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In a push to overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Biden administration on Thursday launched a public outreach effort that will focus on communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic.
Called the "We Can Do This" campaign, the project features television and social media ads and creates a "community corps" of public health, athletic, faith and other groups to spread the word about the safety and efficacy of the country's three approved vaccines, the Associated Press reported.
President Joe Biden encouraged more than 1,000 faith leaders on Thursday to continue their efforts to promote vaccinations in their communities. "They're going to listen to your words more than they are to me as president of the United States," Biden said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy held a virtual meeting with over 275 inaugural members of the community corps to kick off the campaign, the AP reported.
"You are the people that folks on the ground know and rely on and have a history with," Harris said. "And when people are then making the decision to get vaccinated, they're going to look to you."
The focus on trusted community leaders came after internal and public surveys showed those skeptical of the vaccines are most likely to be influenced by local, community and medical encouragement to get vaccinated, rather than messages from politicians, the AP said.
The Biden coalition includes health groups like the American Medical Association and the National Council of Urban Indian Health, sports leagues like the NFL, NASCAR and MLB, rural groups, unions and Latino, Black, Asian American Pacific Islander and Native American organizations, as well as coalitions of faith, business and veterans leaders, the AP said.
The community corps will receive fact sheets and social media messages to share with members of their communities, as well as regular updates from the Biden administration with the latest vaccine confidence resources, the wire service said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced last week that it will devote $3 billion to support outreach by community leaders and groups to boost vaccine confidence, the AP said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also launched its first national ad campaign promoting vaccinations, aimed at senior, Latino and Black Americans. And in a partnership with Facebook, social media profile frames will be created so that ordinary Americans can share their intent to get vaccinated and their experience with the shots to their peers.
Last but not least, the White House will deploy Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who chairs Biden's COVID-19 equity task force, to speak directly to the public about the benefits of the vaccines.
As of Friday, nearly 4 in 10 American adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot and almost one-fifth have gotten their second shot, CDC statistics show.
COVID becomes third leading cause of death in US
In a finding that illustrates the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on America, a new government report confirms that COVID-19 became the third leading cause of death in 2020.
In 2020 alone, COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing factor in the deaths of 377,883 people in the United States, or just over 11% of the estimated 3.3 million people who passed away last year, CBS News reported. Meanwhile, heart disease caused 690,882 deaths and cancer caused 598,932 deaths.
The highest death rates from COVID-19 were recorded among those over 85, Native Americans, Hispanics and men, CBS News reported, with Hispanics being hit the hardest. The pandemic claimed nearly double the number of lives as "unintentional injuries," which was the third leading cause of death in 2019.
"The data should serve again as a catalyst for each of us [to] continue to do our part to drive down cases and reduce the spread of COVID-19, and get people vaccinated as soon as possible," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing on Wednesday, NPR reported.
2020 was already the deadliest year in U.S. history. The CDC had recently estimated that average life expectancy plummeted an entire year during the first half of 2020, CBS News reported.
Some have questioned the CDC's death toll tally, which relies largely on state and local officials determining the cause of death, CBS News reported. But in a second report published in the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday, the CDC concluded that the tally of COVID-19 deaths was likely accurate. Examining the death certificate data, the agency found 97% of the cases had documented other details consistent with the disease, CBS News reported.
The reports come as the CDC has warned that a months-long decline in the rate of coronavirus deaths has stalled.
Pfizer vaccine safe in kids as young as 12
Pfizer Inc. announced Wednesday that its coronavirus vaccine is safe and remarkably effective in children as young as 12.
In a news release issued by Pfizer and its vaccine development partner, BioNTech, company executives said data from a trial of the vaccine in nearly 2,300 people between the ages of 12 and 15 will be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks.
"We share the urgency to expand the authorization of our vaccine to use in younger populations and are encouraged by the clinical trial data from adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15," Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in the news release. "We plan to submit these data to FDA as a proposed amendment to our Emergency Use Authorization in the coming weeks and to other regulators around the world, with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year."
In the Phase 3 trial, the vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness within the trial, with 18 cases of COVID-19 in the group that received a placebo and none in the group that received the vaccine, the companies said. The vaccine triggered immune responses that were even more robust than those seen in young adults.
Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, told The New York Times that she had expected antibody levels in adolescents to be comparable to those in young adults. "But they're getting even better levels from the vaccines," she said. "That's really incredible."
The finding is the beginning of what many families have been anxiously waiting to see, though the companies did not release detailed data from the trial, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is now authorized by the FDA for emergency use for people aged 16 and older.
Last week, Pfizer-BioNTech also started a trial in younger children, aged 6 months to 11 years. That trial will first establish a safe dose first in children 5 to 11, then in 2- to 5-year-olds and then in children from 6 months to 2 years, the companies said.
"We all long for a normal life. This is especially true for our children. The initial results we have seen in the adolescent studies suggest that children are particularly well protected by vaccination," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in the companies' news release.
Moderna is also conducting similar trials to test its coronavirus vaccine in teenagers and young children. Its vaccine is authorized by the FDA for emergency use for people over age 18.
A global scourge
By Friday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 30.5 million while the death toll passed 552,000, according to a Times tally. On Friday, the top five states for coronavirus infections were: California with over 3.6 million cases; Texas with nearly 2.8 million cases; Florida with over 2 million cases; New York with nearly 1.9 million cases; and Illinois with over 1.2 million cases.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
In Brazil, the coronavirus case count was over 12.8 million by Friday, with more than 325,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. India had over 12.3 million cases and over 163,000 deaths as of Friday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 129.7 million on Friday, with over 2.8 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
SOURCES: AP; CBS News; NPR; The New York Times
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