Vaccine news is stealing the bulk of today’s spotlight. With yesterday’s major pause and more studies being conducted, we’ll likely here more and more of what is on the horizon with children, schools, and passports. Take a look below for a few articles on the subject as well as some other updates such as the redistricting topic and census data.
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What’s Next After Pause of J&J Vaccine
The pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine announced Tuesday is virtually certain to exacerbate vaccine hesitancy, dealing a fresh blow to the nation’s efforts to recover from the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy is on its way to becoming the main hurdle in the fight against the virus, experts say.
Vaccinations are becoming more plentiful. The nation has recently been averaging more than 3 million vaccination shots per day, bringing relief to people desperate for protection against a virus that has claimed more than 560,000 lives in the United States. But what happens when all those people are vaccinated? Millions of Americans seem likely to decline the vaccine — and their reluctance is only heightened by any bad news, such as the suspension of the J&J vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy “is a significant worry,” said Larry Gostin, a Georgetown Law School professor and expert in public health. Gostin noted that reluctance to be vaccinated had risen precipitously in parts of Europe after concerns were raised there about an AstraZeneca vaccine. The AstraZeneca shot has not yet been approved for use in the U.S.
Now, on this side of the Atlantic, “it is absolutely predictable that, at least in the short term, we are going to see a lack of trust in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could either turn into a distrust of vaccines generally or to ‘vaccine shopping’ — that is, avoiding the J&J and seeking out Moderna or Pfizer. Either of those things are significant problems,” Gostin said.
Steven Wilson, an assistant professor of politics at Brandeis University, has written about the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, and especially the way it can be exacerbated by the dynamics of social media. He noted that this was already such a broad problem that the World Health Organization had listed it as one of the top 10 threats to world health in 2019, before COVID-19 had even been heard of.
The real danger of the Johnson & Johnson news, Wilson suggested, lay not in its capacity to reinforce the views of hardline skeptics and conspiracy theorists, but in its potential to weigh on those who are ambivalent. “The biggest element in terms of the J&J fallout is likely to be an increase in hesitancy levels among those who think, ‘Maybe they are telling me it’s only a small chance but blood clots are very bad,’” he said, adding that humans are notoriously bad “at evaluating low-probability events.”
Serious side effects from the J&J vaccine appear to be extremely rare. The current pause pertains to six cases of blood clots. More than 7 million shots of the vaccine have been administered in the United States. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, and Jeff Zients, the White House coordinator for the COVID-19 response, sought to reassure the public when they appeared in the press briefing room Tuesday. Zients said that the pause should not have a serious effect on the availability of vaccines, since the J&J vaccination had accounted for fewer than 5 percent of all shots in the United States so far.
President Biden underlined that point later in the day, insisting that “there is enough vaccine — that is basically 100 percent unquestionable — for every single, solitary American.” But the upsurge in availability is a separate issue from vaccine hesitancy. Zients told reporters that the latter “is a challenge and we need to be addressing it, and we are.”
Vaccines Necessary for School Entry?
As mentioned above, experts predict it will be at least a year until Covid vaccines are available for all children, but the next pandemic tension point is already emerging: Should the vaccine be required for kids to go to school?
Just saying those words out loud is controversial, Mark R. Schleiss, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said in an interview. “In the coming year, we’re going to have to have that discussion,” he said. His answer to the big question? Yes.
In the U.S., it’s up to states to determine what immunizations are required for schools. In most states, vaccine requirements are decided by the legislature, while in other states, like Virginia and Rhode Island, administrative agencies like the state Department of Health add new vaccines to the list, said Dorit Reiss, a professor at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
Things get a little messier with Covid vaccines, which are being distributed under emergency use authorization. Critics are using the emergency authorization as the primary argument for why these vaccines can’t be mandated in workplaces and schools, Reiss said.
Already universities like Rutgers, Notre Dame and Duke have said college students are required to have Covid shots before coming back to campus next fall. Lawsuits have followed. The topic gets even more sensitive when it comes to vaccinating younger kids, who have mainly been spared from the worst of the virus.
The legal argument is that the emergency vaccine authorizations include language that says the Secretary of Health and Human Services must ensure people know they are not required to take it, Reiss said. The policy argument is that the standards for emergency authorization are lower than for full vaccine approval, and that these vaccines are “experimental” — meaning it’s not fair to mandate them.
Reiss said she finds both of these arguments problematic. For the legal argument, Reiss said the language applies to federal officials and doesn’t include anything about states, employers, or universities. On the policy side, Reiss said Covid vaccines have been through clinical trials of thousands of people. “Calling them experimental is really stretching the word,” she said. “These vaccines may not be fully approved, but they are as ready to go as much as any vaccine on the schedule in terms of a mandate,” Reiss said.
There are two main reasons for vaccinating children, Reiss said, but there are also valid arguments against both of these cases. The first is to protect children and keep them safe in schools. Yet the virus has been less harmful to kids.
The second argument is that vaccinating children will help to protect the community. Kids are vaccinated against rubella not so much to protect them, Reiss said, but to protect the community — particularly high-risk, pregnant women. Yet with inconsistent data about kids and the spread of Covid, Reiss said, people can reasonably argue the risk of transmission in schools isn’t high enough to warrant a mandate.
Data has shown Covid vaccines to be safe for adults, and experts see them as the best way to contain the virus and protect the population once the entire country is eligible. But at the same time, experts are well aware that parents have valid concerns, and that the “for the greater good” argument doesn’t always resonate when it comes to your kids. Following science isn’t always easy or obvious, even if we wish it were.
Covid-19 Shots for Children Hold Key to Herd Immunity
Countries are racing to immunize adults against Covid-19 and move toward a more normal future. To achieve the vaccination rates that health authorities are aiming for, the shots must eventually reach the arms of children and teenagers, too. Children aren’t going to be vaccinated for several months at least, however, because drugmakers are still testing shots in younger ages.
That means health authorities can’t be confident of securing community protection against the virus, known as herd immunity, until later this year at the earliest, because children under 16 make up a significant proportion of many countries’ populations.
“We definitely need to get kids vaccinated if we want to be as close to normal as we can,” said Octavio Ramilo, chief of infectious diseases at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Ohio. As governments push to move past the pandemic, vaccinating children is emerging as a key obstacle, along with initially limited supplies of vaccines.
Researchers say between 70% and 85% of a population would need to be protected through infection or vaccination to achieve herd immunity, the point when so many people are immune that the virus has nowhere to go and even those who aren’t immune have protection. “It’s hard to do that just in terms of numbers if you’re not going to vaccinate kids,” said Adam Ratner, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital in New York.
Children and adolescents make up 22% of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau’s latest projections, and 18% of the population of the European Union. Drugmakers first tested Covid-19 vaccines in older ages. As a result, the shots have been authorized only for the oldest teenagers and adults so far.
The shot from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE is cleared in the U.S. for people 16 years and older, while vaccines from Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson for 18 years and up. Pfizer has enrolled more than 2,000 children from ages 12 to 15 years in one study and expects to submit the data from that study to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration very soon.
Moderna is aiming to have its vaccine available for adolescents before the start of the 2021 school year and recently launched another trial with children as young as six months. The University of Oxford is enrolling children ages 6 to 17 years in a trial of the vaccine it co-developed with AstraZeneca.
Clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy of vaccines in children that have already been cleared for adult use can be done more quickly than the large-scale studies in adults that have already taken place. The adult trials enrolled tens of thousands of volunteers, who were randomly selected to receive either the vaccine or a placebo. Researchers were then able to compare rates of infection and illness in each group months later to determine how much protection the vaccine provides.
For the adolescent and children’s trials, the focus is more on safety and measuring the immune response of the young volunteers with a blood test. If researchers find the children in the study had a similar immune response as adults did, then the efficacy of the vaccines will likely be similar as well, said Robert Frenck, principal investigator for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and director of its vaccine research center.
Vaccines probably won’t be ready for use in younger children until early 2022, health experts said, in part because researchers need to test lower doses. “The dose is not such a big leap to go from adults to teens,” said Katherine Luzuriaga, a pediatric infectious disease physician and the lead investigator of Moderna’s adolescent trial at the University of Massachusetts Medical School site. “Once we start going into the younger age groups, there’s a bit more work to determine the appropriate doses.”
Promising Treatment for COVID-19 Reduces Infections by 81%
To date, over 36% of the U.S. population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The swift distribution of the vaccine across the U.S. belies an important fact: COVID-19 cases continue to rise precipitously in parts of the country.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, five states – Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania – account for roughly 43% of total new cases in the United States, leading some state government officials to plead with the federal government for more doses of the vaccine.
In yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing, the White House announced the federal government will ensure that states experiencing a rise in cases have sufficient therapeutics for COVID-19 patients. The White House strategy demonstrates on an important fact: effective treatments – and ongoing clinical research to identify them – will be critical to leading the global community beyond the COVID-19 crisis.
What’s New: On Monday, Regeneron and Roche announced their antibody cocktail can not only be used to treat COVID-19 but also reduce the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infections by 81%. Upon announcement of the Phase 3 study findings, Regeneron’s Chief Scientific Officer noted the company is conducting further research to understand how the antibody cocktail can be used to “provide ongoing protection for immunocompromised patients who may not respond well to vaccines.”
This will be particularly important given new data which shows that patients who take immunosuppressive drugs for autoimmune diseases have reduced antibody levels from the vaccine. Taken together, the new data underscores a key point: we cannot simply “vaccinate our way out” of the global pandemic, as the CDC’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted yesterday.
Rather, a combination of continued vigilance, effective treatments, and the ongoing distribution of vaccines will be critical to our shared goal of a return to health, one which has eluded the global community for the last 13 months.
Illinois Democrats Say They’re Committed to “Fair Maps”
It’s one of the most complicated and controversial tasks legislators face – redistricting. Once a decade, Illinois lawmakers redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts. The stakes are enormous as lawmakers draw district boundaries with an eye towards future elections.
In Illinois, Democrats control both the state House and Senate and the governor’s mansion. In theory, they could draw the new maps to favor their party. But the party says it’s committed to “fair maps.” “House Democrats are dedicated to transparency and public participation in the redistricting process,” State Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero) said.
Illinois currently has 18 congressional districts, but that number is expected to decrease by one or two due to population loss. There is speculation Democrats will erase GOP Congressman Rodney Davis’ 13th district. Davis said Democrats have longed targeted his seat and that Democrats are going to play politics with redistricting, they can’t help themselves.
Republicans are pushing a bill that would give ordinary Illinoisans the power to draws the maps. Under the plan, the Supreme Court would appoint citizens to a redistricting commission. “There’s a way to do it, a way to do it constitutionally and a way that we can do it in a bipartisan manner that actually returns power to the people,” Senate Republican Leader Dan McConachie said.
In the past, Governor Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch have both expressed support for fair maps. “It’s time for Democrat leaders to stand behind the promises they make, the promises they use to get elected — to make sure that this process is truly fair,” House GOP Leader Jim Durkin said.
Once the legislature approves a map, Governor Pritzker must sign off on it. He vows to veto a partisan map. The state constitution sets June 30 as the deadline for new maps. If the legislature fails to meet the deadline, a bipartisan commission is appointed. To meet the deadline, the maps would have to be drawn without federal census data which would accurately reflect population changes.
Census Delay Complicates Once-a-Decade Redistricting Duty
Illinois state government put a lot of money—$30 million—into driving up participation in last year’s census in hopes of getting a return on that investment through a population-based federal funding formula. But much of that outreach was centered on hard-to-count and hard-to-reach populations, with a goal of getting an accurate read on the state’s underserved populations so the information could be translated into impact—including by helping to determine the boundaries of legislative districts.
Exactly what the latest census shows about Illinois’ residents is still unknown; due to pandemic-driven difficulties, the U.S. Census Bureau is delayed in sending results to states. Jay Young, the director of Common Cause Illinois, fears that rather than wait for the information, the “folks in power” are using “bad data” to draw the new set of legislative maps that decide the lines of power for the next 10 years—and “we’re all going to have to live with” the results.
Illinois’ constitution sets a June 30 deadline for the legislature and governor to pass a law that establishes the legislative maps, with districts that are “compact, contiguous, and substantially equal in population.” The census information the legislature typically uses to do that isn’t set to arrive until as late as September—after the deadline.
It’s not a hard deadline. If Illinois does not have a new set of maps by the end of June, the constitution offers a pathway: a majority of members of a bipartisan commission must agree on maps by Aug.10; if the eight members can’t reach a deal by then, a name is drawn out of a hat to decide which party gets to add an extra member—thus tipping the scales in that party’s favor.
That’s why it’s in Democrats’ interest to pass a map before summer. Given that Democrats hold supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate as well as the governor’s office, Democrats can draw a map without buy-in from Republicans as long as they get it done this spring—census data or not.
Republican state Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield said Monday that Democrats are sure to draw districts in a manner that will help their party win more seats. “We’ve seen that happen,” Butler said. “They use political data to slice and dice these districts for political gain.” (Young, whose group is nonpartisan, describes the dynamic this way: “Who gets to be in power in your community is ultimately decided by those folks who are already in power.”)
Without the census information, Democrats appear to be relying on information from the American Community Survey, something Young said is akin to relying on exit polls rather than counting voters’ ballots to determine the winner of an election.
Young admits that legislators—specifically Democrats—are in a tough position given both the constitutional deadline and the pressures of the 2022 election cycle. Candidates running for office next year can submit their petitions this November; districts must clearly be established before they can begin collecting signatures.
Still, he’s disappointed with how the process is proceeding. “We spent $31.5 million (for census outreach) making sure that our hardest-to-count, the hardest-to-reach, the hardest-to-find, the most left-behind people, would have their voices heard. I know that these legislators care about those folks, they’re just choosing to make sure they get elected next year and the year after that,” Young said.
Illinois could have taken other routes, Young said, pointing out that California took legal action to push back redistricting deadlines. “We could have moved that constitutional deadline of June 30. We could move the primaries in the spring, we could move the filing deadlines for candidates. We just chose not to,” he said. “I think for political reasons.”
Young is confident that a lawsuit will, at some point, be filed, challenging whatever maps the legislature puts forth. Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to exert public pressure on Gov. J.B. Pritkzer, who previously pledged to veto any map that’s unfair. “If the governor holds to his promise to veto any partisan drawn map, then he needs to come out and say that now so that the legislature knows that this is a fool’s errand, to keep going with the redistricting process in a partisan way,” Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, said.
Pritzker’s office did not directly respond to questions about his interactions with legislators, his office’s involvement in drawing maps and the specific criteria he’ll use to judge whether a map is fair. “As the Governor has said, he believes legislative maps should reflect Illinois’ gender, racial, and geographic diversity, along with preserving the Voting Rights Act decisions that help ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process,” press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in an emailed statement.
The House and Senate have collectively held dozens of public hearings, seeking input from the public, and have websites where individuals can submit their own maps; Democrats have said they’re committed to fair representation, including for the Black and brown communities whose voices they say Republicans at the national level are working to silence.
IDPH Says No Masks Required for Low-Risk Outdoor Sports
As practices got underway for a number of high school sports last week in the state, new guidance from the Illinois Department of Health is not requiring athletes in low-risk outdoor sports to wear masks while competing. Following a Monday meeting of its board of directors, the Illinois High School Association announced it will follow the new rules for bass fishing, baseball, softball, tennis and track and field.
Students must continue to wear masks in these sports and activities when they are not actively competing (i.e. athletes on the bench), according to the IHSA. Officials in these sports and activities must continue to wear masks unless they are socially distanced. The IHSA said more guidance will be provided to the coaches and officials in these respective sports this week.
The IHSA Board also announced that it is following IDPH recommendations pertaining to coronavirus testing for student-athletes in high-risk sports. The State of Illinois will fund optional testing for any school teams who wish to test their high-risk sports teams, according to the IHSA. Current high-risk IHSA sports include football, boy’s lacrosse, and wrestling. The IHSA will provide member schools with state testing contacts when that information is available from IDPH.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Joliet Junior College
Here are our upcoming no-cost webinars:
Government Certification Process (with Rita Haake at COD) on April 27th at 1pm
Certifications: Interpreting the alphabet to pursue profits! Which small business certification is the best one for you?
• Federal: 8(a), EDWOSB, HUBZone, SDB, SDVOSB, WOSB, VOSB
• State: DBE, FBE, FMBE, MBE, PBE, VBE
• Local: DBE, MBE, WBE, VBE
You will learn the details of the application process, documentation requirements, certification options, and how to market and leverage certifications for the growth of your business.
Webinar: The Certification Process (ecenterdirect.com)
Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program
The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) Grant program was established by The Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Non-Profits, and Venues Act, signed into law on December 27, 2020. The SBA has announced that have temporarily closed the application portal due to technical difficulties. The hope is to reopen ASAP. The application portal will open in a tiered approach. Please check the SBA website (link below) for more information.
Eligible applicants may qualify for SVO Grants equal to 45% of their gross earned revenue, with the maximum amount available for a single grant award of $10 million. $2 billion is reserved for eligible applications with up to 50 full-time employees. Eligible entities include:
o Live venue operators or promoters
o Theatrical producers
o Live performing arts organization operators
o Relevant museum operators, zoos and aquariums who meet specific criteria
o Motion picture theater operators
o Talent representatives, and
o Each business entity owned by an eligible entity that also meets the eligibility requirements
Applicants can apply for PPP prior to applying to the SVOG program. If they do receive a PPP loan after 12/27/20, they will have the SVOG reduced by the PPP loan amount. To follow updates on this program, please click here to go to the SBA’s website. Applicants must also have a valid SAM.gov registration to apply for this program. Here’s a link to a video on how to apply: SAM.gov Entity Registration Training – YouTube .
Small Business Administration Program: Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)
This week SBA announced that for loans approved starting the week of April 6, 2021, the maximum loan amount will be increased to $500,000. For loans approved prior to the week of April 6, 2021, please click here for information from SBA on loan increases.
The SBA is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses and non-profit organizations that are suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19. These loans may be used to pay debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact, and that are not already covered by a Paycheck Protection Program loan. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for non-profits. The first payment is deferred for one year. Applicants must be physically located in the U.S. or designated territory and suffered working capital losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, not due to a downturn in the economy or other reasons. Eligible applicants include the following:
- Businesses with 500 or fewer employees or defined as small per www.SBA.gov/SizeStandards
- Cooperatives with 500 or fewer employees
- Agricultural enterprises with 500 or fewer employees
• Most private nonprofits
• Faith-based organizations
• Sole proprietorships and independent contractors
The deadline to apply for this program has been extended to December 31, 2021. The SBA has also extended deferment periods for all disaster loans including EIDL until 2022. All SBA disaster loans made in calendar year 2020, including COVID-19 EIDL, will have a first payment due date extended from 12-months to 24-months from the date of the note. All SBA disaster loans made in calendar year 2021, including COVID-19 EIDL, will have a first payment due date extended from 12-months to 18-months from the date of the note. For more information and the application, please click here to go to the SBA’s website.
Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity
Team RED will be hosting numerous program webinars over the next few weeks. Please join us and learn about these programs. While different team members from around the state are hosting the webinars, they are open to anyone to attend. You can view the full list of upcoming events on our website here.
Advantage Illinois: How local community banks can partner with the State of Illinois to help small business
Date and time: Tuesday, April 27, 2021 10:00 am
Enhancing access to capital for Illinois businesses is a top priority. The Brookings Institution has noted that more than 95% of new jobs are derived from business expansion or start up activity. Small businesses are the backbone of the Illinois economy, and the Advantage Illinois program is here to assist. In this webinar you will learn how the state’s banking community can help entrepreneurs and small businesses start up, expand, and create new jobs at a faster rate by partnering with the State of Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity through this participation loan program. Guest speakers include John D. Hill and Mark Schultz, Advantage Illinois Team for the Office of Business Development. Local community banks are encouraged to attend!
Team RED Office hours
DCEO’s Regional Economic Development Team is hosting weekly office hours on the days and times listed below. These sessions are designed as open times that the Team is available. The Team will provide you with the latest updates and answer any questions you may have on state or federal programs. Feel free to drop in for any assistance you need. If these times do not work for you, please reach out to your regional Team RED representative. We’re always here to help.
Mondays from 3pm – 4pm
Meeting link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/j.php?MTID=mdac63fc058a28665bc12f2db155d8e81
Wednesdays from 1pm – 2pm
Meeting link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/j.php?MTID=mab7683a4fd7c1b69c9aead26b0fce1ea
Thursdays from 3pm – 4pm
Meeting link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/j.php?MTID=me64c9d6620b31db8645644cf588f956b
Fridays from 10am – 11am
Meeting link: https://illinois.webex.com/illinois/j.php?MTID=m097b6d22cef426d023f9d5375ba167b4
Finally, congratulations to all of those elected or re-elected to various governing boards throughout the region. There are still a couple of close races that will be determined this week after final ballots are counted at the Clerk’s office.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry