September 30, 2021

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.

The Kaiser Family Foundation asked recently vaccinated Americans why they finally took the vaccine. None of the top four reasons involve a mandate. Instead, they point to the continued reporting that journalists are doing about the virus’ spread. The No. 1 motivator is that someone close to the person who had been waiting got seriously ill or died from the virus.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Kaiser’s Vaccine Monitor tracks the public’s attitudes and experiences with the COVID-19 vaccinations and the latest survey finds a lot of confusion and even suspicion about booster shots. It shows that all of the talk about boosters signals to some people that the vaccines are not working, even though experts say they work quite well.

Here are some of the key findings in the KFF survey:

  • With the FDA and CDC recently issuing recommendations related to COVID-19 booster shots, discussion of boosters appears to be a net positive for people who are already vaccinated, but a net negative for the unvaccinated.
  • While a larger share of vaccinated adults say the information they have seen about boosters has been helpful (54%) than find it confusing (35%), among the unvaccinated almost twice as many find the information confusing as find it helpful (45% vs. 24%).
  • Unvaccinated adults see the booster discussion as a sign that the vaccines are not working as well as promised while most vaccinated adults see it as a sign that scientists are continuing to find ways to make vaccines more effective.
  • Among fully vaccinated adults, a large majority say they would likely get a booster if the FDA and CDC recommended it for people like them, though vaccinated Republicans are somewhat less inclined than vaccinated Democrats.
  • Amid a slew of recent announcements about COVID-19 vaccine requirements, majorities favor requirements for health care workers, school teachers, college students, and federal government employees, but the public is more divided on employer mandates in general and on K-12 schools requiring vaccines for eligible students.
  • Nearly six in ten (58%) support the new federal government mandate on larger employers to require vaccines or weekly testing for their workers, and nearly eight in ten (78%) support the requirement that these employers offer paid time off for workers to get vaccinated and recover from side effects.

Criminal court backlogs grow

Axios took an interesting look at how this week’s new national crime figures add to an already pandemic-stressed court backlog.

Prosecutors say it could take three years for people accused of violent crime to come to trial in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said his office had 110 murder cases awaiting trial following two of the city’s deadliest years on record.

YouTube gets tougher on anti-vaccine videos

I know the public is weary of “social media is going to get tougher” stories, and this is another, but it may be a little more important than it seems. YouTube says it will ban content that spreads vaccine misinformation, starting with the accounts of two of its biggest sources — Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. But it won’t stop there. YouTube posted:

At the onset of COVID-19, we built on these policies when the pandemic hit, and worked with experts to develop 10 new policies around COVID-19 and medical misinformation. Since last year, we’ve removed over 130,000 videos for violating our COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Working closely with health authorities, we looked to balance our commitment to an open platform with the need to remove egregious harmful content. We’ve steadily seen false claims about the coronavirus vaccines spill over into misinformation about vaccines in general, and we’re now at a point where it’s more important than ever to expand the work we started with COVID-19 to other vaccines.

Specifically, content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects, claims that vaccines do not reduce transmission or contraction of disease, or contains misinformation on the substances contained in vaccines will be removed. This would include content that falsely says that approved vaccines cause autism, cancer or infertility, or that substances in vaccines can track those who receive them. Our policies not only cover specific routine immunizations like for measles or Hepatitis B, but also apply to general statements about vaccines.

I suspect in the days to come you will see those who are banned play the victim and claim some nonexistent constitutional right to spew nonsense on somebody else’s website.

What side effects can you expect from a booster?

The CDC says that people who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster shot report pretty much the same side effects that people experienced after a second shot.

12,500 people who participated in booster shot trials found:

  • 79.4% of people reported local reactions (including itching, pain, or redness at the injection site).
  • 74.1% reported systemic reactions (mostly fatigue, muscle aches, and headaches), typically the day after the shot.

The findings are important because we have been wondering if a booster might incite a more severe side effect than a second shot.

  • Among 22,191 additional dose recipients, a total of 7,067 (31.8%) reported health impacts, and
  • Approximately 28.3% (6,287) reported they were unable to perform normal daily activities, most commonly on the day after vaccination.
  • Medical care was sought by 401 (1.8%) registrants, and
  • Thirteen (0.1%) were hospitalized.

Here’s a word of caution about that data indicating severe reactions in the CDC report: It is based on self-reporting. The CDC cannot confirm whether the medical care or hospitalizations were directly linked to the vaccination or whether it was the result of some other medical issue. One other caveat: The drug companies say this self-reported data does not likely reflect the national population’s diversity of age, health conditions, race or ethnicity.

The child tax credit is ‘on the bubble’ as Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ bill emerges

Brianne Walker leaves A Place To Grow daycare with her 3-year-old daughter, Jeannette, in Brentwood, N.H., on July 26, 2021. Walker and her family have qualified for the expanded child tax credit, part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. “The additional money does help alleviate the pressure,” said Walker, 29, who took custody of her two siblings last year after her mother overdosed. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

I want to narrow our focus a little to look at one of the big-dollar and high-priority measures contained in the more than $3 trillion spending plan that Democrats want to pass this week.

This year, Democrats expanded the federal child tax credit and started making plans to make the expansion permanent. It is one of the pillars in the bill, which includes other big tickets like free Pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, paid family leave, two years of free community college and the expansion of Medicare benefits. But this child tax credit has raised a lot of concerns about who qualifies and how much money they should get.

Congress passed the child tax credit expansion earlier this year. It provides $2,000 to up to $3,600 depending on the age of the children. Rather than waiting until people file income taxes, the credit is “advanceable,” meaning the government sends out monthly checks to those who qualify.

CNN does a nice job explaining the tax credit, which is currently being paid out in monthly payments of between $250 and $300 for each child. Expanding the tax credits costs about $110 billion a year.

The enhanced credit provides families with up to $3,600 a year for each child up to age 6 and $3,000 for each one ages 6 to 17. Parents are receiving half the credit in monthly installments of up to $300 for each younger child and $250 for each older one, between July and December. They’ll get the other half when they file their taxes in the spring.

The full beefed-up credit is available for heads of households earning up to $112,500 a year and joint filers making up to $150,000, after which it begins to phase out. For many families, the credit then plateaus at $2,000 per child and starts to phase out for single parents earning more than $200,000 or for married couples with incomes above $400,000.

More low-income parents are eligible for the child tax credit because the relief package made it fully refundable. It had been only partially refundable — leaving more than 26 million children unable to get the full credit because their families’ incomes were too low, according to Treasury Department estimates.

The changes are expected to lift millions of kids out of poverty and cut the child poverty rate by more than 40% in 2021, experts say.

The debate about whether the expanded child tax credit survives is not just centered on the cost but also whether there should be a means test to be certain the neediest people get it. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is a moderate Democrat, told CNN, “I can tell you, people that are working and working poor making every effort they can to get ahead in life, that’s in that $50,000 and below. I’ve got people that are making combined $200,000 and $300,000 and more, up to $400,000, saying they’re getting checks.”

CNBC explains one of the biggest issues the child tax credit addresses:

Before this year, the credit phased in with income, meaning the poorest families did not receive the full amount: Families needed to earn at least $2,500 to get anything, and then received a credit of 15 cents for each dollar earned above that.

CNBC took a deep look at how these kinds of credits have a ripple effect. They enable parents to hire child care so the parents can work, and census data shows they help families pay for electric bills and school supplies.

Of all the issues in the very large 2022 budget proposal, this is one that deserves your attention partly because so many of your audiences are directly affected by it. In fact, many of you get the monthly payments.

Where is the government spending your money?

Since all eyes right now are on Congress’ spending decisions, I thought it might be useful to show you how we currently spend your tax dollars. I imagine most people would not guess that the three biggest pots of federal spending are Medicare, Social Security and, in the current year, coronavirus-related payments, including unemployment benefits.

This data comes from the federal


Now let’s look at spending by department. Before you look, what federal agency would you guess gets the most money right now? Defense? Homeland Security? Nope and Nope.


Let’s drill down one more level. Since Health and Human Services is the biggest spender, where exactly is the money going? It turns out the single biggest bucket in this budget cycle is the money that goes to states.


Why Dollar Tree stores are now selling stuff for more than $1

In this Feb. 25, 2021 photo, a customer looks for an item among her purchases from a Dollar Tree in its branded shopping bag in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Dollar Tree says by the end of this year it will have more than 500 Dollar Tree Plus stores, meaning it will be selling stuff for more than $1, maybe $3 or $5. USA Today says shipping costs are making it tougher for the stores to hold the $1 price on some things it sells, and the company claims customers want to buy other items that cost more.

Someday your smartwatch might tell you if you have COVID, cold, flu

A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that, eventually, your smartwatch or wearable device might monitor and detect virus infections. There are already studies in the field that show some promise. They are very small samples so far, so don’t overreact to the results.

We’ll be back tomorrow with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.

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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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