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Coronavirus Files: Difficulties for unrecognized Native tribes and child care providers

Coronavirus Files: Difficulties for unrecognized Native tribes and child care providers

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


Pandemic leaves unrecognized tribes behind

The U.S. government has set aside billions of dollars in pandemic relief for Native tribes, and the Indian Health Service’s vaccination effort has led to higher rates of immunization among American Indians and Alaska Natives than in several other ethnic groups. But there’s still a vulnerable population that hasn’t been able to access any of that assistance, reports Eilis O’Neill at NPR: the tens of thousands of people in more than 200 tribes that haven’t been officially recognized by the federal government. Some never signed a treaty with the U.S., while others were left off the federal list by an “accident of history,” said John Norwood of the National Congress of American Indians.
Unrecognized tribes don’t have their own health clinics, COVID-19 testing sites or vaccines; some members have been able to get tested or vaccinated thanks to neighboring, recognized tribes. High rates of unemployment during the pandemic have also led to a rise in addiction problems, with no federal help available. “We have lost folks in our community over the last year that would not have been lost were Chinook to have been a federally recognized community,” says Tony Johnson, chair of the Chinook Indian Nation in southeast Washington state. “And that is unbearable.”
Johnson & Johnson vaccine is back
On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for Johnson & Johnson vaccinations to resume, shortly after a CDC committee voted 10-4 to lift the pause. The move ended a 10-day limbo over potential risk for unusual blood clots. A handful of additional cases have emerged since the J&J pause began, and the panel recommended a warning label noting this rare side effect in women younger than 50. This mirrors the decision of European regulators. The CDC projected that by re-starting vaccinations in the U.S., there might be up to 45 more cases of vaccine-related clotting, but 1,435 COVID-19 deaths would be averted.
“The decision effectively amounts to permission for women under 50 to get the J&J vaccine if they feel comfortable taking the risk, but also an option for them to take alternative vaccines if they aren’t comfortable,” notes Helen Branswell in STAT.
Meanwhile, cringe-inducing news continues to come out about Emergent BioSolutions, operators of the Maryland plant that was slated to produce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for U.S. use. Last Wednesday, the FDA released a report detailing unsanitary conditions, mishandling of medical waste, and mysterious black and brown residue on the walls and floors. “This is a very scathing report,” pharmaceutical consultant John Avellanet told The Washington Post. He estimated the problems might take months to correct. This will likely delay Johnson & Johnson’s timeline to provide 100 million doses to the U.S. by the end of May. That in turn will have the greatest impact on underserved populations, such as homeless people, seniors who are homebound, people in prison and college students, writes Sarah Owermohle at Politico.
Child care crisis hurts women, communities of color
The pandemic and home-based schooling have had a huge, outsized impact on women in the workforce. At The Lily, Jessica Washington looks at the effects on women who run, or used to run, child care centers or preschools out of their homes. The low income — $25,000 a year for one provider in the piece — and lack of employer benefits makes their situation particularly precarious, especially for those nearing retirement. Others find it difficult to apply for different jobs when employers belittle the previous occupation as “babysitting.”
This impacts not just the women running these businesses, but also their communities, because Black, Latino, lower-income and rural families rely heavily on home-based child care so the parents can work. The Biden administration is offering assistance, investing about $40 billion in rescue for the child care industry. But it’s difficult for home-based providers to get a piece of that pie, writes Washington. Some struggle to provide the paperwork needed for a small-business loan, and others can’t afford to pay up front for expenses that government agencies promise to reimburse.
“I don’t know how we bounce back from this,” said Adrienne Briggs, who runs a preschool from her home in Philadelphia. “Or when.”
Vaccine supply starts to overtake demand
The U.S. recently hit some big vaccination milestones, with half of adults at least partially vaccinated, and one-quarter fully covered. Yet the average daily vaccination rate dropped in recent days, from a peak of nearly 3.4 million to under 3 million, and the lack of Johnson & Johnson shots doesn’t seem to fully explain the decline. Mass vaccination sites are shutting down due to a drop in demand, according to Alison Durkee at Forbes.
Some of the issues are practical, note Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Annie Karni at The New York Times. Many people don’t have the free time and transportation to schedule and get to appointments. To help, President Biden asked employers to offer paid time off for vaccinations, and offered tax credits to small companies to offset costs. And while many Americans would prefer to get the vaccine from a trusted personal physician, the vaccine quantities per package — 1,170 doses at a time, for Pfizer’s shot, and 100 for Moderna’s — are way more than small practices can handle.
Efforts to engage Black Americans in the vaccine effort are paying off, Karni and Stolberg report, but other groups remain hesitant, including many men. Bethany Ao at The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that vaccine interest among Generation Z is waning, prompting doctors to get the message out on social media platforms such as TikTok. Republicans, too, are more likely to be holdouts. In The Washington Post, Dan Diamond reports on a focus group of vaccine-skeptic Trump voters: They were unbothered by the Johnson & Johnson pause, annoyed that boosters might be required, and eager to obtain fake vaccination cards. They preferred to hear from politicians over the media or national experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci. The group’s convener, communications expert Frank Luntz, also noted that their anti-vaccine position may have simply become ingrained: “If you’ve refused to take the vaccine this long, it’s going to be hard to switch you.”
From the Center for Health Journalism
Wednesday Webinar: Reporting on anti-Asian hate
The wave of attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has been emotionally gutting for these communities. We’ll examine the impact of the crisis on the mental health of Asian Americans, especially the women who are often targeted. Join us on April 28 at 11 a.m. PT for a deep discussion to inform your coverage of the crisis and broader reporting on AAPI communities. Sign-up here!
Apply Now for 2021 National Fellowship
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 (July 19-23) 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.
What we're reading
  • “The blood-clot problem is multiplying,” by Roxanne Khamsi, The Atlantic
  • “Do kids really need to be vaccinated for COVID? Yes. No. Maybe.” By Sara Talpos, Undark
  • “The pandemic will likely end in one of these four ways,” by Dan Vergano, BuzzFeed News
  • “The COVID-19 plasma boom is over. What did we learn from it?” by Katie Thomas and Noah Weiland, The New York Times
  • “A phone call, a private plane and a cable car conductor: How S.F. rescued 1,000 thawed vaccine doses from 300 miles away,” by Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle


Events and Resources

Events Wednesday, April 28:
  • NPR has built a database highlighting COVID-19 experts of underrepresented racial or ethnic backgrounds who can speak to the media.
  • The Society of Professional Journalists maintains a number of handy resources, including a page with key COVID-19 announcements and “Journalist’s Toolbox” sites with resources for reporting on the pandemic and COVID-19 data and research.
  • WNYC Studios’ “On the Media” offers a handbook of tips on covering vaccines in the wake of the Johnson & Johnson pause and ongoing news of infections in vaccinated people.
  • The Global Investigative Journalism Network offers guidance for coronavirus reporting in 13 languages.

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