COVID-19 Weekly Newsletter: POTUS Tests Positive, Pharma Pushes Back on Vaccine Politics
President Trump announced Friday morning that he and First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, ending an eventful and politically charged week in the pandemic response. Earlier in the week, pharmaceutical companies worked to tamp down political discourse surrounding a COVID-19 vaccine timeline after President Trump stated that a vaccine could be “weeks away.” And another, potentially final, attempt at a COVID-19 relief package has stalled as public health authorities warn of the dangers of a “twindemic” as flu season approaches.
POTUS and FLOTUS Test Positive For COVID-19
Early Friday morning, President Trump went on Twitter to announce that both he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. This announcement comes soon after the news broke that top Trump aide Hope Hicks, who traveled with the president recently, had tested positive for coronavirus. While Trump’s physician has stated that he will be able to carry out his duties from quarantine in the Executive Mansion, White House officials have noted that Vice President Pence (who has since tested negative) will be available to step in as needed. Since Democratic Party Presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Trump shared the debate stage earlier this week, Mr. Biden and his wife underwent COVID-19 testing as a precaution, and both have tested negative.
Pharma Companies Push Back Against Vaccine Timeline
After the contentious presidential debate in which President Trump claimed that a vaccine could be “weeks away”, chief executives at pharmaceutical companies are indicating otherwise. Chief executives at Moderna have stated that their COVID-19 vaccine is not expected to be available for widespread use until spring. In a note to employees, Pfizer’s chief executive Dr. Albert Bourla noted that he “can’t predict exactly when, or even if our vaccine will be approved by the FDA for distribution to the public.” Bourla also disparaged the political dialogue that has surrounded vaccine development, stating that “the amplified political rhetoric around vaccine development, timing and political credit is undercutting public confidence” and that “the world will be safer if we stop talking about the vaccines’ delivery in political terms and focus instead on a rigorous independent scientific evaluation and a robust independent approval process.”
Final Shot at COVID Stimulus Deal
This week’s negotiations between House Democrat leadership and the White House failed once more to reach a deal on a new coronavirus relief package. After negotiations broke down mid-week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) advanced an updated $2.2 trillion Democrat proposal to the House floor. On Thursday night the measure passed the House with the vote falling essentially along party lines. The Republican-led Senate is not expected to take up the legislation. This comes amid weeks of stalemate on the Hill, with both Democrats and Republicans proposing legislation that did not go anywhere. Both sides of the aisle continue to disagree on the amount of money that should go into a potential bill as well as key issues including state and municipal aid.
‘Twindemic’ Fears Rising
As we move further into fall and colder weather, public health authorities continue to warn against the possibility of a “twindemic,” — overlapping epidemics of the flu and COVID-19. Officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), have strongly encouraged everyone who is able to get a flu shot do so. The main concern seems to be not only an overwhelmed health system, but incorrect diagnoses due to the similar symptoms of the diseases. Despite these warnings, a survey released recently by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases shows that only 59% of U.S. adults said they planned to get a flu vaccine this year.
Federal Government Hands Over Control of COVID-19 Drug
Remdesivir, developed and sold by Gilead Sciences, has been a key drug to fight the novel coronavirus as we await a vaccine. This summer, the FDA granted the drug an emergency use authorization once it showed promising clinical trial results, and the U.S. government purchased most of the supply in order to control the distribution. This meant hospitals had to go through the federal government to get access to the drug. Now that the supply of the drug has exceeded the demand, the government is taking a step back from controlling distribution and will let Gilead take over. Gilead is in the process of seeking full FDA approval for Remdesivir.