In this month’s Power Poll, respondents show support for local governments devoting more resources to anti-violence and anti-poverty programs but express little confidence in public officials to respond appropriately.
The poll was conducted Monday through Thursday this week, and most responses were in before District Attorney General Charme Allen released video and other evidence in the officer-involved shooting of Austin-East Magnet High School student Anthony Thompson Jr.
The subject of gun violence had already gripped the community, however. A record number of gun-related homicides were reported last year, and Thompson was the fifth Austin-East student to die from gunshot wounds since January.
COVID-19 vaccines: Q&A with four BlueCross medical directors
As of April 21, more than 215 million COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in the U.S., with more than 134 million Americans having received at least one dose. Now that eligibility in Tennessee includes anyone over the age of 16, we understand some people may still have questions.
We asked these four BlueCross medical experts to share what they’ve learned so far about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, and what to expect when getting one:
- Dr. Andrea Willis, senior vice president and chief medical officer
- Dr. J.B. Sobel, vice president and chief medical officer of senior products
- Dr. Jeanne James, vice president & chief medical officer of BlueCare Tennessee
- Dr. Stephen Peake, medical director of senior products
Vaccine development and testing
Can you tell us about the different vaccines that are available? How were they developed and tested?
Dr. Sobel: There are three vaccines currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). Pfizer and Moderna are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. This type of vaccine teaches our body how to make a protein which then triggers an immune response. That immune response produces antibodies, which is what protects you from the virus if it were to enter your body. The third is the Johnson&Johnson viral vector vaccine, and it works by using a modified virus (that poses no threat of contracting COVID-19) to instruct our cells to make antibodies. This process produces the same antibodies and a similar immune response as the mRNA vaccine.
It’s important to note that all three of these vaccines have gone through the normal testing and approval process with the FDA that all other vaccines have gone through.
In the clinical trials that have included tens of thousands of participants, they have been found to be safe and effective.
The level of immune response is greater than even the flu vaccine in recent years.
Dr. Willis: U.S. health officials recently called for a pause in distribution of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine due to extremely rare cases of blood clots. These clots occurred in just 6 reported cases out of the nearly 7 million Americans who received this vaccine, and illustrates how closely medical experts are following adverse reactions to all of the COVID-19 vaccines. This side effect is sometimes seen with other medications, as well. We’ll continue to monitor these developments and share information with our members.
How long will the antibodies last from the COVID-19 vaccine, and how frequently will we need to get it?
Dr. Peake: Research on this topic is still ongoing, but conservatively, health experts are saying six months. This means that we will have to get a booster shot; it’s just a question of when.
Dr. Willis: Yes. The FDA has already cleared a process to approve boosters at a faster pace. That’s good news, so we can hopefully stay ahead of the emerging COVID-19 variants.
Speaking of variants, what is a variant?
Dr. Sobel: Variants are different types of the same virus. Over time, the protein coat around a virus can change and this can create differences among the characteristics of the virus. These changes can include how likely it is to cause active infection, what symptoms are visible and even how deadly it can be.
Dr. Willis: This is why you often hear that we’re in a race between variants and vaccines. The more that a virus is able to circulate, the greater the chances are that it’s going to mutate. This is another reason it’s so important to go ahead and get vaccinated.
Can you still be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus after getting the vaccine?
Dr. James: Research is showing that all three of the vaccines are very effective in preventing serious infection, hospitalization and death. What we’re still learning is if you can still experience an asymptomatic infection that you can spread to someone else after getting the vaccine. Early data shows that vaccines may help keep people from spreading the virus, but we’re still learning as more people get vaccinated. That’s part of the reason why experts recommend still wearing your mask, washing your hands and social distancing until more people are vaccinated.
Would you recommend one vaccine over another?
Dr. Willis: The best vaccine is the one that you can get as soon as possible. Any vaccine you choose is going to give you protection that you don’t have today.
What to know and expect when getting a vaccine
Have you received your vaccine? Can you tell us about your experience?
Dr. Peake: I had both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in February. I had a sore arm with each for about 24 hours. I’ve heard reports of a fever and some swelling from others, but these are all minor and subside on their own. I got the vaccine so it’ll be safe to be around my family again.
Dr. Sobel: I’ve also received the Pfizer vaccine. I had some arm soreness the day after both injections, but no other symptoms. I got vaccinated because I wanted to protect my family and those around me. I want to get back to work and get out and see people again.
But more than anything else, I want to reach herd immunity, which is when enough people have protection that this virus stops spreading, even if a relatively small portion of the population is not yet immunized.
Dr. James: I have similar reasons as Dr. Peake and Dr. Sobel, but I also want to be a good example. I know there are people that trust me and want to know if I’ve gotten vaccinated. I want to share my experience to hopefully encourage others who may be undecided.
Dr. Willis: I want to be a good example as well. I know there is hesitancy, especially in minority communities, but minority communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. We have something that can help us out of this pandemic, and I want to be a part of that.
Can you get the vaccine if you take a daily prescription medication?
Dr. James: Yes. We haven’t seen any evidence that the vaccines interfere with medication or vice versa. If anything, it’s even more important that you get the vaccine since that medication may be for a condition that puts you at a high risk for severe complications from COVID-19.
Should you get the vaccine if you have already had COVID-19?
Dr. Peake: Yes. Once you’ve gone through the quarantine period and you’re no longer experiencing symptoms, the CDC recommends getting the vaccine.
If you’re feeling ill with a relatively minor condition like a sinus infection, should you wait to get the vaccine?
Dr. Sobel: Yes. The questionnaire you complete when making your appointment for the vaccine will actually ask you how you are feeling. The CDC guidance is to wait. It’s best to not have any fever or active infection within the last 14 days before you receive your COVID-19 immunizations.
Does the vaccine have any impact on fertility?
Dr. Peake: No. Pregnancy is actually considered a high-risk condition for COVID-19 and that makes it even more important for pregnant women to get the vaccine. There is no data to show that there is any impact on either male or female fertility.
Dr. Willis: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have endorsed getting the vaccine, as well as the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Dr. James: It’s also important to note that studies have shown that newborns whose moms have had COVID-19 or who have received the vaccine, have been born with antibodies. The vaccine can help protect both mom and the baby and that’s just another reason why it’s important to get vaccinated.
Should you wait to receive any other immunizations after receiving your COVID-19 vaccine?
Dr. Sobel: The current recommendation is to not receive any other vaccine within 14 days of the COVID-19 vaccine. Most immunizations have a window to receive both the first and second dose, so it shouldn’t be an issue to delay. I would prioritize the COVID-19 vaccine, so you can have the most protection at this critical time, before you receive any other recommended vaccinations. It’s best to have discussions around immunizations with your health care provider if you have questions on timing or priority of immunizations.
What else should Tennesseans know about COVID-19 vaccines?
Dr. Willis: It’s a unanimous decision between the four of us that you should get your vaccine. We’re not just talking about it, we’ve done it, and it’s important to us. It’s important to your community and it’s important to your family. Everyone has the opportunity to be a role model.
Our message is clear: get your vaccine.
More about the COVID-19 Vaccine
Seven in 10 respondents agree that the City of Knoxville, Knox County government and Knox County Schools should invest more resources toward violence reduction efforts. Only 12.5 percent said they would not support additional resources.
Respondents did not come to a consensus on naming the top priority for focusing anti-violence efforts. Nearly half, 46.4 percent, said violence intervention efforts should top the priority list. The rest of the respondents split among increased social and emotional support in schools (20.5 percent), stronger gun regulations (17 percent) and a greater police presence (16.1 percent).
A solid majority of 62.2 percent supports greater local investment in anti-poverty programs as a long-term component of violence reduction efforts. One in five, however, oppose more local spending on economically challenged communities and nearly as many aren’t sure if that’s the right policy direction.
The responses indicate support for new efforts to curb violence in the community but divisions exist about how best to address the issue. Similar divisions exist among the public officials responsible for coordinating the work.
But respondents show little confidence in those leaders to understand the underlying issues driving gun violence and their ability to make the right policy choices to address them. Only 15.2 percent said they were confident in city, county and school leadership, with a majority (53.6 percent) expressing no confidence at all.
This could be an opportune time to funnel more resources into anti-violence efforts. The City of Knoxville has devoted an extra $1 million for violence intervention programs this year, with more expected for next fiscal year when Mayor Indya Kincannon issues her proposed 2021-2022 budget in the coming days.
The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, currently colors every decision about resources. Sales tax revenues this fiscal year have been better than projected, and many economists are predicting a strong year ahead as more people receive vaccinations and restrictions on businesses are lifted.
The federal American Rescue Plan could play a role in funding for anti-violence efforts by freeing up local dollars that would otherwise go toward pandemic response expenditures.
The Power Poll is not a scientific poll but a survey of views and attitudes among community leaders from government, business and nonprofit arenas. This month’s Power Poll surveyed 378 people, with 112 (29.63 percent) responding. Here are the questions and responses:
As the city, county and schools prepare their 2021-22 budgets, should they devote new resources to violence reduction in the community?
Yes: 78 (69.6 percent)
No: 14 (12.5 percent)
Not Sure: 20 (17.9 percent)
What should be the top priority for violence reduction efforts?
Increased police presence: 18 (16.1 percent)
Increased social and emotional support in schools: 23 (20.5 percent)
Increased gun regulations: 19 (17 percent)
Increased violence intervention efforts: 52 (46.4 percent)
Should the city and county create new programs to increase investment and decrease poverty in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods as part of a violence reduction effort?
Yes: 69 (62.2 percent)
No: 23 (20.7 percent)
Not Sure: 19 (17.1 percent)
Do you have confidence that city, county and school leaders understand the problems underlying violence in the community and will react appropriately?
Yes: 17 (15.2 percent)
No: 60 (53.6 percent)
Not Sure: 35 (31.3 percent)