A new study, published on Friday, has sparked concerns that a heart condition could be a very rare side effect for teens and young adults receiving the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines.
Health authorities are investigating whether reports of heart inflammation in seven US teen boys across several states can be linked to the administration of a Pfizer shot, the Associated Press reported.
The study, published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows that the seven boys – aged between 14 and 19 – experienced chest pain within a few days of having their second coronavirus vaccine.
Heart imaging tests showed a type of inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis.
None of the teenagers were critically ill and all were sent home from the hospital after two to six days, Dr. Preeti Jaggi, who co-authored the report, told AP. It is currently believed that the inflammation was temporary, Jaggi said.
This study follows news from Israel that suggested there is a “probable link” between receiving the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and the appearance of myocarditis, Israel’s health ministry said on Tuesday.
Out of more than 5 million people who got the vaccine, 275 people reported heart muscle inflammation, mainly young men, the health ministry said.
The rate of reported myocarditis cases after COVID-19 vaccinations, however, was not different from the baseline rate, which means there may not be a link between vaccination and the condition, Al-Arshani wrote.
Eligible teens are still being encouraged to be vaccinated due to a rising number of hospitalizations among young people, the CDC said.
Hospital admissions and deaths are also down. The CDC said the seven-day average for hospital admissions has dropped to 3,400 and deaths are at a new low of 498 per day.
The drop in cases comes amid a rise in vaccinations. CDC data shows that 38.9% of the total US population has been fully vaccinated and 48.9% have received at least one dose. Among those age 18 or older, a whopping 60% have received at least one shot.
“As each week passes and as we continue to see progress, these data give me hope,” Walensky said. “These data are telling us a story: As more and more people roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, the number of cases and the level of community risk is decreasing.”
Vaccinations across the country are down by close to 50% from their peak last month.
The country was vaccinating an average of almost 3.4 million people a day in mid-April but only 1.8 million vaccine doses were given out each day over the last week.
While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been on the decline as more people get vaccinated, experts are worried the slowing of vaccinations could leave groups of unvaccinated people vulnerable to infection, especially during the summer when people are likely to congregate indoors to avoid the heat, CNN reported.
Specifically, experts are worried about states with the lowest vaccination rates per capita, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Georgia, and Tennessee.
“If we have large numbers of unvaccinated people in those states, we may very well see a surge in those states, so I think a lot of us are worried about that,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Thursday.
Data from Johns Hopkins University showed that less than 30% of people in Wyoming are fully immunized, which is the lowest rate of any state, compared to the less than 40% of Americans that are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
More than 60% of American adults have already received at least one shot.
The European Union will allow Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to visit Europe this summer, a top official told The New York Times on Sunday.
It would be a change from policies that have been in place for more than a year. In March of 2020, EU leaders restricted most foreign travelers from entering Europe. Even when the bloc’s borders were partially opened in the summer, the US was excluded from that list, as its coronavirus outbreak deemed too risky.
“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU’s executive branch, told The Times. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.”
All three vaccines authorized for use in the US, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, have been approved by the EU’s drugs regulator.
“All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.,” von der Leyen said.
The Times reported US and EU officials have been in talks over acceptable vaccine certificates that would allow tourists to prove their vaccination status.
Last month, the EU proposed a vaccine passport system that would allow vaccinated EU citizens to travel more easily within the bloc by summer, Insider’s Marianne Guenot reported.
The EU official did not give The Times a timeline for when it might open for US tourists, noting that it will depend on the coronavirus situation in the US.
Daily coronavirus case numbers remain relatively flat in the US, though some states are seeing a rise, while vaccination rates remain high, with about 3 million people per day on average receiving a shot.
Despite being one of the leading nations when it comes to vaccinations, the US could struggle to reach herd immunity, depending on the pace of reopenings and coronavirus variants, Insider’s Aria Bendix reported. Vaccine hesitancy is another obstacle and could make it difficult for the US to keep up its current rate of vaccinations.
President Joe Biden will announce on Thursday that the US met his vaccination goal of 200 million shots in 100 days. And on Wednesday, he announced new plans to ensure every American employee can get a shot.
A White House statement said that Biden is calling for every employer in America to provide paid time off to get vaccinated, which would include the time it takes to recover from any of the vaccine’s side effects. He also reaffirmed his commitment to a tax credit that will offset the cost for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide full pay for workers who want to get a vaccine.
“Providing paid time off for vaccinations is an investment in the safety, productivity and health of an employer’s own workforce and their community,” the statement said. “No working person in this country should lose a single dollar from their paycheck to take time to get the shot or recover from it.”
The paid-leave tax credit was included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus law, and it ensures that “no small businesses or non-profits will lose a single dollar by providing such paid leave to workers receiving a vaccination.”
According to the White House, the credit will offset the cost for small businesses for up to $511 per day of paid sick leave offered between April 1 and September 30, and it will apply to nearly half of all private sectors in the country.
And along with the tax credit, Biden’s wants employers to help employees get vaccinated by making “commitments to provide accurate and timely information and incentivize all Americans to get vaccinated.” Those could include discounts for vaccinated people, product giveaways, or promotions.
Biden pledged in a March press conference that 200 million shots will be administered by the end of April, and on Monday, every American aged 16 and older became eligible for a vaccine.
“We have enough of it, you need to be protected, and you in turn need to protect your neighbors and your family,” Biden said in a video on Monday. “So please, get the vaccine.”
When Ronald Reagan opened his 1980 general election campaign at Mississippi’s Neshoba County Fair, he proclaimed, “I believe in states’ rights … And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.”
On that distant hot summer afternoon Reagan’s message resonated with the audience since it was something they had heard before. “State’s rights” was the same phrase used to justify Jim Crow segregation, poll taxes, and literacy tests for Black voters. In the words he chose, Reagan showed that he spoke Mississippi’s language.
Reagan’s speech was also thinly-disguised racism – and uttered not far from where three murdered civil rights workers were buried in an earthen dam in the summer of 1964 – yet its sentiment of brash independence rang true with those who heard it.
Today the Republican party dominates Mississippi politics. After a period of racially-integrated governance from 1980 to 2000, Mississippi has now entered a second phase of disenfranchisement – much like the period that followed the two decades of Reconstruction – in which the legislature’s mostly Black Democratic minority has been locked out by the entirely white Republican majority. The idea that government can help Mississippians, with policies such as Medicaid expansion, is immediately dismissed. The same can be said about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely avoided government support and public health guidelines during the crisis.
Although the rallying cry of state’s rights has not been used to justify the way the COVID crisis has been handled in Mississippi, it might as well have been. The language used by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and those in his circle of Republican legislators echoes the belief that government cannot interfere in anything, even if it is during a pandemic that threatens the lives of every last citizen of the state. Yet the question remains, can the good the government is seeking to do during this crisis overshadow years of Republican messaging to the contrary?
States rights and COVID
Ever since COVID cases began to rise in Mississippi a year ago, the state has handled the crisis with a complete lack of consistency, with one message from the governor and Republican state legislators and another from local officials who have been seeking to keep their communities safe. Initially, the governor’s message was that as a rural state, the pandemic was not going to have the same impact as it was having in large cities, so there was no need for tight restrictions. Gov. Reeves’ brand of exceptionalism proved to be wrong, as COVID cases escalated over the summer months, striking the poor and communities of color hard.
Then there was Mississippi’s patchwork quilt of county-by-county mask mandates and COVID restrictions on bars and restaurants, which ignored that the virus could travel across county lines, since people in rural Mississippi often shop and seek medical attention across those artificial borders. When Gov. Reeves lifted the mask mandate in March, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper that while he strongly encouraged the wearing of masks, he did not feel the number of COVID cases in the state “required government intervention.”
Widespread vaccine hesitancy
Today Mississippi may have vaccinated nearly a quarter of its population, but the mixed messaging from Gov. Reeves over the past year has now kept the needle from moving quickly on getting enough shots in arms. As The New York Times recently reported, there is now a pile up in unclaimed vaccination appointments in the state, and public health officials believe it is a sign of vaccine hesitancy. And this is during a period when anyone over the age of 16 is eligible for the vaccine.
The state needs to do something to overcome this issue, but the question remains, will a push by the state to get more people vaccinated be viewed as, to use Gov. Reeves’s phrasing, “government intervention?” Given the history of the state, an aversion to the idea that government can help the common good stands at the root of the hesitancy.
Interestingly enough, Mississippi has one of the nation’s best child vaccination rates, largely because of a strict mandatory vaccination law that lacks the loopholes found in many states. Mississippi does not allow religious or philosophical exemptions to child vaccination.
But the COVID vaccine is another story.
Bear in mind that Mississippi is a place defined by a volatile mixture of politics and culture. The white population includes a sizeable number of Republican anti-vaxxers since nationally nearly half of Republican men and 40% of Republicans overall have said in surveys that they do not plan to be vaccinated. Mississippi’s Black population, which is roughly 38% of the population of the entire state, includes many who are suspicious of the medical establishment and thus the vaccine. White evangelicals have also expressed resistance to taking the vaccine.
When you combine all those factors with a populace conditioned to be suspicious of government, it is little wonder that there is a vaccine surplus in the state. I have seen more yard signs in the college town of Oxford, Mississippi commanding me to trust in Jesus during this pandemic than I have seen signs commanding me to wear a mask or urging me to get vaccinated.
No escaping the past
Since Reagan’s speech in Neshoba County in 1980, the message from Mississippi’s Republican establishment has been that government is the problem. Now that there is a problem that government can potentially help solve – a solution that provides the key to herd immunity in a state that has been ravaged by the pandemic – any sign of government intervention is still automatically seen as suspect by a large portion of the population, because, for years, their leaders have steadily sent the message to citizens that a government solution as an intrusion.
I often say that in Mississippi, nothing is ever escaped. The past and the present live beside each other across the state’s landscape and reverberate against each other. If anything has exposed the years of lies about fear of government that the Republican party has inflicted on Mississippi and the nation, it is this pandemic.
It is time for Mississippians and Americans to learn from our past – and unshackle ourselves from it – rather than continuing to be defined by it. Government help and guidance can help us through this crisis, just as it guided the nation out of the Great Depression. 40 years later, this pandemic has made one thing clear: Ronald Reagan’s message of freedom from government has blinded many of us to the realities of the present.
W. Ralph Eubanks is the author of A Place Like Mississippi and is a visiting professor of Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.
AstraZeneca shares fell Tuesday after US health officials raised questions about the drug maker’s COVID-19 vaccine, saying the company may have used some outdated trial data in its update about the formula.
The Data and Safety Monitoring Board, an independent expert panel that monitors trial safety, said in a statement early Tuesday it was concerned that information released by AstraZeneca about its COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial “may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.”
“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible,” the safety panel said in a late Monday letter to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and AstraZeneca.
Shares of AstraZeneca fell 3.8% to $49.27 during Tuesday’s session.
AstraZeneca said Monday the vaccine it co-developed with Oxford University was 79% effective at protecting against the coronavirus in the vaccine’s largest trial yet. It also said the formula was 100% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 and hospitalization. AstraZeneca was to submit the trial data to the US Food and Drug Administration, which has granted emergency use authorization for other COVID-19 vaccines.
AstraZeneca responded to the safety panel on Tuesday, saying the figures it published Monday were based on a pre-specified interim analysis with a February 17 cut-off date for data.
“We have reviewed the preliminary assessment of the primary analysis and the results were consistent with the interim analysis. We are now completing the validation of the statistical analysis,” it said in a press release.
The company said it will “immediately engage” with the safety monitoring board to share its primary analysis “with the most up to date efficacy data,” with plans to issue results of the primary analysis within 48 hours.
Starting Saturday, eligible residents in another 12 states can begin booking COVID-19 vaccinations at CVS pharmacy.
This week, the vaccines rolled out to CVS locations in Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Oklahoma, Utah, Minnesota, and Vermont.
The company is now administering vaccines in nearly 1,200 stores across 29 states and Puerto Rico, Philadelphia and New York City, CVS Health said in a statement.
“We’re increasing the number of active stores and expanding to additional states as fast as supply allows, with the capacity to administer 20 25 million shots per month,” said Karen S. Lynch, President and Chief Executive Officer, CVS Health. “We’re also focused on priority populations, including vulnerable communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic as well as teachers and school support staff.”
The expansion comes as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program that was announced by the White House last month, stipulating that over 40,000 pharmacies nationwide will receive vaccine doses to give to eligible populations.
President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that pre-K through 12 educators, staff, and child care workers should receive at least one shot of the two-dose vaccine by the end of March.
This eligible group made up over 30% of COVID-19 vaccine appointments at CVS pharmacies between March 3 and March 10, the company said.
Separately, the pharmacy giant said its vaccine rollout at long-term care facilities has been a “success.”
Its pharmacy teams completed providing second doses at all nursing facilities and that the third and final visits are 90% complete, CVS said. Additionally, the second vaccine doses at assisted living and other facilities are 91% complete, it said.
The company administered around 4.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses through the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , to facilitate on-site vaccinations for staff and residents at over 65,000 enrolled long-term care facilities.
As a pediatric ER physician at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, she believes everyone should get vaccinated for medical reasons and knew she could help.
Tay was able to successfully schedule appointments within two days for her two neighbors, who are in their 80s. After, she realized how she could serve a greater need.
“I thought, well, everybody in our building should get it because it would just make it a much safer place to live,” she told Insider. “So I posted signs in the mail room and then the laundry room. And I was looking specifically for seniors, because I figured the younger people can just do this on their own. Then people started calling me from within the building and it just became a thing.”
Word spread and more and more people who needed assistance with making appointments started reaching out to Tay.
“Pretty soon, I was making appointments for seniors all across New York City,” Tay said.
Tay said she spent the two weeks of vacation she had off from work making vaccine appointments. By the end of February, she’d made over 200 appointments all on her own. During the process, she realized there were whole communities in addition to the elderly who couldn’t make their own vaccine appointments, like those who were unable to afford a computer or didn’t have internet access, as well as those with language barriers or who were deaf or blind.
But then her vacation ended.
“It got to be overwhelming because I had to go back to work,” Tay said. “But there was so much work that needed to be done that I wanted to tap into other groups of people.”
Growing the team
So she recruited the help of medical students and joined the Facebook group Helping NYC get Vaccinated (Covid-19), a private group created by Chelsea Lavington, Beka HM, and Tony Ko on January 12, 2021. The group’s 6,700 members share vaccine appointment information and eligibility updates – hearing of Tay’s effort, several members also volunteered to help.
Madalyn Fernbach, 23, is a member of the Facebook group and a clinical research coordinator at Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer center who’s been helping Tay. She joined the Facebook group initially in early February to secure a vaccine appointment for her grandmother, but saw an opportunity to continue to help out others in need of assistance.
Since coming on alongside Tay, Fernbach said she’s made 50 appointments, including one for a woman who specifically wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The first appointment Fernbach was able to find for her was at 2 a.m. The woman enthusiastically took the slot and immediately asked Fernbach if she could find an appointment for her husband. Fernbach tried to explain to the woman how difficult that would be, but right at that moment another appointment for the same time popped up. The couple was extremely grateful for Fernbach’s assistance and said their vaccination process went smoothly.
“I work from home right now, so this is a great way without being on the front lines to do your part and contribute to the pandemic efforts,” Fernbach said. “I challenge other healthcare workers who have the luxury of working from home who want to make a difference to join causes like this and help local seniors or local community members find ways to get their appointments.” As of March 10, Tay’s entire team has made about 300 vaccine appointments.
Do you have a vaccine story you want to share? Contact Lauryn Haas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making the process as seamless as possible for vulnerable communities
To make the process as smooth as possible, Tay has a phone number that those who need help can call, and she’s also set up a Gmail account for email requests that are then sent to volunteers like Fernbach. As of March 10, there are 870 requests to be processed.
Tay also created more flyers in multiple languages to put up throughout the city in places like senior centers. She said she asked a friend for help with the Spanish translation, while her father helped her translate the flyer into Chinese.
“I’ve definitely tapped into the Chinese community, but I wish that we could also do the same with other pockets in New York City as well,” she said.
Tay said that the most difficult community to reach are the elderly who don’t own computers because the main way for them to find out about her is by seeing the flyers around town. At a time like this when everyone is staying indoors it’s even harder, and often they can only be reached by word of mouth.
To snag appointments, Tay and her now dozens of volunteers routinely visit seven or eight websites with vaccination slots, like the NYC COVID-19 Vaccine Finder and Vax 4 NYC, and refresh the pages until they can find an opening.
Tay said she works on this during evenings and weekends when she isn’t at her day job, and Fernbach even helps out on her lunch break. The team also follows the Twitter account Turbo Vax (@turbovax), a bot account that tweets available vaccine appointments from city- and state-run administration sites.
Overcoming obstacles like privacy and documentation
Finding an appointment is one challenge of the process, but another is getting some residents who are eligible for the vaccine to share the required information.
Tay said that she was recently helping one gentleman over the phone who refused to give her the information she needed to make his appointment, like his address and birthday. They went back and forth, and he got rude with her before hanging up the phone. She happened to see a location right next to where he lived and made the appointment for him anyways.
“He called me back and he was very apologetic,” she said. “‘I didn’t know him, but I knew he needed it.” She added that the man ended up making a donation to Bellevue to thank her for her service.
Tay said that there are also many undocumented immigrants in New York City who want the vaccine but are too nervous to reveal personal details. It helps that the undocumented immigrants she works with are usually referred by a friend of a friend. She also worked with an immigration lawyer, who provided blank templates for undocumented immigrants to fill out and take to their appointments.
“They’re just afraid to appear,” she said. “They’re afraid to get the vaccine, but they need to. In Queens and in Brooklyn, there’s different pockets with a lot of immigrants who have really suffered a lot from COVID. And that is the population that I’m trying to target so we can help keep everybody safe.”
She said the people she’s helped are often very grateful, but she’s not looking for any tokens of appreciation.
“We get a lot of people who really want to give us things or take us out to lunch,” Tay said. “And really this is not about anything that’s materialistic in any way. This is simply just so that everybody can become healthy.”
If you’re a New York City resident who needs help making a vaccine appointment, you can fill out this form to request help from Tay and her volunteers. For those looking to join Tay and her team, you can fill out this form.