Vaccine rollouts in California, Washington state and elsewhere are sparking worry among health leaders, who warn that doses unfairly given to rich or influential people could cause critical supplies in the COVID-19 battle to be cut.
The Washington state Health Department said in a statement Monday that “VIP scheduling, reserving doses for inequitable or exclusive access and similar practices are banned and will not be tolerated.”
The Seattle Times reported that three medical systems in the region gave special vaccine access to big donors or foundation members. Two of the hospital organizations acknowledged they made a mistake in prioritizing influential people.
The Health Department’s announcement says that if a vaccine provider is found to be giving out shots in an inequitable manner “we may reduce or stop allocations to that provider.”
In California, some essential workers – teachers, first responders and food and farm workers – remain next in line for the shots. But after that, the state will primarily expand eligibility by age, likely people 50 and up. The goal: to speed up a chaotic vaccine rollout that consistently has California lagging behind many other states in distribution rates even as it has given roughly 3.3 million immunizations as of Monday.
Other states are struggling with the same problems, which come amid a difficult period when vaccine sites around the Northeast are closed as a snowstorm hammers the region, creating blizzard conditions and prompting emergency declarations.
COVID-19 has killed more than 443,000 Americans, and infections have continued to mount despite the introduction of a pair of vaccines late in 2020. USA TODAY is tracking the news. Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox, join our Facebook group or scroll through our in-depth answers to reader questions.
In the headlines:
►The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order requiring people to wear a face mask when traveling on airplanes and other transit went into effect Monday night. The order applies to those traveling into, within or out of the U.S.
►Giving COVID survivors only one dose of the vaccine wouldn’t negatively impact on their antibody levels but would free up many urgently needed vaccine doses, a study suggested Monday.
►The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Monday vaccine sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and will not be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents except in “extraordinary circumstances.”
►While residents of nursing homes and their caregivers have been considered a top priority for COVID-19 vaccination, only 38% of nursing home staff accepted shots when they were offered, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed Monday.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 26.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 443,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 103 million cases and 2.24 million deaths. Nearly 50 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the U.S. and 32.2 million have been administered, according to the CDC.
📘 What we’re reading: Studies suggest up to 80% of people who have COVID-19 symptoms experience a reduced or complete loss of smell or taste. Most survivors regain their senses in a few weeks. But some don’t, and researchers say they may go without them for the rest of their lives. Read the full story.
Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, looks on before administering a COVID-19 vaccine in the parking lot at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Phoenix on Feb. 1, 2021. This was first day for the Arizona Department of Health drive-thru vaccine site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. For now the site will be able to deliver 500 vaccines per day.Chicago, DC teachers balk at return to in-class learning
District of Columbia Public Schools went to court Monday for a temporary restraining order against the Washington Teachers’ Union to avoid a work stoppage that could delay reopening of some schools for in-person learning. In-person learning across the city was scheduled to start Monday, but winter weather delayed the opening. Schools were opening two hours late for in-person students on Tuesday. The union scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning to discuss its position.
In Chicago, school district officials extended remote learning Monday for two more days and called for a “cooling-off period” in negotiations with the teachers’ union, citing progress but not a full agreement on COVID-19 safety plans for returning to schools. More than 60,000 students and about 10,000 teachers and staff in K-8 had been scheduled to start school Monday for the first time since last March, part of the district’s gradual reopening plans during the pandemic.
U.S.: No immigration enforcement arrests at vaccination sites
The U.S. government says it won’t conduct immigration enforcement arrests at vaccination sites around the country except in “extraordinary circumstances.” In a statement Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said vaccine sites will be considered “sensitive locations” and will not be targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. DHS says it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to get vaccinated when they are eligible under local rules.
ICE has previously included health care facilities as well as churches among the sensitive locations where arrests would generally not be carried out.
‘No red flags’ in vaccine safety data for pregnant women so far
Some pregnant women remain unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine as safety data is scarce and health agency guidelines are vague and in some cases contradictory. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said Monday that about 10,000 pregnant women in the U.S. have been vaccinated since the Food and Drug Administration authorized two vaccines and so far there have been “no red flags.”
“We had a lot of pregnant women vaccinated, the FDA followed them and will continue to follow them,” he said during a media roundtable at the IAS COVID-19 Conference: Prevention. “Even though we don’t have good data on it, the data that we’re collecting on it so far has no red flags.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say the decision is up to the mother in consultation with her health care provider. Fauci said Monday that the agency is sticking with that recommendation.
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Researchers sound alarm on lack of race, ethnicity information
As people of color suffer disproportionate rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, health equity leaders are calling for better health data tracking to shed light on racial disparities. A lack of data is masking vaccination rollout transparency, health equity researchers say, and the data deficit is hurting those most vulnerable. So far, only 16 states are releasing vaccination counts by race and ethnicity, and the data is incomplete.
In a White House press briefing Monday, COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith also emphasized the need for better race and ethnicity data on vaccinations. After summarizing higher mortality and hospitalization rates among people of color, such as Black, Latino and American Indian people, she said she was “worried” about being “behind” on race and ethnicity data collection amid vaccine rollout.
“As of Jan. 30, we’re missing 47% of race and ethnicity data on vaccinations,” Nunez-Smith said. “Let me be clear: We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us.”
– Nada Hassanein
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID news: California, Washington struggle with vaccine equity
Originally published February 2, 2021, 8:02 AM