Highlighting the Lack of Care for the Immunocompromised During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s quite something that the pandemic started to get going in New York nearly two years ago, and yet I am still talking about it. Wow.


Just a couple of days before I published my previous regularly-scheduled Monday blog post, a bit of a firestorm erupted in the disability community when CDC Director Rochelle Walensky made a rather callous-sounding comment about people with comorbidities when replying to a question about whether we need to think about how we live with this virus: “The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with, and yes, really encouraging news. In the context of Omicron, this means not only to get your primary series, but to get your booster series, um, and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.”[1]

The anger stemmed from the fact that Dr. Walensky regarded the high percentage of deaths coming from people with all these comorbidities being “encouraging news.” The most charitable view of this quote, in the context of the question asked, is that people with multiple comorbidities—some of the most vulnerable among us health-wise—are an afterthought when it comes to thinking about health policy in relation to the pandemic. I saw many who took an even less charitable view than what I did here. Regardless, in the aftermath of what she said, the anger resulted in a hashtag that went viral on social media: #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy.

However, Dr. Walensky’s comments do not exist in a bubble. It’s only a microcosm of a larger issue: the lack of care for the immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider the fact that the main health policy for everyone, including those with compromised immune systems, is to get vaccinated, even though there is evidence that the vaccines are less effective for the immunocompromised than for others. Even in a study published a couple of months ago—before the more recent Omicron variant, which is better at evading vaccines than previous variants—it was showing that the vaccines were less effective for the immunocompromised than for the rest of the population.[2] Mind you, even for the immunocompromised, getting vaccinated is better than not getting vaccinated, but the study shows that vaccines have not provided the same level of protection to that population as to the rest of us. And yet the main health guidance, including for the immunocompromised, is to simply get vaccinated.

Then there’s the fact that there is a big push from some of our leaders to go back to work or school, even for the immunocompromised, amid this current Omicron surge in many parts of the country. Considering that vaccines are less effective for the immunocompromised than for the rest of us, and considering the push to get everyone to work and school (even said immunocompromised people) on top of all of that, it all sounds like a recipe for putting the lives of a whole group of people at risk, just for the sake of fulfilling the desire of certain other people or groups of people to get back to school or work. The lack of accommodations I have seen for those who are immunocompromised amid a pandemic that makes many of them so vulnerable, when it comes to schooling and work, goes to show the lack of care so many of us have for that population of people.

It would be all too easy, though, to simply point our fingers at government officials far away from where we are sitting and not look at ourselves and how our own actions can show a lack of care for the immunocompromised with this pandemic. Especially with this extremely contagious Omicron variant, every time we don’t mask up when we are in a crowd (a cloth mask by itself is not enough, by the way[3]), every time we only bring our masks up to our noses, and every time we make the decision to force our immunocompromised friends into a situation where they have to encounter large crowds are times we do not show adequate care for that population. The people I saw on a New York City subway train a few months ago who refused to wear masks even when begged to wear one by a fellow train rider who said that she was immunocompromised due to cancer came across as every bit as uncaring to such populations as Dr. Walensky did with her comment.

All these things I talk about show a complete lack of care for those who are immunocompromised during the COVID-19 pandemic. But what is the alternative?

The answer to this question, for me, is another question: What if our public health policy centered around doing all we can to protect the immunocompromised? It sounds like an action centered on protecting one particular group of people, but if one thinks about it, by doing all that we can to protect one of the populations most vulnerable to getting seriously ill or killed by COVID-19, we would, at least in some of our policies, be doing all we can to protect all populations from that same fate, by extension. Perhaps that is the approach to take, instead of the current approach to many things, which is to leave people with various health conditions off to the sides. An approach that, I must point out, is leading to hospital rates nationwide being the highest it has been in this entire pandemic.[4]

[1] You can large a large portion of the clip where Dr. Walensky said this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hVPz-A8auw

[2] https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/covid-19-vaccines-less-effective-in-immunocompromised-people

[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/health/2022/01/05/cloth-masks-not-effective-omicron-covid/9091574002/

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59960949

Coronavirus Update From New York City: December 16, 2021

It has been a month or so since I made my previous COVID update post. A lot has happened with the pandemic globally since then!

In late November, the Omicron variant of the virus was found in South Africa. Since then, it has been detected in many other countries, including mine: the United States. In fact, it has spread enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 13% of all cases in New York and New Jersey are from Omicron.[1] The Delta variant is still the dominant one, both locally and nationally, but Omicron is spreading quickly, especially in my part of the United States.

I still feel like there is so much to learn about Omicron, and perhaps that relative lack of knowledge, even now, is leading to some level of fear. The indications we have received from a major South African study is that this variant is more resistant to vaccines than previous variants yet seems to overall result in less serious infections.[2] However, there is still a lot to learn as we are in the early days of this variant. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that even with the increased vaccine resistance, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine may offer 70% protection against hospitalizations from the virus.[3]

The aforementioned statistic creates some hope that maybe, just maybe being fully vaccinated and boosted will provide greater protection yet against serious infections from the virus. But we will need to wait and see.

Of course, vaccination is not the only layer of protection. Things like masks and good indoor ventilation can act as further layers of protection against the virus as many of us attempt to achieve, as one priest I heard recently call it, a “fragile normal.” And it is very fragile, as many of us are trying to do the activities we did before the pandemic, such as visit family, without trying to endanger others around us by getting the virus. With Omicron, that normal may be as fragile as ever.

Part of that fragile normal includes your needing to wear a mask in New York State if you are in a place that is not your home and does not require full vaccination proof (like a grocery store).[4] All I will say there is that I’m grateful that I don’t live in one of the parts of New York State where counties are saying that they won’t enforce the mandate, and where many if not most people are anti-masking.

But that is not the only thing I’m grateful for this holiday season. I’m also grateful that the vaccination rate is higher where I am than in many other parts of the country. And I’m grateful that the friends I have and the groups I am a part of are, by-in-large, pro-vaccine. I know some are not so lucky.

Speaking of holidays, I will not be writing a regular Monday blog post next week, but I will do my yearly wrap-up blog post a week from today.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/15/cdc-estimates-13percent-of-all-cases-in-ny-and-nj-could-be-omicron-infections-director-walensky-says.html

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/12/14/south-africa-omicron-coronavirus/

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/ny-mask-requirement-for-indoor-public-places-with-no-vaccine-mandate-is-in-effect/3447022/

Coronavirus Update From New York City: November 18, 2021 (Booster Shot Edition)

As readers can tell from the title of my Coronavirus update post tonight, I got my booster shot in the past week!

Last Friday, I got my booster vaccine shot. I was eligible for the booster because: a) it had been over six months since I got my second shot and b) my body mass index is such that I was eligible for it.

I was originally caught a little off guard by the fact that the booster shots being given out at my vaccine site were Pfizer. I was caught off guard because I thought I had decided to get a Moderna booster shot (matching with the first two vaccine shots I got, which were Moderna), yet here I was, seeing that the booster shots they were giving were for the Pfizer vaccine.

However, while I was waiting on line, I did a little bit of research about mixing and matching vaccines so that your first two shots were from one vaccine but your booster was from another vaccine. I reminded myself that both the Food and Drug Administration[1] and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[2] allow for this mixing and matching–meaning that it is safe to mix and match as I ended up doing (getting the first two shots from the Moderna vaccine and my booster from the Pfizer vaccine). Upon this bit of research, I felt at ease, and realized that I was just fine getting my booster from the Pfizer vaccine, even though my first two shots were from the Moderna vaccine.

So, I got my booster shot, and interestingly, the side effects as a whole weren’t quite as bad as they were after I got my second Moderna shot last April. I ran a fever that approached 100F, had an absolutely pounding headache for a good portion of the day last Saturday, fatigue, a moderately sore arm, and a loss of appetite. In contrast, with my second shot in late April, all these side effects I had last weekend were as bad or worse, and additionally I had chills (something that I didn’t have last weekend). Still, I would take the side effects of the booster and the second shot combined over not taking a vaccine and getting the virus.

What I hope I’m conveying in tonight’s post is that: a) getting a booster is safe and b) mixing and matching for your booster is also safe. I could be wrong, but the fact that you can mix and match is just oh so important in places where there’s only one particular type of vaccine that people have easy access to, and that type is different from what they had access to for their first two shots.

So, I hope that people get their booster shots when they are eligible! With COVID on the rise in many parts of the United States again, we want to give ourselves as much protection from the virus as we possibly could, and the booster is something that can help protect us from the virus.

So, that is it for now. I wanted to focus on my experiences with getting the vaccine booster shot. I hope others share their experiences of getting the booster.

Also, as a little side note, I do not plan on publishing a Coronavirus update post next Thursday, which is Thanksgiving. In fact, I don’t plan on publishing any posts during the week of Thanksgiving so that I can give myself a little rest. And when I get back to publishing blog posts after Thanksgiving, I’m planning to do my COVID update posts at a rate of about once a month, instead of once a week, since there isn’t a lot of news for me to report on locally or personally on the pandemic front.

[1] https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-takes-additional-actions-use-booster-dose-covid-19-vaccines

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p1021-covid-booster.html

Vaccine Resistance and Government Agencies Working With the Most Vulnerable

A few weeks ago, there was a huge uproar over vaccine mandates for all New York City employees. There was the uproar from those who were resistant to the vaccines, and then there was the outcry from those worried about how government services would deteriorate without a portion of the workforce around due to the mandates.

But there’s a different outcry that should happen, yet I don’t see happening.

There should be outcry over the fact that, across the United States, the government workers doing the least to protect themselves and others from the virus (at least in terms of getting vaccinated) are in many cases the ones who work with some of the most vulnerable populations.

I observed in one of my COVID update blog posts a few weeks ago that the government agencies with the lowest vaccine rates in my city at the time were many of the ones serving the most vulnerable populations; namely, agencies serving those in legal trouble (police), those in jail, those with fires, those who are homeless, and those who are in public housing. At the time, I bemoaned the fact that the media wasn’t picking up on this.

However, one thing even I didn’t pick up fully until another friend alerted me to this was that my observation about unvaccinated government workers in New York City was a microcosm of what we’ve been seeing nationwide. Throughout the United States, it is government employees who are working with many of the most vulnerable in society who are often also the most resistant to getting vaccinated. In Chicago, it was reported a few weeks into their own mandate that their police and fire departments had the lowest vaccination rates.[1] In numerous states, it’s been reported that prison inmates are getting vaccinated at higher rates than the corrections officers who work with them (with some states having extremely low vaccine rates among their corrections officers)![2] Vaccine resistance among government workers who work with the most vulnerable in our society is not just a New York City issue, but seemingly a nationwide one.

This is a fact that I find troubling, and a fact that I think a lot of us should find troubling as well. We want the people who serve the most vulnerable to do all they can to keep themselves and others healthy, and the science shows that getting a COVID vaccine is the best way to do that, plain and simple. So when those serving the most vulnerable decide, in many cases, not to get vaccinated, and in the process make themselves and others (particularly others these people interact with who are in vulnerable situations) more vulnerable to this virus, it is something that is extremely problematic. And I hear very little media coverage of this.

Even though it’s something media hasn’t covered, I hope this gets more attention, because once it gets more attention, it will hopefully lead to a more aggressive, sustained push in some municipalities for government workers to get vaccinated. It’s important for this to happen, for the sakes of those most vulnerable, and by extension, the entire society at large.

[1] https://www.chicagobusiness.com/government/chicago-police-vaccine-rate-lowest-among-city-departments

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/09/30/prison-inmates-more-vaccinated-than-corrections-staff-in-at-least-13-states/?sh=44cdc04e4ebb

Coronavirus Update From New York City: November 11, 2021

I hope everyone is healthy and safe, regardless of where you live.

I will get my booster Moderna shot tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting the booster shot! Though, admittedly, I am looking much less forward to seeing what the side effects of the booster will be. All I will say is that I’m glad that I’m getting the shot on a Friday evening, so that I have the weekend to recover from whatever the side effects may be. In my Coronavirus update post next week, I will make sure to talk about the experience of getting a booster shot, in terms of the shot itself as well as any side effects I may have.

The rate at which the virus is spreading, which appeared to be slowing down for quite some time, appears to have at best stalled out and is in real danger of going on the rise again.[1] With the holidays right around the corner, it to me raises concern that the virus is in a position to spread even more, yet again. Which means more deaths.

In more positive news, the controversial vaccine mandate among New York City employees that I’ve been talking about in recent weeks appears to be working. And when I mean working, what I mean is that we’ve seen significant increases in the number of people in key New York City government agencies getting vaccinated. Namely, vaccination rates among police, fire, and sanitation workers have increased significantly.[2] While I absolutely hope that more people in local government will do the right thing and get vaccinated, I am also glad to see that the mandate, controversial as it may be among some, is working.

That is pretty much it, in terms of updates from where I am. I hope others are well!

[1] https://covidactnow.org/us/new_york-ny/county/queens_county/?s=25291442

[2] https://www.amny.com/news/fdny-nypd-see-steady-increases-in-vaccination-rates-a-week-after-vaccine-mandate/