Health Team

States are looking to help their vulnerable communities as vaccine distribution ramps up

Posted February 6, 2021 3:22 a.m. EST

— As officials make strides to improve accessibility to Covid-19 vaccines in the United States, some states are turning their focus to the underserved and vulnerable communities that have not yet been eligible for protection.

Though coronavirus vaccine administration is not at President Joe Biden's hoped-for level of 1.5 million per day, the US has gotten closer with an average of 1.3 million new shots a day.

Until now, the sluggish pace of distribution had most states' demand for vaccines exceeding their supply as they raced to protect their first-priority populations, usually healthcare workers and older Americans.

Now New York, with about 75% of hospital workers inoculated, may become the first state to offer vaccine access to people with the simultaneous presence of two or more medical conditions, no matter their age. The governor's office listed cancer, chronic kidney disease, pulmonary disease and heart conditions as some of the comorbidities and underlying conditions that the state will use to determine eligibility for the Covid-19 vaccine.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said Friday that the state is now vaccinating those in the prison system along the same guidelines as the general public.

And in Texas, the Houston Health Department said Friday that it will prioritize "vulnerable populations" and "underserved communities" as it receives additional vaccine allotments.

When it comes to reaching the underserved, such as people who are homeless, those without insurance and migrant workers, local pharmacies and health centers are a better option than trying to "reinvent the wheel" with mass vaccination sites, Adm. Brett Giroir said in a radio interview aired Friday.

"I think trying to set up a big federal site in the middle of Dallas that will immunize 10,000 a day, that's much less amenable," the former Health and Human Services Secretary said on SiriusXM's "Doctor Radio Reports." "It's not meeting people where they are, and it's much less efficient than having the distributed network that we've already established and have been using for decades."

Variant surges are possible but not inevitable

Health experts have warned that the spread of new variants, some of which appear to be more transmissible, could lead to them dominating the pandemic moving forward -- and many fear that could mean another surge.

But director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said that is "a possibility, but not necessarily an inevitability."

The virus can only mutate if it is able to replicate, Fauci explained.

"When you have a lot of infection in your country, when you're getting three to 400,000 new infections a day, the virus has an open playing field to replicate so much that it starts to mutate. That's when you get the dangerous mutations."

To prevent the variants from replicating and mutating, Fauci called on the public to keep following evidence-based public health measures.

One of the best ways to prevent mutations, he said, was "to double down on public health measures to prevent the virus from going from one person to another: the masking, the distancing, the avoiding congregate settings."

And, most importantly, Fauci urged the public to get vaccinated.

"As soon as the vaccine becomes available, please go out and get vaccinated, because the combination of vaccination and public health measures will bring the level of virus down so low you won't give it a chance to mutate. That's what we need to do."

Schools navigate returning to campus

Meanwhile, teachers and school staff have also been prioritized for vaccination as many states look to resume in-person instruction for the first time in nearly a year.

As of Friday, 24 states and Washington, DC are allowing some or all of their teachers and school staff to receive coronavirus vaccines. But CDC director Rochelle Walensky has said that teachers do not need to be vaccinated to return to the classroom safely.

Vermont has begun to even allow sports competition to resume February 12, so long as teams have no more than two games in a seven-day period, keep a minimum of three days between competitions and bar spectators.

However, following months of remote learning, officials at the Escondido Union School District in San Diego County brought students back on campus Tuesday.

But two days later, more than 100 students and staff were ordered to quarantine due to Covid-19 infections reported across their various K - 8th grade campuses.

The fear of such transmission between students and staff has snarled negotiations in the Chicago public school system, the third largest in the country.

Now a showdown is looming between the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), after weeks of negotiations over the resumption of in-person classes.

Late Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS Chief Executive Order Janice Jackson said in a letter sent to teachers that pre-K and cluster program teachers and staff without accommodation who fail to report to work Monday will be locked out of the school's online systems.

The union, for its part, said that city leaders had "walked away from the bargain table again."

Officials plead against Super Bowl parties

As officials attempt to ramp up vaccinations, many are pleading with citizens to avoid Super Bowl parties on Sunday.

"Now is not the time for a Super Bowl party," Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in a briefing Friday. "Now is not the time to fumble the ball because you got careless by spending time with a bunch of people that are not in your household."

Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack made a similar plea earlier in the week, asking residents to stay home Sunday.

"Have virtual Super Bowl parties. Enjoy the Super Bowl in the privacy of your own home," Slack said. "When people get together in private residences in close proximity, that is one of the single most effective ways to spread this disease. We can't afford to have the disease spread now, with these mutations and these variants."

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