May 3, 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 least gratifying but probably most true answer as to why many of us feel fairly awful after our second vaccine shot is that the vaccine is doing what it is supposed to do; jar the body into creating antibodies like it would do if you were getting sick.

Every day, I read smart and scientifically insightful posts from epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina. She offers a range of reasons for the responses — with a focus on women’s health — besides the “vaccines are working” reasoning, which she says is “the strongest hypothesis.” Other reasons might include:

Stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 or getting vaccinated may be also linked (although, hopefully, this is followed by relief!). I, personally, hate when people say “oh you’re just stressed”, but stress is linked to health. Science on the relationship between stress and menstrual cycles, specifically, is less clear though.

Body temperature or disrupted sleep. We know the vaccine causes quite a few other immune responses (i.e. side effects), including fever or body aches (causing lack of sleep). Body temperature and lack of sleep have been scientifically linked to changes in menstrual cycles. So, if people are having vaccine side effects, it wouldn’t be that unusual for some women to notice cycle changes too.

Among a small study of 177 patients, 25% had menstrual volume changes: 20% had a lighter-than-usual period and 19% had a longer-than-usual cycle. While it’s possible that the COVID-19 vaccine could have a similar effect, it’s not known at this time. There has been no biological mechanisms proposed that would directly link the vaccine to menstrual volume.

Could be random. Correlation does not indicate causation. Individually, it may be a sign that something else is going on that just coincidentally showed up after vaccination. On a population level, it may be due to something we call “recall bias”. Basically, in epidemiology we notice that when participants have an “event” they’re more likely to notice and report smaller details. We see this in cancer studies all the time. Cancer patients are more hyperaware of all the events leading up to cancer (because it’s a life altering diagnosis) compared to someone who never got cancer. So, people getting the vaccine could be hyperaware of changes compared to people that didn’t get the vaccine. This can cause a perceived imbalance.

And Dr. Jetelina offers some of what she calls “invalid hypotheses” that are circulating:

Invalid theory #1: The vaccine is causing infertility. There is absolutely no data to support any impact on fertility or miscarriages from any COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s an older post of mine explaining the vaccine and infertility. But Dr. Heather Huddleston (a OBGYN at University of California San Francisco OBGYN who specializes in reproductive endocrinology) said it best:

“This is a nuisance, it’s troubling in that moment, but it’s not a representation of something that’s going to continue. It’s not a representation of any sort of permanent harm or damage. There is no reason to think there’s reason to be concerned over time, and there’s no reason to think that there’s any impact on fertility.”

Invalid theory #2: Spike protein is puncturing women’s reproductive organs. The spike on the actual antibody is incredibly, incredibly small. There is no biological way this tiny spike punctures the uterine lining and causes bleeding.

Invalid theory #3: Viral shedding from the vaccine impacting health among unvaccinated women. There is no viral shedding from a vaccine. Shedding cannot happen without a live piece of coronavirus. And none of our vaccines contain the virus. (JJ and AstraZeneca do have a live virus but this is an adenovirus and cannot replicate). The vaccines also can’t give COVID-19. So, a person’s choice to get vaccinated has no negative (just positive) impact on an unvaccinated person’s health.

President Biden may (or may not) order the military to be vaccinated

Hickam 15th Medical Group host the first COVID-19 mass vaccination on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Feb. 9, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

By some polling, about 40% of U.S. Marines have not been and do not plan to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

President Joe Biden sounds reluctant to order vaccinations. He told NBC’s “Today” show:

“I don’t know. I’m going to leave that to the military.”

“I’m not saying I won’t. I think it’s going to be a tough call as to whether or not they should be required to have to get it in the military because you’re in such close proximity with other military personnel.”

Military.com obtained data that sheds some light on the issue:

About 75,500 Marines are fully or partially vaccinated against COVID-19, which has killed almost 3 million people worldwide, including two dozen U.S. troops. Another 48,000 Marines who’ve been given the chance to take one of the vaccinations, which medical experts say significantly decrease the likelihood one will die or require hospitalization from the disease, have declined it, Marine Corps data shows.

The other military branches have not released such data. It gets more specific:

The Marine Corps has offered the vaccine to about 29,300 II MEF ( II Marine Expeditionary Force) personnel. About 17,500 — or nearly 60% of them — have turned it down. That decline rate is compared to about 28% of the 30,600 Marines assigned to I MEF on the West Coast and about one-third of the 22,400 Marines assigned to the Japan-based III MEF.

Incidentally, Army Times reported recently, “A unique vaccine produced by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research started clinical testing” that researchers hope would protect against COVID-19 variants. Army Times reports:

The Defense Department has had a combined total of more than 271,000 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 3,814 people have been hospitalized and 332 people have died. Twenty-four of the dead have been service members and 11 have been dependents.

TSA extends mask mandate for planes, trains and other mass transportation

You should remember that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not lift mask recommendations for mass transit when it told us last week that we could safely go outdoors without wearing a mask if we are vaccinated. With that in mind, the Transportation Safety Administration just extended the mask mandate that was to expire May 1.

If you use planes, trains, subways or buses, keep your masks on while riding or flying and while you are in the terminals. The new extension runs through Sept. 13.

The TSA says:

While this announcement extends the date of enforcement, all other aspects of the requirement remain unchanged, including exemptions and civil penalties. Exemptions to the face mask requirement for travelers under the age of 2 years old and those with certain disabilities will continue. The existing civil penalty fine structure will also remain in place which starts at $250 and rises to $1,500 for repeat offenders who violate this face mask requirement.

Foreign aid pours into India. Here’s how to help.

A health worker in PPE displays test kits of COVID-19 positive persons after testing election officials and polling agents on the eve of state elections results in Gauhati, India, Saturday, May 1, 2021. India on Saturday set yet another daily global record with 401,993 new cases, taking its tally to more than 19.1 million. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

About a third of the $100 million worth of aid the U.S. is sending to India arrived over the weekend. The United States is sending 15 million N95 masks, 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, and an initial delivery of 1,100 refillable oxygen cylinders. The United Kingdom, France and Germany, among others, are pouring supplies into India.

Quartz says:

The Go Fund Me platform has verified accounts of several personal fundraisers started in cities across the US, Canada, and the UK. Some volunteers on the site are raising money to send supplies, such as oxygen cylinders, to India, but many pages are collecting funds for the surviving spouses, parents, and children of those who have died suddenly in India from Covid-19.

Famed cricketer Sachin Tendulkar is the top donor lending his influence to Mission Oxygen, a Democracy People Foundation project on the Indian crowdfunding site Ketto.

Another group called Help India Breathe is organizing to get breathing devices into the country. Read about that in Fast Company.

Among other activities, the UN agency UNICEF is supplying healthcare workers with oxygen concentrators, tests, and PPE kits.

OXFAM is active in suppling emergency PPE gear and oxygen all over the country. OXFAM is permanently in the country, so it has some infrastructure that others may not have.

And the India Red Cross is gathering supplies from around the world.

Brothels reopen in Nevada

USA Today reports:

Brothels across Nevada reopened for business and casino capacity on the Las Vegas Strip increased to 80% as Nevada continued to ease coronavirus restrictions over the weekend.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has said he expects all businesses to be reopened at 100% capacity by June 1.

Legal sex workers returning to the workplace for the first time in more than a year are adjusting to safety measures such as masks and temperature checks.

The Reno Gazette-Journal says one county gets 30% of its discretionary income from taxes on brothels. Some of the sex workers turned to online performance when the pandemic closed the places where they worked.

Get back to what you love

Have you seen the video that Google posted called “Get back to what you love?”

With 11 million views, it says a lot about what is on our collective minds.

(Screenshot, YouTube)

The video was first published in late March but has kept gaining traction since.

Engadget says Google’s search figures show people are on the move:

Google says that based on the searches it’s been getting, travel interest appears to be on the rebound now that COVID-19 vaccines have started rolling out. Planning trips at this point is still tricky, though, because travel restrictions vary across countries and could change anytime. To help you keep track of your dream destination’s rules, Google has launched a new feature that lets you opt into getting an email if travel advisories change for a particular location.

If you search for travel information such as flights or hotels on mobile, you’ll now see the “Receive an email if this guidance changes” option in the COVID—19 advisory panel. As long as you’re signed into a Google account, you’ll be able to toggle it on. The email advisory you’ll get will be country-specific — state-specific even, if you’re in the US — so it can keep you updated on whether people from your location suddenly aren’t allowed entry to your destination or if you still need to go on quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

New study on the underlying factors underneath mass killings

A new analysis of data around mass shootings by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation spotlights specific policy areas that offer the greatest promise for prevention or mitigation of mass killings. They include:

  • Regulating high-capacity guns
  • Restricting access to guns by high-risk people
  • Creating effective early-warning systems
  • Establishing a more robust data-collection system

Researcher Grant Duwe tracked the data:

Duwe counted 845 mass shootings in the U.S. from 1976 to 2018: any gun homicides in which four or more died, regardless of location or circumstance.

The most frightening cases — public shootings — constituted fewer than one in five of that total: 158 incidents, or an average of 3.7 per year. But, while overall mass shootings have declined in frequency from their high point 20 years ago, mass public shootings have increased over the last decade.

Researchers Adam Lankford and James Silver pinpoint 2010 as an “inflection point” for “high-fatality attacks” (at least eight fatalities), with the average number of victims killed per incident growing 47 percent since then. Between 1966 and 2019, 34 incidents meet their “high-fatality” threshold.

Other findings included that fatalities are about two-thirds greater when large-capacity magazines that feed multiple rounds into the weapon without reloading are used. “The total casualty counts (including wounded) are two- to three-times higher with LCMs,” the research found. The researchers said they believe “deaths and injuries in public mass shootings would decline by between one-third and one half with LCM restrictions,” even though one of the researchers said the benefit may be overstated but could make a difference “over time.”

(Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation)

The researchers made a recommendation would be highly controversial among some gun owners. “They recommend limiting magazines to 10 rounds, with a ban on existing inventory or at least requiring registration as a means of restricting further legal sales.”

(Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation)

The researchers found that in domestic violence cases, there are typically four steps that have to happen to limit a person with a violent history’s access to a gun:

  1. Domestic violence is reported to police and charges are filed or is the subject of a restraining order petition;
  2. Charges result in conviction or a restraining order is granted;
  3. The case qualifies for firearm restrictions under federal or state law; and
  4. Those restrictions are enforced

If any of those steps is missing, or if the person can “exit” the process by skipping a step, then the whole process falls apart.

The third most important intervention to prevent mass shootings, the researchers said, is to find out whether “red flag” laws work. They seemed frustrated that there is so little data to analyze on this point, considering:

(Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation)

Where teachers can get free food and discounts on Tuesday

It is Teacher Appreciation Day, and McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Sonic and others will be giving away freebies and offering deals. Costco is offering a discount on membership.

USA Today has a roundup of some of the deals:

Teachers who are Office Depot and OfficeMax Rewards members will receive 25% back in rewards on a qualifying purchase when they present a unique coupon and rewards number at checkout. The coupon will be available online at officedepot.com/teachers.

Teachers get 20% off in-store purchases at Staples for Teacher Appreciation Week from May 2-9 when they present a valid school ID at check-out. In-store only and exclusions apply.

Teachers get 20% off orders at participating Buffalo Wild Wings Monday through this Friday for dine-in or takeout when they show a valid teacher ID.

While McDonald’s doesn’t have a national Teacher Appreciation Week deal, there are some regional deals for teachers. Some restaurants across Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana are offering a free bakery item with any purchase Monday through Friday for teachers who show a valid school ID. Others may be joining in.

Sonic Drive-In: This deal is in honor of teachers but open to everyone with the Sonic app. From Sunday through May 9, use promo code TEACHERS at checkout online or in the app to unlock a free large drink or slush with any purchase.

Tijuana Flats: Teachers get a free entrée on Friday by using the code TYVM2575 at checkout. Valid ID must be presented when arriving at the restaurant to pick up the order, and the maximum value of the free item is $9.99 plus tax.

Here is a list of a whole bunch of other discounts and offers, some better than others. And Parade includes a list of 160 offers for teachers. The list has some weird stuff, like underwear companies offering discounts for teachers. Some hotels have teacher discounts.

My favorite on the list is a grant program to help teachers afford to buy fish for their classroom.

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,…
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