A new vaccine has appeared!

And other healthcare news.

A medical syringe seen displayed in front of the Johnson & Johnson logo. (Photo Illustration by Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Happy Friday! A quick reminder that you only have two more days to take advantage of my launch month special, to get 20 percent off for a whole year of Sick Note. Act now—in March, some Sick Note content, like these weekly news roundups, will be for subscribers only.

Thanks everyone who read and shared my post about my migraines. They’ve been much better the last week—and, horribly, I also stopped drinking caffeine. Ugh! In the past I’ve found quitting caffeine hasn’t had much effect on them, but I never used to drink coffee, only Yorkshire Gold tea. Since they got better last year, I started dabbling in being a Java Guy. We even bought a drip coffee maker. And I think I just flew too close to the sun, friends. It’s back to decaf for me. :(

Here’s the news and other things I liked from this week. (There’s a good chicken recipe halfway through, for example.) But first, Digby, enjoying a large box.

Talk about a damn chicken!

Coronavirus news

Results from a major trial show the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66 percent effective at preventing moderate and severe Covid-19—a topline figure that is lower than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, causing Wall Street to turn their little piggy noses up at J&J. But they’re stupid, which we know from everything else going on this week: The vaccine was 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease, and according to The New York Times, “none of the vaccinated participants who developed Covid-19 had to be hospitalized” after 28 days. No cases of severe disease were reported later than 49 days after vaccination.

These results are less impressive than the other vaccines, BUT: The most important thing is that this vaccine is a one-shot regimen and doesn’t need to be kept at super-cold temperatures—it can be kept for three months at fridge temperature, like your bag of tortillas, and two years in the freezer. This is a major advantage over the vaccines we currently have, where cold storage has been a major issue. Given the situation we are currently in, with uncontrolled spread, high case numbers, and the highly transmissible variants coming down the pike, an easier-to-store vaccine that is effective at preventing severe disease sounds pretty damn good to me. (The J&J vaccine was less effective in South Africa where the more aggressive variant, B.1.351, is spreading, though it still cleared the 50% bar set by the FDA.) But it’ll be weeks after approval before the company is able to start producing big numbers of doses—about 30 million by April, according to NYT.

(On that note, Kaiser Health News has a depressing article about the difficulty of ramping up vaccine production to meet the numbers we need to fend off further devastation.)

In California, health insurer Blue Shield will take over distribution of the vaccine. As The Los Angeles Times noted, the company “spent more than $1 million in support of [Gavin] Newsom’s campaign for governor in 2018 and almost $1.3 million on lobbying state government in the most recent legislative session.” Hm! It certainly seems as if the problem is less that a politically connected health insurance giant wasn’t doing the distribution than just a boring old lack of doses: The LA Times also reported that many people are seeing their scheduled second doses canceled because of lack of supply. And one does wonder what makes a health insurer qualified to distribute vaccines. Curious indeed.

In other eyebrow-raising vaccine distribution contract news, in Florida’s Palm Beach County, Publix grocery stores will be the only distributor of vaccines. But many residents live far from Publix grocery stores, especially ones with pharmacies; according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, “Residents of Belle Glade — one of the state’s poorest cities — would need to travel 25 miles to reach the nearest Publix in Loxahatchee.” Many of these areas are majority Black. As state Rep. Omari Hardy noted, Publix donated $100,000 to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ PAC in December. The state’s rollout has been “rife” with inequality, according to NPR.

And in Washington state, a hospital sent the following email out to those who had donated more than $10,000 to hospital: “Dear Overlake major donors… We’re pleased to share that we have 500 new open appointments in the Overlake COVID-19 vaccine clinic, beginning this afternoon and tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 23) and next week.” Meanwhile, the public-facing version of the hospital’s vaccination website showed no appointments available through March. Torch and pitchfork shit.


In prisons, many staff and inmates are refusing the vaccine, according to Vice,.

New York’s attorney general reported Thursday that the state had undercounted the number of nursing home deaths from Covid-19 by as much as 50 percent.

There are horrible Fyre Festival vibes to the story of how this 22-year-old shithead grifter, Andrei Doroshin, ended up taking charge of the first mass vaccine distribution clinic in Philadelphia, an operation which quickly turned into a profit-seeking scheme. No, really: His group, Philly Fighting Covid, switched to a for-profit halfway through, seemingly without telling the city. Doroshin reportedly bragged about how billing insurance companies $30 each for doses they were getting for free would make him a millionaire, according to one volunteer who spoke to WHYY. If that’s accurate, and Doroshin unsurprisingly disputes that, his real mistake was just doing it in public. Plenty of people in the healthcare industry make millions from overbilling insurance (and thus, eventually, patients), or from charging too much for drugs, or denying insurance claims. They just don’t brag about it in front of unpaid volunteers. Maybe we’d have a better healthcare system if we could see what hospital or health insurance CEOs say about how they make their multimillion dollar salaries in private.

Check out the case against Dr. Anthony Fauci, by Sam Adler-Bell. It’s very compelling, particularly on his early statements about the value of mask-wearing.

A quick break before I pivot to non-Covid news. I made this recipe for sort-of-Turkish chicken thighs again this week, and I just love it so much! Every meat-eater should know about it! You can do it on the grill as the recipe says, and I have done to great effect, but this week I just cut the thighs in half and wanged ‘em under the broiler until they were done. It was delicious, and makes great leftovers. I served them with lemon-yogurt sauce, roasted broccoli and carrots, a tin of white beans marinated in olive oil and garlic, hummus, and pita; the next night it was roasted sweet peppers, dressed salad leaves, and rice, with lots of za’atar. I was so healthy all week, folks. Tonight I am going to eat a huge burger and as many fries as I can, like a county fair eating contest amount of fries.

Non-Coronavirus news

NPR has a great story on an insane rule that requires parents with two separate insurance plans to put their newborn baby on the plan of whoever’s birthday comes first in the calendar year. That rule led to one Kansas family receiving thousands of dollars in medical bills, plus calls from debt collectors, after a year and a half of back-and-forth with both parents’ insurance companies about who should pay for their baby’s stay in the NICU. It also means that parents can’t choose the plan with better benefits, if one parent has a good plan with a low deductible and the other doesn’t; it’s just luck, like so much else in our healthcare system.

An analysis in the Annals of Surgery found that American hospitals lost more than $20 billion in elective surgeries last year. These surgeries are often very lucrative for hospitals, which can result in hospitals prioritizing those surgeries—in normal times, that is. In coronavirus times, the sudden drop in interest in these procedures leads to a huge revenue hole, which is particularly threatening for rural hospitals that were already in dire straits. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This is a ridiculous way to fund healthcare, as if a hospital is a Subway that needs to entice enough people in, or fail and shut down. If you think this is better than hospitals being funded directly by the government, you have a rotten burrito for a brain.

Speaking of a stupid way to run hospitals, Kaiser Health News has a story on a a publicly-owned hospital in Wilmington, NC with a surplus in funding (yet, amazingly, lower prices than nearby hospitals) that is nevertheless being sold to a large hospital chain, Novant. The chain will create a local hospital board, but it won’t allow it to set prices. Hospital consolidation, where large chains own a majority of hospitals in a region, tends to lead to higher prices.

That’s it for now. Send me your healthcare stories at sicknotenewsletter@gmail.com, and take care of yourself this weekend—double-mask when you have to go out, stay home when you don’t, and take a nice long nap if you can. See you next week.