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Inside the tiny NY county with one of the nation's highest vaccination rates

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(NEW YORK) — New York's Hamilton County is rural, remote and Republican. It also has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

In general, vaccine hesitancy is estimated to be higher in rural areas, according to an ABC News analysis of county-level data. Counties with high estimated hesitancy also tend to be younger, poorer and more likely to have been won by former President Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential election.

Hamilton defies several of those trends. The county is "very, very rural," according to Bill Farber, the county's board chairman, with a year-round population of fewer than 5,000 residents nestled among the mountains and lakes of New York's Adirondack Park. It's isolated, with infrastructure and technology challenges, including spotty broadband and cell service. There's no hospital nor pharmacy in the county. During a pandemic that's been heavily politicized, it leans Republican, with 68% of residents voting for Trump in the 2020 election.

And yet an impressive 65% of people in the county are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with 36% of Americans nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We've watched nationally, this political fight over COVID," Farber said. "We defied the odds, didn't we?"

Hamilton managed to sidestep that fight when it came to vaccines in part, he said, because its campaign was driven by the community and involved so many of its members. Schools, as well as a fire house, became vaccination sites. Business owners provided the county with lists of their employees as soon as they were eligible to be vaccinated. Local volunteers and neighbors spread information about the vaccine and talked about how excited they were to have protection against the virus. Hearing from trusted friends and family influenced the attitude of the community, according to Farber.

"That type of localized community conversation is so powerful in educating people, particularly in this day and age when people are so suspicious of politics and government," he said.

In addition to decoupling politics from public health, Hamilton benefited from having a plan in place when COVID-19 hit. Many small, rural communities don't have public health departments, but Hamilton does, and had a pandemic plan in place for more than a decade, which involved partnering with schools, the fire department, ambulance squad, law enforcement and community leaders.

When Adele Burnett, director of tourism in Inlet, one of the small towns in Hamilton, heard that the health department needed help registering people for vaccines, she jumped to volunteer. She and other members of the local COVID-19 task force compiled lists of people they knew were eligible to get vaccinated and called to see if they could register them for vaccines.

"We'd actually pick up the phone and start making calls," she said. "They didn't have to sit there on the computer refreshing the page.”

In addition to helping residents overcome technology barriers, the county tried to accommodate people's work schedules by offering vaccine clinics in the evening and on Saturdays. When new cohorts of people became eligible, like restaurant workers, the county tried to tailor clinic hours to target that group, Farber said.

Hamilton's older population and high number of front-line workers, like teachers, first responders and restaurant workers, also meant residents were eligible for vaccinations early in the state's rollout.

Now, like many places in the country, vaccinations in Hamilton are slowing and the county is looking for new ways to engage the unvaccinated. In addition to partnering with schools to get shots to newly eligible teenagers, the county plans to offer them in grocery store and gas station parking lots, as well as at farmers markets.

The county is also looking ahead to summer when Hamilton's population swells as second home owners and tourists flock to the area for boating, fishing and hiking. They're partnering with employers, Farber said, to offer vaccines to seasonal employees at kids summer camps.

Despite those efforts, Farber and Burnett acknowledged that getting to 100% vaccination was highly unlikely, even in Hamilton, and that pockets of people would probably remain unvaccinated. Still, Farber thinks this week's CDC announcement about mask wearing for fully vaccinated people could encourage some of the holdouts.

Rewarding people for getting vaccinated instead of forcing them to get a shot they're resistant to is in line with the apolitical ethos that's driven Hamilton's successful vaccine rollout thus far.

"Rather than getting caught up in it being a Republican or a Democrat issue, it really was seen as a community issue," Farber said. "I think that was our saving grace."

ABC News' Mark Nichols contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How climate change is making allergy season even worse

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(NEW YORK) -- No, your (itchy, red) eyes are not deceiving you -- allergy season is getting worse, and climate change is to blame.

Pollen counts are already higher than they've ever been, and not only will they increase, but the season will get longer as well, experts say.

Dr. Shahnaz Fatteh, an allergist and medical director of Asthma Allergy Care Center of Florida, has been seeing increases of both adult and pediatric patients in recent years, describing the effects of pollen as a "significant burden on health."

"I have been watching the pollen increase over the past decade," she said. "We see it in patient care."

About 40% of children and 30% of adults in the U.S. suffer from seasonal allergies, Fatteh said, describing patients who in the past experienced mild symptoms and are now complaining of more intense symptoms that they are suffering from longer.

The symptoms include sniffling, congestion and post nasal drip, which can then lead to cough, any type of viral exposure, sinus infections and ear infections, Fatteh said.

"It does affect people more than just sneezing and itching," she said, noting the economic burden as well as people take sick days to care for themselves or their children.

Researchers recently found that pollen seasons are starting about 20 days earlier than they used to, William Anderegg, assistant professor of ecology at the University of Utah's School of Biological Science, told ABC News.

In addition, there is 20% more pollen in the air right now than there was in the 1990s, Anderegg said. By 2040, pollen counts are expected to double from what they were in 2000, Fatteh added.

There is also evidence to suggest that the pollen itself is more allergenic, said Amir Sapkota, a professor at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health who specializes in how climate change affects human health.

"This trend will continue into the foreseeable future," Sapkota told ABC News. "This is only going to get worse. If you happen to be somebody suffering from allergies, this is not a good thing."

Human-caused climate change is responsible for more than 50% of the long-term trend of pollen season getting longer and pollen counts getting higher, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February, co-authored by Anderegg, found.

"We all see it in our daily life," Sapkota said. "When the winter temperatures are warmer, the tulips start to bloom early. The trees start to bloom early. We have noticed that."

The study found that of the three seasonal pollen irritants -- trees, grasses and weeds -- trees saw the most increase in pollen.

This explains the recent uptick in symptoms, as tree pollen is a major source of springtime allergies, Fatteh said.

Fatteh also warned that poison ivy growth is increasing due to climate change, which could pose a problem for people seeking outdoor leisure as a respite from a winter spent in pandemic mode.

To alleviate allergy symptoms, Fatteh suggested taking preventative measures such as keeping windows closed, changing AC filters and using air purifiers. She also recommended wearing a hat and sunglasses when going outside to keep pollen off of hair and eyelashes.

Fatteh also emphasized that it's important for people to be aware of the steps they can take to reduce waste and improve the environment.

Sapkota echoed that sentiment, stating that simple actions, such as choosing a battery-fueled car or switching from beef to chicken, can make an impact when done on a collective level.

"I think we all have a role to play," he said. "Every bit makes a difference."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mom gets outpouring of love from Twitter after revealing she has to tell her son she is dying

Dr. Nadia Chaudhri

(MONTREAL, Canada) -- Dr. Nadia Chaudhri has been battling Stage 3 ovarian cancer for the past year, undergoing a hysterectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy.

When Chaudhri, a 43-year-old neuroscientist and professor from Montreal, Canada, was hospitalized again this week, she learned that the cancer had returned.

"Once ovarian cancer returns, it’s considered a terminal diagnosis," Chaudhri told "Good Morning America." "There is no treatment. You’re just buying time."

As Chaudhri and her husband received the devastating news, she said their thoughts immediately turned to their 6-year-old son, whose name Chaudhri asked not be used.

"My husband and I made the decision that we needed to tell our son what is going on because all the treatments are failing me," she said. "He already knew that I had cancer. He knew that I was still taking chemotherapy medication and trying to get better, but I don’t think he had a sense of how bad it is."

Early on Tuesday morning, the day she had planned for the conversation with her son, Chaudhri said she woke up crying and feeling "completely devastated."

In need of an "outlet" for her grief, Chaudhri turned to Twitter, where she has been keeping in touch with friends, colleagues and students, and posted about the conversation she was preparing to have.

"Today is the day I tell my son that I’m dying from cancer. It’s reached a point where he has to hear it from me," she wrote. "Let all my tears flow now so that I can be brave this afternoon. Let me howl with grief now so that I can comfort him."

Chaudhri said she did not look at Twitter for many hours later and was later shocked by the overwhelming response to her tweet and the conversation it had started.

"I was really shocked that the tweet went viral," said Chaudhri. "It really seemed to strike a nerve."

"A lot of people have written to me unsolicited and told me how important it was that their parents had that conversation and they assured me how they turned out fine, or they told me about situations where they didn’t have the conversation and how dreadful that was," she said. "I’ve had a lot of validation."

Among the thousands of responses to Chaudhri's tweet, some people wrote to share their own experiences, while others offered advice.

"My mother was this honest with me about her cancer when I was your son's age. Her honesty and courage have had a lasting effect on me and those around her," one commenter wrote.

"My dad lost his mom from cancer when he was a kid. No one told him anything until she was dead. It's a beautiful thing that you are giving your son the gift of truth. I've been taught that love is truth. Your son will be ok. My dad was and raised us this way," wrote another.

"Make videos for his future special days (graduations, weddings, first job, first break up) so he’ll be able to continue to feel your love, wisdom, sympathy and pride," said a third.

Chaudhri said she spoke with a close friend who is also a psychologist to prepare ahead of time for her talk with her son. When the time came on Tuesday afternoon, the conversation was short but meaningful, according to Chaudhri.

"One of the things my son said was, ‘I wish I didn’t know. I wish you hadn’t told me,'" she recalled. "We said, 'We have to tell you because you’re part of the family and we didn’t want you to have a bad surprise. We wanted to give you the chance to ask your questions and talk about it and feel things with us, as a family.'"

"I’m so glad we did it because he needed to hear it and he understood right away what was said," she added. "It just worked out well even though it was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had."

Chaudhri said that throughout her cancer battle, and especially at this point, she has been trying to follow advice she received early on.

"I realized that my response is going to affect how everybody responds around me, so something I’m trying to do is help the people around me sort of reach a point where we get through this together," she said. "I know it’s going to be a shock and it’s going to be sad but I’m trying to help get everybody to a place where it can be more of a celebration of my life and less of a shock of my death, and my son is part of that."

Chaudhri, who is now home from the hospital, said she knows the conversation she and her husband had with their son is just the first of many, describing it as one that just "opened the door to the conversation that we might need to continue to have, an ongoing one."

While at home with her family, Chaudhri is also using her time to draw attention to a cause near to her heart, raising money to allow young scientists to be able to continue the research she was doing on drug addiction.

Chaudhri, who moved from Pakistan to the U.S. at age 17 to attend college, had to close her research lab in September due to her diagnosis.

She said she decided to turn her frustration with not being able to work into an opportunity to raise money for underrepresented scholars in her field. Her efforts have so far raised more than $180,000.

"Through this process I’ve had people telling me things that are surprising, like [graduate students] describing interactions with me that have been meaningful to them," said Chaudhri. "I didn’t realize I was having those impacts and it turns out I did."

"It's important to be good and be kind and be honest and have integrity," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Once hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines, some have changed their minds

Bill Oxford/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- Although 150 million people have received a COVID-19 vaccine, 34% of Americans are still hesitant about getting the shots and say they are not sure yet, or don’t want the vaccine, according to a recent Kaiser poll.

Despite overwhelming data supporting currently authorized vaccines -- all of which were found safe and highly effective in large clinical trials and in real life since FDA authorization -- many Americans have delayed vaccination, citing a range of reasons.

Yet, some who have been hesitant to get the vaccine are changing their minds, they told ABC News.

Haifa Palazzo, a 68-year-old Ohio grandmother, was skeptical about the vaccine, but while she said she elected to "wait and see, " she said she suffered severe COVID-19, and was hospitalized at the Cleveland Clinic for two months.

She said that at one point, doctors told her family to say their final goodbyes. Now recovered and fully vaccinated, Palazzo encourages anyone who will listen to get their shots.

“Don’t wait,” Palazzo said. She said her prior hesitation was due to a belief that “nothing can happen to me, right?”

Rapid COVID-19 vaccine development was possible because of decades of prior scientific studies demonstrating safety, as well as an unprecedented multibillion-dollar commitment by the federal government to accelerate research.

“If I could spare one person what I went through, then it was all worth it,” Palazzo said. “And then if they do get the shot, maybe they'll tell a friend or a family member and maybe it can extend from there. I'm hoping and hoping.”

A different worry was on the mind of Dr. Julius Johnson -- a nurse practitioner and president of the Greater NYC Black Nurses Association.

"As a Black person, I'm hesitant about health care,” Johnson said, “because of the way, historically we have been treated.” The history of the United States is filled with examples of Black and minority Americans subjected to unethical medical treatment.

Though initially skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines, Johnson said he felt comforted once he understood more about the way vaccines were tested -- in over 100,000 people among the three vaccines -- and saw people in his community getting vaccinated.

The vaccines were also tested on a diverse group, comprising tens of thousands of volunteers of all different races, ethnicities and life experiences.

Ultimately, Johnson said that he decided it was more important to set an example for his family, his community and his fellow health care workers. Now, he said he's educating others who are hesitant to get the vaccine and told ABC News that he wants those in his community to understand "the truth about vaccines ... their effectiveness ... how they were created" and "the positivity that surrounds" them. He said he wants people to make an "informed decision.”

Johnson said he is also helping build trust by running a local vaccination site.

“They look at us and say it’s good to see somebody that looks like us … that helps increase the trust,” Johnson said. “It's our people that are vaccinating us, we can trust them.”

For others, reluctance wasn’t fueled by history, but rather by lingering questions about the vaccines themselves.

That was the case for a Mississippi nurse practitioner named Smith, who found out she was pregnant two months before COVID-19 vaccines were available. She asked ABC News not to disclose her full name for privacy reasons.

“I was hesitant at first,” she said. “There were not studies specifically with pregnant mothers. There just wasn’t enough research behind that part of it.”

But as new data emerged showing vaccines were safe for pregnant moms and their babies, Smith said she decided it was more of a risk to remain unvaccinated, and vulnerable to COVID-19. Meanwhile, she said was encouraged by evidence that vaccinated pregnant moms pass some of their antibodies to their baby while pregnant and through breast milk.

“If there was a chance that I could give her my antibody of the vaccine then I would prefer to do that,” she said. "I feel more protected. I've done what I need to do to protect myself and my baby.”

Alex Carlson, a 26-year-old physical therapist, living with lupus, said she was concerned about how the vaccine would affect her immune system. Similar to pregnant women, many people with immune-compromised conditions were excluded from initial vaccine studies.

Carlson said she found reassurance by reviewing research herself, not relying on the media alone, and by speaking with co-workers as well as her rheumatologist who was “very supportive, even despite the lack of research for immunocompromised people," she said.

"And so I got it," Carlson said about the COVID vaccine.

Although the extent of protection for immune-compromised people isn't well understood, medical experts agree that some protection from COVID-19 through vaccination is better than none. Carlson told ABC News she had to sign a waiver acknowledging lack of research in immunocompromised people when she was vaccinated.

“But I really had no problem signing that because like I said, I had done enough research … I felt good about it one way or the other," she said.

Others delayed vaccination because they felt unlikely to get very sick from COVID-19. Jacob Clifton, who works as a crop consultant in Arkansas, said he delayed signing up for a shot when he became eligible because he saw himself in a low-risk job and as young, and healthy -- but healthy people can still easily pass the virus on to others, experts say.

“I just ... wanted the people higher up on the list to get it before I did," Clifton said.

Meanwhile, his wife Hailey said she was worried because she heard unfounded rumors that the vaccine might lead to infertility.

Ultimately, they both got vaccinated. Hailey Clifton, an emergency room nurse, said she relied on the advice of her colleagues at the hospital, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists .

Her place of work, St. Bernard’s Medical Center also hosted a video conference with staff and its OBGYN department to provide vaccine education.

Now, the Cliftons told ABC, they no longer have to worry when they are around their almost 2-year-old son and family.

Ohio grandmother Haifa Palazzo said it makes sense that some people have questions about COVID-19 vaccines. But relying on accurate information and trusted sources can help people make informed decisions and help end the pandemic, "so we can get closer to our normal lives and activities," she said.

“We need to be there just like the soldiers were there for war,” Palazzo said. “Nurses were there on the front line, doctors, we need to do our part, which is to get vaccinated.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Which states are still requiring masks after the CDC's updated guidance?

Rattankun Thongbun/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- At least four states and a string of local leaders are holding off on changing their mask mandates following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance that allows fully vaccinated Americans to go without masks indoors or outdoors.

At least seven Democrat-led states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state -- said they would change their rules to follow the agency's new guidance, hours after it was announced.

However, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, and Massachusetts announced that for now, they plan to keep their mask mandates in place. Over a dozen other states and jurisdictions have yet to announce their plans.

Local leaders in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., which are all led by Democrats, said Thursday they'd take the new CDC guidance under advisement before adopting.

Whether states that choose to follow CDC guidelines will keep their mask mandates in place for unvaccinated individuals, remains unclear.

"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Thursday.

The CDC said locals must continue to abide by existing state and local regulations and business rules. The new guidance comes on the heels of the CDC’s approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds on Wednesday.

Currently, 24 state governments, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, require people to wear face coverings in public settings.

The pandemic saw local leaders impose restrictions upon their constituents, with many of the most stringent lockdowns ordered by Democratic leaders.

On Friday, Minnesota ended their mask mandate as the state’s Executive Council unanimously approved Gov. Tim Walz’s order rescinding the face requirements.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper lifted all mandatory capacity, gathering limits and social distancing requirements while easing most mask requirements on Friday as well. North Carolina will follow the new CDC guidance and masks will be required in child care, schools and camps as most children are not vaccinated or not eligible to be vaccinated yet.

At a city level, mayors in Washington, D.C., and New York City are reviewing the guidance before announcing any official changes. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city will review the new rules “as masks will still be important for schools, public transportation, doctors' offices and more."

Similarly, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said "L.A. County and the state will review the recommendations in order to make sensible adjustments." Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week the state would drop outdoor mask mandates on June 15, when the state intends to fully reopen.

In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t wear a mask for his news conference Thursday saying the state was immediately adopting the new federal guidance on mask wearing.

“This is a really good reason to get vaccinated. That shot is a ticket to freedom from masks," Inslee said.

States that haven’t announced a new guidance yet include California, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, West Virginia, D.C. and Puerto Rico as of Friday morning.

The new recommendation, which carves out exceptions for buses, planes, trains, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, will have significant implications for schools and businesses as the country begins to reopen.

Even on Capitol Hill, lawmakers must abide by the mask guidance until all House staffers are vaccinated, according to a memo by the office of the attending physician obtained by ABC News.

Some critics wonder if the decision comes too hastily as variants still threaten the spread of COVID-19 and several regions of the country still grapple with vaccine hesitancy.

So far, 35.8% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, or more than 118 million people. That number is projected to surge now that children are eligible for the vaccine.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Face masks and kids: Pediatrician shares what parents should know

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(NEW YORK) -- The new government guidance that fully vaccinated Americans can return to life without masks marked a turning point for the nation's reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it also sparked many questions, including from parents.

Under the new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, including in crowds.

Left behind from the new recommendation are kids ages under the age of 11 who do not yet qualify for a vaccine.

In the U.S., everyone ages 12 years and older is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Here is what parents may want to know about face masks and kids to help them make decisions.

1. Do kids who are not vaccinated still need to wear face masks?

Yes, according to Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician and president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"I'm encouraging all my patients who are 12 and older to get vaccinated, but for younger kids, the current recommendations are, if you're out with your kids in indoor places, they should be wearing masks," Besser said Friday on Good Morning America.

The new recommendation from the CDC also carves out exceptions for buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, situations in which all people, vaccinated or not, still need to wear face masks. And since the CDC does not make laws, Americans still need to abide by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

2. Do vaccinated parents need to wear face masks if their children are not yet vaccinated?

"If you are fully vaccinated, you should feel very comfortable being around your children who aren't vaccinated without you having to wear a mask," said Besser. "It gets a little trickier when going out in public with your children who aren't vaccinated."

He reiterated that children who are not vaccinated should wear face masks when in public, indoor places.

3. Can vaccinated grandparents and family friends interact with unvaccinated children?

The same mask guidance applies for vaccinated persons of all ages. Unvaccinated children would still need to wear masks in most settings.

The CDC considers it safe for unvaccinated people to be outside in a small gathering with fully vaccinated family or friends without a mask, and with a mask if there are other unvaccinated persons around.

4. Can unvaccinated kids contract COVID-19 from unvaccinated people without face masks?

Yes, according to Besser.

"This is one of the reasons we want to make sure that everyone in every community has access to vaccine and it's as easy as possible," he said. "If you are someone who is deciding not to get vaccinated, you do need to wear a mask. It's the right thing to do for those around you who can't get vaccinated or who may be at higher risk."

Under the CDC guidance, people who are not fully vaccinated need to continue to wear face masks and maintain social distancing.

The CDC defines fully vaccinated as two weeks after the final shot.

5. Does this guidance change requirements for face masks in schools?

Not exactly.

Under the CDC guidance, children who are not yet fully vaccinated would still need to wear face masks while indoors at school.

And while the CDC recommendations are at the federal level, states will still have the choice to implement their own guidelines.

That means requirements for face masks in schools will still be decided on a state and local level.

6. What are good, safe activities for unvaccinated kids?

Besser recommends keeping kids in outdoor activities as much as possible until they can get vaccinated.

"I'm hoping the CDC looks a little more at their guidelines around what kids can do outside," he said. "I'd like to see more encouragement for kids getting outdoors."

He added, "This has been a really hard year on everyone, but in particular on children, and we need to let kids be kids in ways that are safe."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Fully-vaccinated Americans can return to life without masks, CDC says

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(ATLANTA) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will no longer recommend masks for fully-vaccinated Americans indoors or outdoors, including in crowds, according to sweeping new guidance announced Thursday.

The new recommendation, which carves out exceptions for buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, will have significant implications for schools and businesses as the country begins to reopen.

It’s an about-face from guidance issued just 16 days earlier in which the CDC suggested masks should still be used indoors or in crowds even if people are fully immunized, which the CDC defines as two weeks after the final shot.

In making the decision, the CDC pointed to additional data from the last few weeks that show the vaccines work in the real world, stand up to the variants and make it unlikely vaccinated people can transmit the virus.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky detailed the announcement at a White House briefing.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing," she said. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

"We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," she said.

The announcement comes after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky faced criticism for being too slow to provide a path back to normalcy for fully vaccinated people, over 117 million of whom are in the U.S. Walensky has defended the CDC's approach as scientifically-based to ensure protection not just for individuals but also the entire U.S. population.

In recent days, though, Walensky has pledged an update on both the CDC’s guidance for vaccinated Americans and the science that supports the changes. President Joe Biden also hinted that guidance was coming.

While states will still have the choice to implement their own guidelines -- nearly half of all states still have some sort of state-wide mask mandate in place -- the new guidance will have immediate implications for offices, schools and public-facing businesses.

At the same time, mask enforcement for non-vaccinated people will be challenging and is likely to re-up the discussion on vaccine passports, which some states have banned.

The CDC began to update its guidance for fully-vaccinated adults last month, first giving the go-ahead for vaccinated people to hangout with other vaccinated people indoors without masks, and with unvaccinated people who were low-risk -- allowing grandparents to see their grandchildren indoors without masks. Earlier this month, the CDC also announced that vaccinated people could ditch their masks outdoors so long as they’re not in crowds.

But a growing public health consensus that the vaccines are performing well against the variants commonly found in the U.S. and in curbing transmission suggested that the CDC could go further.

Walensky, for her part, pledged updated guidance "very soon" in an interview on CNN Wednesday night, but defended the CDC’s approach as cautious and scientific in order to protect communities both with low vaccination and high vaccination rates.

Walensky said the CDC has to make sure the vaccines are working to stop asymptomatic transmission, which is largely believed to be the case, and watch for the vaccines’ efficacy against emerging variants, particularly the variants initially discovered in the U.K., South Africa, Brazil and recently, India.

"I have been completely forthcoming with respect to the science, with respect to our guidance, with respect to our numbers, with respect to our cases. And I really look forward to updating the guidance and providing the science that allows us to do so very soon," Walensky said on CNN.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Study finds COVID-19 vaccines have no impact on pregnancy: What to know

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study on pregnant people and COVID-19 vaccines is adding to the growing body of evidence showing the vaccine is safe during pregnancy.

Researchers at Northwestern University studying people who had been fully vaccinated during pregnancy, found the vaccine had no impact on pregnancy and no impact on fertility, menstruation and puberty.

The study, published May 11 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, is believed to be the first to examine the impact of the COVID-19 vaccines on the placenta, according to the university.

"At this point, as we're collecting data, the news is reassuring that this vaccine is safe, both based on its biology and what we’re actually seeing in the real world," said Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent and a board-certified OBGYN.

Here is what pregnant and breastfeeding people may want to know about the COVID-19 vaccines to help them make informed decisions.

1. When can pregnant people get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Everyone 12 years of age and older, including pregnant people, is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pregnant people can get the COVID-19 vaccine at any point in their pregnancy, and the vaccine does not need to be spaced from other vaccines, like the flu shot or Tdap booster.

2. What is the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA technology, which does not enter the nucleus of the cells and doesn’t alter the human DNA. Instead, it sends a genetic instruction manual that prompts cells to create proteins that look like the virus a way for the body to learn and develop defenses against future infection.

They are the first mRNA vaccines, which are theoretically safe during pregnancy, because they do not contain a live virus.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses an inactivated adenovirus vector, Ad26, that cannot replicate. The Ad26 vector carries a piece of DNA with instructions to make the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that triggers an immune response.

This same type of vaccine has been authorized for Ebola, and has been studied extensively for other illnesses -- and for how it affects women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The CDC has concluded that pregnant people can receive the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine after reviewing more than 200 pages of data provided by the company and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Vaccine experts interviewed by ABC News said although pregnant women are advised against getting live-attenuated virus vaccines, such as the one for measles, mumps and rubella, because they can pose a theoretical risk of infection to the fetus, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine doesn't contain live virus and should be safe.

3. Are there studies on pregnant women and the COVID-19 vaccine?

In addition to the most recent Northwestern University study, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in March found the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and effective in pregnant and lactating people and those people are able to pass protective antibodies to their newborns.

Researchers studied a group of 131 reproductive-age women who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, including 84 pregnant, 31 lactating and 16 non-pregnant women and found antibody levels were similar in all three groups. No significant difference in vaccine side effects were found between pregnant and non-pregnant study participants.

The study had some limitations. It was small and participants were primarily white health care workers from a single city. On the other hand, it's the largest study of a group that was left out of initial vaccine trials.

4. What are health groups saying about the COVID-19 vaccine?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated its guidance to say pregnant people at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 and those at risk of severe disease should be vaccinated.

"While pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe COVID-19, very little data are available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy," WHO said in a statement. "Nevertheless, based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women. For this reason, those pregnant women at high risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (e.g. health workers) or who have comorbidities which add to their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated in consultation with their health care provider."

The CDC says people who are pregnant and breastfeeding "may choose to be vaccinated" and should talk with their health care provider, noting that breastfeeding is an important consideration but "is rarely a safety concern with vaccines."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a professional membership organization for OB-GYNs, says both pregnant and breastfeeding people should have access to the vaccine when they are eligible for it, according the criteria of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

Likewise, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) recommends pregnant people have access to vaccines and says pregnant people should "engage in shared decision-making" about the vaccine with their doctors.

"In general, SMFM strongly recommends that pregnant women have access to COVID-19 vaccines in all phases of future vaccine campaigns, and that she and her health care professional engage in shared decision-making regarding her receipt of the vaccine. ... mRNA vaccines, which are likely to be the first vaccines available, do not contain a live virus but rather induce humoral and cellular immune response through the use of viral mRNA," the society said in its statement. "Health care professionals should also counsel their patients that the theoretical risk of fetal harm from mRNA vaccines is very low."

5. What will clinical trials be like for pregnant people?

Pfizer's phase 2/3 trial will enroll approximately 4,000 women within weeks 24-34 of their pregnancy, the company announced in a press release.

Half will get the vaccine, and half will get a placebo.

The study will include healthy, pregnant woman age 18 and older in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mozambique, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Spain.

Participants in the vaccine group will receive two doses at 21 days apart -- and each woman will be followed for at least 7-10 months in order to continuously assess for safety in both participants and their infants.

Infants will also be assessed, up until 6 months of age, for transfer of protective antibodies from their vaccinated mother.

Women enrolled in the trial will be made aware of their vaccine status shortly after giving birth to allow those women who originally received placebo to be vaccinated while staying in the study.

6. Why weren't pregnant people included in early clinical trials?

Not recruiting parents-to-be in clinical trials and medical research is nothing new, according to Dr. Ruth Faden, the founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and a bioethicist who studies the ethics of pregnancy and vaccines.

"For a very long time, pregnant women were not included in biomedical research evaluation efforts or clinical trials, both for concerns about fetal development and what would be the implications of giving a pregnant women an experimental drug or vaccine and also for legal liability worries from manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies," Faden told "GMA" last month. "There’s a huge gap between what we know about the safety and effectiveness of a new drug or a new vaccine for the rest of the population and what we know about it specific to pregnancy."

In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, health experts have only one of the three sources of evidence that are used to evaluate safety and efficacy during pregnancy: the data on non-pregnant people who were enrolled in the clinical trials, according to Faden.

From that, Faden said, health experts can try to glean what side effects may happen to people who are pregnant, but it is not an exact science.

However, it's considered typical -- and many argue ethically appropriate -- to study an unknown substance first in healthy adults and then progressively in broader and broader populations. Pregnant people and children are often tested later down the line because of concerns about potential long-term harm.

Some of the volunteers in prior COVID-19 vaccine trials that didn’t include pregnant women directly may still become pregnant during the trial. This will also give researchers some insights about the vaccine's safety among this group.

Former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr. Stephen Hahn, told ABC News in December that the agency planned to look at that data.

"In the clinical trials, we did not require a pregnancy test for entry into the clinical trials, which means that when we look at the data, there are likely going to be women of childbearing age who have gotten pregnant," then-commissioner Hahn told ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton in an interview on ABC News' Instagram Live. "So we are likely to be able to see data. I can't prejudge those data, but it's one of the things we'll have to look at."

"Will that be enough data for us to have confidence and say pregnant women should be vaccinated? I think that's something that we'll have to take a look at," he added.

7. What risk factors should pregnant people consider?

At this time, the CDC recommends that pregnant women be prioritized for vaccinations and encourages them to speak to their doctors about the risks and benefits of a vaccination.

The question of whether an expecting parent should receive a COVID-19 vaccine will eventually come down to a number of factors, including everything from the trimester, risk factors for COVID-19, ability to remain socially distanced in their lifestyle and occupation, guidance from federal and state officials and recommendations from a person's own physicians, experts say.

Similar to the flu vaccine, which was not tested on pregnant people in clinical trials, health experts will need to rely on continuously incoming data to make decisions around how safe the COVID-19 vaccines are during pregnancy.

Officials are doing the same for the general population, considering the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed, according to Faden, who noted that people who are pregnant should not be "unnecessarily alarmed."

The COVID-19 vaccines can be taken during any trimester. Since other vaccines are recommended during pregnancy, the CDC currently recommends spacing out vaccine appointments a few weeks apart, if possible.

8. Is COVID-19 more dangerous for pregnant people?

Even now, more than one year into the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., some questions remain about how pregnant people are impacted by COVID-19.

The CDC has shared data showing that pregnant people infected with COVID-19 are at an increased risk for "intensive care unit admission, invasive ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and death," compared to nonpregnant people.

Health experts say that with or without the vaccine, pregnant people need to continue to remain on high alert when it comes to COVID-19 by following safety protocols, including face mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Meeting kids where they are located key to getting newly eligible vaccinated

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(NEW YORK) -- With Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine now greenlit for children 12 years old and up, those eagerly awaiting the moment now have to find a place to get it.

The rollout will be a "multi-pronged approach," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel said, including vaccination sites already in operation, major retail pharmacies, mobile health clinics, schools and family doctors.

The name of the game will be meeting kids where they are, experts say, and as with adult vaccinations, that will vary state to state.

Appointments for those 12 and older were already opening up late Wednesday on CVS and Walgreens platforms. Both are set to begin giving the Pfizer vaccine to the newly eligible group Thursday, either with scheduled appointments online, through their apps or over the phone. They're also accepting walk-ins, but CVS said parental or legal guardian consent and accompaniment will still be required.

If local pediatricians aren't yet set up, Vaccines.gov, created by the Boston Children's Hospital, offers a starting point to search for the Pfizer vaccine, which has a formula and doses for ages 12 and older that is the same as adult shots. Currently, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are only available for those 18 and older.

The Biden administration announced plans to ship Pfizer doses directly to pediatricians' offices, which they have stressed will be an important partner in this effort, encouraging governors to help enroll family practitioners and pediatricians "as quickly as possible."

Schools offer a central hub, but health experts are eyeing two critical points on the calendar: the close of the academic year for summer and the back-to-school buzz of August.

"There's an urgency right now to taking advantage of the unifying framework that the academic school year provides," Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine's CDC, said this week, anticipating the panel's vote.

Maine is trying to get shots in kids' arms "before they fly to the wind over the summer," Shah said.

But with the academic year coming to a close, fast outreach is critical, Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska's chief medical officer, said. Some of her state's 52 independent school boroughs and districts had already booked in-person vaccination clinics in their school for Thursday and Friday, anticipating the announcement.

Maine plans to have vaccinators go directly into schools, Shah said.

And later on this summer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will launch "back to school" partnerships to support vaccinations as part of annual physicals and sports physicals.

The Biden administration, states, counties and school districts nationwide are looking for new and creative ways to reach younger adolescents that offer both comfort and a brisk rate of vaccinations.

The Children's Minnesota hospital system plans to begin vaccinating children ages 12 to 15 on Thursday by appointment only; in the coming weeks, they plan to provide shots in several local middle schools. Their main site has colored lights, and images of dolphins projected on the ceiling.

Finding "trusted messengers" to reach teens, including celebrities and influencers who have the ability to reach out to families, will be an aim of the Biden administration. They will also use so-called "micro influences" on the ground such as faith-based leaders, community organizations and school leaders.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there, and disinformation," Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. "So really, [we're] trying to address those myths and questions so that people can get their questions answered."

Persuading this newly eligible age group will come with unique challenges: minors live under the jurisdiction of their parents or guardians, who typically must provide consent. And with hesitance still lingering among some kids and parents, getting both on board will be critical, experts say.

"You have in effect not one patient, but two patients -- the parents and kids," Shah told ABC News. "[The goal is] making the case that the vaccine is safe, and COVID remains a serious problem that can affect kids."

In Detroit, parents will need to accompany their kid to get the shot, Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday. Maine will not require a parent be on site, Shah said. They'll allow for verbal consent, like getting the parent on the phone to sign off.

"Adolescents have to be brought into the process," Shah said. "It's the consent of the parents, but the assent of the child."

Experts emphasize the importance of removing barriers to the vaccine for young adolescents, especially with concerns over shots' equity to more vulnerable communities.

"Twelve- to 15-year-olds, and under, are going to be at the mercy of whatever constraints their parents might have," Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of Stanford University School of Medicine's Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, told ABC News.

"We need to make sure weekends and evenings are available for families who need to work during the day, that they're located in places that are close enough to families who may not have cars, or who may need to take public transportation," Maldonado said.

In the coming weeks, Columbus, Ohio, public health nurses plan to drive a mobile vaccination unit around neighborhoods, "just like you would an ice cream truck," said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the city health commissioner.

Many of Alaska's drive-thru evening sites are converting to Pfizer sites this weekend, Zink said.

"When mom is coming home from work or you know, dad's finishing a shift, they can just drive through," Zink said. "These kids live in families that are busy. And we want to make sure that is easy and convenient as possible."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Why vaccine incentives may not be as effective as states hope

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(NEW YORK) -- With vaccination numbers declining across the country, leaders in various states are scrambling to put a stick and carrot in front of the millions of residents who have yet to get the shots.

From free beers and baseball tickets to a raffle for a car and even cash, governors and city leaders are attempting to encourage those on the fence to roll up their sleeves. But so far, states have not seen upticks in their vaccine administrations, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health experts told ABC News that such incentives rarely make a large, lasting impact on healthy behaviors or public health initiatives.

Emily A. Largent, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said Americans who are holding out on getting a vaccine are ones who have misgivings behind the science, are misinformed or have other personal reasons.

"A donut or a ticket is not going to address their concerns," she told ABC News. "We’re still going to need other interventions."

Still, Largent and other health experts say the incentives could make a dent in the vaccination numbers if they're combined with targeted messaging at those groups.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that nearly one in four Americans are still disinclined to get vaccinated.

Companies such as Krispy Kreme offered freebies to vaccinated customers in March, and elected officials throughout the country followed suit in the last few weeks as lines outside vaccination centers decreased.

On April 26, Connecticut announced a promotion to give free beers at participating bars and breweries to vaccinated residents between May 19 and May 31. On April 28, West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice announced that any state resident between 16 and 35 would receive a state savings bond if they received a vaccination.

The government-run promotions ramped up last week.

In Memphis, Tennessee, city leaders began a sweepstakes for a free car to any resident who was vaccinated. On May 4, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also offered a free beer promotion to residents who received their first shot this month.

A day later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo began a promotion that would provide free tickets to Mets games from May 24 through June 17 and to Yankee games from May 7 through June 6 for newly vaccinated people, along with another promotion that gave residents free weekly subway passes.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made a major announcement on Wednesday, offering $1 million a week to the vaccinated winner of a raffle. Starting May 26, five Ohio adult residents will win $1 million if they enter the competition and show they received at least one dose. The lottery is funded by federal coronavirus relief funds, according to the governor.

"I know that some may say, 'DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money.' But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic -- when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it -- is a life lost to COVID-19," DeWine tweeted.

After New Jersey started its "Shot and a Beer" promotion, people began lining up outside the Bolero Snort Brewery for their free pints, proudly waving their vaccination cards.

"It's a way for breweries to give back and do what we can to help spread the word that vaccines are available and safe, and the sooner we get shots into everyone's arms, the quicker we get everything back to normal," Scott Wells, the director of sales at Bolero Snort Brewery, told ABC News.

But the early enthusiasm hasn’t led to a tremendous increase in vaccination numbers, according to health data.

Since Connecticut announced its beer promotion, the seven-day average of new vaccine doses administered went from above 40,000 on April 26 to roughly 33,000 on May 11, according to state health data.

West Virginia's seven-day average has remained level at around 5,000 shots a day, since the state announced its savings bond promotion on April 28, according to the state's public health data.

New Jersey's seven-day average of new daily shots rose slightly from about 66,000 on May 4 to about 75,000 shots a day a week later, the state health data showed. But in New York state, the seven-day average dipped from 170,000 to 156,000 during the same time, according to health data.

Those new dose averages were a far cry from the states' peaks in April: 266,000 in New York, 239,000 in New Jersey, 112,000 in Connecticut and 15,000 in West Virginia.

Dr. Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine and economics at Stanford University's School of Medicine and Graduate School of Business, told ABC News the country is at the point where it needs to address and target the Americans who are most reluctant to get the vaccine.

Schulman said states haven't committed enough time and research to make an effective marketing campaign directed at those individuals.

"Financial incentives are fine as a component of a marketing strategy, but they are just a component," he said.

Schulman co-authored a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in January that looked at the best ways to promote the COVID-19 vaccination among the populace. One of the recommendations in the paper was to create motivations based on "fear of missing out," such as family get-togethers or movies in person.

Health departments now have the data for which groups of Americans are most on the fence about the vaccine, Schulman said, and it's generally more politically conservative-leaning Americans and younger Americans.

"We need things that are specifically focused on those segments of the population," he said.

Schulman said that states need to focus on a comprehensive marketing plan to get their vaccination numbers up.

While he acknowledged that the state and federal leaders don't have the luxury of time to develop a strategy like other businesses do, Schulman said the leaders must divert as many resources as they can to the messaging efforts.

"We have the most important product of our lifetime and done very little research on how to market it across segments," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How MDMA could treat PTSD in ways current therapy can't

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(NEW YORK) -- MDMA, also known as “ecstasy” or “Molly,” has traditionally been thought of as a party drug. But now, researchers are finding promising results for MDMA as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

A recent phase 3 clinical trial found that MDMA, in combination with talk therapy, was significantly more effective than talk therapy alone, according to results published in Nature Medicine.

“We had tremendous statistical significance. We had really great effect sizes, and we had a great safety record,” said Rick Doblin, Ph.D., founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, in a recent interview with ABC News.

Researchers enrolled 90 participants and randomly assigned 46 to receive MDMA-assisted therapy, while the other 44 participants were given a placebo with identical talk therapy. This therapy went on for 18 weeks. Ultimately, 67% of those in the MDMA-assisted therapy group no longer had PTSD after three sessions, compared to 32% in the placebo with therapy group.

But some experts say it’s too soon to recommend MDMA as a treatment for PTSD even with the accompaniment of monitoring through therapy.

“While it’s exciting, we need to be cautious,” Dr. Panagiota Korenis, a psychiatrist at the BronxCare Health System, said.

Some experts say the relatively small trial -- only 90 volunteers -- may not have included the full range of people who experience PTSD.

“I don’t think we’re able to make conclusions about it yet for all populations that have PTSD, especially people with addictions or other comorbid psychiatric conditions,” Korenis said.

Millions of Americans suffer from PTSD, and MDMA-assisted therapy would present a completely new option for treating the disorder. Current options, such as antidepressants and therapy, are effective for some, but leave 40-60% of those with PTSD without much of a response, Doblin's group reported.

However, Doblin and his colleagues at MAPS are fighting an uphill battle, as MDMA is still listed as a Schedule 1 (illegal) drug, defined as having “no medical benefit” under the Controlled Substances Act. The drug, which was developed by German chemists in 1912, became popularized as a party drug in the 1980s. It became associated with rave culture and electronic music events and was soon listed as Schedule 1 due to “high abuse potential.”

But Doblin argues MDMA-assisted therapy could be a path to healing for some.

“What MDMA does is ideal for treating PTSD: reducing the fear of painful memories, helping process emotions, opening up the mind-body connection,” Doblin said.

And, indeed, the study reported no adverse events of abuse potential, suicidality or heart problems in those who received MDMA. The only side effects noted in the MDMA-assisted therapy group were increases in pulse and blood pressure, muscle tightness, decreased appetite, nausea, sweating and feeling cold -- all of which were temporary.

MAPS hopes that this phase 3 clinical trial will help facilitate FDA approval for MDMA in 2023. In the meantime, MAPS is moving forward with a second phase 3 clinical trial and plans to conduct additional studies that will explore MDMA-assisted therapy as a treatment for other mental health conditions or to be used in different contexts, like couples therapy or group therapy.

While some remain skeptical about the new treatment, many experts appear to be interested in what psychedelics can bring to PTSD treatment and the field of psychiatry in general.

“We’re always looking for the magic bullet,” Korenis said. Given the results of the new trial, “I’d say we should be cautiously optimistic. This may be another tool that we can use when we’re working with patients who experience trauma."

All prescription medications in the United States require full scrutiny and approval by the Food and Drug Administration before becoming available outside of clinical trials. MDMA is illegal for recreational use in the U.S.

But Doblin is hoping to see the finish line of his lifelong journey to bring psychedelic medicines from criminal to mainstream.

“We’re right at heartbreak hill. We’ve gotten most of it done, but the hardest parts are still ahead,” he said. If all goes well, “we’ve got a very good chance of making MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD into a prescription medicine.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ohio will give 5 people $1 million each in COVID-19 vaccine lottery

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Five vaccinated Ohioans will win $1 million each through a new lottery announced Wednesday, in one of the largest financial incentives announced by a state to combat declining demand for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting May 26, the state will award $1 million each week to an adult who has received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Mike DeWine said. There will be five total drawings.

"I know that some may say, 'DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'" the governor said during an address Wednesday. "But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic -- when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it -- is a life lost to COVID-19."

The state will draw names from the Ohio secretary of state’s publicly available voter registration database. People can also sign up through an online portal.

Winners must be Ohio residents, at least 18 years old on the day of the drawing and be vaccinated before the drawing.

The drawings will be conducted by the Ohio Lottery, with money coming from existing federal COVID-19 relief funds, the governor said.

The state will also hold a weekly lottery starting May 26 for those 17 and younger who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. Five winners will receive a full, four-year scholarship to a State of Ohio university, which includes tuition, room-and-board and books, DeWine announced.

Students can sign up on an online portal starting May 18. Children as young as 12 are now able to get vaccinated, after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for those ages 12 to 15 this week.

More details on the drawings will be shared in the coming days.

Over 4.8 million people ages 18 and up in Ohio -- 53.4% of that population -- have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, 58.7% of those ages 18 and up have gotten at least one dose.

The drawings are among the grandest incentives yet offered by states to encourage residents, especially the vaccine-hesitant, to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In recent weeks, states and cities have been enticing people with free beer, pizza, train tickets and scholarship money.

These incentives could be the "carrot" people need to get vaccinated, experts say, as vaccine demand slips nationwide. Vaccination numbers have dropped from an average of over 3 million daily doses administered a month ago to now under 2 million, according to CDC data.

Ohio's announcement comes as the state is also planning to end all COVID-19 health orders on June 2 -- including on mask and social distancing requirements and capacity restrictions -- except in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

"This will give anyone who has not been vaccinated time to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the first dose of Pfizer or Moderna and be well on the way to full immunity," DeWine said Wednesday.

"Now, lifting these orders does not mean the virus is gone. It does not mean we are all safe," he said. "Each Ohio citizen will make their own decisions about wearing a mask and social distancing -- and when, for them, that’s appropriate."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Nurse on crusade to vaccinate community after husband's death surprised on 'The View'

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(NEW YORK) -- Nurse Carla Brown went beyond her call of duty during the coronavirus pandemic to help vaccinate her community. Now, Brown is sharing her story with "The View."

The Baton Rouge, Louisiana, nurse wants to help the elderly, homebound and those who don't have access to a site close by get a COVID vaccine. As of Wednesday, Carla and her COVID Crusaders have administered 750 vaccinations since starting their mission in March.

Brown's mission of goodwill comes from a very personal place. While working as a hospital psychiatric nurse in May 2020, Brown unknowingly contracted COVID-19. She ended up passing the virus to several family members, including her husband David, a two-time cancer survivor.

"I couldn't be with him. He was in that hospital by himself and I couldn't be there to hold his hand," Brown said.

Brown's husband had to go on a ventilator after contracting the virus and died in July 2020. Losing the love of her life made her promise to change the lives of people in her community for the better.

"He took my heart with him. My heart beat, but it's not the same," Brown said of her husband's passing. "I could not save my husband, but I want to save as many as I can now. Whatever it's going to take."

Living up to her vow today, Brown and her COVID Crusaders team go door to door registering people for vaccination, driving residents to their appointments in her own car and even recruiting a local pharmacy to partner up with her so she can administer vaccines.

While early polls indicated that Black Americans were less inclined to get vaccinated than other racial groups, by spring 2021 those polls showed a steep rise in the number of Black people who wanted to get the vaccine. Now, experts argue lack of access to vaccines and structural barriers are also hurting vaccination rates in these communities.

Brown told "The View" that there's "still a lot of fear" in her community about getting vaccinated. When speaking with those who are hesitant, her "sales pitch" is, "You want to go to your grave early or you want to live?"

"We are doing our best to use data and true science to show them the importance of having the vaccine," she added.

When it comes to combating hesitancy in the Black community, Brown said "seeing me, someone that looks like them" -- who's received a vaccine and can show them data on it -- helps.

"The thing that we have to all keep in mind is that, yes, things happened in our past that would make some [a] skeptic, but at the same time we have too much new data to support the need to get vaccinated," Brown said.

In honor of National Nurse's Week, "The View" and Young's Suncoast Realty and Vacation Rentals surprised Brown with a trip to her favorite place, the Gulf Shore of Alabama, so she and her COVID Crusaders team can unwind.

"We're so appreciative between your day job as a hospice nurse, vaccinating your community, taking care of your older brother and your father," co-host Sunny Hostin told Brown. "We wanted to make sure someone was taking care of you too."

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


CDC panel votes to recommend vaccine for children ages 12 to 15

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(NEW YORK) — An independent panel of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Wednesday to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for use in children ages 12 to 15.

It marks a crucial milestone in the nation's push to tamp down COVID-19, with more shots in more Americans' arms helping pave the gradual path towards recovery and a return to normalcy. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer vaccine for this age group Monday.

President Joe Biden hailed the decision in remarks on vaccinations Tuesday afternoon.

"My hope is that the parents will take advantage of the vaccine, and get their kids vaccinated," Biden said. "Let's remember that millions of 16- and 17-year-olds have been safely vaccinated and as more and more Americans are vaccinated, COVID-19 hospitalizations and death rates continue to fall."

Getting adolescents vaccinated was part of the plan he laid out last week with a goal of getting 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4.

Biden touted the safety of the vaccines and also the increasing convenience of access to doses for those who want them.

"This new population is going to find the vaccine rollout fast and efficient," Biden said Tuesday. "As of tomorrow, more than 15,000 pharmacies across this country will be ready to vaccinate this age group."

CVS and Walgreens announced they would begin offering vaccinations for 12- to 15-year olds on Thursday.

Parental or legal guardian consent is required to receive the vaccine and children must be accompanied by an adult. Both companies encouraged people to make appointments.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on the recommendation later Wednesday, meaning that vaccinating children as young as 12 is now the official recommendation by the nation's top public health experts.

While health experts said it's rare for children to get very sick with COVID-19, there is still a risk. Also, officials hope adolescent vaccinations will help lower the risk of transmission, as classrooms and summer camps both look towards reopening.

It comes as children now make up 22% of recent COVID-19 cases in the nation, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association report.

Pfizer's clinical trials have shown their vaccine safe and 100% effective in children ages 12-15, aligning with the 95% efficacy among adult clinical trial participants. Among the more than 1,000 adolescents who received the vaccine, there were no cases of COVID-19 recorded; there were 16 cases among the 978 participants who got the placebo.

On safety, clinical evidence showed no current safety concerns for these children receiving this two-dose vaccine, with side effects similar to those observed in adults -- like a sore arm at the injection site, fatigue and headache, which should stop within a few days of getting the shot.

Children who are fully vaccinated would be able to follow the updated guidance for vaccinated people from the CDC. That includes not having to wear masks outdoors unless in a crowded venue and not having to quarantine if there is a known exposure.

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New Hawaii vaccine pass allows vaccinated residents to travel between islands

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(NEW YORK) -- Starting this week, fully vaccinated Hawaii residents can skip COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements when flying between the islands.

According to the new rules, which Gov. David Ige announced last month, Hawaii residents who were vaccinated in the state are exempt from testing and quarantine on the 15th day after their final vaccine shot.

To participate in the inter-county travel program, island residents will need to provide their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination record card, as well as register with Hawaii's "Safe Travels" program and affirm they are fully vaccinated, to get a digital record card.

Travelers under the age of 5 can bypass the requirements, as long as they are on the same travel itinerary as a fully vaccinated parent or guardian.

The new rules went into effect Monday.

For now, only state residents are eligible for the program, and visitors will still have to either test negative for COVID-19 before flying or quarantine for 10 days when traveling between islands. Ige said the state is hoping to troubleshoot the process before rolling it out to out-of-state Americans as early as this summer and international visitors later this year.

"It will allow us to validate the screening process necessary, and I think most importantly, learn about what kinds of bottlenecks and delays it may inject into our screening process for inter-island travel," Ige told reporters last month.

As of Tuesday, 41% of the population in Hawaii was fully vaccinated and 59% had received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hawaii is the second state after New York to issue a vaccination verification certification for state residents.

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