CDC Updates Recommendations: Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines Preferred Over Johnson and Johnson

The CDC endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)’s recommendations which expressed a clinical preference for certain COVID-19 vaccines. The current recommendation now states that the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are preferred over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This is due to the rare but dangerous side effect of blood clots that have been linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. While they still state that any form of COVID-19 vaccine is better than no vaccination, and that the risks of vaccines outweigh the risks of being unvaccinated and contracting COVID-19, the recommendation now states that the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines should be used when available, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should only be used when other vaccines are not available. All vaccines will still continue to be available. 

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COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 800,000 in U.S.

This week, the United States surpassed 800,000 deaths from COVID-19, and the number of daily deaths is on the rise. Daily cases are surging, and things are only expected to get worse as temperatures drop in much of the country (cold weather leads to more indoor gatherings) and Omicrons spreads. Eight states currently have indoor mask mandates for everyone, regardless of vaccination status: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington (Connecticut only requires indoor masking for unvaccinated people). The pandemic is not over, and it's critical for people to take appropriate actions to safeguard their health and the health of others in their community. If you are medically able to do so, get vaccinated as soon as possible and get a booster when you are eligible. Wear a mask at indoor gatherings, regardless of your vaccination status. If you're traveling or going to a gathering for the holidays, get tested before and after. Avoid large gatherings, and practice social distancing when possible.

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Omicron Update

According to the CDC, the latest data shows that the Omicron variant currently makes up 2.9% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States. This is a dramatic increase from the previous couple of weeks where the Omicron variant was less than 0.1% of cases. There are many factors that could have played into this increase, but it is certain that Omicron has been and will continue to spread in our communities.

Most notably, New York reported a record high of over 21,027 new COVID-19 cases this past Thursday, with hospitalizations also rising, however there has not been any increase in overall COVID-19 deaths yet. It is uncertain whether these cases have been due to the Omicron variant. The data we have so far suggests that Omicron is much more transmissible compared to original strains of the virus, but how it compares to Delta still needs to be determined. In addition, there has been a lot of news, mostly anecdotal at this point, of many individuals who have been fully vaccinated and/or received their booster shot who have still tested positive. This does not mean that the vaccine is not effective, and it is likely that the vaccine is still reducing the severity of breakthrough cases and therefore reducing deaths, even if breakthrough cases become more common.

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly. In one example, the Omicron variant has become the dominant variant in Scotland, overtaking Delta in only a few weeks, a similar story to what we saw with the Delta variant compared to the original strain. While the total number of cases in Scotland are far fewer than here in the United States, it is a warning sign for what is to come. The World Health Organization (WHO) also recently stated that 89 countries have reported cases of COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant. That being said, it is still too early to tell whether the Omicron variant is able to evade immunity provided by vaccinations or whether it causes more severe disease. With the increase in cases, an increase in hospitalizations is expected. What we do know is that COVID-19 reinfection is possible and that there are several measures that we need to do together to prevent further transmission of this virus. It is important to do your best to get vaccinated, get booster shots if eligible, but also continue to wear masks, socially distance, practice proper hand hygiene, and take any additional measures you feel comfortable with while following other public health guidelines to protect yourself and others.

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Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights Finds New Electoral Maps Violate Federal Law, Harm BIPOC Representation

On December 9th, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed an analysis showing that five of the proposed electoral maps developed by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The Commission was created and tasked with creating fair electoral maps by state constitutional amendment approved in 2018 (Michigan Proposal 18-2), in response to concerns about gerrymandered districts throughout the state.

According to the memorandum, "Election district maps cannot be drawn that will impair the ability of geographically insular and politically cohesive groups of black voters to participate equally in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice." The MDCR found that "none of the five Congressional District maps proposed on Nov. 5, 2021, includes a majority Black district. Currently Michigan has two majority-minority Congressional districts - the 13th and 14th."

"The Voting Rights Act requires that the Commission draw majority-minority districts to prevent vote dilution in Saginaw, Southfield, Flint, Pontiac, Taylor, Inkster, Redford, Hamtramck and Detroit. Each of these communities of interest could be denied the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice if the present percentages of majority-minority districts are diluted."

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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.

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White Police Officer Who Pulled a Gun on a Black Teen in DeWitt Reinstated

A White police officer in DeWitt, Michigan (immediately north of Lansing) was reinstated by an arbitrator after being fired for pulling a gun on a 19-year-old Black newspaper delivery driver earlier this year.

In January, Chad Vorce, who was off-duty at the time, called 911 on a "suspicious" Black man delivering newspapers near his home. Vorce claimed he fit the description of a person suspected of recent break-ins in the area, a common claim by White people who use violence against Black people. Vorce stated that "I thought it was him because he fits the same description, black hoodie...fricken black guy." After Vorce questioned the teen and didn't feel satisfied with the response, Vorce began following him in his truck. After the teen backed up to try to talk to Vorce, the off-duty officer told 911 dispatchers that the teen was trying to ram him and said "I’m going to go shots fired if he does it again!" The teen drove to a gas station to be in a public place that might provide safety from the threatening Vorce, where Vorce then blocked him in and approached with his gun drawn and identified himself as a police officer. The officer reportedly continued to yell at the teen even after on-duty police officers arrived. After an internal investigation, the police department fired Vorce in May, citing excessive force and other violations, stating that he "brought disrespect to himself and the DeWitt City Police Department."

This month, a White arbitrator decided that Vorce's actions hadn't "undermined or significantly impaired the otherwise good reputation of the department" and reinstated Vorce to the police department. The decision reinforces the lack of real accountability for police who use violence against Black people, even in the rare instance in which their own department tries to fire or discipline them. The arbitrator's justification only serves to highlight how racist law enforcement is in the US - for racially motivated violence by a police officers not to impair a police department's reputation implies that their reputation is already entirely sullied by consistent acts of racially motivated violence.

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MSU Announces COVID-19 Booster Requirement, Community Testing Options

On Friday, Michigan State University announced that all students, faculty, and staff will be required to receive a COVID-19 booster when they are eligible (six months after a two-dose regimen of Pfizer or Moderna or two months after Johnson & Johnson) for the spring semester. This follows a general trend of considering "fully vaccinated" to include boosters for those who are eligible, rather than treating the initial vaccination course as being permanent. In other words, getting vaccinated once doesn't make a person permanently "fully vaccinated" - being fully vaccinated is a state you have to maintain by getting boosters to maintain your immunity.

MSU also announced that it would be offering additional on-campus testing for COVID-19 variants, the flu (influenza), and RSV (which can cause colds , pneumonia, and bronchiolitis) at Spartan Stadium. Testing is available to students, faculty, staff, and community members (i.e., the general public) Monday through Friday from 8:30am-6:30pm via Gate B, and both walk-ups and appointments are possible. Results are provided by 9:00am the next day. For more information or scheduling, visit

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Children’s Vaccine Update

Pfizer COVID-19 Trial in 2 to 5 Year Olds Fails, Three-Dose Schedule Now Being Tested 

Late last week, Pfizer announced that their trial for a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine regimen for children ages 2 to 5 did not produce a sufficiently robust immune response and that they would therefore proceed with a three-dose vaccine trial. While this is not ideal news, especially for many folks who were hoping to vaccinate their younger children soon, it does show science and the vaccine development process at work. The third dose will be administered 2 months after the second shot in the new trial. In addition, many childhood vaccines are given in multiple doses, such as the Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis (DTaP), and polio vaccines, to name a few. This has no impact on COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5 and up, which have already been shown to be effective.

8 Cases of Myocarditis Reported in Children 5 to 11 Years of Age, Link to COVID-19 Vaccine Uncertain

The CDC also announced on Thursday that so far, there have been 8 cases of confirmed myocarditis in children ages 5 to 11. These were reported into the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and these cases have been sent for analysis to determine possible causes. So far, these cases have not been linked to COVID-19 vaccination as this is still being studied. This is out of a total of over 5 million children ages 5 to 11 who have received at least one dose, with around 2 million of them having received their second dose. While cases of myocarditis are concerning, none of the currently reported cases have been severe, and in previous incidences, almost all children fully recovered without any significant complications. In addition, this is a known side effect and is being monitored extremely closely, and thus even when it is extremely rare, cases are still being investigated. We will keep updating as long as we hear any news in this matter.

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Canada's Assembly of First Nations Creates 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council

This month, the Assembly of First Nations, a national advocacy organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada, amending their charter to establish a 2SLGBTQQIA+ Council. The organization has previously affirmed Two-Spirit and LGBTQ+ rights, but had not previously had a council that was dedicated to issues impacting Indigenous 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.

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Refugees in Some Countries Being Denied COVID-19 Vaccines Due to Litigation Fears

According to recent reports, vaccine manufacturers are denying COVID-19 vaccines to refugees and immigrants in many parts of the world due to the companies' fears of legal liability. COVAX is a global initiative aimed at increasing equity in COVID-19 resources to countries with less access. This is accomplished by coordinating resources to deliver vaccines, tests, and treatments to countries with lower incomes. Financially rich countries have largely hoarded vaccines, while countries with less financial resources have very little access, in part because pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to decrease their profits and are preventing wider production through the use of patents. The result is that people in lower-income countries are largely being abandoned and left to suffer and die. Wealthy nations are largely ignoring this humanitarian crisis, and are even ignoring the fact that having large unvaccinated populations anywhere in the world provides greater opportunities for the virus to mutate and cause further harm around the globe (including inside the wealthy, more vaccinated nations themselves).

According to the report, vaccine manufacturers are requiring countries to legally indemnify them for any negative health risks from the vaccines, but governments are not always the ones delivering vaccines. Particularly for refugee populations in many countries, humanitarian groups have been tasked by COVAX to help, because local governments have refused to help or aren't in control of a region. Those non-governmental organizations are not always able to accept additional legal risks themselves, and since vaccine makers refuse to accept liability, vaccines cannot be distributed. While some vaccine makers (Johnson & Johnson and three Chinese companies) are allowing doses to be administered under these circumstances, the majority of available doses come from manufacturers who are not accepting liability (Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca). Public misunderstanding of how vaccines work, including blaming vaccines for any health problems that later emerge (including health issues that are totally unrelated to the vaccine), are a major potential cause of litigation that companies fear could impact their profits. By prioritizing profits and attempting to avoid the risk of extra costs, pharmaceutical companies are putting money ahead of human lives.

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"Refugees lack COVID shots because drugmakers fear lawsuits, documents show" 

Prisons Turn Attorney-Client Phone Calls Over to Prosecutors Across the US

Under the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, attorney-client phone calls from prison are privileged and therefore not allowed to be recorded or used in court. However, defense attorneys across the US are finding that their phone calls with inmates are being handed over to prosecutors. This issue has been examined in depth by Worth Rises, an organization dedicated to dismantling the US prison industry. Bianca Tylek, founder and Executive Director of Worth Rises, indicates the practice of recording attorney-client conversations has become a systemic practice. The Worth Rises website explains that “While systemic violations of basic constitutional rights might typically result in a federal investigation the localized coverage of these regular violations has allowed [the prison telecom industry] to quietly settle individual lawsuits without meaningful accountability”. 

Practices in the industry have also made it difficult for attorneys whose calls have been leaked to ensure future phone calls will be protected. Court Watch NOLA reports that some attorneys have waited over a year to be added to privileged phone-call lists. However, lawyers are finding that being on these lists does not guarantee their phone calls with clients will not be recorded.

E. Tendayi Achiume, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on racism, indicates the use of invasive surveillance against the Black community and others affected by racism has been increasing globally. Until human rights safeguards can be put in place, many UN experts have called for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer, and use of surveillance technologies.

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This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):