Families of men in notorious syphilis study speak up for vaccination

Less than two-thirds of Black adults say they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or plan to do so ASAP, and the painful legacy of the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee and other instances of medical racism is often considered to be one reason for uncertainty in Black communities.

A short-form documentary featuring the descendants of the men involved in the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee sets the record straight on what happened, what has changed and what current generations can learn from the experience to build confidence in public health within Black communities, especially as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccines.

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Highlights from the June 2021 AMA Special Meeting

Catch up with the news and other key moments from the AMA House of Delegates’ virtual meeting. The June 2021 AMA Special Meeting ran June 11–16.

For a briefer rundown, check out this list of our top 10 stories from the Special Meeting.

I also filed these stories from the meeting:

U.S. health spending grew at 4.6% pace before pandemic hit

A detailed recent report from the AMA provides a revealing window into U.S. health care spending trends before the pandemic’s onset and offers a preliminary glimpse at COVID-19’s impact throughout 2020.

Drawing on data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the AMA Policy Research Perspective, “National Health Expenditures, 2019: Steady Spending Growth Despite Increases in Personal Health Care Expenditures in Advance of the Pandemic,” shows that health spending in 2019 accounted for 17.7% of U.S. gross domestic product. Health care spending increased by 4.6% in 2019 to $3.8 trillion—$11,582 for each person.

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Time for doctors to take center stage in COVID-19 vaccine push

Each morning earlier this year, Atlanta general internist Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD, would rise at 6 a.m. to cruise all the COVID-19 vaccine-appointment websites for openings for her senior patients at mass-vaccination sites, pharmacies, grocery stores, warehouse stores—seemingly everywhere but in her own practice.

Dr. Fryhofer’s internal medicine practice spent several hours of staff time daily on “emails, texts, calls, even scheduling vaccine appointments for patients who are not internet savvy,” she said. “It was a nightmare, but we did it because we knew how important it was for our patients to receive this lifesaving vaccine.”

By the time the state health department finally came calling with an allotment of COVID-19 vaccines for Dr. Fryhofer’s practice, she had already helped secure vaccinations for all but of a handful of her eligible patients. The Georgia Department of Health was able to connect her with a physician practice in an underserved area in need of the doses and that could make better use of the precious commodity.

As trying as those early months when Americans’ demand for vaccines far outstripped the supply were for patients and doctors, AMA members across the country say now is arguably when doctors’ most difficult work will begin.

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Biden administration bars LGBTQ+ discrimination in health care

The Department of Health and Human Services has effectively overturned a Trump-era rule by announcing that it will interpret and enforce essential Affordable Care Act protections on the basis of sex to include discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

“The Biden administration did the right thing by terminating a short-lived effort to allow discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation when seeking health care,” said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD. “As we said in our letter to the previous administration, the interpretation was contrary to the intent and the plain language of the law. It’s unfortunate that such an obvious step had to be taken; the AMA welcomes this commonsense understanding of the law.”

“This move is a victory for health equity and ends a dismal chapter in which a federal agency sought to remove civil rights protections,” Dr. Bailey said.

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New CDC tools aim to ease COVID-19 vaccine hunt

With the pace of COVID-19 vaccination slowing and supply outpacing demand in many areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched new web and texting tools to make it easier for patients to find vaccine appointments and get answers to questions they may have about SARS-CoV-2 vaccination.

The CDC’s new website, Vaccines.gov, allows users to find nearby vaccination sites and answers frequent questions about COVID-19 vaccine safety, cost, side effects and more. The website also details how sites offering vaccinations can apply to have their information listed on the website’s vaccine finder tool. The website also is available in Spanish at Vacunas.gov.

Users can text their ZIP code to GETVAX to get an automatically generated response listing three potential vaccination sites. There is a Spanish text-messaging option as well—VACUNA.

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CDC urges states to get more COVID-19 vaccine in doctors’ offices

The Biden administration is encouraging that states supply more vaccines to primary care physicians’ offices in a bid to address immunization inequities and better reach patients who are hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s a move that comes as physicians are being urged to contact their patients by whatever means available and strongly recommend SARS-CoV-2 immunization.

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Why anti-transgender bills are a dangerous intrusion on medicine

The AMA is sending a strong message to America’s governors to stop interfering in the medical care of transgender minors.

Legislation pending in several states aims to prohibit medically necessary gender transition-related care for minor patients. AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote to Bill McBride, executive director of the National Governors Association warning that these measures would “insert the government into clinical decision-making and force physicians to disregard clinical guidelines.” Such legislation was enacted in Arkansas last month after legislators overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

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Bill targets anti-Asian hate crimes tied to COVID-19

The AMA supports the “COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act” that passed the U.S. Senate on a 94–1 vote and will soon be taken up by the House of Representatives.

“This legislation seeks to address the ongoing hate and violence targeted at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by providing greater assistance with law-enforcement response to COVID-19 hate crimes,” AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in a letter of endorsement shared with the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii and Rep. Grace Meng of New York City.

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Why FDA’s move to ban menthol flavoring is long overdue

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced it will move to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes and flavoring of all kinds in cigars. The long-overdue action follows a lawsuit filed last year by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Action on Smoking and Health, AMA and National Medical Association.

The FDA’s lifesaving action “is a major step toward preventing a new generation from becoming tobacco users,” said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD. “For too long, tobacco companies have been enabled to promote menthol cigarettes to the Black community, preying particularly on Black youth.

“We urge the FDA to move swiftly to implement the ban and remove these harmful products from the market without further delay,” she said. “We will continue to support policies and initiatives that keep tobacco products out of the hands of our nation’s youth to protect their health and well-being.”

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Vaccine credentials: How to make sure they’re done right

The AMA is calling on the federal government to take a strong role in establishing, publicizing and enforcing guidelines that all digital vaccine credential services (DVCS)—aka “vaccine passports”—must follow.

But first, “the use of DCVS should not outpace vaccine availability,” the AMA’s executive vice president and CEO, James L. Madara, MD, wrote in a letter to National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Micky Tripathi, PhD, MPP.

“Until the time that all Americans are easily able to access vaccines and trusted DVCS, we must guard against programs that appear to confer special social privilege based on one’s COVID-19 vaccination status,” Dr. Madara wrote. “For DVCS to be successful, vaccines must be universally accessible and the federal government must create strong guardrails around DVCS’ use of personal data.”

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2021 Match hits record highs despite pandemic’s disruptions

Despite the uncertainty inflicted on the American health system by the pandemic, the 2021 Main Residency Match saw a 2.7% rise in the number of first-year residency positions offered compared with the 2020 Match that took place amid the early spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) reported that the 2021 Match was largest in its history, with 38,106 total positions offered.

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Recent clips

Busy bee! Here’s what I’ve written lately for the AMA: