Apr 23, 2020

Axios Vitals

By Caitlin Owens
Caitlin Owens

Good morning.

Today's word count is 1,143, or a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Political drama engulfs the coronavirus response

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Political machinations within the Trump administration are playing a bigger and bigger role in the response to the coronavirus. This is the latest:

Shortly after 10am, President Trump tweeted that CDC director Robert Redfield was "totally misquoted" about the coronavirus' potential to be more difficult to handle next winter.

  • At last evening's news briefing, Redfield made an appearance alongside Trump only to tell reporters that he was "accurately quoted" in the Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal published a deep dive into Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's alleged missteps early on in the coronavirus response.

Reuters then posted an article about Azar's chief of staff with the headline "HHS chief Azar had aide, former dog breeder, steer pandemic task force."

Rick Bright, who until earlier this week led Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, told the New York Times that he was ousted from his position after disagreements with HHS leadership, including about hydroxychloroquine — the drug repeatedly touted by Trump, without strong evidence, as a coronavirus treatment.

  • "I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections," he wrote in a statement. "Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit."
  • He added that he will request the HHS inspector general to investigate "the manner in which this Administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit." He's hired lawyers Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, who have a whistleblower practice.

The bottom line: This probably isn't much of a confidence-booster for the American public as we navigate a pandemic and an economic freefall.

2. A drug price spike during a pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This month, Jaguar Health more than tripled the price of its lone FDA-approved drug, right after asking the federal government to expand the use of its drug to coronavirus patients, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

Why it matters: Jaguar Health drastically raised the price of a drug during the height of the pandemic, but executives argued the move was needed to stave off the company's collapse.

By the numbers: Going into this year, the list price of a 60-pill bottle of Mytesi — an antidiarrheal medication specifically for people with HIV/AIDS who are on antiretroviral drugs — was $668.52.

  • On April 9, Jaguar Health raised the price to $2,206.52, according to pricing data from Elsevier's Gold Standard Drug Database.

Between the lines: The price hike coincides with the company's push to get its drug to more patients — specifically those diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • On March 21, Jaguar Health asked the FDA to authorize emergency use of Mytesi for COVID-19 patients who were experiencing any diarrhea or "diarrhea associated with certain antiviral treatments" including remdesivir, among others.
  • On April 7, the FDA denied that request. The agency declined to comment about why it denied the company's request.

The big picture: Jaguar Health disclosed earlier this month that "there is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern as we do not currently have sufficient cash resources to fund our operations" for another year.

  • Jaguar Health CEO Lisa Conte told Axios the company decided in December to raise the price of Mytesi in April because it was losing too much money.

Go deeper.

3. The latest in the U.S.
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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday banning some legal immigration for 60 days due to the novel coronavirus, beginning Thursday at 11:59pm EST.

Trump said at a press conference Wednesday that he "strongly" disagrees with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's plans to reopen some non-essential businesses, like gyms and barber shops, as soon as this week.

California is the latest state that plans to allow hospitals, doctors' practices, outpatient surgery centers and other facilities to resume some procedures and patient visits that have been postponed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

An expansion of home confinement designed to alleviate the impact of the coronavirus on federal prisons has been restricted to prisoners who have already served at least half their sentences, Politico and ABC News report.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman told CNN on Wednesday that she believes it's time to reopen the city despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, calling Nevada's statewide lockdown "total insanity."

The CDC has confirmed that two pet cats living in separate New York state homes have tested positive for the coronavirus, the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory said Wednesday.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to develop a contact tracing program to help the tri-state area, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference Wednesday that President Trump agreed during a meeting at the White House to work "very hard" to include funding for state governments in the next coronavirus relief package.

Food and Drug Administration commissioner Stephen Hahn said Wednesday that stay at-home coronavirus tests will help states increase their testing capabilities.

Former President Obama tweeted Wednesday the U.S. is still waiting for a "coherent national plan" to manage the novel coronavirus, as he praised Massachusetts for its response to the pandemic.

4. The latest worldwide
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

A woman living in the only Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa region has tested positive for the coronavirus, AP reports, citing the UN.

The world is facing its gravest challenge in decades, but President Trump issued a reminder today that geopolitical tensions won't wait until it’s over, Axios' Dave Lawler writes.

China's highest-security virology center is at the center of debate, speculation and misinformation about how, where and when the novel coronavirus emerged, Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian reports.

5. Red flag for contact tracing efforts
Adapted from a KFF Health Tracking Poll, margin of error ±6 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

A majority of Americans are willing to share their coronavirus test results with public health officials, but fewer are willing to download an app that tracks who they come in contact with, according to new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why it matters: To lift social distancing measures without allowing the virus to spread rampantly again, we'll need to know in real time who has the virus, and who they could have potentially infected.

The big picture: Google and Apple have announced that they're working on a joint effort to notify people via smartphone — on an opt-in basis — if they've come into contact with someone with the coronavirus, but there's a real question of how many people would use the apps.

  • Half of those polled by KFF said they'd download an app that tracks who they come into contact with, and then alerts them if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • This number dropped to 45% if information about who they've come into contact with is provided to public health officials.
  • But people were more willing to download such an app after they were told it would allow them to return to parts of normal life.

The bottom line: "The mixed receptivity to using voluntary apps for contact tracing means that they can be an important tool to combat the epidemic but will not be a substitute for old-fashioned contact tracing," KFF president and CEO Drew Altman said.

Caitlin Owens