Table of Contents
Intro and Disclaimer
QM would like to help you make sense of information being circulated by: 1. Translating data into digestible language, 2. Dispelling misconceptions and linking to evidence, and 3. Curating relevant data, and articles on a weekly basis. Our Round Up/ Mythbusting projects are intended to help our QM family make sense of information being circulated. Taking control of our health as a queer community includes making institutional knowledge accessible to the public.
Disclaimer: Although this information has been evaluated and determined to be accurate by Queering Medicine (QM), we at QM do not want to give the impression that we are the sole gatekeepers of medical knowledge. As a collective, QM members bring professional and personal qualifications that allow us to research and share credible knowledge. Our goals for this weekly round up and myth busting is to translate data into digestible information, dispel misinformation, and curate relevant data for the Lansing queer community. We encourage the community to question knowledge found outside of reputable sources, however, Queering Medicine will gladly help facilitate this process. If evidence or recommendations change, or any inaccuracies are found, we will correct them and explain the changes. If you have any questions about our methodology and sources, or you would like to point out any inaccuracies, please let us know!
Michigan Starting Vaccinations of Essential Workers and the Elderly
Michigan will begin the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccination process on Monday (January 11). Essential workers, including teachers, as well as people 65 and older, will be able to get vaccinations in this phase. This page from MDHHS provides details on how to sign up for a vaccine (for those age 65 and older, you will work with your local health department; essential workers will be notified by their employers). For those eligible in Ingham County seeking a vaccine, go to the COVID-19 Information page from ICHD and look under “Vaccine Information.”
Michigan is entering the next phase of vaccines!
Beginning Monday, Jan. 11 MDHHS is moving forward with vaccination of:
65 and older
Frontline essential workers (firefighters, police, corrections workers, inspectors)
Child care and pre-K through high school staff
Congregate Care Facilities (homeless shelter, juvenile justice, child care staff)
Vaccinations are ongoing for the previous groups:
Health care workers
Long term care workers and staff
Even with COVID-19 vaccinations MDHHS urges everyone to continue to practice preventative measures such as properly wearing masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing to reduce the spread of the virus until the vast majority of people have been vaccinated.
To find a vaccine and schedule an appointment visit, michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine.
Michigan Criminal Justice Reforms Aim to Reduce Incarceration
On Monday, Governor Whitmer signed a number of bills that impact the criminal justice system in Michigan, and many are aimed at reducing incarceration. "Policy changes include giving officers more discretion to issue tickets in lieu of arrest, reclassifying many traffic misdemeanors as civil infractions and ending license suspensions for violations that aren't related to dangerous driving. For most misdemeanors and some felonies, state law will include a presumption that judges hand down a sentence other than jail unless they deem that incarceration is necessary. Some of the changes are immediate, while others are set to take in effect in April or October."
"Whitmer signs bills to curb license suspensions, dozens of criminal justice reforms"
3.5 Million Free KN95 Masks to be Distributed in Michigan
MDHHS is providing 3.5 million free KN95 masks to Michiganders in need. The masks will be distributed through local MDHHS offices, health departments, and Area Agencies on Aging (the same groups that have been distributing free cloth masks). For more information and to request free masks, visit this page.
"It’s easier for Michiganders to Mask Up, Mask Right with free KN95 face coverings"
Navajo Nation Battling COVID-19 and Potential Loss of Elders and Tradition
The Navajo Nation has been hit extremely hard by COVID-19 due to decades of economic disenfranchisement and systemic racism. Due to a lack of resources and even access to resources, Native Americans have higher rates of asthma, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, which are all risk factors for COVID-19. Additionally, 10% of those living on the Navajo reservation are without electricity and almost 40% are without running water. Controlling the virus seems almost impossible without the basic things a person needs to survive. The Navajo Nation has been under lockdown for almost three months, in hopes of controlling the virus, but has still seen over 22,000 confirmed cases and almost 800 deaths. In many cases, those that are dying are elders in the tribes. Losing elders means losing immeasurable history and knowledge of traditions and culture. These things are passed on from member to member and are rarely written or formally documented. Losing an elder is far more than just losing a life. With plenty of time at home due to the lockdown, some Navajo members are soaking up knowledge from their elders in order to keep the tradition and culture alive. Members are working with local organizations to deliver supplies, such as food and water, in order to keep vulnerable elders at home. While injustices against Native Americans have been long documented, COVID-19 is just another to add to the list.
Justice Department Works to Lessen Protections in Civil Rights Act
The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to change how they enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Title VI protects individuals from discrimintation based on race, color, or national origin from organizations or programs receiving federal funding. Currently under Title VI, the Justice Department enforces the law through proven intentional discrimintation and through the “disparate impact” rule. The disparate impact rule assesses whether a seemingly neutral policy or practice would have a disproportionate adverse impact on groups based on race, color, or national origin. This is used to reveal inequities the policy or practice would perpetuate. The disparate impact rule is used most often to show discrimintation, because rarely do people admit they are purposefully discriminating against individuals based on race, color, or national origin (for example, Jim Crow literacy tests were used to deny Black people the right to vote, but never specifically mentioned race). The Justice Department argues that the current approach to Title VI is outside of what the statue itself permits and is seeking to eliminate use of the disparate impact rule. This is just another step in dismantling civil rights protections for under-resourced and marginalized groups. The change was submitted to the White House for approval, without public review or comment based on matters related to funding. It is expected that the White House will approve the amendment, but it is likely to be challenged by civil rights legal groups. This change would negatively affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color nationwide and would be one of the biggest steps backward in civil rights enforcement. Eliminating the disparate impact rule would open the door for even more legal discrimintation across society and therefore perpetuate systemic racism.
Washtenaw County To Eliminate Cash Bail
The newly elected Prosecutor of Washtenaw County (home to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan) announced on Monday that he will stop seeking cash bail. He issued a detailed Policy Directive that states that "Cash Bail Is Unjust and Inequitable" and acknowledges the disproportionate impact on Black and brown people. We covered cash bail in more detail in our December 20th Round-Up.
"Newly Elected Michigan Prosecutor Will Stop Seeking Cash Bail"
Washtenaw County: "POLICY DIRECTIVE 2021-02:POLICY ELIMINATING THE USE OF CASH BAIL AND SETTING STANDARDS FOR PRETRIAL DETENTION"
No Charges Against Officers Responsible for Jacob Blake Shooting
On Tuesday, the district attorney in Kenosha, Wisconsin, announced that no charges will be brought against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake, nor the other officers involved in the incident. Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot by police in August, and protests broke out in response to the incident. He survived, but is paralyzed from the waist down. All of the officers are still employed by the police department, but are on administrative leave.
"Activists in Kenosha say they are hurt and disappointed after the no-charging decision in Jacob Blake shooting"
"Jacob Blake shooting: Kenosha protests peaceful after no charges announced for police officers"
China Approves COVID-19 Vaccine
China recently approved the state-controlled Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine, which reportedly has a 79% efficacy rate, has also been approved abroad in countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, while being reportedly close to approval in other countries where it is still being researched, such as Brazil and Indonesia. They have also reported that they may be able to produce up to 1 billion doses by the end of this year or early next year, with a goal of vaccinating approximately 50 million people in China by February. While this is potentially good news for China and many other countries who may receive their vaccine, many scientists and public health officials are highly skeptical due to the lack of any transparency or public information surrounding the vaccine. While individual public health officials from other countries have approved the vaccine, what they are allowed to share is strictly regulated as well, which contributes to the lack of transparency and trust in this vaccine.
Britain Allows “Mix-and-Matching” and Front-Loading Vaccines
After discovering a new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 and a resurgence of cases in Britain, some public health officials announced some key and worrying changes to their vaccination schedule. To start, government officials in the UK have stated that if those who received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (either Pfizer, AstraZeneca, or most recently, Moderna’s) and are unable to get a second dose of the same kind and they are in a high-risk group, then they may be able to get a second vaccine dose of another type, whichever may be available. Many in the public health sphere and scientific community have been worried by this announcement. There is not enough data showing that “mix-and-matching” different vaccines will have the same effects on immunity. Many have called distributing/using vaccines in an unproven method a “gamble,” irresponsible, and potentially unethical. While there may be hypotheses behind why this approach may still work, this is potentially dangerous and risky without the data to back it up. Currently, both the CDC and FDA state this is not recommended, and British officials state that this will be avoided as much as possible, however if this is done, a significant amount of monitoring and data will be needed to see if it is successful. In addition, the severity of the situation in Britain has also led officials to state that they should “front-load” vaccinations to those at highest risk. The goal is to give as many people as possible “some immunity” while there is a lack of vaccines, however this may delay second doses of the vaccines by up to 12 weeks. Again, while a single dose will likely provide some immunity, the effectiveness of the vaccine has been based on a 2-dose regimen.
Michigan Healthcare Workers Turning Down COVID-19 Vaccines
A recent article reported that thousands of Michigan healthcare workers are turning down the COVID-19 vaccine. In one example provided, about 600 out of 1600 first responders declined the COVID-19 vaccine in Wayne County. According to Linda Vail, Ingham County’s Health Officer, it appears as though more than one third of health workers have turned down the vaccine. While data is still incoming, these reports have suggested Michigan is one of the states with the lowest vaccination rates so far. While perceptions towards the vaccinations are somewhat improving as more people get vaccinated and there is more information on side effects, many are still concerned or skeptical about the vaccine, and in addition to logistical issues such as distribution and administration, a lot of work is still needed to increase vaccination rates.
Pharmacist Accused of Intentionally Destroying COVID-19 Vaccine
A pharmacist accused of intentionally spoiling almost 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine in Wisconsin stated to investigators that he believed the vaccine could harm and change people’s DNA. The pharmacist was released on a $10,000 signature bond, had to surrender any firearms, was not permitted to work in healthcare, was told to remain in Wisconsin, and was told not to contact his former employer or coworkers. To be clear: There is no evidence to suggest that any currently approved COVID-19 vaccine can alter human DNA. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA, which is not DNA, and does not need to go where DNA is in cells (the nucleus) to work.
No Evidence Suggesting COVID-19 Vaccines Cause Sterility
A recent question was asked with regards to whether the COVID-19 vaccines can cause sterility. While this has been a concern with some folks, there is currently no evidence to support this. It is true those who are pregnant and/or lactating were not included in initial clinical trials, but the mechanism of how the mRNA vaccines work, in addition to the safety data already presented, provide reassurance, and has led the FDA to permit vaccination in these populations. COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for those who are pregnant, as this is a risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease. In addition, if you become pregnant between your first and second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, you should still get the second dose at the appropriate interval.
There is still a lot of work that is needed on the vaccine front. Access is definitely an issue as well as education and trust. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to bring them up with us and we will do our best to answer them! Until then, we must continue to do our best to protect ourselves and each other. This means continuing proper hand hygiene, socially distancing, wearing masks, and continuing to follow public health guidelines.
New COVID-19 Strain Found in South Africa
As of now we know of two SARS-CoV-2 variants. The UK variant is known as B.1.1.7. (explained in our last update) and a new South African strain known as 501.V2. The second new strain (501.V2) has a mutation in the spike protein known as E484K. This spike protein mutation is not present in the UK strain. The UK variant has already been detected in multiple areas of the United States and it is believed it continues to spread across the nation. To date, there are no documented cases of the 501.V2 strain in the United States.
One major concern is the impact the new strain may have on existing vaccination and public health efforts. Francois Balloux, the director of the University College London Genetics Institute, is most concerned about reduced antibody recognition; however, he beleives it is unlikely that 501.V2 has the ability to completely evade immune protection from our existing vaccines. John Bell, a University of Oxford immunologist, is confident that the current vaccines would still protect against the UK variant, but believes it is still too early to confidently say that the vaccines also cover the South African strain, or how effective they will be against it. Scientists continue to reassure the public that mutations are expected; viral mutations are par for the course. The main issue being investigated, which is the primary worry, is whether these changes greatly impact vaccine efficacy, and whether we’ll need to constantly adjust vaccinations (as we do with seasonal flu vaccines).
Scientists will be looking at various aspects of our immune response (T-cell mediated and antibody response) to explore these concerns. As more is discovered, more questions are unveiled. The main concerns being investigated now include: infectivity of the new strains, vaccine coverage, and evasion of the immune system. Medical and scientific communities are waiting for the data to guide next steps. We can do our part by curbing the spread of any of the strains that exist by wearing our masks and social distancing.
"South African SARS-CoV-2 Variant Alarms Scientists”
"Covid-19 Vaccines Expected to Work on South Africa Coronavirus Strain"
COVID-19 Variant Found in Georgia
As we previously shared, the UK variant (B.1.1.7) of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported in multiple states. In the United States, the UK variant has already been detected in California, Florida, and Colorado. Georgia is now the fourth state where the variant has been detected, after an 18-year-old male was detected to have the B.1.1.7 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus there. Georgia officials urge their communities to stay vigilant. Adherence to social distancing and wearing a mask at all times when around individuals who are not part of your household is critical. Data continues to be collected and monitored to better understand this strain of the virus. It is clear that the variant is more contagious (easier for a person to transmit the virus), but it is not yet clear whether it causes more severe illness or a higher risk of death.
This Week's QM Round-Up Contributors (in alphabetical order):
Vanessa Burnett (she/her/hers) M.P.H; Health Equity Consultant, Michigan Public Health Institute
Wilfredo Flores (he/him/his), fourth-year PhD candidate in Writing and Rhetoric, M.A. Technical Communication
Mauricio Franco (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Fourth-year medical student
Grey L. Pierce (they/them); M.A., Cognitive Psychology; Assistant Director, Michigan State University (MSU) Usability/Accessibility Research and Consulting; Project Manager, State of the State Survey, MSU Institute for Public Policy and Social Research
Francis Yang (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Second-year medical student