people waiting in a line.

How the Government Can Prevent Individuals from Using Wealth to Cut the Vaccine Line

Cross-posted from COVID-19 and The Law, where it originally appeared on January 27, 2021. 

By

Since the Food & Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in December 2020, there have been many debates on vaccine allocation and prioritization.

As noted by Harvard Law School Professor Glenn Cohen in a recent interview with Annie Kapnick for the COVID-19 and The Law series, the issue of vaccine distribution is “complicated” because of competing factors decision-makers must consider. The relative weights placed on these factors has led to very different prioritization schemes. Initially, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended a hybrid plan that appeared to prioritize individuals who were most likely to contract the virus (e.g., first responders, grocery store workers) over individuals most vulnerable to severe symptoms or death from the virus if contracted (e.g., individuals over the age of 65 not in long-term care facilities). In the United Kingdom, the prioritization groups were primarily based on vulnerability. Similarly, when looking more narrowly at the various plans being implemented at the state level in the United States, there are high degrees of variation.

This post does not seek to evaluate the merits of these or other specific vaccine allocation plans. Rather, it will address a risk that all plans likely face: the potential of individuals using their wealth and access to “cut the line” and be vaccinated ahead of schedule.
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Motherboard, Reverse Detail: This is a green motherboard, photographed with red-gelled flashes.

The Future of Race-Based Clinical Algorithms

By Jenna Becker

Race-based clinical algorithms are widely used. Yet many race-based adjustments lack evidence and worsen racism in health care. 

Prominent politicians have called for research into the use of race-based algorithms in clinical care as part of a larger effort to understand the public health impacts of structural racism. Physicians and researchers have called for an urgent reconsideration of the use of race in these algorithms. 

Efforts to remove race-based algorithms from practice have thus far been piecemeal. Medical associations, health systems, and policymakers must work in tandem to rapidly identify and remove racist algorithms from clinical practice.

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Vial and syringe.

4 Things to Know About Intellectual Property, Patent Pledges, and COVID-19 Vaccines

By Chloe Reichel

High-profile commentators have argued recently that vaccine scarcity needn’t exist. If vaccine manufacturers simply shared their patents with other pharmaceutical companies, supply would quickly ramp up. 

Others have pointed out that numerous bottlenecks exist in the manufacturing process, from the glass vials that hold the vaccine, to the lipids that encase the vaccine’s active ingredient, mRNA.

And even if these bottlenecks didn’t exist, the intellectual property argument may be a straw man.    

In fact, this past October, Moderna made a gesture toward opening access to its intellectual property, by pledging that it would not enforce its patents against “those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic.” That month, Jorge L. Contreras, a Presidential Scholar and Professor of Law at the University of Utah, covered the patent pledge and its potential implications for Bill of Health.

We checked in with Contreras to ask about the implications of Moderna’s patent pledge now that its vaccine has been proven safe and effective. Here are the highlights from the conversation:

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Gavel surrounded by piles of money.

3 Challenges to Patents on Therapeutic Monoclonal Antibodies

By Gregory Curfman

Three new developments — two based on litigation and one based on a federal statute — may have significant effects on pharmaceutical manufacturers’ use of patents to fend off competition and maintain high prices for therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

Highly specific monoclonal antibodies have played an increasingly important role as precision therapies for a growing number of diseases, including malignant, cardiovascular, and inflammatory conditions. As therapies derived from research and development, therapeutic monoclonal antibodies may be — and usually are — patented, providing manufacturers with protection from competition and the prospect of high revenues.

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Hundred dollar bills rolled up in a pill bottle

Ensuring 340B Discounts Trickle Down to Low-Income Patients

By Sravya Chary

The 340B prescription drug program was created with the original intent of providing discounted drugs to vulnerable patients. However, this program inadvertently created a revenue stream for for-profit retail pharmacies and intermediaries, which is cutting into the benefit received by low-income patients.

In a previous blog post, I discussed the pitfalls of a recent 340B advisory opinion released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The aim of this opinion was to provide more clarity regarding contract pharmacy use within the 340B program. However, the opinion ultimately did not alleviate the tension between pharmaceutical manufacturers and 340B representatives.

As one facet of a long-term solution to this ongoing issue, I proposed further investigation of 340B savings to analyze whether discounts are truly trickling down to vulnerable, low-income patients.

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Grocery store.

How Restrictions on SNAP Harm Health

By Molly Prothero

One of President Biden’s earliest actions in office was to sign an executive order asking Congress and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

President Biden proposed that Congress extend the 15% SNAP benefit increase, originally passed in late December. Biden’s executive order also directed the USDA to issue new guidance documents enabling states to increase SNAP allotments in emergency situations and update the Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for determining SNAP benefits, to better reflect the cost of a nutritious diet today.

President Biden’s actions stand in sharp contrast to Trump, who sought to limit the reach of SNAP benefits during his time in office. In December 2019, Trump’s USDA issued a final rule restricting SNAP eligibility for unemployed adults without dependents.

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Health care workers in personal protective equipment attend to a patient.

How Can Policymakers Overcome the Hurdles to Scaling up Antibody Manufacturing?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on February 18, 2021. 

By Rachel SachsJacob S. SherkowLisa Larrimore Ouellette, and Nicholson Price

In our last post, we introduced some of the clinical evidence supporting the use of therapeutic antibodies against COVID-19—including Regeneron’s casirivimab and imdevimab and Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab—and analyzed the existing problems in the distribution and administration of those therapies. Even in just the last few weeks, further clinical evidence has supported the use of these technologies, leading the FDA to issue an additional emergency use authorization for Lilly’s bamlanivimab and etesevimab cocktail. In the near future, though, problems in administering our existing supply of these new drugs may give way to problems producing enough of them—a challenge that is also affecting the vaccine rollout. In this post, we consider the difficult manufacturing issues involved in the therapeutic antibody context (a subject we’ve previously explored regarding vaccines), and what might be done to address them.

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Patient receives Covid-19 vaccine.

Can Employers Mandate a Vaccine Under Emergency Use Authorization?

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

Several months ago, I wrote a post asking whether employers can mandate the uptake of a vaccine under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). My view then was that there was substantial legal uncertainty, but that the balance indicated that at the least, they may be possible, at the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Much of that discussion is still relevant, but developments and new points brought to my attention since have changed my view.

At this point, while there is still legal uncertainty, my view is that the balance of factors supports the ability of employers (or states) to require EUA vaccines. Courts vary, but my current assessment is that most courts would be inclined to uphold an employer mandate for an EUA COVID-19 vaccine.

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Pill pack.

HHS’s 340B Advisory Opinion: Helpful or Harmful?

By Sravya Chary

A recent advisory opinion released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) left many 340B advocates hungry for answers and pharmaceutical manufacturers frustrated.

The 340B program discounts the price of drugs paid by safety net hospitals to pharmaceutical manufacturers. The program is of critical importance to low-income and uninsured patients, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HHS should take timely measures to resolve the concerns raised by the advisory opinion and resume the free flow of 340B discounted drugs to vulnerable patients.

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