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The way forward on the COVID vaccine rollout

March 25, 2021, 11:28 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

I had a wonderful conversation with my colleagues Emma Hinchliffe and David Z. Morris (in a panel moderated by our own Brian O’Keefe) on the state of the COVID vaccine rollout. As in, where we are, and where we go from here.

Readers know that we’ve already been ramping up vaccine administration at a pretty impressive clip. About a third of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine. And while the Johnson & Johnson variety, a one-shot jab, has brushed up against some production issues, it could help open the floodgates for mass immunization since it’s a bit more conventional and doesn’t require the sort of storage capacity that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do.

We are now at a point when more then 2 million doses are going into arms every day, far outpacing Europe. (On that note, that’s not really something to celebrate outright—a pathogen has no nationality and a pandemic knows no borders.) But where do we go from here?

That’s what Emma, David, and I discussed in a webinar session on Wednesday. If you’re a Fortune premium subscriber, you may have been watching (and you can watch future ones by nabbing a subscription).

We explored myriad issues from the role of pharmacies such as CVS in delivering vaccines to broad swaths of the country to the complications presented by the emerging and ever-evolving variant coronavirus strains that could threaten a new wave of cases.

In the life sciences world, this presents a truly unique situation. Vaccines don’t usually get developed in less than a year, and the success of Moderna, Pfizer, and other companies is a testament to a pretty boring business mantra: Stick to the plan.

Biopharmaceutical companies spend years, even decades, on their underlying technologies, and even if they don’t pan out for one specific disease, they may for others down the line. That’s the nature of drug development.

What comes next is the big question. If COVID is something we simply have to live with, that may require booster vaccine shots, somewhat akin to your yearly flu dose. And that might be easier with a Pfizer or Moderna-type vaccine than more conventional ones due to the underlying technology.

The message remains the same, though: Caution, and responsible efforts such as masking and distancing, will be critical going forward.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sy.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Is Peloton about to make a wearable? Digital health and fancy bike superstar Peloton is on a bit of a streak. The company has acquired three different companies in the past week, including Atlas Wearables. That raises the question: Where is the firm going? The strong suspicion is that it will leverage its existing platforms to make a franchise wearable device (or two, or three) with the help of its new partners. And that will likely include all of the fancy elements of modern health and wellness, from AI-based monitoring and recommendations to personalized instructions across more devices. (TheStreet)

INDICATIONS

The vaccine and pregnant women. I had a truly eye-opening conversation with Ashley Roman, who oversees the maternal fetal medicine ward at New York's NYU Langone Health, on the complications of involving women in clinical trials and how COVID has shifted that dynamic. “When we look back at the history of medications, during pregnancy or even medications given outside of pregnancy, we’ve learned that certain medications have had inadvertent harm,” Roman told me, pointing to therapies such as DES, which had been given to women to mitigate the possibility of miscarriage but had the side effect of increasing the chance of vaginal cancer in female fetuses. COVID vaccines appear to be safe for pregnant women, and Roman says that most of her patients opt to get it either before or after they've given birth. It may not lead to a permanent change in getting pregnant women involved in clinical trials at an earlier stage, however, given the potential harm to a mother or fetus. (Fortune)

THE BIG PICTURE

The vaccine rollout by the numbers. As always, look to my colleagues Erika Fry and Nicolas Rapp for the latest updates on the status of the U.S. COVID vaccine rollout. "More than a quarter of the U.S. population, and roughly a third of all adults—85.5 million people—have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, up from 73.7 million a week ago. And 46.4 million Americans, or roughly 14% of the population, are fully vaccinated," they write. But there's still a major location dilemma which leads to inequities for who has gotten their shots. For instance, nearly 34% of New Mexico residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, but the number falls to 20% in Georgia, highlighting the continued need for an aggressive national strategy to immunize Americans. (Fortune)

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