Lack of national strategy for COVID-19 distribution slowing process, officials say (LIVE UPDATES)

Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP

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COVID-19 vaccine rollout problems confirm health officials’ past warnings

Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP
Vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are placed next to a loaded syringe at the Throop Civic Center in Throop, Pa. during a clinic on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Public health officials sounded the alarm for months, complaining that they did not have enough support or money to get COVID-19 vaccines quickly into arms. Now the slower-than-expected start to the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history is proving them right.
As they work to ramp up the shots, state and local public health departments across the U.S. cite a variety of obstacles, most notably a lack of leadership from the federal government. Many officials worry that they are losing precious time at the height of the pandemic, and the delays could cost lives.
States lament a lack of clarity on how many doses they will receive and when. They say more resources should have been devoted to education campaigns to ease concerns among people leery of getting the shots. And although the federal government recently approved $8.7 billion for the vaccine effort, it will take time to reach places that could have used the money months ago to prepare to deliver shots more efficiently.
Such complaints have become a common refrain in a nation where public health officials have been left largely on their own to solve complex problems.
Read the full story here.

12:22 p.m. House lawmakers may have been exposed to COVID-19 during violent Capitol riot
WASHINGTON — House lawmakers may have been exposed to someone testing positive for COVID-19 while they sheltered at an undisclosed location during the Capitol siege by a violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump.
The Capitol’s attending physician notified all lawmakers Sunday of the virus exposure and urged them to be tested. The infected individual was not named.
Dr. Brian Moynihan wrote that “many members of the House community were in protective isolation in the large room — some for several hours” on Wednesday. He said “individuals may have been exposed to another occupant with coronavirus infection.”
Dozens of lawmakers were whisked to the secure location after pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Capitol that day, breaking through barricades to roam the halls and offices and ransacking the building.
Some members of Congress huddled for hours in the large room, while others were there for a shorter period.
Read the full story here.
9:30 a.m. Positivity rate down Saturday as coronavirus claims 101 more Illinois lives
Illinois logged 101 more COVID-19 deaths Saturday as public health officials announced 6,717 more people have been infected with the virus statewide.
The new cases were detected among 102,903 tests submitted to the Illinois Department of Public Health, keeping the seven-day average testing positivity rate trending in the right direction. Following a slight increase after Christmas, that key indicator of transmission has remained stable for about a week and is now down to 8.3%.
Hospitalizations have declined considerably as well since the state suffered a brutal autumn resurgence. As of Friday night, 3,589 beds were occupied by coronavirus patients, with 742 receiving intensive care and 393 on ventilators. Those figures are all as low as they’ve been since since the start of November.
Read the full story here.
9 a.m. Black scientist who helped develop COVID-19 vaccine attends inoculation of Rev. Jesse Jackson
Kizzmekia Corbett, the National Institute of Health’s lead scientist for coronavirus vaccine research, puts her hand on Rev. Jesse Jackson after physician Kiran Chekka administered the COVID-19 vaccine in the Roseland Community Hospital’s parking lot in the Roseland neighborhood, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. Corbett and Jackson kicked off a campaign to raise awareness about the vaccine and encourage African Americans and Latinx to get vaccinated. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
In the monumental effort to build Black community trust of the coronavirus vaccine, the Rev. Jesse Jackson rolled up his sleeve. Famous viral immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. And Dr. Kiran Chekka stuck the needle in his arm.
Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, was on his way to being protected against COVID-19. In a month, he’ll return for the second dose, ensuring full vaccination.
A simple act. A huge deal. The 79-year-old civil rights leader and Corbett, the Black woman scientist who co-led the National Institutes of Health team that developed the Moderna vaccine, made for a powerhouse duo of role models.
“We know our history, and we understand from where this hesitancy comes,” Corbett, 34, a rock star in immunology science, told the Chicago Sun-Times afterward.
“It’s sad that it’s being highlighted in this moment where the need to get vaccinated is so dire. On the one hand, we are the communities most plagued by the pandemic. On the other hand, we are communities least likely to get vaccinated,” Corbett said.
“Those two things do not go together. And so it’s really time for action from scientists, physicians, etc., to really extend ourselves to reassuring those communities, so we can get the ball rolling. A lot of times, people just need to see their mirror image.”
Maudlyne Ihejirika has the full story here.
8 a.m. Potential repeal of key education law could throw wrench into CPS reopening plan
A 25-year-old, one-page section of an Illinois law governing educational labor that limits the Chicago Teachers Union’s bargaining rights could be repealed as soon as this weekend in Springfield, a move that would mark a celebratory end to a long lobbying fight for the union.
A repeal could have serious short-term implications for Chicago Public Schools’ reopening plans if the bill passes and is signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and a significant long-term impact in the CTU’s relationship with CPS. The repeal bill was passed in the House in March 2019, and it appears likely the Senate will follow suit in the week ahead — though it’s unclear if the governor will immediately sign it. A Pritzker spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Lightfoot, who campaigned on repealing this part of the law, is now concerned about those prospects. In a letter sent to state senators Friday, she wrote that a repeal “at this critical time would impair our efforts to reopen Chicago Public Schools and jeopardize our fiscal and educational gains.”
Section 4.5 of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, passed in 1995, only covers unions negotiating with Chicago Public Schools — all other districts in the state are not affected. The section limits the bargaining power of the CTU — and other unions that represent school support staff — to bread and butter labor issues such as pay and benefits. It allows CPS to avoid negotiations over several school-related topics such as class sizes, staff assignments, charter schools, subcontracting, layoffs and the length of the school day and year.
Read the full story from Nader Issa here.

Analysis and commentary
9 a.m. COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for state workers who care for high-risk people
The first round of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine was administered to residents and employees of Illinois veterans’ homes in late December, but data shows that the number of caregivers vaccinated is worrisome.
Seventy-four percent of residents in the homes have been vaccinated — that’s 95% of residents in Anna, 90% in Manteno and Quincy, and 71% in LaSalle — according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. However, the people charged with providing care to our most vulnerable residents have been vaccinated in much lower percentages. Only 40% of the staff throughout Illinois have received the vaccine as of Dec. 31.
After waiting more than nine excruciating months for a vaccine, that is unacceptable. We believe the vaccine should be a mandatory condition of employment in all facilities in the state that care for high-risk individuals, especially the elderly. The only temporary exception would be for those who recently had COVID-19 or currently have it.
Read the full editorial here.

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