Welcome to Tuesday’s Overnight Health Care. President BidenJoe BidenCriminal justice group urges clemency for offenders released to home confinement during pandemic Progressive poll: Majority supports passing Biden agenda through reconciliation Transportation moves to ban airline ticket sales to Belarus amid arrest of opposition journalist MORE and Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauOvernight Health Care: Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine performed well in a lab against delta variant | LA County advises people to wear masks indoors even if vaccinated Biden accepts Stanley Cup bet with Trudeau Over 750 unmarked graves found at former Canadian school for Indigenous children MORE are entering into a friendly wager over the Stanley Cup (Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning). Still unclear what is at stake in the bet, though!
Today: Moderna said its vaccine performed well against variants, including delta. Walmart is launching its own brand of insulin, and LA County is recommending people start wearing masks indoors again, regardless of vaccination status.
We’ll start with Moderna:
Moderna says COVID-19 vaccine performed well in a lab against delta variant
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine performed well in a lab setting against variants of the virus, including the rapidly spreading and highly contagious delta variant first found in India, the company announced Tuesday.
The mRNA vaccine produced neutralizing antibodies after two doses against delta as well as the beta and eta variants first found in South Africa and Nigeria, respectively, according to Moderna.
The vaccine did not perform as well against certain versions of the South African beta variant relative to the ancestral strain.
The data, which has not been peer reviewed, used serum samples from eight participants obtained one week after participants’ second dose of the company’s primary COVID-19 vaccine. However, the results came from lab testing and may not reflect how effective the vaccine performs in the real world.
“As we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves. These new data are encouraging and reinforce our belief that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine should remain protective against newly detected variants,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement.
Read more here.
But some officials are still pushing for precautions against the delta variant: LA County advised people to wear masks indoors even if vaccinated
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is recommending that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors “as a precaution” due to the highly transmissible delta variant.
Context: The recommendation that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors differs from the national guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued in May, that outside of a few settings like public transit, the vaccines offer such strong protection that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear them.
The CDC has given no indication that it plans to change its recommendation because of the delta variant, and many other experts and jurisdictions in the U.S. have not followed Los Angeles’s recommendation.
Experts say that the delta variant is mainly a threat to unvaccinated people. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been found to be highly effective against it. A British study last month found the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective against the delta variant after two doses, for example.
But without proof of vaccination or vaccine “passports,” an idea that has been politically controversial, it is impossible to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t, and therefore how to apply blanket mask recommendations.
Read more here.
Walmart to offer own low-cost brand of insulin
Walmart is getting into the insulin business. The mega-retailer on Tuesday announced the launch of a new brand of analog insulin that will come at a much cheaper price for patients without insurance who need to pay out of pocket for the lifesaving drug.
The company is teaming with Novo Nordisk to sell an exclusive version of insulin through Walmart’s private ReliOn brand, in an effort to grow its health offerings and counter competition from Amazon, which is trying to break through the pharmacy space.
By working directly with the manufacturer, Walmart aims to undercut the existing price point on insulin that has been widely criticized. More than 34 million Americans have diabetes.
Available soon: The drug will be available in Walmart pharmacies this week, and Sam’s Club pharmacies in mid-July across the United States, the company said.
Customers will need a prescription in order to purchase the products, which will cost about $73 for a vial or about $86 for a package of prefilled insulin pens.
The price will represent a savings of as much as $101 per vial of insulin or up to $251 per pack of prefilled insulin pens.
The insulin racket: Three companies — Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk — control 99 percent of the world’s insulin, and even though the drug has been virtually unchanged in the past 100 years, the price has skyrocketed, especially in the past two decades.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the average price of insulin nearly tripled between 2002 and 2013 and then nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016.
Read more here.
Poll: Majority of US adults concerned about delta variant
A majority of U.S. adults are concerned about the delta coronavirus variant but have not significantly changed their behavior because of it, according to the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index.
Seventy-two percent of U.S. adults reported being concerned about the variant, with 36 percent extremely concerned and 36 percent somewhat concerned.
The poll shows 84 percent of Americans have at least heard of the delta variant but only 1 in 10 are very familiar with the variant that has led to a global spike in cases.
Despite the variant putting some other countries back on lockdown, the U.S. is almost completely back to normal and citizens are not changing their behavior.
Only 41 percent of adults believe Fourth of July celebrations pose a high or moderate risk of coronavirus transmission, compared to 78 percent last year.
The number of people who said they wear their masks all or some of the time when outside their home also dropped to 55 percent, the lowest number since the Index began in April 2020.
By the numbers: The CDC projects that more than a quarter of cases spreading in the U.S. came from the delta variant in the two-week period ending in June 19. That’s a jump from the estimated 10 percent and 2.5 percent from the two previous two-week periods.
Read more here.
Sanofi places bet on mRNA vaccines with investment
The French drugmaker Sanofi says it plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars annually to research mRNA vaccines after some COVID-19 vaccines have successfully utilized the technology.
The company announced Tuesday that it will direct 400 million euros, or $477 million, every year to a Center of Excellence designed to speed up the research and development of mRNA vaccines.
The effort would aim to expand usage of mRNA vaccine technology beyond COVID-19 shots “to routine use in diseases with high unmet need.” The drugmaker predicts it will have at least six next-generation candidate vaccines by 2025.
“While mRNA won’t be the solution for every infectious disease, its translation into routine prevention could have immense impact for many unmet public health needs,” Thomas Triomphe, the global head of Sanofi Pasteur, said in a release.
Why this matters: As one of the largest vaccine manufacturers worldwide, Sanofi’s investment in mRNA vaccine research and development signals how mRNA technology could transform the vaccine industry.
Two of the three vaccines authorized in the U.S. — the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines — use mRNA technology and are considered to be effective against COVID-19 and the current variants.
Read more here.
What we’re reading
Inside ‘Project Onyx’: How Biogen used an FDA back channel to win approval of its polarizing Alzheimer’s drug (STAT)
Covid-19 contact tracers race against delta variant in the U.S. (The Wall Street Journal)
Growing gaps in U.S. vaccination rates show regions at risk (Bloomberg News)
State by state
85 COVID-19 cases tied to outbreak at central Illinois summer camp (Chicago Tribune)
University of Michigan gets $5.3M from state to expand COVID-19 wastewater monitoring (MLive)
D.C. Council votes to ban sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes (Washington Post)
States with more stringent COVID rules had both better economic and health outcomes, data shows (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Op-eds in The Hill
Medicare must clear patient access to Alzheimer’s treatments