Saturday, January 29, 2022

CNBC examines at-home testing and vaccine patents, a double pandemic update

I'm still not through posting about the pandemic this week, even after ASAPScience asks 'When Will COVID End?' yesterday and Joe Hanson of PBS Digital's 'Be Smart' describes what he's learned first-hand about Omicron, a pandemic update the day before that. Today's entry is a double feature of CNBC videos about two methods of containing the pandemic, tests and vaccines. I begin with yesterday's Can The U.S. Fix Its At-Home Covid Testing Problem?

The latest Covid-19 wave during the busy holiday travel season caught the U.S. flat-footed when it came to one key tool in its pandemic-fighting arsenal: at-home rapid tests.

The White House has made it clear that the tests — sold over-the-counter at drugstores — are critical to keeping the economy running during the current surge of the highly contagious omicron variant and any future variants. Demand for at-home tests has soared as infection and hospitalization rates soared to unforeseen levels in early 2022, leading to supply constraints and accusations of price gouging.

The fight against Covid-19 appears far from over, and those at-home rapid tests look poised to play a crucial role in federal and state efforts to mitigate another tough pandemic-era winter. The U.S. vaccination rate has stalled, leaving pockets of Americans vulnerable to severe disease. Experts also point out that kids under 5 years of age still don't have access to an approved vaccine. Even vaccinated Americans are testing positive for Covid-19, and researchers are trying to understand what that means for how well the variants spread.

Federal regulators at the Food and Drug Administration have been criticized for not authorizing at-home Covid tests quickly enough to match demand. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's evolving testing guidance for the vaccinated also has confused test manufacturers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Watch the video above to find out how the U.S. fell behind on its at-home Covid testing strategy, and what the Biden administration is doing to fix it.
I can personally attest to two items mentioned in the video, the availability of tests and policies regarding testing. When I received my booster shot last month, I saw several customers ask for home testing kits only to be told they were sold out. People were worried once Omicron arrived in the U.S. Also, I know of at least one workplace that did not require testing or isolation of exposed people if they showed proof of vaccination. That was the CDC guidance at the time, which was before Omicron, a variant that can infect vaccinated and boosted people. Things change quickly.

I'm glad the Biden Administration has done its part to make tests more available. My wife has ordered a month's worth of tests and we are looking forward to having them arrive in the mail. May all of our results be negative.

Now for the second video of today's double feature, CNBC explaining Why Moderna Doesn't Own Its Covid Vaccine.

The multi-billion-dollar patent war over the mRNA coronavirus vaccine has grabbed the attention of the likes of leaders from President Biden to Bill Gates. Its outcome could yet again change the course of the pandemic.

It's been well over a year since a landmark proposal brought the issue of patent waiver for the mRNA Covid vaccine to the spotlight. But many observers don't see that waiving the intellectual property (IP) rights on Covid vaccines is an effective way to put a stop to the pandemic.

Supporters of patent waivers like Harsha Thirumurthy, associate professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, argue the issue lies at the heart of the reason why vaccines are less accessible in lower-income countries.

"It limits how much manufacturing there can be of that product or that vaccine," said Thirumurthy, adding it keeps the price "artificially high enough that it limits the ability of other countries in the world."

But critics counter that patent waivers will not automatically lead to an improvement in global vaccine distribution.
Watch the video to find out more about why vaccine patents exist and the ongoing debate over their impact on the Covid pandemic.
I find it particularly pertinent that India and South Africa asked for patent waivers. The Delta variant was first detected in India during late 2020 and Omicron in South Africa and Botswana during November 2021. Both of those arose after the two countries asked for the patent waivers and both might have been prevented if vaccinations had been more available sooner. We'll never know, but both cases still serve as cautionary tales.

Now I'm done posting about the pandemic this week, simply because the week is over, and for the month, as tomorrow is Sunday, when I usually write the weekly entertainment feature, and Monday is the last day of the month, when I shift over to more time-sensitive material, like news and holidays, in anticipation of the new month. Stay tuned.

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