What Your Shopping List May Look Like Soon: Bread, Milk, COVID-19 Vaccine

Also featured: Empowering your pharmacist, health info at your fingertips, and more

Editor’s note: Welcome to The PostScript Rewind, a biweekly recap of the latest in healthcare news. Featuring what you need to know — none of what you don’t.

Getting a COVID vaccine could soon be as easy as getting your flu shot.

Federal health officials reached an agreement with pharmacies across the U.S. to distribute free coronavirus vaccines once they’re available. The agreement involves major chain drug stores, grocery market pharmacies and other chains and networks in all 50 states and territories.

Covering about three in five pharmacies, the plan looks ahead to next spring when vaccines may be more widely available.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called it “a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”

The announcement coincides with the pandemic’s broadest virus surge in the U.S.

Other vaccine updates:

• The vaccine being tested by Pfizer and partner BioNTech is the first in the U.S. to generate late-stage data. The companies say it is exceeding expectations, with early results showing 90-percent effectiveness.

The news was cheered as a “historic first” and prompted a big bump in Pfizer stock. Some important questions take a closer look at the vaccine in terms of protection, rollout and future impacts.

• A week after Pfizer’s news, Moderna announced its vaccine is 94.5-percent effective, based on early clinical trial data. The company plans to apply for FDA authorization later this month.

Both vaccines use mRNA to activate the body’s immune system. A practical plus for the Moderna vaccine? It can be stored in more readily available freezers. The Pfizer version must be stored at an unprecedented minus-75 degrees Celsius.

• Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting on AstraZeneca’s new COVID-19 vaccine’s clinical trial results, which it describes as “positive but confusing.”

Empowering your local pharmacist

Beyond providing a logistics transaction for prescription meds, the role of the pharmacist is seen as critical to patient care. Automated systems and tech advances increase efficiency and let pharmacists spend more time with patients to play a more active role in care.

Rite-Aid’s rebranding plan, in fact, is elevating the role of its more than 6,300 pharmacists. Its new “stores of the future” will merge traditional medicine and alternative remedies like supplements and wellness advice.

Virus once again impacting travel, surgeries, visits

As virus rates rise across the U.S., news about its impact is on the uptick too.

• The U.S. is reporting record spikes in COVID-19 cases as the outbreak worsens and overwhelms some hospitals.

• West Coast governors issued a joint travel advisory, urging people visiting their states to self-quarantine for 14 days. They also asked residents to sidestep all non-essential out-of-state trips.

• In Chicago, the mayor urged the community to fight off “COVID fatigue” and issued a stay-at-home advisory. In Cleveland, some health systems — including Cleveland Clinic — are taking measures to preserve bed capacity.

• Health IT giant Epic has a new tool to help hospitals predict a patient’s likelihood of testing positive for COVID-19. The risk-prediction model was designed by Cleveland Clinic researchers.

• A new analysis shows that coronavirus patients with developmental disorders are most at risk of dying, followed by those with lung cancer and intellectual disabilities.

• In the midst of the outbreak spikes, some health insurers are pulling back some of their coverage of telehealth.

Health information … at your fingertips

What do you think, Siri? Americans are turning to their digital tech tools for all sorts of healthcare input. That includes using smartphones and other devices to compare prices and quality, and for diagnoses and care.

Health IT company Cerner is kicking off new features to boost engagement through patient portals. Various systems and apps will improve communication via text messaging, and automate delivery of health information and reminders.

In spite of IT advances, nurses — already experiencing pandemic-related stresses — may find technology can contribute to burnout and fatigue.

Amazon’s big pharmacy push

Amazon continues its focus on the pharmacy business with a new offering called Amazon Pharmacy — the retailer’s biggest push yet into the $300-billion market. It will allow U.S. customers to order prescriptions for home delivery, including free delivery for Amazon Prime members.

Pharmacy stocks tumbled after the launch of the new service.

Going up?

Does the price of prescription drugs keep rising or is something else impacting your pocketbook? One analysis shows that Americans fill an increasing number of prescriptions as they age — as much as 150 percent more from age 35 to 64. This “prescription escalator” boots their drug spending, despite the actual price of the drugs themselves.

Rx tip of the week

Should you get a “checkup” on your prescriptions? Ask your pharmacist for an annual, 10-minute review of everything you take — including prescription meds, vitamins, herbals and over-the-counter products. This can help identify potential interactions, avoid duplicates and check on refills.
—Eric Wu, ScriptHero clinical pharmacist

This article is intended for informational purposes only and not intended to be medical advice, nor does it replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have any healthcare questions, please seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider. If you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call your physician or dial 911 immediately.

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This article was last updated November 24, 2020

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