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!

Update on New Virus Variant

Two weeks ago, we shared news about a new strain of the COVID-19 virus that had begun infecting people in the United Kingdom. According to various articles and statements from Dr. Faucci and the London School of Hygiene, this new variant of the virus brings with it many unanswered questions. In addition to the United Kingdom, the new strain has now been found in more than 30 other countries, and cases have appeared in Colorado, Florida, and California. According to Dr. Faucci, it is very likely that this new variant is present in more than these three states. As we discussed before, variations and mutations are expected in any virus. The concern, which continues to be monitored and evaluated, is whether these mutations bring with them new characteristics that make the virus that causes COVID-19 more infectious or more resistant to treatment.

We should not take this new variant lightly, but we also should not jump to conclusions about it. It is important that we err on the side of caution and continue to take the necessary precautions to prevent transmission of any of the COVID-19 variants. Dr. Fauci stated that there is "no indication that it increases the virulence" (i.e., how harmful or deadly it is) of the infection any more than the variant that has been present in the U.S. since at least February. Nor is there any evidence it can evade "the protection that's afforded by the antibodies that are induced by vaccines" (i.e., we don’t presently have reason to believe that the existing vaccines won’t protect against the new variant). The articles listed below demonstrate the variability in how scientists and health officials are talking about this COVID-19 variant.

Note: We are sharing this information, not to alarm, but to keep folx informed about the changing landscape of the pandemic. New developments in the path of the pandemic can lead to new changes and protocols, so it is important to be aware of them so that when recommendations and mandates are updated, we understand why.

What We Know

  • The variant is being referenced as “B.1.1.7” or “VUI-202012/01”

  • Florida case: A man in his 20s, with no history of travel, tested positive for the new COVID-19 variant. The state Department of Health said he is in Martin County.

  • California case: A male patient, also in his 20s, who had not spent any time outside of the U.S. in the weeks prior to his illness.

  • Colorado cases: The first two cases reported in the U.S. also adhere to that pattern. Two male members of the Colorado National Guard tested positive for the new strain, and neither reported recent international travel. At least one of the two men is in his 20s.

  • France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Italy, and Bulgaria restricted travel over the last few weeks to and from the UK in effort to prevent transmission of the new strain.

  • 33 countries have identified cases of the new variant.

What has been claimed, but not verified

    • Studies being reported on have not yet been peer reviewed (peer-review process subjects an author's scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field) a process that is considered necessary to ensure rigor and accuracy.

    • According to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the new variant is 50% to 56% more contagious (a lower number the UK government initially reported).

    • The new variant may dramatically worsen the country’s COVID-19 outbreak and lead to further increases in the number of hospitalizations.

    • Dr. Fauci expects herd immunity will be achieved when 70% to 85% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated.

    • According to the CDC, the new strain spreads more quickly, leading to further challenges for our resources and healthcare system.

    • Scientists believe that existing vaccines will continue to protect the public even from the new strain, but study is ongoing to verify this.

    • There is no evidence that B.1.1.7 causes more severe illness or increased risk of death, according to the CDC.

    • The new strain is more contagious because the U.K. variant has several mutations that affect the "spike protein" on the virus surface that attaches to human cells. According to Dr. Fauci (reported on Jan 2nd) "It’s able to bind to the receptors on cells better, and therefore is transmitted better."

Concerns and fears that we don’t have peer-reviewed data to support (i.e., things that should not be assumed to be true)

    • The vaccine will not protect against the new strain - scientists believe the vaccine will protect against the new strain, but don’t have data sufficient yet to verify it

    • The new strain is more lethal and will result in higher number of deaths - scientists believe the new strain is not more lethal, but don’t have sufficient data yet to verify it

    • The new strain is mutating faster - there is no published data yet to assess this

    • The new strain is more easily transmitted - data suggests that the new strain is more easily transmitted, but analyses have not yet been peer-reviewed and verified

    • The new strain has already spread across the entire United States - there is only data showing that it has reached three states so far, but it is likely that it has spread further but has not yet been reported

What you can do

    • Your best protection continues to be wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding travel, washing hands, and avoiding being in-person with other people.

    • Get the vaccine when it becomes available to you. If you have concerns about it, now is the time to ask the questions and get the answers you need. All available evidence shows that the vaccine’s benefits far outweigh the risks in almost all situations (e.g., unless you are medically unable to receive the vaccine or have an allergy to an ingredient in it).

    • Stay up to date and stay aware of new information.

More information

1 in 1,000 People in the U.S. Have Died of COVID-19

More than one out of every thousand people in the U.S. has now died of COVID-19, and that number is rising every day. The U.S. population is approximately 330 million people, and the number of COVID-19 deaths has passed 330,000 (341,199 as of December 31, according to the CDC). While the introduction of vaccines may help slow (and hopefully stop) the spread of the disease, many more people will die if we do not continue to take precautions like avoiding social gatherings, maintaining physical distance from people outside your household, wearing a mask whenever you leave your home, and washing hands.

More information:

Minnesota Task Force Finds Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit People at Greater Risk of Violence

Minnesota's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Task Force released its first report in December, finding that "Indigenous (American Indian, Native American) women, girls, and two spirit people are far more likely to experience violence, be murdered, or go missing than other demographic groups in Minnesota."

  • "Although American Indian women and girls make up just 1% of the state’s population, from 2010 through 2018, 8% of all murdered women and girls in Minnesota were American Indian."

  • "The root causes of the MMIW injustice include colonization and historical trauma, racism, and sexual objectification of Indigenous women and girls. These root causes have led to increased systemic risk factors for experiencing violence and abuse among Indigenous women and girls, including poverty and lack of housing, involvement in the child welfare system and criminal justice system, being a victim of domestic violence, and being involved in prostitution and traffiking."

  • "Once an Indigenous woman or girl goes missing or dies under suspicious circumstances, the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing processes that are supposed to serve justice often fail to provide equal and fair treatment for these Indigenous victims."

  • "the system does not over adequate culturally responsive healing resources for Indigenous victims/ survivors, families, and communities."


Louisville Police Moves to Fire Two Officers Involved in Killing of Breonna Taylor

The Louisville Police Department has started the process of firing Myles Cosgrove and Joshua Jaynes, two of the officers responsible for the killing of Breonna Taylor. Cosgrove shot Breonna at least three times during the raid and Jaynes (who was not a part of the raid) is accused of using misleading information to get the search warrant that led to the raid.

More information:

U.S. Department of Justice Will Not Prosecute Police Who Killed Tamir Rice

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that there was not sufficient evidence for federal criminal charges against police officers in Cleveland who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. Video showed Tamir being shot almost immediately after police arrived at the scene, but the video quality was not sufficient to provide conclusive evidence of the incident. The 911 call that prompted the police response specifically said that the person was "probably a juvenile" and that the gun was "probably fake," but the 911 dispatcher never passed the information along to the police. Tamir was playing with a toy gun, which officers say justified their response of shooting him to death. One of the two officers involved in the shooting was fired three years after the incident for lying on his job application to join the Cleveland police force: He had failed to disclose that he had left his prior police department after being deemed unfit for duty due to an "inability to perform basic functions as instructed," "lack of maturity," and emotional meltdowns at work. Neither of the two officers have faced criminal charges, but the City of Cleveland paid $6 million in a wrongful death suit.

More information:

Vaccine Update

U.S. Vaccine Distribution

According to the CDC, so far, more than 13 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States, with about 4.2 million people having already received their first dose. While this is an underestimate of the true number due to a lag in reporting, this is far short of the original goal federal officials set, which was to give 20 million people their first shot by the end of December. It has been estimated that about 3 million people need to be vaccinated per day if 80% of the US population is to be vaccinated by the end of June, however one earlier estimate suggested that at the current vaccination rate, it would take 10 years to vaccinate enough people in the U.S. to manage the pandemic.

Allergic Reactions

In addition, the CDC has added a warning stating that those who have a known allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polysorbate should not get either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine as both have PEG as an ingredient. While neither have polysorbate, it is closely related to PEG and can cause an allergic reaction in those with the allergy. Health officials also warned that those who had severe allergic reactions to the first dose of the vaccine should not get the second dose. Those who have had severe allergic reactions have all fully recovered, and the CDC has guidelines for sites administering vaccines to prepare for severe allergic reactions as well as other potential side effects.

Bell’s Palsy

Concerns have been raised about Bell’s palsy as a potential side effect of the COVID-19 vaccines, however they two have not yet been linked. Bell’s palsy is a condition in which temporary paralysis or weakness occurs in one half of a person’s face, and between the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trials, 8 volunteers were diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, of which 7 of them were in the vaccine group and 1 was in the placebo group. That being said, that was out of 21,720 volunteers who received the vaccine which is about 0.02% of participants. That is about the same rate at which Bell’s palsy appears within the general population without the vaccine. This is a common issue where incidental illnesses may occur, and if the timing is right, they may be associated with something that may not actually be related such as the COVID-19 vaccine. With regards to Bell’s palsy and the COVID-19 vaccine, more data and research is needed to determine whether these cases were by chance or related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Immunity Timeline

As more and more people get vaccinated, more information is being gathered on how well the vaccine works as well as potential side effects. Two recent studies suggested that COVID-19 antibodies may last up to 8 months after initial infection. This contradicts earlier studies that suggested antibodies decrease after 20 days. While many factors play into testing antibody levels and how that affects immunity, this new data could be promising in terms of how long immunity lasts for the current vaccines. As it currently stands, it is not known how long immunity may last with the current COVID-19 vaccines.

It is still incredibly important to note that even after vaccination, it takes time, usually at least a few weeks, for your body to develop antibodies and “learn” from the vaccine. A recent report stated that a nurse who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine tested positive 6 days after receiving the first vaccine dose. This was not unexpected because it takes time to develop immunity. It is also possible that since the incubation time of COVID-19 can be up to 14 days, that infection actually occurred prior to vaccination (a vaccine is intended to prevent future infections, not cure or treat an existing disease).

WIthout knowing how long immunity lasts, as well as factoring the time it takes to build immunity, these are only two of many other reasons why it will be crucial to continue wearing masks, practice proper hand hygiene, and continue to socially distance for the near future.

More information:

Discarded Masks Polluting Oceans

OceansAsia has estimated that 1.5 billion masks may have ended up in the world's oceans in 2020, and masks have been found washed up on remote beaches on islands in the Pacific and in the sea bed near France. The group is calling for people to wear reusable masks when possible (properly sanitized between uses) and to dispose of masks responsibly. Masks discarded as litter in parking lots, on sidewalks, and on streets (or flushed down toilets) can enter storm drains, and travel from them to nearby bodies of water. Single-use masks take around 500 years to break down, and turn into microplastics that are dangerous to marine (and terrestrial) life. Even when they don't reach oceans, lakes, and rivers, maks can clog storm drains and sewers and can accumulate on the ground, contributing to a variety of other environmental and health problems.

More information:

AstraZeneca and Oxford’s Vaccine Approved in Britain and India

In vaccine news outside of the U.S., Britain and India have both approved AstraZeneca and Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. This vaccine is reportedly significantly cheaper, being less than $5 per dose, compared to Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines which are both over $20 per dose. In addition, this vaccine is more easily transported, as it only requires normal refrigeration temperatures and lasts up to 6 months. Finally, many doses of the new vaccine are reportedly available globally due to earlier contracts made for its production, so its use may proceed at a much faster rate than the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

This vaccine, however, has had significant questions raised regarding transparency and trials, and earlier faced an issue where it had up to a 90% efficacy, but only in a group who were incorrectly given the wrong dosage. These issues are likely to delay approval in the U.S., should it ever be approved here.

More information:

QM Public Health Crisis Round-Up Team (in no particular order):

  • Mauricio Franco (he/him/his), M.S.- Global Medicine, Fourth-year medical student.

  • Andrew-Huy Dang (he/him/his), B.S. Microbiology, Fourth-year medical student

  • Wyatt Shoemaker (he/him/his), Fourth-year medical student.

  • Antonio Flores (he/him/his), Third-year medical student, B.S. Public Health Sciences.

  • Daniel Pfau (they/them/theirs), Neuroscience PhD, Biological Sciences MS, Homeschool Teacher.

  • Francis Yang (he/him/his), M.S.-Global Medicine, Second-year medical student.

  • Kryssia Campos (she/her/hers), Second-year medical student.

  • Alessandra Daskalakis (she/her/hers): Second-year medical student, B.S. Biology, B.A. Comparative Literature

  • 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

  • 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