Good afternoon, readers.
Say you walk into a hospital or other COVID vaccine distribution site. You qualify to get one because you’re a priority group under local regulations, and there are enough available doses around for you to get one. Which one would you actually receive?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already granted emergency authorization to two of them, one from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and the other from Moderna. But you’re unlikely to know which one of those you’ll be getting.
This pandemic has had a unifying theme: Triage. You get the resources to who needs them most. You allocate such resources accordingly. That was the case with coronavirus testing at the start of the outbreak. Now it’s the case for one of the most complex immunization campaigns in history.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines share scientific roots, they’re still very different products with different logistical requirements such as storage and dosing (though they’ve been shown to be similarly effective in clinical trials). But location will almost certainly dictate exactly which shot you receive.
Live near a major, sprawling, sophisticated health system? You might get Pfizer’s vaccine, which has ultra-cold storage requirements that a smaller hospital may not have the tools to manage. Live in a rural area? Perhaps Moderna’s vaccine, which doesn’t require these more specialized capabilities.
Keeping track of all this is key since mixing up two different vaccines could be dangerous (a fact which has forced health systems to work with electronic health record vendors to keep an eye on who’s getting what).
It all boils down to flexibility, and more vaccines will eventually arrive to the market. But the disparate strategies for COVID vaccine deployment could also breed some confusion.
On a related note, the global pandemic has exposed deficiencies in health systems everywhere and has highlighted the importance of advancing with more patient-centric solutions.
What’s more, the transformative spirit and speed of change—from therapeutics to the recent vaccine development and deployment—have demonstrated that health systems can be more efficient in meeting demands today and tomorrow. You can join Fortune for a special conversation on these topics and more, presented in partnership with Roche, on January 21 at 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET.
Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.
Google closes its Fitbit deal amid scrutiny. Google has closed its deal to acquire wearables maker Fitbit even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to conclude its antitrust investigation into the $2.1 billion deal. “The Antitrust Division’s investigation of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit remains ongoing,” Alex Okuliar, a deputy assistant attorney general, said in a Justice Department statement. “Although the division has not reached a final decision about whether to pursue an enforcement action, the division continues to investigate whether Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may harm competition and consumers in the United States.” Despite that, Google argues that the waiting period for the deal while the DOJ conducted its investigation had lapsed. (Fortune)
Who will incoming President Biden tap as FDA chief? The leader of the FDA is an important position in normal times. During a pandemic, it's absolutely critical. So just who will President-elect Joe Biden pick for the post? Apparently, it's still a bit nebulous. Multiple life sciences trade publications on Thursday reported that long-time agency vet Janet Woodcock would be Biden's choice to serve as interim FDA chief while a former top FDA official, Joshua Sharfstein, was at the top of the list for the permanent position.
Virtual JPMorgan health conference tame compared to previous years. The famed JPMorgan Healthcare conference went virtual this year and it was, well, weird. The conference is typically known as a place to glad-hand, make connections, and strike potential deals and clinical collaborations among drug makers. This year's conference offered some news along these lines, such as Vir Biotechnology and Gilead's partnership to find a functional cure for hepatitis B, and a smattering of other deals. Largely, though, it was a quiet year for what's considered one of health care's most significant conferences.
THE BIG PICTURE
The states that are ahead of the curve on the COVID vaccine rollout. My colleagues Erika Fry and Nicolas Rapp have a useful map of where the state of COVID vaccine distribution stands. The state with the highest rate of people who had received at least one shot of the two-shot vaccines available? West Virginia. The lowest? Arkansas, with just 1.4% of its population to receive a dose thus far. (Fortune)
The U.S. now has a debt level that rivals Italy's, by Shawn Tully
Airbnb's CEO on how COVID has changed travel forever, by Danielle Abril
The 40 best large workplaces in the Bay area, by Fortune Editors