Flu Season Came Early. Here’s What You Should Do

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Happy Monday, readers. I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

As far as broken records go, insisting on getting your flu shot is a pretty important one. And the vaccination effort is especially critical given an “alarmingly fast start” to the 2019-2020 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The CDC’s latest flu activity map finds high levels of infection in at least a dozen U.S. states and Puerto Rico. (i.e., flu season came early this year). As always, here’s what the agency has to say: “Everyone 6 months of age and older should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every season with rare exception.”

This is one of those issues where even industry leaders I’ve spoken with tend to scoff. Hey, the flu vaccine may be ineffective, so why bother, the thinking goes?

The scientific literature provides the answer. As far as we know, if you don’t have a serious medical reason to not get a flu shot, you should get a flu shot—not necessarily to prevent yourself from getting sick, but to preserve herd immunity and protect those with compromised immune systems, including children and the elderly.

It’s not particularly difficult to protect yourself (and others) either. Many employers provide free health coverage for flu shots, and retail pharmacies often provide these services. Even without insurance or employer coverage, out-of-pocket costs could range anywhere from $35 to $70.

Last year’s flu season was particularly brutal. While this year’s season was late to take off, it’s starting to look pretty bad in terms of severity—and the peak activity is usually between December and February.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


The challenges facing gene therapy. I wanted to highlight a thoughtful piece in Nature about the future of gene therapy. I think it gets to the heart of the issue—this amazing science that can cure (as in, actually cure) rare genetic conditions comes at a cost that often cannot be afforded by the very people the maladies afflict. "Gene therapies that have been approved for other conditions have come with price tags in excess of $1 million," writes Heidi Ledford. However, "sickle-cell disease is concentrated in regions of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa, India and the Caribbean, where few have the resources to foot such a hefty bill." The whole thing is worth a read—it covers fundamental last-mile problems including the complications of administering these treatments without a strong, existing health care network. (Nature)


Sanofi's CEO on the company's transformation. My colleague Susie Gharib spoke with Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson (still pretty fresh in his role at the helm of the pharma giant) on the company's future. “As somebody who comes in from the outside,” he tells Susie, “I have an opportunity to have fresh eyes right across all aspects of the business.” Just what does that entail? More here. (Fortune)


Bedazzled drama at the Department of Health and Human Services. Politico reports that Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (i.e., the health official who oversees the implementation of massive health programs including Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare) requested some taxpayer reimbursement for stolen jewelry (ultimately receiving about $3,000 in recompense). But that may just amount to silly season. Here's what's more significant: A reported rift with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on a host of key policy issues, including a potential Obamacare replacement and drug pricing proposals. (Politico)


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