Anti-Asian Violence

Queering Medicine stands in solidarity with Asian communities in Lansing and beyond.  We firmly denounce racism and xenophobia and encourage our Queering Medicine community to continue to push against and fight oppression. This statement comes in direct response to the most recent series of attacks against Asian and Asian American people in the US and the death of Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year old who was killed in San Francisco. We recognize that more crimes and harassment have occured than have been reported and Asian-owned businesses have suffered because of the narratives created to spread fear and hate. Anti-Asian racism has existed well before the pandemic; it has been exacerbated and fueled by rhetoric that blames Chinese people for COVID-19 and propagates stereotypes. From the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to Japanese Internment camps to scapegoating of disease outbreaks in the early 2000s to present day,  Asian communities have been targets of xenophobia and racism in the United States. Early in the pandemic, we saw a series of violent events and racist rhetoric that blamed Asian people for the SARS CoV2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic. These tragic events are on the rise and are being tracked by Oakland, California City Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas has called for solidarity and warns against pitting communities of color against each other or increasing the police presence. Across the United States, efforts to end racism must also include the violence and hate that target Asian communities. Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate and a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University says, “We know ... that this is an issue that affects all our communities, and we have to break the cycle of violence ... And we’re calling not necessarily for more punitive measures but restorative justice models that break the cycle of violence, ethnic studies to teach people about racial solidarity, community mediation efforts to not only hold people accountable, but to work together to resolve issues.” On January 26th, President Biden signed an Executive Order that condemns racism, xenophobia and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This is a step in the right direction and calls out the Trump administration for fueling hate with harmful rhetoric, but we must also remember that violence against Asian people communities existed well before Trump took office. 

We must call out racism and stand up for Asian communities. Interracial solidarity is critical and a deeper understanding of histories of oppression across communities of color can build stronger alliances and partnerships. Racism is deadly; together we can build a more just world. 

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Police in Ingham County More Likely To Seek Charges Against Black Residents

Police in Ingham County continue to disproportionately arrest and seek charges against Black people, according to data released earlier this month by the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office. The data from 2020 show that Black people account for 40% of all reported offenses, but only 12% of the population, while White people account for 50% of reported offenses, but make up 76% of the county population. In Lansing, Black people account for 51% of reported offenses, but only 23% of the population. In East Lansing, Black people account for 40% of reported offenses, but only 7% of the population.

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Lansing and East Lansing Schools Announce Start of In-Person Classes

On Thursday, the Lansing School District announced a new Safe Learning Plan "that allows Lansing students to begin returning to school buildings for in-class instruction on a hybrid basis beginning March 22, 2021." Under the Plan, students would continue to have online instruction on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings and would have the option to attend in-person classes on those afternoons. Wednesdays would be used for "online asynchronous learning with students at home or in community center learning labs." The announcement also noted that the district is installing "high-tech air cleaning units" in classrooms and "UV germ killing equipment" in "several school buildings."

Last week, the East Lansing School District announced that all students would be able to return to in-person instruction on March 1st, instead of having preschool and elementary students start on February 22nd and middle and high school students start on March 1st (the original plan announced on January 25th). The change reportedly came as a result of the snowstorm earlier in the week that caused the Ingham County Health Department to cancel vaccination appointments on Tuesday, delaying second doses for some teachers. The district will continue to offer fully remote instruction through the end of the school year to those who choose it.

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Michigan Fails to Track Race of COVID-19 Vaccine Recipients

Last week, we reported on inequitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution in a variety of states and cities, with BIPOC being vaccinated at lower rates than White people. There are a variety of reasons for this difference, many of which are the result of barriers presented by system racism (e.g., lack of access to transportation or working jobs that are inflexible to vaccine clinic hours). Our summary didn't provide any data from Michigan, however. The reason for this is what Debra Furr-Holden, a member of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, recently called "almost criminal" and "predictable and avoidable breakdown" - the state isn't collecting (and therefore isn't reporting) data on the race of people being vaccinated. The only reported demographic details of people receiving COVID-19 vaccines in Michigan are county of residence, sex, and age group. Some cities and counties are collecting data on race and other demographics, but it is not being done statewide, and the state's computer system to track vaccination information does not provide any way to include the data.

The tracking system was originally only used to track children receiving vaccinations, and was expanded to include adults in 2006. The state never added the ability to track race, despite the importance for understanding critical issues in public health. The disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic based on race have been evidence since nearly the beginning of the crisis, and long before vaccines were made available. The state of Michigan also declared racism to be a public health crisis in August, yet never took the necessary steps to track race data in the system.

The result is simple: In Michigan, we have no way to know how disproportionate COVID-19 vaccination programs are with respect to race, and therefore cannot determine what efforts are needed to correct the programs and ensure equity.

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Single Dose of Pfizer Vaccine May Be Up To 92.6% Effective 

Several recent studies regarding the Pfizer vaccine have suggested that at least two weeks after the first dose of it, the vaccine may actually be up to 92.6% effective. This comes after additional analysis of the initial study of the Pfizer vaccine, which initially showed that after the first dose, the vaccine was 52.4% effective. This, however, included data collected within the first two weeks after their first dose. Further analysis looking at data collected starting two weeks after the first dose and before the second dose suggested an efficacy of 92.6%. This is consistent with current evidence regarding how long the body takes to learn and mount the proper immune defense mechanisms after receiving the vaccine. Another study out of Israel involving healthcare workers suggested similar high efficacy after one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This study considered data 15-28 days after the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and showed up to an 89-91% efficacy. This data has been promising, especially as vaccines continue to remain in very short supply, and suggests that prioritizing giving as many people at least one dose first to cover more people may be how vaccinations move forward (rather than prioritizing getting a smaller number of people two doses). It is also still too early to tell, however, and if you’re able to get both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it is advisable. If you are only able to get one dose, this information may still be promising!

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Ingham County COVID-19 Cases and Deaths Decreasing; BIPOC Still Disproportionately Impacted

New data shows that COVID-19 cases and deaths are decreasing in Ingham County, and vaccine allocations are on the rise. Over 26,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the county to date (including both first and second doses for many people, so the total number of people that have been vaccinated is less than 26,000). Not everything is a cause for celebration, however: Black and Latinx people are still more likely to test positive for COVID-19 and to die of the disease in the county. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC is a result of systemic racism and its impacts, not on any difference in genetic susceptibility to the disease.

It is critical that everyone continues to wear a mask, maintain physical distance from people outside their household, and wash their hands, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated, and that everyone who is medically able to receive a vaccine gets one as soon as they are eligible and able.

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Vaccination May Reduce Transmission of COVID-19

Recent reports of early data, primarily out of Israel, have suggested that COVID-19 vaccines may reduce transmission of the virus. Researchers have found reduced viral load, which may be a way to measure infectiousness, in people who tested positive for COVID-19 after being vaccinated. It is not yet known whether the reduced viral load is enough to make people less infectious in real-world conditions, however. Ongoing research is attempting to track close contacts and family members of vaccinated people to determine whether those around them are getting infected at lower rates than would be expected otherwise.

Data also shows that people 60 years of age or older who have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine showed a 41% decrease in newly confirmed COVID-19 infections and a 31% drop in hospitalizations since the beginning of this year. About 90% of individuals in this group had received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This was in comparison to people 59 years of age or younger, where only 30% of the population has been vaccinated. New cases in the younger group dropped by about 12% with hospitalizations down 5% in the same time period. The decrease in the number of new infections in a population that is almost completely vaccinated versus a population that isn’t suggests that transmission of the virus, and thus new infections, may be reduced by vaccination. While there was a significant difference in the numbers, Israel has implemented multiple lockdown measures, some of which fell within the same time frames as the data being collected, thus the results can’t all be attributed to vaccinations alone. It is, however, promising data, and in conjunction with additional public health measures, will greatly assist in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Study Shows Top Five Riskiest Jobs Related to COVID-19

A new study in California looked at the jobs most related to mortality from COVID-19. Researchers analyzed death certificates from individuals aged 18-65 years old from the first seven months of the pandemic and compared those pre-pandemic mortality rates. Overall, California adults 18-65 years old saw a 22% increase in mortality due to the pandemic, but there were even higher rates in certain occupations. Researchers found that line cooks faced the highest risk, with a 60% increase in mortality. Other occupations that increased 50% or more include line workers in warehouses, agricultural workers, bakers, and construction workers. These are lower-wage jobs that usually don't include the ability to work from home or include paid sick leave and are often held by immigrant individuals. Researchers also found drastic differences in mortality rate based on race and ethnicity. Latinx individuals saw an increase of 36%, Black individuals saw an increase of 28%, and Asian individuals saw an increase of 18%, while white individuals only saw an increase 6% - highlighting the disparate impact of COVID-19 between racial groups. The hope is that with this research, leaders will take into account who is being most impacted by the pandemic and work harder to protect them. 

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Charges Dropped in Two Summer Cases

Last week, a grand jury decided not to indict two Buffalo, NY police officers who pushed a 75-year-old protestor to the ground in June. Both police officers were charged with second-degree assault after the protester sustained a fractured skull and was unable to walk. Although they will not be charged, the officers are still suspended while an internal investigation is completed. This incident was connected to protests against racism and police brutality following George Floyd’s murder. The police union released a statement that the officers were following department procedures and supervisor directives. While the district attorney admitted he was slow to arrest the officers, he told reporters that he used everything in his power to present a strong case against the officers. He stated that he tried to treat the officers in the same manner as civilians in similar situations. 

This summer, Amy Cooper called the police on Christian Cooper, a birdwatcher in Central Park, after he asked her to put her dog on a leash. She emphasized to the police that Mr. Cooper, a Black man, was threatening her and her dog, highlighting multiple times during her call that he was an African American man. Her statements regarding him being threatening were disproven, because Mr. Cooper filmed the interaction. She was charged in October with falsely reporting an incident to the police, which is a misdemeanor. This week the charges were dropped against her after she was offered a restorative justice resolution and completed the process. The assistant district attorney released a statement that this was the office’s consistent practice with individuals who are first-time offenders and have no prior criminal background. Ms. Cooper is one of the first white individuals to have been charged for calling the police unnecessarily on a Black individual, drawing from racist societal stereotypes of Black people, and Black men in particular, being dangerous. While it's common for charges to be dropped in cases of false police reports, this case could have been a change in response to the racist actions, whether intentional or not, of the many instances of  white individuals calling the police on Black individuals who have done nothing wrong and are simply engaging in regular day-to-day activities. The district attorney noted that the actions of Ms. Cooper were a threat to the community and could not go unchecked, prompting the restorative justice sessions, even though Mr. Cooper declined to participate. 

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Some Recipients of COVID-19 Vaccines Developed a Rare Blood Disorder

Back in January, investigations began into the case of a doctor who received the Pfizer vaccine and 16 days later, died of a brain hemorrhage. Shortly after he had received the vaccine, he had developed a rare blood condition known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP). While there are a few other names, this condition is when your body essentially attacks your own platelets, which are a component of blood that are crucial in clotting (slowing and stopping bleeding). Without platelets, the greatest risk of death is due to issues such as a brain hemorrhage. 

While a potential link between COVID-19 vaccines and ITP is still being investigated, there is not yet data that shows a connection. Some doctors who specialize in blood disorders (hematologists) have suggested that a link is possible but that it is exceedingly rare, with unknown factors in individuals that may predispose them to developing this condition after a vaccination. While a link has not been established, similar reactions have been seen after other vaccinations such as after the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine. As such, some hematologists have wanted to make sure that physicians are aware of how to treat this condition if it arises to prevent any other serious complications.  

Throughout vaccination efforts in the United States, about 36 reports have been made nationwide regarding COVID-19 vaccination and ITP. Most of these appear on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), where anybody is able to submit reports of adverse events to vaccinations. These reports are not individually verified, nor are there any links between side effects and vaccinations that can be made through the site. While VAERS has statements with multiple disclaimers, it is still an important tool for people to share their reactions so that scientists are able to find potential leads in information. It is also important to note that so far, over 40 million individuals in the US have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, making 36 cases so far exceedingly rare (less than one in a million). In addition, estimates for newly diagnosed cases of ITP every year are approximately 3.3 for every 100,000 people. That being said, if a link is established, it is best so speak with your healthcare providers if you are concerned. Also, for those who may already have ITP, recommendations state that most likely, the benefits of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine still greatly outweigh the risks, however you should speak with your hematologist and/or healthcare provider for more information.

There are still many unanswered questions about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccinations. It is important to share your individual experience and to let science and data provide the facts and evidence. While vaccinations may greatly help in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we continue to practice proper hand hygiene, masking up and potentially double masking if possible, socially distancing, and following any other public health guidelines in order to protect ourselves and others. Please feel free to reach out if you do have any other questions/comments/concerns and we will do our best to answer them!

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