Oct 1, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning.

Coming soon: Axios is expanding into local news — including into my hometown, Tampa — to get you smarter faster about where you live. Read more about what’s next here.

  • My mom told me last night that she is already signed up for the Tampa newsletter.

Today's word count is 940, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus cases rise in 25 states
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

New coronavirus infections rose over the past week in half the country, Axios' Sam Baker and Andrew Witherspoon report.

Why it matters: The U.S. remains largely unable or unwilling to control the spread of the virus.

By the numbers: Nationwide, the U.S. averaged roughly 43,000 cases per day during the past week — essentially unchanged from the week before.

  • The number of new daily infections rose in 25 states, spanning every region of the country. New Mexico recorded the biggest spike, at over 50%.
  • That broad, nationwide increase was offset by continued progress in pockets of the southern U.S. Only eight states saw their new infections decline over the past week, but that group includes the populous states of Arizona, Florida, Texas and Virginia.

Testing was up almost 9% over the same period. The U.S. is now conducting about 935,000 tests per day.

How it works: Each week, Axios tracks the change in new infections in each state. We use a seven-day average to minimize the effects of day-to-day discrepancies in states' reporting.

  • Texas and North Carolina both reported big data dumps recently that encompassed large backlogs of cases. We have excluded both of those reports from this analysis.
2. Remdesivir is good business for Gilead

Photo: Ulrich Perrey/POOL/AFP

Remdesivir has shown only modest results against the coronavirus so far, but is expected to rake in billions for Gilead over the next two years, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Remdesivir is currently one of our only treatments for the virus, but even so, there are questions about whether its price tag is justified.

Driving the news: The government is no longer in charge of distributing the drug as of yesterday, and Gilead is seeking full approval for the drug by the Food and Drug Administration, which would likely expand its use.

  • Remdesivir costs $3,120 per course, and is set to bring in more than $9 billion for Gilead in 2020 and 2021, according to an estimate by a Credit Suisse investment analyst.

Yes, but: The most conclusive evidence so far found that the drug reduces hospital stays from 15 to 11 days, but does not significantly decrease a patients' likelihood of dying.

  • "The drug clearly has some kind of benefit, but it's really not clear how great of a benefit it is," Walid Gellad, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Medicine, told the Post. "The pricing is based on this drug that has a huge impact, and it's turning out that it does not have a huge impact."

The other side: "The bottom line is that clinical data demonstrate that patients taking Veklury (remdesivir) recover four days faster than those taking placebo, and Veklury costs less than a one-day hospital stay, resulting in immediate savings to the health care system," Gilead spokesman Chris Ridley told the Post.

3. Moderna's coronavirus vaccine reality check

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said Wednesday that his company's coronavirus vaccine won't be available for widespread distribution until at least spring 2021, according to Financial Times.

Why it matters: Bancel told FT that the drugmaker will not seek emergency authorization for Food and Drug Administration approval for its vaccine to use in frontline medical workers and at-risk individuals until Nov. 25 at the earliest, Axios' Jacob Knutson writes.

  • He added the company would not seek FDA approval for use in the general population until late January.
  • If the vaccine is proven safe and effective, approval is unlikely to come until at least late March or early April.

What they're saying: "I think a late [first quarter], early [second quarter] approval is a reasonable timeline, based on what we know from our vaccine," Bancel said, according to the FT.

The big picture: Moderna's vaccine is one of four that are currently in late-stage testing in people in the U.S.

  • The Trump administration in August announced it purchased 100 million doses of Moderna's experimental coronavirus vaccine for $1.5 billion, or $15 per dose.
  • The president has repeatedly claimed that a vaccine will be available for widespread distribution before the end of the year, though CDC director Robert Redfield testified to Congress that it's more likely a vaccine won't be available until the second or third quarter of next 2021.
4. Alarming vaccine skepticism

Speaking of vaccines — lack of trust in a potential coronavirus vaccine is becoming a truly major problem, according to a new Harris poll shared exclusively with Sam.

By the numbers: 79% of respondents said they would worry about a vaccine's safety if it's approved quickly, and 75% said they worry about politics — rather than science — driving the process.

Sam's thought bubble: This is an unprecedented process to control a new virus. It's essential that people have confidence in the tools that will help us end this pandemic — and it's essential for that confidence to be warranted.

  • President Trump's continued promises of imminent authorization and rapid distribution clearly aren't helping, even though the quick discovery of a safe and effective vaccine would, in fact, be the best-case scenario.

Yes, but: 54% of those polled said they'd get a vaccine as soon as they can, and 58% of parents said they'd get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible.

  • So maybe some of this concern is more theoretical.
5. New research centers will study "long-haul" COVID

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Hospitals are opening new research programs to help understand the long-term effects of some coronavirus cases, including heart and lung damage, neurological problems and anxiety or depression, Kaiser Health News reports.

Where it stands: The Center for Post-COVID Care at Mount Sinai has enrolled 400 patients so far. Other programs are still recruiting medical professionals across many specialties, including mental health, Axios' Marisa Fernandez writes.

Go deeper: The coronavirus' alarming impact on the body

6. Catch up quick

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook said Wednesday that it removed a series of ads from President Trump's campaign that linked American acceptance of refugees with increased coronavirus risk, a connection Facebook says is without merit.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported this week that children of all ages make up 10% of U.S cases, up from 2% in April, per AP.

American Airlines and United Airlines said they will begin furloughing 32,000 employees Thursday, as federal aid that propped up the industry during the pandemic expires, with no deal in sight for an extension.

Send me your dog pics!