One pill on mint green background.

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Alexander Egilman, Aviva Wang, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues.

Below are the citations for papers identified from the month of December. The selections feature topics ranging from a discussion of the challenges in confirming drug effectiveness after early approval, to an analysis of potential savings from a proposed policy requiring manufacturers of drugs receiving accelerated approval to pay higher rebates to Medicaid until efficacy is demonstrated, to an evaluation of the racial and ethnic representation in clinical trials supporting FDA approval of new drugs and biologics. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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Desolate winter scene.

A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Part 4: Winter of Death (December 2021 – Present)

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. Read the first, second, and third parts here.

By Justin Feldman

On December 1, 2021, the CDC issued a press release announcing that it had identified a case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. for the first time.

White House insiders admit that they were unprepared for Omicron, just as they were unprepared for Delta. Vice President Harris recently told an interviewer that the administration was caught flatfooted because their scientific advisors never warned that such variants could crop up (at least two of these advisors, Rick Bright and Celine Gounder, begged to differ).

While vaccination still provides powerful protection against hospitalization and death due to infection from Omicron, protection against symptomatic illness is weaker than before, particularly among those who have not received boosters. And though evidence is mounting that the risk of hospitalization and death is lower for each person infected compared to Delta, Omicron’s extremely high transmissibility means that a large fraction of the population will become infected in a short time period, particularly in the absence of additional public health measures.

On December 21, as the highly contagious variant started to sweep the country, President Biden delivered remarks about the new threat. For the hundred million Americans who remain unvaccinated, the president’s speech warned of the imminent risk of hospitalization and death. For the vaccinated and boosted, Biden’s message was: Keep Calm and Carry On, all will likely be fine. And for Wall Street, the speech was meant to provide a crucial piece of reassurance: There would be no federal support for public health measures that restrict commerce.

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Suboxone.

Eliminating Barriers to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

By Jennifer D. Oliva, Taleed El-Sabawi, and Shelly Weizman

The tragedy of the ever-worsening drug poisoning and overdose crisis in the United States is compounded by a simple fact: We know how to prevent overdose deaths, and yet, the overwhelming majority of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) lack access to the lifesaving, standard of care treatment.

Research demonstrates that the opioid agonist medications methadone and buprenorphine are the safest and most effective treatments for OUD. As the National Academy of Sciences explained in a 2019 report, these two medications reduce risk of death by up to 50 percent and are associated with numerous other benefits, including improved quality of life, reduced rates of use of other opioids, and reduced risk of contracting illnesses including HIV and hepatitis C.

However, during the worst drug poisoning crisis in U.S. history, which is now killing more than 100,000 people a year, the country’s outdated and restrictive federal regulatory schemes that pertain to methadone and buprenorphine present a pernicious and persistent barrier to accessing OUD medications.

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Empty toolbox.

A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Part 3: We Have the Tools (Sept. – Dec. 2021)

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. Read the first and second parts here.

By Justin Feldman

Over the summer of 2021, concern grew that the vaccines were not providing the near-perfect protection against symptomatic disease and transmission that had first emboldened the administration to jettison other public health measures.

It was initially unclear whether the issue was Delta’s higher transmissibility or waning immunity from vaccines, as the first groups had been vaccinated nearly a year prior. There was noticeable concern from CDC, which acknowledged the “war has changed” in a set of leaked slides from July 29, 2021. Of particular concern were case reports from Massachusetts and internationally of high viral loads observed among those who were vaccinated and infected. In late July, CDC reversed course on its mask guidance and recommended indoor masking for all, including the fully vaccinated, in counties with high transmission. In late September 2021, CDC reversed course on its quarantine guidance, which had previously stated that fully vaccinated people should not quarantine after a known SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

These changing epidemiologic realities could have brought about a course correction and a push for other public health policies to complement vaccination. Instead, the administration mostly adapted by shifting its messaging.

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BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 29, 2019: NIH NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH sign emblem seal on gateway center entrance building at NIH campus. The NIH is the US's medical research agency.

Will NIH Learn from Myriad when Settling Its mRNA Inventorship Dispute with Moderna?

By Jorge L. Contreras

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently embroiled in a dispute over the ownership of patent rights to Moderna’s flagship mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA-1273).

The NIH, which funded much of Moderna’s research on the COVID-19 vaccine, should be assertive in exerting control over the results of this taxpayer-funded research. Failing to do so would be a missed opportunity for the public sector to have a say in the distribution and pricing of this critical medical technology.

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Vial and syringe.

A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Part 2: A Pandemic of the Unvaccinated (May – Sept. 2021)

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. Read the first part here.

By Justin Feldman

Framing vaccination as a way to opt out of the pandemic, and understanding the unvaccinated to be political enemies, has helped absolve the Biden administration of its responsibilities to protect the public’s health and facilitated the relentless push to restore “normalcy” (i.e., full economic activity).

The administration knows better: In September 2020, while the vaccines were still being tested, key figures in Biden’s orbit warned that it was unlikely vaccination alone could sufficiently control the pandemic.

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

From Shutting Down the Virus to Letting it Rip: A Timeline of Biden’s Pandemic Response

This series, which will run in four parts, has been adapted from “A year in, how has Biden done on pandemic response?” which was originally published on January 5, 2022 on Medium. 

By Justin Feldman

Welcome to our “winter of severe illness and death.”

Hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in various parts of the U.S., and one model predicts more than 120,000 COVID deaths will occur in the first two months of 2022.

How did we get here? How is our Democratic president — who ran, in part, against Trump’s horrid pandemic response — letting the virus rip? How did we get to a point where a key organizer of the Great Barrington Declaration, a right-wing libertarian campaign opposed to public health measures, has stated that Republican and Democratic states alike have adopted policies in line with their philosophy? As hospitals fill up around the country, why are political leaders doing nothing to at least try to “flatten the curve”?

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Vaccines.

Promote Trust, Avoid Fraud: Lessons in Public Health Messaging from the Booster Roll Out

By Carmel Shachar

Even in September 2021, it was fairly clear that boosters for all adults, regardless of risk factors or which vaccines they initially received, would be coming soon.

Indeed, within two months, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its recommendations to say that all vaccinated adults should receive a COVID-19 booster.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy between past messaging, which restricted access to boosters to select groups, and the current, broad recommendation has spawned two, related public health communications problems.

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Vial and syringe.

Causes of COVID Vaccine Hesitancy

By Jasper L. Tran

Vaccinated individuals — like Tolstoy’s happy families — are all alike; each unvaccinated individual is hesitant for her own reason.

Prior research conducted in developed countries reveals five main individual-level determinants of pre-COVID vaccine hesitancy (commonly referred to as the 5 C model drivers of vaccine hesitancy): (1) Confidence (trust in vaccine’s effectiveness and safety, vaccine administrators and their motives); (2) Complacency (perceiving infection risks as low and vaccination as unnecessary); (3) Convenience / Constraints (structural or psychological barriers to converting vaccination intentions into vaccine uptake); (4) Risk Calculation (perceiving higher risks related to vaccination than the infection itself); and (5) Collective Responsibility (willingness to vaccinate to protect others through herd immunity).

COVID-19 vaccines see these five hesitancy determinants again, only further exacerbated by waves of misinformation promulgated on social media, including through “bot” accounts, that prey on the concerns and insecurities of an already vulnerable public.

On the one hand, irrational and unreasonable conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and its vaccine abound among the anti-vaxxers — a subgroup of science deniers. These conspiracy theories include:

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Governance Needs for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: How to Ensure the Science-Policy Interface

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Gian Luca Burci

The COVID-19 pandemic has been characterized by mistrust in science, the manipulation of science for political purposes, the “infodemic” of mis- and disinformation, and a repeated failure to base policy decisions on scientific findings.

The crisis of confidence in scientific analysis is paradoxical and disquieting, particularly in light of increasing international regulation to manage acute or systemic risks and its reliance on science.  This so-called “science-policy interface” (SPI) incorporates scientific expertise into global policy-making and regulation in fields as diverse as climate change, biodiversity, and nuclear safety, but it is arguably less developed in global health and in particular for pandemic preparedness and response (PPR).

As international policymakers consider various proposals aimed at preventing another pandemic through better and stronger global rules — whether in the form of a WHO “pandemic treaty,” revised International Health Regulations, a UN political declaration, or regulatory framework — the integration of SPI in their design will be of crucial importance for their credibility and effectiveness.

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