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Medical Roundtable; Soaring Medical Prices

Nurse comforting patient in hospital

COVID-19 cases are falling nationally. In Florida, hospitalizations, deaths and new infections continue to decrease. Vaccination rates are on the rise, and the Food and Drug Administration authorized mix-and-match booster shots for immunocompromised people 18 and older who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and workers at high risk for exposure.

Vaccines for children aged 5-11 should be available within weeks after Pfizer’s report that its new vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic infections. Children in the trial received a dose of 10 micrograms rather than the 30-microgram dose given to adults.

Moderna released its own results from a preliminary analysis of a pediatric study showing robust neutralizing antibody responses after two doses of the mRNA vaccine.

After a successful clinical trial, the pharmaceutical company Merck asked the FDA for emergency use authorization of its antiviral pill Molnupiravir. The medicine is intended to be taken within five days of experiencing COVID symptoms. When the drug enters the bloodstream, it blocks the virus’ ability to replicate. The drug’s side effect profile is limited but was not studied in pregnant women.

Stressed health care system

The New York Times recently reported that hospice facilities are facing significant staffing shortages. More than half of the 2.3 million Medicare beneficiaries die annually on hospice care, but patients must have a prognosis of six months or less to qualify for hospice. Most Americans spend 18 days in hospice; even short waits can mean the loss of valuable care. Their enrollment cannot be postponed.

The pandemic also appears to have left the medical community less prepared for future outbreaks. Public health agencies saw a staggering exodus of personnel, many of them citing exhaustion and demoralization due to abuse and threats.

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, nurses who serve as frontline workers in health care reported more suicidal thoughts than any other workers. In the study, which looked at 7,000 nurses nationwide, more than 400 reported considering suicide within the previous year. No nurses involved with the study died by suicide, but nurses across the country face mental health crises they attribute to the pandemic.

Safe celebrations

The holiday season is upon us, beginning with Halloween this weekend. Both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Rochelle Walensky, the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, gave trick-or-treating a green light this year while encouraging people to avoid crowds and stay outside.

Guests:

  • Dr. Jennifer Cowart, hospitalist physician in Jacksonville and part of the group Doctors Fighting COVID.
  • Dr. Swapna Reddy, professor of health policy, equity and diversity, Arizona State University.
  • Dr. Chirag Patel, UF Health Jax’s assistant chief medical officer.

Soaring medication prices

Americans have the dubious distinction of paying more for drugs than people in other countries. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services project that net U.S. spending on prescription drugs will increase faster than any other major health care good or service over the next decade. Generic medicines are not immune, according to a 2016 report that identified over 300 generics that increased over 100% in price from 2010-2015.

In response, medical societies such as the American Academy of Neurology are stepping up to address this challenge. The Academy recently published a position statement in the journal Neurology on what individual doctors and the medical societies should do to help their patients access medications.

Guest: Dr. Nick Johnson, vice chair of research at Virginia Commonwealth University and past advocacy spokesperson for the American Academy of Neurology.

Note: For our listeners who hear this story and think about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988. If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, dial 911 or go to your nearest emergency department. Suicide is preventable, and help is available.

What’s Health Got to Do with It? Associate Producer Katherine Hobbs can be reached at khobbs@wjct.org or on Twitter at @KatherineGHobbs.