Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Rise of ‘Vigilante Medicine’
Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists are encouraging COVID-stricken loved ones and others to leave or avoid hospitals and use unproven treatments like ivermectin instead, NBC News reports, and healthcare workers are often targets of their scorn.
Early in the pandemic, the common primary target of Americans’ stress was the virus itself, Aditi Nerurkar, MD, of Harvard, told NBC News. Now, as the Delta variant continues wreaking havoc: “They’re starting to target people, the messengers — nurses and doctors.”
Anti-vaccine groups and “conspiracy influencers” have shared instructions on social media sites for getting people released from hospitals, typically by insisting they be shifted to hospice care.
In addition to recommending that these patients try ivermectin, these influencers have also suggested gargling with iodine, and nebulizing hydrogen peroxide.
They have also spread conspiracy theories that FDA-approved treatments commonly used by healthcare professionals in hospitals are secretly killing patients, and have implied healthcare workers have intentionally killed patients in exchange for government handouts.
QAnon supporters, for example, recently stormed a hospital in Chicago demanding a patient — and fellow QAnon supporter — be treated with ivermectin.
Docs’ COVID Relief Payouts Revealed
STAT has built a searchable-by-state database of how much physicians and healthcare entities received from the 2020 Congressional Provider Relief Fund.
Data reveal the highest earners, but now patients can also easily see how much their own physician received.
Of the more than 400,000 payments publicly accessible thus far, the median payout was $12,530, STAT found. Most payments were for less than $200,000.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital received $631 million, the most of any single healthcare entity, according to STAT. Others who received more than $250 million include Stanford Health Care, Montefiore Medical Center, and Dignity Health.
Biosimilars 6 Years Later: Slow to Grow
Despite being cheaper than biologics and nearly identical to them, biosimilar drugs have struggled to gain traction in the U.S., STAT and Kaiser Health News report, raising the question of whether biosimilars will ever secure a spot in the market.
Biosimilars are used much like generic drugs and have become much more popular in Europe, given their ability to reduce costs.
But questions about to what extent biosimilars mirror their matching biologics and efforts by brand-name biologics companies have capped their popularity. These companies have taken legal action to extend their branded therapies’ patents and offered incentives to keep their products on formularies.
Another hangup: there’s little evidence around the effects of switching patients from biologics to their corresponding biosimilars, experts said.
While the FDA has approved 31 biosimilars since their introduction in 2015, only 60% of those have made it to the market. Yet experts remain hopeful biosimilars will eventually help lower drug spending.
While overall drug costs grew by 6.1% from 2015 to 2019, spending on biologics increased by 14.6% during that span. Biosimilars cut costs by an average 30% over biologics, according to the report.
The FDA has only approved one biosimilar as “interchangeable” with a biologic.
Many NBA Players Remain Unvaccinated
About a year after modeling how to stage a pro sports season during a pandemic, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is trying to handle a large faction of unvaccinated players as training camps open nationally, Rolling Stone reports.
The NBA players’ union rejected an August league proposal to mandate vaccines. The league’s overall vaccination rate of 90%, according to reports, trails the National Football League — which began play a few weeks ago after enacting stricter standards.
What’s more: Prominent players are among those refusing to get vaccinated or endorse vaccination, including Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving — who plays his home games in a city that has mandated at least partial vaccination for indoor sporting events.
While most players have been vaccinated, others have participated in virtual and other online discussions echoing conspiracy theories and disinformation regarding the vaccines.
The league has consulted with David Ho, MD, a virologist at Columbia University, since January 2020. Robby Sikka, a former Mayo Clinic director and an executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves, helped the league supply COVID testing data to Yale researchers early in the pandemic.
But the league now faces this quandary. “It’s disappointing that some players are still not vaccinated, for reasons that I’m not entirely clear about,” Ho said.
Irving, vice president of the union’s executive committee, missed Monday’s Nets press event in Brooklyn in person; it was held indoors, leading reports to speculate he was absent because he is not vaccinated. The NBA denied an exemption request citing religious reasons from Andrew Wiggins. Overall, about 50 to 60 players have not received at least one dose — roughly two players per team.
“Most are considered merely reluctant skeptics. Some of the holdouts, however, amount to their own shadow roster of anti-vaxxers mounting a behind-the-scenes resistance to COVID protocols — and the truth,” the article stated.
The regular season starts October 19.