August 3, 2022

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Why is there a monkeypox vaccine shortage?

There is a vaccine that, if it was widely distributed, could head off an endemic of monkeypox. But two-dose Jynneos vaccines all come from one factory in Denmark and the United States has gotten all of the vaccine that it will get until at least October. In the meantime, the virus will spread and could get out of control quickly. At the moment, cases are doubling every week. Since there is not enough vaccine to go around, would it make sense to limit vaccinations to one dose? There is some evidence that strategy might prevent some infection but the vaccine is approved as a two-dose regimen to be safe and effective.

Pew reported:

All monkeypox vaccines are distributed from the Strategic National Stockpile, a federal storehouse of critical medicine and medical equipment available to the states during public health emergencies when supplies are otherwise limited or unavailable. The federal government is distributing the vaccine to the states using a formula that takes into consideration population and caseload.

We know from our COVID-19 experience that vaccines are just one part of a national response to a spreading virus. Education and prevention become vitally important, anti-viral treatments for infected patients can lessen the effect of infections, and Pew says there is another shortage causing problems:

As in the early COVID-19 days, monkeypox testing also been in short supply, likely resulting in a large undercount of cases. While only about 6,000 people could be tested after the first appearance of monkeypox in the United States in May, there is now the capability of testing 80,000 people a week, as more public labs and commercial labs are now receiving tests for analysis, Jha said.

Patients also face difficulty getting the one effective anti-viral treatment, known as TPOXX, that can treat the infection. There isn’t a shortage of the treatment in the National Stockpile, but because it is still in the testing phase and does not yet have approval from the Food and Drug Administration, providers are required to spend hours filling out forms to get the drug for their patients.

“The original documentation was over 90 pages long,” said Mayer.

What does the public need to know about the monkeypox vaccine?

The New York City Department of Health has a clearly written FAQ.  Here are a few bullet points. The last paragraph in this advisory struck me as being less than assuring:

The JYNNEOS vaccine has been approved in the U.S. for the prevention of monkeypox and smallpox. The vaccine contains vaccinia virus, which is a virus related to the monkeypox and smallpox viruses, that has been weakened, cannot copy itself in human cells, and cannot spread to other parts of the body or people. Experts believe the vaccine can help protect people against monkeypox when given before exposure to the virus, reduce the risk of infection if given within four days after exposure, and reduce the risk of serious illness if given within 14 days after exposure.

Side effects are common but usually mild. Most people have redness, swelling and pain where they got the shot. Tiredness, headache and muscle pain can also occur after vaccination.

Clinical trial data shows the vaccine should be effective in preventing monkeypox. We do not have real-world data on vaccine effectiveness and do not know how well the vaccine will prevent monkeypox in the current outbreak. For this reason, it is important to continue other prevention measures such.

How COVID-19 is holding up major legislation in Congress

The Senate rules require lawmakers to be in the Senate chamber to vote and senators, like the rest of us, get COVID-19 and have to isolate. And since Democrats have no margin of error to pass contentious bills, they have to time key votes to negative tests.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has been COVID-19 infected and isolating, gave his blessing to what is now known as the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes agreements for lowering drug prices and addressing climate change. The bill has a strong chance for passage, but timing is everything.

The Inflation Reduction Act is a bill that falls within a procedure called budget reconciliation, which has a narrow focus on taxes, spending policies and must be budget-neutral over a 10-year period. The bill cuts spending on some drugs and spends money by keeping the subsidies for people insured by the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Senators hope to know soon if it complies or if they need to make changes. The bill cannot include strict policy provisions. Most components must be fiscal in nature.

As Fox News’ Chad Pergram points out, lawmakers can’t use budget reconciliation for policy initiatives.

As we always say, it’s about the math. It’s about the math. It’s about the math.

It’s not yet clear if Democrats have the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., for this bill. Democrats can only pass the bill via budget reconciliation. Democrats can sidestep the filibuster if all 50 members vote yes – and have Vice President Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote.

But the support of all 50 members doesn’t yet assure passage.

The Senate needs all 50 Democrats healthy and present to vote.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., had been out all summer due to two surgeries after a fall. But Leahy came back late last week. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tested positive for COVID and is out for now. And, Vice President Harris must remain healthy, too.

No one can cast a tie-breaking vote on behalf of the Vice President. Period.

Health may be the trickiest thing of all.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., tested positive March 22. He was back in a few days. But then, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., tested positive in early April. Warnock returned, presenting a short window in mid-April when Democrats had everyone around. Then Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., tested positive April 26. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., tested positive May 1. Everyone was healthy for a time in mid-May until Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., tested positive May 23. Democrats were good for most of June. Then Leahy fell at home and required surgery in late June. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., tested positive June 30.

 Democrats haven’t had all 50 of their members present throughout all of July because of Leahy’s absence and six of their senators testing positive last month.

This is why “this ain’t over till it’s over.”

Once the Senate deals with the Inflation Reduction Act, it goes to the House, which is currently in summer vacation and House members are out campaigning for re-election.

Nothing is easy and in Washington, D.C., nothing is assured in an election year.

Will the Inflation Reduction Act actually reduce inflation?

While we are on the topic of the Inflation Reduction Act, let’s take a couple of paragraphs looking at whether the act will really reduce inflation. The answer, according to two analyses is yes, maybe eventually it will reduce inflation. But not by much. Axios explains:

Moody’s Analytics estimates it will only reduce consumer prices by 0.33 percent over the coming decade. That’s a total, not an annual number, meaning it would bring down the inflation rate only by three-hundredths of a percent per year.

The Penn-Wharton Budget Model finds the law would “very slightly” increase inflation in the next two years before reducing it thereafter, though those estimates are “statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

Axios reminds us that this bill involves a lot of money both spent and raised, but once you consider the bill compared to the total economy it is tiny:

It would spend an extra $43 billion a year over the next decade and increase tax revenue by $74 billion. GDP, however, is on track to average $30 trillion a year over the next decade.

You can expect everyone who votes for the bill to claim that it cut inflation and those who vote against it will say it did nothing significant.

Testing ‘at the door’ dramatically reduces COVID-19 spread

Several times this year I have been to events or on trips that wanted me to take a COVID-19 test before I attend the event or travel. A new Yale study finds that while testing a couple of days ahead might prevent the spread of COVID-19, the closer you can get to testing “at the door” of the event, the better. Testing 72 hours before an event can reduce transmission by 4%, while testing 24 hours before the event cuts transmission by 20%. But testing at the door of the event cuts potential transmission by 40%, the study says. Any testing is helpful, the researchers say, but timing is key to peak protection.

The reason that timing matters so much is because the omicron virus can take a matter of days to infect before it’s detectable.

Armed and ready to teach

As schools prepare to open, more teachers are preparing to enter the classroom armed. The New York Times said about three out of 100 schools have school staff that are armed but in some places, participation is significantly higher:

In Florida, more than 1,300 school staff members serve as armed guardians in 45 school districts, out of 74 in the state, according to state officials. The program was created after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018.

In Texas, at least 402 school districts — about a third in the state — participate in a program that allows designated people, including school staff members, to be armed, according to the Texas Association of School Boards. Another program, which requires more training, is used by a smaller number of districts. Participation in both is up since 2018.

And in the weeks after the Uvalde shooting, lawmakers in Ohio made it easier for teachers and other school employees to carry guns.

Studies on school employees carrying guns have been limited, and research so far has found little evidence that it is effective. There is also little evidence that school resource officers are broadly effective at preventing school shootings, which are statistically rare.

The soaring value of NFL teams

The sports business website Sportico published its estimates of how much NFL teams are worth — and the last year has been very good for their values. Sportico says in most cases their value rose 10% to 26% in just a year. Sportico says the valuation is “The sum of the fair-market value of an NFL franchise combined with the value of team-related businesses and real estate holdings.”

Screenshot, Sportico

Sportico also has a very cool interactive page that allows you to explore the data behind each team’s value.

The times in which we live

Everywhere I go these days, I hear the same story about newsrooms gutted by COVID-19 at the worst possible time, when people are trying to take vacations before schools start. Every newsroom has a breaking point and this one hit it Monday.

Screenshot, Twitter


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Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at or on Twitter, @atompkins.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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