July 1, 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.

Sesame Street’s Elmo is telling little children to get their COVID-19 vaccine shots, like he did.

“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” Elmo’s dad Louie said. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.”

Louie added, “I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love.”

But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not impressed.

Cruz claims there is “zero evidence” behind vaccines for the youngest children. The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pfizer and Moderna have all provided evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective, although less effective than the adult doses. The CDC said the vaccines have undergone “the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”

Cruz is not alone in opposing Elmo’s message.

Florida’s governor and surgeon general recommend that children under age 18 do not get vaccinated against COVID-19, and the surgeon general had to answer for that to a congressional subcommittee that wanted to know why Florida was the only state not to preorder vaccines for young children. Despite the FDA’s and CDC’s recommendations, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo told members of Congress that there is “little data” proving the vaccine is beneficial to young children and that they are at “low risk” if infected with the virus.

The phrase low risk is — maybe — in the eye of the beholder. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports:

More than 13 million children under age 18 years have tested positive for COVID-19, including more than 5 million in 2022. Many home test results are not reported, and the real number is likely to be much higher. By February 2022, CDC reported that based on antibody testing, up to three-quarters of kids under age 18 had been infected.

By the end of May, highly contagious omicron subvariants were causing nearly all of the new COVID infections in the United States, according to the CDC.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2 million children younger than 5 have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 400 young children have died from COVID-19. We have also seen that the impact of COVID on children has resulted in more infections, hospitalizations and deaths than from many other vaccine-preventable diseases, especially among children and families who identify as Black, Latinx and Native American.

Unfortunately, many children do end up getting very sick, including with multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). We currently have no way of predicting which kids will get this—the majority of cases occur in previously healthy kids. Over 8,000 kids have gotten MIS-C so far, and 68 have died from it. Also, some children will end up with long COVID⁠—which we’re only just beginning to understand⁠—and other post-COVID-19 impacts like a higher risk for new-onset diabetes after recovery.

By the way, Sen. Cruz was also publicly critical of Big Bird getting a COVID-19 shot. While President Joe Biden praised Big Bird, Cruz called it “government propaganda.”

Multi-millionaire college presidents

Presidents of some of the country’s private and public universities and colleges are making big dough. Before you get too torqued up about the pay, keep in mind the size of their budgets and the expectations that have to fulfill to make that kind of scratch.

But here are the Chronicle of Higher Education’s top 10 presidential paychecks for private schools:

(The Chronicle of Higher Education)

And now the top 10 for public schools, who you will notice make a lot less money:

(The Chronicle of Higher Education)

I like how the Chronicle adds context to these pay levels by comparing the president’s pay as a ratio to faculty pay, and executive pay compared to the school budget. Also remember that the charts show actual salary and then note non-salary benefits, such as bonuses, retirement benefits and other compensation. It is also striking how many of these top earners are men and all of them are white.

Could we be heading toward one uniform phone charger?

Countries around the world are forcing smartphone manufacturers to adopt one universal mini-USB charging connector. Brazil just announced it may tell Apple to adopt the USB-C cable as the default rather than Apple’s lightning cable. It is already happening in Europe. The Verge reports:

It’s the latest example of lawmakers and regulators turning to USB-C as a common charging standard for phones. The EU passed a law on the matter earlier this month, making USB-C mandatory for a range of electronic gadgets (including smartphones) by the end of 2024, and in the US some Democrat politicians are pushing for similar legislation.

“Aware of the aforementioned movements in the international market, Anatel’s technical area evaluated the topic and presented a proposal with a similar approach for application in the Brazilian market,” said Anatel in a blog post (English translation via Google Translate).

EU countries say moving to one universal cable will reduce e-waste. The Verge says:

Piled together, unused and discarded chargers add up to about 11,000 metric tons of e-waste in Europe annually, according to the European Parliament. They’re hoping to shrink that pile by eliminating the need for different chargers for different devices — so in just a couple years, most new mobile phones will likely need to come with a USB-C charging port to be sold in the EU. Making the switch to USB-C will ultimately help consumers save up to 250 million euros a year “on unnecessary charger purchases,” the EU says.

The move isn’t expected to make a huge dent in the massive amount of e-waste piling up around the world, experts tell The Verge. Still, the decision might have a more symbolic significance. It sets an example of how tougher regulations can force Big Tech to change wasteful habits.

“It’s an important step, but it’s definitely not solving the e-waste problem,” says Ruediger Kuehr, head of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research office in Bonn, Germany, and manager of the Sustainable Cycles Programme (SCYCLE).

The carbon footprint of what you eat

If you knew that your favorite food had a higher carbon footprint than something you were not a fan of, would it matter? Here is a new tool from Financial Times that lets you explore and compare different foods, although I would guess these are round numbers and “your mileage may vary,” as the car dealers say.

(Financial Times)

The story says:

Multiple studies have shown that producing a kilogram of animal protein requires significantly more land, energy and water than producing the same weight in plant protein. Emissions at the farm stage typically dwarf those from processes later in the supply chain, such as transport and packaging.

Not surprisingly, the researchers quoted in the story recommend that the best way to lower the greenhouse effect of food is to eat less meat. But commercial fishing also has significant environmental effects, too.

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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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