December 12, 2021: Roundup & Myth Busting
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Table of Contents
Pfizer Booster Authorized for 16-17 Year-Olds
On Thursday, the United States FDA expanded eligibility for Pfizer boosters to 16- and 17-year-olds who completed their initial two-dose regimen of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months ago. Prior to Thursday, boosters were only authorized for those 18 and up. While those 18+ are eligible regardless of which COVID-19 vaccine they initially received (Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson) and they can mix and match (by getting a different type of booster than their initial shot), only 16-17 year-olds who received the Pfizer vaccine are authorized to receive a booster, and they can only receive the Pfizer booster.
"Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Expands Eligibility for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Booster Dose to 16- and 17-Year-Olds"
"16- and 17-year-olds are now eligible for a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster"
COVID-19 Omicron Variant Update
A lot of recent news regarding COVID-19 continues to be largely about the Omicron variant. While we will be covering some of the recent stories that have been circulating, we wanted to emphasize that as of now, very little is known about the Omicron variant at this point, especially when compared to the Delta variant, which is still the dominant variant and still accounts for 99.9% of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
Recently, several studies and reports have shared some data regarding how effective vaccines may be against the Omicron variant. One study suggested that the Omicron variant may partially evade immunity. Pfizer and BioNTech released a statement as well, stating that their current vaccine will work against the Omicron variant, however the CEO made a statement later that same day saying that a 4th shot may be needed sooner than expected. Early data out of South Africa has also suggested that while the Omicron variant may be more transmissible, it does not seem to increase likelihood of causing severe disease.
According to the CDC, about 26 states so far have detected cases of COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant. Michigan detected its first case of the Omicron variant in an individual in Kent County on December 3rd, meaning that it has likely been around for longer than that and has been spreading. Hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, almost all of which are in those who are unvaccinated, though those are almost all cases from the Delta variant.
We are still waiting for some answers regarding the Omicron variant, but as of now, it is important to get vaccinated and/or boosted when and if you can. In addition, continuing to wear masks, practicing proper hand hygiene, and socially distancing when possible are key in doing everything that we can to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants. Even if it’s determined that the Omicron variant is more transmissible but does not cause more severe disease, the more the virus spreads, the more likely other variants can emerge. If you have any other questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to reach out.
For resources on understanding variants, there is a link to the CDC’s resource here as well as an Omicron variant specific information site here.
No Evidence That Mouthwash Reduces COVID-19 Transmission
Ron Johnson, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin who has a history of promoting dangerous COVID-19 conspiracy theories and misinformation about vaccines, shared another one earlier this week. Johnson stated that "standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the coronavirus...why not try all these things?" The Senator has consistently endangered the public by telling people not to get vaccinated (despite vaccines being proven to work), and instead promoting things like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine (which haven’t been shown to work).
There is currently no evidence that using mouthwash reduces COVID-19 transmission. While there is some evidence that certain types of mouthwash can kill the virus in saliva, that doesn't mean that it's helpful in preventing real-world transmission. Transmission typically occurs when a person inhales the virus (which is generally through the nose, not the mouth), and it’s unclear whether reducing viral load in saliva would make it harder for an infected person to pass it to others. Additionally, the evidence that Johnson later cited on the topic was in reference to ingredients that are not commonly used in mouthwashes in the United States.
Using mouthwash is a great way to reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease, but vaccination and masks are what have been shown to reduce your risk of COVID-19.
"Researchers Studying Whether Mouthwashes Can Reduce Viral Load, COVID-19 Transmission"
"A GOP senator suggested gargling mouthwash to kill the coronavirus. Doctors and Listerine are skeptical."
U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health
On Tuesday, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health that highlighted the impacts of COVID-19 on children's mental health. The full report is available here.
Since the pandemic began:
"rates of psychological distress among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, have increased."
"depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms."
Negative emotions or behaviors such as impulsivity and irritability—associated with conditions such as ADHD—appear to have moderately increased."
"emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys"
The report also highlights the impact of racism, noting that "the national reckoning over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers, including the murder of George Floyd" and "COVID-related violence against Asian Americans" may have impacted the mental and emotional wellbeing of young people.
According to the report, groups at higher risk of mental health challenges during the pandemic include LGBTQ+ youth ("who lost access to school-based services and were sometimes confined to homes where they were not supported or accepted"), youth in immigrant households, and racial and ethnic minority youth, including:
"American Indian and Alaska Native youth, many of whom faced challenges staying connected
with friends and attending school due to limited internet access"
"Black youth, who were more likely than other youth to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID-19"
"Latino youth, who reported high rates of loneliness and poor or decreased mental health during the pandemic"
"Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander youth, who reported increased stress due to COVID-19-related hate and harassment"
Other groups listed as being at higher risk are youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities, low-income youth, youth in rural areas. Those with multiple risk factors (e.g., LGBTQ+ racial and ethnic minority youth) are noted as being at even higher risk, as are those with mental health conditions. The report also acknoweldges that "Some groups of youth and their families, such as people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities, may be more hesitant to engage with the health care system (including mental health services) due to current and past experiences with discrimination," putting them at increased risk.
The report outlines actions that can be taken to help, and has a variety of specific recommendations for different groups, including
Family Members and Caregivers
Educators, School Staff, and School Districts
Health Care Organizations and Health Professionals
Media Organizations, Entertainment Companies, and Journalists
Social Media, Video Gaming, and Other Technology Companies
Funders and Foundations
Federal, State, Local, and Tribal Governments
"U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by COVID-19 Pandemic"
"Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory"
Continuing COVID-19 Surge in Michigan
Once again, Michigan had the most COVID-19 cases of any state in the US in the past week, and was fourth in the number of COVID-19 deaths. The state also continues to break records for the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. The surge shows no signs of slowing down, and it's critical that all eligible adults and children get fully vaccinated and get a booster when it's time. Everyone should also wear a mask in public spaces, avoid large gatherings, and follow other public health advisories.
"Record-High Michigan COVID-19 Hospitalizations Still Rising"
CDC "United States COVID-19 Cases, Deaths, and Laboratory Testing (NAATs) by State, Territory, and Jurisdiction"
State of Michigan Coronavirus Data:
Cases Dismissed Because of Police Misconduct
This week in California, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced his office will be investigating Torrance Police Department after the Los Angeles Times released an article outlining years of racist, antisemitic, and homophobic texts by a dozen current and former Torrance police officers. The texts show hateful and biased attitudes towards people of color, Jewish individuals, and the LGBTQIA+ community. These texts also include jokes about using excessive force and having internal affairs investigate them. The texts were discovered through a criminal investigation of two Torrance police officers who spray painted a swastika inside a car they ordered to have towed. Currently, 15 officers are on administrative leave while the investigation continues. These texts have jeopardized cases by the Torrance Police Department. In the last decade, the implicated officers were involved with more than 1,800 cases. So far, 85 of those cases have been dismissed because of the involvement of the officers, with who knows how many more to come. At least seven cases of use-of-force involve the group of officers, three of the cases resulted in the deaths of Black or Latino men. While these were earlier declared to be justified, experts are calling to have the cases re-investigated. Police Chief Jeremiah Hart asked the Attorney General for help dealing with the situation and has stated that he is committed to accountability.
In New York, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz petitioned a judge in early November to expunge 60 convictions that involved three corrupt officers. The officers were found to have committed crimes and fabricated evidence in other cases. These expungements result from a push by the Legal Aid Society to investigate 22 officers charged with committing crimes during their careers. The 60 convictions were from an initial review into the three officers, but seven more Queens officers were found to have a criminal record, so more expungements could be coming pending further investigation.
In Chicago, 88 people seek to have their cases overturned due to being framed by corrupt officers. This is linked to the scandal of corruption by Chicago Police Sergeant Ronald Watts and officers under him. In 2017, 15 people had cases expunged due to corruption. In 2018, 18 people had cases expunged, and in 2019, 10 more were expunged. There has been no movement on the other cases since early 2020, so attorneys representing the other 88 individuals are pushing to have the cases reviewed. Some of the individuals represented had their names given to the Attorney General more than four years ago and some have testified as witnesses in other expunged cases or were co-defendants in cases that have already been expunged. The lack of movement is worrisome and harmful for those who have already suffered enough from the corruption.
Pandemic Shelter Conditions and Systemic Racism Tied to Increased Deaths in LA’s Unhoused Communities
Los Angeles County, California, had a 30% increase in deaths of unhoused individuals in 2020. This comes after alarming past yearly increases, including a 19% rise in 2019. While the 2020 surge matches a general trend due to the pandemic, there are key differences between this increase and those driven by COVID-19 in other populations. First, the unhoused population in LA comprises approximately 30% Black people, even though Black individuals represent only 8% of LA’s overall population. “You have all of these institutional things that over decades and decades broke down the Black family,” says former California State Senator Kevin Murray. Jacqueline Waggoner, who chairs the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority committee examining the disproportionate level of unhoused Black individuals, agrees and suggests that “government created the differences we see in housing,” listing housing discrimination that drove segregation and the practice of refusing to issue or insure mortgages in Black communities as examples. As a result, issues facing unhoused individuals in LA have an outsized impact on the Black community.
Another unique aspect of this increase in deaths was that during the first seven months of the pandemic, only 4% of them were attributed to COVID-19. Many unhoused people died from preventable issues under the care of programs meant to assist them during the pandemic. A report by the After Echo Park Lake Research Collective suggests the situation is a matter of support. Pandemic-based changes to shelter programs, like the 2020 Project Roomkey, completely isolated unhoused individuals from community while exposing them to unstable conditions. In addition to curfews, residents experienced invasions of personal space through searches and room checks, and threats of expulsion from the program were used to ensure compliance. The report concludes, “it is crucially important to understand such deaths as evidence of the dislocation and trauma caused by housing insecurity and displacement as well as by carceral isolation in shelter and emergency housing programs.”
Street Watch LA: Coalition of organizers and hosts of We the Unhoused, Podcast by unhoused LA residents
Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority:
New York City Grants Lawful Non-Citizens Ability to Vote in Local Elections
On Thursday, the New York City Council approved a bill that allows lawful residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. The measure grants municipal voting rights to "any New Yorker who is a lawful permanent resident or authorized to work in the United States, who has been a resident of New York City for at least 30 consecutive days, and who meets all the qualifications for registering to vote under the Election Law other than U.S. citizenship." Voting rights are limited to the city itself, and include "any primary, special, general, or run-off election for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough President, or Council Member, as well as on any local ballot initiative." New York City is home to millions of immigrants, and the change is expected to impact over 800,000 people who are legal U.S. residents living in the city but have previously not had the ability to vote in local elections. The new law will not have immediate impacts: Non-citizens cannot start registering to vote until December 9, 2022, and cannot begin voting in local elections until January 9, 2023.
New York City is only the fifteenth municipality in the U.S. known to allow noncitizens to vote. Federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections, and no state explicitly allows noncitizens to vote in state or local elections.
"Council Votes on Historic Municipal Voting Rights Legislation"
"NYC Council passes bill giving voting rights to non-citizens"
"Laws permitting noncitizens to vote in the United States"
More Evidence of Mask Effectiveness
The effectiveness of masks in reducing COVID-19 transmission is well established, and new data from Missouri provides further support. The data shows that jurisdictions in the state without mask mandates had 21.7 cases per day per 100,000 people, while those with mask mandates had 15.8 cases per day per 100,000 people. The analysis was requested by Governor Parson, who has strongly opposed and criticized mask mandates throughout the pandemic. Once results were compiled and it was clear that they showed that masks did help prevent transmission of the virus, the data was shelved and not released to the public. The data was only made available after the Missouri Independent and the Documenting COVID-19 Project requested the data under the Sunshine Law.
"Missouri health department found mask mandates work, but didn’t make findings public"
This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):
Vanessa Burnett (she/they) M.P.H; Health Equity Consultant, Michigan Public Health Institute
Wilfredo Flores (he/him/his), fifth-year PhD candidate in Writing and Rhetoric, M.A. Technical Communication
Daniel Pfau (they/them/theirs), Neuroscience PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Obstetrics & Gynecology/Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan
Grey L. Pierce (they/them); M.A., Cognitive Psychology; Chair, Power of We Consortium
Francis Yang (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Third-year medical student