The Weekly Pulse: How to Keep Students Safe from Delta; Latest Attacks on Abortion; “Pregnant People Do Well With the Vaccine”; Officials Greenlight Booster Shots

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.

Outside the Supreme Court in D.C. after the June 2016 decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas abortion admitting privileges case. (Adam Fagen / Flickr)

In this edition: Texas may become the first state in the U.S. to impose a ban on a common abortion procedure; The American Medical Association recommends dropping sex labels from birth certificates; hospitals are experiencing a surge of child COVID cases as back to school looms closer; top U.S. health officials announced that booster shots will become available in September; and more.

Repro Run Down: Let’s Get Rid of Sex Labels

+ Late on Wednesday, a federal appeals court upheld a 2017 Texas law banning dilation & evacuation (D&E), the most common method of performing an abortion in the second trimester—paving the way for Texas to be the first state in the nation to impose such a ban. According to the Guttmacher Institute, D&E accounts for 95 percent of all U.S. abortions performed after the first trimester.

“This ban is about cutting off abortion access, and nothing else,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health. “It should never be a crime for doctors to use their best medical judgment and follow the most current science. Texans deserve the best care available, and this law prevents that.”

Approximately 85–90 percent of people who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks into pregnancy. (Lorie Shaull)

+ Another attack on abortion access in Texas bans medication abortion after seven weeks of pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, medication abortion account for 39 percent of all abortion cases in the United States in 2017. Experts say medication abortion is both safe and effective.

Texas made headlines earlier this year when Governor Abbott signed a six-week abortion ban into law. The law includes devastating legal consequences for a physician who preforms an abortion, a patient seeking an abortion or a person helping someone else to obtain an abortion.

Soon after the law was passed, a broad coalition of Texas abortion providers, doctors, clergy, abortion funds and support networks filed a lawsuit to block the new bill, Senate Bill 8. On August 30, District Court Judge Robert Pitman will hear oral arguments in preliminary injunction hearing in the Center for Reproductive Rights’ case challenging the ban. The ban is set to take effect on September 1, pending court intervention.

+ A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Indiana’s abortion restrictions are unconstitutional. The judge issued a permanent injunction against the state’s telemedicine ban—a policy that prohibits doctors from meeting with women seeking abortions via telemedicine consultation. The judge also ruled against a policy that required doctors to tell women that life begins when the egg is fertilized.

In her decision, U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker said, “The state’s attempt to explain its basis for excluding the far-reaching benefits of telemedicine from this category of patients is feeble at best, especially given the widespread use of telemedicine throughout Indiana as well as the overall safety of medication abortions.”

A D.C. protester during the Trump-Pence inauguration in January 2017. Mike Pence served as governor of Indiana for four years and signed into law many bills intended to restrict abortion access. (Lorie Shaull / Flickr)

+ The American Medical Association’s advisory board advised the organization to push for removing sex labels on the public part of birth certificates. In a June report, the advisory committee wrote: “Participation by the medical profession and the government in assigning sex is often used as evidence supporting this binary view” of gender, the report continued. Not only does that stifle a person’s ability to express and identify themselves, it can lead to “marginalization and minoritization.” Birth certificates play an important role in affirming a person’s identity and confirming their eligibility for employment opportunities. Most states allow people to change the sex on their birth but the process can be arduous and stressful.

In a June report, the AMA’s LGBTQ advisory committee advised the organization to push for removing sex labels from the public part of the birth certificate. (Pixabay / Creative Commons)

+ Pregnant incarcerated people have a constitutional right to medical care, including the right to continue with their pregnancy or get an abortion. Still, pregnant incarcerated people face unjust barriers to access abortion care. According to a recent study from the Guttmacher Institute, only half of state prisons included in the study allowed abortion in the first and second trimesters, and 14 percent did not allow abortion at all. Although pregnant incarcerated people have a right to abortion, many prisons have restrictive abortion policies that violate their constitutional rights.

COVID-19: Back to School + Booster Shots

+ Children under the age of 12 are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but both the Centers for Disease and Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics are set on sending kids back to school. Understandably, some parents are concerned about sending children back to school with the Delta variant at large—especially since many aren’t convinced schools have the appropriate mechanisms in place to keep their children safe.

Experts don’t know if kids are getting sicker with the delta variant of COVID, but they do know that this variant is more contagious, meaning more people, including kids who can’t get vaccinated, are catching it. (Pixabay / Creative Commons)

That said, here are some steps individual parents can take to keep their children safe:

  • To keep schools open, the most important thing is to keep infection rates low. For children over the age of 12, that means getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.

  • Parents should play it safe and test their children for COVID-19, even if they appear to present only mild symptoms like a runny nose or cough. According to health experts, other viral infections are expected to spread this fall. For example, physicians are already combating a wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases in children across the country.

+ When ProPublica reporter Nicole Carr learned her children’s school district would not be requiring masks, she quickly devised a plan to keep her children safe: Carr enrolled her daughters into a virtual-only charter school that had only a few hundred slots available statewide. Carr found that she was not the only parent looking for safer alternatives and that many parents were scared to send their children back to an environment that seemed to be regulated more by politics than science. The situation is best summarized in an email written by Cobb County School Board member, Charisse Davis:

“With school starting tomorrow, we are hearing from so many parents who are flat out scared about what is going to happen. I have no answers as to why we are rejecting the public health guidelines. It almost feels like the last 18 months didn’t happen. We are just back to normal because of what? Denial, fatigue, politics?”

With only a few hundred slots available at virtual-only charter schools, it is undeniable that some children will be excluded and their only option would be to return to in-person schooling. Additionally, some working parents do not have the ability to watch their children or hire someone to watch their children as they begin virtual schooling. The lack of COVID-19 protections in Republican-led states, puts all children at risk for infection but disproportionately affects low-income children whose parents may not have the means to find a safer alternative.

+ Nearly 1,600 kids were hospitalized last week according to the Centers for Disease and Control—and children’s hospitals predict it will only get worse in the coming weeks. Hospitals are already struggling to keep up with RSV cases (a rare respiratory disease) and prepare for the upcoming flu season. Now, they are being inundated with COVID-19 cases.

There is not enough evidence to determine whether the Delta variant makes children sicker, but we do know that the Delta variant is more contagious than other strands of COVID-19. “We’ve got problems pretty uniformly everywhere,” said Mark Wietecha, CEO of the Children’s Hospital Association. “Most of our children’s hospital intensive care units, if they’re not near capacity, they’re at capacity. We have kids in the emergency department on gurneys.” Despite rising cases among children, many Republican leaders in the South have yet to change their minds on mask and vaccine requirements.

+ ”Pregnant people do well with the vaccine,” said Dr. Alisa Kachikis. Pregnant people are at risk for severe illness and even death if they become infected with the coronavirus. Many pregnant individuals have expressed concern about possible reactions to the vaccine, but new data from UW Medicine shows no “increased reactions in pregnant individuals beyond what is expected from a vaccine” said Dr. Linda Eckert, the study’s principal investigator. Hopefully, the findings will provide pregnant people with some peace of mind and increase vaccination rates.

+ The FDA announced last week that immunocompromised people (roughly 3 percent of the adult population) may receive a third COVID-19 shot. White House chief medical advisor Dr. Fauci said last week, “Immunocompromised individuals are vulnerable. It is extremely important for us to move to get those individuals their boosters, and we are now working on that, and we will make that be implemented as quickly as possible. … It is a very high priority.”

On Wednesday, top U.S. health officials announced that booster shots will become available for everyone as early as September or eight months after your second dose. “We know that even highly effective vaccines become less effective over time,” Dr. Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, said at a White House briefing. “It is now our clinical judgment that the time to lay out a plan for COVID boosters is now.”

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Kristen Batstone is a senior at American University studying women, gender, sex and sexuality studies with a specialization in social sciences. She is currently the health policy intern for the National Women's Health Network in Washington, D.C.