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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

There won't be a newsletter on Monday as the U.S. observes Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Also, a reminder that this is my last newsletter for a while as I head out on leave. My colleague Elizabeth Cooney will be filling in and bringing you the latest in health and medicine until I return in the spring. 

Biden teases Covid-19 vaccine plan, asks Congress for $415 billion to fight the disease 

President-elect Biden yesterday unveiled a nearly half-trillion-dollar proposal to reboot the U.S. coronavirus response, calling the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout “a dismal failure” and doubling down on his pledge to help administer 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office. The incoming administration is asking Congress for billions in new funding to scale up testing and contact tracing, accelerate vaccine distribution, and fund new genomic testing programs to help detect new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

And just this morning, The New York Times reported that Biden had chosen former FDA chief David Kessler to lead Operation Warp Speed. Kessler has emerged as one of Biden's most trusted advisers and will replace Moncef Slaoui to help oversee vaccine manufacturing, distribution, and safety and efficacy concerns. 

Trump administration will let nearly all doctors prescribe addiction medicine buprenorphine

In a major policy shift, the Trump administration just announced that it will allow nearly all doctors to prescribe the opioid addiction drug buprenorphine. Previously, physicians had to undergo an eight-hour training and receive an "X-waiver" license in order to prescribe the medication, rules that many criticized as being too restrictive and limiting the number of people who could get the effective drug. At the same time, there are also advocates for strict regulation of buprenorphine, who cite its status as a controlled substance. “This is a measured, logical, appropriate, evidence-based, and patient-centered intervention that may save tens of thousands of lives," assistant health secretary Brett Giroir said. 

Google closes $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit

Google announced yesterday that it closed its $2.1 billion acquisition of wearables giant Fitbit, though the deal remains under review by U.S. and Australian oversight agencies. The completion is big news for Google, which has lacked its own widely distributed tracker, like the Apple Watch, to use for consumer health products like the Google Fit app. The deal, first announced in November 2019, has been criticized by privacy and competition advocates for its potential to feed even more personal data into Google’s advertising juggernaut. The E.U.’s strict regulators cleared the deal last month after Google granted concessions, including that it would not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and that it would not hinder access by Fitbit competitors to Android phones.

Inside STAT: In Los Angeles, ambulances circle for hours and ICUs are full 

A triage area for patients with suspected Covid-19 has been set up in a tent outside the emergency department of Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The Covid-19 situation in Los Angeles is dire: 10 people are diagnosed with the infection every minute and someone dies from it every eight minutes. Ambulances circle hospitals in vain trying to find beds for patients, as hospital oxygen supplies run low and ICU space is nonexistent. How did things get so bad, despite LA being one of the model cities for a Covid-19 response at the start of the pandemic? Some experts think that LA's early lead may have led to this drastic turn of events. “We did so well, people started to relax, and they stopped following the rules,” one expert tells STAT's Usha Lee McFarling, who has more here

New report warns of ‘vaccine deserts’ due to a shortage of pharmacies

Just as food deserts limit access to nutritious food, a new GoodRx report warns of “vaccine deserts” around the U.S. — where a shortage of pharmacies could impair Covid-19 vaccination efforts. Providing 100 million vaccine doses would mean a vaccination rate of around 15%, based on the number of people who haven’t yet received a vaccine. But the uneven distribution of pharmacies across the U.S. means that the country could realistically only achieve a 11% rate. More than 420 U.S. counties — home to at least 8.3 million people — would only be able to vaccinate up to 10% of their population. And nearly 180 counties — covering more than 635,000 people — have no pharmacies at all, so people who live there may have to drive farther to access a vaccine or may skip getting one altogether. 

Fewer cancer screenings and diagnoses during the first Covid-19 pandemic surge in the U.S.

Cancer screenings, like other routine care, have been disrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic, and new research from one large health system in the Northeast shows that screenings were down during the first surge of the pandemic compared to other times. Only around 15,400 patients underwent one of the five types of screenings examined by the study — including colonoscopies and mammograms — between March and June 2020. That figure rose to nearly 52,000 for June through September last year; more than 64,200 in the three months before March 2020; and more than 60,300 during March-June 2019. The dip in screenings during the early part of the pandemic also meant a dip in diagnoses, and the authors estimate that there were likely more than 1,400 missed cancerous and precancerous lesions during that time. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 229,386
Deaths yesterday: 3,769

What to read around the web today

  • Coronavirus is driving these nurses to quit: ‘I realized my voice was too small to fix things.’ The Lily
  • Researchers test common drugs in quest for treatments for early Covid-19. The Boston Globe
  • Yes, the pandemic is ruining your body. The Atlantic
  • In Philadelphia, judges rule against opening 'supervised' site to inject opioids. NPR
  • The promise of scientific partnerships with people on the spectrum. Spectrum

Thanks for reading! Have a nice weekend,


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Friday, January 15, 2021


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