Phyllis Kimber Wilcox | BVN Staff
The COVID-19 crisis has left many grappling with the day-to-day problems this new reality has left us with.
This includes everything from where and how to educate and protect our children, to how to do the same for ourselves, our neighbors, and our elders. Such challenges press against us daily in addition to the necessity of self-care, including how to come to grips with personal loss and grief.
All these things complicate further the need to stay up to date with the status of vaccines, their effectiveness, and how protective they are against new and emerging strains of current disease. This article is a quick reference guide to what is presently known about these topics. While this report is not meant to be exhaustive, it is meant to give a snapshot of what is acknowledged about vaccine efficacy and equity to date.
There are three vaccines authorized by the FDA under a process known as the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). Details of these vaccines, in side-to-side comparison, are listed by manufacturer in the sidecar to this report.
The three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have different properties making the tracking of their side effects and effectiveness more complex. As noted by Dr. Lauren Neeragaard of the University of California, San Francisco to the Associated Press, “Luckily, all these vaccines look like they’re protecting us from severe disease.”
Pause Placed on Johnson & Johnson, and then Lifted
On Tuesday April 13, 2021, the EAU Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was temporarily paused over concerns that in a few cases, it caused blood clots in younger women. The pause was lifted on the use of the vaccine Friday April 23 after an analysis by the CDC determined the benefits outweigh the risk posed by the small possibility of blood clots. The manufacturer is adding a warning label to the vaccine for women 50 years of age and below. The issue may get more complicated going forward because on April 26, 2021 the first case of blood clots in a male was reported by University of San Francisco.
The President’s Plan
President Biden set an ambitious goal of distributing one hundred million vaccinations in his first one hundred days. The President has surpassed his vaccine distribution target by delivering two hundred million vaccinations before his first one hundred days in office. He stated that more than half of adults have received “at least one shot.” Despite this good news there are some worrisome signs.
There are new, emerging strains or variants of the virus causing concerns about the efficacy of the vaccines making the decision of whether to get the vaccine even more difficult for some.
The Federal Level
Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been identified globally during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC is currently monitoring five COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC’s): B1.1.7, B.1.351, P.1, B.1.427, and B.1.429. All come with increased worries over whether they can be spread more easily and whether the vaccines will be as effective against them. The CDC stated recently they do not know how far the variants have spread.
According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), these genetic mutations are expected, and while some emerge and then disappear, others persist or become common. Most variants do not have a meaningful impact. However, public health officials become concerned about a variant when it affects COVID-19 transmission, severity, testing, treatment or vaccine effectiveness. Visit the CDPH website for more information on the variants currently being monitored in California.
The variants, which most concern the CDC, also concern CDPH. Although the newest strains are all worrisome, the British variant B.1.1.7, is the most dominant variant where it is seen and the emerging California double mutation also bears keeping track of. Here is a snapshot of what is known about the new strains:
California’s Double Mutation
The E484Q and L4524R variant, not seen together before, began in India. It is called a double mutation because the variant is made up of two previous mutations seen in other variants. There is evidence the double mutation is not recognized by antibodies thus reducing the effectiveness of current vaccines. As a result, it is perhaps more easily transmissible and vaccine resistant.
United Kingdom (British) Variant
The B117 variant is the most dominant strain where it appears. It is also the dominant strain here in the United States despite nearly 27.5 percent of the nation’s population being fully vaccinated as of April 23, 2021.
South African Variant
According to several recent reports the B.1.351 variant carries a mutation called N501Y. This mutation causes the variant to be more contagious. The variant also includes another mutation called E484K that may help the virus dodge a person’s immune system, possibly affecting how well the coronavirus vaccines work.
State of California
The CDPH was asked if it is keeping track of the variants and how they affect the population by race? If so, what are those numbers for the Black community? The department responded, “CDPH is working to connect variant data with case data. At this point, we do not yet have information on how variants affect the population by race.”
Kids and COVID-19
While Pfizer’s Biontech has pronounced their vaccine “100 percent effective and safe in children as young as twelve,” use of the vaccine for this age group is just beginning to be tested on a wider basis.
Tampa Florida children as young as sixteen can now get the vaccine and on April 15th, 2021 California teens sixteen-years-old and older were also allowed access to the vaccine.
Except where expressly allowed, vaccines are still not available for children sixteen-years-old and younger. Despite Pfizer’s Biontech claim to be safe in children as young as twelve, FDA approval is just beginning to be rolled out for these age groups in places like Tampa, Florida and California.
Although there were initial concerns about child to child and child to adult transmission rates, transmission data suggests most adults who get COVID-19, get it from adults who are not following safety guidelines or practices.
An interesting report by NBC on April 26 however highlighted a case in Montgomery County Pennsylvania where eight second grade children and two fully vaccinated adults have contracted COVID. Authorities say there is no evidence of transmission beyond this class.
Herd Immunity is a term used to describe the tipping point at which the population will be sufficiently vaccinated to provide protection to the entire group without necessarily vaccinating everyone in that group.
Estimates of the percentage of individuals who must be vaccinated varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in the United States, it is considered, and has been suggested, that between 70 and 90 percent of the population must be inoculated, before Herd Immunity will be reached.
The State of California has created many initiatives to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines. The Black community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. With that grim reality in mind, California has set aside forty percent of its vaccine allotment for underserved communities.
According to Dr Geoffrey Leung, Riverside County’s new Public Health Officer, vaccination rates for the Black community are improving month over month and while the county lags behind its target, it remains ahead of the state.
According to Dr. Leung, the state’s efforts have enhanced local vaccine deployment. Now, with easy access to vaccinations and the increased capacity to provide appointments, “We are entering a new phase, a ‘middle phase.’ which feels different.”
He continued, “There are plenty of doses of vaccines and plenty of appointments. On the county’s website residents can see which vaccines are being offered at the vaccination site of their choice. To make an appointment to be vaccinated in Riverside County visit https://myturn.ca.gov/
The current trends in reported cases and testing rates in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties show both indicators on the rise—more people are being tested and more disease is being found:
San Bernardino County
Black people make up just over nine percent of the population and currently account for 9.9 percent of the cases reported by the county. This is up two percent over last month. In addition, Blacks are 12.5 percent of those tested by the county this month. This reflects an eight percent increase over the previous month.
Although Black people in Riverside County comprise 6.5 percent of the population, they account for 9.1 percent of COVID-19 cases. This reflects a 3.2 percent increase over March. There is encouraging news however, more Blacks are being tested. They were 10.5 percent of those tested in April, an increase of nine points over March.
According to Dr Leung, although the county only tests a small number of those with the virus for possible mutations, the double mutation has not been seen in Riverside county as of April 23.
More testing and vaccine availability is good news for those who have been waiting their turn, said Leung. “However, all over the country we are beginning to see a slowdown in demand for the vaccine.”
Who is getting the vaccine and who is not? How are they making this important decision? All these topics and more will be discussed in the upcoming COVID-19 series. While this information is up to date at publication, the Black Voice News and IE Voice encourage you to stay informed of the latest information.
Phyllis Kimber-Wilcox is a student and history buff— a grandmother, a parent, a sister, an aunt and lover of people, animals, plants, and the planet.