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Some Health Officials Think Protests Are Worth the Risk, Even as Cases are Expected to Spike

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Photo by Phil Roeder

  • COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are rising, and while some outlets have indicated this could be because of protests, it is too soon to tell what kind of impact these marches have had on case growth.
  • The new spikes are likely linked to cities and states reopening. Still, most health experts think that because social distancing is near impossible in protesting crowds, the country will see an increase of cases in the next few weeks tied to the protests. 
  • But that does not mean all health officials are against the protests. Many believe protesting for racial equality is worth the risk.
  • Some say that because COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black communities, the protests are especially important so people can fight against the racial injustice that caused this. 

COVID-19 Case Growth

With coronavirus cases on the rise, some have been quick to blame the recent nationwide protests in response to the murder of George Floyd. However, experts note that it’s actually too soon to tie the demonstrations as the cause of cause of the surge.

Some officials believe protest-related surges are on the way, but some still think protesting is worth the risk.

On Monday, Johns Hopkins reported over 21,188 new cases of coronavirus in one day across the United States. While this is slightly lower, though essentially on par with last week’s daily average of 21,294 cases, it is part of a general trend of daily averages increasing.

Between May 26 and May 28 the average was 19,800 new cases. This figure went up to 21,700 new cases per day between May 30 and June 1. 

While some outlets correlated this case spike with the recent protests across the country, the protests have only been going on for around a week. Experts like Mark Shrime, a public-health researcher at Harvard, told The Atlantic that while he anticipates a spike eventually, we will not see it for ten to 14 days because of COVID-19’s long incubation period.

In some places, experts are not anticipating the data on cases to reflect the protests for even longer, including Southern California, which may not see protests-related coronavirus cases in health department data for another three or four weeks. 

Ties to Stay At Home Orders Ending

Some believe that this slew of cases could likely be tied to local government’s decisions to reopen in May. Palm Beach County in Florida showed the biggest one-day increase in coronavirus cases three weeks after reopening. While the South Florida Sun Sentinel says it may be too soon to tell if that’s the cause, it does mark an increase in the average number of cases being reported.

States like Texas and Arizona have also started to end their stay at home orders and have seen resulting spikes. According to KPNX in Arizona, three weeks after their order was phased out, the state saw one of the fastest-growing caseloads in the country, with a 70% increase after things reopened. 

Some health officials, like Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, anticipated the fact that the public would blame spikes on the protests, instead of the fact that states elected to ease lockdown restrictions. 

“What I fear will happen, particularly in those states, is that any increase in cases in the next couple of weeks will be blamed on protestors,” she told The Verge, even though, “There are multiple things happening at the same time.”

Because social distancing in these protest crowds is nearly impossible, health officials do believe a spike is coming. Many protesters are doing their best to mitigate risks by wearing masks, and spread could also be lessened because these protests are outside. Still, tight spaces and the use of tear gas, which causes coughing, could aid the virus’ ability to travel.

Why Some Health Officials Support Protests Despite Risk

Still, many health officials and activists think protesting is worth the risk. 

“I personally believe that these particular protests—which demand justice for black and brown bodies that have been brutalized by the police—are a necessary action,” Maimuna Majumder a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Atlantic. “Structural racism has been a public-health crisis for much longer than the pandemic has.”

“The threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust,” tweeted Dr. Tom Frieden. 

While the major focus of these protests is to demand justice for George Floyd and an end to police violence against Black Americans, they are also calling for an end to racial injustice of all kinds. Among the many other injustices Black Americans face includes a higher coronavirus death rate than white Americans. 

In Washington D.C., where 46% of the population is African American, they account for 75% of the district’s deaths. In Wisconsin, where less than 7% of the state’s residents are Black, they total 25% percent of the state’s deaths. Numerous other states and cities are also experiencing the same problem. 

“So many black communities are protesting because they have to,” said Doctor Mike in Wednesday video. “At a time of a pandemic, when they’re not only putting their lives on the line because of police injustice but also because of this virus. And COVID-19 has already dramatically and drastically affected communities of color disproportionately to other communities.

Impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans

Multiple factors contribute to this high death rate. African Americans are systemically under treated by the U.S. healthcare systems. Black Americans are more likely to have underlying conditions like high blood pressure, are less likely to be insured, and are more frequently denied access to testing and treatment. Throughout the pandemic, Black and Hispanic workers have also been less likely to work from home, further increasing their potential exposure to the virus. 

“Unless we are out there protesting in the streets, we can either be killed by Covid-19 just as easily as we can be killed by a cop,” Minneapolis activist Mike Griffin told Bloomberg. 

Marcus echoed the need for the protests. 

“Ultimately, these protests, if they bring us any semblance of progress in terms of structural racism — they will have had a positive impact on public health, not a negative one,” she told The Verge.

Others are still concerned about the potential consequences. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Politico that he understands the anger behind these protests and why people are out there, but still has his fears. 

“I remain concerned about the public health consequences both of individual and institutional racism [and] people out protesting in a way that is harmful to themselves and to their communities,” Adams said. 

“There is going to be a lot to do after this, even to try and get the communities of color back to where they need to be for people to be able to recover from Covid, and for people to be able to recover from the shutdown and to be able to prosper,” he continued. 

See what others are saying: (The Atlantic) (The Verge) (Politico)

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Texas Doctor Says He Violated Abortion Law, Opening Matter Up for Litigation

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Under the state’s new law, any citizen could sue the doctor, which would make the matter the first known test case of the restrictive policy.


Dr. Braid’s Op-Ed

A Texas doctor revealed in an op-ed published in The Washington Post Saturday that he performed an abortion in violation of the state’s law that bans the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.

The law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not have exceptions for rape and incest, also allows civilians to sue anyone who helps someone receive an abortion after six weeks.

In the op-ed, Dr. Alan Braid, who has been practicing as an OB/GYN in Texas for 45 years, said that just days after the law took effect, he gave an abortion to a woman who was still in her first trimester but already beyond the state’s new limit.

“I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care,” he wrote. “I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested.”

Braid went on to say that he understands he is taking a personal risk but that he believes it is worth it.

“I have daughters, granddaughters and nieces,” he concluded. “I believe abortion is an essential part of health care. I have spent the past 50 years treating and helping patients. I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972.”

Potential Litigation

If someone does opt to sue Braid over this matter, he could potentially be the state’s first test case in playing out the legal process. However, it is unclear if anti-abortion groups will follow through, despite their threats to enforce the law.

A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life, which set up a website to report people suspected of violating the ban, told reporters this weekend that it is looking into Braid’s claims but added, “It definitely seems like a legal stunt and we are looking into whether it is more than that.”

Even if abortion opponents hold off on Braid’s case, there are other legal challenges to the Texas law.

Shortly after the policy took effect, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit attempting to stop it. Last week, the department filed an emergency motion asking a federal judge in the state to temporarily block the ban while that legal battle plays out, with a hearing for that motion set for Oct. 1.

Regardless of what side the federal judge rules for, the other is all but ensured to sue, and that fight could take the question to the Supreme Court in a matter of months.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Texas Tribune) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Pfizer Says Low Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe and Effective in Kids 5 to 11

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Pfizer Says Kids’ Vaccine Works

Pfizer announced Monday morning that its joint COVID-19 vaccine with BioNTech is safe and effective in kids ages 5 to 11.

While Pfizer’s vaccine candidate for younger children is the same version the FDA has already approved for people 12 and older, the children’s dose is only one-third of the amount given to adults and teens. Still, Pfizer said the antibody response they’ve seen in kids has been comparable to the response seen in older participants.

Similarly, the company said side effects in children have been similar to those witnessed in adults. 

Pfizer said it expects to finish submitting data, which still needs to be peer-reviewed and then published, to the FDA by the end of the month. From there, the agency will ensure that Pfizer’s findings are accurate and that the vaccine will be able to elicit a strong immune response in kids at its current one-third dosage. 

That process could take weeks or even all of October, but it does open the possibility that the vaccine candidate could be approved around Halloween.

Overeager Parents

While experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have called Pfizer’s announcement largely predictable, they’ve also urged people to let the research run its course. 

With cases among children skyrocketing in recent months, some parents have begun urging pediatricians to give their children the jab early. Those kinds of requests are likely to increase with Pfizer’s announcement; however, officials have warned parents about acting too quickly.

“No one should really be freelancing — they should wait for the appropriate approval and recommendations to decide how best to manage their own children’s circumstances,” Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said according to The Washington Post. 

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

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Contradicting Studies Leave Biden’s COVID-19 Booster Plan Up in the Air

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While some studies show that the effectiveness of Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID vaccines decrease over time, other publications argue the decline is not substantial and a full-flung booster campaign is premature.


Booster Rollout in Flux

President Joe Biden’s plan to offer COVID-19 booster shots is facing serious hurdles just a week before it is set to roll out. Issues with the plan stem from growing divisions among the scientific community over the necessity of a third jab.

The timing of booster shots administration has been a point of contention for months, but the debate intensified in August when Biden announced that, pending regulatory approval, the government would start offering boosters on Sept. 20 to adults eight months after they received their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna.

The announcement was backed by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others.

However, many scientists and other health experts both inside and outside of the government have continually criticized the plan. They have claimed the data supporting boosters was not compelling and argued that, while the FDA approved third doses for immunocompromised Americans, the push to give them to the general public was premature.

The plan also drew international backlash from those who argued the U.S. should not launch a booster campaign when billions of people around the world have not gotten their first dose yet. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) extended its request that wealthy countries hold off on giving boosters until at least the end of the year.

Those arguments appeared to be bolstered when federal health regulators said earlier this month that they needed more time to review Moderna’s application for booster shots, forcing the Biden Administration to delay offering third shots to those who received that vaccine.

Now, Pfizer recipients will be the only people who may be eligible for boosters by the initial deadline, though that depends on a forthcoming decision from an FDA expert advisory committee that is set to vote Friday on whether or not to recommend approval.

Debate Continues in Crucial Week

More contradictory information has been coming out in the days leading up to the highly anticipated decision.

On Monday, an international group of 18 scientists, including some at the FDA and the WHO, published a review in The Lancet arguing that there is no credible data to show the vaccines’ ability to prevent severe disease declined substantially over time, so boosters are not yet needed for the general, non-immunocompromised public.

The experts claimed that any advantage boosters may provide does not outweigh the benefit of giving the extra doses to all those who are unvaccinated worldwide. 

On the other side, a study released Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received a third shot of Pfizer in Israel were much less likely to develop severe COVID than those who just had the first two jabs.

The same day, both Pfizer and Moderna published data backing that up as well. Pfizer released an analysis that said data on boosters and the Delta variant from both Israel and the U.S. suggested “that vaccine protection against COVID-19 infection wanes approximately 6 to 8 months following the second dose.” 

Moderna also published data, that has not yet been peer-reviewed, which also found its jab provided less immunity and protection against severe disease as time went on.

Further complicating matters was the fact that the FDA additionally released its report on Pfizer’s analysis of the need for a booster shortly after Pfizer’s publication. Normally, those findings would shine a light on the agency’s stance on the issue, but the regulator did not take a clear stand.

“Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of [Pfizer] over time […] while others have not,” the agency wrote. “Overall, data indicate that currently US-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death.”

Uncertain Future

It remains unclear what the FDA panel will determine when they meet Friday, or what a similar CDC expert panel that is expected to meet next week will decide regarding vaccination policies.

Notably, officials at the two agencies are not required to follow the recommendations of their expert panels, though they usually do.

Even if the FDA approves Pfizer’s application as it stands to give boosters to those 16 and older, people familiar with the matter said the CDC might recommend the third jabs only for people 65 and older or those who are especially at risk.

Regardless of what is decided, experts have said that it is absolutely essential for the agency to stand firm in its decision and clearly explain its reasoning to the public in order to combat further confusion and misinformation.

“F.D.A. does the best in situations when there are strongly held but conflicting views, when they’re forthcoming with the data and really explain decisions,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. “It’s important for the F.D.A. not to say, ‘Here’s our decision, mic drop. It’s much better for them to say, ‘Here’s how we looked at the data, here are the conclusions we made from the data, and here’s why we’re making the conclusions.’”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Guardian)

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