All Articles Healthcare Editor's take -- health care and life sciences: Herd immunity, a new administration, and preparing for the new normal

Editor’s take — health care and life sciences: Herd immunity, a new administration, and preparing for the new normal

Q1 health care and life sciences news roundup

5 min read


Editor's take -- health care and life sciences: Herd immunity, a new administration, and preparing for the new normal

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The reading habits of SmartBrief’s health care and life sciences audiences provide a unique window into the priorities and interests of professionals across these industries, and our newsletter engagement data also sheds light on what’s keeping our readers up at night. We serve health care insurers, clinicians and IT professionals, as well as audiences in pharma and medtech. Here’s what was top of mind for all of them in Q1, as well as a look at what’s next.

The march toward herd immunity

At the start of Q1, just over 4 million COVID-vaccine doses had been administered, supply was tight and questions swirled about the establishment of priority groups, who should be authorized to administer vaccines, and how to reach the vaccine-hesitant, homebound and other populations. SmartBrief readers clicked on these stories and more, getting updates on progress, challenges, and what life would look like after they and their patients were protected.

Fast forward to the end of the quarter. As of March 29, 145.8 million doses of vaccine had been administered, more than 52.6 million Americans were fully vaccinated, and President Joe Biden said 90% of American adults would be eligible for inoculation by April 19. The outlook is brighter, but the emergence of new viral variants and questions about the early rollback of public health restrictions in some areas have complicated the picture.

What’s next: April and May will be telling. AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be vetted by the FDA, and if authorized for use in the US, it could expand the swelling supply. Meanwhile, variants are expected to overtake wild-type SARS-CoV-2, so manufacturers will continue to keep tabs on how mutations affect vaccine effectiveness. Progress on vaccination outside the US will be important, especially as travel increases, and employers will navigate tricky questions about the safe return to work. As more adults are vaccinated, attention will turn to the role of children in herd immunity.  

New administration, new priorities

Although all eyes were on the vaccine rollout as the Biden administration took over, plenty of other priority topics caught the eyes of SmartBrief’s readers. The administration has paused implementation of or moved to totally roll back rules and regulations of importance to health care. Officials are considering relaxing intellectual property limits on COVID-19 therapeutics, have reopened (and then extended) the federal Affordable Care Act exchange and started revisiting payment models. Meanwhile, new rulemaking is in the works at the FDA and beyond.

Newly confirmed leaders in health care and life sciences areas include HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine and Dr. Vivek Murthy in a second turn as surgeon general, while Chiquita Brooks-LaSure has been nominated to lead the CMS.

What’s next: We’re still waiting to learn who will be nominated to lead the FDA and how the administration will fill out hundreds of key roles that are critical to the day-to-day operations of government. Although the administration is heavily focused on managing the COVID-19 pandemic, other priorities will begin to emerge. The administration has already stepped up ACA outreach, moved to reject Medicaid work requirements and more. Drug prices, data interoperability and other perennial topics will almost certainly re-emerge as the pandemic wanes.

Looking toward the new normal

Stakeholders in health care have been making predictions about the post-pandemic world almost since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. A year in, SmartBrief readers were interested in the future of telehealth, how the life sciences industry will apply the lessons of the pandemic, what health insurance will look like in the new normal, and more. A policy conference hosted by America’s Health Insurance Plans predicted that bipartisanship will be required for any significant health policy changes – meaning issues like a public health insurance option are likely off the table, at least in the near term.

What’s next: While it’s wonderful to ponder the post-pandemic world, there is a long way to go, even as the US logs record progress toward vaccination. The rollout has been much slower in other parts of the world, and though the pressure is on to move quickly, the challenges are many. Companies across health care and beyond are grappling with when and how to bring teams back to offices, and how to manage the rising tide of burnout and other mental health challenges.

In addition, what will people expect of their health care now? How will front-line clinicians bounce back after going through this excruciating experience? Will words outlining a commitment to address health inequity be followed by action and investment?

Finally, how will we prepare for the next public health crisis? (And what will it be?)

At SmartBrief, we expect these questions and more to capture our readers’ attention in the weeks and months to come. Our readers are the very professionals grappling with them. And so, we’ll be here, arming the clinicians, scientists, manufacturers, policymakers and health insurers who read our newsletters with the tools they need to navigate the new normal – today, and tomorrow.


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More top news

Check out a snapshot of more top health care and life sciences stories from Q1 below.

Melissa Turner is director of health care and life sciences content at SmartBrief. She edits science, medical and health care delivery newsletters and oversees development of content marketing pieces for SmartBrief’s health care clients.