Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

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Covid vaccine is heading to pharmacies

An additional 1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine will be shipped to about 6,500 pharmacies across the U.S. next week, adding to the 10.5 million weekly doses allotted to states by the federal government. The policy, announced by the Biden administration yesterday, enlists CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Rite Aid, Costco, and supermarket pharmacies to administer the new vaccinations the way they’ve given flu shots and shingles vaccines in the past. The partnership with drugstores, announced by the Trump administration last November, is expected to grow to 40,000 pharmacies. Current coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said a priority will be getting the vaccine to communities of color suffering a disproportionately high toll of disease and deaths from the virus.

Inside STAT: FDA cleared AI tools, but missing data raise major questions on effectiveness and safety


Artificial intelligence is the fastest-growing frontier in medicine, but its pace of innovation also makes it the most dangerous. U.S. regulators have approved more than 160 medical AI products in recent years, but they did not require the developers of more than half to publicly disclose whether their algorithms work on patients of different genders, races, and geographies, a STAT investigation has found. The result is a dearth of information on whether AI products will improve care or trigger unintended consequences, such as an increase in incorrect diagnoses, unnecessary treatment, or an exacerbation of racial disparities. “The FDA clearly needs to be setting a higher bar,” Keith Dreyer told STAT’s Casey Ross. Read more, and visit STAT’s database of FDA-cleared AI tools.

‘A new chance at life,’ thanks to a rare simultaneous face and double-hand transplant

Almost six months after a face and hands transplant, Joe DiMeo is relearning how to smile, blink, pinch, and squeeze. The 22-year-old New Jersey resident had the operation last August, two years after being badly burned in a car crash. Experts warn it’ll take some time to say for sure whether the rare surgery is a success. Worldwide, surgeons have completed at least 18 face transplants and 35 hand transplants, but simultaneous face and double hand transplants have been tried only twice before. One patient died and the other needed her transplanted hands removed a day later. “Rehab was pretty intense,” DiMeo told the Associated Press recently. “You got a new chance at life. You really can’t give up."

Comparing three Covid-19 vaccines

In an ideal world, a pandemic vaccine could be delivered in a single shot. It would trigger no side effect more significant than a sore arm. And it would be easy to ship and store. Soon, it seems, this ideal of a Covid-19 vaccine will be within reach. Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine has been shown to be 66% protective against moderate to severe Covid infection in a multicountry study and 85% effective in protecting against severe disease. The company will apply for FDA emergency use authorization this week. How does it stack up against frontrunners developed by Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, and by Moderna? STAT’s Helen Branswell weighs in, noting that people are unlikely to be offered a choice.

How people use telehealth could make a difference

Telehealth’s growth spurt during the coronavirus pandemic has been hailed as a silver lining in a very dark year. But the future may be cloudy, depending on whether telehealth patients use audio or video to connect with their providers. A new study notes that nearly half of patients at 500 California clinics, and two-thirds at 41 California community health centers serving lower-income people, used audio only for their primary care or behavioral health visits. That’s more than the 30% level estimated nationally by Medicare and Medicaid. Audio-only telehealth charges have historically not been reimbursed by insurance, although they have been covered since Covid-19 emerged. Some payers, including federal ones, have indicated they will stop paying once the pandemic ends, which could harm lower-income people.

Economic hardship may be costly for cardiovascular health

Deaths from heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases have stopped declining in the U.S. over the last decade, and among some groups, those deaths have increased. A new study suggests there’s a connection between economic prosperity and cardiovascular mortality. Looking from 2010-2017 at the county level, researchers found that areas lowest in such measures as income, housing, jobs, and education had stagnant cardiovascular death rates for middle-aged adults. But counties scoring higher on these economic metrics saw death rates go down. The association was significant for Black, Hispanic, and white people. Economic factors such as job insecurity and uncertain income can influence health, the researchers say, possibly by elevating inflammation, leading to cardiovascular harm. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 153,892
Deaths yesterday
: 3,202

What to read around the web today

  • GSK joins forces with CureVac to manufacture its Covid-19 vaccine — and to develop another. STAT
  • UK tests house-to-house in hunt for new COVID-19 variant. Associated Press
  • The second Covid-19 shot is a rude reawakening for immune cells. The Atlantic
  • Opinion: Myths of vaccine manufacturing. Science Translational Medicine
  • U.S. response to coronavirus variants emphasizes masks and vaccines instead of lockdowns. Washington Post

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021


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