What We're Reading: Vaccine Distribution Agreement Announced; Virus Deaths Surge Again; Medicare Insolvency Predicted

July 22, 2020

The US government partners with biotech giants Pfizer and BioNTech to distribute a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine; the COVID-19 death record continues to be broken; could Medicare be in financial trouble?

A COVID-19 Vaccine Could Be Available by Year-End

HHS and the Department of Defense’s partnership with biotech giants Pfizer and BioNTech could mean up to 600 million doses of a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine candidate, BNT162, will be available in the country starting this December and through 2021, according to The Washington Post. Pfizer will receive $1.95 billion upon manufacture of the first 100 million doses, but only if the vaccine receives approval or emergency use authorization from the FDA, and even then only if phase 3 clinical trial results show BNT162 is safe and effective. The vaccine will be free to all Americans, and the trial is set to begin later this month, reports Business Wire, with potential regulatory approval by October.

Asymptomatic Individuals May Enable Pandemic Spread

With deaths from COVID-19 surpassing 1100 yesterday, the United States recorded its highest daily disease toll since May, with the CDC predicting the number of those actually infected may be 2 to 13 times higher than reported, says The New York Times, due to asymptomatic individual spread of the virus or others not seeking medical care for symptoms. This news follows the resumption of President Donald Trump’s daily coronavirus briefings. Meanwhile, the CDC is working with commercial labs on a large-scale seroprevalence survey, testing deidentified blood samples from 10 cities and states every 3 to 4 weeks to track the development of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, even among those whose samples were collected for reasons unrelated to COVID-19, such as through a routine or sick visit.

Is Medicare Fund in Danger of Running Out?

Kaiser Health News is reporting that Medicare may be in financial trouble due to insolvency and that this could lead to a health care crisis, mainly due to funds Congress diverted for COVID-19 relief. Other reasons include loss of payroll taxes from the high rates of unemployment in the country and an increase in beneficiaries. A shortfall was first predicted in April to begin in 2026, which would principally affect Medicare’s Part A Trust Fund, but that did not account for the additional financial effects from the pandemic.