Last April, I wrote a letter to my parents, who would have been 104 this year, in the form of an op-ed column in my hometown newspaper in Lancaster, PA. I expressed my hope that, in dealing with the upheaval of the pandemic, we could draw upon the examples they set in coping with the Great Depression as teenagers (without cell phones) and enduring World War II as young parents (without Internet access).
In closing, I promised to write again “to let you know that we rose to the occasion, came together (in mind, if not in body), rode out the COVID-19 storm… in our virtual tornado cellars, and minimized the amount of human suffering.”
Well, here we are, eight months later, and the storm rages on and the suffering mounts, almost beyond comprehension. But I can tell you, Mom and Dad, that as this regrettable year ends, hope is on the near horizon—in the form of new vaccines and novel treatments for this evil disease.
Now if we can just heed the advice of public health experts and show a measurable level of concern for each other, we’ll have a chance to emerge on the other side of this darkness into a better, brighter, more caring world. We’ll keep you posted.
This week’s Coronavirus Briefing is 1,884 words and will take you eight minutes to read.
The vaccines: Who’s on first?
It’s been a busy week. One COVID-19 vaccine is now approved by the FDA for emergency use and another is expected this week, with more to follow. Now comes the rub: vaccines don’t prevent disease, vaccinations do. The first shots went into arms here on Monday.
- Nearly three million doses of The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, green-lighted by the FDA on December 11, are reaching hospitals, nursing homes and other vaccination sites across the country. Diana Ernst of MPR and Danielle Brown of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are tracking the developments, with mass vaccinations in LTC facilities expected to start next week.
- In an emergency weekend meeting, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and older. The CDC has published special considerations and precautions for pregnant or lactating women, immunocompromised individuals and those with a history of severe allergic reactions to vaccine components. The FDA offers a comprehensive fact sheet.
- Next up: Emergency use authorization of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, on the agenda for an FDA Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday. Approval will add millions of additional doses to a gradually growing stockpile.
- It’s up to each state to decide vaccine priorities, but the ACIP recommends putting healthcare workers and long-term care residents at the front of the line. At least 36 states have indicated that they’ll follow that advice, Alicia Lasek reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.
- Elsewhere around the world, vaccine campaigns are clicking into gear. A vaccine manufactured in China has been given to frontline workers in the United Arab Emirates since September and was approved last week for wider use in the UAE.
- In India, where approval of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is expected this month, a nationwide immunization initiative will start in January. With 10 million cases (second only to the US) and 143,000 deaths, India hopes to return to “normal” life by next October.
- In the UK, where the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved two weeks ago, the second person to receive a “jab” was an 81-year-old chap named William Shakespeare. Mr. Shakespeare, who sports a nifty, bard-like goatee, had been hospitalized for a stroke. He’s now looking forward to seeing family again. All’s well that ends well.
The takeaway: Take heart, folks. A vaccine is coming to a site near you in the next few months. In the meantime, don’t lose the mask and remember: six socially distanced feet away is the equivalent of two shopping carts, one dog leash or a cow.
Taking arms against a sea of troubles
A CDC document, the COVID Vaccination Interim Playbook, lays out the national distribution plan, while the Department of Health and Human Services is launching a public education campaign to “increase vaccine acceptance and reinforce basic prevention measures.” The latter is aimed at the “Movable Middle”—people not necessarily opposed to vaccines but hesitant, somewhat distrustful and full of questions and concerns.
- Although long-term care facilities typically require employees to be vaccinated against flu, many are planning to make the COVID-19 vaccine optional for staff. They’re hoping for a robust response and regarding mandatory vaccination as a last resort, Amy Novotney reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. The long-term care industry wants residents and staff to be fully vaccinated by March 1, Lois A. Bowers notes in McKnight’s Senior Living.
- Celebrity endorsements are not the way to gain public acceptance of the vaccine, Grant Feller, director of GF Media, writes in Campaign. “This is about saving lives, not flogging consumerables… It’s about trust in expertise… doctors, nurses, scientists and their network of COVID-scarred heroes are the people we need to educate, persuade and influence us.”
- Indeed, clinicians are key to answering patients’ questions and building confidence in the vaccine, says the CDC, which has created a webpage to help prepare healthcare professionals and a presentation on “what every clinician should know about COVID vaccine safety.”
- Medical Bag’s Lina Zeldovich offers clinicians a handy “COVID-19 Vaccine Cheat Sheet: How to Effectively Address Common Patient Concerns.” Even among those who intend to get vaccinated, more than a third of people 65 and older and 19% to 34% among the younger generations say they’ll wait for more evidence of safety and effectiveness, Amy Novotney reports in McKnight’s Senior Living..
- To those skeptical of the “warp speed” with which vaccines have been developed, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that “speed has to do with exquisite technology.” In Infectious Disease Advisor, Chen Fang has more on Dr. Fauci’s efforts to build public trust.
- In McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, Alicia Lasek highlights the federal emphasis on clinicians as educators, reports on a vaccination PowerPoint tool kit put together by The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. She describes the pivotal role that pharmacies will play in administering vaccines on site in nursing homes and assisted living centers.
The takeaway: A playwright couldn’t invent a more stunning plotline: A vaccine rollout begins on a day when the disease, whipping across the country with the fury of a tempest, crests over 300,000 total deaths, the equivalent of 100 repeats of 9/11. Oh I have suffered/with those that I saw suffer.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
While the vaccine campaign moves forward with all deliberate speed, pivoting to pandemic life continues as a daily workout. Our coping mechanisms are getting a ton of reps.
- People Management tackles a host of problematic pandemic HR issues, from “remote bullying” to the “always on” culture fostered by working at home. On the plus side, employers are finding new ways to express corporate social responsibility.
- Sun Pharma made a virtue of necessity in putting together a seven-minute educational video for physicians on neuroendocrine cancer. The video features clips of healthcare professionals, advocates and patients, all filming themselves at home without scripts, “So they came across as very heartfelt and very genuine.” John Newton has details in MM+M.
- Dhanusha Sijavee, chief marketing officer of The Knot Worldwide, tells PRWeek’s Diana Bradley how the company navigated the pandemic’s potentially crushing impact on the wedding industry through its “Love Is Not Canceled” initiative.
- Social service charities are facing a pandemic-induced “tsunami of need” at the same time agency leaders and staff are struggling with significant burnout, Andy Ricketts reports in Third Sector.
- Rather than spend money on holiday gifts for clients, the advertising and media industry has come together to support 30 nonprofit organizations. In this first Season Without Swag, sponsored by Givsly and Advertising Week, more than $340,000 has been raised for good causes. Haymarket is proud to join in this effort.
The takeaway: The pandemic is changing the way we live, the way we work and the way we think, testing us every step of the way. Hey, I promised my parents that we'd be up to the task. Can't let them down.
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
While the limelight may have shifted to vaccines, the scientific community is still busily unraveling the mysteries of COVID-19—who gets sick and why, and who can get better and how quickly.
Having recovered from COVID-19, Jan Weinstein, a senior-level media buyer at Publicis Health Media, is taking part in clinical trials and making repeated donations of her plasma to help further the science of COVID-19 treatment. Marc Iskowitz shares her inspiring story in MM+M.
There’s still much to learn about who can benefit from the use of convalescent plasma. In Cancer Therapy Advisor, Andrea S. Blevins Primeau covers a key session from the American Society of Hematology annual meeting.
It’s an unfortunate two-way street: A study at the University of Oxford finds that COVID-19 survivors are at increased risk for long-term psychiatric consequences—and that patients recently diagnosed with a psychiatric illness are at increased risk for COVID-19 infection. Jessica Nye has more in Psychiatry Advisor.
Psychiatry Advisor also notes that we are literally losing sleep over the pandemic, while Google searches for “insomnia” are spiking and CPAP machines for people with sleep apnea may exacerbate droplet transmission of the virus.
Acute kidney injury in patients with COVID-19 dramatically increases the risk of death, and that risk is disproportionately high for Black patients. Jody Charnow unpacks recent research in Renal & Urology News.
The takeaway It’s been an unavoidable crash course, but we’ve learned a ton about coronavirus and COVID-19 this year. New Year’s resolution: Accelerate the journey of knowledge from bench to bedside.
- Museums are busy collecting pandemic artifacts so that future generations will have a glimpse of what we’ve been through in this tumultuous year—a global health crisis along with widespread unemployment, election upheaval, and mass protest against racial injustice. “We are in the gristmill of history,” says Anthea Hartig, director of the American Museum of Natural History. “Sometimes, the stones are further apart… but, right now, they’re close together.”
- Back in March, as the pandemic gathered force and theaters shut down, Judi Dench, Jade Anouka and other British actors spread “some Shakespeare love” by reciting Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech from The Merchant of Venice. The message is timeless.
Stuff you can do
- Drum out the old year, as did Cambridge, Massachusetts with its Good Riddance 2020 community event.
- Ring in and bring in the new.
- End this year on a positive note, expressing our gratitude to everyone who has cared for others throughout these dark and difficult days: The quality of mercy is not strained/It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/Upon the place beneath/It is twice blest/It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
...and some songs
December—George Winston. Full album. Just so soothing.
Memories—You’ve heard Maroon 5. Now listen to the One Voice Children’s Choir.
Dynamite--BTS. ‘Cause we all need to dance. Their launch video set a record with 101 million views on YouTube in its first 24 hours.
Feliz Navidad—Celebrating 50 years! Muchas gracias, Jose Feliciano.
We’ll return with the year’s final Haymarket Media Coronavirus Briefing next Wednesday. Until then, Happy Trails, good people. Be safe, be well, be vaccinated.