Tag Archives: vulnerable

Undervaccinated areas vulnerable to Covid surges could become breeding grounds for more deadly variants

The analysis by researchers at Georgetown University identified 30 clusters of counties with low vaccination rates and significant population sizes. The five most significant of those clusters are sprawled across large swaths of the southeastern United States and a smaller portion in the Midwest.
The five clusters are largely in parts of eight states, starting in the east in Georgia and stretching west to Texas and north to southern Missouri. The clusters also include parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, and are made up of mostly smaller counties but also cities such as Montgomery, Alabama; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Amarillo, Texas.
Most of these states are currently seeing increases in Covid-19 cases.
“Parts of the country are just as vulnerable if not more vulnerable than they were in December, 2020,” said Shweta Bansal, an associate professor of biology at Georgetown University. Bansal heads up the US COVID-19 Vaccination Tracking project, which has been gathering data on the US vaccine rollout since it began in December.
Those vulnerable clusters put all of the United States — and to some extent, the world — at risk for going back to 2020, since high-transmission areas can become breeding grounds for Covid-19 variants that could go on to evade Covid-19 vaccines.
“These clusters of unvaccinated people are what is standing in the way of us putting this virus down permanently,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a CNN medical analyst and professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.

Millions of unvaccinated people in the clusters

About one-third of Americans have not received even a single Covid-19 shot — and the Georgetown analysis shows that these people are not evenly spread around the United States.
Analyzing county vaccination data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments, the Georgetown researchers found 30 clusters of counties throughout the US that have low vaccination rates compared to the national average and also have significant population size.
The five most significant clusters together include more than 15 million people. Of those, only 27.9% are fully vaccinated — far lower than the national rate of 47.6%.
The county data is not without its flaws. When someone gets a shot, their home county is supposed to be noted in state records, but the system doesn’t always work perfectly. In the Georgetown analysis, at least 90% of all vaccinations were recorded with the person’s home county, Bansal said.
In some cases, the Georgetown data differs from CDC data because Bansal and her team were able to obtain additional data directly from state health departments.
While the clusters do encompass some sizable cities, 92% of the counties in the clusters have a population of less than 100,000.
The federal government has been engaging with churches and organizations such as the YMCA to encourage Covid-19 vaccination in areas like these, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN.
“These are extraordinary partners in reaching communities [in rural areas] where health care access isn’t as easy as it is in urban areas,” he said.

Clusters give virus opportunities to mutate

The Delta variant, which now comprises more than half the cases in the United States, is the latest in a long string of Covid-19 variants that have spread more easily and in some cases caused more severe illness.
That’s why the clusters are so worrisome. Each time a virus spreads, it has an opportunity to learn how to mutate.
“We know that if you give the virus the opportunity to circulate and replicate, you give it the opportunity to generate more variants,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CNN.
The Delta variant has learned how to evade Covid-19 vaccines to a small degree, but they still offer excellent protection against severe disease and hospitalization.
The fear is that the next variant might be able to outsmart the vaccine more thoroughly, causing problems even for parts of the country that have high vaccination rates.
“We’ve been lucky with the variants so far that they’ve been relatively susceptible to our vaccine, but the more you roll the dice, the more opportunities there will be for a resistant variant,” Reiner said.

Author: Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield, CNN
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Catherine Zeta-Jones says marriage to Michael Douglas helped avoid ‘vulnerable’ situations

Catherine Zeta-Jones, 51, has been married to Michael Douglas, 76, since 2000. However, in a new interview, the Hollywood star has opened up about how their relationship may have helped her avoid “vulnerable” situations in casting rooms.
Catherine made the admission when discussing whether she herself had experienced any uncomfortable situations in light of the #MeToo movement.

She explained: “I was very young when I started out.

“Whenever I had to audition, I was never in an environment like that.

“And when I moved to Hollywood, it wasn’t long before I met my future husband, so everyone knew that I was with Michael Douglas.”

READ MORE: Catherine Zeta-Jones sparks frenzy with latest social media snap

Catherine often gives insight into their lives on Instagram, in view of her 3.7 million followers.

This includes a recent gushing message to celebrate her daughter finishing the International Baccalaureate.

She shared an image of her, Michael and their two children on the picture-sharing website.

Alongside this, she penned: “Carys!!! What a proud day as our daughter Carys graduates with honors for her International Baccalaureate!

“You rock and we love you.”

Viewers in the UK will also soon be able to see Catherine on screens again.

The actor is starring in the Fox drama Prodigal Son, which will launch on Sky in June.

In the show, she plays Dr Vivian Capshaw, who is Claremont’s new psychiatric doctor alongside Michael Sheen.

Read the full story in this week’s Radio Times, which is out now.

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Celebrity News Feed

One shot of vaccine leaves people vulnerable to new Covid variants warns new study

The situation in India is at crisis point, with hospitals across the country overwhelmed with admissions and oxygen supplies scarce. The rapid escalation is thought to be driven by two coronavirus variants spreading rampantly in the country – the B117 variant first detected in the UK and the new B1617 variant, first detected in India. The India variant is of particular concern for the country and the world because it contains two “escape” mutations that help it to evade the body’s immune responses. Meanwhile, researchers in Britain have published a chilling finding about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against new variants.
As of Sunday, 34,505,380 million people had received one dose and 15,329,617 million had been given their second jab.

“For the situation of countries like the U.K., we’re saying hang on a minute, those people are doing well at the moment, and the U.K. has done well, but watch out and keep your eye on the ball for the variants because [people] are far more vulnerable than you might have expected to the variant strains,” he told a press briefing on Friday.

To gather their findings, the scientists monitored 731 British health care workers for several months last year.

About half of those in the study group had contracted COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic in March, 2020, while the remainder had not been infected.

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The study found that those who’d previously had a mild or even asymptomatic infection had a far higher immune response after one dose of the Pfizer vaccine than those who hadn’t been ill.

The immune response was so strong, the study noted, that it also offered good protection against the variants first detected in Britain and South Africa.

The study “is basically showing that if you’ve had prior COVID-19, and then you’ve had a single dose vaccine, you are really in a different league in terms of your immune response,” said Rosemary Boyton, a professor of immunology and respiratory medicine at Imperial College, who co-authored the study.

“It’s almost like the infection has acted as a prime and the first dose has acted as a boost.”

However, the group of volunteers who had not been infected showed a much weaker immune response to the variants after one dose.

The study showed that their level of neutralising antibodies was 11 to 25-fold lower against the B117 variant compared with the original version of the virus, “resulting in the majority of individuals falling below the protective threshold.”

The research team said their findings also likely apply to other variants in circulation, such as the P1, first detected and Brazil, and the B1617 and B1618 variants, first associated with India.

Dr Altmann said the findings are a precautionary tale as the UK continues to lift restrictions.

“One dose in terms of all of our measurable immune parameters of [the Pfizer vaccine] really does look very, very feeble and all the more so against variants,” he said.

“And yet whatever the level of immunity that it’s induced, it’s certainly been enough to have had some impact. But it’s really very, very weak compared to two doses. My message from that would be hang on in there for your second dose.”

Despite the findings, the researchers emphasise the efficacy of the current crop of vaccines, but that the public should be careful about the level of protection one jab offers.

“All I would say loud and clear is we’re definitely not saying that the vaccines are useless,” Dr Altmann said.

“We’re actually saying the vaccines are incredibly good. But what we are saying for a country for example like the UK that has the majority of its vaccinated people on one dose and also has one eye on the horizon for any incoming variants of concern, that’s a potential real vulnerability. And a solution would be to keep up your guard on the surveillance of variants and get the second dose to people.”

Author:
This post originally appeared on Daily Express :: Health Feed
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As vaccine eligibility widens, some vulnerable Texans are still fighting for access

Fredericksburg retiree Cyn White has been trying to find a COVID-19 vaccine in her Hill Country community since she became eligible for it in December.

White, 63, who has a disability, grew frustrated with the lack of available appointments, problems with overloaded websites, and zero follow-up from the locations that allowed her to get on a waiting list.

Calling it a “dire situation” for herself and others like her, White became panicked at the idea of Texas opening its eligibility to all Texas adults this week.

“What chance do I have to actually acquire a vaccine?” she said.

Then on Monday, hours after the state expanded eligibility to millions of Texans ages 16 and older, she finally left a desperate voicemail at Hill Country Memorial and got her callback.

She went in her first dose of the Moderna vaccine Wednesday.

“It’s like I’ve got a 100-pound weight taken off my shoulders. I could cry,” White said. “I slept very well last night.”

Texas became one of a dozen[2] states to relax eligibility restrictions for the vaccine[3] this week and open up availability to adults and some teens[4] regardless of profession or health status.

But some question whether Texas — where demand still far outpaces supply[5], in spite of anticipated increases in dose allotments — is ready to open the floodgates when some more vulnerable Texans have still not been vaccinated.

“From the community consciousness, the response was, ‘But we haven’t served all our vulnerable people yet. What are we going to do about that?’” said Colleen Bridger, San Antonio’s assistant city manager and former health director.

Texas officials and some of the state’s top medical experts say the priority is still vaccinating the most vulnerable residents — a group of roughly 12 million to 14 million people. But with more vaccines coming in[6] and some rural areas seeing fewer people in the early eligibility groups signing up for shots, the overall strategy is beginning to shift to vaccinating as many people as possible to stem spread of the coronavirus.

The move by the state to open eligibility triggered efforts in some cities to preemptively increase options for those who might fall through the cracks in the crush of newly eligible recipients.

In San Antonio, city officials opened up three weeks’ worth of appointments last week — about 30,000 — at the Alamodome while the eligibility requirements still restricted access, Bridger said. They were all filled immediately, she said.

Texas is showing significant progress in its fight against the pandemic, with deaths and hospitalizations down, signaling that the vaccines are working and that it’s time to broaden the base of people who are being inoculated, said Imelda Garcia, associate state health commissioner.

More doses are coming in and people are being vaccinated at a quicker rate, she said. Some 60% of Texans 65 or older have received at least one dose, she said.

“Quite a few things have come together to make this the right time to open up vaccine eligibility,” Garcia said.

The need to vaccinate as many people as possible should be balanced against the need to increase access to communities of color and other vulnerable groups, said Cesar Arias, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

But with the emergence of fast-spreading virus variants, combined with the recent relaxing of statewide pandemic restrictions, the threat of what federal health officials called a potential “fourth wave” still looms in Texas, making mass vaccination all the more critical, experts said.

“There is even more urgency in Texas now to get people vaccinated as soon as possible, because my sense is that people are relaxing[7],” Arias said. “Infections are still going and are at a very high pace and not going to disappear. I’m actually worried that we will have an increase, and eventually more deaths.”

In Hidalgo County, where some 93% of residents are Hispanic and have been disproportionately hurt by the coronavirus, public health officials celebrated the news that more of their residents would be able to get vaccinated.

“We’ve always had a lot of demand for it, and there’s still a high demand,” said Eddie Olivarez, chief administrative officer for Hidalgo County Health and Human Services. “A lot of people have been very patiently waiting to get to this point. And here, we have an opportunity to serve as many as we can.”

Barriers

Those affected most by the pandemic and by the uneven access to the vaccine are people of color[8], those with disabilities and those in lower-income jobs. The barriers don’t go away because more people are eligible, said Crystal Maher, who works in an Austin-area restaurant and is a member of the leadership committee for the national Restaurant Organizing Project.

The barriers to access can include lack of reliable internet, financial struggles or lack of work flexibility that prevent people from being able to spend time finding an appointment or driving distances to get them.

For people in public-facing jobs like the service industry, whom Maher said should have been prioritized early, the barriers only got tougher after Gov. Greg Abbott[9] threw open the doors.

“Who are you to say that we’re essential for a whole year and then tell us we’re not essential enough to get the vaccine?” Maher said. “We weren’t prioritized when we should have been, and now we’re in the general population. More of our customers are vaccinated than we are. That’s scary, and that’s because they have access and privilege.”

The state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, which is in charge of who gets priority for the vaccine, grappled for months over the question of who should be eligible amid pressure from several groups, said Carrie Kroll, advocacy director for the Texas Hospital Association and an ad hoc member of the panel.

The panel elected to start with health care workers because they were the most exposed and were needed to keep the medical infrastructure going. Then the panel decided to focus on older age and medical vulnerability because the science showed they were more likely to suffer, die or overburden the health care system if they got the virus, she said.

“It really is hard if you are going to try and put a value on someone’s job,” Kroll said. “If they are the cashier at H-E-B or they are a person in charge with keeping the electrical grid running — they all have essential functions. At the end of the day it’s hard to assign value to one of them over another.”

Demand high in big cities

Providers in some areas are beginning to report drops in demand for the vaccine, occasionally even reporting surpluses when there aren’t enough locals in the early priority groups asking for shots, said Garcia, who chairs the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel.

The state is allowing the transfer of extra doses to providers with waiting lists, she said.

State health officials said they aren’t automatically shifting surpluses, which are reported mostly in rural areas, to more needy areas because they want to keep the momentum going in areas where high percentages of people are being vaccinated.

“The advantage is that providers around the state can continue to vaccinate people in their areas,” said Chris Van Deusen, spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services. “We didn’t want to pull vaccine from all rural areas, for example, and make everyone there wait while vaccination continued in the cities.”

In spite of issues experienced by rural residents like White, the strain on supply seems to be more of an issue in larger cities like Austin, where population size and demand can bog down waiting lists and make it difficult to find an open slot, and where there are more people of color who have been harder hit by the pandemic. Cities have responded to issues of vaccine inequality by prioritizing[10] vulnerable Texans and Black and Hispanic residents.

In Harris and Bexar counties, large vaccine hubs are injecting thousands of Texans a day with the vaccine — but still face the daunting prospect of needing to administer millions of shots in order to get the majority of their residents inoculated.

Bridger said the San Antonio’s hub at the Alamodome has been operating at full capacity with 10,000 appointments per week and 200 volunteers per day, and the demand is still “overwhelming.”

Some 60% of the county’s 65 and older population has gotten at least one dose, she said.

“It seems like [demand] is more of a big-city problem,” Bridger said. “Other smaller, rural communities have had no trouble vaccinating all of the people who want to be vaccinated, and I think it makes sense for them to open up. But with 2 million people to vaccinate, we still have a ways to go.”

At Travis County’s public health sign-up, which doesn’t cover pharmacy appointments or private providers, nearly half a million people are on the waiting list — and only half of them fall under the early priority groups, a spokesperson with Austin Public Health said.

That makes for stiff competition for Bee Cave resident Teresa Autry, 69, who has qualified since December but still hasn’t found an open appointment.

“When I woke up at 6 a.m. and tried to get online and it wouldn’t even open, then I know that there’s going to be a glut of [requests],” Autry said. “And what are they doing to do? Run out of serum again? I don’t know.”

Austin resident Jose Martinez, 35, said he was waiting to “do the right thing” and sign up when he became eligible Monday, even though “everybody else I know has already gotten the shot.”

But he’s glad he can now make an appointment with a clear conscience[11] and finally take the honeymoon he and his new wife were supposed to take a year ago.

“I’m sure by the summer it’ll be much easier, as I think the people who really want it are going to be the first people to sign up,” said Martinez, who works at a local health care association. “I think the demand will taper off a little bit.”

Marissa Martinez contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The UTHealth School of Public Health, the Texas Hospital Association and H-E-B have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here[12].

References

  1. ^ Sign up for The Brief (www.texastribune.org)
  2. ^ dozen (abcnews.go.com)
  3. ^ relax eligibility restrictions for the vaccine (www.texastribune.org)
  4. ^ open up availability to adults and some teens (www.texastribune.org)
  5. ^ demand still far outpaces supply (tabexternal.dshs.texas.gov)
  6. ^ more vaccines coming in (www.texastribune.org)
  7. ^ people are relaxing (www.texastribune.org)
  8. ^ uneven access to the vaccine are people of color (www.texastribune.org)
  9. ^ Greg Abbott (www.texastribune.org)
  10. ^ prioritizing (www.texastribune.org)
  11. ^ clear conscience (www.texastribune.org)
  12. ^ here (www.texastribune.org)

Karen Brooks Harper