Sep 8, 2021

Axios Vitals

😙 Good morning, Vitals readers. Today's newsletter is 851 words, or a 3-minute read.

Situational awareness: Opening arguments are set to begin today in the criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder and former CEO of Theranos.

1 big thing: The drug industry's uphill messaging battle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The success of Democrats' attempt to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices hinges on whether the drug industry can persuade voters — particularly seniors — that the policy would lead to fewer drugs, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

Why it matters: Seniors are both directly impacted by the policy and disproportionately likely to vote in midterm elections, meaning what they think is incredibly influential.

The big picture: Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is, by itself, overwhelmingly popular with voters. But when polls ask whether people would support the measure if it results in fewer new drugs, support drops drastically.

Yes, but: Experts say convincing the public that this tradeoff is real will be an uphill battle.

State of play: The pharmaceutical industry and advocates for drug pricing reform alike are dumping millions of dollars into the messaging war.

By the numbers: A KFF poll released in June found that 88% of respondents favor allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug prices, including 77% of Republicans, 96% of Democrats and 89% of adults 65 and older.

  • But if told the policy would limit people's access to newer drugs, 65% said they opposed the measure.

PhRMA cited this figure as a warning.

  • "Non-partisan, independent public polls have repeatedly demonstrated that support for government 'negotiation' evaporates once voters learn that these policies could result in restrictions in access to medicines or slow down innovation into new treatments for challenging conditions," the industry group recently wrote in a memo responding to a recent poll finding strong support for the policy.

The other side: "I think the counterpoint to that is that the drug industry has been making those arguments for a long time, and yet when you poll the public, it's still wildly popular," said KFF's Liz Hamel.

Go deeper.

2. A glimpse at how far vaccinations have to go
Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The World Health Organization is keeping up the pressure on wealthy nations, with leaders on Tuesday saying the hoarding of vaccines is "immoral" and "prolonging the pandemic."

  • "If we had used the vaccine doses that were available differently, we'd be in a very different situation right now globally," said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead for the coronavirus, during a Q&A on Tuesday as reported by The Hill.

Between the lines: WHO is pushing for all countries to reach at least 10% vaccine coverage by the end of September and called for countries to prioritize shipments to developing nations.

Yes, but: Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said there are enough vaccines to meet WHO's goal, the Financial Times reported.

  • Vaccine makers have been pushing to protect against proposals to waive their intellectual property rights to provide better access to poorer countries, per FT.
3. Humana says pandemic is slowing routine care again

Humana has recorded more COVID-19 hospitalizations among its Medicare Advantage members in the past few weeks due to rising coronavirus cases, Axios Bob Herman writes.

  • But non-COVID inpatient and outpatient care appears to be declining as a result, the health insurance company said late Tuesday.

Why it matters: Health insurers profited heavily last year when hospitals and doctors delayed routine medical care, and that dynamic appears to be happening again.

Between the lines: Humana didn't increase its profit projections for the rest of the year, but don't be surprised if the company blows past its guidance when it reports third-quarter earnings in the fall.

4. Disparities in police-related injuries among kids

Trends in the Annual Rate of Legal Intervention Injury Among Youth Aged 0 to 19 Years by Race and Ethnicity and Sex. Screenshot: JAMA Pediatrics

Nearly 16,000 children and adolescents went to the emergency room or hospital due to police encounters between 2005 and 2017, with rates four to seven times higher for Black kids compared to white kids, according to a statewide analysis in California, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.

Why it matters: While children are less likely to be injured by policing compared to adults, the analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that kids aren't spared the racial disparities seen in law enforcement of adults.

By the numbers: For instance, Black boys ages 10 to 14 had 5.3 times the injury rate of white boys. Black girls experienced 6.7 times the injury rate of white girls.

Read more.

5. Businesses grapple with COVID policies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A growing number of U.S. companies have mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for employees, Axios' Kate Marino writes.

  • But in the absence of a federal mandate there's a wide variance in what’s happening — mandates for all, some, or none — with employee demands being put front and center thanks to the Great Resignation.

Why it matters: How companies answer questions about vaccines and return-to-work policies has wide ranging impacts — on the health of their employees, on where people live, and on the strategic direction of their businesses.

"I've been in the business for nearly 30 years. I can't really think of a time where the factors were more complicated on employers to make decisions," says Joe Atkinson, PwC's U.S. chief products and technology officer.

Share this story.

6. Business notes
  • After Moderna contamination mess, Takeda strikes deal with Japan to supply Novavax COVID-19 vaccines (Fierce Pharma)
  • Heather Bresch, Joe Manchin's daughter, played a direct part in the Epipen inflation scandal (The Intercept)
  • Amazon plans to bring in-person medical care to 20 more U.S. cities (Insider)
  • Detroit hospital system sued by employees over COVID mandate (Axios)

Did you enjoy this newsletter? Tell your friends to subscribe, too!