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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Top federal health experts appear before Congress to report on the Covid-19 response

The leaders of major federal health agencies will gather before a House committee today for a hearing on the U.S.'s Covid-19 pandemic response. Set to appear are top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, and the Trump administration's coronavirus testing czar Brett Giroir. The last time the four officials gathered in front of lawmakers, they painted a mixed picture on the road ahead. Today's hearing is likely to touch on all aspects of the government's response, including testing, contact tracing, treatment, and vaccine development. C-SPAN will also be broadcasting the event, beginning at 11 am ET, here

Here's what else is new with the pandemic: 

  • Sanofi Pasteur just announced that the Phase 1/2 clinical trial testing the coronavirus vaccine it is developing along with GlaxoSmithKline will begin in September, and not in December as originally planned. It also announced a $425 million deal with biotech company TranslateBio to test an mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine in humans for the first time later this year. 
  • During its event for developers yesterday, Apple rolled out two new health features for its Apple Watch, including a hand-washing feature that detects when people begin washing their hands and monitors how long they're scrubbing for. And if users haven't spent enough time washing, they'll receive a notification asking them to continue. 
  • A new Commonwealth Fund survey finds that around 40% of adults who experienced job disruption due to the pandemic relied on health insurance that was provided by either their job or the job held by their partner. An additional 20% of these adults now say they don't have health insurance. 

White House coronavirus adviser calls for more Covid-19 testing after Trump talks of slowing down

Just days after President Trump said at a political rally he wanted to slow Covid-19 testing down — a comment that his aides later said was made in jest — Deborah Birx, who is helping lead the White House's coronavirus response, made a forceful case for continuing to build testing capacity. Speaking Monday to the American Society for Microbiology's virtual conference, Birx called for doing more testing so that it's not just about diagnosing cases, but about staying ahead of the virus as it moves through a community. With widespread surveillance testing, health authorities can get a signal of increasing spread if more tests are starting to come back positive — as has been the case in a number of states recently. "It's not going to work as a signal if we're not expanding tests into the communities so we can see those inflection points early," she said.

Deaths from neurological disease have declined, but trend may reverse

An analysis of neurological deaths since 1999 finds that even though these deaths have declined overall, an increase in deaths from Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative conditions and an aging population could mean that the trend reverses in the future. The decline in neurological deaths was largely driven by fewer cerebrovascular deaths — conditions such as stroke and aneurysm — which went from a rate of nearly 62 such deaths per 100,000 people who died of a neurological disease down to around 38 deaths per 100,000 people. At the same time, deaths from Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative conditions, increased from a rate of around 17 such deaths per 100,000 people to nearly 37 deaths per 100,000 people. 

Inside STAT: The likely heir to an FDA powerbroker brings expertise — and controversy

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Patrizia Cavazzoni. (Molly Ferguson for STAT)

Janet Woodcock, one of the FDA's most powerful regulators, has been somewhat of a celebrity within regulatory and scientific circles, and rumors have long swirled about who could possibly replace her. Now, as Woodcock has transitioned to a temporary new role overseeing a Trump administration coronavirus vaccine initiative, the answer to the question seems to have emerged: Patrizia Cavazzoni, an agency newcomer and one of Woodcock’s chief deputies who is also a Pfizer and Eli Lilly veteran. Despite her short tenure at the agency, advocates, former FDA commissioners, and colleagues of Cavazzoni tell STAT's Nicholas Florko that she has a reputation as a problem-solver and can carry on Woodcock's legacy. “Patrizia always helps come up with a solution and the solution is always reasonable,” says Ned Sharpless, a former acting FDA commissioner. Read more here.  

Advertising for sugary drinks topped $1 billion in 2018

Beverage companies spent more than $1 billion in 2018 to advertise sugary drinks, according to a new report. That figure signifies a 26% increase since 2013. Here's more from the report: 

  • Trends by drink type: More than half of the $1 billion spent on advertising in 2018 was spent promoting soda. Advertising for sports drinks increased by 24% since 2013, while spending on sweetened ice tea nearly tripled from $38 million to $111 million. 
  • Target audiences: Companies have increased spending on advertising on Spanish-language TV. And despite a 52% reduction in TV viewing among teens between 2013-2018, advertising to this group also increased. 
  • Companies behind the spending: PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were the major drivers of the recent increase in spending. Coca-Cola's spending on advertising increased more than 80% since 2013, while PepsiCo's increased by 28%. 

Recreational marijuana laws associated with small increase in traffic fatalities

Two new studies find that recreational marijuana laws are associated with small increases in fatalities from traffic accidents in states that have passed them. In one study, researchers looked at data from Colorado and Washington, and found that these laws were associated with an increase of about two deaths per billion road miles traveled in Colorado, but not an increase in Washington. One possible reason for the difference: People may have traveled from states neighboring Colorado (and which don't allow the cannabis sales), whereas Washington's neighbors — Oregon and Canada — themselves later implemented recreational cannabis laws, possibly reducing interstate travel. 

In the other study, researchers compared data from the first four states to legalize recreational marijuana — adding Oregon and Alaska — and found a similar increase in traffic fatalities compared to states that didn't have such laws on the books. These findings only represent an association, and the authors of an accompanying editorial write that more research needs to be done to understand how cannabis impairs drivers. 

What to read around the web today

  • U.K. to launch world's largest genetic study into chronic fatigue syndrome. The Guardian
  • There isn’t enough research to know if tear gas causes early periods. The Verge
  • LGBTQ clinics sue Trump administration over discrimination in trans health care. NPR
  • A common snake oil reemerges for the coronavirus. The Atlantic
  • ‘It’s a nightmare.’ How Brazilian scientists became ensnared in chloroquine politics. Science

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

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