The HIV epidemic has become more prevalent in recent years, but scientists have already discovered several drugs that could potentially help HIV positive individuals contain and mitigate the infection brought by the sexually-transmitted virus. However, the price of the drug in the US makes it near to impossible for unfortunate victims to afford. Thankfully, HIV victims now have an ally in the government, and she is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
On Thursday, AOC confronted the CEO of a company that distributes Truvada, the drug that is used to help HIV-positive individuals prevent infection, for selling it for nearly $2,000 when the same drug is sold in Australia for only $8.
“You’re the CEO of Gilead. Is it true that Gilead made $3 billion in profits from Truvada in 2018?” Ocasio-Cortez asked Gilead CEO, Daniel O’Day.
$3 billion in revenue,” he clarified.
“The current list price is $2,000 a month in the United States, correct?” she asked, referring to Truvada.
“It’s $1,780 in the United States,” O’Day responded.
“Why is it $8 in Australia?” Ocasio-Cortez countered.
Emtricitabine/tenofovir, sold under the brand name Truvada, among others, is a medication used to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS. It is a fixed-dose combination of two antiretroviral medications: tenofovir disoproxil and emtricitabine. For treatment, it is used either alone or together with other antiretroviral medication. While the drug can be used to prevent the transfer of the virus, it does not cure HIV/AIDS.
Emtricitabine/tenofovir was approved for medical use in the United States in 2004 and is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system. In the United States, the drug is sold for $1,780 while sold for meager price in other parts of the world.
As of 2014, the median cost per tablet, in Namibia and South Africa, was the US $0.20. In Canada, Truvada costs between $800 – $1,100 per month. Generic emtricitabine/tenofovir was approved by Health Canada in August 2017, with a wholesale cost of $400 per month.
The price of emtricitabine/tenofovir in the United States has been criticized by activists, who argued in a 2018 New York Times opinion piece that the high cost keeps the drug out of reach for millions, thus harming efforts to reduce new HIV infections.
“Truvada still has patent protection in the United States, and in the rest of the world it is generic,” O’Day explained, adding, “It will be generically available in the United States as of September 2020.”
According to the non-profit organization, Break The Patent, Truvada can reduce the risk of HIV by 99%, but Gilead Sciences has inflated the cost from $6 to more than $1,600 per month, despite the US taxpayer paying for almost the full cost of its development.
“The drug costs less than $6 a month to make, but Gilead charges patients more than $1,600 for a 30 day supply. This cost barrier has translated to less than 10% of the at-risk population currently taking the medication […} The truly infuriating part of that equation is that the drug manufacturer did not pay for the research that went into the development of the drug. YOU did. The US taxpayer, through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), paid for almost all of the research that went into developing Truvada as PrEP,” reads the organization’s statement on their website.
The organization argues that the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 gives federal funding agencies the right to “March In” and ignore patent exclusivity should the holder fail to acknowledge “health or safety needs” of consumers by, for instance, engaging in price gouging, but until now, Gilead Sciences have been using the patent argument to justify their high prices for the drug.
AOC similarly slammed the company for selling the drug far more expensively in the US than in other countries even though people’s tax money funded the research for the development of the drug.
“I think it’s important here that we notice that we the public, we the people, developed this drug. We paid for this drug, we led and developed all the patents to create prep and then that patent has been privatized despite the fact that the patent is owned by the public, who refused to enforce it,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Kansas Mom Had Her Children Take Doses Of Industrial Bleach Or Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) — The Police Response Raised Eyebrows
]ust when the public health community is starting to think that they have already got a little hold on the medical misinformation against vaccination, another pseudoscientific cure known as “Miracle Mineral Solution” or “MMS” is now gaining traction among different social media platforms, especially in Youtube and Facebook — as various “testimonials” are sprouting in support of this so-called miracle cure.
Miracle Mineral Solution or MMS promises to cure various diseases like autism, acne, HIV, hepatitis, flu, and malaria. It sounds well-intentioned except that MMS is chlorine dioxide, the scientific term for industrial bleach. These “testimonials” are advocating for parents to use industrial bleach to cure their children’s illness even against the warning of established health institutions regarding the potential health problems that taking in bleach inside one’s body could cause.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned that MMS “can cause serious harm to health” and said the agency “has received several reports of health injuries from consumers using this product, including severe nausea, vomiting, and life-threatening low blood pressure from dehydration.” According to the FDA, anyone who started administering this “cure” should stop immediately and “throw them all away.”
Youtuber promotes MMS based on experience with her own sons
One particular Youtuber has opened her channel to preach about the health benefits of MMS. Her name is Laurel Austin of Lenexa, Kansas. According to her videos, she has started feeding her children, whose four out of six of them has autism, with chlorine dioxide and she said that the “cure” has helped her children manage the symptoms of autism.
According to an NBC News report, the first time she fed one of her sons the bleach solution, she filmed the moment and shared it with her thousands of subscribers. Reporter Brandy Zadrozny described the video, writing that after the young man, who has autism, took the solution, “his arms seem to twist around one another involuntarily, and he screams into his forearm before taking a bite of a banana.”
Considering the predicament the mother is experiencing, having four children with autism, it was reported by various sources that by reviewing her social media accounts, it is easy to say that the mother has been trying different alternative cures to help her children. According to a review of her social media accounts and documents from Lenexa police department, Austin has given regular doses of chlorine dioxide to her two sons, aged 27 and 28.
The police and adult protective services did not do anything about it
According to reports, the father of the children, Bradley Austin, has been trying to have his ex-wife stop from administering the chemicals to his sons since he found out what she was doing in January. However, according to reports, notwithstanding the statements made by Bradley Austin to the authorities, the Lenexa police department and Kansan adult protective services decided not to do anything regarding the matter. The dismissal from law enforcement reportedly baffled Bradley, who told NBC News, “I just want her to stop.”
In defence of the police department, they said that following Bradley Austin’s reports regarding the MMS usage of his ex-wife against their children, a police officer has consulted with a pharmacist at a state poison control center who said it was unsafe. Then police visited Austin’s house where she said she was following the chlorine dioxide protocol of the Kerri Rivera, a prominent promoter of the treatment, which is not a medical professional.
Rivera has been very enthusiastic in championing the supposed health benefits of MMS since 2012. She even wrote a book regarding how the use of chlorine dioxide can purportedly cure autism, a book that she initially offered in Amazon, but the tech giant decided to remove it from its inventory in March citing the harmful contents of the said book. Rivera was also very active in attending interviews and webinars in Youtube to preach about anti-vaccination ideologies and other conspiracy theories. In one occasion, Austin was interviewed alongside Rivera regarding the effects of Miracle Mineral Solutions on her sons with autism.
Furthermore, police documents have shown Austin provided that police officers with several links to Rivera’s contents about chlorine dioxide protocol, and online articles from Autism Research Institute, which promotes the widely debunked notion that vaccines cause autism. A police officer wrote about the articles in the report saying, “This legitimizes the claim by Laurel of her use of MMS CLO2 as a holistic treatment approach.”
The documents also revealed that the police reviewed a list of supplements meant for one of the sons, which advised he take 16 doses of chlorine dioxide treatment each day, one every hour. This was reportedly signed and stamped by a primary care physician at Kansas University’s MedWest Family Medicine Clinic, Sarita Singh.
In her defense, Singh said previously that she approved the chlorine dioxide treatment because she believes it is “benign and not toxic.”
Nonetheless, when asked regarding the issue, both the hospital where Singh is on duty as well as Kansas adult protective services refused to comment citing that the medical cases of Austin’s children are confidential.
New York Moves To Rule Out Religious Exemption For Vaccines
In the face of the worst measles outbreak in the country within the past 25 years, New York has decided to make necessary immunizations in schoolchildren, citing that religious exemption to vaccinizations can no longer be accepted.
In the past, legislation has allowed parents to reason against vaccines due to religious reasons. They have cited that it is their religious freedom to opt out of the science-based system in exchange for their beliefs.
The decision was made Thursday with a Democrat-led Senate and Assembly. The decision has made all schoolchildren take the first round of immunization shots—for those who have opted out—as a requirement before enrollment.
Furthermore, schoolchildren wishing to enroll in the upcoming school year are given up to 30 days to complete the first dose of each required immunization.
The newly-signed measure was met with mixed reactions from the hundreds of people who flocked the streets of New York. Some expressed that it was about time that the government had taken legislative action towards addressing the measles outbreak given that the problem is spiraling out of control. Moreover, some cited that religious beliefs have been used as a counter-action to opt out from vaccinations, which are due to rampant misinformation regarding the vaccine to cause other side effects.
Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers have complained against the measure citing that their religious freedom is being taken away by the vague impression that public health is in a state of fear due to measles.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who signed the measure told reporters that he believes public health — and the need to protect those who cannot get vaccinated because for medical reasons — outweighs the concerns about religious freedom.
“I understand freedom of religion,” he said. “I have heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”
Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s Assembly sponsor added, “I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated.” Moreover, “If you choose to not vaccinate your child, therefore potentially endangering other children … then you’re the one choosing not to send your children to school.”
On the other hand, New York is not completely absolving reasons to opt out of vaccinations. Particularly, the government will still allow children to skip taking the required shots for reasons citing medical concerns (some people are medically compromised and cannot take vaccines or immunizations due to risks from detrimental side effects.) These people can be those with compromised immune systems such as HIV or those who are allergic to said medications, to name a few.
Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarmingly increasing number of measles cases in the United States — gaining the highest incidence for the past 25 years.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 971 cases of measles in 26 states in the US from January 1 to May 30 of this year — threatening the nation’s elimination status.
The report also indicated that the spike in measles outbreaks was centered in hotspots such as Washington and New York. Also, since the disease is common among children, most of the cases reported are from unvaccinated school-age children.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told BBC that “If these outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the United States may lose its measles elimination status. That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health.”
The issue is also magnified with misinformation that is being widely spread against the measles vaccine—which prompted Facebook to finally take action and try to mitigate false information that is widespread across its platform.
“These Groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or predictions when you type into Search,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, said in a statement. She added that when ads that include misinformation about vaccinations are found, “we will reject them.”
With New York’s move, similar exemptions are still allowed in 45 states, though lawmakers in several of them have introduced their own legislation to eliminate the waiver.
California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015. Maine ended its religious exemption earlier this year. Mississippi and West Virginia also do not allow religious exemptions.
MailChimp Joins Other Tech Giants In Fighting Against Anti-Vaxx Propaganda
As the calls of governments and public health advocates against anti-vaccination content proliferation online, more and more online platforms are starting to listen. This time, MailChimp, the famous email service company has banned the spread of anti-vaxx contents using its platform.
MailChimp, which recently announced its move to become a more holistic platform, has also recently taken out different anti-vaccination accounts from its email service platform as part of its renewed commitment against the proliferation of anti vaxx rhetoric.
According to the company, it has started removing anti-vaccination activists from its platform and will no longer allow them to be used as an email service for any anti-vaxx propaganda. The move to ban anti-vaxx accounts in its platforms follow the series of steps from other tech giants against the proliferation of anti vaxx contents on their networks.
The company has started implementing their new policy last week quietly and said that they have already removed a considerable number of anti-vaxx propaganda accounts.
“We trust the world’s leading health authorities, like the CDC, WHO, and the AAP, and follow their guidance when assessing this type of misuse of our platform,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The advent of social media has allowed the proliferation of anti-vaxx propaganda online and has made it easier for those who have been campaigning against vaccination to reach more and more people; building the social media hemispheres the most critical tool of health misinformation.
2019 is the year the tech world heard calls against anti-vaxx rhetoric
This year, the echoing calls of different governments, public health institutions, and advocates for the tech world to respond to the growing epidemic of misinformation have seen various tech giants reacting positively. Earlier this year, Amazon has removed anti-vaxx documentaries from its Amazon Prime services.
The decision from Amazon to remove anti-vaccination contents from it platform follows a letter sent by Democrat Congressman Adam Schiff has sent a letter to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos questioning why its online platform has become an enabler of misinformation regarding vaccination and asking them to help curb the spread of anti-vaccination content. The letter questions why Amazon is serving anti-vaccination content in its online store and accepting paid advertisements for anti-vaxx media.
“Every online platform, including Amazon, must act responsibly and ensure that they do not contribute to this growing public-health catastrophe,” Schiff wrote.
Similarly, a letter from the same lawmaker has urged Facebook to take a step against the proliferation of anti-vaxx rhetoric in the popular social media platform. Facebook began to stop advertising that spread “vaccine hoaxes” and said it planned to reduce the visibility of vaccine misinformation shared on its platform.
Facebook has become one of the most potent tools anti-vaxx advocates has to spread misinformation amongst members of anti-vaxx groups, which reports suggest include members in hundreds of thousands.
Twitter and Youtube also joined the ranks of Amazon and Facebook in curbing health and vaccine misinformation in their own social media platform. Twitter started directing users who actively searched for tweets related to vaccination to a post from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, linking them to several reliable sources of health information instead of anti-vaccination propaganda.
This follows the announcement made by the social media giant that it will be launching a new tool to help fight the rampant misinformation by prompting users to head to vaccines.org, a website ran by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We’re committed to protecting the health of the public conversation on Twitter,” the blog post read. “Ensuring individuals can find information from authoritative sources is a key part of that mission.”
Youtube, too, has started demonetizing contents that proliferate anti-vaccination propaganda in the popular video streaming website. Earlier this year, Youtube confirmed that it would be removing ads from anti-vaccination videos citing that they are ‘dangerous and harmful’ materials.
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