Vial and syringe.

What Can Policymakers Learn from the Slow COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on January 12, 2021. 

By Lisa Larrimore OuelletteNicholson PriceRachel Sachs, and Jacob S. Sherkow

In the middle of a record number of COVID-19 infections and deaths—and continued evidence of racial disparities in the pandemic’s effects—December brought some good news to the fight against the pandemic: the FDA’s emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the ensuing nationwide rollouts. The record-breaking vaccine development timeline and the videos of healthcare workers receiving early vaccines are worth celebrating.

But the subsequent distribution has been tragically slow—echoing distribution challenges for COVID-related goods ranging from PPE to diagnostics. On Dec. 29, Dr. Leana Wen noted that at the initial vaccination rate, it would take 10 years to vaccinate the roughly 80% of Americans needed to achieve herd immunity. According to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, as of today, fewer than 10 million vaccines have been administered in the United States. States are still sitting on nearly two-thirds of the doses they have received, and the federal government is holding half the U.S. supply in reserve. In this post we explain what went wrong and how policymakers can correct course for COVID-19 and avoid such disasters in the future.

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Syringe being filled from a vial. Vaccine concept illustration.

From 9/11 to COVID-19: A Brief History of FDA Emergency Use Authorization

Cross-posted from COVID-19 and The Law, where it originally appeared on January 14, 2021. 

By

The ongoing fight against COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its power to grant emergency use authorizations (EUAs). EUA authority permits FDA to authorize formally unapproved products for temporary use as emergency countermeasures against threats to public health and safety.

Under § 564 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), use of FDA’s EUA authority requires a determination that an emergency exists by secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as a declaration by the HHS Secretary that emergency circumstances exist warranting the issuance of EUAs. Each issuance of an EUA requires that FDA conclude that:

  • it is reasonable to believe that a given product “may be effective” as an emergency countermeasure,
  • the known and potential benefits of authorization outweigh the known and potential risks, and
  • no formally approved alternatives are available at the time.

Annie Kapnick’s post on COVID-19 and FDA’s EUA authority provides a helpful overview of FDA’s emergency powers and their use in response to the pandemic. A brief look at the history of FDA’s emergency powers, including key events leading up to their enactment — Thalidomide, swine flu, AIDS, and 9/11 — offers perspective on the situation facing FDA today and its implications for the future. The history of EUA illustrates how its use today against COVID-19 involves fundamental questions about the role of public officials, scientific expertise, and administrative norms in times of crisis.

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Syringe being filled from a vial. Vaccine concept illustration.

Is Israel Trading Medical Information for Vaccines? Ethical and Legal Considerations

By Shelly Simana

On January 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that millions of vaccines are expected to arrive in Israel, and that by March, anyone who wishes to get vaccinated will be able to do so.

He concluded his speech with a controversial statement: “as part of the agreement [with Pfizer], we stipulated that Israel will serve as a global model state for a rapid vaccine rollout of an entire country… Israel will share with Pfizer, with all of humanity, the statistics that will help in developing strategies to defeat the coronavirus” (my translation, from Hebrew).

But which statistics, what kind of data, will be shared with Pfizer? This question remains a mystery.

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Empty classroom.

Can Schools Require the COVID-19 Vaccine? Education, Equity, and the Courts

By Emily Caputo and Blake N. Shultz

As school systems consider policy options for the spring semester, both vaccination requirements and proposals to address inequities in access to education may be top of mind. However, policymakers should be aware of the possible legal challenges they may face.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an educational crisis in the United States by disrupting the learning of millions of students across the country. School closures, remote learning, and generalized societal stress have all raised serious concerns about persistent harm to adolescent learning and development — particularly among low-income and minority students.

While the pandemic has exposed widespread inequities in educational opportunity, it has also revealed the relative inability of the courts to promote access to education. A recent California lawsuit illustrates the manner in which students must rely on state-level, rather than federal, protections to ensure equal access to education. And COVID-19 vaccination requirements, which could facilitate a return to in-person education, are likely to result in lawsuits, and may be struck down by a skeptical and conservative Supreme Court.

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child getting vaccinated

How Can Policymakers Encourage COVID-19 Vaccine Trials for Children?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on December 18, 2020. 

By Jacob S. Sherkow, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Nicholson Price, and Rachel Sachs

The past two weeks have been full of exciting COVID-19 vaccine news, including the FDA’s emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for the Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the nationwide rollout of Pfizer’s vaccine. Choosing how to allocate access to vaccine doses has been left to individual states, leaving policymakers with difficult decisions about how to prioritize their populations, complicated in part by the federal government’s reduction in some vaccine shipments.

With a limited supply of doses, who should get the first shots? Some commentators have suggested prioritizing children early for a host of reasons, including hope about children returning to school. Last month a New York Times column asserted that “saving the most lives could mean prioritizing the vaccination of children and young adults.” But there is an important reason that kids can’t be part of the vaccine line yet: we don’t know whether these vaccines work for them. In this post, we explain why COVID-19 vaccines are only just starting to be tested in children and what policymakers can do to spur pediatric vaccine trials.

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Washington, USA- January13, 2020: FDA Sign outside their headquarters in Washington. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is a federal agency of the USA.

COVID-19 and the FDA Emergency Use Authorization Power

Cross-posted from COVID-19 and The Law, where it originally appeared on November 10, 2020. 

By Anne Kapnick

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting public health by regulating the production, distribution, and consumption of food, cosmetics and drugs. In the healthcare arena (the focus of this post), the FDA strives to ensure the safety, efficacy, and security of drugs, biological products, and medical devices. The FDA also ensures that the “public get[s] the accurate, science-based information they need to use medical products and foods to maintain and improve their health.” This blog post provides an overview of the FDA’s emergency authorization powers, analyzes the extent of their usage in the COVID-19 pandemic, and concludes by flagging potential concerns regarding the FDA’s management of this vast power.

Click here to read the full post on COVID-19 and The Law.

Vaccine.

How are COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturers Building Trust in the FDA’s Approval Process?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on October 2, 2020. 

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

In recent weeks, a number of articles have reported great concern around the politicization of the approval process for future COVID-19 vaccines. Public trust in public health agencies is arguably at an all-time low. After several missteps, the FDA has been working publicly to shore up public confidence in an approved vaccine once it comes out. But pharmaceutical companies themselves are now also engaging the public themselves in an attempt to build trust in their products. This is an unusual step for, of course, unusual times. What are vaccine developers doing, how should policymakers think about these efforts, and how can we encourage these lines of communication in the future?

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Syringe and vials of vaccine.

How Does Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Work, and Who Is Funding Its Development?

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on August 19, 2020. 

By Jacob S. Sherkow, Lisa Larrimore Ouellette, Nicholson Price, and Rachel Sachs

Moderna, Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based biotech company, is a leading contender in the race to develop a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine, however, works using a completely novel mechanism, unlike any other vaccine currently approved anywhere in the world. Despite this, the U.S. government—and two agencies in particular, the NIH and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)—has invested, heavily, in the vaccine’s development. This week, we explore how these investments interact through different forms of research partnerships, and what this says about IP, novel technologies, and innovation policy.

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a pile of vaccine vials and a needle

COVID-19 Vaccine Advance Purchases Explained

Cross-posted from Written Description, where it originally appeared on August 5, 2020. 

By Nicholson PriceRachel SachsJacob S. Sherkow, and Lisa Larrimore Ouellette

No vaccine for the novel coronavirus has been approved anywhere. Nevertheless, governments and international organizations around the world are announcing deals for billions of dollars to procure tens of millions of doses of vaccines from companies that are still running clinical trials, including a $2.1 billion deal with Sanofi and GSK announced by the US on Friday. What’s going on? And what do these deals tell us about innovation policy for COVID-19 vaccines? In this post, we lay out the landscape of COVID-19 vaccine pre-purchases; we then turn to the innovation impact of these commitments, and finish by asking what role patents and compulsory licensing have to play.
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american flag at half staff

Running healthcare, research and public trust up the flag pole

While I was aghast earlier this week that the White House struggled over whether to fly the flag at half-mast or full for the death of John McCain, and relieved that it was still the American flag, I distracted myself from the drama in Washington with other news:

Item: In Europe, there were 5,000 cases of the measles in all of 2016, 24,000 in 2017, and already 41,000 halfway through 2018, including 37 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Globally, measles remains a leading cause of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.

Item: In the bizarre case of a convicted murdered claiming his victim wouldn’t have died had he stayed on life support, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected that argument because the patient “was basically brain dead.” [PDF]

Item: Twenty-five years later, gene therapy finally got a common-sense definition: “the intentional, expected permanent, and specific alteration of the DNA sequence of the cellular genome, for a clinical purpose.”

Bioethicists, policymakers, and clinicians tend not to lump brain death, gene therapy and the anti-vaccine movement together. And why should they? Though fate management is central to each, they are perplexing enough to the public (i.e. me) when considered separately.

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