The Vaccine Project Newsletter: Marking our forward progress, keep moving the chains

This week’s Vaccine Project Newsletter is 2,066 words and will take you seven minutes to read.

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So how are we doing?

•  218.9 million people ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine (77.2% of the vaccine-eligible)

•  189.4 million people 12 and older are fully vaccinated (66.8% of the eligible)

•  95.8% of seniors 65+ have received at least one dose of vaccine and 84.4% are fully vaccinated.

Without a trip odometer, it’s hard to keep track of how far we’ve come recently. Put it this way: In the past three weeks, 5 million people have joined the ranks of the vaccinated.

Overall, 10.9 million people have received a booster, 6.2% of all adults and 14.9% of seniors.

More united than we think

John Dick, CEO of the Pittsburgh-based market research firm CivicScience, maintains that the country is not divided on the question of COVID-19 vaccination. Not when 81%, by his company’s tally, have either received the vaccine or plan to do so in the near future. And not when just 13% are firmly set against vaccination or can’t receive it for legitimate health reasons.

“I’ll venture this ranks as one of the LEAST divided things we’ve ever studied,” Dick wrote in his weekly newsletter. “I can’t even tell you how rare it is when 67% of Republicans agree with 91% of Democrats.” Folks are more likely to split ranks on the weighty matters of beer (51%) versus wine (49%) or Friends versus Seinfeld (a dead heat at 50% each).

Dick doesn’t minimize the impact of vaccine resistance on public health, however: “With anything short of near-ubiquitous vaccination, the choices of a tiny few are destructive enough to affect us all.”

Compounding the challenge is the chasm between information and misinformation. CivicScience reports that 70% of U.S. adults are worried about the spread of pandemic misinformation, while 25% aren’t concerned at all. Dick finds it “mind-numbing” that the unvaccinated are 50% more likely than the vaccinated to be unworried.

When asked what media source they trust the most for COVID-19 information, 22% of U.S. adults named the news, 19% government sources, 17% research journals and a mere 5% social media. Tellingly, 24% said they don’t trust anyone.

Dr. Francis Collins, who will soon retire after leading the National Institutes of Health for the past 12 years, says the U.S. underestimated the extent of vaccine hesitancy. He told MSNBC, “I wish we had seen that coming and come up with some kind of a myth-buster approach to block all of the misinformation and disinformation that has gotten out there and is all tangled up in politics and which is costing lives.” Dr. Collins characterized the 1,500 lives lost each day as the equivalent of five jumbo jets going down.

Something old, something new

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are tag-teaming once again to pave the way for a surge of booster vaccinations. As with Pfizer boosters, Moderna ones focus on people at high risk for COVID-19 because of their age, underlying medical conditions or exposure to the virus where they work or live. The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee, which meets on Thursday, may open that door a bit wider. For the 15 million people who have received the J&J vaccine, boosters will likely be recommended for all.

The question of mixing and matching vaccines for booster shots is a matter of keen interest among decision-makers, who are inclined to allow some flexibility. Over the past month, seniors have dutifully lined up for their Pfizer boosters; one in three of those eligible have already had their third shot, Alicia Lasek reports in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Another wave of vaccinations is coming in the kiddie pool, as the country prepares to vaccinate children 5 to 11 years of age. The FDA’s advisory committee meets next Tuesday to consider the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for that age group, at one-third the dose authorized for everyone 12 and up. The CDC has already issued guidance to state governments for the pediatric rollout, allowing them to place advance orders and alerting them to the need for education and outreach. The White House plan is to “hit the ground running.”

Quite apart from the latest booster push and the next youth movement is the ongoing effort to vaccinate 66 million eligible but unvaccinated folks. In communities across the country, efforts by vaccine advocates to reach and teach continue with little fanfare.

Clearing logistical hurdles – providing internet access to make appointments, arranging transportation to immunization sites and “sending familiar faces to knock on doors to dispel myths,” The New York Times notes – helped raise vaccination rates in Black communities. In rural Kentucky, local health agencies are enlisting local pastors to spread the word that vaccines won’t leave “the mark of the beast,” Kaiser Health News reports.

Family ties matter. Utah health officials recently tweeted this message: “A death from COVID-19 is more than just a number. It’s a grandparent who won’t be there for their grandson’s first Halloween. Death from COVID-19 is preventable. Get the vaccine, and be there for family.”

The American Heart Association’s “Stay Fuerte for All” campaign for the Latino community also emphasizes the importance of family, John Newton reports in MM+M. AHA research indicated that, in Hispanic households, Gen-Z and Millennials are “key influencers,” and older relatives often trust them when making healthcare decisions.

With greater fanfare and some fireworks, vaccination requirements set by more than 3,500 healthcare systems, government units, educational institutions and private employers are in motion. Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm by revenue, has made COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment, effective December 8, Aleda Stam reports in PRWeek. Meanwhile, Boeing announced a mandate with the same December 8 deadline. As it happens, that’s the date when federal contractors and subcontractors must have their employees fully vaccinated.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has submitted its proposal on workplace vaccination and testing requirements for top-level review. The OSHA rules, certain to spark litigation, will affect more than 130,000 businesses employing nearly two-thirds of the private sector workforce. In McKnight’s Senior Living, Kimberly Bonvissuto notes that some elder care facilities are concerned that a one-size-fits-all OSHA policy will add red tape and administrative burdens to an already overworked staff.

Police unions across the country are resisting mandates, even though COVID-19 has been the leading cause of death for cops in 2020 and 2021. The Officer Down Memorial Page has photos of more than 480 law enforcement officers who died of COVID-19 contracted in the line of duty.

A judge rejected a last-minute effort by state police troopers, corrections officers and others in Washington state to scuttle Governor Jay Inslee’s vaccination mandate. The deadline for compliance was Monday. That’s when the whistle blew on Nick Rolovich, head coach of the Washington State University football team, who lost his job due to his failure to receive the vaccine. So did four of his assistants.

Elsewhere in sports, the Brooklyn Nets have decided that unvaccinated All-Star guard Kyrie Irving will not play or practice. San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane, the team’s leading scorer, will sit out 21 games for violating National Hockey League COVID-19 protocols, reportedly for submitting a fake vaccination card.

Despite fears of staff shortages, most mandates in hospitals and health systems are proceeding smoothly, the Washington Post reports. While nursing homes in Connecticut have achieved high rates of staff vaccination, one in four facilities face fines of up to $20,000 a day for not reporting vaccination data. Danielle Brown has details in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

If mandates work, it’s because the vaccines work. From January through May, vaccination prevented an estimated 265,000 COVID-19 infections and 39,000 deaths among Medicare beneficiaries. That includes 5,600 deaths prevented among nursing home residents, Lasek reports.

Overall, per the CDC, the unvaccinated are six times more likely than the fully vaccinated to become infected with SARS-CoV-2 and 11 times more likely to die of it.

Moving forward

•  As of November 8, U.S. borders will open up to fully vaccinated foreign travelers, the first relaxation of international travel restrictions in 20 months.

•  All workplaces in Italy are requiring employees to have a Green Pass, which documents COVID-19 vaccination, recovery from infection or a recent negative test. Protests and strikes are in progress, the BBC reports.

•  The CDC is offering guidance on safer ways to celebrate the coming holidays. The family that vaxes together relaxes together.

•  As far as Halloween is concerned, wear a mask (this is not a difficult ask) and avoid large indoor gatherings and crowded doorsteps. And maybe zombies?

•  Parents in Wisconsin are suing school districts, charging that the refusal to adopt masking policies led to their children’s COVID-19 infections.

The vaccine dashboard

•  Valneva, a French biotech with offices in the U.S., announced Phase 3 results for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which compares favorably with the AstraZeneca jab. Valneva will seek approvals in the U.K. and European Union and plans trials in children ages 5 to 12.

•  Just under half (49.1%) of the world’s population has received a COVID-19 vaccination. At 7.7%, Africa lags well behind all other regions.

•  The ELMA Vaccines and Immunization Foundation is matching up to $1 million in donations to the Go Give One global vaccination campaign until March 2022.

•  The first plant-based COVID-19 vaccine is in development, Business Insider reports. It uses a relative of tobacco.

•  The Ad Council, American Medical Association, CDC and CDC Foundation are joining forces to encourage flu vaccination. The “No Time for Flu” and #FluFOMO campaigns are pro bono creations of ad agency Fluent360. Emphasis will be on Black and Hispanic populations, who have low rates of flu vaccination despite high risk for severe disease – just as they do with COVID-19.

•  The news of the world’s first malaria vaccine is cause for hope. Malaria causes more than 400,000 deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization, and two-thirds of the victims are children under five years of age.

The rest

•  The FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee will meet November 30 to consider the oral antiviral molnupiravir.  The pill, developed by Merck and Ridgeback, is for adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 at risk for progression to severe disease.

•  Tackling sexual harassment should be a focal part of the post-COVID back to work strategy, Kerry Glazer writes in Campaign. Glazer, who says the lockdown only pressed the pause button on the problem, is chair of AAR and Untold Studios and heads the U.K.’s TimeTo steering committee.

•  The pandemic has contributed to a widespread shortage of school bus drivers, according to Education Week.

•  After a one-year pandemic pause, the Christmas Spectacular returns to Radio City Music Hall, November 5 through January 2. The Rockettes are literally lining up to perform once again.

Parting shot

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell died Monday at age 84 from COVID-19 complications. Although fully vaccinated, he had been ill with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. Vaccinated Americans 80 and older are at higher risk of dying of COVID-19 than those 50 or younger, vaccinated or not, Caitlin Owens writes in Axios.

While anti-vaxxers pointed to General Powell’s death as another reason to shun vaccines, the scientific community put it in perspective. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society noted that his death was “a real-life example of the elevated risk blood cancer patients face,” adding that “blood cancer, blood cancer treatments and advancing age can all make people more vulnerable to breakthrough COVID-19 infection, complications and death.” One in four patients with blood cancer do not generate a full response to the first two doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

General Powell’s death, the LLS added, represents “a stark reminder of the importance of vaccination for the broader population. By getting vaccinated, those with normal immunity can reduce the risk that they transmit COVID-19 to those whose immunity is impaired.”

… and some songs

Don’t Give Up on Me, Andy Grammer featuring the PS22 Chorus

I Don’t Want to Grow Up, The Ramones

100 Years, Five for Fighting

If I Die Young, The Band Perry

If Wishes Were Changes, Nanci Griffith

Through the Years, Kenny Rogers

Always and Forever, Luther Vandross

Wishing you blue skies and sunshine. Back next week with more.

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