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It's here! The first two episodes of STAT's “The First Opinion Podcast,” with STAT First Opinion editor Patrick Skerrett, has made its debut. Pat and Jay Baruch discuss writing on medicine and then Lauren Powell and Pat consider the intersection of Covid-19 and racism. Sign up for updates here.

U.S. life expectancy fell by a year in the first half of 2020, CDC report finds

In another measure of the grim toll taken by the Covid-19 pandemic, life expectancy in the United States dropped one full year during the first half of 2020, a new CDC report says, with even greater declines seen among Black and Hispanic people. The new projection is the lowest it’s been since 2006 — and it had been on the rise in both 2018 and 2019. Life expectancy at birth for the total population declined from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.8 years for January through June 2020. For non-Hispanic Black people, it decreased by 2.7 years (74.7 to 72); for Hispanic individuals, 1.9 years (81.8 to 79.9); and for non-Hispanic white people, 0.8 years (78.8 to 78). STAT's Rebecca Sohn has more.

Biden to nominate Brooks-LaSure to oversee CMS

President Biden plans to nominate Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, a health policy consultant and veteran Democratic aide, as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to three sources familiar with the decision. If confirmed by the Senate, Brooks-LaSure, whose nomination was first reported by the Washington Post, would wield substantial power over the trillion-dollar safety-net health agency. She is well-positioned to pursue one of Biden's signature campaign promises: strengthening and expanding the Affordable Care Act. A key drafter of the law as a staffer on the House Ways and Means Committee, Brooks-LaSure later held high-profile positions in two offices implementing the ACA: the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight and the Office of Health Reform.

In the lab, Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine less potent against coronavirus variant

The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine loses some potency against the coronavirus variant that first appeared in South Africa, researchers reported yesterday, based on lab experiments. What the findings mean for how well the vaccine will protect real people from the variant, called B.1.351, is hard to tell. But clinical data from AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have already shown the shots are not as powerful at blocking symptomatic Covid-19 cases caused by B.1.351 as they are against other forms of the virus. Some experts fear the immunity elicited by vaccines won’t last as long against B.1.351 or be able to drag down transmission of B.1.351 as well as other variants.

Inside STAT: Why not import Canadian drug prices?


 (adobe)

For years, former President Trump threatened to use foreign prices as a cap for what Americans should pay for drugs. Now that he’s left office without implementing the controversial proposal, states are picking up where his administration left off. Six states have attempted to import lower-priced medicines from north of the border, but those efforts are caught in a yearslong web of bureaucracy and pending federal approvals. Importing foreign prices without importing the drugs themselves — a policy known as an international price index or reference pricing — seemed like a simpler solution, Trish Riley of the the National Academy for State Health Policy tells STAT’s Lev Facher. “One of the original proposals that we advanced was importation from Canada,” she said. “In light of that, we started to think: Well, why not import the Canadian prices?” Read more.

NIH to test remdesivir during pregnancy

The bar is understandably high for testing drugs during pregnancy. But the paucity of clinical trials leaves this population outside looking in at Covid-19 therapies. Yesterday the NIH bucked that trend when it announced funding for a study to evaluate remdesivir for Covid-19 in pregnancy. To be conducted at 17 U.S. sites, its goal is to determine how the drug is metabolized during pregnancy and whether there are side effects. Remdesivir is approved to treat Covid-19 in adults and children over 12. “There is an urgent need to identify effective treatments for this population and to determine whether drugs prescribed for other adults are appropriate for use in pregnancy,” Diana Bianchi of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said in a statement.

Can dogs teach machines how to detect prostate cancer?

Florin and Midas put to the smell test. (Guest et al, 2021 PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Prostate cancer testing based on PSA levels is imperfect. Dogs, however, are at least anecdotally very good at sniffing out cancers, from moles on their humans’ bodies to whiffs in urine. A new pilot study, recognizing the power of canine olfaction but also the practical limits to hiring dogs as cancer screeners, explores how to translate what trained dogs do into lab methods. Florin, a 4-year-old Labrador, and Midas, a 7-year-old Wire Haired Hungarian Vizsla, could tell which urine samples came from men with cancer about 70% of the time. Lab instruments then picked up those scents and artificial intelligence tools learned to identify what the dogs sensed. "We've shown it is possible to replicate the dog's performance,” the authors said in a statement.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 70,188
Deaths yesterday: 2,459

What to read around the web today

  • Unprotected African health workers die as rich countries buy up Covid-19 vaccines. Science
  • Native Americans embrace vaccine, virus containment measures. Associated Press
  • U.K. approves study that will deliberately infect volunteers with coronavirus. New York Times
  • ‘I wanted to go in there and help’: Nursing schools see enrollment bump amid pandemic. KHN
  • Johnson & Johnson has only a few million Covid-19 vaccine doses in stock as likely launch near. Reuters

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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