good news, bad news, and uncertainty

Yesterday, I got my second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine as part of their ongoing Phase III trial. As I have written about previously, spouse B, daughter T, and I are all participants but they both received the vaccine last August, while I was in the placebo group. After the vaccine received emergency use authorization, Pfizer unmasked the study so that placebo group folks could receive the vaccine as well, which I gladly did.

B and T both had a day after their second vaccination that they didn’t feel very well, so I planned today as a down day for me. I do have a sore arm, headache, some body aches, fatigue, and a low-grade fever, but ibuprofen and rest are helping somewhat. Only a small minority of people have this level of side effects, but I am more than willing to not feel well for a day in order to have as much protection as I can from the severe form of COVID-19. While the science is not yet clear if the vaccine prevents asymptomatic or mild disease, the data show that moderate and severe cases that lead to hospitalization and/or death are rare.

I am grateful that Paco was among the first at the Health Center in his senior residential facility to receive the vaccine. Two weeks from now, when I will be considered to have peak immunity, it will ease my mind when I am allowed to meet with him indoors to know we are both fully vaccinated. We will still need to wear our masks and keep some distance, but it will feel safer than it has over this past year.

More good news on the vaccine front is that Pfizer and Moderna have been able to ship more doses of their vaccines than they had previously and that the Biden administration has improved distribution in conjunction with the states and local pharmacies and health centers. Pfizer has applied for permission to store its vaccine at regular, rather than ultra-cold, freezer temperatures for up to two weeks, which will make distribution easier. Another positive development is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate may receive emergency use authorization as early as this weekend. It is a one-dose vaccine that can be stored in the refrigerator, which will make distribution in rural areas and neighborhoods without good transportation options much more effective.

The worry, though, is that more variants of the virus are appearing. Some of them are more easily transmitted and may cause more severe disease. It’s not clear how well some of the vaccines work against some of these variants. It’s also not always apparent which variants will become widespread. For example, a new variant has been identified in New York City, but no one knows if it will become dominant, cause greater sickness, or be prevented by the vaccine.

To combat this, both Pfizer and Moderna are looking at changing their mRNA vaccines to account for new variants, as well as studying if a third dose – or even an annual booster – might be necessary to tame the coronavirus and keep it at bay. It’s part of the reason that it is so important for the Phase III trials to continue collecting data, so we can keep immunity levels in the populations as high as possible.

For now, I’m resting, cuddled under a black fleece throw that the clinical research center gave me, with their name embroidered on it, of course. While study participants do receive a stipend, they also occasionally receive little gifts and it’s nice to have this throw to keep me warm today. The best thing, though, is knowing that the vaccines are helping people and that, despite the uncertainties, we are gaining ground in the battle to end the pandemic.

There is still a long way to go and I beg people to continue to wear masks, keep appropriate distance, wash their hands, and avoid large gatherings. Get whatever vaccine is available to you when it is your turn. Check on vulnerable people in your community to see if they need help to stay safe. Support efforts to get the vaccine to vulnerable people around the world.

It takes all of us working together to end the pandemic and rebuild our communities.

Grim milestone

It has just been announced that the United States has reached 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.

A half a million deaths among the 28 million confirmed cases. About 30% of those infected continue to have symptoms for weeks/months.

All of this in about a year’s time.

I had been watching a recording of mass for the first Sunday of Lent. When it finished, I tuned to a news channel. One of the frequent medical contributors, herself a physician, was speaking about the deaths and was struggling to keep from crying. The host noted how appropriate it was to react emotionally, as she herself was.

Such enormous loss. So much suffering. A reminder that, despite medical advances, we are nearing the death toll of the 1918 flu pandemic.

My eyes are filling with tears as I write this, both from the huge losses in our country and the world and from the losses of each one. Just recently added to the list a friend of my sister’s, the father of B’s co-worker, a resident in the apartments of Paco’s senior community.

Even with the vaccines becoming available, there will be many more illnesses and deaths. There will be uncertainty from the new variants’ effects, how long immunity will last after infection or vaccination, how people will behave as recommendations and policies change.

But today is overwhelmingly sad.

Again.

Valentine’s Day

The usual greeting for today would be “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Not this year.

I’m having a difficult time using “happy” as an adjective after the last week.

My family has been struggling with caretaking issues for Paco, complicated by the pandemic. I’ve spent this weekend feeling as though I want to cry, but not quite being able to let myself do it.

It’s the opposite of “happy.”

The United States is also dealing with the first day after the second impeachment trial of our former president. The trial was sobering, as it drove home the extent of death, injury, and damage done during the insurrection and how very close the vice president and members of Congress came to being injured or killed. Somehow, even though more than 67 senators said that DT was responsible for inciting insurrection, only 57 voted to convict falling short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. There are likely to be legal repercussions for the former president coming through the judicial system, possibly both federal and state. Meanwhile, he is likely to seek revenge against those Republican members of Congress who voted for impeachment or conviction by advocating that their state parties censure them, by advertising against them, and by funding primary opponents.

Let me be clear that even if DT had been found guilty in the Senate trial, it would not have been an occasion of happiness. It is impossible to feel happy in the face of so much suffering, pain, and fear.

I am trying to find comfort in the message of Valentine’s Day that love is strong, enduring, and the most important aspect of our lives.

May it be so.

May it overcome our present situation.

JC’s Confessions #17

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, which means that is it the championship of American football.

And I don’t care.

I’m not planning to watch the game or the halftime show or the commercials, which have become an attraction of their own.

I don’t enjoy watching football games. They are very slow; one hour of actual playing time takes at least three hours to accomplish. I am not attracted to watching heavily padded men run around and knock each other down and sometimes sustain injuries.

This year, the Super Bowl is being looked at as a few hours of national unity in the midst of division and I hope that that is true. Personally, I don’t need a game to make me feel like an American. After the attempted insurrection of January 6th, my level of commitment to the country has never been higher.

The sad thing will be that, after the game, the anticipated national unity will revert to what it was yesterday and will be on full display for the rest of the week as the Senate trial over the former president proceeds.

It’s also possible that millions of people will defy public health warnings and meet with people outside their households for Super Bowl parties, which might cause another COVID-19 spike, with attendant hospitalizations and deaths, in the coming weeks.

That would be the saddest Super Bowl result ever.

SoCS: honoring the flag

One of the most poignant moments in Joe Biden’s inauguration was when Lady Gaga gestured toward the flag on the Capitol dome at the words “that our flag was still there” during her rendition of the national anthem.

At any other time, this would have seemed gratuitous, but, given that this was only a couple of weeks after the insurrection of January 6th, it was very moving.

Not since the War of 1812, which gave us the words to our national anthem, had our Capitol suffered such an assault and flags were an important part of the symbolism on that day.

United States flags were torn down and replaced by Trump campaign flags.

A police officer was beaten with a flagpole bearing our flag.

In an image that has been shown countless times since the insurrection, a man carries the Confederate battle flag through the Capitol, something that did not happen during the Civil War itself.

It’s all been disconcerting and unsettling and tragic, especially when so many members of Congress have decided we should just “move on” without accountability for those responsible. The “move on” cohort is all Republican; one wonders if they somehow did not feel under threat for their lives as the Democratic members did during the assault. (To be clear, there are Republican members who want accountability, but, to my knowledge, there are no Democratic or Independent members who are in the “move on” group.)

There are efforts underway to clean and repair the damage at the Capitol and to reclaim the space for our true democracy and its flag. The image I am clinging to at the moment is one of the urn holding the cremains of Officer Brian Sicknick, who died as a result of the insurrection, beside a United States flag, folded into a triangle and encased in a glass-fronted box, in the Capitol rotunda beneath the dome. He was lying in honor because he had sacrificed his life protecting his country and the Congress. His fellow Capitol police officers, other members of law enforcement, the President and First Lady, and many members of Congress joined his family in showing respect to him.

In doing this, they were also showing respect for our flag, which is still there despite the attempts of a violent mob to replace it.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “flag.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/02/05/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-feb-6-2021/

Day 1

Yesterday at noon, Joe Biden began his term as president of the United States.

I am grateful for that – and grateful that there was no violence, despite the many threats made. There was a massive police and military presence in Washington DC and in many state capitols, but protests were small and peaceful.

The inauguration ceremony was uplifting. It was gratifying to finally see a woman sworn into a high executive office in the US (although I had originally hoped it would be Elizabeth Warren as president). It’s sad that it took a hundred years of women’s suffrage for it to happen, but my hope is that it will finally be a political possibility for a woman to ascend to the presidency. And, perhaps, that woman will be now Vice President Kamala Harris.

I am relieved to have someone of Joe Biden’s experience, character, and temperament as our president. Our times are indeed daunting. In his inaugural address, he spoke about the daunting challenges we face and brought hope that we could deal with them together as a nation:

This is a time of testing.

We face an attack on democracy and on truth.

A raging virus.

Growing inequity.

The sting of systemic racism.

A climate in crisis.

America’s role in the world.

Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.

But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.

Now we must step up.

All of us.

It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do.

And, this is certain.

We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era.

Will we rise to the occasion?

Will we master this rare and difficult hour?

Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children?

I believe we must and I believe we will.

And when we do, we will write the next chapter in the American story.

Another sign of hope was the inaugural poem proclaimed by the amazing Amanda Gorman, the Youth Poet Laurate of the United States. Her poem is a stirring complement to the inaugural address; if you haven’t heard her, this link: https://youtu.be/whZqA0z61jY will allow you to see and hear her vision and energy. Although she is now 22, she has been on the poetry scene for several years so I was already familiar with her work, but I am happy that people around the country and the world now know her name and the power of poetry.

The usual post-inaugural activities were scaled back due to the pandemic, but that allowed the new administration to begin work on their very first day in office. Vice President Harris swore in three new senators, giving the Democrats the majority in the Senate for the first time in several years. President Biden signed a number of executive orders and directives, among them beginning the process for the United States to re-enter the Paris Climate Accord, cancelling the permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, and rejoining the World Health Organization. There was a press conference with the White House press secretary Jen Psaki, reading a statement and then answering questions from the press. It was all refreshingly straight-forward and informative after the prior administration’s combative and sometimes unavailable press office.

As President Biden made clear, we in the United States are facing multiple huge challenges. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but the administration made a start yesterday and is doing more today and will be continuing to work hard on our many problems. I and millions of others are pledging to do our part, too.

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/21/jusjojan-prompt-the-21st-spell/

One-Liner Wednesday: inauguration day

I haven’t been this anxious for noon to come since my wedding day.
~ my thought this morning as we await the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States

Brought to you by Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays and Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/20/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-20th-2021-defeat/

One-Liner Wednesday: Liz Cheney

There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.
~ Rep. Liz Cheney (Republican of Wyoming) from her statement saying that she will vote in favor of the impeachment resolution against Donald Trump over his “incitement of insurrection”

This sobering quote is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays and Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/13/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-13th-2021-snow-carolers/

One-Liner Wednesday: sedition

“Sedition is a bad idea.”
~ John Heilemann, on Morning Joe, January 4, 2021

This helpful reminder brought to you by Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/06/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-6th-2021-icy-fingers/

what hasn’t changed

The last few years have been challenging for me and my family. As I have written in (many) posts, these personal challenges have been compounded by what is happening in the United States.

As I begin a busy week in caring for my family, the back drop is the horrifying news that United States has passed 20 million confirmed COVID cases with over 352,000 known deaths with COVID. It is immeasurably sad – and infuriating because we could have prevented a large share of these with good public health measures and accessible, timely medical care. There is hope for the coming months with vaccines becoming available and the incoming administration has a good team to improve the national pandemic response.

Unfortunately, the current president and many Congressional Republicans are still trying to prevent the duly elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from taking office as president and vice-president on January 20th. Over the weekend, an hour-long recording of a telephone call from the president to the secretary of state of Georgia and his legal counsel was released, in which the president repeatedly pressures and threatens them to change the certified election win of Joe Biden to a win for Trump. On Wednesday, both houses of Congress will meet to count the electoral college votes, which will be 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump. Nevertheless, over a hundred Republican members of the House of Representatives and a dozen Republican senators plan to challenge or vote against acceptance of the count from six states Biden won, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Given that dozens of court cases alleging fraud or procedural problems with the voting system have already been dismissed and the proper certifications by the states have been done, there are no real grounds for the objections and they will be defeated after hours of debate. That so many members of Congress are willing to violate their oath to uphold the Constitution and US law is frightening and disconcerting and does not bode well for passing needed legislation through Congress.

Yes, the change from 2020 to 2021 did not erase any existing problems, but we need to work toward rectifying them and making life better for people, not devolving into lies and blaming others.

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/04/jusjojan-prompt-the-1st-fingertips/