Checking Up On Health: April 5, 2021

Medical Monday: A weekly post of healthcare- and technology-related policy news, views and commentaries.

Thundering herd immunity: A single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine reduced the risk of COVID-19 infection by 80% while the full, two-dose regimen reduced the risk of infection by 90%, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For comparison, the effectiveness of the annual influenza vaccine in preventing infection ranges between 10-60%, according to a 2019 influenza report from the Council of Economic Advisors. The study “raises the strong likelihood that we are close to achieving herd immunity for the pandemic,” writes Joel Zinberg at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  Herd immunity, Zinberg explains, occurs when enough people become immune to a disease, either through being infected and recovering or being vaccinated, to make its further spread unlikely. About one third of the population has been vaccinated. “Adding in the people who have natural immunity because of recovery from COVID-19 gets us close to the herd immunity threshold. There have been over 30 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Since the true number of infections may be eight times as high, there may be over 200 million recovered people – about two thirds of the total population – with natural immunity.” The threshold is considered to be immunity in 70-75% of the population.

Ending the optics: Manufacturers have seen enormous profits and consumers, residential and business, have seen enormous expense through the pandemic with the peddling of sanitizers, disinfectants and other extensive efforts to reassure others about the cleanliness of facilities. The “hygiene theater” on display may soon be coming to an end, however, with the CDC’s changes to its COVID-19-related guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting homes and facilities. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky – who very recently said she has a “recurring feeling” of “impending doom — said of the changes announced today that science has shown that regular cleaning of surfaces with soap is enough to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus via surface transmission.

No visitors allowed: Hospital lobbyists succeeded in killing Georgia State Rep. Ed Setzler’s legislation that would have allowed in-person visits of patients in medical facilities during a public health emergency. Many Georgia patients have languished alone without family visitors during the pandemic. In the House, one legislator raised questions about what the legislation would mean for hospitalized sex trafficking victims. Setlzer compared the “hypotheticals” to “hand grenades, Georgia Health News reported.” It passed the House but died in the Senate.

Candid cameras: Also DOA in the General Assembly, amid a dispute over visible versus hidden webcams, was legislation that would have allowed web cameras in the rooms of residents of long-term care facilities to prevent neglect or abuse.

All lives matter: The Legislature approved “Gracie’s Law,” which prevents providers from finding individuals ineligible for an organ transplant due solely to the physical or mental disability of the potential recipient

The eyes don’t have it: The Legislature did not take up a bill that would have facilitated telehealth consultations for Georgians purchasing prescription contact lenses.

In brief: 

In the legislative session that ended with sine die just after midnight April 1, the General Assembly’s healthcare-related bills approved included:

  • Allowing “house calls” for medical professionals – that is, authorizing healthcare providers to provide telemedicine services from their homes
  • Creating a Newborn Screening and Genetics Advisory Committee of at least 11 and up to 21 members appointed by the Public Health Commissioner
  • Increasing to four the number of pharmacy technicians who can be under the direct supervision of a licensed pharmacist at any one time; previously it was three
  • Requiring all newly appointed members of the Georgia Composite Medical Board and all physicians to receive one-time education and training of at least two hours covering professional boundaries and sexual misconduct
  • Adding family and marriage therapists to the group of professionals authorized to have an individual admitted to an emergency facility for involuntary evaluation and treatment for mental illness or alcohol or drug abuse. 

Notable quotes

“You could foresee how an independent entity might say, ‘Well, we can’t be dealing with you unless we know you’re vaccinated.’ But it’s not going to be mandated from the federal government.” – Dr. Anthony Fauci

Compiled by Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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