Covid-19 News: At Least 36 States Give Religious Leaders Vaccine Priority

Photo of author

By admin

The Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during a gathering of interfaith clergy members, community leaders and officials at the National Cathedral in Washington this month.
Credit…Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

At least 36 states have made some members of the clergy eligible for a vaccine before the rest of the population, according to a New York Times survey.

The vaccines come at a critical time: As religious leaders continue to work on the front lines of the pandemic in hospitals, mortuaries and long-term care facilities, many are now working with health officials to help combat vaccine hesitancy in their communities.

In Utah, mosques are sharing videos on social media of imams receiving the vaccine. In Michigan, a rabbi is weaving messages of support for vaccination into his sermons and conversations with his congregation. And at the Washington National Cathedral this month, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease specialist, and other health officials joined 25 faith leaders from across the D.C. region as they received their vaccines on camera.

“Religious figures are among the most trusted leaders, so seeing congregation leaders get vaccinated first can relieve anxiety and fears,” Melissa Rogers, the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said during the vaccination event in Washington.

Many states have prioritized all clergy members for the vaccine, while at least 17 have expanded eligibility to religious leaders who work only in hospitals or other health care settings. In some other states, all adults are already eligible.

Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who continued to preside over funerals during the pandemic, was vaccinated in January.

“With everything that went on in the country over the last year, one of the things that didn’t stop, and couldn’t stop, was funerals,” said Rabbi Miller, who has urged his congregants to get the vaccine when they become eligible.

In some places, religious leaders have pushed to become eligible because their work can place them at higher risk of contracting the virus. Bishop Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania said he and other faith leaders started calling elected officials in December to ensure that clergy members would be vaccinated with other frontline workers. Though clergy members in most of Pennsylvania are still not eligible for the vaccine, the state has moved them into an earlier priority group than it had originally planned.

“People don’t recognize the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week ministry of a clergy,” Bishop Gutiérrez said. “Once we brought that to their attention, almost all said: ‘You’re right. Let’s do this.’”

Officials with the Utah Muslim Civic League, which has hosted vaccination events at mosques, said registration numbers had been growing. And in Washington, after the Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears of Fellowship Baptist Church became the first clergy member to receive the vaccine at the event with Dr. Fauci, some congregants took notice.

“I wasn’t even home from the cathedral, and I was getting phone calls from members of the congregation saying, ‘Pastor, we saw you! I’m getting my shot on Saturday,’” she said.

Across the country, public health officials have reached out to religious leaders in Black and Hispanic communities, which have sometimes reported significantly lower vaccination rates compared with their representation in the general population.

In Baltimore, the Rev. Terris King of Liberty Grace Church of God has set up virtual discussions for members of his predominantly Black congregation with representatives from health care companies, such as Pfizer. Governments need to work with churches, the reverend said, because religious leaders understand their communities’ needs and anxieties, with much of the mistrust stemming from historical and current mistreatment of people of color in the health care system.

“Many of them have seen what, as a researcher in minority health, I’ve always known, and that’s that the church is the trusted source in the African-American community around the country,” he said.

Brillian Bao and

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela promoted an unproven remedy for Covid-19 on Facebook, which prompted Facebook to freeze his page. 
Credit…Manaure Quintero/Reuters

Facebook has frozen the page of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela for violating policies against spreading misinformation about Covid-19 by promoting a remedy he claims, without evidence, can cure the disease, a company spokesman said on Saturday.

Facebook has taken down a video in which Mr. Maduro promotes Carvativir, an oral solution derived from thyme, because it violates a policy against false claims “that something can guarantee prevention from getting Covid-19 or can guarantee recovery from Covid-19.”

“We follow guidance from the W.H.O. that says there is currently no medication to cure the virus,” the spokesman told Reuters, referring to the World Health Organization. “Due to repeated violations of our rules, we are also freezing the page for 30 days, during which it will be read-only.”

In the video, Mr. Maduro says Carvativir, which he calls “miracle drops” of 19th century Venezuelan doctor Jose Gregorio Hernandez who has been beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, can be used preventively and therapeutically against the coronavirus.

The administrators of the page were notified of the policy violation, the Facebook spokesman said.

Mr. Maduro’s account on photo-sharing social media platform Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, will not be affected.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Venezuela’s official figures as of Friday showed 154,905 cases of coronavirus and 1,543 deaths, though opposition critics contend that limited testing means the actual figure is likely higher.

Dorothy Oliver, who runs the General Store in Panola, Ala., population 144, making calls to residents this month to see if they have been vaccinated.
Credit…Abdul Aziz for The New York Times

PANOLA, Ala. — A dog-eared trailer that serves as the only convenience store within 20 miles of this blink-and-you-miss-it rural hamlet, population 144, is more than a place to stock up on life’s essentials. These days the store — or more precisely its proprietor, Dorothy Oliver — has become an unofficial logistics hub for African-American residents seeking the coronavirus vaccine.

Even as vaccine supplies in Alabama have become more plentiful, Ms. Oliver’s neighbors, many of them older and poor, lack the smartphones and internet service needed to book appointments. And if they manage to secure a slot, they may not have a way to get to distant vaccination sites.

Ms. Oliver helps her neighbors snag appointments online and matches them with those willing to make the 45-minute drive to Livingston, the seat of Sumter County and the nearest town offering inoculations. Nearly three-quarters of the residents of the county, which includes Panola, are African-American.

“We’ve got to fend for ourselves because no one else is going to help us,” said Ms. Oliver, 68, a loquacious retired office administrator who spends many of her waking hours on the phone. “That’s the way it’s always been for poor Black people living in the country.”

Across the Southern states, Black doctors, Baptist preachers and respected community figures like Ms. Oliver are trying to combat lingering vaccine skepticism while also helping people overcome logistical hurdles that have led to a troubling disparity in vaccination rates between African-Americans and whites.

Though local leaders have made headway combating the hesitancy, they say the bigger obstacles are structural: the large stretches of Alabama and Mississippi without an internet connection or reliable cellphone service, the paucity of medical providers, and a medical establishment that has long overlooked the health care needs of African-Americans.

Alanna Ehrike handing out milk and lunches to her fifth-grade class in Wausau, Wis., in December.
Credit…Jenn Ackerman for The New York Times

Few professions have been more upended by the pandemic than teaching has, as school districts have vacillated between in-person, remote and hybrid models of learning, leaving teachers concerned for their health and scrambling to do their jobs effectively.

For students considering the profession, the disruptions in education this past year have seeded doubts, which can be seen in declining enrollment numbers.

A survey by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that teaching programs had a 19 percent drop in enrollment this year at the undergraduate level and an 11 percent decline at the graduate level. And Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to teach in low-income schools across the country, said it had received fewer applications for its fall 2021 corps compared with this period last year.

Many program leaders believed that enrollment numbers declined because of the perceived hazards posed by in-person teaching and the difficulties of remote learning, combined with longstanding frustrations over low pay compared with professions that require similar levels of education. (The national salary average for a public-school teacher was roughly $61,000 in 2017.) Some are hopeful that enrollment will return to its prepandemic level as vaccines continue to roll out and schools resume in-person learning.

But the challenges in teacher recruitment and retention run deeper: The number of education degrees conferred by American colleges and universities dropped 22 percent from 2006 to 2019, despite an overall increase in the number of graduates from universities in the United States, stoking concerns about a future teacher shortage.

People lining up to be vaccinated this month at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.
Credit…Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna were approved for use in late 2020, anecdotes proliferated about rich people finding ways to jump the distribution priority line.

“I heard a lot from friends in Miami about people flying in, because they were giving it to everybody,” the writer Carole Radziwill said. “There was a lot of that in January.”

But a month later, as eligibility expanded in places like New York to include people with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, severe obesity or cardiovascular disease, it began to appear as if a vaccine was available to anyone who was willing to hunt one down or stretch the truth about a mild circulatory or mental ailment — a “fauxmorbidity” — to justify an early shot.

To be fair, most comorbidities are invisible, and federal law protects the privacy of patients’ health information. And the more people who are vaccinated, the better. The supply of vaccines is supposed to increase dramatically over the next week or two, making these concerns less urgent.

Holly Peterson, who has written several novels about wealth in New York, heard about visibly slender people getting their vaccines early by citing, without much credibility, a high body mass index, or B.M.I.

To her, that seemed like “the equivalent of knocking over an old lady for a taxi and feeling good about yourself,” as she put it in an interview.

The generous phrase “including but not limited to” when one is asked to verify an “underlying condition as defined by the New York Department of Health” on the state’s comorbidities information sheet has been, for some, an open invitation to be creative with their medical history.

That people are publicly airing their vaccination status has made some who have been waiting for eligibility to broaden uneasy. “It’s broadcasting status, that you got the vaccine ahead of others,” said Erik Maza, the styles news director at Town & Country magazine. “We should all consider taking up the Garbo challenge and stay off social media for a spell instead of broadcasting every waking second of the day, including your vax shot.”

Harvard graduates celebrating during their commencement last May.
Credit…Cassandra Klos for The New York Times

Yale plans to hold a version of in-person graduation for the class of 2021 in May — with no guests allowed. Harvard is not even calling its commencement a “commencement.” It plans to hold virtual degree-granting ceremonies and, for the second year in a row, will postpone traditional festivities.

The universities of South Florida, Southern California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, Rochester and Kentucky, among others, are holding in-person commencements, but with differing rules about guests.

So it goes in this second graduation season of the pandemic. Day by day, another university announces commencement plans, and given the uncertainty created by the coronavirus, the decisions are breaking in opposite ways.

Prairie View A&M in Texas plans to hold live commencements, even as, somewhat surreally, the president of the college, Ruth Simmons, will be delivering the principal address at Harvard’s virtual commencement.

In the United States, reported coronavirus cases and deaths have fallen significantly after a post-holiday surge, according to a New York Times database. Vaccinations have also picked up, averaging about 2.5 million shots a day, as eligibility expands in several states.

Experts warn, however, that dangerous variants could lead to a spike in cases and states that lift restrictions could be acting prematurely.

Many universities are stipulating that in order to participate in graduation, students must have tested negative for the coronavirus before the ceremony and have a good record of adhering to campus policies created to guard against infection.

Peter Salovey, the president of Yale, said in a statement this month that the university would be recognizing graduation by holding in-person gatherings “on or around May 24, if public health conditions permit.” Students studying both on campus and remotely are invited, but not their guests. Mr. Salovey said Yale was excluding families because it seemed unlikely that everybody would be vaccinated by graduation day.

Harvard was one of the first universities to evacuate its campus in mid-March last year, and it is still in caution mode. In an email to students on Feb. 26, its president, Lawrence Bacow, said that postponing live commencement for two years running was “deeply disappointing, but public health and safety must continue to take precedence.”

Like other universities, though, Harvard promised to bring the classes of 2020 and 2021 back to celebrate at some future date.

Some universities plan to hold their commencements in outdoor stadiums. Notre Dame, which was aggressive about bringing students back to campus last fall, is planning to accommodate all 3,000 graduates and a limited number of guests in its 79,000-seat stadium. Health officials have authorized the use of up to 20 percent of the seating.

The University of Southern California will hold in-person ceremonies for the classes of 2021 and 2020 in May. The ceremonies will take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and graduates will be allowed to invite two guests, although they must be California residents.

Northeastern University in Boston will host five commencement ceremonies in Fenway Park in May. Officials are aiming to allow each graduate to invite one guest, though they are still evaluating total capacity with physical distancing.

The University of South Florida in Tampa said this month that its commencement would take place at nearby Tropicana Field, which can hold about 40,000 people. The university set a tentative date of May 7 to 9. Students will be allowed to bring two guests and must register in advance.

Some schools are holding ceremonies without guests, in what will be largely empty stadiums.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will hold in-person ceremonies in its Camp Randall Stadium, which can hold about 80,000 people. The university will hold two ceremonies on May 8, but graduates cannot bring guests.

Princeton plans to hold an outdoor commencement at its stadium for students who have taken part in the testing program and who live on or near campus. It is also considering extending the invitation to students learning virtually.

Princeton is still deciding whether to allow guests at its in-person ceremony, and summed up the uncertainty this way: “Families are encouraged not to make nonrefundable travel arrangements.”

Some universities are moving forward with entirely virtual commencements. Columbia is planning a virtual ceremony, but has held out some hope of smaller outdoor events. New York University and Stanford University have also announced plans to hold virtual celebrations.

Source link