China.

The bottom line: The race is on, but it won’t end when the first vaccine is approved.