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Health Care — Legal showdown over vaccine patents

Behold, dear readers, a poem that the people at NPR wrote about that one time a scientist unearthed and then ate part of a 55,000-year-old frozen bison. We don’t know. 

Today in health care, two of the major COVID-19 vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, are now in a legal battle over patents.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan, Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Moderna sues over COVID-19 vaccine patents 

Moderna said Friday it is suing Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, alleging patent infringement over the COVID-19 vaccine.   

The move sets up a showdown between two major vaccine makers that together have helped blunt the impacts of the pandemic in the United States and other countries.   

“We believe that Pfizer and BioNTech unlawfully copied Moderna’s inventions, and they have continued to use them without permission,” Moderna Chief Legal Officer Shannon Thyme Klinger said in a statement.   

Moderna is seeking compensation from Pfizer for the use of technology that Moderna says it pioneered. 

  • New phase of pandemic?The move also indicates Moderna views the pandemic as being in a different phase. The company said that it previously pledged not to enforce it patents while the pandemic continued. But, it said, “in March 2022, when the collective fight against COVID-19 entered a new phase and vaccine supply was no longer a barrier to access in many parts of the world, Moderna updated its pledge.”  
  • It now says that while it will not enforce its patents in 92 low and middle-income countries, it will in other parts of the world. 

Pfizer is going to fight: Pfizer said it would “vigorously” defend against the suit.  

“Pfizer/BioNTech has not yet fully reviewed the complaint but we are surprised by the litigation given the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was based on BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA technology and developed by both BioNTech and Pfizer,” Pfizer said in a statement. “We remain confident in our intellectual property supporting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and will vigorously defend against the allegations of the lawsuit.” 

Read more here. 

As Fauci exits, public health experts lament attacks  

Anthony Fauci is preparing to leave the public stage — but health experts are worried the toxic atmosphere that tailed him will hang around for years to come. 

Opinions of Fauci among the general public cleave along partisan lines, but most experts think he did about as good a job as anyone could in managing a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.  

They worry that the unremitting personal attacks he faced are emblematic of a broader, sneering tone toward scientific expertise and advice. 

Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law who specializes in public health, has known Fauci for almost half a century and considers him a friend.  

‘Rabid politicization’ “He has got caught in the rabid politicization of American culture,” Gostin lamented, “and he has got caught right in the crosshairs of the COVID culture wars these past years.” 

  • Gostin, who said he shared Fauci’s dismay at the “venom” of some of the attacks, also expressed concern about the general climate surrounding science, which seems unlikely to change after Fauci leaves government service in December.  
  • “Public health and science itself has been pilloried. There is an enormous fatigue, resignation and sheer exhaustion in the entire scientific community. People are quitting their jobs, or when they are keeping their jobs, they are keeping their heads down,” he said. 

Read more here.  

DNC ROLLS OUT NEW AD ON ABORTION AS TRIGGER BANS TAKE EFFECT 

The Democratic National Committee rolled out a digital ad buy in four states hitting Republicans on abortion following bans on the procedure going into effect in Idaho, Texas and Tennessee.  

The five-figure ad buy, which was first reported on by The Hill, is slated to run in Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Colorado. The spots will air on video mediums and be seen on platforms like YouTube and Facebook.  

The spots highlight efforts to restrict abortion. One fifteen-second clip ends with the caption “your state could be next.” 

“Democrats will continue to remind voters that if Republicans gain power this November, they will go even further than overturning Roe and work to take away the freedom for millions more women to make their own health care decisions,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a statement to The Hill. 

Big picture:  

  • Democrats have been more aggressively messaging on the issue since Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure earlier this month that would give the state legislature the authority to ban abortion.  
  • On Tuesday, Democrat Pat Ryan defied expectations in the special election for New York’s 19th Congressional District, winning the election after centering his message on abortion. 

Read more here.  

UP TO 4M OF AMERICANS REMAIN OUT OF WORK DUE TO LONG COVID 

Up to 4 million Americans may be out of work due to long Covid and it carries steep economic repercussions for not just the U.S. economy but the productivity of working people.  

  • The U.S. Census Bureau found 16.3 million working-age Americans have long Covid today and of those 2 to 4 million are out of work because of the condition.  
  • The annual cost of wages lost to long Covid is around $170 billion a year and could potentially run as high as $230 billion.   

Long Covid is defined as having symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 12 weeks after being infected with the virus and it comes in multiple forms — including respiratory symptoms and neurological problems like brain fog, poor memory and headaches. 

Researchers at the Brookings Institution analyzed Census Bureau data, along with other studies that looked at rates of people with long Covid, and found the loss of jobs is consistent with the current labor market shortages, like in education, transportation, food service, hospitality and health and social care industries.

Taking a closer look at wages, Brookings found that the average U.S. worker earns $1,106 per week, and if up to 4 million Americans are out of work due to long Covid, that translates to $230 billion a year in lost earnings — nearly 1 percent of the total U.S. gross domestic product.   

Read more here.  

CDC director ‘cautiously optimistic’ on monkeypox cases 

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Friday she was “cautiously optimistic” about the direction of the monkeypox outbreak amid early reports of cases trending down both in the U.S. and globally. 

During a press briefing, Walensky noted that some jurisdictions including New York, Chicago and San Francisco have begun to report a downward trend in monkeypox cases. 

What may be driving down cases: 

  • The majority of vaccinations for monkeypox in the U.S. are reported to be first doses so it is unclear how much immunization efforts can be credited with pushing down cases. 
  • However, the White House’s national monkeypox response deputy coordinator Demetre Daskalakis noted that recent data from the American Men’s Internet Survey (AMIS) found that men who have sex with men have reported changing their sexual habits in response to monkeypox, likely helping reduce transmission. 
  • Speaking on the AMIS data, Daskalakis said it indicated that “the LGBTQIA+ people are doing things that are actually reducing their risk and it’s working.” 

“I want to be cautiously optimistic about this, not only because of the downward trend but because of the AMIS data that Dr. Daskalakis just noted,” Walensky said. 

While cases appear to be trending down in some places, Walensky stressed that they are still on rise nationally. Nearly 17,000 cases have been confirmed by the CDC. 

Too soon to celebrate: “The rate of rise is lower, but we are still seeing increases. And we are of course a very diverse country and things are not even across the country,” she said. “So we’re watching this with cautious optimism and really hopeful that many of our harm reduction messages and vaccines are getting out there and working.” 

Read more here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • White House directs health, science agencies to make federally funded studies free to access (Stat) 
  • EPA wants to label certain ‘forever chemicals’ as hazardous substances (CNN) 
  • At 988 call centers, crisis counselors offer empathy — and juggle limited resources (NPR) 

STATE BY STATE

  • ‘He stood his ground’: state senator will leave office as champion of tough vaccine laws (California Healthline) 
  • More polio virus detected in upstate New York wastewater (Associated Press) 
  • USDA begins airdropping rabies vaccines for wildlife in 13 states (Axios) 

THE HILL OPEDS

  • The loss of Roe complicates Biden’s plan for safer pregnancies 
  • Privacy is being ignored as lines blur between health care and social care 
  • The monkeypox mistake the US government won’t stop making 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you next week.

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