Jennifer Rosebluff-Thomas is being remembered by her sister as a beautiful, vibrant woman who lived for her children until she died of COVID-19 in an Edmonton ICU in early September.
“Her kids — that was her world,” said her big sister, Carol Charles. “That’s what made her smile every day. That’s who she got up for. That’s who she lived for, was the kids.”
Rosebluff-Thomas, 35, was from Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation, just northeast of Regina, and lived in Edmonton with her eight children, ages one, five, eight, 12, 16, 17, 19. She was 29 weeks pregnant with her ninth child when she contracted the delta variant of the coronavirus in late August.
She wasn’t vaccinated.
Pregnant women who get COVID-19 are five times more likely to require hospitalization than the average person, and 10 times more likely to need intensive care, according to experts in maternal fetal health.
Public health authorities all over the world say COVID-19 vaccines reduce those risks.
Charles, who lives in Regina, shared a final video chat with her sister before she was put on life support inside Royal Alexandra Hospital.
“She told me, ‘Sister I’m dying. They’re taking me to the ICU,'” said Charles.
“In the last video chat I had with her, I just told her, ‘Don’t worry’ — I said — ‘I’m going to see the kids. I’ll be there, don’t worry.” … And she was crying. I could tell she was scared.”
Then, said Charles, a nurse called her to say the medical team would need to do an emergency C-section.
“When they were doing the emergency C-section, the nurse called me and told me they were doing it to save her so she could get oxygen into her lungs,” she recalled.
Rosebluff-Thomas never regained consciousness and never had the chance to hold her newborn daughter.
She died four days later on Sept. 3.
Dr. Stephanie Cooper, a high-risk obstetrician at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, said more than 20 pregnant women with serious and critical COVID-19 were admitted to hospital in Alberta in August and September. All of them were unvaccinated.
Cooper did not treat Rosebluff-Thomas. She said medical teams are generally trying to keep fetuses inside the womb as long as possible to buy more time for maturity, but that emergency premature deliveries have been necessary to save the life of the baby or mother, or both.
One scenario is when a pregnant woman is so critically sick from COVID-19 that her blood must be oxygenated outside her body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
“If we’re thinking a pregnant woman has to have that treatment, or even if we think potentially a pregnant woman is not going to make it, then we decide that we should deliver the baby — even if it is very premature — because we are very concerned that both the baby and the mom may not make it,” Cooper said.
Her sister encouraged her to get the vaccine
A GoFundMe set up to support Rosebluff-Thomas’s children states: “All she wanted to do was get better so she could go home to her children, but unfortunately she didn’t recover. Jennifer was a beautiful person, with a beautiful soul. She loved all her children and did her best to give them everything and more.”
Charles is 15 years older than her sister and has acted as her protector her entire life.
She urged her sister to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, she’s both grief-stricken by her sister’s death and devastated to learn her death was “preventable.”
“The sad thing is, my sister wasn’t vaccinated. This was something we had discussed in the spring when vaccinations became available, because of her large family and the children she already had at home being school-aged. I was just like: ‘You need to go get vaccinated.'”
Now, Charles sharing her sister’s story to encourage other pregnant women who may be hesitant to get the vaccine to reach out to medical professionals.
“COVID is real. My sister was an amazing mother, and now her children will grow up without a mother,” she said.
Charles is caring for five of Rosebluff-Thomas’s children in Saskatchewan.
She says she will always remember her sister’s kindness, compassion, and love of family.
“She was generous even if she didn’t have much to give,” she said.
“She was a very beautiful person. The best smile ever.”
Facebook, YouTube take down Bolsonaro video over false vaccine claim
Facebook and YouTube have removed from their platforms a video by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in which the far-right leader made a false claim that COVID-19 vaccines were linked with developing AIDS.
Both Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said the video, which was recorded on Thursday, violated their policies.
“Our policies don’t allow claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill or seriously harm people,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.
YouTube confirmed that it had taken the same step later in the day.
“We removed a video from Jair Bolsonaro’s channel for violating our medical disinformation policy regarding COVID-19 for alleging that vaccines don’t reduce the risk of contracting the disease and that they cause other infectious diseases,” YouTube said in a statement.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), COVID-19 vaccines approved by health regulators are safe for most people, including those living with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, known as AIDS.
Bolsonaro’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment outside normal hours.
In July, YouTube removed videos from Bolsonaro’s official channel in which he recommended using hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin against COVID-19, despite scientific proof that these drugs are not effective in treating the disease.
Since then, Bolsonaro has avoided naming both drugs on his live broadcasts, saying the videos could be removed and advocating “early treatment” in general for COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, who tested positive for the coronavirus in July last year, had credited his taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, for his mild symptoms. While Bolsonaro himself last January said that he wouldn’t take any COVID-19 vaccine, he did vow to quickly inoculate all Brazilians.
In addition to removing the video, YouTube has suspended Bolsonaro for seven days, national newspapers O Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo reported, citing a source familiar with the matter.
YouTube did not respond to a separate Reuters request for comment regarding the suspension on Monday night.
(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Leslie Adler)
Exclusive: African Union to buy up to 110 million Moderna COVID-19 vaccines – officials
The African Union (AU) intends to buy up to 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Inc in an arrangement brokered in part by the White House, which will defer delivery of some doses intended for the United States to facilitate the deal, officials told Reuters.
The AU’s doses will be delivered over the coming months, with 15 million arriving before the end of 2021, 35 million in the first quarter of next year and up to 60 million in the second quarter.
“This is important as it allows us to increase the number of vaccines available immediately,” AU coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa said in an email. “We urge other vaccine producing countries to follow the lead of the (U.S. government) and give us similar access to buy this and other vaccines.”
Masiyiwa said the Moderna purchase represented the first time the 55-member AU had secured vaccines that were not fully produced in Africa.
The new shipments of vaccine are well below what Africa needs to vaccinate its 1.3 billion people, who have had far less access to the life-saving vaccines than more prosperous parts of the world. Getting access to Moderna vaccines adds diversity to the AU’s vaccine supply with different storage requirements.
The Biden administration is deferring delivery of 33 million doses it had bought from Moderna to give the AU its “spot in line” to make a purchase, according to Natalie Quillian, the White House’s deputy coordinator for COVID-19 response.
“We are grateful to have helped negotiate this encouraging step forward between Moderna and the African Union that will significantly expand access to vaccines on the continent in the near-term,” Quillian said.
The United States, which has seen more than 700,000 people die from COVID-19, is flush with vaccines. The delayed Moderna deliveries will not have an impact on efforts to provide booster shots to already inoculated Americans, Quillian said.
Moderna said it was working to make it possible to fill doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Africa by 2023 and has plans to build a manufacturing plant on the continent.
“This is the first step in our long-term partnership with the African Union,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said in a statement, referring to a Memorandum of Understanding to make up to 110 million doses for the AU.
Last month, the AU accused https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-who/update-1-african-union-slams-vaccine-manufacturers-for-restricting-access-idINL8N2QG4CK COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers of denying African countries a fair chance to buy vaccines and urged manufacturing countries, in particular India, to lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Analysis: Capitol Hill drug pricing reform opponents among the biggest beneficiaries of pharma funds
Democratic Party lawmakers holding up proposed drug pricing reforms are among the largest beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry’s push to stave off price cuts, a Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.
The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, channeled around 60% of donated campaign funds to Democrats this year. It has spent over $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.
Nonprofit political action committees (PACs) run by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.
Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the U.S. government authority to negotiate prices for prescription medicines. Current U.S. law bars the government’s Medicare health insurance program from negotiating drug prices directly.
Many of the Democrats opposing an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among some of the biggest recipients of drug manufacturer lobbying funds.
They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September of 2021 shows. In all, they have received around $1 million in pharmaceutical and health product industry donations this year.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she has received but said the Senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.
Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their views. All three said they are opposed to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as H.R.3.
Menendez and Peters have advocated for alternative scaled-back drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would lead to significantly smaller savings.
Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also one of the top recipients of drugmaker donations, voted in favor of H.R.3.
Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 on cutting drug prices, told the White House she opposes allowing Medicare to negotiate them. She received about $466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.
Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $99,550, according to OpenSecrets data. A spokesperson said Peters was not influenced by lobbying money and opposed the proposed law to protect pharmaceutical industry jobs and innovation.
Drugmakers say the Democrats’ proposed drug price overhaul would undermine their ability to develop new medicines, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians regardless of political party.
“Patients face a future with less hope under Congress’ current drug pricing plan,” PhRMA Chief Executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement in reference to the proposed law. PhRMA declined to comment on donating to key Democratic opponents of the bill.
The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations do negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.
Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its donations and Pfizer declined to comment.
PROSPECTS FOR REFORM
President Joe Biden has vowed to cut medicine costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments by Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and older.
But prospects for major drug pricing reforms have stalled in recent weeks amid opposition from centrist Democrats including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staffers said.
The lawmakers’ resistance comes as 83% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $1,500, for a total of around $350 billion in 2019.
“Members of Congress don’t always mirror the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, a health economist at Kaiser.
The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the finance sector. It donated more than $600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year to sway federal and state policy. But current Democratic leadership has the industry concerned major reforms could actually be enacted and is working harder to offer alternatives such as reducing insurance co-pays, one industry source said. “It’s been sort of a mad scramble.”
Corporations in the United States are not permitted to make direct contributions to candidates but can give money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including Pfizer’s and Amgen’s, are run by company managers and employees.
Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions annually with relatively minor impact on innovation.
A House Oversight and Reform Committee report showed that top drugmakers have spent around $50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than research and development between 2016 and 2020.
Lovisa Gustafsson, a healthcare policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit healthcare advocacy group, said, “There are other ways that we can incentivize innovation, aside from just paying huge margins for pharmaceutical companies.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)
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