The Vaccine Project Newsletter: Just the facts, please

This week’s Vaccine Project Newsletter is 2,174 words and will take you seven minutes to read.

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Eleven months into a national vaccination campaign, we’ve come a long way:

•  More than 225 million people ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine (79.7% of that population, and 81.6% of adults).

•  195 million people 12 and older are fully vaccinated (68.9% total, and more than 70% of adults).

•  99.4% of seniors 65+ have received at least one dose of vaccine—can we pause for a moment to give our elders an A-plus for effort?—and 86% are fully vaccinated.

•  More than 30 million people have had a COVID-19 booster shot: 16.8% of adults (about 1 in 6) and more than one-third of seniors (36.6%).

While the Biden administration and Republican state officials duke it out in federal court over vaccine mandates, health communicators are working diligently to counter the insidious influence of vaccine misinformation on the public.

Community Unity is a collaborative effort of YouTube, Klick Health and the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Larry Dobrow reports in MM+M. A series of 12 episodes, each running about two minutes, addresses specific questions, such as “Do COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility?

The Community Unity campaign offers a blend of scientific information along with animation and pop culture references. “By using conversational narrative, a distinct visual style and humor, we’re trying to engage young people in a global discussion about vaccines that will help equip them with the information they need to keep themselves and their communities safe,” said David Bowen, Klick’s head of policy and advocacy.

Sounding a similar note, the Illinois Health and Hospital Association has built its educational campaign on the theme, “There’s Unity in Immunity: Get the Vaccine.” The state of Massachusetts, on its website, implores visitors to “Trust the Facts. Get the Vax.”

Another well-targeted effort is “Just the Facts on Vax: Inoculating Against Disinformation,” created and self-funded by digital agency 120/80 MKTG. The 20-episode series of PSAs, presented on social media channels, focuses on 14 states with the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates.

“Just the Facts” features epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, public health officials and others dispelling vaccine myths and misconceptions, such as “the vaccine wasn’t adequately tested,” “it will alter my DNA” and “if you’re young and healthy, your immunity protects you from the virus.” Says Rob Cronin, CEO of 120/80 MKTG, “It was agonizing to witness vaccination rates stall because of public trust sabotaged by disinformation… For me, Facebook’s silence on harboring the ‘Disinformation Dozen’ was a galvanizing moment.”

The Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder issued a report this week stating that “hundreds of millions of people pay the price, every single day, for a world disordered by lies.” Rampant misinformation and disinformation, the report notes, have undermined the COVID-19 response, diminished public faith in the electoral process and hindered efforts to address global climate change.

Getting it done

•  Julia Louis-Dreyfus is not only an award-winning actor but a breast cancer survivor –  and now a COVID-19 vaccine advocate, MM+M reports. Her message to the unvaccinated, conveyed in collaboration with SurvivorNet: If you don’t get vaccinated to protect yourself, do it to protect cancer patients, who are especially vulnerable to the virus.

•  How has Vermont succeeded where so many others have failed, managing to vaccinate 80% of its population against COVID-19? U.S. News & World Report lists several factors: a centralized sign-up site, an older population inclined to accept vaccination and a strong sense of community. They’ve also taken the vaccine to the people at general stores, gas stations, car races and off-road “mud-bogging” events. Local vaccine advocates include first responders, immigrant aid groups and community pharmacists.

•  Pittsburgh-based IntegraCare has achieved a 100% staff vaccination rate with its mandate and is now implementing a training program to promote career advancement and provide increased compensation, Kimberly Bonvissuto reports in McKnight’s Senior Living.

•  Community vaccine advocates aren’t getting a lot of press, but they’re quietly getting folks vaccinated. “For the Love of Our People” is a communications campaign that has helped more than 1 million Native Americans receive COVID-19 vaccine. The project is a collaborative effort of the nonprofit IllumiNative and the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute. FYI, November is Native American Heritage Month.

•  Poor diabetes management heightens the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. With that in mind, the Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity is urging clinicians to address disproportionately higher rates of diabetes in communities of color. The Center, a division of the National Minority Quality Forum, has developed a toolkit to help reduce barriers to evidence-based diabetes treatment and support, modeled on initiatives to improve flu and COVID-19 vaccination rates.

•  Austria has ordered a nationwide lockdown of the unvaccinated for at least 10 days as COVID-19 surges again across Europe; the 2 million cases on the continent in the past week is a pandemic record. Germany and other countries are tightening restrictions as well.

•  Singapore’s Ministry of Health has declared that people who are “unvaccinated by choice” will have to start paying for their own COVID-19 treatment (previously government-funded) starting December 8.

Push and push back

•  A federal appeals court in New Orleans blocked OSHA’s proposed COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements for businesses with 100 or more employees. That case and more than 30 other related suits have now been consolidated in a federal court in Cincinnati. The litigation pathway will likely lead to the Supreme Court.

•  Meanwhile, some of the country’s largest labor unions are taking the Biden administration to court in an effort to expand the OSHA rules to small as well as large businesses.

•  In two separate suits, 22 states are suing the federal government over the vaccine mandates (with no testing option) for 17 million healthcare workers. James M. Berklan and Kathleen Steele Gaivin share details in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, and McKnight’s Senior Living, respectively. Nearly three in ten nursing home workers remain unvaccinated.  

•  A federal judge has overturned the Texas ban on mask mandates in schools. The ruling said the ban puts disabled children at greater risk of getting sick with COVID-19, being hospitalized and requiring intensive care.

•  The Oklahoma National Guard is defying the federal COVID-19 vaccination mandate for members of the military and says it won’t punish those who decline vaccination. The Pentagon refuses to salute that sentiment and notes that it’s a “lawful order” for National Guardsmen to receive the vaccine.

• Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has called a special session of the legislature this week to enact laws countering the impact of federal and local vaccine and mask mandates. The bills would create broader exemptions from vaccination, including “anticipated pregnancy,” despite strong endorsements of COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy by public health officials and national OB/GYN associations.

Source: Getty Images.

Kids get their shot at prevention

•  In the first week of vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds, some 900,000 young ones rolled up their sleeves and 700,000 more had appointments scheduled for the following week.

•  The pace out of the gate is expected to taper off, as it has with adolescents. As of November 10, 59% of youngsters ages 12 to 17 had received at least one shot and an even 50% were fully vaccinated (versus 70% of adults). Vaccine has been available to 16- and 17-year-olds since last December and to 12- to 15-year-olds since May.

•  Achieving equity in children’s vaccination is a priority and a challenge, as fewer than half of all children in the U.S. have a medical home, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That means turning to school-based clinics, vaccination vans and satellite and pop-up clinics, as well as mainstays such as local pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Giving boosters a boost—and a boot

•  Pfizer/BioNTech is seeking approval of COVID-19 boosters for the entire adult population and Moderna is expected to follow suit. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets on Friday to discuss.

•  California, Colorado and New Mexico are not waiting, nor are West Virginia, Arkansas and New York City. Governors and public health officials have extended eligibility for COVID-19 boosters to all adults.

•  In the U.K., boosters are now recommended for people 40 and older (the previous threshold was 50).

• The World Health Organization continues to condemn the widespread administration of boosters in wealthier nations. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted, “Every day, there are six times more boosters administered globally than primary COVID-19 vaccine doses in low-income countries. This is a scandal that must stop now.”

Source: Getty Images.

The vaccine dashboard

•  The National Institutes of Health and Moderna are at odds over patent rights to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine, Lecia Bushak reports in MM+M. The NIH says that three of its scientists collaborated with Moderna to create the genetic sequence component of the vaccine and thus should be named as co-inventors on the patent application. Moderna thinks otherwise, but talks continue.

•  In the U.K., the government has postponed a vaccination mandate for healthcare workers until April 1, Luke Haynes reports in GP. An estimated 5% of the National Health Service workforce would remain unvaccinated with a mandate in place and would become ineligible to have face-to-face contact with patients.

•  The CDC has added a webpage devoted to pregnancy data on COVID-19.

The rest

•  Ho-ho-no? A Christmas TV ad by Tesco, the British supermarket chain, has Santa avoiding quarantine by showing his vaccine passport. As Shauna Lewis reports in Campaign, the spot generated more than 3,000 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, most alleging that the ad “encourages medical discrimination based on vaccination status.” How’s that for an anti-Vixen sentiment? Happy holidays, all.

•  PRWeek’s final issue of 2021 is “entirely devoted to the burgeoning area of health PR and communication,” writes VP and editorial director Steve Barrett. The issue features the newly revamped Health Influencer 30.

•  In MM+M, general manager Steve Madden offers a first-hand report on the “lively” and innovative return to in-person conferences. At HLTH 2021 in Boston, after uploading your vaccination and COVID test records, you could do everything from polish your podcast technique to play in a puppy park. The 6,000 masked attendees also had a chance to indicate their mix and mingle comfort level with a wristband: Green for hugs, yellow for fist bumps and red for please keep your distance.

•  Why isn’t the Pfizer pill getting more media play?, asks Marc Iskowitz in MM+M. The antiviral Paxlovid was 89% effective in preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, compared to 50% for Merck’s molnupiravir, but the Merck drug is garnering significantly more media mentions. It helps to be first out of the gate; Merck had about a one-month jump on Pfizer in announcing trial results. The good news, Iskowitz notes, is that both pills “could give physicians a leg up in bringing the pandemic to heel.”

•  Broadway has extended mask and vaccination requirements through the end of February. Thirty shows are now running and more than a million people have returned to theaters since reopening, according to the Broadway League. Theaters are operating at 77% to 85% capacity.

•  The NFL fined the Green Bay Packers $300,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols and fined QB Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Allen Lazard $14,650 each for attending a team-sanctioned Halloween party unvaccinated. Further violations could result in the forfeiture of future draft picks.

Three snow leopards at the Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska have died of complications from COVID-19. Two Sumatran tigers became ill and made a full recovery. Snow leopards have also tested positive for the virus at zoos in San Diego and Louisville.

Source: Getty Images.

Parting shot

AAA’s annual Thanksgiving Travel Forecast envisions 48.3 million Americans hitting the highways, 4.2 million running through airports, and 1 million going by bus, train or boat. The anticipated total of more than 53 million travelers is 13% higher than the 2020 figure and just 5% below the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. So after nearly two years on the pandemic highway, are we about to find an exit ramp for Normalville?

There’s reason for vigilance. Community transmission of COVID-19 remains high in 71% of U.S. counties, substantial in 15%, moderate in 12% and low in just 2%. Meanwhile, we are still averaging 82,000 new cases and 1,100 deaths a day.

Dr. Peter Hotez, professor at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, offers this reminder: “We’ve lost 150,000 unvaccinated Americans since June 1 whose lives could have been saved if they’d been vaccinated. And we’re about to lose another 50,000 by the end of the year based on projections. And this is happening because of misinformation or disinformation.”

.. and some songs

Honesty, Billy Joel

A Matter of Trust, Billy Joel

Truth and Honesty, Aretha Franklin

I Believe in You, Michael Buble

Unbelievable, Craig David

No More Lies, The Moody Blues

The Great Pretender, The Platters

Thanks for being here with us. Stay well and we’ll catch up again next Wednesday.

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