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Politicians and Celebrities Push for Changes to Improve Vote by Mail Access

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  • Nancy Pelosi is pushing for funding to expand voting by mail as the coronavirus leaves people trapped at home, unable to go to polling locations. This has come with some pushback from several including the President, but Pelosi and others feel this is how voting should be done going forward.
  • Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Khloe Kardashian, Sia, and more are also joining a campaign to encourage others to vote by mail.
  • In the several states that do not allow all voters to cast ballots in the mail, these stars are telling citizens to contact representatives to make this method more accessible.
  • In addition to voting by mail, some election officials believe electronic voting could be an effective tool in the future.

Pelosi’s Vote by Mail Plan

As the coronavirus postpones primary elections and keeps people at home, politicians and celebrities alike are calling for expanded access to voting by mail.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she is seeking between $2 billion and $4 billion in funding for voting by mail in the next stimulus package.

She is also looking to increase funding for the post office. Pelosi initially announced her intentions to expand voting by mail on Tuesday during an interview on Morning Joe.

“The integrity of the election system is central to our democracy,” she said. “I don’t know how anyone could oppose our enabling the states to have vote by mail.”

The Speaker has faced opposition, though. Some fear that this could lead to lower-income voters who tend to move a lot not having an easy way to vote. President Donald Trump has also expressed issues with stretching voting options. On Monday, he claimed Republicans would never get elected if voting by mail increased.

Pelosi, however, does not believe the President’s claims. 

“I think that’s necessary for our country to have a Republican party and I feel sad that the President does not have confidence that his party can not convince the American people about a path to go forward,” she said on Morning Joe.

Celebrities Speak Up

On top of Pelosi’s efforts, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Ron Wyden are working on legislation that will allow more voters to vote early and by mail. Politicians are also not the only ones advocating for voting by mail. Celebrities have partnered up with Represent Us to start a #VoteAtHome campaign. Represent Us is an organization that brings people from across the political spectrum to do a number of things, including fighting political corruption and bribery, and improving our election system. 

Stars like Khloe Kardashian, Sia and Sarah Silverman have all posted to their social media channels with #VoteAtHome, encouraging their followers to apply for absentee ballots so they can vote safely while in lockdowns. 

Several states, however, do not allow people to vote from home. Right now, only 34 states will allow voters to vote absentee without any excuse come November. A handful of states are allowing extended vote-by-mail measures due to the coronavirus, but it is unclear if this will apply to November’s presidential election. There are 12 states that do not grant absentee ballots without an excuse and changing rules in those states could prove to be difficult. 

Because of this, the stars who partnered with Represent Us are encouraging people to contact their representatives and demand that voting by mail be accessible to everyone. Actress Jennifer Lawrence made a video for the group encouraging those watching to speak up. 

“A bill in congress and your Secretary of State can fix this right now,” the Academy Award winner said about voting by mail restrictions.  “So go to Represent.Us/VoteAtHome to find out how you can call your representatives in support of #VoteAtHome. This is extremely important. It’s our elections we’re talking about, so please help spread the word.” 

Voting Online

Voting by mail is not the only solution some see for voting in the age of coronavirus. Two election officials wrote a piece for TechCrunch in support of electronic voting. While the method might seem new and flashy, 23 states and D.C. already let some voters cast ballots via email, while five more allow some to do so via a web portal.

Amelia Powers-Gardner and Chris Walker, the officials who wrote the piece, believe there have always been good reasons to move to online voting. 

“Traditional voting methods simply don’t work for those living abroad, deployed in the military or those with disabilities,” they wrote. “As election officials, it’s our duty to stand up for the constitutional rights of our citizens.”

With the outbreak right now, though, the two believe this could be the time to start taking the subject seriously. 

“Expanding voter participation by ensuring ballot access for all citizens is paramount to protecting our democracy, Powers-Gardner and Walker said.

“In the 21st century, that will necessarily include electronic methods, particularly as we face challenges with voters abroad and contemplate emerging challenges at home like COVID-19, where large public gatherings — and long lines — spark new threats to consider.”

It goes without saying that electronic voting comes with a great number of security concerns. Still, Powers-Gardner and Walker think that with the developments of new technologies, it is possible.

The two cited an instance in Utah where the state’s oldest voter, at the age of 106, was able to vote from an app after she broke her ankle and could not hold a pen steadily. Pilots around the country are also showing progress and allowing for audits to ensure accurate results. 

See what others are saying: (CNBC) (Axios) (The Wrap)

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CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron

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Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.


A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron

COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.

The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.

One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week. 

In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.

Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization. 

By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.

Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.

Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates

Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.

Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection. 

The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.

While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.

Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.

Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent

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Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19. 


State Senator Proposes Legislation

Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California. 

“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”

“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”

Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians. 

Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.

“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”

Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15. 

Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.

In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.” 

In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate. 

The Fight to Vaccinate California

This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”

“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”

While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail. 

“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)

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Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent

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Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”


Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit

Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.

According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.

The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”

The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”

Use on Other Inmates

The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.

According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.

In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.

In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.

He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments. 

The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.

“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (NBC News)

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