Some Favs… Looking Back at 2021

Published on January 3, 2022 in RINewsToday

As an ‘age beat’ journalist for over 40 years, I have penned more than 813 articles covering aging, health care and medical issues. These authored and coauthored pieces have appeared in national, state, and local trade and association publications, dailies, weeklies, and in this weekly column in RINewsToday.com. Some were even republished in my two books, Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly (2016) and Taking Charge: Volume 2  More Stories on Aging Boldly (2021).

I provide you with a few of my favorite publish weekly commentaries published in 2021 that you may have enjoyed reading. Many of these articles in their entirety and others can be viewed on my author archive  page at rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/.

“Study Takes Look at Decision Making /in Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine,” published on Jan.  25, 2021 in RINewsToday.com. 

With colder weather keeping people indoors and holiday events drawing families together, Rhode Island like other states continue to see a growing transmission of the COVID-19 Delta, and now Omicron variants. The debate of mandating vaccines has expanded into requiring a booster, too. 

This article reported on research findings that suggested ways as to how to increase a person’s likelihood to get vaccinated. Even though researchers didn’t touch on requiring booster shots, the findings should still be relevant in the current debate, as science is showing the waning of the vaccine after many months.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project Survey, a group whose mission is to increase public dialogue on vaccine education, released survey findings that showed the preferred locations to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and which leading information sources are two influences over a person’s decision to get vaccinated.

The study, commissioned by the Washington, DC based Alliance for Aging Research, one of the three nonprofit organizations leading the project, found the majority (51 percent) of respondents ranked their healthcare provider or pharmacist as one of the sources most likely to influence their decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in their healthcare provider’s office.

After healthcare providers and pharmacists, when asked to provide the top two additional sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines that would most influence their decision to get vaccinated, 32 percent of respondents cited nationally recognized health experts, and 30 percent named family and friends. However, older respondents were increasingly more likely (75 percent ages 65 and older) to trust their healthcare provider or pharmacist, followed by 43 percent (ages 65 and older) trusting nationally recognized health experts.

The majority (64 percent) of respondents indicated they would prefer COVID-19 vaccination in their healthcare provider’s office, while 29 percent prefer a pharmacy, 20 percent a drive-thru vaccine clinic, and only 13 percent would like to receive the vaccine at a grocery store or pharmacy.

Additional factors driving the location where respondents would like to receive the vaccine included the ability to get the vaccine quickly or not have to wait in line (45 percent) and a location close to home (41 percent), the study found.

“A Call for House Dems to Bring Back House Aging Committee,” published on Aug. 16, 2021 in RINewsToday.com.

Last Aug, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, along with fellow lawmakers, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Doris Matsui (D-CA), who serve as co-chairs of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families, introduced H. Res. 583 to amend the rules of the House to establish a House Permanent Select Committee on Aging. This is the Rhode Island lawmaker’s fourth attempt, and in the upcoming months he must push for passage by the House Rules Committee.  

H. Res. 583 would reestablish the House Aging Committee without having legislative jurisdiction; this being no different than when the permanent committee previously existed. It would be authorized to conduct a continuing comprehensive study and review of aging issues, such as protecting the Social Security and Medicare programs, income maintenance, poverty, housing, health (including medical research), welfare, employment, education, recreation, and long-term care. These efforts impacted legislation taken up by standing committees. It has been referred to the House Rules Committee for consideration.

“America’s seniors have spent a lifetime working hard and moving our country forward and they deserve the best in their retirement,” says Cicilline, in this article. “The pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors and now with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials,” he says, noting there has never been a more urgent time for Congress to reauthorize the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging than right now,” he says. 

At press time, there are just 40 cosponsors of H. Res. 583. Bob Weiner, the former staff director of the House Permanent Select Committee on Aging under Chairman Claude Pepper (D-FL), warns that to get  the attention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and leadership of the caucus, there should be 100 cosponsors – an obtainable number.

“When Congress gets back from recess, the Rhode Island Congressman must now push for more cosponsors and meetings to get this resolution endorsed by the House Democratic Leadership and the House Rules Committee and then passed on the House Floor”, says Weiner, noting that a GOP takeover of the House after mid-term elections could ensure that this effort will be legislatively blocked unless it has overwhelming support to show a constituent price.  

“It’s now time to stamp out Antisemitism,’ published on Oct. 18, 2021 in RINewstoday.com.  

Throughout 2021, three of my weekly commentaries warned that Antisemitism is alive and well in the United States, Germany, and throughout the world, and called for Rhode Island lawmakers to condemn all acts of hate within Rhode Island’s borders.

The article reported on the alleged charges of Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Israeli singer who lives in Germany, about an alleged anti-Semitic remark made by an employee at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig.

Director of AJC Berlin said, “Marriott should take all necessary steps to ensure that something like this will never happen again. AJC stands ready to help with our expertise and knowledge.”

The article reported that the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) report, revealed that 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in 12 years. The latest FBI’s report, released Aug. 30th, is based on voluntary local law.

This article also reported on the top school administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also provide students with a book from an “opposing” viewpoint, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” quipped one teacher in response to the school administrator, with the school district later apologizing. Last month, the School District approved a change to district policy that prohibits employees from secretly recording video of meetings or work sessions.

The survivors who witnessed the horrors of the Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continue to dwindle in numbers and will soon no longer be here to share their tragic stories. Rhode Island’s Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission, recently created by the General Assembly, is organizing and gears up to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, Gen Z, and other generations. 

“It’s Time to End Suicide by Bridge in Rhode Island,” published on July 26, 2021, in RINewsToday.com.

Last legislative session, Rep. Joseph J. Solomon Jr.’s (D-Dist. 22), legislative proposal, H-5053, to require safety barriers or netting on the three bridges that connect Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands to the mainland of Rhode Island, never came out of the House Corporations committee.

“Too many people have committed suicide on those bridges in the last decade,” said Rep. Solomon in a statement released when the bill was introduced last January. “Due to technological advances, there are various types of barriers and netting available to increase safety without hindering access for routine inspection and maintenance of the bridges,” he said.

“It’s not only a serious problem, but an alarmingly frequent one,” said Solomon explaining why he introduced his bill, as reported in this article. “Last year alone, the Portsmouth Police responded to the Mount Hope Bridge 36 times. And the cost of suicide goes far beyond the individual. It affects friends, families, first responders, and health care professionals. Those who survive the fall all say the same thing: “they feel instant regret the moment their feet leave the railing,” he said.

This weekly commentary detailed the efforts of forty-year Samaritan volunteer Bryan Ganley and East Bay resident Melissa Cotta, who initiated a petition for safety/suicide prevention barriers to increase awareness of this issue and to show that residents of Rhode Island, as well as the surrounding areas that use our bridges all the time are in support of these barriers.

Ganley and Cotta have submitted a request for funding to the General Assembly’s American Rescue Plan Act State Fiscal Recovery Fund Recommendation Portal. The Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority also has submitted a request to this portal requesting funding for an engineering study.

Six months ago, 2,630 people signed Cotta and Ganley’s petition. At press time, over 4,062 signatures have been collected calling for new barriers to Rhode Island’s unprotected bridges. To view and sign this petition, go to tinyurl.com/ribridgingthegap.

Study Takes Look at Decision Making in Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

Published in the Pawtucket Times on January 25, 2021

Last month, the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines came to Rhode Island. With limited stockpiles, debate in the state is heating up as to who gets priority in getting vaccinated. While many Rhode Islanders are waiting for the opportunity to be vaccinated, it has been reported that others, including health care workers, are declining to be inoculated. They turned down the chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of their concerns it may not be safe or effective.  Now research studies are being reported as how to increase a person’s likelihood to be vaccinated.

Last week, the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project Survey, a group whose mission is to increase public dialogue on vaccine education, released survey findings that ranked preferred locations to receive COVID-19 vaccines, as well as leading information sources that would influence a person’s decision to get vaccinated. 

The CARAVAN survey was conducted live on December 18-20, 2020 by ENGINE INSIGHTS, among a sample of 1,002 adults over the age of 18 who had previously volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls. The data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the population. 

The researchers found that nearly two-thirds of the public (63 percent) say they will “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated against COVID-19. The numbers of those indicating they would “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated varied widely by race. While 67 percent of white respondents indicated they would get a vaccine, the numbers fell to 58 percent among Hispanic respondents and only 42 percent among Black respondents. 

Influencing a Person’s Decision to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine 

This study, commissioned by the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Aging Research, one of the three nonprofit organizations leading the project, found the majority (51 percent) of respondents ranked their healthcare provider or pharmacist as one of the sources most likely to influence their decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in their healthcare provider’s office. 

After healthcare providers and pharmacists, when asked to provide the top two additional sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines that would most influence their decision to get vaccinated, 32 percent of respondents cited nationally recognized health experts, and 30 percent named family and friends. However, older respondents were increasingly more likely (75 percent ages 65 and older) to trust their healthcare provider or pharmacist, followed by 43 percent (ages 65 and older) trusting nationally recognized health experts. 

“While we’re encouraged to see the majority of respondents planning to get vaccinated, we need to continue to educate about the safety of receiving COVID-19 vaccines from various healthcare professionals, including pharmacists in drug stores, supermarkets, and vaccine clinics,” said Susan Peschin, President and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research, in a Jan. 14 statement released announcing the study’s findings.  “It is critical to our pursuit of health equity that all Americans have confidence in and access to COVID-19 vaccines,” she said. 

Overall, the researchers say that survey responses provided important information about the factors influencing the likelihood to get vaccinated and where respondents prefer to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. As to the likelihood to be vaccinated, the study’s findings reveal that about a quarter (24 percent) of respondents said they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get a vaccine, with Black respondents more likely to say they would not receive the vaccine (25 percent), compared to Hispanic (15 percent) and white (13 percent) respondents. Respondents that said they will “probably not” get a vaccine also tend to be younger (13 percent ages 18-34, 14 percent ages 35-44). 

Identifying Preferred Locations to be Vaccinated 

Researchers looked into what is the preferred location to be vaccinated. The survey asked respondents to select one or multiple locations where they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The majority (64 percent) of respondents indicated they would prefer COVID-19 vaccination in their healthcare provider’s office, while 29 percent prefer a pharmacy, 20 percent a drive-thru vaccine clinic, and only 13 percent would like to receive the vaccine at a grocery store pharmacy. 

Researchers found a generational split among these options (health care providers office, pharmacy, drive-thru clinic and grocery store-based pharmacy). When asked about their top two considerations, older respondents were much more likely (72 percent ages 65 and older) to cite preference for receiving COVID-19 vaccines in their healthcare provider’s office, compared to over half (56 percent) of respondents ages 18-34.

More than a third (36 percent) of those ages 18-34 prefer to be vaccinated at a pharmacy. In evaluating location preferences, nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to get vaccinated from a healthcare provider they know. This percentage was higher when looking at respondents over the age of 65 (74 percent). Additional factors driving the location where respondents would like to receive the vaccine included the ability to get the vaccine quickly or not have to wait in line (45 percent) and a location close to home (41 percent), the study found. 

Debunking Some Myths and Misconceptions 

RIDOH has compiled a listing of frequency asked questions about COVID-19.  Here is a sampling: Some believe that vaccines are ineffective due to the vaccine’s fast track development, fearing corners have been cut during the clinical trials. The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) stresses that “the vaccines are 95% effective in preventing symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and in preventing severe disease.” 

It’s been reported that some people may choose to not get vaccinated because that believe that the vaccine contain a microchip.  That’s not true, says RIDOH. “There is no vaccine microchip, and the vaccine will not track people or gather personal information into a database. This myth started after comments made by Bill Gates from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about a digital certificate of vaccine records. The technology he was referencing is not a microchip, has not been implemented in any manner, and is not tied to the development, testing, or distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” says RIDOH.  

Others express concerns that MRNA vaccines can alter your DNA.  “The COVID-19 vaccines currently available, which are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, will not alter your DNA. Messenger RNA vaccines work by instructing cells in the body how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Messenger RNA injected into your body does not enter the cell nucleus where DNA is located and will not interact with or do anything to the DNA of your cells. Human cells break down and get rid of the messenger RNA soon after they have finished using the instructions,” states RIDOH.  

A vaccine will not give you COVID-19.  RIDOH says: “None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development or in use in the US contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. The goal for each of the vaccines is to teach our immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick, but this is not because they got the vaccine. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.” 

For more resources on the impact of COVID-19 vaccination uptake in protecting individuals, families and communities, and for details on how organizations can partner with the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project, visit https://covidvaccineproject.org. Want to know more about COVID-19 Vaccinations?  Go to https://health.ri.gov/publications/frequentlyaskedquestions/COVID19-Vaccine.pdf