1 Million U.S. Deaths from COVID-19

On Thursday, President Biden issued "A Proclamation on Remembering the 1,000,000 Americans Lost to COVID-⁠19," in anticipation of that milestone being reached in the coming week (as of Saturday, the CDC reports 997,083 deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States).

"Today, we mark a tragic milestone:  one million American lives lost to COVID-19.  One million empty chairs around the dinner table.  Each an irreplaceable loss.  Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a Nation forever changed because of this pandemic.  Jill and I pray for each of them.

"As a Nation, we must not grow numb to such sorrow.  To heal, we must remember.  We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible.  In remembrance, let us draw strength from each other as fellow Americans.  For while we have been humbled, we never give up.  We can and will do this together as the United States of America."

The proclamation calls for the flag to be flown at half staff until sunset on Monday, May 16th.

Deaths from COVID-19 are expected to rise again, as cases surge around the US. The situation is likely to get worse over time: In addition to more transmissible strains of the virus, people have largely stopped following safety precautions like masking and avoiding large gatherings, and immunity levels in the community are falling. Beyond the low overall vaccination rate (only 66.4% of the US has completed an initial vaccination series), people are not getting booster shots (less than half of those eligible have gotten one), meaning that their immunity will fade over time.

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UK Study Shows Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Healthcare Linked to COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

A new study from the United Kingdom found that racial and ethnic discrimination in healthcare was connected to likelihood of having received a COVID-19 vaccination. The study, which included more than 600 people belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in the UK, found that people who refused COVID-19 vaccines were seven times more likely to have experiencedracial or ethnic discrimination in a medical setting since the pandemic started as those who had been vaccinated. The researchers also found that the impact of racial discrimination on vaccine hesitancy was mediated by low trust in the healthcare system. They conclude that preventing racial discrimination and supporting ethnic minorities who have experienced discrimination is critical in public health efforts like campaigns to increase COVID-19 vaccinations.

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CDC Finds Additional Dose or Booster in Nursing Home Residents Protects Against Omicron

A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the CDC looked at nursing home residents, a known population at high-risk for COVID-19, to see whether additional doses and boosters of vaccines protected these individuals from COVID-19 due to the omicron variant. Based on data from 15,000 nursing homes from February 12-March 27, 2022, a period of Omicron variant predominance, they found that compared with getting only the primary series of vaccination, those who got an additional dose or booster had greater protection against the Omicron variant, with vaccine effectiveness around 46.9%. In other words, those who had an additional dose or a booster shot were almost half as likely to get COVID-19 due to the Omicron variant compared to those who only got their primary series of vaccinations (their first two to three doses depending on whether they are immunocompromised or not). This continues to show that keeping up-to-date with vaccinations provides critical protection against COVID-19, particularly against the Omicron variant. Data on Omicron subvariants is still being collected, so continue to wear good masks, socially distance, and practice proper hand hygiene when possible, in addition to getting vaccinated and boosted, to protect yourself and others as best as you can!

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HBCU Students Appear to Have Been Targets of Racial Profiling By Georgia Law Enforcement

On April 20th, the Delaware State University women's lacrosse team was stopped by sherrifs in George in what is being described as a clear case of racial profiling. Delaware State University is an HBCU (Historically Black College and University) and most of the people on the team's bus were Black (including the bus driver, the coach, and the majority of players). Two white sheriff's deputies pulled over the bus, claiming it was because the driver was driving in the left lane. They then proceeded to search students' bags for 20 minutes, going through their underwear and toiletries, claiming they were looking for drugs or evidence of child trafficking (despite having no reason to suspect anything of the sort). The deputies brought in drug-sniffing dogs, had four additional officers show up to join the effort, and tried to intimidate the students into falsely admitting to having drugs. Nothing illegal was found. The County Sheriff falsely claimed that no personal items were searched, but body camera video shows that to be untrue. Videos taken from players on the bus provide additional documentation of the incident.

The story came to public awareness after a student on the team wrote a story for the university’s student newspaper and posted video of the incident to YouTube on May 4th. The university's President issued a statement this past Monday, in which he stated that he is "exploring options for recourse—legal and otherwise—available to our student-athletes, our coaches, and the University." He went on to say that "We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by. We are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads us. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps more significantly, we have the courage of our convictions." On Monday, the Governor of Delaware and all three members of Congress from the state (two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative) stated that they support the university's efforts.

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NIH Licenses COVID-19 Research Tools and Early Stage Technologies to WHO Program   

This past Thursday, President Joe Biden announced that via the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the United States licensed crucial technology to the World Health Organization (WHO) program known as the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). In addition to the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), this move allows these WHO programs to begin developing COVID-19 vaccines around the world. A particular piece of technology shared is the SARS-CoV-2 stabilized spike protein, a key component of multiple COVID-19 vaccines including existing mRNA vaccines. Of note, this technology is owned by the United States government, however companies such as Pfizer and Moderna have not released any of their own vaccine development information to the MPP. Moderna, however, stated that they would not enforce their patent in other countries. While many of these moves are late, they are steps forward in bringing greater global COVID-19 vaccine equity. 

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Racial and Ethnic Disparities Found in Non-COVID-19 Excess Deaths During Pandemic

New findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine show racial and ethnic disparities in excess deaths from March through December of 2020 that were not directly caused by COVID-19. Excess deaths are deaths above and beyond what would be expected based on past years, and while a large number of excess deaths in the past two years are from people dying of COVID-19, there were more deaths from other causes, as well. The increased stress of dealing with the pandemic and its impacts resulted in higher homicide rates and drug overdose rates for all groups, and higher rates of transportation fatalities among and suicides among some groups. Overall, American Indian and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of excess deaths (17.66 per 100,000 people), followed by Black or African American people (15.41 per 100,000). Hispanic or Latino people had slightly higher excess death rates (3.81 per 100,000) than white people (3.77 per 100,000 people). Asian or Pacific Islanders were the only group with a lower excess death rate than white people (0.27 per 100,000).

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