KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Vaccine Approval Moves the Needle on Covid
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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Vaccine Approval Moves the Needle on Covid


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Click here for a transcript of the episode.


The Food and Drug Administration gave full approval this week to the covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which will henceforth be known as “Comirnaty.” It is not clear how many vaccine-hesitant Americans will now be willing to get a jab, but the approval has prompted many public and private employers to implement mandates for their workers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House, back early from its summer break, overcame a brief rebellion by some Democratic moderates to pass a budget resolution that starts the process for a giant social-spending measure addressing many new health benefits.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Tami Luhby of CNN and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked a tightrope again this week but managed to keep her caucus together to move forward an infrastructure bill and a budget resolution that will be a vehicle for a massive social-spending bill. Nonetheless, conflicts among Democrats on the size of that bill and its timing were not resolved and could spark heated battles between progressives and moderates in the next couple of months.
  • Some aspects of the health programs in the spending bill are already in danger of being ditched, including a proposal to lower the eligibility age for Medicare. Other cost-saving strategies being discussed include implementing some programs for only a limited time. Democrats hope those programs would prove popular enough for future lawmakers to extend them.
  • Some companies, including Delta Air Lines, are not mandating vaccines, but they will charge workers a higher insurance premium if they opt to not get a shot.
  • To the horror of many public health experts, some people who are refusing to get vaccinated have instead turned to a veterinary medicine, Ivermectin, that is being touted as a covid treatment or preventive on social media and by conservative broadcasters. The FDA has warned people that the drug could be dangerous, tweeting out last week: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow.”
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been determined to stop mask and vaccination mandates in his state, is setting up centers for people infected with covid to get infusions of monoclonal antibody treatments, which have been shown to help covid patients. But the treatments are expensive and timing is crucial, so it’s not clear how effective these centers will be. Those treatments have only an emergency use authorization from the FDA. Coincidentally, many people hesitant to get a vaccine complained it was because the products were authorized only for emergency use.
  • The FDA is warning parents and doctors against vaccinating children under age 12. It has not yet authorized the vaccine for them, and drugmakers say these younger children may need smaller doses. Studies are underway.
  • A new law is set to take effect in Texas next week that bans abortions after six weeks and allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and even individuals who drive women to abortion clinics. If federal courts do not step in to block the law, providers in the state say they will not be able to operate.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: The Washington Post’s “Long-Term-Care Facilities Are Using the Pandemic as a Shield, Even in Lawsuits Unrelated to Covid-19,” by Christopher Rowland

Joanne Kenen: Politico’s “Sadness and Death: Inside the VA’s State Nursing-Home Disaster,” by Joanne Kenen, Allan James Vestal and Darius Tahir

Tami Luhby: CNN’s “My Son Was Lucky to Get a Pediatric ICU Bed When He Needed One. He Shouldn’t Have Needed Luck,” by Ben Tinker

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The New Yorker’s “Costa Ricans Live Longer Than Us. What’s the Secret?” by Atul Gawande


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