Axios Vitals

A briefcase with a red cross on the front.

August 16, 2021

😎Welcome back from the weekend, Vitals readers. Today's newsletter is 826 words, a 3-minute read.

Situational awareness: CMS is now giving states a full year after COVID's "public health emergency" ends to redetermine the eligibility of their Medicaid enrollees, up from six months.

  • It comes in response to states that warned six months wouldn't be enough time to complete the growing backlog of pending work and might result in a future "renewal bulge."

1 big thing: Boosters take off

Illustration of a syringe as a rocket propelling through the atmosphere

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We now know some people in the U.S. are going to get additional doses of COVID vaccines after the CDC and FDA signed off on shots for the immunocompromised last week.

The big picture: As Andrew Badley, chairman of Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 research task force, put it to Axios, "It’s not the end of the story."

"The question that’s on everyone’s mind — and studies are underway is — is there a role for booster vaccines to augment waning immunity" for everyone else?

  • NIH director Francis Collins told Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday the Biden administration is looking closely at that question about boosters for the broader U.S. population, but there isn't enough data yet.
  • But he did say concern the vaccine may start to wane in its effectiveness over months "may mean we need to begin with health care providers as well as people who are in nursing homes."
  • Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, told Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on Sunday that breakthrough cases are emerging differently across vaccines as a result of the Delta variant after six to nine months. "I think that suggests we are going to need booster vaccines to get through the winter."

Zoom in: The eligible include those undergoing active or recent cancer treatments, those who've received a solid organ transplant, have advanced HIV infection.

  • It may also include those undergoing treatment with high-dose corticosteroids, alkylating agents, antimetabolites or tumor-necrosis (TNF) blockers, and certain chronic conditions such as renal disease.
  • Officials estimate it comprises 2.7% of U.S. adults or about 7 million adults.

Go deeper.

2. Americans create their own vaccine mandates

Percentage who have cut ties with a friend, family member, or acquaintance because they wouldn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine
Data: The Harris Poll; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Millennials and Gen Zers are more likely to have cut ties over COVID-19 vaccine disagreements than other generations, according to new data from The Harris Poll provided first to Axios.

"It's the new cultural dividing line," John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll, told Axios. "Three in 10 Gen Zers, and even more millennials, have ghosted friends who would not get vaccinated."

The poll found only 15% of Americans said they expect party hosts to require vaccination.

  • Even so, two-thirds say they'd require attendees to be immunized if they were hosting an event and 37% would require vaccination regardless of party size.
  • "It's kind of like Delta variant is moving in real-time and people are like 'Should I be doing the wedding this fall?'," Gerzema said.

The differences skew heavily across generational lines.

  • Millennials had the highest standards — most likely because they are most likely to have unvaccinated kids — with 41% saying they'd definitely require proof before hosting an event compared to 36% of those in older generations.

3. Industry sues over another transparency rule

Illustration of a gavel made of a pill bottle, touching a gavel rest made of a white pill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

There's a new price transparency lawsuit against the federal government, this time coming from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Why it matters: The health care industry claims it is in favor of price transparency.

  • In reality, the industry has fought attempts to unlock the black box of prices.

Where it stands: The regulation in question, finalized by the Trump administration last November, requires plans and companies that are self-insured to make prices and out-of-pocket costs available for 500 items by Jan. 1, 2023.

  • That information has to be available for all health care services and products by Jan. 1, 2024.

This rule is similar to a separate rule by the Trump administration that required hospitals to post their negotiated prices.

The bottom line: Health care companies only want transparency that doesn't disrupt their businesses.

  • The Chamber has lamented that "health care pricing is a complete mystery," and PCMA advocates for "the right transparency."

Read more.

4. Quote du jour

"Amazon has been trying to grow a pharmacy delivery business. We believe they have not been successful ... we have observed almost no usage of the PrimeRx discounts at retail."
— Trevor Bezdek, co-founder of GoodRx, on its recent Q2 earnings call. GoodRx, meanwhile, has been growing gangbusters.

5. Mental health is the next big workplace issue

Illustration of a coffee mug that reads "I love my job" with a brain in place of the heart

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Employees' mental health is quickly becoming a top concern for companies as they try to hold on to workers through the pandemic, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

What's happening: The pandemic has dragged on, and people are dealing with even more loss and isolation — at the same time that America's opioid crisis has gotten worse. Burnout and addiction are seeping into the workplace.

  • Despite the fact that we've gotten used to pandemic-era living, workplace burnout is rising. 44% of workers say they feel fatigued on the job, up from 34% in 2020, per a study conducted by the human resources consulting firm Robert Half.

But, but, but: Helping workers is not so simple. A study from The Hartford found that 72% of U.S. employers say stigmas associated with mental health and addiction are keeping workers from seeking help.

Go deeper.

6. While you were weekending ...

An illustration of a coronavirus cell surrounded by question marks.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  • Study says new Lambda variant could be vaccine-resistant (The Hill)
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations among 30- to 39-year-olds hit record high. (Axios)
  • Universities charge unvaccinated students "COVID fee" (Axios)

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