Category Archives: Core Topics

Expert insight and resources for covering Paxlovid and other COVID-19  treatments

Professor Jason Gallagher, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., F.I.D.P., F.I.D.S.A., B.C.P.S.

In December 2021, Pfizer announced the significantly positive study results of its COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid. The study enrolled unvaccinated people at high-risk for serious illness, and it was hailed by infectious disease specialists and President Biden’s administration as a tool for accelerating the end of the pandemic. 

 “I think it is the beginning of a ‘game-changer,’” said Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist Scott Roberts, M.D. “It’s really our first efficacious oral antiviral pill for this virus. It shows clear benefit, and it really can prevent hospitalization and death in people who are at high risk.” 

But there is currently public confusion about who should get a prescription for Paxlovid if they test positive for COVID-19.

To help our colleagues with coverage, we gathered a few resources and experts to call [see Q&A at bottom of this post] and spoke with Professor Jason Gallagher, Pharm.D., F.C.C.P., F.I.D.P., F.I.D.S.A., B.C.P.S., a pharmacist who specializes in infectious diseases and the director of Temple University’s post-graduate infectious disease pharmacy training program.

We wanted to begin by clarifying what Pfizer is studying and what experts understand about the results so far.

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SCOTUS strikes down Roe as expected; half of states likely to ban abortion

Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr.

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) handed down its expected decision in the highly anticipated Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case Friday morning, finding no constitutional basis for abortion.

The court, voting 6-3, now leaves the issue to state governments. Missouri was the first state to execute its trigger ban, prohibiting all abortion in the state.

The decision to overturn the right to abortion upends a precedent established in 1973 and re-affirmed in 1992, as Amy Howe reported for SCOTUS blog. “In one of the most anticipated rulings in decades, the court overturned Roe, which first declared a constitutional right to abortion in 1973, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which re-affirmed that right in 1992.”

Journalists should note that Howe reported the vote as 5-4, writing this: “The vote to overturn Roe was 5-4.  Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett joined Alito’s opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts did not join the opinion. He agreed with the majority that the Mississippi abortion restriction at issue in the case should be upheld, but in a separate opinion, he argued that the court should not have overturned Roe.”

At The New York Times, Adam Liptak wrote that the decision will transform American life, reshape the nation’s politics and lead to all but total bans on the procedure in about half of the states. “The ruling will test the legitimacy of the court and vindicate a decades-long Republican project of installing conservative justices prepared to reject the precedent, which had been repeatedly reaffirmed by earlier courts,” he added. Also, the decision will be one of the legacies of former President Donald J. Trump, who named three justices who were in the majority, he noted.

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Predicting the evolution of telehealth over the next decade

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via pexels.

Many of us have experienced how telehealth works today: Log on to a secure website and talk to your doctor or another care provider via video. But the technology is only predicted to expand and become more detailed over the next decade, according to recent news reports.

Journalists can find interesting stories on this topic by looking at current and predicted trends such as hybrid care combining in-person and virtual components, niche telehealth programs for specialty populations, and remote physical exams in which physicians will incorporate data collected by remote tools like glucose monitors, bathroom scales and spirometers (instruments to measure air capacity in the lungs).

Virtual care “helped define the pandemic” in many ways, Mike Brandofino, CEO of telehealth technology and services company Caregility, told Healthcare IT News in a recent article. “We witnessed a spectrum of solutions take place…from switching to Zoom for doctor appointments to health care professionals putting baby monitors in rooms to monitor patients, minimizing the use of dwindling PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies while reducing the number of times a caregiver had to enter a COVID unit.”

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New tip sheet explores aging in American Indian/Alaskan Native populations

Photo by Samuel King Jr. via Flickr.

Geography, race and ethnicity play a key role in how long people live. Lack of access to preventive care, multiple chronic conditions and mistrust of the health system are also more prevalent among certain populations, including American Indians/Alaskan Natives. It’s an important health story that may be missed, even by journalists who regularly report on this population.

I recently participated in the webinar, “Health: Equity: Aging and Health Care Disparities in Indigenous Communities” as part of an AHCJ partnership with the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). It’s not a topic I was too familiar with, so I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more. As this new tip sheet explains, while the American Indian/Alaska Native older population will more than double to 648,000 by 2060, the groups have a lower life expectancy, lower quality of life and are disproportionately affected by many chronic conditions than other racial/ethnic groups, according to the CDC

Much of this shorter life expectancy has to do with prevalence of multiple chronic conditions like obesity and heart disease and lifestyle concerns like smoking. More than one in three American Indian/Alaskan Native adults 50 and older are obese; two of every three older adults do not engage in monthly physical activity. And these groups are 30% more likely to have high blood pressure compared with other populations and are 20% more likely to smoke — the highest prevalence among all groups.

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A closer glance at long COVID: What to know

Photo by Liza Summer via pexels.

Long COVID, long haulers, post-COVID syndrome, post-acute sequelae of COVID — from the early days of the pandemic — there have been news stories about people who don’t recover from the virus in 10 to 14 days. Instead, they are still ill weeks or months after their original infection and more than two years on, and no one completely understands why.

The uncertainty, combined with the millions affected, makes long COVID a trendy (but crucial) topic for health journalists to cover. 

In a panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin moderated by independent journalist Margaret Nicklas, two physicians and two long COVID researchers presented a primer on what we know about the condition and what remains a mystery.

The physicians’ perspective

Michael Brode, M.D., internal medicine specialist at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School and medical director of UT Health Austin’s Post-COVID-19 Program, sees the symptoms of patients with long COVID as fitting into three categories:

  • Damage from the virus itself (usually correlated with the severity of the disease).
  • Post-viral lingering symptoms such as cough or chest pain.
  • Dysregulated post-immune response and neuroinflammatory syndrome.

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