NEW YORK — The United States is stepping up its preparation of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, while strong actions are being taken to protect students and staff members from the pandemic on campus.
According to The New York Times, the 7-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 134,036 nationwide on Tuesday, with its 14-day change striking a 12-percent fall. COVID-19-related deaths were 2,046 on Tuesday, with the 14-day change realizing a 36-percent rise.
CHANGE OF DATA, CHANGE OF MIND
The United States is battling rising death tolls and strained hospital resources amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and “all that could be made more difficult by the upcoming flu season,” CNN reported on Wednesday.
The country is once again at a point where an average of more than 2,000 people are dying of COVID-19 every day, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, hospitals are straining to keep up with the number of patients coming in.
The serious scenario has triggered off a change of mind among the Americans. According to a new poll, some 50 percent of vaccinated respondents are either “extremely” or “considerably” hesitant to spend the holidays with unvaccinated family members or friends, and only 38 percent said they were not hesitant about making holiday plans with the unvaccinated, while 12 percent said it’s a non-issue for all their families and friends have gotten the shots.
A slightly larger share of 52 percent of vaccinated respondents said that they would be very or somewhat uncomfortable about attending a holiday dinner or gathering knowing some attendees are unvaccinated, according to the Harris poll conducted from Sept. 17 to 19 among 2,055 U.S. adults, including 1,454 vaccinated ones.
A 54 percent majority of all respondents said vaccination status would be a factor in deciding whether or not they will travel or attend events as part of their holiday plans, and a further 42 percent of vaccinated respondents said they had canceled at least one event or existing travel plan they had with people because they were unvaccinated.
BOOSTER SHOTS ON TRACK
A committee of top vaccine experts under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started 10 hours of meeting on Wednesday morning to decide who should be eligible for a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot. A vote is expected on Thursday.
A different federal advisory committee under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday recommended a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine six months after full vaccination for people aged 65 and older and those at high risk of severe COVID-19.
The FDA has not yet issued an approval for the booster doses, so while the CDC’s committee can meet, it cannot vote on recommendations until it receives that sign-off, Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health-focused nonprofit, was quoted on Wednesday by USA Today as saying.
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson released new data on Tuesday showing a booster dose of its vaccine given two months after the one-shot vaccine provides 94 percent protection against moderate-to-severe COVID-19 symptoms.
“A single-shot COVID-19 vaccine that is easy to use, distribute and administer, and that provides strong and long-lasting protection is crucial to vaccinating the global population,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson. “A booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly.” Johnson & Johnson, citing three studies of the vaccine, said the booster shot offers strong protection against severe or critical symptoms, and a booster dose given six months after the single shot provides even more protection. The results are in line with data from studies of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, two other U.S. vaccines authorized by federal agencies.
SCHOOL MANDATE DISPUTES
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the Texas Education Agency on Tuesday in response to its guidance that prohibits school leaders from requiring students and staff to wear masks.
“(The) investigation will focus on whether, in light of this policy, students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education, in violation of Federal law,” Suzanne Goldberg, the department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
Specifically, the investigation will focus on whether the state’s ban on mask requirements flouts part of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which guarantees students with disabilities the right to receive education in a regular educational environment, alongside their peers without disabilities.
Last week, two New York state senators, John Liu from Queens and Robert Jackson from Manhattan, introduced a bill to require any public school located in a city with at least 1 million people to offer a remote option to students if the CDC considers the COVID-19 transmission rate of the surrounding county “substantial” or “high level.” One of the ways the CDC categorizes the level of community transmission of COVID-19 in an area is by determining the number of positive cases of the virus per 100,000 residents. If a county has 100 or more COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, it is considered a red zone or an area of high transmission. Per current data from the CDC, every county in New York City (NYC) is a red zone.
“Parents are calling for a remote option for school and it’s time @NYCSchools provided one. Many families don’t feel safe sending their kids to physical school right now. The stubborn lack of receptiveness to legitimate safety concerns raises questions about mayoral control,” Liu said in his tweet, questioning NYC public schools’ reopening on Sept. 13 with full in-person teaching and learning.