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!

New COVID-19 Restrictions in Michigan

Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the state, MDHHS has placed additional restrictions in effect starting Wednesday (November 18), and will remain in effect for the next three weeks (through December 8), including:

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Los Angeles Voters Approve Step Towards Defunding Police

Los Angeles County residents voted in favor of a ballot measure that requires "no less than ten percent (10%) of the County's locally generated unrestricted revenues in the general fund to address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice through community investment and alternatives to incarceration and prohibiting using those funds for carceral systems and law enforcement agencies." The percentage equates to $360-$900 million each year, and while the measure does not directly call for defunding the police, it may do so indirectly by cutting into the total amount of funds available for policing. Directing substantial funds to communities and in services like mental health, substance use treatment, restorative justice, and prison reentry programs is an approach called for by advocates for defunding the police and for those working to bring about racial equity, including Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives.

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Pandemic is Not Over

Over the last few days, several articles have been released that are rich in information about COVID-19. The clearest themes amongst these articles are that we have entered a new wave in the pandemic, the numbers are rapidly increasing, and our health care workers and health system are strained. We must continue to underscore that the pandemic is far from over. What we choose to do as a community will continue to impact those around us.

 Many of us are facing difficult decisions regarding the winter holidays. Not seeing our loved ones or not seeing them in the ways we would like to is part of the struggle over the holiday season. Regardless of the decision you make, we urge our Queering Medicine family to continue to maintain physical distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get a flu shot. Decisions should be informed; here are some highlights to consider:

Articles worth reading:

Three Lansing Police Officers on Leave after Arrest Video Released on Social Media

Three Lansing Police officers have been put on leave and the Michigan State Police are investigating after video circulated of an arrest made on Tuesday night, in which five Lansing Police officers pinned down a suspect and reportedly hit him in the back of the head multiple times. The man can be heard saying, "Why are you hitting me?" and the individual who filmed the incident said, "Please don't kill him." Police had already Tasered the suspect multiple times. Police had been called regarding a fight between 5-6 people, and the man was suspected of being a part of it, and resisted initial attempts to arrest him.

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Lansing City Council Avoids Vote on Police Defunding

Patricia Spitzley, chair of Lansing City Council's Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, introduced and then pulled the Committee's resolution on defunding the police at Monday's Council meeting. In the EDI Committee, Brandon Betz and Kathie Dunbar had originally pushed for the resolution to call for a 50% cut to the police budget, but they agreed to a heavily watered-down version to get the support of Spitzley and Peter Spadafore, which instead merely called for the creation of a subcommittee that would investigate significantly reducing the police budget. All four members of the Committee voted in support of the modified resolution, and Committee Chair Spitzley introduced it for a vote by the full City Council. The resolution should have needed only one additional vote to pass, which seemed to be in hand as Brian Jackson stated his support when discussion began, but after Carol Wood, Adam Hussain, and Jeremy Garza spoke against it, Spitzley reversed her position, said she wouldn't support any proposal that called for reducing the police budget, and pulled it from the floor before it could be voted on. While Betz argued to have a vote taken so that Councilmembers would be on record in their positions regardless of the outcome, Spitzley pulled it so that a vote would not occur, sending it back to the EDI Committee (had it gone to vote and failed, it would also have gone back to the EDI Committee; there was no apparent benefit to pulling it before a vote, other than allowing those opposed to not have to vote on record). Betz also argued for the importance of moving quickly on the issue, given the ongoing impacts on the community, but Spitzley comparing the proposal to the Council's past work regarding marijuana, saying that that work took more than a year and that the Council should expect to spend far more than a few months on this.

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Vaccine Update: Pfizer and Beyond

In a recent announcement, Pfizer, in partnership with the German firm BioNTech, stated that their experimental COVID-19 vaccine appeared to be over 90% effective. Supporting data comes from an interim analysis of a clinical trial of over 43,000 volunteers, and the analysis was done after there were 94 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in trial volunteers. While this vaccine update is undoubtedly good news, there are a few critical considerations.

Many in the Trump administration were quick to claim credit for the news, but Pfizer clarified that while it had made a deal under Trump’s Operation Warp Speed (the federal program to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine) to help distribute doses, no money was received from the U.S. government to the development of the vaccine.

It was also concerning that on the same day as Pfizer’s announcement, Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, sold $5.6 million dollars worth of stock. The timing of these events, with executives making large stock or trading decisions immediately before the release of trial data, is concerning. Ultimately, the vaccine still has to meet FDA guidelines to be approved for use in the U.S., ensuring that there are still safety measures regarding vaccine development, but these questionable actions deserve scrutiny.

While news of an effective vaccine as this is promising, there are also other concerns, primarily regarding distribution. Even though a vaccine may soon be available, it will be a significant amount of time before enough people can receive the vaccine for mask mandates, public gathering limits, and business restrictions to be safely scaled back or removed. There are also questions of who will be prioritized and whether the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our communities will receive it quickly. Also, the current Pfizer vaccine seems to have specific requirements for storage that may make it difficult and potentially impossible to distribute universally. The vaccine reportedly needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius, a temperature that cannot be achieved by most freezers and instead requires specialized equipment (for comparison, a typical home freezer is set at around -18 degrees Celsius). Many hospitals, mainly smaller and rural hospitals, do not have freezers capable of reaching that temperature, and as larger, urban hospitals rush to adequately supply themselves, many other potential issues in logistics and distribution will make it difficult to vaccinate everybody promptly.

Internationally, there have also been some COVID-19 vaccine headlines. A Brazilian trial of a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China has been halted due to a report of an adverse event. Government officials in the United Kingdom have stated that they may have three potential COVID-19 vaccines ready by Christmas, one of these being the Pfizer vaccine mentioned earlier and another developed at Oxford.

It is still too early to tell when we will have a safe, effective vaccine and how vaccine distribution will ultimately occur, and it is important to stay focused on current public health guidelines (wearing a mask, physically distancing, washing hands, avoiding gatherings) as cases of COVID-19 surge.

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Confirmed Transmission of COVID-19 between Minks and Humans

Since April 2020, there have been several reported respiratory disease outbreaks linked to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in mink farms across the Netherlands. Minks are “dark-colored, semiaquatic carnivorous mammals” that are related to weasels, otters, and ferrets, and are farmed primarily for their fur, which is used to make fur coats, stoles, and other clothing items. The Dutch national response system for zoonotic disease was activated to observe the implications of these outbreaks on the COVID-19 pandemic. The surveillance system required “farmers, veterinarians, and laboratories ... [to] … report symptoms in mink.” In neighboring Denmark, the largest producer of mink products, the government has asked farms to kill all mink (approximately 17 million) in order to remove the threat.

Owners and employees of mink farms with reported respiratory disease outbreaks were tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection, and researchers were sent out to determine whether transmission between minks and humans was taking place. The researchers compared the SARS-CoV-2 sequences of those who tested positive with the samples from infected minks and community-acquired infections. They concluded that minks were “the most likely source of human infection.” More than 200 people have reportedly been infected with mink-related variants of SARS-CoV-2. 

Zoonotic transmission, infections moving between animals and humans, of COVID-19 are not entirely new. We’ve seen it in “experimentally infected cats, tree shrews, hamsters, and ferrets.” The transmission of COVID-19 between minks and humans is an important development because of its potential to negatively impact our efforts to control the pandemic. Minks could serve as a new reservoir for the virus, making it difficult for us to fully eradicate (a reservoir, in disease terms, is a place where germs grow and reproduce). Infection of minks could also introduce evasive mutations that make our vaccines less effective. Evasive mutations change the virus just enough that our immune systems primed by vaccines aren’t able to mount a strong defensive response. At the moment, it is not believed that mink-related mutations of SARS-CoV-2 will make COVID-19 vaccines less effective.

Mink are native to the United States and are found in the wild in most of the country (including Michigan), primarily in wetlands. While one species of mink is native to Europe, it is endangered and not used in the fur trade: The American mink was brought to Europe (and is considered an invasive species there) and is the type raised in farms in Denmark and the Netherlands that has been found to transmit the virus to humans.

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