Skip to main content.

Coronavirus Files: LGBTQ face added risk; third vaccine authorized; U.S. variants rise

Coronavirus Files: LGBTQ face added risk; third vaccine authorized; U.S. variants rise

Picture of Amber Dance

 

Since last April, The Center for Health Journalism has been publishing a special newsletter geared to journalists as they report on one of the biggest and most complex stories of our times. Each Monday, while the pandemic runs its course, The Coronavirus Files will provide tips and resources and highlight exemplary work to help you with your coverage. This week, the Center for Health Journalism’s Coronavirus Files Monday newsletter is curated and reported by science writer Amber Dance, PhD. Have a suggestion or a request? Write us at editor@centerforhealthjournalism.org.
 
Webinar this week: Women in Crisis
 
Join us March 3 for our next “Covering Coronavirus” webinar on the pandemic’s brutal impact on women, the disproportionate burdens on women of color, and the short- and long-term consequences of the mass exodus of women from the workforce. More details below.
 
COVID-19 risks for sexual minorities
 
The stigma and discrimination associated with being gay, bisexual or transgender can lead to higher rates of health problems, such as asthma and obesity, which are in turn associated with higher risk of severe COVID-19. Samantha Schmidt at The Washington Post highlights the problems raised by a CDC report earlier this month. Members of the LGBTQ community who are Black or Hispanic are even more vulnerable, the report found. One big issue, Schmidt reports, is that we don’t have good data on how COVID-19 is impacting these communities. The U.S. is not universally collecting data about the sexual and gender identity of people with COVID-19 or those in line for vaccinations. The few states and jurisdictions that are collecting such data haven’t released it. “By not asking the question, we are erasing the LGBTQ community,” California state senator Scott Wiener told Schmidt.
 
Vaccines for people of color go astray
 
Efforts to boost vaccine access in underserved communities continue to suffer challenges, while appointments go to those with tech know-how, fast internet access and free time to hit “refresh” repeatedly. In a striking example of this, the state of California’s special access codes, distributed to eligible people of color, ended up in the hands of wealthier, white people who weren’t yet eligible. As Julia Wick reported for the Los Angeles Times, several of those more affluent folks got vaccinated. To be fair, some were under the misapprehension that the codes opened access to vaccines that would otherwise be wasted. “I had no intention of skipping the line,” 32-year-old Dimitri Anthes told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I feel like a privileged asshole who gamed the system.”
 
Johnson & Johnson shipping soon
 
The FDA handed Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine emergency authorization Saturday after unanimous endorsement from its advisory committee. FDA documents released last week confirm the one-shot vaccine was 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe COVID-19 cases. Resist the temptation to look askance at that number in comparison to the more than 90% efficacy of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines: The Johnson & Johnson trial had to contend with new variants in South Africa and Brazil, and even so the vaccine fully prevented hospitalizations and deaths. Experts recommend taking any vaccine you’re offered.
 
The fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is cheaper to make, can be stored in the refrigerator, and only requires one dose makes it a prime candidate to reach underserved populations, such as homeless people and homebound elderly people, reports Catherine Ho for the San Francisco Chronicle. This is the shot that “can increase equity,” Saad Omer of the Yale Institute for Global Health told Vox. The U.S. can expect 20 million doses by the end of March, and 100 million by the end of June.
 
Vaccines in the wild
 
Meanwhile, we’re starting to get a sense of how well authorized vaccines work outside of tightly controlled clinical trials. The news is not surprising, but still thrilling: they work great. “This is immensely reassuring,” Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic told AP, speaking of results out of Israel with the Pfizer vaccine. Among 600,000 vaccinated people, just nine died of Covid-19, and the vaccine blocked both symptomatic and asymptomatic disease. Additionally, two studies out of the U.K. show that even the first shot of Pfizer’s or AstraZeneca’s vaccine was enough to slash hospitalization rates, and also that Pfizer’s vaccine prevents asymptomatic disease. Blocking these symptom-free infections should, presumably, curb transmission as well.
 
American variants
 
In decidedly less thrilling news, homegrown virus variants are now circulating in the U.S. A pair of similar variants in California (B.1.427 and B.1.429) appear to be more infectious and more dangerous. They have already spread widely in California, as well as to at least 45 other states and a handful of other countries. Preliminary studies indicate that current vaccines are weaker but still effective against these variants. “The vaccines will work,” Dr. Jay Levy at UCSF told the San Francisco Chronicle. But one terrifying possibility reported by Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times is that the California and U.K. (B.1.1.7) variants could meet and merge to create a virus worse than either parent.
 
Samples from New York City also show a rise in a pair of variants, currently grouped together (B.1.526). Less is known about their transmissibility, severity and susceptibility to vaccines, but “this is definitely one to watch,” Scripps Research virologist Kristian Andersen told The New York Times.
 
Variant shots are coming. Moderna announced it’s ready to test a vaccine booster against the South Africa variant (B.1.135). Last week the FDA laid out what it would require of such a booster: It should work against both new and old variants and be safe for those who got the original shots. Such trials would only require hundreds of subjects (as opposed to the 30,000 preferred for new vaccines), and could be completed within a few months, reports Molly Walker at MedPage Today.
 
Is the end finally in sight?
 
After a brutal winter, writers at The Atlantic are allowing themselves to look forward to the pandemic’s finale. With the coronavirus likely to persist in some form for a long time, perhaps forever, Alexis Madrigal asks how we’ll know when the current crisis has officially passed. He makes a solid case that we can call it once the U.S. reaches fewer than 100 deaths per day — equivalent to the country’s average for influenza. More immediately, Joe Pinsker predicts we’re in for a crummy spring followed by a much better summer, with a final resurgence of the virus as the weather turns cold again.
 
From the Center for Health Journalism
 
3/3 Webinar: Women in Crisis During COVID-19
President Biden has called the impact of COVID-19 on women a national emergency. Nearly 3 million women in the U.S. have left the labor force in the past year. Those who are employed make up an outsized share of the high-risk essential workforce, holding 78% of all hospital jobs, 70% of pharmacy jobs and 51% of grocery store jobs. Two out of three women are caregivers, putting them at risk of depression and anxiety. Nearly two-thirds of mothers are in charge of supporting their children’s remote learning. Join us for a webinar on the crisis for women, the disproportionate burdens on women of color, and the short-and long-term consequences of the mass exodus of women from workforce. We’ll explore how the Biden stimulus plan may help women, where it falls short, and what is needed from government and the private sector to advance gender equity in the economic recovery. We’ll talk about the stories that haven’t been told, and what to look for as vaccinations pick up, schools reopen, hiring resumes and life inches back to normal.
WHEN: March 3, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. PT
 
2021 California Fellowship
Apply now for our 2021 California Fellowship! Fellows receive funding for ambitious projects, plus mentorship, interactive workshops and engaging discussions by health policy experts, community health practitioners and journalists. Deadline to apply: March 1.
 
We’re seeking a key journalism hire!
Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism is seeking an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 
 
What we're reading
 
  • “2 hard-hit cities, 2 diverging fates in vaccine rollout,” by Philip Marcelo, AP
  • “The youngest victims of a national calamity, and the people they left behind,” by Marc Fisher, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Annie Gowen, Arelis R. Hernández and Lori Rozsa, The Washington Post
  • “We Are Going to Keep You Safe, Even if It Kills Your Spirit,” by Katie Engelhart, The New York Times
  • “What it’s like to die from Covid-19,” by Katherine Harmon Courage, Vox
  • “From the first stitch to the final zip: The global journey of a COVID-19 body bag,” by Emily Baumgaertner, Los Angeles Times
  • “The joy of vax: The people giving the shots are seeing hope, and it’s contagious,” by Maura Judkis, The Washington Post

 

Events and Resources

Leave A Comment

Announcements

As public health officials like to say, "COVID-19 isn't done with us." And journalists know that we're not done with COVID-19. Apply now for five days of stimulating discussions on the pandemic's disproportionate impact on people of color -- plus reporting and engagement grants of $2k-$10k and five months of mentoring while you work on an ambitious project.

Are you passionate about helping journalists understand and illuminate the social factors that contribute to health and health disparities at a time when COVID-19 has highlighted the costs of such inequities? Looking to play a big role in shaping journalism today in the United States? The USC Center for Health Journalism seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” 

 

CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY

Follow Us

Facebook


Twitter

CHJ Icon
ReportingHealth