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COVID vaccines, variants, and boosters are a nuanced storm

July 15, 2021, 4:40 PM UTC

Happy Thursday, readers.

Last chance! As I mentioned a week ago, we’re looking for nominations for Fortune‘s latest 40 Under 40 list, our annual roundup of the top business, government, cultural, and other up-and-coming stars beneath the age of 40, and the deadline is fast approaching. Once again, if you have any nominees in mind in health care (or other) spaces or questions about the exact requirements, head on over here. The last day to submit nominations is this upcoming Monday, July 19.

A friend of mine and his family recently moved from the U.S. to Australia, which is having some pretty big struggles with its COVID vaccination campaign. Luckily, he and family had already been vaccinated months ago in America. But one of the first questions he asked me after they had made their decision to move was: Does the Pfizer vaccine offer protection against the COVID Delta variant?

It’s a question that’s clearly crossed the minds of fully vaccinated Americans given that the Delta variant is spreading rapidly among the young and those who live in areas with low vaccination rates. And while the issue is nuanced and will require more monitoring of those who catch this strain, the good news is that, based on currently available data and company statements, the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca vaccines all appear highly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths in this patient pool. Maybe they’re not quite as effective as they are against the original strains these vaccines were meant to tackle, but still more than 90% in preventing those worst-case outcomes.

Transmissibility and symptomatic infections are a bit of a different story. You could still catch a different COVID variant and develop a case that presents with some symptoms (for instance, we’re learning more and more about how Delta variant symptoms may diverge from others). But J&J, for instance, says its vaccine offers long-lasting protection against the Delta variant and doesn’t necessitate a booster shot as of now. Pfizer is planning to file for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a third dose of its vaccine to fight the Delta variant later this summer, saying it significantly increases protection. The company is also working on a separate, bespoke booster product for the Delta strain.

But whether it be Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Lambda, or any of the other COVID variants, a sustained vaccination campaign and diligent tracking of coronavirus mutations are key to making sure a new(er) version of a still-new virus doesn’t take the entire world by storm.

Read on for the day’s news, one last reminder about 40 Under 40 nominations, and see you again next Thursday.

Sy Mukherjee
sy.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Feds grant Amazon waiver to monitor sleep via radar. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to let Amazon watch you sleep. Ok, that was a creepy exaggeration. But the agency did grant Amazon a waiver for a sleep-tracking device the company is apparently working on that would use a radar of sorts to monitor someone's sleeping patterns. The waiver is in order to create a sensor that would "enable touchless control of device features and functions... [and] motion in a three-dimensional space to enable contactless sleep tracing functionalities." (c|net)

Microsoft partners with Teladoc. Microsoft is teaming up with digital health firm Teladoc in order to combine telehealth services with the Microsoft Teams software used by hospitals and medical providers. "We will deliver what hospitals and health systems want: integrated, enterprise solutions that make the full breadth of virtual care available in their daily workflows,” said Joseph DeVivo, president of hospitals and health systems at Teladoc Health, in a statement. “Our collaboration will deliver a more seamless, unified experience for clinicians and patients that makes healthcare better, leveraging leading data, artificial intelligence and machine learning expertise from both companies." (ModernHealthcare)

INDICATIONS

Insurer, neurologist backlash to Aduhelm grow. A half dozen affiliate groups of the sprawling Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance federation in large states like New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida don't plan to cover Biogen's Aduhelm, the $56,000-per-year list priced drug that the FDA approved in a stunning move that's inspired subsequent backlash given the lack of evidence that it actually has demonstrated a clinical benefit in trials. As I reported earlier, neurologists don't seem enthused either, with nearly 90% in one poll saying they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the FDA's approval decision. (Boston Globe)

THE BIG PICTURE

More than 2 million Americans sign up for Obamacare in special enrollment. More than 2 million Americans have signed up to date for coverage through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) during President Joe Biden's extended special enrollment period for procuring coverage. The federal marketplace special enrollment period began in February 15 and could run through August 15 and beyond. Biden had made extending the opportunity to get covered a priority given the still-ongoing COVID pandemic and the millions of Americans who have lost their health insurance after getting laid off. (CNN)

REQUIRED READING

The Fed weighs a digital dollar as cryptocurrency hits critical pointby Jessica Mathews

Vaccine hesitancy among young people could stall herd immunityby Katherine Dunn

Social Security payments could rise more than 6% next yearby Lance Lambert

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