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Coronavirus Files: Violence against Asian Americans; AstraZeneca vaccine woes (again)

Coronavirus Files: Violence against Asian Americans; AstraZeneca vaccine woes (again)

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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: Housing on the Brink

On March 24, we’ll explore the growing housing crisis amid COVID-19 and its implications for health and wellbeing. More details below. Register here.

Attacks on Asian Americans skyrocket during pandemic

Last week’s murder of eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in Georgia quickly became the emblem of a rising wave of hate crimes against people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage since the pandemic began. While the white shooter has claimed there was no racial motive, few are buying it. “Your murder speaks louder than your words,” said The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah.
 
The horrific violence followed the release of a report that counted 3,795 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since March 19, 2020, when the group Stop AAPI Hate began tracking them. The list of racist events, which is surely an underestimate, ranged from online harassment to discrimination to physical assault. While the group has no pre-pandemic counts, other data indicate hate crimes against people of Asian descent rose by nearly 150% in 2020, reports Julia Reinstein at BuzzFeed News. In the Stop AAPI Hate report, women were more than twice as likely as men to report incidents, which comes as no surprise to Cady Lang at Time. “For Asian women, racism and misogyny are deeply intertwined,” writes Lang, pointing to the objectification and exoticization of Asian-American women in popular culture. Yet anti-Asian hate crimes are difficult to prosecute, report Nicole Hong and Jonah E. Bromwich for The New York Times, because it can be difficult to prove a racist motive. “There is no widely recognized symbol of anti-Asian hate comparable to a noose or a swastika,” they write.
 
“These attacks are part of a larger trend of racism and nationalism sanctioned by white supremacy,” wrote Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, in an email to supporters. The presence of white supremacist propaganda nearly doubled in 2020, compared to 2019, reports Christopher Miller at BuzzFeed.
 
Journalists have a job to do here. “We must call attention to incidents of hatred and violence but also be sure to shine a light on how communities and individuals can rally and come together to prevent discrimination and hate crimes,” as the Center for Health Journalism put it in a statement last week. And we should be careful in our reporting, writes media columnist Margaret Sullivan in The Washington Post, noting that many outlets rushed to repeat the police statement about no racial motivation in the Georgia attacks. “Don’t take everything from official sources at face value,” Sullivan admonishes.
 
AstraZeneca vax deemed safe, but questions remain
 
Of the more than 17 million people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccination in Europe, 37 have had blood clots, according to the company, and at least four have died. The reports led several countries in Europeplus Thailand, to suspend use of the vaccine. Experts are divided on whether this was a good call, according to Science. The European Medicines Agency, counterpart to the U.S. FDA, offered a pronouncement on March 18 that didn’t completely clear things up: It ruled the vaccine “safe and effective,” but was unable to fully dismiss a risk of blood clots, and will be adding a warning label highlighting the risk. Several countries have already resumed using the vaccine.
 
Some wonder if the way nations halted vaccinations in rapid succession was, in part, political. As The New York Times reported, “once Germany hit pause, the pressure mounted on other governments to do the same, lest public opinion punish them if they seemed incautious by comparison, and for the sake of a united European front.”
 
The AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet authorized in the U.S., though results from the company’s U.S. trial are due any day now. The U.S. is sitting on tens of millions of doses, but the Biden administration last week agreed to share 4 million doses with Mexico and Canada, where the shot is already allowed. The European controversy could further erode consumer confidence in the vaccine and slow vaccination campaigns. “At this point in time,” said the WHO’s Europe director Hans Kluge,” the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks — and its use should continue, to save lives.”
 
Michigan uptick may herald spring surge
 
Eyes are on the Great Lakes State, where cases have risen by more than 80% over the past two weeks, even as cases nationally have plateaued around 55,000 cases per day. The state also has the nation’s second-highest count for cases of the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the U.K., and that more-infectious strain is gaining ground. “If you want to know where we are headed for a U.S. B.1.1.7-fueled fourth surge, this is the place to watch,” tweeted Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla. 
 
Florida, which has the highest number of B.1.1.7 cases, hasn’t see much sign of a surge. But spring break could change that. “This could be the first time that we are gathering under which B.1.1.7 will be dominant across Florida,” epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding told WTSP in Tampa. “That’s a really, really bad concern.” Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey lead the nation in the number of cases per capita.
 
Are vaccines a cure for long-haulers?
 
Almost one-third of people who recover from COVID-19 experience symptoms that linger for months, and scientists are starting to dig into the causes. AP’s Lindsey Tanner lays out a few possible explanations: Maybe the immune system is stuck in overdrive, even after the virus is gone. Or, more disturbingly, perhaps the virus is still lurking somewhere in the body.
 
Now, reports from long-haulers themselves suggest a startling development: Scores of people say they feel better after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. As reported in The Washington Post and The New York Times, a small U.K. study, yet to be peer reviewed, backs up the trend: The data suggest that people with long COVID who got vaccinated were more likely to see their symptoms decrease than those who didn’t. Why remains a medical mystery: Did the vaccine put the immune system back in proper order? Or did it prompt the body to finally clear out lingering viral reservoirs? “I’m intrigued and puzzled by the reports, and curious to see whether this pans out to be real, and, if so, why is it happening,” infectious-disease expert Dr. Michael Saag told the Post.
 
Moderna’s new trials target children and variants
 
Beating the virus will likely require vaccination of children, and Moderna took a step in that direction last week, delivering the first shots in a study intended to enroll 6,750 children, ages six months to 11 years. (AstraZeneca is also running a small trial for those six and up; Pfizer and Moderna have enrolled teen trials; Johnson & Johnson will start pediatric trials as well.)
 
It’s unclear how long these studies will take: On one hand, investigators are only looking for an antibody response, so they don’t have to wait for kids to get infected with COVID-19 as they did in the adult trials. On the other hand, Moderna struggled to fill its teen trial, so full enrollment might take a while. Anthony Fauci has predicted that teens will have access to the shots by fall, with younger kids likely waiting until the start of 2022.
 
Moderna has also begun testing a booster shot specifically designed against the South Africa variant. (Pfizer, meanwhile, is evaluating whether a third dose of its existing vaccine might defeat variants.)
 
From the Center for Health Journalism
 
3/24 Webinar: Housing on the Brink
 
Housing insecurity is a huge story in every community. In this webinar, we’ll explore the growing housing crisis and its implications for health and wellbeing. We’ll look at the deep roots of the problem and the racist history that makes housing insecurity especially acute for people of color. And we’ll examine policy solutions needed to protect struggling renters and homeowners. Join us for ideas, tips and resources for covering this urgent topic. Sign up here!
 
Free Domestic Violence Symposium, Opportunity to Apply for Grants
 
Domestic violence affects tens of millions of Americans every year. Yet media outlets mostly treat incidents as "Cops" items, if they cover them at all, as opposed to treating domestic violence as a public health problem. Our free two-day symposium will help journalists understand the root causes and promising prevention, intervention and treatment approaches. Plus, participants will be able to apply for grants to report California-focused projects. Register here.
 
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 seeks an enterprising and experienced journalism leader for our new position of “Manager of Projects.” Apply here.
 
What we're reading
 
  • “CDC under scrutiny after struggling to report COVID race, ethnicity data,” by Erin Banco and Darius Tahir, Politico
  • “Death in the prime of life: COVID-19 proves especially lethal to younger Latinos,” by Akilah Johnson, The Washington Post
  • “Need amid plenty: Richest U.S. counties are overwhelmed by surge in child hunger,” by Laura Ungar, Kaiser Health News
  • “Coronavirus reinfections are rare, Danish researchers report,” by Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times

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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.” 

 

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