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News

University, city enters into flu season

Over 6,000 free vaccinations were administered exclusively for students during the first flu blitz, University Health Services (UHS) director Edward Junkins told The Observer. Faculty, staff and dependents are eligible to make appointments for the second blitz.

The UHS orchestrated its annual flu vaccine blitz in the Stepan Center on Sept. 20 and Sept. 21. The secondary blitz takes place this week on Oct. 11 and Oct. 12.

Junkins supplied the rationale: influenza is a highly communicable infectious disease that consistently causes morbidity. 

Influenza, Junkins said, is an illness that can quickly overwhelm the resources the University has in place in the event of a widespread outbreak.

“[Morbidity] means loss of time from work, significant symptoms, so body aches, high fever, dehydration and putting people at risk who have chronic illness,” he said.

Though Notre Dame has a primary care clinic located on campus in Saint Liam Hall that takes care of urgent needs, Junkins said that the University does not have the resources to take care of hundreds of students.

“Even though we have a high vaccination rate, we still get breakthrough infections and that very quickly overwhelms our clinic, our pharmacy,” he said.

In agreement with Junkins, St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox said he thinks Notre Dame’s flu blitzes are advantageous to the community because of the congregate living on campus.

“It is obviously important for the campus community because there is a lot of congregate living,” Fox said. “So, the risk of spreading any respiratory illness is significant. So, any opportunity to reduce that is beneficial.”

Aside from the congregate living, Fox said he regards Notre Dame to be a well-protected, heavily vaccinated community. Fox underscored the blitz’s effect on South Bend.

“And while much of the campus lives in congregate living settings, you know, it’s not a closed campus,” he added. “There’s a lot of interaction with Notre Dame students, faculty and staff out in the community, or volunteering or going to Martin’s or going to Finnies or wherever.”

The COVID pandemic’s third flu season beginning this fall, Fox pointed out the growing importance of flu vaccinations in 2022 than in direct years past.

“Over the last couple of years in general, the flu rates have been lower because there were a lot of COVID mitigation strategies in place and people who were sick were likely staying home or staying in their dorm,” he said.

Fox predicts that flu cases will increase now that pandemic era practices have gone away.

“Now that most of the community is following virtually no mitigation strategies, I expect that this will be probably a more normal flu season,” Fox said.

With these risks, last year saw over 90% student compliance with the flu vaccine mandate, Junkins said. The 6600 student-dedicated appointments at the first blitz were all taken.

“Shots in arms,” he said. “We still have about another 5000 or so students who still need to meet the requirement. I would predict about 3000 of those students will come back through during this next Blitz.”

Some students will get the vaccination over fall break but the University said they plan to set it up so that students can receive their vaccine for free before they travel home and back, Junkins said.

“Of course,” Junkins said, “[the flu vaccine] is required in order to be able to register for the spring semester.”

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu

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Viewpoint

An opinion on pharmaceutical patents

The recent global COVID-19 pandemic has prompted us to look inward to reflect. One aspect subject to this reflection is none other than our healthcare system. More specifically, Covid has presented an opportunity to investigate the shortcomings and advantages of our current healthcare system, especially as it operates within the market/mixed economy ecosystem in modern American life. In this examination, a key ethical issue emerges: pharmaceutical abuse of patents. 

The practice of medical research in pharmaceuticals is all but new. Yet, due to the very nature of research and innovation, research practices give rise to many smaller infant industries. Each discovery for a new drug or treatment creates a micro industry for itself, carving out its own section of the greater pharmaceutical industry for the taking. Each new drug then captures the demand of patients in that section, hopeful that the drug will be the cure for what ails them.  

Pharmaceutical companies that have developed a new drug can apply for a patent for it, which gives them exclusive access to the licensure, manufacturing, and distribution of their drug for 12 years. (12 years itself, I may add, is a nontrivial amount of time, especially for those suffering with a degenerative disease, but patents may be stacked on top of each other, leading to exclusive ownership for far upwards of the initial 12 year mark.) Patents effectively create a monopoly for the micro infant industry. Patents allow pharmaceutical companies to set their own prices. For life-saving medication though, this price-setting can seem to hold patients hostage, and the hefty ransom price tag can loom over them.

Some examples of this monopolistic and often exploitative behavior are the following, from the Association for Accessible Medicines:

  1. “The world’s top-selling brand drug, Humira, treats arthritis and other chronic conditions. On the market since 2002, 132 patents block competition for up to 39 years.”
  2. “One of the most prescribed cancer treatments, Revlimid, was approved by the FDA in 2005. The patent thicket consists of 96 patents providing potentially 40 years without competition.”
  3. “Diabetes patients who rely on the insulin treatment, Lantus, may not see a generic alternative for 37 years due to the 49 patents issued.”

The issue of access to affordable medicine has incredibly high stakes when we consider the desperation of the ill, especially those with terminal illness. It reaches far beyond the issue of paying more for brand name drugs as opposed to generics. But why are these mini monopolies allowed to exist? Why are there patents to begin with?

Patents incentivise innovation and research because they provide a “light at the end of the tunnel” for what is a long, arduous research process. Research requires a lot of upfront investment. Suppose Company A researches and tests a drug. Company A invests years of work and millions of dollars. Without rights to their intellectual property, Company B can swoop in after the research and testing is finished and sell the drug on the market. So why did Company A invest all of that just to be undercut? Patents disallow this story to take place. 

A further advantage of patents is that in creating the public and formal tie of ownership, they create a relationship of accountability between the company and the product. If and when things go wrong, consumers know who to turn to (or who to sue, as the case may be). Intellectual property relationships allow for consumers to air their grievances, as demonstrated by many personal injury lawyers, class-action lawsuits and even individual cases like that of the biomedical startup Theranos or that against the oral contraceptive brand Yaz. Theranos failed to deliver on its promise to accurately test low volume blood samples. Yaz was proven an ineffectual contraceptive. We are capable of knowing this now in part because of the relationships that patents formalize and reinforce. 

Patents have clear benefits. But, just as clearly, there is a trade-off between their benefits and disadvantages. We must negotiate this trade-off.

It would be quite easy for an ethicist with no more than a cursory understanding of this issue of patent abuse to draw overly simplistic conclusions. “Free healthcare for all” and “Healthcare is a human right” are slogans thrown about in modern political discourse that only begin to touch on the issues at hand. The simple and “equitable” solution that those uneducated on the topic come to is that patents should be waived completely. But if healthcare is paid for by the government, then why does the price of drugs matter? Who’s to say the government will pay for name brand drugs rather than waiting for patents to expire to qualify them for coverage? 

Another possible solution a non-expert ethicist may propose is for the government to seize control of the pharmaceutical industry, subsidizing their research and therefore owning their intellectual property. But doesn’t that just shift the monopoly from one entity (the companies) to another (the government)? And how much of our tax dollar will we allot for medical research? 

These are just a few of the important questions we need to consider for possible solutions to the patent problem. If there were a simple and effective solution available, we’d have solved the problem already. It is not enough to simply wish for free healthcare or for all the power to be seized from “Big Pharma.” There are many considerations to take into account. 

Alexa Schlaerth is a junior at the University of Notre Dame studying anthropology and linguistics. When she’s not slamming hot takes into her laptop keyboard, she can be found schooling her peers in the daily Wordle and NYT mini crossword, rewatching South Park or planning her next backpacking trip. As an Angeleno, Alexa enjoys drinking overpriced non dairy iced lattes and complaining about traffic because it’s “like, totally lame.” Alexa can be reached on Twitter at @alexa_schlaerth or via email at aschlaer@nd.edu.

Categories
News

University drops science-business major

The science-business major, an interdisciplinary program that included aspects of the curricula from both the Mendoza College of Business and the College of Science, will no longer be available to those who have not already declared the major beginning in fall 2023.

Interdisciplinary majors are intended to allow students to gain from studying in more than one of Notre Dame’s six colleges. The science-business major had been offered by the University for around 40 years, allowing students to delve into the world of business while also preparing them for a career in healthcare. 

The major intended to qualify the student to enter an MBA program, as well as healthcare professional education such as medical school, dental school, public health or health care administration. The curriculum of the major was varied, allowing students to get the full experience of an interdisciplinary study.

“The major serves a group of students who seek careers in STEM-aligned fields like consulting, the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and healthcare administration. It also serves some preprofessional students who want to gain valuable expertise in the business of running their own practices once they finish medical or dental school,” said Dan Gezelter, associate dean for undergraduate studies, in an email.  “Our science-business graduates have also gone on to law school, graduate school, the nonprofit sector, directly into careers in industry and have even built their own businesses.”

John Nash, a junior in the science-business major, said that the program served his interests in both areas.

“I really liked the major, I think it’s a really good combination of two things that I really care about,” Nash said. “And I wanted to have an experience with both because I feel it’s always good to have a multidisciplinary course load.”

In its place, the College of Business will offer a minor of five courses on the foundation of business, open to students in the College of Science. The minor will provide students a foundational education in business while allowing them to still pursue a career in healthcare.

“The science-business major provides an excellent education on the foundations of business, but restructuring as a primary science major plus the new minor will make this education more broadly available to students with a primary interest in one of the main scientific disciplines,” Gezelter said in an email.  

Nash said he doesn’t believe the minor will foster the same sense of community as the major. 

“There isn’t a course for science-business kids. You take science classes and you take business classes, so I understand where they’re coming from,” Nash said. “I don’t necessarily think it would be too different, but it is nice to kind of meet other kids in the science-business program and know that we all kind of have similar interests. So I definitely think that kind of community would go away.”

Geltzer said that the change will resolve the administrative challenges of a cross-college program.

“Relying on two different colleges to provide the required classes for a major is always a challenge,” Gezelter said in an email. “The College of Business wants to oversee their own academic programs and their own classes and wants to offer a distinct credential for Notre Dame students.”

Gezelter said that the program’s interdisciplinary hiring potential would not end with the major.

“The science-business name helped recruiters find students who had a broad interdisciplinary training in science as well as a firm foundation in business,” Gezelter said in an email. “That recruiting edge may be missing for future classes, but the top-notch training in the sciences and in business will remain for students who combine one of the new minors with a primary major in science.”

Nash said he has been able to advance his career through his science-business major.

“I’m actually interning at DaVita healthcare next summer, which is a healthcare consulting firm that works in kidney care,” Nash said. “And they said that my major, science-business, really stood out to them because it’s not something a lot of other universities offer and they thought it was super unique and really played into what their company is all about.”

The science-business major as students once knew it is unlikely to return to Notre Dame, but Gezelter said there is hope for a new major with similar tenets.

“Once we have approval to sunset the major, it is not likely to come back,” Gezelter said in an email. “The science dean’s office is currently looking at options for a new interdisciplinary science major that will share many of the strengths of the Science-Business major.”