Health News This Week: July 25, 2022
Just the stories I'm paying attention to. My completely subjective opinions on the healthcare news that matters. I could be wrong. Both in opinion and whether it matters.
Monkeypox continues to stay in the headlines, with the WHO reversing course on their opinion from last month and now declaring it to be a public health emergency of international concern. This really is a curious sequence of events from the WHO, and I can't help but wonder if politics are driving the discourse more than scientific evidence. That's not to say it isn't serious--nobody wants to contract an infection of any kind, let alone one with the word "pox" in it. But in this case, the declaration comes from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and not from the emergency committee convened a month ago. If you'll indulge me in a tin-foil hat tangent for a moment, it's a little weird that the entire presser from the WHO linked above never actually mentions his name, only his title. Weird.
Per the Centers for Disease Control, monkeypox is rarely fatal but can still be painful and leave permanent scars. Spread, at least right now, is not even close to what we've seen in a bad flu season or the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC reports 2,891 cases as of today, with only a handful of the most sparsely populated states spared so far. The fact that it exists at all isn't good, but these are hardly the numbers we think of in the age of the pandemic. The CDC is still calling this an "outbreak," though to be fair the words outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic seem to have ever changing thresholds. Regardless, even the HHS is now saying the level of concern is 10 out of 10. So this is only an "outbreak" as best I can tell, but it's getting a "10 out of 10" and "emergency of international concern" level of attention.
Don't get me wrong, NOBODY WANTS THIS...but I have to wonder if the continued headlines and political posturing are at least in part because we don't know how to tactfully and respectfully address the fact that the vast majority of cases have been among men who have sex with men. This is a difficult topic to broach. Whatever we say about this fact can easily be twisted to imply something else. We don't know if it will always be the case (the public misunderstood this about AIDS for a very long time, and a stigma still exists). Anthony Fauci is addressing this quite directly now, today saying that gay men should be first in line for the vaccine. The WHO Director-General's statement doesn't even bring this up until nearly the very end of his words, and even then sort of tiptoes around it. I guess I wrote quite a few words myself before bringing this up, but I won't tiptoe around the point. We have to find ways of addressing these uncomfortable demographic data points without stigmatizing a particular group of people, and without the fear that our words will be taken as insensitive, homophobic, bigoted, racist, or any other label. Sometimes facts are facts, yet we struggle to convey them. I don't claim to have an answer here.
Infectious disease has become the ultimate clickbait. Just go the homepage for CNN Health and see it for yourself. Top stories in no particular order: COVID-19 BA.5, Monkeypox, first US case of Polio in 10 years, Monkeypox, Monkeypox, Pandemic social concerns, Monkeypox again. We're obsessed. And we can't get away from it.
Amazon purchases One Medical in $3.9B transaction. This has garnered attention in a variety of outlets, including this concise summary by Becker's. The jury is still out on Amazon's continued interest in healthcare, an ongoing endeavor I have very
mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the list of broken things in healthcare is infinite. Amazon is a retail and tech company. The core competencies of Amazon may align nicely with certain distributive and technological challenges in healthcare. On the other hand, the arrogance of these tech companies to think they can enter a clinical space and "fix" it is perplexing. I want innovators to enter this space and shake things up. I do. I'm just not sure Amazon has the focus or grit to behave like a scrappy, versatile startup and actually change anything. They don't seem to have done much with their other healthcare forays like Pill Pack. Focusing in on the data side of things, I think Amazon would be better off entering the PBM or drug wholesaler market. Honestly, I don't know that's a great idea either, but at least it sort of aligns with what they already do.
I'm really not sure that consumers want or need the place we setup subscribe 'n save laundry detergent to also be where I buy e-books, watch TV, host data services, book a space cruise and schedule my doctor appointments. It really is a bewildering array of services. Most companies get slapped down hard when they venture too far off core mission, but maybe Amazon has this figured out. They're rapidly becoming Buy 'N Large from the movie Wall-E. When that movie came out, I thought BNL was a funny jab at Costco and/or IKEA, probably more IKEA at the time. Now it's clearly Amazon. In the movie, BNL had luxurious space cruise ships--not that dissimilar from Bezos's super-yacht that he now cannot get out of port. The only option is to send it into space. Coincidence? I think not. It's all starting to make sense now...