Wow, what a year 2020 has been… 😕
We’ve had to learn to live in ongoing pandemic crisis mode as COVID-19 remains a public health emergency across the globe.
Pretty much everything is seen through that lens, and as a result, our annual diabetes year in review also looks a bit different this time around.
Traditionally, DiabetesMine has featured a month-by-month breakdown of the biggest happenings of the year.
But 2020 isn’t like any other year. Every week and month has felt extraordinarily long, and the days seemed to blend together in ways we just haven’t ever experienced before.
As such, we’ve focused our annual review on the big themes defining 2020, along with a handful of notable news items.
The pandemic has hit our Diabetes Community on so many different levels, including but not limited to the following:
- risk uncertainty and the nebulous connections between diabetes management and COVID-19 outcomes
- actor and type 2 diabetes peep Tom Hanks being one of the early high-profile COVID-19 cases in the media
- renewed concerns about hospital care for those with diabetes, prompting the need for proactive preparation in advance of hospital admission
- controversy over how to keep employees with chronic conditions like diabetes safe on the job
- an explosion in telehealth and virtual care
- the transition to online meetings, conferences, and camps rather than in-person events — including the huge annual American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions and our own DiabetesMine innovation forums
- economic ripple effects impacting not only income but health insurance options
- specific concerns about whether diabetes devices would still be available during a pandemic, or whether inhalable insulin might be a poor choice in the midst of this respiratory virus outbreak
- diabetes organizations were hit hard, leading to job cuts, program elimination, and nonprofit closures
- some diabetes small businesses shifted their focus to helping provide critical COVID-19 supplies
- research and clinical trials being affected, resulting in new technology and treatments being delayed — prompting new efforts to salvage diabetes research
We can’t overlook the mental health effects all of the above — both individually and collectively — had on people with diabetes (PWDs).
Mental health has been a lesser-discussed aspect in official research and diabetes care until recently. (This has prompted some community advocates to devote themselves to helping.)
The researchers concluded that: “There is a substantive increase in level of diabetes-related and general life stress and worry about being vulnerable to the virus, and significant social isolation… [and] there is a significant impact on disease management.”
“Changes in the medium of healthcare delivery were only modest during the early stages of social restriction, but satisfaction with these changes was generally low,” they added.
“These findings suggest the need for greater attention to the emotional and psychosocial impact of the pandemic on this population and its implications for disease management and diabetes-related healthcare delivery.”
The United States endured one of the most volatile presidential administrations and intense elections in modern history.
And with that, it seems everything was viewed through a political lens — including the efforts to prevent and respond to the pandemic itself.
This made everything even more confusing and concerning for PWDs. For instance:
- The politicization of wearing face masks and other PPE to prevent contracting the new coronavirus made it that much more difficult to decide whether PWDs could safely return to work or school.
- Physical distancing restricted our interaction even with family and friends, which cut off vital parts of many people’s support networks.
- Healthcare policy decisions are increasingly colored by partisan politics.
- Diabetes advocates have struggled to keep pressure on addressing the U.S. insulin pricing crisis, with the White House inaccurately describing insulin being “so cheap it’s like water.” Thankfully, there have been state-level efforts to cap insulin copays.
- U.S. Postal Service delays have made receiving medications and supplies via mail order a risky business.
Of course, recognition and representation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) became a hot-button issue in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd, sparking historic protests across the country.
Some PWDs were among those arrested, which brought up the issue of whether police were discriminatory or negligent with diabetes care and personal safety on the line.
Meanwhile, there was a great deal of introspection about racial disparities, in COVID-19 responses and beyond, and the implicit bias and systematic racism that exists in our U.S. healthcare system.
As everything began boiling over, some key diabetes advocacy organizations like JDRF and Beyond Type 1 came under fire for lacking diversity and not addressing the issue properly. See the JDRF’s response here.
There were many panel discussions and studies presented on this topic at conferences, and a new nonprofit called Diversity in Diabetes (DiD) was formed by advocates of color to elevate efforts.
We at DiabetesMine conducted a survey on BIPOC experiences with diabetes technology and care in fall 2020, and found that more than 50 percent of respondents currently “do not feel represented at all.”
See also our video of BIPOC advocates expressing their desires for change.
Thankfully, 2020 also brought our D-Community a handful of highlights worth mentioning. Here they are, in no particular order:
Commercial pilots with diabetes!
Announced in late 2019, a long-awaited policy change finally took effect that allows people with insulin-dependent diabetes to legally pilot commercial airplanes.
Pietro Marsala became the first T1D licensed commercial pilot.
Ironically, this came to be just as the global pandemic sucker punched the travel industry.
Still, it’s an important change that puts the United States on par with other countries, and it takes away one more “can’t do” for PWDs following their dreams.
While insulin affordability and access remains at crisis level in the United States, we saw two new forms of insulin finally get clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launched this past year:
- Eli Lilly’s new ultra-rapid-acting Lyumjev insulin
- Mylan and Biocon’s first foray into this arena, with their Semglee insulin, a low-cost long-acting (basal) biosimilar that’s a copycat of Sanofi’s popular Lantus insulin
Diabetes technology advances
A few important new diabetes devices were launched this past year as well:
- Tandem Diabetes Care launched its Control-IQ hybrid Closed Loop (partially automated) system that finally became widely available at year start.
- Abbott Diabetes received the long-awaited FDA clearance on its FreeStyle Libre 2, an update to the scannable sensor system that now builds in optional alerts for high and low blood sugars. While Libre 2 has not yet been cleared to connect with Automated Insulin Delivery (AID) devices, this should be coming soon with its tiny new Libre 3 version that’s already available in Europe and coming soon to the United States.
- Medtronic Diabetes bought its way into the insulin pen market by acquiring Companion Medical’s connected InPen, launching it as a new Medtronic-branded choice for those who might not want to use an insulin pump.
New specialized advocacy groups
Despite the economic struggles and effects on diabetes nonprofits, we’ve seen a few new orgs born during 2020 to address specific needs: the aforementioned Diversity in Diabetes (DiD), Beta Cell Foundation, and Mutual Aid Diabetes (MAD).
The latter two are grassroots orgs formed to help people in need get diabetes meds and supplies, beyond what’s offered by existing industry-based financial assistance programs.
Diabetes in the celebrity limelight
This year of content streaming gave us the Netflix reboot of “The Baby-Sitter’s Club,” once again featuring a main character who wears an insulin pump.
Also in the limelight was the passing of actor and famous diabetes supply spokesman Wilford Brimley. Pop singer Meghan Trainor also shared her gestational diabetes story publicly.
Be on the lookout for the new movie “Greenland,” written by Chris Sparling, husband of well-known diabetes advocate and author Kerri Sparling.
The movie features a T1D character and was released for on-demand viewing in December 2020. It’s heading to HBO Max in 2021.
This past year has been extremely tough for all of us on so many fronts… Here’s to looking forward to a brighter, less stressful 2021 ahead.