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The public health scourge we don’t talk about nearly enough

April 9, 2021, 10:35 PM UTC

Happy Friday, readers.

I won’t keep you too long today as we head into the weekend. But I did want to shine a light on an issue that, while often painted in abstract and partisan terms, shouldn’t be considered either: The effect of racism on public health.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky put it more eloquently than I ever could.

“The disparities seen over the past year were not a result of COVID-19. Instead, the pandemic illuminated inequities that have existed for generations and revealed for all of America a known, but often unaddressed, epidemic impacting public health: racism,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

“What we know is this: racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans.” The statement itself was accompanied by a directive to the CDC to create clearer standards for addressing racial inequities in health care.

That’s not a platitude or some form of self-serving political correctness, as the data clearly shows. There are fewer people of color involved in clinical trials for drugs; there are more people of color who live in regions with unequal access to food, or clean air, or safe housing. And that’s before you even get into issues like access to health care centers or the ability to pay for medical services.

It’s what the late CEO of Kaiser Permanente, Bernard Tyson, made a major mission of his life: Addressing the social determinants of health, as society and biology are inextricably linked. True equity will require a reckoning with that reality.

Read on for the day’s news, and have a wonderful weekend.

Sy Mukherjee


GE wants to turn your mobile device into a COVID detector. General Electric researchers have received an NIH grant to create sensors that can, ostensibly, sniff out COVID virus particles on various surfaces such as your phone or tablet device, the company announced. “We all come into contact with different surfaces during any given day, from computer screens and conference tables to kiosks at the airport and of course, credit card machines at stores while running errands," said Radislav Potyrailo, a lead scientist on the effort, in a statement. "While everyone does a great job keeping these surfaces clean, we want to add an extra layer of safety by being able to detect the presence of the virus."


Pfizer seeks authorization for its COVID vaccine in teens. With the vaccine rollout hurtling forward in the U.S. (heck, nearly a third of the population has already received at least one dose of a COVID shot), Pfizer keeps rolling forward. On Friday, the company and partner BioNTech announced they're requesting emergency authorization of their vaccine in 12-to-15 year olds, a major step towards herd immunity and peace of mind while schools begin to re-open. Currently, the vaccine is only authorized for those who are 16 years of age or older. (New York Times)


Big hospitals vs big pharma. My colleague Geoff Colvin has an excellent feature on the fraught dynamic between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. That's not a new rivalry (health care tends to be a game that's filled with frenemies). But as with everything else, the pandemic has made those battle lines far more clear. And that sets the stage for a titanic battle, as Geoff so eloquently lays out: "The real questions are just how severe the crackdown will be, and, crucially in their eyes, which side gets hit hardest. So after a long period of relative détente, the two behemoths of the health care industry are circling each other like Godzilla vs. Kong—breathing fire, beating their chests, and pumping themselves up for a public relations and lobbying battle for the ages." (Fortune)


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