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Texas schools can issue mask mandates, federal judge rules

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Texas schools can issue mask mandates, federal judge rules; 900K kids ages 5-11 jabbed in first days of rollout
More than 900,000 kids ages 5-11 will have been jabbed by day’s end with their first COVID-19 vaccination shot in less than a week since the shots became available to the age group, the White House said Wednesday.

Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said another 700,000 shots have been scheduled in pharmacies alone for the elementary school-aged kids.

“Parents and families across the country are breathing giant sighs of relief, and we are just getting started,” Zients said at a White House briefing on the rollout.

Packaging and shipping of the vaccines, which are given in smaller doses than those for adults, could not begin until the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization on Oct. 29. Much work needs to be done – the U.S. has about 28 million children ages 5-11. Over 20,000 vaccinations sites, from schools to pediatric doctors’ offices, are up and running and more are coming soon, Zients said.

It’s not clear what impact vaccine hesitancy will have on the rollout. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, strongly endorsed vaccination for the age group.

“COVID-19 poses a significant risk to our children,” she said at the briefing. “While children remain more resilient than adults to this virus, they still remain at risk, and with the help of vaccines we can prevent COVID-19 and many other diseases that were once fatal.”

Judge blocks Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that bans schools from imposing mask mandates cannot be enforced because it violates federal law by putting students with disabilities at greater risk.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel also blocked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from bringing legal action against school districts that require students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings as a pandemic safety measure.

Yeakel’s injunction also blocked state officials from imposing fines or withholding state money from districts with mask mandates.

Paxton — who has filed lawsuits to overturn mask mandates in 15 school districts, and who has threatened similar action against dozens more — is expected to appeal the ruling.

Ruling in favor of seven students with various disabilities and medical conditions, Yeakel said Abbott’s order — issued July 29 and known as GA-38 — violates the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying the students the opportunity to participate equally in school.

— Chuck Lindel, Austin American-Statesman


Vaccines are safe, mostly effective on cancer patients, study finds
Cancer patients don’t generate quite as strong an immune response from COVID-19 vaccines, but they’re better off getting them, especially the mRNA ones. And booster shots help.

Those are some of the main conclusions of a new study into the protection provided by the vaccines to individuals being treated for cancer, who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus because their immune systems are compromised.

The vaccines are safe, and their effectiveness on cancer patients is only modestly reduced compared to healthy individuals, according to a study of 1,001 patients with different forms of cancer at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. The report was published Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“Chemotherapy modestly reduced immune responses, but not as much as patients and clinicians initially feared,” said co-lead investigator Dr. Vivek Naranbhai, a clinical fellow at the hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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Cancer patients had a stronger immune response to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – both of which use mMRA technology – than to the Johnson and Johnson shot. However, all three figured to protect from severe disease, and all were enhanced by boosters.

Universities get big buy-in on vaccines despite allowing exemptions
Despite sometimes granting exemptions generously, universities that implemented COVID-19 vaccine requirements in the fall term have seen a high degree of compliance, and much higher inoculation rates than the communities around them.

Some schools have had nearly complete compliance, including at state flagship universities in Maryland, Illinois and Washington, helping them avoid large outbreaks like those that disrupted classes a year ago.

At Ohio University’s campus in Athens, the vaccination rate among students and staff rose from 69% to almost 85% after the mandate was adopted two months ago.

At least 1,100 colleges and universities now require proof of COVID-19 vaccines, according to tracking by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Infections rise in Europe as they decline elsewhere
Europe accounted for almost two-thirds of the 3.1 million new coronavirus infections worldwide last week, when it was the only region that had a steady increase in both COVID-19 cases and deaths, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. It was the sixth consecutive week virus transmission has risen across the continent.

Deaths rose by 10% in the European region, which for the WHO’s purpose’s includes Russia and extends to Central Asia. Cases grew by 7%, adding up to 1.9 million for the week.
The countries with the highest numbers of new cases worldwide were the U.S., Russia, Britain, Turkey and Germany. The number of weekly COVID-19 deaths fell by about 4% worldwide and declined in every region except Europe.

Sleep disorders linked to higher rate of COVID hospitalization, death, study finds
People with certain sleep disorders have more severe outcomes from COVID-19, including a 31% higher rate of hospitalization and death, according to a study published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open. Cleveland Clinic researchers analyzed data from nearly 360,000 patients who tested for COVID-19, of which 5,400 had an available sleep study record. They found those with sleep-disordered breathing and sleep-related hypoxia had a worse clinical prognosis from COVID-19. The study controlled for other underlying conditions such as obesity, heart and lung disease, cancer and smoking.

“If indeed sleep-related hypoxia translates to worse COVID-19 outcomes, risk stratification strategies should be implemented to prioritize early allocation of COVID-19 therapy to this subgroup of patients,” said Dr. Cinthya Peña Orbea, study author and sleep specialist at the Cleveland Clinic’s Sleep Disorders Center.

While these patients had worse outcomes from COVID-19, researchers found they did not have an increased risk of developing the disease.

– Adrianna Rodriguez

Florida county mourns 9 virus deaths in one sheriff’s department
A bell solemnly tolled nine times in Broward County, Florida, at a memorial service Tuesday for sheriff’s department employees who died from the coronavirus. Sheriff Gregory Tony was flanked by an honor guard as American flags were placed in the hands of the victims’ relatives.

“We didn’t lose one, two, three – we lost nine,” the sheriff said.

Tony said more than half the the department’s 5,600 employees have been exposed, and 32% – 1,800 employees – have contracted the disease, which has killed more than 60,000 Floridians and more than 750,000 Americans. The county does not require employees to be vaccinated, but offers a $500 bonus for those who provide proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated employees face a biweekly surcharge of $20 toward the additional cost of health insurance as well as weekly COVID testing.

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Pfizer CEO labels those who spread vaccine misinformation as ‘criminals’
“Professionals” who purposely spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines are criminals, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says. In an interview with the Atlantic Council think tank, Bourla said the world has become divided into two groups: those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Both groups, he said, are driven by fear – vaccinated people are afraid of contracting COVID-19 and unvaccinated people are “skeptical” of the vaccine and “mad that people are pressing them to get it. Those I understand. They are very good people, decent people.”

But Bourla has less empathy or understanding for what he said are the “small” number of people who have knowingly circulated misinformation. Those people can’t be qualified just as bad people, he said, adding: “They are criminals. They have literally cost millions of lives.”

The interview was live-streamed online and the replay is available to watch here.

3,158 people claimed damages from COVID treatment: None has been paid
More than 3,100 claims alleging injuries from COVID-19 vaccines and treatments have been filed with the federal Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program during the pandemic. Of the 3,158 claims, 1,357 allege injuries or deaths from the COVID-19 vaccine. So far, none of the claims have been paid, and only two vaccine cases have been rejected. Just one COVID-19 claim has been deemed eligible for compensation, but program staffers are reviewing allowable expenses. That leaves more than 3,000 cases still under review.

“We work to process claims as expeditiously as possible,” said Christy Choi, a spokeswoman for the Health Resources and Services Administration, which runs the compensation program. “About 90% of claims are awaiting medical records for review.”

– Ken Alltucker

San Francisco police officer dies while on leave after failing to get vaccinated
A police officer who was placed on leave for missing San Francisco’s deadline to be inoculated has died after being stricken by COVID-19, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Officer Jack Nyce, 46, tested positive on Nov. 2 and died Saturday at a hospital in Manteca, his wife, Melissa Nyce, told the newspaper. The Chronicle said Melissa Nyce declined to say whether her husband was vaccinated. However, the vice president of the Police Officers Association, Lt. Tracy McCray, said Jack Nyce was on a 30-day stint of paid administrative leave because he had not received the vaccination required by the city.

The Police Department said last week that as many as 70 sworn and civilian workers had been placed on leave for not meeting a Nov. 1 vaccination deadline. As of Nov. 2, 97.5% of department employees were fully vaccinated.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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