April 22, 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.

We are nearing a tipping point in which everybody in the United States who wants a COVID-19 vaccination will have gotten one. Then, the Kaiser Family Foundation says, the work that remains will shift away from the logistics of where and how to get a vaccine toward “why you should get one.”

(Axios)

Kaiser says about 27 million Americans are still somewhat enthusiastic about getting a vaccine. After that, we will reach a “tipping point.”

If we use 61% as a current “outer edge” of vaccine enthusiasm, it translates into about 157 million adults. The latest data from the CDC indicate that almost 131 million adults (or 50.7% of all adults), had received at least one vaccine dose as of April 19. That leaves an additional 27 million adults to go before we hit up against the “enthusiasm limit”. At the current rate of first doses administered per day (using a 7-day rolling average, as of April 13) — or approximately, 1.7 million per day — we would reach the tipping point in about 15 days. Of course, if the pace of vaccination picks up, it could be sooner. However, if those who say they want to get vaccinated right away face challenges in accessing vaccination, it could take longer.

We also know that, over time, people have moved from the “wait and see” group to the vaccine enthusiasm group, suggesting that the 61% may be a floor, not a ceiling. If about a third of the “wait and see” group moves into the enthusiasm group (comparable to what happened last month), the “outer edge” of vaccine enthusiasm would increase to 170 million people (or 66% of all adults); at the current rate of vaccine doses administered per day, it would take 22 days to reach the point at which supply outstrips demand. If half of the “wait and see” group move, it would take about 28 days to reach the tipping point.

Thus, on average across the country, it appears we are quite close to the tipping point where demand for rather than supply of vaccines is our primary challenge.

In the weeks ahead, don’t be surprised when people who are hesitant about getting a vaccination become even more so. Having waited this long, they will dig in on their position.

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is 97.6% effective

Reuters reports the results from Russia’s Sputnik drug trials: 97.6% effective. The results are based on the almost four million people who have gotten the shots. The data is still being peer-reviewed but appears to be in line with other Western vaccines.

India’s COVID-19 emergency

A notice informing about the shortage of COVID-19 vaccine is displayed on the gate of a vaccination centre in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. India has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus cases daily, bringing pain, fear and agony to many lives as lockdowns have been placed in Delhi and other cities around the country. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Hospitals in India are running out of oxygen, morgues are filling and COVID-19 cases are rising at a rate of more than a quarter of a million new cases per day. The Guardian reports that, unlike the first outbreak, “In Delhi, 65% of cases are under 40 years old.”

(The Guardian)

Rashes appear in a small percentage of vaccine recipients with autoimmune diseases

A study just published in the journal Rheumatology alerts us to a small number of cases of a rash, similar to shingles, that has shown up on the skin of patients who have autoimmune diseases. This is another of those incidences where there is no proven link between the vaccine and the rash, but experts say it could be that the vaccine triggers that response.

State Department marks 80% of the world’s countries “DO NOT Travel”

People wear face mask as they walk in a path of the Tuileries garden in Paris, Thursday, April 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

French President Emmanuel Macron indicated that his country plans to open to vaccinated Americans this summer. You may have to have some sort of special documentation to make the trip, he says.

But this week, the U.S. State Department updated its travel advisories for 80% of the world, now listing them as “Level 4: Do Not Travel.” That list includes France.

By the way, the State Department says it is processing passports but it still takes a month, and expedited services are “extremely limited.” Which is OK, I guess, because it looks like you are not going anywhere anytime soon.

FDA critical of Emergent BioSolutions plant that produces Johnson & Johnson vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration issued a blistering report of quality and safety measures at the Baltimore Emergent BioSolutions factory that produces vaccines for Johnson & Johnson.

The report cites inadequate training and even building design as contributing factors to how doses of the vaccine, which were never distributed to the public, were contaminated. The problems caused the company to discard 15 million vaccine doses and the factory stopped production. All the Johnson & Johnson doses that have been administered in the U.S. so far were manufactured overseas.

On Friday, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel will once again consider whether Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine should be distributed in the United States and, if so, whether it should only be given to certain demographics because of concerns over whether it is linked to a rare blood clotting condition.

Million-dollar homes selling fast

USA Today ran a story that says something about the times in which we live. It says the pandemic, coupled with low interest rates, encouraged people to buy bigger houses:

The number of homes sold for more than $1 million rose by 81% to 17,216 in February, from 9,635 a year earlier. At the same time, the number of homes sold for under $100,000 fell 26% to 22,569 from 30,382 a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors told USA TODAY.

In the Midwest, the volume of homes sold for above $1 million doubled in the same period. In the Northeast, the number increased by 98%. In the South, it was up by 94%.

At the same time, a lack of inventory of homes below $250,000 and job losses have caused a fall in sales of homes in that bracket.

Redfin adds to the data:

The 49 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas all experienced growth in sales of luxury homes during the first quarter. The biggest gainer was Miami, where luxury-home sales skyrocketed 101.1% from a year earlier. It was followed by San Jose, CA (92.3%), Oakland, CA (82%), Sacramento, CA (79.3%) and Las Vegas (72.7%). Miami, Sacramento and Las Vegas have consistently made Redfin’s ranking of top migration destinations during the pandemic.

The typical luxury home that was for sale during the first quarter spent 61 days on the market — 38 fewer days than the same period in 2020. That compares with 26 fewer days for expensive homes, 18 fewer days for mid-priced homes and 14 fewer days for affordable homes.

The U.S. housing market is experiencing a record deficit of homes for sale as demand soars due to low mortgage rates and remote work, but the shortage is less extreme in the luxury price tier, which is allowing high-end home sales to flourish. The number of luxury homes for sale fell 5.1% year over year in the first quarter, the smallest decline of all five price tiers. By comparison, the supply of affordable homes for sale slumped 14.9% and the supply of mid-priced homes plummeted 19.8%.

In praise of unstructured pandemic playtime

When I think of my childhood in rural Kentucky, we grew up in what child psychologists today would call “unstructured” playtime. During this pandemic, maybe we are discovering the value of wandering around and discovering things to do again — more than sliding on slides or swinging on swings and playing on playgrounds. It turns out this wandering around is good for us.

Author and entrepreneur Emily Greene says that on structured playgrounds, our kids spend a lot more time waiting in line for a swing but “nature-based playgrounds” engage children longer. It makes me think about how little time you spend riding rides in theme parks versus how much time you spend standing in line.

All of this is to say this pandemic is awful. But maybe we are also learning some things we should not discard when it ends.

The police shootings trend is unchanged

Year after year, police in the United States shoot about the same number of people — about 1,000 — and 2021 is tracking in line with the last three years. The Washington Post compiles these figures. You can’t help but look at the chart below and wonder what it would take to change the trajectory.

(The Washington Post)

The chart is not a judgment about whether the shootings are justified or unjustified. But it does show that Black people are shot at about twice the rate of white people. Hispanic people are also killed at a higher rate compared to white people. You would not be surprised to know most of the shooting victims are young males.

NPR reports:

Between 2005 and (George) Floyd’s murder last year, only five non-federal law enforcement officers were convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting and not had the conviction later overturned, according to Philip Stinson at The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

And it’s impossible to ignore the role that race plays in such events, with many of these shootings involving white officers and Black victims. In fact, an NPR investigation published this year revealed that police officers have fatally shot at least 135 Black men and women across the country since 2015, with at least 75% of the officers identifying as white.

Nationwide, The Post says, “About 54 percent of those killed have been armed with guns and 4 percent unarmed.”

When the Tampa Bay Times looked at five years of data involving “Why Cops Shoot,” it found some common factors. In that study, 650 of 827 shooting victims “had weapons.” More than half of them had guns:

Of the 827 people shot, more than 1 in 5 failed to follow orders from an officer.

More than 1 in 4 were fleeing a crime scene.

And more than 1 in 4 pointed a weapon at an officer.

One of the most common details: 246 people shot showed signs of mental instability.

Harvard professor David Hemenway says, “Where there’s a lot of civilians that own guns, fatal police shootings happen more often.” His research finds “high gun ownership states” compared to the rest of the country — states such as Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky and Louisiana — had 3.6 times more fatal police shootings than “low gun ownership states,” such as Connecticut, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

This kind of examination in your own town is likely way overdue.

A quick note: I am going to step away from writing this column to focus on another project Friday and Monday. If there is overwhelming news, I will jump in to see if I can help. But, otherwise, I will see you Tuesday.

We’ll be back Tuedsay 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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