Health Care — Early results for melanoma relapse vax promising

RIP to Mike Leach, a pioneering college football coach who died Monday evening following complications from a heart condition.

Today in health, lawmakers told Pfizer’s CEO to “back off” from raising the price of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine.

But first, we highlight promising early results on preventing return cases of melanoma that were announced by Moderna and Merck.

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

Moderna wax reduced risk of skin cancer relapse

Researchers found the combination of a customized mRNA vaccine from Moderna and Merck’s Keytruda in melanoma patients reduced the risk of death or relapse of the disease by 44 percent compared to patients just taking Keytruda.

The results are the first time that an mRNA vaccine, which uses the same technology as Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines, demonstrated an increased immune response in a patient when combined with a drug they are taking.

“Today’s results are highly encouraging for the field of cancer treatment. mRNA has been transformative for COVID-19, and now, for the first time ever, we have demonstrated the potential for mRNA to have an impact on outcomes in a randomized clinical trial in melanoma,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a Merck release.

  • The results were announced by the companies and not published in a journal.
  • The companies plan to discuss their results with regulatory authorities and expand to other types of tumors.

Keytruda is an immunotherapy used to fight a variety of cancers, including melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. mRNA teaches a person’s cells to make a protein to trigger an immune response in their body, protecting them from a virus or disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read more here.

Iowa six-week abortion ban remains blocked

A six-week abortion ban in Iowa remains blocked after a state judge ruled on Monday that the court does not have the authority to dissolve a permanent injunction on the ban.

Judge Celene Gogerty ruled that state law did not allow her to dissolve the injunction, but even if it did, she wrote that the state did not successfully argue how the Iowa Supreme Court ruling substantially changed abortion law in the state.

The law being debated was passed and signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) in 2018, prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected roughly six weeks into a pregnancy, which is often before many women know they are pregnant.

The law included exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormality, medical emergencies and when an abortion is deemed medically necessary.

  • But the Iowa Supreme Court issued a permanent injunction on the law in 2019 after finding that it violated the Iowa Constitution and federal precedent on abortion law.
  • Reynolds argued that because of decisions earlier this year by the US Supreme Court and the Iowa Supreme Court that found women have no constitutional right to abortion, the injunction should have been lifted.
  • Reynolds said in a statement that she would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Read more here.

WARREN, WELCH PRESS PFIZER CEO ON COVID VACCINE PRICE HIKE

A pair of Democrats are pressing Pfizer about the company’s plans to raise the price of its COVID-19 vaccine.

In a letter to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a senator-elect, slammed the move as “pure and deadly greed” and expressed concern it could result in other vaccine manufacturers, such as Moderna and Novavax, raising the prices of their vaccines.

  • The Democrats asked for information about the justification for the price increase and the impact of the increase on Americans who could be required to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for the vaccine.
  • “We urge you to back off from your proposed price increases and ensure COVID-19 vaccines are reasonably priced and accessible to people across the United States,” Warren and Welch wrote.

Pfizer expects to roughly quadruple the price of its COVID-19 vaccine to between $110 and $130 per dose once the US government’s purchasing program ends early next year.

The federal government currently pays about $30 a dose and then distributes the vaccine to the public for free.

The letter comes as Congress seems unlikely to fund the administration’s request for an additional $10 billion in COVID-19 funding, which officials said is needed to help ease the transition.

Read more here

FAUCI SAYS HE DOESN’T ‘PAY ANY ATTENTION’ TO MUSK AFTER TWEET

Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he does not “pay any attention” to Elon Musk following the new Twitter CEO’s tweet calling for Fauci to be prosecuted.

“I don’t respond to him,” Fauci told CNN’s David Axelrod for a podcast that will be released Thursday.

“I don’t pay any attention to him because that’s merely a distraction,” Fauci added.

“And if you get drawn into that, and I have to be honest, that cesspool of interaction … there’s no value added to that, David. It doesn’t help anything.

A clip of the interview aired on Monday on “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

Read more here.

COVID vaccine saved 3.2M US lives, say researchers

The COVID-19 vaccines developed by biotech companies Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson saved more than 3 million American lives over a two-year period, according to new research from the Commonwealth Fund.

The first coronavirus vaccine in the US was administered in December 2020. Since then, health care workers have put more than 655 million doses into the arms of Americans, with 80 percent of the population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. .

The Commonwealth Fund estimated the vaccines prevented more than 18.5 million hospitalizations and 3.2 million deaths from December 2020 to last month.

“The unprecedented pace at which vaccines were developed and deployed has saved many lives and allowed for safer easing of COVID-19 restrictions and reopening of businesses, schools, and other activities,” the researchers wrote in a blog post. “This extraordinary achievement has been possible only through sustained funding and effective policymaking that ensured vaccines were available to all Americans.”

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • How Medicare Advantage plans dodged auditors and overcharged taxpayers by millions (Kaiser Health News)
  • China health app starts online sales of Pfizer’s Paxlovid for COVID treatment (Reuters)
  • ‘Out of control’: Dozens of telehealth startups sent sensitive health information to big tech companies (Stat)

STATE BY STATE

  • Tennessee Titans join forces with state health department in spreading COVID-19 awareness (WZTV)
  • New Jersey public sector workers call for $350 million in aid to offset state health care premium hikes (WHYY)
  • Charges against former state health department worker dismissed after she admits guilt (Miami Herald)

The Hill Opens

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

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