Last Tuesday, the Biden Administration announced that they are working on an agreement with Pfizer and Moderna to buy an additional 200 million doses (100 million from each) of their COVID-19 vaccine. The purchase would provide the U.S. enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer. The Administration also stated that they would increase the number of doses being sent to states by 16% over the next three weeks to support distribution.
Also on Tuesday, President Biden signed four executive orders focused on addressing racial inequity. The orders include measures to direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to take steps to “redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies … end the Justice Department’s use of private prisons, recommit the federal government to Tribal sovereignty and take steps to combat discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
And on Friday, Johnson & Johnson announced that its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine proved 66% effective in its multi-country clinical trial. Efficacy was found to be stronger in the U.S (72%) compared to Latin America (66%) and South Africa (57%). However, the study also showed that the vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe disease, with J&J noting that protection increased over time. Novavax also released preliminary results from its clinical trial in the UK, announcing that its vaccine candidate proved nearly 90% effective. But, in its study in South Africa, the vaccine proved 60% effective in volunteers without HIV, and 49% effective in those with HIV.
In Massachusetts, Governor Baker released his fiscal year 2020 budget recommendations on Wednesday, including one outside section directly relevant to the life sciences industry. Section 28, Opioids Excise, Excessive Price Increase Penalty & Pass-Through Excise contains two sections of note: one to impose an excise tax on opioids distributed in the Commonwealth, and one to penalize drug manufacturers for excessive price increases. Zach Stanley, Executive Vice President, MassBio, issued the following statement on the Governor’s budget:
“At the same time that Massachusetts’ residents are starting to receive COVID-19 vaccines, one of which was developed by a Massachusetts’ headquartered company, Governor Baker is for the third time filing an old proposal to penalize drug manufacturers that successfully bring new therapies to market. This policy is unnecessary and ignores the numerous, existing tools the Massachusetts state government has to reduce prescription drug spending.
“MassBio urges the House and Senate to again reject this measure and focus instead on public policies that directly save consumers money at the pharmacy counter, while encouraging the continued success of our world-leading life sciences cluster.”
The Baker Administration also issued updated guidance around the definition of “medical supply chain workers” as included in Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination prioritization plan.
Medical supply chain workers
- Workers at manufacturers (including biotechnology companies and those companies that have shifted production to medical supplies), materials and parts suppliers, technicians, logistics and warehouse operators, printers, packagers, distributors of medical products and equipment (including third party logistics providers, and those who test and repair), personal protective equipment (PPE), isolation barriers, medical gases, pharmaceuticals (including materials used in radioactive drugs), dietary supplements, commercial health products, blood and blood products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies (including dispensers), sanitary goods, personal care products, pest control products, and tissue and paper towel products.
The availability of vaccines to those within Phase 2 is tiered and the timeline for “medical supply chain workers” is unknown at this point. However, MassBio expects that given the size of the populations within Phase 2 that are prioritized ahead of “medical supply chain workers” on the list (including age 75+, age 65+, & those with 2+ comorbidities) that the timing for “medical supply chain workers” is still weeks away, if not a month or more away, at minimum. Visit MassBio’s COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more.
Monday marks the official start of Phase 2 of Massachusetts’ COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with residents 75 and older now eligible to receive a vaccine. Fenway park also opens on Monday as the state’s third mass vaccination site – following behind Gillette Stadium and a site at the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.
On Thursday, the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will hold a hearing on President Joe Biden’s nomination of Boston Mayor Martin Walsh as labor secretary.