Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — November 10, 2021

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

401. A federal court has temporally halted the proposed OSHA vaccine requirement.

        QWhen will big businesses have to see their employees are vaccinated?

        A:  Just two weeks ago, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) released its ruling that all businesses with over 100 people have six weeks to record that their employees have either been vaccinated or are tested weekly and are not infected with Covid-19.  Eleven major corporations have filed suit against this “vaccine mandate” and the federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana has granted a temporary stay of this being enforced.  The judges say they acted because they have “grave statutory and constitutional issues with the mandate.”

This fifth district court is one of the most conservative in the country, and many public health officials have expressed confidence this stay will soon be overturned.  The consensus is the concern of this court is focused on this ruling is a federal “mandate” in conflict with states’ rights.  In reality, it is a federal approach to create a safe workplace for those who work there.  There have been several public health court rulings in the past that recognized the health of the community requires regulation supporting vaccine mandates.  We have already eradicated smallpox as a major killer, as well as eliminated polio as a result of mandated vaccinations.  Each of these cases were allowed by the courts to legally proceed.  The current political environment has encouraged many people to confuse public health, which is built on community responses, with the freedom people have to deny or accept private health care decisions affecting just themselves.  If this court ruling is sustained, it would be a precedent that could lead OSHA to lose its authority to address other workplace hazards.  It could also allow school children to miss days and weeks of school because they will become quite ill by not having other children in school vaccinated as they currently are against measles, mumps and other contagious diseases.

402. Many people are anxious, angry and depressed by the pandemic

         Q:  Why are so many people anxious, and distraught by this pandemic?

         A:  One official in a recent New York Times report has commented that “Despite signs that the economy is improving and the virus is waning, many Americans seem stuck in a pandemic hangover of pessimism.”  The report written by Jack HealyAudra D. S. Burch and Patricia Mazzei and published on November 5, cited as the immediate cause of our malaise as “the pain of an unending pandemic, rising prices, and the nationwide bickering that stretches from school board meetings to the United States Capitol.”  “Americans seem stuck in a pandemic hangover of pessimism.”

In defining this general perception of malaise, several factors were cited that has led to more than 60 percent of voters in recent opinion surveys say that the country is in bad shape.  Part of this list includes losing faith in a president who ran on a pledge of normalcy and competence created by the chaotic, deadly pullout from Afghanistan, and a spike in migrants crossing the southern border.  Another factor is a legislative agenda stymied by Republican opposition and Democratic infighting.  Local frustration is felt by many because while the economy is growing, available hiring positions are going unfilled.  School buses cannot meet the required schedules, trash in many communities is not being picked up, and the supply chain shortages are seriously affecting holiday shoppers.

The good news is out there: the economy is expanding rapidly, unemployment is falling quickly, the stock market is again at record levels, schools are reopening, everyone over age 4 is now eligible to be vaccinated, and the death rate from Covid-19 has fallen dramatically.   But the prevalent feeling is “we are headed in the wrong direction.”   “Our political system — it’s almost completely a failure,” said Carla Haney, a swimming instructor who has yet to receive about 14 weeks of unemployment benefits from the State of Florida that she applied for in May 2020. “I don’t see it getting better at all.”  It is this dissatisfaction with government that fosters an increasing belief that authoritarianism and fascism could lead to better results – a significant threat to our long-standing democracy.

403. NH officials are seeking to replace the $27M federal funds recently refused    

         Q:  What was the outcome in NH after the recent rejection of federal vaccine funds?

         A:  In a recent FAQ in this column, it was reported that the NH governor’s executive Council voted to reject – refused to accept – a federal grant of 27 million dollars earmarked to expand the number of NH’s 125,000 children ages 5-11 to be vaccinated.  Republican opposition was based on false expectations that by receiving the funds, the feds would require personal information on each person vaccinated, and that public health is based on the freedom of each person deciding for themselves – and for everyone else – whether to participate in mitigation activity.  State officials have stated after that action they could locate $22M from other accounts to foster the expansion of clinics for children.    That would leave a $5 million shortfall, but Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said she is still hopeful for reconsideration of the $27 million.

During a recent press briefing on the pandemic, Shibinette noted that several state-level contracts have yet to be approved to stand up those clinics, delaying the initiation of these clinics and childhood vaccinations – if these substitute funds can be approved by the Governor’s Executive Council.  Meanwhile, NH has been having a hard time keeping up with its data particularly information on how many people have been vaccinated. But NH Governor Sununu said it could take a couple of months of verifying vaccine and booster data and that the state is working through a backlog.  This lack of data is making it difficult to plan how well or poorly the vaccine program is going in the state.  This supports the misinformation and political influences contradicting the need for vaccinations.  The state’s incorrect data on the website says 55 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.  The other New England states were ranked the top 5 for vaccinations with Connecticut’s rate of fully vaccinated people just becoming 71%

404. Pfizer says its antiviral pill is highly effective.

         Q:  Are there any other pills being developed with greater effectiveness than Merck’s?

         A:  Pfizer has just completed a clinical trial of its oral medication Paxlovid and plans to submit data as soon as possible to the F.D.A. for authorization.  The antiviral pill is the second of its kind to demonstrate efficacy against Covid. It appears to be more effective than a similar offering from Merck, which is awaiting federal authorization.  Data developed by Pfizer shows its pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent when given within three days of the start of symptoms.  Merck’s effectiveness has been reported to be 50%.  Pfizer said an independent board of experts monitoring its clinical trial had recommended that the study be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had proved so convincing, it became an ethical issue to continue to deny it to the group receiving the placebo.  The company said that it planned to submit the data as soon as possible to the Food and Drug Administration to seek emergency use authorization.

The treatment could become available in the next few months, though supplies are likely to be limited at first. The Pfizer and Merck pills are both geared toward patients regarded as high-risk, such as those above the age of 60 or with conditions like obesity that make them more susceptible to severe consequences from Covid.

405. Chicago will close schools for a day to encourage vaccinations.

         Q:  What are other communities doing to encourage their children to become vaccinated?

         A:  The New York Times recently reported that Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools announced that classes would be canceled this Friday to allow families more time to inoculate eligible students.  “While you don’t have to wait until that day to get your child or yourself vaccinated, we’re taking these special steps to ensure people have the time to get it done and encourage other institutions and private businesses to follow the city’s example,” Ms. Lightfoot said in a recent statement.

In addition to closing schools on Nov. 12, Chicago will also permit city employees to leave work two hours early that day to get vaccinated, officials said. The city has stipulated that all municipal employees must be fully vaccinated by January 1st unless they receive a medical or religious exemption.

Officials in cities across the nation have turned to both carrots and sticks in efforts to increase vaccinations among children and public workers. Recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that a $100 incentive offered to city residents for getting a first dose would be extended to parents and guardians if they vaccinate their children at a city-run site or at their schools.