Fauci to become Biden’s chief medical adviser; UnitedHealthcare to study Eli Lilly antibody

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be working in the incoming administration as President-elect Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.

Fauci confirmed the offer and said he accepted it Friday, after Biden told CNN Thursday he offered Fauci the job.

“I said yes right on the spot,” Fauci told NBC’s Today.

The position marks the seventh presidential administration Fauci would serve in.

In the interim, Fauci and other health officials continue to lose the battle against curbing virus transmission, as the U.S. hits grim new milestones each day.

Thursday marked the second consecutive day of more than 100,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the country, and a new daily record was set with more than 218,000 positive cases reported.

As the country waits for two vaccine candidates to be approved and available widely, states and local governments have opted for stricter mobility rules in hopes of stemming the tide. In addition, antibody treatments, viewed as a bridge until vaccines are used, are gaining prominence.

One of the country’s largest health insurers is studying Eli Lilly’s (LLY) monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID-19, with the hope of determining its effectiveness in a diverse population and also in a real-world capacity.

“The study will identify and treat a large, diverse population of high-risk individuals for COVID-19 with bamlanivimab under real-world conditions with a goal of reducing the severity of illness and hospitalizations,” UnitedHealthcare (UNH) said in a statement Friday.

At least 500,000 people will be enrolled, of which at least 5,000 are expected to receive the treatment.

Lilly’s treatment has already received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the federal government just committed to buying additional doses — for a total of nearly 1 million —to help treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 and avoid progression into more severe cases.

“While bamlanivimab is authorized for emergency use based on the efficacy and safety data accumulated to date, larger pragmatic studies in diverse populations can help us further understand the efficacy and safety of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies in real world settings,” said Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, Lilly’s chief scientific officer, in a statement.

Jamillette Gomes holds her two-year-old son, Avian, as he receives a COVID-19 test, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Lawrence, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Jamillette Gomes holds her two-year-old son, Avian, as he receives a COVID-19 test, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Lawrence, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Vaccine distribution preparation

Moderna (MRNA) and Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech (BNTX) are gearing up to distribute doses of their vaccine candidates in the coming weeks, with coronavirus cases soaring across the U.S., and heightened curiosity about who will be included in the next phase of distribution.

This week, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine advisory committee (ACIP) designated health care workers and nursing home residents as the first group of individuals to receive the vaccine.

Equity in distribution is a central theme in conversations, which includes ensuring any health care worker that interacts with or is around COVID-19 patients, including those who clean and maintain hospitals and those who help provide food, are included in the first round of recipients.

CDC director Robert Redfield said Thursday he accepts the recommendation and is looking forward to ACIP’s discussion on the next group, noting in a statement that, “Hispanic, Black and Tribal Nations families care for their elderly in multigenerational households and they are also at significant risk. This framework, in addition to the ACIP guidance, will ensure a more equitable distribution to those most at risk for hospitalizations and fatalities.”

Minorities possibly being given vaccines ahead of the elderly nationwide would mark a significant effort to address health disparities in the country that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The biggest drug lobby, PhRMA, also endorsed minorities in focus. CEO Stephen Ubl said in a statement, “ACIP also found that racial and ethnic minority groups are often disproportionately represented in many essential industries and live in communities that are similarly affected and should therefore be prioritized.”

He added that as states and territories prepare for vaccines, “PhRMA supports ACIP’s prioritization of essential health care, public health industry workers and those most at risk as part of their allocation decisions.”

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