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We need a COVID vaccine. We also need to figure out how to get it to people

August 27, 2020, 9:49 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

I’m moving to the opposite side of the country in a few days after 12 years on the East Coast. I plan to come back to New York one day—but I don’t know when. I’ve booked a one-way ticket to Southern California and am going to stay with my parents and little sister for a few months because, why not?

You see, my lease is expiring at the end of the month and I was faced with the decision of whether or not I stay or go. It’s a decision thousands of people in the concrete jungle, and other urban centers, have had to make. I’m sure there’s no shortage of readers who have had to make similar choices.

I love New York. I’ve lived here in Brooklyn for four and a half years. I fully plan on coming back (I’m even leaving half my stuff here so I don’t just lay around in California indefinitely). But I don’t know when. And part of me is filled with dread of taking a cross-country flight to an area that hasn’t exactly been the best about masking and social distancing, especially since my parents are at high-risk of COVID. I plan on self-isolating for two weeks at an Airbnb before I see them.

I’m leaving behind my friends and colleagues (many of whom I haven’t seen in months to begin with) on the most abrupt terms. I feel selfish in a sense because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not sick. I still have a job. Millions of Americans can’t say the same of themselves or their loved ones. But I still feel robbed by not having the opportunity to say goodbye in person to so many people in my life.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we take far too much for granted and brush aside fundamental problems in our health care system. Last week, we wrote about the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general’s plea to “prevent vaccine nationalism.”

At the end of the day, a vaccine—an effective vaccine—will be the only way to emerge from this crisis which has plagued our lives for so many months. I had a fascinating talk with the leaders of Covaxx, one of the companies developing a COVID vaccine, on why they think they may have a leg up on the dozens of other firms in the space.

“I think our vaccine candidate is one of the best. We have a platform that we know how to scale,” says Mei Mei Hu. “You have to actually be able to manufacture it. Doubling a recipe doesn’t always work, so it’s much easier to have a proven platform that you know how to scale.” More on that here.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next week (from California).

Sy Mukherjee


Amazon, Airbnb vet joins Blink Health. We've previously covered Blink Health, the digital health startup with ambitions of slashing prescription drug costs by bypassing the middlemen in the medial industry. They're now taking a slightly different approach—and spoke with me about it in the first interview the company has done with CEO Geoffrey Chaiken and the new president, Vinayak Hegde, who helms from the likes of Amazon and Airbnb. Here's a little teaser: "When you have such a huge market, the obvious question is, you know, like why hasn't this been cracked?" says Chaiken. "And the basic reason for that is that it's an incredibly complicated problem to solve. And the problem I'm talking about solving is getting patients the lowest price on their prescriptions and giving them control and agency over their prescription so they can control where it's built." (Fortune)


FDA chief apologizes after searing criticism on blood plasma benefits. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn has been getting slammed by critics who believe that recent actions by the agency smack of political persuasion from the Trump administration. Specifically, critics have pointed out that a recent press conference about the promise of convalescent plasma to treat COVID sounded more like a press release than a sober scientific explanation—and included some stark inaccuracies which blurred the lines between relative and absolute risk when it comes to this form of coronavirus treatment. The backlash was significant enough to get Hahn himself to apologize. "The criticism is entirely justified," he said in a tweet on Monday. "What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction." (NPR)


The postal crisis could be a catastrophe for women's birth control. My colleague Emma Hinchliffe reports that a lack of U.S. Postal Service funding is threatening women's access to birth control. "In the past month, some providers have reported that their customers are experiencing delays. The startup Simple Health, which prescribes birth control online, says that about 5%—or a few thousand—of its customers have reached out over the past few weeks to ask why their prescriptions are late, a trend that CEO Carrie Siu Butt calls "very upsetting," Emma writes. More here. (Fortune)


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