COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expands in Michigan

Starting Monday, two new groups will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Michigan: people age 50 and over who have medical conditions or disabilities and family members and guardians who are caregivers for children with special health care needs. Starting March 22nd, all Michiganders age 50 and over will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Those who are eligible or are becoming eligible should register for the vaccine. To register for COVID-19 vaccinations in Ingham County:

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CDC Issues Guidance on Mask-Less Gatherings for Vaccinated People

As COVID-19 vaccine distribution continues across the United States, and with many people hesitant to be vaccinated, it is critical to highlight the activities a person can do once they are fully vaccinated. Many people continue to experience pandemic fatigue, and being vaccinated can give people hope; with the added protection there are some activities we can begin to start doing again with others. Here is what the CDC says for non-healthcare settings: 

Fully vaccinated people can:

For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

Healthcare settings continue to have their own separate guidelines. The pandemic has not ended, and most people have not been vaccinated. We urge everyone to continue wearing masks, socially distancing, and avoiding large crowds.  

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Michigan Speeds Up COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility

Governor Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday that they plan to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all Michiganders age 16 and older starting on April 5th (i.e., Phase 2 of the vaccination program). Additionally, Michiganders age 16 and up who have medical conditions that increase their risk of severe illness from COVID-19 will be eligible for vaccines starting on March 22nd. “Medical conditions that place individuals at increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19 are eligible for vaccination and include: cancer; chronic kidney disease; COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease); Down syndrome; heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies; immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant; obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2 ); severe obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2 ); pregnancy; sickle cell disease; smoking; and Type 2 diabetes mellitus.” For more details on medical conditions that are covered, visit this page from the CDC).

The major shift in timelines comes in response to a rapidly increasing supply of vaccine doses available in the United States. It is important to note that it will take weeks to months for everyone who wants a vaccine to receive one, so scheduling an appointment for vaccination may take time.

To register for COVID-19 vaccinations in the Lansing area:

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Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill

On Friday, President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan Act" (the COVID-19 relief bill) into law. Highlights of the law:

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Whitmer Signes $2.5 Billion in COVID-19 Relief Bills; Vetoes New Restrictions on MDHHS

On Tuesday, Governor Whitmer signed bills totalling $2.5 billion into law, allowing the release of hundreds of millions in COVID-19-related federal aid, including $283 million in emergency rental assistance, $555 million for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, $110 million for vaccine administration, and a $2.25/hour wage increase for direct care workers. Billions in additional funds are in limbo, as Whitmer vetoed language that would put new restrictions on the executive branch (MDHHS and the Governor) that was tied to certain money. For example, the legislature made $840 million in federal aid to K-12 schools contingent on the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Governor giving up their ability to close schools or sports events due to the pandemic, and made $347 million in federal funds for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing contingent on MDHHS and the Governor giving up the ability to declare a health emergency for more than 28 days without legislative approval. On Thursday, the legislature authorized a lawsuit against the Governor over the vetoes. Whitmer also vetoed business tax breaks totalling $405 million (she had proposed $225 million in business grants), saying that the legislature had not negotiated with her, and calling on them to do so. She also vetoed $150 million for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, $87 million for private schools, and $10 million for summer school grants.

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Minneapolis Agrees to $27 Million Settlement Over Police Killing of George Floyd

On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council approved Friday a $27 million civil settlement over the death of George Floyd with his family. George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a police officer on May 25, 2020, who knelt on his neck on his neck for over 8 minutes while he was handcuffed face-down on the street, with three other officers watching. Video of the killing led to world-wide protests against police brutality. Jury selection is currently in progress for the trial of the police officer who killed him.

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Federal Lawsuit Filed Over Breonna Taylor’s Killing On Eve of First Anniversary

Yesterday (March 13th) marked the first anniversary of the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville, Kentucky. Kenneth Walker, Taylor's boyfriend, filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisville Metro Police Department and the officers on Friday, a day before the anniversary. The suit claims that the police violated the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches and seizures.

A brief summary of the shooting from Wikipedia:

Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American woman, was fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment on March 13, 2020, when white plainclothes officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove of the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) forced entry into the apartment as part of an investigation into drug dealing operations. Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, was inside the apartment with her when the officers knocked on the door and then forced entry. Officers said that they announced themselves as police before forcing entry, but Walker said he did not hear any announcement, thought the officers were intruders, and fired a warning shot at them. According to officials, it hit Mattingly in the leg, and the officers fired 32 shots in return. Walker was unhurt but Taylor was hit by six bullets and died. According to police, Taylor's home was never searched."

On June 23, 2020, the LMPD fired Hankison for blindly firing through the covered patio door and window of Taylor's apartment. On September 15, the city of Louisville agreed to pay Taylor's family $12 million and reform police practices. On September 23, a state grand jury indicted Hankison on three counts of wanton endangerment for endangering Taylor's neighbors with his shots. None of the officers involved in the raid has been charged in Taylor's death. Cosgrove was determined to have fired the fatal shot that killed Taylor. On October 2, 2020, recordings from the grand jury investigation into the shooting were released. Two of the jurors released a statement saying that the grand jury was not presented with homicide charges against the officers. Several jurors have also accused Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the police of covering up what happened.

The shooting of Taylor by police officers led to numerous protests that added to those across the United States against police brutality and racism. When a grand jury did not indict the officers for her death, further civil unrest ensued.

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Dearborn Agrees to $1.25 Million Settlement in Police Killing of Unarmed Black Man

The City of Dearborn, Michigan agreed to a $1.25 million settlement in the death of Kevin Matthews, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by police in 2015. Matthews was accused of stealing an energy drink and fled on foot. The officer who shot him claimed that he was on the ground with Matthews trying to get his gun, but ballistics and crime scene experts hired by Matthews' family said that the evidence contradicted those claims (there were no witnesses and no video of the incident). The officer recently committed suicide, leading to the settlement.

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California City Experiments with Basic Income

In 2019, Stockton, California launched the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration which supplemented 125 residents with $500 a month. These residents were chosen randomly from neighborhoods with average household incomes of less than $46,000, which is the city’s median income. The program was funded entirely by private donations, so no taxpayer money was used. Residents who received the funds were able to spend the money however they wanted and there were no requirements for continuing to receive the funds. Two researchers from the University of Tennessee and the University of Pennsylvania collected and analyzed data for the first year of the program from those who were receiving funds and those who were not. They found that those receiving the funds primarily spent the money on essentials, such as food, utilities, and gas. It also allowed individuals more stability in month-to-month income, helped households pay unexpected bills, and pay down existing debt. In addition, full-time employment rose 12% for those receiving funds vs. only 5% in the control group (i.e., those not receiving funds). The group receiving funds also reported being happier, less anxious, and less depressed. This data was collected pre-pandemic, but a second-year study was also done and should be released next year.

The Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration data is yet another study that supports cash aid to individuals with low incomes. Direct cash aid is used all over the world as a highly effective way to reduce poverty, in both low-income and high-income countries. In the United States, cash benefits have dwindled in the past decades due to policy changes, leaving no safety net for many experiencing poverty. Lies were spread through United States society that people receiving benefits would not want to work and were dependent on the aid, so programs were shifted to force people to work in order to receive benefits. This study adds to the existing data that giving people resources they need (without strings attached) improves their health and well-being and helps them to find more stable employment and income. With calls for universal basic income increasing, turning to data shows that universal basic income would make for a better United States. More than 40 mayors across the country have joined Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, with most planning their own basic income project. With the continuing pandemic and increased poverty rates due to it, universal basic income is a necessary measure for health, well-being, and equity in this country. 

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Less People Hesitant About Getting COVID-19 Vaccine

In a Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor poll published at the end of February, 55% of U.S. adults were reported to now say that they have either received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or that they will as soon as they can. This is up from 47% from the poll completed in January, and up from 34% from the poll completed in December. The percentage of those who said they would “wait and see” has decreased from 31% in the January poll to 22% in the most recent February poll as well. While this is only one series of polls, it does point to a promising trend as more people are willing and/or want a COVID-19 vaccine and that number of people appears to be growing. While we are still not close to the percent of people needed for herd immunity from the vaccine, if this trend continues, we may get there soon. So far, over 100 million doses have been administered here in the U.S., and over 35 million people have been fully vaccinated.

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LGBTQ Adults More Likely to Get COVID-19 Vaccine, but Vary Significantly By Race

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and PSB Insights released new data on the LGBTQ community's views on COVID-19 vaccines. Some key findings include:


Novavax Confirm Vaccine Efficacy Against SARS-CoV-2 Virus and Variants

In a recent press release, Novavax confirmed their vaccine’s effectiveness against the original strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 as well as the UK and South Africa variants. Earlier study results from Novavax reported around 90% effectiveness, however in this latest press release, Novavax reported a 96% effectiveness against the original virus strain. In addition, the late Phase 3 results of their UK trial also showed up to an 83.4% effectiveness against the UK variant (B.1.1.7). In the Phase 2b trial analysis in their South African cohort, the vaccine was found to be up to 55.4% effective in preventing severe disease from the South African variant. As it was a Phase 2b trial, results from a Phase 3 trial (which would involve many more volunteers) in South Africa are still pending. The Novavax vaccine seems to be on its way to approval for emergency use, and the updates show that vaccine development and research is still ongoing and adapting to changes with COVID-19. The data also shows some promise in offering protection against variants, and hopefully as we learn more, we will learn how effective the currently approved vaccines (i.e., Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) are against the variants as well.

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Scientists Review Pfizer and AstraZeneca Vaccine Effectiveness Against UK Variant

In a recent study pending peer review, scientists in the United Kingdom looked at how effective the Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines would be in preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, including their effectiveness against the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is known to be more transmissible (the variant first discovered in the UK). While the study has not been peer-reviewed and published yet, the results showed that the vaccines were clearly effective in decreasing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine, in addition to protecting against symptomatic COVID-19, had an additional 43% lower risk of emergency hospitalizations and a 51% lower risk of death while the AstraZeneca vaccine had a 37% lower risk of emergency hospitalization. Due to the more recent approval for use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK, there is still insufficient data with regards to how effective the vaccine is in preventing death. Both showed efficacy, however, against the UK variant of the virus, with the AstraZeneca vaccine being a single dose regimen. This data continues to confirm the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines and again serves to emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated to protect ourselves and each other from COVID-19 and the virus variants.

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Supreme Court Dismisses Sanctuary City Cases at Request of Biden Administration

On March 5th, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed three cases over "sanctuary cities." The action came at the 

request of the Justice Department - the cases were related to Trump-era policies that President Biden revoked on his first day in office. Sanctuary city laws block local police from helping federal authorities enforce immigration laws. The Trump administration attempted to withhold certain federal funds from sanctuary cities, resulting in multiple lawsuits. A number of federal courts ruled that local police do not have a duty to help enforce federal law. When police turn over information to immigration authorities, it puts communities at risk, because immigrants are less likely to report crimes when they will put themselves at risk to do so.

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Denmark Temporarily Pauses AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Use

The Danish National Board of Health temporarily paused the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after there were reports of blood clots in individuals who received it, with one Danish person dying. This was done as a precautionary measure, as currently the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Europe’s drug regulator, has stated that there is no known link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots and that currently, the benefits of the vaccine still greatly outweigh the risks. Several other countries also suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, including Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. In addition, Austria and Italy reported that they would not use certain batches of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Thailand was the first Asian country to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Thai health officials emphasized that they have not opted out of use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, rather they are, like the other countries, suspending use as a precaution while more research into potential side effects is being studied. This is an unfortunate setback as Europe has been struggling with their vaccine roll-out and officials have stated that they are worried about another major outbreak if this continues. Equitable access to the vaccine is imperative within countries and internationally. Hopefully, more research and data will allow for more folks to feel safe in getting the vaccine and allow there to continue to be more options for vaccinations as the pandemic continues.

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