The Weekly Pulse: Bracing for a “Surge Upon a Surge”; When Can You Expect a COVID Vaccine?

For The Weekly Pulse (a revisit of an old Ms. column!), we’ve scoured the most trusted journalistic sources—and, of course, our Twitter feeds—to bring you this week’s most important news stories related to health and wellness.

In this edition of The Weekly Pulse: updates on the pandemic, including new info on the coronavirus vaccine and when you can expect to receive it; a rundown on the state of reproductive health and rights; and finally, a roundup of health news related to climate change, policing and conversion therapy bans.

Pandemic Updates: “Surge Upon a Surge”

+ On Thursday, the U.S. marked a new milestone: 2,857 deaths, the second-highest daily death count since the start of the pandemic.

+ Despite the risk travel poses to spreading coronavirus, more than three million people traveled by plane during Thanksgiving week, making it the busiest period of travel since March. However, some epidemiologists are pushing back on the idea that small household gatherings are solely responsible for surging case numbers.

With the alarmingly high number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. (more than one million cases were reported in the past seven days), Nicole Peske, chief communications officer for the North Dakota Department of Health, says, “More and more, our exposures are due to community spread and are not traceable to a single event. Many individuals are reporting more than one exposure.”

Plus, blaming individuals for spreading the disease takes focus away from the government’s responsibility to address systemic issues in public health.

Regardless, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned the coming month will bring a “surge upon a surge” of new infections. Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, said the next few weeks will be “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation”—predicting that as many as 450,000 Americans will have lost their lives to COVID-19 by February 2021.

+ If current trends continue, the daily number of coronavirus fatalities could reach 4,000 in the U.S. Our health care system continues to be strained as a record number of people are hospitalized. Health care workers are becoming increasingly fatigued under the stress, as are other essential workers like teachers and grocery and warehouse employees

+ The CDC recently changed its guidelines on coronavirus, as a new analysis found people are most infectious for two days before and five days after developing symptoms. As opposed to the 14-day quarantine period previously recommended by the CDC, the agency now says people who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 but have not developed symptoms can end their quarantine “on day 10 without testing” or “on day 7 after receiving a negative test result.” 

Of course, the agency recommends that people continue to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 even after they have ended quarantine early, and to keep practicing social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing. Medical experts hope that shortening the quarantine length recommendation will encourage more people to self-isolate. At the same time, data from England shows a thirty percent reduction in the number of new cases following three weeks of the country’s second national lockdown, showing again that isolation works in slowing the spread of COVID-19. 

+ The Congressional political fight over passing a second coronavirus relief package could be coming to an end soon. A bipartisan group of lawmakers agreed to use a 908 billion dollar relief proposal as a framework for negotiations. Although Democrats hoped for a bigger deal (House Democrats had previously passed a 2.2 trillion dollar proposal), “the need to act is immediate,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY) said in a joint statement. Unless Congress passes a new bill, federal unemployment payments, eviction protections for renters, and other relief measures will expire at the end of the year

When Can I Expect a Vaccine?

+ Employees and residents of nursing homes as well as other health care workers will be the first people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices—an independent panel advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—voted on Tuesday.  On Thursday, Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC director, accepted the committee’s recommendation. 

Pfizer and Moderna estimate that they will have enough doses to vaccinate around 22.5 million Americans by the end of the year—but when can we all expect to receive the vaccine? 

According to The New York Times daily newsletter “The Morning” written by David Leonhardt:

  • December: Health care workers and nursing home residents will be the first people to receive the vaccine with up to 40 million doses potentially being available before the end of the year—enough to vaccinate the three million people in long-term-care facilities and most of the country’s health care workers.
  • January: By early next year, Pfizer and Moderna will likely be able to ship around 70 million doses per month. People will likely be able to receive the vaccine at doctor’s offices, hospitals and pharmacies amongst other specially created clinics.
  • February and March: People over the age of 65, people with medical conditions that place them at risk of dying if infected with COVID and essential workers will be the next groups to receive the vaccine.
  • April, May and June: People who don’t qualify as a priority should be able to receive the vaccine by spring with the vast majority of Americans being vaccinated by early summer.

+ With much of our attention fixated on when the U.S. will approve a vaccine, we should also be looking at the U.K.’s recent approval of Pfizer’s vaccine and how they were able to approve it so quickly. The simple answer: the two countries have different practices for vetting new vaccines. 

While in the U.S., FDA regulators “painstakingly” reanalyze raw trial data to validate the results”—in the U.K., they rely heavily on companies’ own analyses when it comes to vetting drugmakers’ reports.

“In the U.K., they’ve just been able to say, ‘We have the data, we’re having the meeting,’” said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

+ Even with health care workers positioned at the front-of-the-line to receive vaccinations, it remains a mystery how many will actually take the opportunity. 

A report released by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles shows that 66 percent of Los Angeles health care workers said they would delay receiving the vaccine. The American Nurses Association said that one-third of its members do not plan on receiving the vaccine with another third saying they are undecided. 

+ As we get closer and closer to the making the vaccine available, pregnant people are extremely worried—as none of the three companies who have created vaccines enrolled pregnant or breastfeeding people into clinical trials. 

“I just have concerns about the safety of the vaccine long term and especially for myself as a pregnant and soon-to-be nursing woman,” said Jaely Turner, a Virginia-based doula. “I just am unsure of what the implications would be for me.”

+ Health care workers and pregnant people are not the only populations weary of receiving the vaccine. Fewer than half of Black people and 66 percent of Latinx people say they would be open to receiving the vaccine—according to a poll from COVID Collaborative, Langer Research, UnidosUS and the NAACP. 

“On one hand in this country, you have the anti-vaxxers and the unfounded disinformation they push,” said Alexandre White, an expert at Johns Hopkins University who studies the sociology and history of epidemic response. “But what you see from minorities is a hesitancy that is quite rooted in historical reality.”

+ Former U.S. presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have publicly pledged to receive the coronavirus vaccine on television to promote their trust in the safety of the vaccine. 

“People like Anthony Fauci, who I know, and I’ve worked with, I trust completely,” Obama said. “So, if Anthony Fauci tells me this vaccine is safe, and can vaccinate, you know, immunize you from getting COVID, absolutely, I’m going to take it.”

“I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science, and what I don’t trust is getting COVID,” he added.

“A few weeks ago, President Bush asked me to let Dr Fauci and Dr Birx know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated,” said Freddy Ford, Bush’s chief of staff. 

“President Clinton will definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials,” Clinton’s press secretary Angel Urena said. “And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same.”

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Repro Rundown: “This is War”

+ Former actress and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle recently revealed that she suffered a miscarriage in July, by way of a New York Times opinion piece written by Markle

“Losing a child means carrying an almost unbearable grief, experienced by many but talked about by few,” she wrote. “In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing.”

Sophie King, a midwife at U.K. child-loss charity Tommy’s, said miscarriage and stillbirth remain “a real taboo in society, so mothers like Meghan sharing their stories is a vital step in breaking down that stigma and shame.”

+ Women’s rights groups in Tennessee are challenging a state law they believe will interfere with the decision-making process for pregnant people looking to undergo drug-induced abortions. 

The law would require doctors inform patients of the option for abortion reversal—an extremely controversial theory that promotes the idea of undoing the effects of initial pill used in medication abortions—at least 48 hours after finishing an abortion procedure. The law would also make it illegal for physicians to refuse to comply. 

+ The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that Texas and Louisiana can cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood Clinics.

The ruling was opposed by pro-abortion advocates, who believe it will affect a variety of non-abortion related health care services for low-income individuals. The issue is very likely to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

+ The abortion rate in the U.S. ticked up slightly from 2017 (11.2 abortions per 1,000 women) to 2018 (11.3 abortions per 1,000 women), according to data reported to the CDC from 47 states and New York City. The 2018 figures equate to 614,820 abortions compared to 6,000 abortions in 2017. 

The report made no effort to theorize why the uptick occurred, but authors said that “unintended pregnancy is a major contributor to induced abortion.”

“Increasing access to and use of effective contraception can reduce unintended pregnancies and further reduce the number of abortions in the United States.”

+ As Polish protests persist in response to the government’s almost complete ban on abortion, police have blocked demonstrators from marching in the country’s capital of Warsaw. 

Police attempted to warn protestors that their demonstration was illegal after a failure to register the event ahead of time and violating the pandemic-related ban on large gatherings, but participants responded: “We have a right to protest.”

At one point, officers even used tear gas against opposition lawmaker, Barbara Nowacka, who was intervening “in defense of peacefully protesting women,” Borys Budka, the head of Poland’s centrist Civic Platform party, said.

+ Despite objections of Kansas’s most influential anti-abortion group, Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has appointed state Court of Appeals Judge Melissa Taylor Standridge to fill a vacancy on the state’s supreme court. 

The group, Kansans for Life, opposes Standridge’s appointment because she sided with other judges in a 2016 appeals court ruling that said the state’s constitution protects abortion rights. The vote was split seven-to-seven with the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that access to abortion is a fundamental right under the state’s bill of rights. 

“As governor, the process of appointing justices to the Kansas Supreme Court is one I take very seriously,” Kelly said in a news release. “Not only must justices have knowledge of the law, but also a complex and nuanced understanding of the world and the people the law is intended to govern.”

In Other News…

+ New York City announced a new pilot program which will dispatch mental health professionals as the default for mental health crisis 911 calls. While the pilot program only applies to two of the city’s precincts, advocates are hopeful that the program will demonstrate viability for implementation of similar programs nationwide. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with mental illness are sixteen times more likely to be killed by police during a police encounter than other civilians, in spite of the fact that mental illness is not usually linked to crime

+ Scientists from the World Meteorological Organization are calling attention to the impact climate change is having on our health. A new analysis published by The Lancet examines how human-caused climate change is intensifying heatwaves, extreme weather and air politician, causing poor air, housing and food quality which contribute to rising rates of death and disease around the world. The report also calls crucial attention to the fact that climate change disproportionately impacts disadvantaged populations:

“These effects are often unequal, disproportionately impacting populations who have contributed the least to the problem. This fact reveals a deeper question of justice, whereby climate change interacts with existing social and economic inequalities and exacerbates longstanding trends within and between countries. An examination of the causes of climate change revealed similar issues, and many carbon-intensive practices and policies lead to poor air quality, poor food quality, and poor housing quality, which disproportionately harm the health of disadvantaged populations.”

+ In a devastating blow to LGBTQ advocates, a federal appeals court ruled bans on therapists practicing “conversion therapy” on minors violates the First Amendment.

Let’s make this clear: “Conversion therapy” is not therapy at all—it’s an inhumane attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to fit with culturally constructed norms. In 2014, The Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging these bans in California, but some are worried that the new conservative majority on the SCOTUS will agree with the appeals court’s ruling. 

+ Social isolation due to the pandemic is causing an increase in cardiac arrests tied to overdoses. The analysis comes amidst a growing body of research showing both the physical and mental health side-effects of pandemic mitigating actions. For instance, divorces are on the rise this year as well, and research demonstrates the toll divorce takes on an individual’s health. But the news isn’t all bad: telemedicine has taken off during the pandemic, increasing access and affordability to mental health services. Additionally, Oregon voters passed a measure during this past election to decriminalize all illegal drugs, which could eventually lead to psilocybin being used to treat depression and other mental health issues. 

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About and

Corinne Ahrens is a recent graduate of The American University where she studied Political Science with a specialization in Gender, Race, & Politics as well as Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Corinne has been writing for Ms. since October 2019 and is a former Ms. editorial intern. She currently works at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy in their Philadelphia office.
Giselle Hengst recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Women's & Gender Studies and Medicine, Health, & Society. She is currently an editorial and social media intern at Ms. magazine.