Moderna Announces Step Toward Updating COVID Shots For Fall

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Moderna hopes to offer updated COVID-19 boosters in the fall that combine the original vaccine with protection against the latest variant. Now it’s reporting a hint that such an approach might work. Before omicron struck, Moderna began testing a shot combining the original vaccine with protection against an earlier variant named beta. The company says people given that test combo shot developed more antibodies capable of fighting newer variants — including omicron — than today’s regular booster. Studies are underway to see if a combination shot that adds omicron-specific protection works better.

US Virus Cases, Hospitalizations Continue Steady Decline

US virus cases, hospitalizations continue steady decline
Average daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are continuing to fall in the U.S., an indicator that the omicron variant’s hold is weakening across the country. Total confirmed cases reported Saturday barely exceeded 100,000, a sharp downturn from around 800,850 on Jan. 16, according to Johns Hopkins University data. In New York, the number of cases went down by more than 50% over the last two weeks. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Thomas Russo said what’s influencing the decline in Omicron cases is that it has built up some population immunity. Public health experts say they are feeling hopeful. However, many expressed concern that vaccine uptick in the U.S. has still been below expectations.

Low-Income Families Feel the Strain without Monthly Child Tax Credits

Keystone State News Connection

February 15, 2022

Emily Scott

By Katie Fleischer for Ms. Magazine.
Broadcast version by Emily Scott for Keystone State News Connection reporting for the Ms. Magazine-Public News Service Collaboration

Throughout 2020 and 2021, marginalized communities were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating economic inequities that already fell along race, gender and class divides. In particular, women faced record levels of unemployment as well as additional childcare and domestic burdens that limited their ability to earn an income. For people who were already struggling financially before the pandemic, lack of access to savings meant that losing a job could quickly become catastrophic.

Aside from obvious dangers like not being able to pay bills, make rent or afford groceries, many other serious consequences of poverty are less visible. For example, 33 percent of Americans reported that they or a family member delayed needed healthcare due to costs in 2020, and others struggled to pay for school supplies and books necessary for their children’s education.

Additionally, living paycheck-to-paycheck creates a tremendous amount of stress, which can lead to severe mental health consequences. Even before the pandemic, almost 40 percent of adults couldn’t afford a $400 emergency without going into debt. Then, in 2020, parents were forced to double the amount of time they spent on childcare and household tasks, taking time and energy away from their paid work. Sixty-eight percent of caregivers reported an increase in stress-but the mental and physical burdens weren’t shared equally. In heterosexual households, moms spend on average 15 hours a week more than dads on childcare and household tasks, which often prevents single moms and low-income moms from earning enough to pay their bills.

To help Americans recover from COVID, President Biden and congressional Democrats have taken several steps towards an economic system that helps those struggling the most. Biden’s American Rescue Plan, passed in March, includes a child tax credit (CTC) that provides parents $3,000 to $3,600 per child during 2021. For many low-income families, those payments have been life-changing.

“To get the child tax credit payments has been a huge help,” revealed one low-income mom, I’esha (last name withheld for anonymity). “If I could talk to President Biden, I would tell him that he should make the child tax credit permanent, because so many people are still unemployed and the pandemic is not over. And people need help even without a pandemic going on.”

Last month, the House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act (BBB), which would continue the child tax credit, invest in childcare and preschool, and provide four weeks of paid family leave. But just this week, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) split from the party and announced he plans to kill the bill in the Senate, going back on his previous agreements. He argues the child tax credit and paid family leave are too expensive-even though almost 70 percent of West Virginians support the BBB, and Manchin had no problem approving $780 billion in military spending this week.

As families hope Manchin will change his mind, or that Democratic leadership will find a different path to pass BBB policies, another revolutionary policy is just beginning to enter mainstream awareness: guaranteed income. Guaranteed income involves regular payments directed to specific marginalized groups, as a way to address economic inequities caused by systemic racism and sexism. Economic justice organizations like the Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT) argue a federal guaranteed income program would not just help low-income families pay their bills, but also reduce financial stress and set their families up for long-term success.

MMT provides Black mothers living in extreme poverty $1,000 per month for a year-and the pilot program proves guaranteed income programs can have unexpected, far-reaching effects on low-income families and communities.

• The percentage of MMT participants able to pay all their bills on time soared from 27 percent to 80 percent during the program.
• After receiving guaranteed payments for a year, 85 percent of the moms had completed their high school education, compared to 63 percent at the beginning of the program.
• Participating moms were empowered to be more choosy when finding new jobs, leading to higher wages and flexible schedules.

MMT mom Roneisha shared how her guaranteed income made her search for a job with a livable wage possible:

“I’ve worked jobs that are $11 or $12 an hour so it doesn’t make sense for me to then have a minimum wage job when I have the experience of higher-paid positions-even $9 is me humbling myself. I know my worth. The struggle with the job hunt makes the child tax credit payments and the guaranteed income even more important this year as I work to find a job that pays an even semi-livable wage.”

The program also showed that moms receiving guaranteed income were able to prioritize the long-term needs of their children.

• The number of mothers who had health insurance coverage increased 25 percent during the program, and the number of mothers who had life insurance coverage increased from 50 percent to 87 percent.
• 88 percent of moms were able to save money for emergencies, compared to 40 percent at the beginning of the year, and were 27 percent more likely to seek needed medical care than other moms not receiving guaranteed income.
• MMT mothers were 20 percent more likely to have children performing at or above grade level than other mothers.

According to I’esha:

“Being a part of Magnolia Mother’s Trust has been so important in getting me through this year. Since I haven’t had an income since January, before the program started in April, I was living off my savings and that was stressful. Now that I have the guaranteed income money coming in, I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford bills this month or be concerned about affording household supplies. I would love to see a program like the Magnolia Mother’s Trust offered to more people, too. The government should want to pitch in a little more to help with programs like guaranteed income to help more families.”

For many of the moms receiving guaranteed income, the combination of MMT payments and the CTC enabled them to not only afford bare necessities, but also splurge on treats for their kids or trips they wouldn’t normally be able to experience. MMT guaranteed income recipients TiaSabrinaChephirah and Tamika were all able to take their first vacations in years. Tia and Tamika went to visit family members they hadn’t seen in over 20 years, while Sabrina and Chephirah were able to take family vacations to celebrate birthdays.

For Sequaya, guaranteed income relieved her financial stress and also gave her the ability to create good memories with her daughter. She reflected:

“Aside from just being able to survive and buy toilet paper and pay my bills, it allowed me to-even at a very hard time-have moments of joy. Like, my daughter had never been to the beach. And so before the pandemic hit I had promised her I was going to take a weekend off to go. And then when I lost my job but had the money from the program, I was able to finally bring her to the beach. And she loved every moment of it. It’s a big relief to wake up and just know, ‘Okay, I’m not going to have to borrow money today because I have that extra help coming in.’ It’s very helpful.”

Especially around the holidays, when low-income families face increased financial and mental burdens to provide for their children, guaranteed income can help alleviate that anxiety. Many of the MMT moms commented on how the stability of guaranteed income reduced the stress they were dealing with before the program, improving their mental health and allowing them to focus on their families and working towards their long term goals.

For Tia, guaranteed income payments meant she was able to cover her expenses without having to live with the stress of waiting for her paycheck each month.

“I just wasn’t so stressed out about everything, because it’s different when you have that little extra help. My rent went up, and that was okay, I could handle it. My car broke down, I was able to get it fixed right away. Things would happen, but I could take care of them. Before, I would’ve had to wait at least until the next pay period to take my car in. It was always just living paycheck to paycheck.

“So knowing I had the money to cover things was huge. Then there’s just knowing that if your kids get sick, it’s going to be okay. That if I needed to, I could take time off to care for my child without having to worry that my paycheck would be short. My baby got sick and I was able to say, ‘Okay, I have some money in the bank, it’s going to be fine.’ To not have that stress, it was wonderful. Won-der-ful.

Roneisha noticed a marked difference in her mental health while receiving guaranteed income.

“I suffer from depression and anxiety, but I’ve been doing okay handling it this year.

“What’s giving me hope right now is that I have this ability through the money from the trust to provide for my family in a hard time, because before I got that call that I was selected to be part of the program I was really struggling to keep on top of my bills and responsibilities. And now that I’m on this fixed income, it’s helped me get really good at managing my money and making sure I’m staying on top of everything and using this opportunity wisely. I’m hopeful that I can only go up from here.”

And Ebony was also able to practice self-care and prioritize her mental and physical health:

“And as hard as I work, it’s given me the ability to-maybe two days a month-I don’t start the car, I don’t get out of pajamas. Those are sometimes the best days of my life. I literally just relax. I’m like, ‘Ooh, let me take a nap.’ Fall asleep for a little bit, do something for a little bit, ‘Ooh, I need another nap.’ That’s my body saying: You’ve worked hard, you deserve a few naps.”

For the over 37 million Americans in poverty, the holidays are often a period of increased financial and mental strain. That stress affects low-income families in many ways, and is more likely to fall on the shoulders of single moms, who are more likely to be women of color.

As is clear from the experiences of the MMT moms, a permanent CTC and federal guaranteed income would enable low-income mothers to support their children’s education, invest in their family’s future and live their lives without the constant mental burdens of debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck. By offering unrestricted money and empowering moms to set their children up for success, a federal guaranteed income program would be transformational for all Americans in poverty, particularly low-income moms, disabled parents and women of color, who face systemic barriers to financial success.

Katie Fleischer wrote this article for Ms. Magazine.

AHN Partners with Local Restaurants, Bars, Salons and Barbershops to hold Community-Based COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics, Open to All

(File Photo)

(PITTSBURGH, PA) Allegheny Health Network (AHN), as part of its commitment to ensuring all communities have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine, and in partnership with the TRAC Services for Families, is launching “Power Hour and Cut to the Chase” – a series of community-based clinics set in hair salons, bars, restaurants and other community gathering places where vaccines, including booster shots, will be available to anyone attending. 

The “Power Hour and Cut to the Chase” vaccination campaign, staffed by AHN clinicians, launches Thursday, Feb. 10 from noon to 3 p.m. at Elevationz hair salon on Second Avenue in Hazelwood, followed by Friday, Feb. 11 from 4-8 p.m. at Young Bros. bar on Pittsburgh’s North Side; and Saturday, Feb. 12 from 2- 4 p.m. at Vickey’s Soul Grill, 655 Rodi Rd. in Penn Hills. Incentives, including gift cards, will be offered, to anyone getting a vaccine.

“The recent surge in Omicron cases has shown us that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over and vaccination remains the single most important weapon we have against this dangerous virus,” said Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, MD, Med, MPPM, FACOG, Senior Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for AHN/Highmark Health. “We know that many people face barriers to vaccination such as a lack of transportation or access to accurate information about the vaccine.

“That’s why we’re ‘thinking outside the box’ and bringing the vaccine into local communities, in convenient locations hosted by trusted local business leaders,” Dr. Larkins-Pettigrew said. “We hope that residents of these communities take advantage of our clinics, which are open to anyone. If you want a vaccine or a booster, you are welcome. Insurance is not required, and you do not need to be an AHN patient.”

Additional dates and times set for “Power Hour and Cut to the Chase” vaccine clinics include:

Feb. 16, 1-3 p.m, TrZade, 113 Brownsville Road, Mount Oliver

Feb. 17, 5-7 p.m., Stanley’s Lounge, 7403 Frankstown Ave., Homewood

Feb. 18, noon-3 p.m., B-Sharp, 10720 Frankstown Rd., Penn Hills

Feb. 20, 2-4 p.m. Carmi Restaurant, 1825 E. Carson St., South Side

Feb. 21, 1-3 p.m., Club Mansion, 7232 Kelly St., Homewood

Feb. 25, 4-6 p.m., Lounge 7101, 7101 Frankstown Ave., Homewood

Feb. 26, 1-3 p.m., VIP Styles, 413, Smithfield St., downtown Pittsburgh

Feb. 27, 1-4 p.m., Dreamz, 216 E. 7th Ave., Homestead

Feb. 28, 1-4 p.m., TBJ’s Soul Food, 313 Franklin Ave., Aliquippa

March 4, noon-2 p.m., Dave’s Barber Shop, 1811 Brighton Place, North Side

March 6, 1-3 p.m., Brother’s Keeper, 613 E. Ohio St., North Side

Announcements of additional clinics are expected to be made in the coming weeks.

Moderna announces full US approval for its COVID-19 vaccine

(AP Photo)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Moderna says U.S. health regulators have given full approval to its COVID-19 vaccine after reviewing additional data on its safety and effectiveness. The decision Monday by the Food and Drug Administration comes after many tens of millions of Americans have already received the shot under its original emergency authorization. Full approval means FDA has completed the same rigorous, time-consuming review for Moderna’s shot as dozens of other long-established vaccines. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine received full approval last summer. Public health advocates initially hoped the distinction would boost public confidence in the shots. But there was no discernable bump in vaccinations after the Pfizer decision.

Omicron Amps Up Concerns About Long COVID And Its Causes

(AP Photo)
Omicron’s race across the globe has amped up concerns about long COVID, which some estimates suggest affects a third of COVID-19 survivors. Long COVID symptoms can include pain, fatigue and brain fog weeks or months after the initial infection. As coronavirus infections soar worldwide, scientists are racing to pinpoint the cause of the baffling condition and find new treatments before a potential explosion of cases. Could it be an autoimmune disorder? Could microclots in the bloodstream be causing some of the symptoms? And can vaccination reduce the chances of developing long COVID?

Supreme Court Halts COVID-19 Vaccine Rule for US Businesses

(AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has stopped the Biden administration from enforcing a requirement that employees at large businesses be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a mask on the job. At the same time, the court is allowing the administration to proceed with a vaccine mandate for most health care workers in the U.S. The court’s orders Thursday during a spike in coronavirus cases was a mixed bag for the administration’s efforts to boost the vaccination rate among Americans.

US Children Hospitalized With COVID In Near-Record Numbers

(AP Photo)
Thursday, December 30, 2021 at 2:23 PM
By MARTHA BELLISLE Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — The omicron-fueled surge that is sending COVID-19 cases rocketing in the U.S. is putting children in the hospital in close to record numbers. And experts lament that most of the youngsters are not vaccinated. Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia says it’s “heartbreaking” knowing that there’s a way prevent such cases. During the week of Dec. 21-27, an average of 334 children with the coronavirus were admitted per day to hospitals, a 58% increase from the week before. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

US Officials Recommend Shorter COVID Isolation and Quarantine

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By MIKE STOBBE AP Medical Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. health officials are cutting isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who test positive for the coronavirus and shortening the time that close contacts have to quarantine. People with the virus can leave isolation after five days, down from 10 days. People exposed to the virus can also leave quarantine after five days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the changes Monday. CDC officials said the guidance is in keeping with growing evidence that the coronavirus is most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptom onset. The decision also was influenced by a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, driven by the omicron variant.

Pennsylvania’s Acting Health Secretary to Step Down

(File Photo)
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary will depart at the end of December. The governor’s office made the announcement on Monday. Alison Beam had served in an acting role since January, when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf tapped her to replace Dr. Rachel Levine. Beam guided the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response. She oversaw vaccine distribution and imposed a mask mandate for schools that was struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week. Keara Klinepeter, the Health Department’s executive deputy secretary, will take over as acting secretary. The administration did not give a reason for Beam’s departure. Wolf is heading into the last year of his governorship.