Controversy erupts in US over vaccines

2021-02-02 12:04:55

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker prepares a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine at a pop-up vaccination site operated by SOMOS Community Care during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Manhattan in New York City, New York, US, January 29, 2021. [Photo/Agencies] The US coronavirus vaccine landscape was upset by controversy over the weekend as a group in Los Angeles disrupted a vaccination site, while the Pentagon walked back a plan to vaccinate detainees at Guantanamo Bay, including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In California, at a vaccination site Saturday outside Dodger Stadium, anti-vaccination protesters carried signs that read "Save your soul, turn back now," "Recall Gavin Newsom", and "Take off your mask". "Unbelievable. If you don't want the vaccine fine, but there are millions of Angelenos that do. 16,000 of your neighbors have died, so get out of the way," Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez tweeted Saturday. As of Sunday, California had 3,243,348 confirmed coronavirus cases and 40,697 COVID-19 deaths, according to the state health department. Hard-hit Los Angeles County had 1,116,892 cases and 16,770 deaths as of Sunday, according to the county health department website. The US as a whole has 26,147,162 cases and 440,843 COVID-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Also in California, law enforcement officials are investigating threats against Governor Gavin Newsom, his family and his businesses. A voicemail and emails provided to the Sacramento Bee contained graphic language about Newsom, threats against his wife, and a reference to his children. The newspaper said one communication included a threat to burn down one of the wineries owned by PlumpJack Group, the hospitality company Newsom founded in 1992 The Democratic governor is the subject of a recall petition that has more than 1.2 million signatures from people angered over his aggressive approach to the coronavirus outbreak. The Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, houses some 40 detainees in the US war on terror, including top ai-Qaida figure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged planner of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. An order signed last week by Terry Adirim, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said vaccines would "be offered to all detainees and prisoners" at Guantanamo. But on Saturday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby tweeted: "No Guantanamo detainees have been vaccinated. We're pausing the plan to move forward, as we review force protection protocols. We remain committed to our obligations to keep our troops safe." Thomas Von Essen, who was New York City's fire commissioner during 9/11, told the New York Post: "You can't make this up. The ridiculousness of what we get from our government." John Feal, who worked as a demolition supervisor at Ground Zero in New York, told the Post: "It's the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. It's an insult to the people who ran into the towers and were killed and those who worked on the pile for months and are ill." House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California tweeted: "President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1. He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans." On Sunday, 10 Republican senators proposed spending about one-third of what President Joe Biden is seeking in coronavirus aid and urged him to negotiate his $1.9 trillion plan instead of relying only on Democratic votes. Winning the support of 10 Republicans would be significant for Biden in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice-President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote. If all Democrats were to back an eventual compromise bill, the legislation would reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome potential blocking efforts and pass under regular Senate procedures. Brian Deese, the top White House economic adviser, said administration officials were reviewing the letter. He did not immediately commit to a meeting of the president and the lawmakers. Also on Sunday, a top infectious disease expert said the US needs to rush giving out the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before an anticipated "Category 5" hurricanelike surge in cases. Michael Osterholm, who was an adviser to Biden's transition team, said Sunday that even one dose could lessen the impact of an outbreak driven by new virus strains. "We still want to get two doses in everyone, but I think right now, in advance of this surge, we need to get as many one-doses in as many people over 65 as we possibly can," Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told NBC's Meet the Press. One dose of Moderna's vaccine has proven to be 80 percent effective, while one shot of Pfizer's has an efficacy rate of 52 percent, the drugmakers said. Also, the Biden administration is reportedly searching for 20 million doses of vaccine, which were sent to states and have been unaccounted for, according to a report on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has distributed almost 50 million doses to the states, but only a little more than 31.1 million have been administered. In New York City, according to data released Sunday, white New Yorkers have received the vaccine at a 4-to-1 ratio compared with  black recipients, and a 3-to-1 ratio compared with Asian and Hispanic recipients. "The information we do have shows a clear disparity," said Mayor Bill de Blasio during a City Hall news briefing Sunday. "What we see is a particularly pronounced reality of many more people from white communities getting vaccinations than folks from black and Latino communities. "We've got a profound problem of distrust and hesitancy, particularly in communities of color," the mayor said. "We've got a problem of privilege, clearly, where folks who have been privileged have been able to access the (vaccines) with greater ease." Three-quarters of those partially vaccinated are city residents, while 25 percent live outside the city. The "extensive majority" of those non-city residents vaccinated, however, are believed to be public servants, including police and firefighters, de Blasio said. The Associated Press contributed to this story.