In today's edition:

  • Conditions are uncertain in Tokyo—but we need the Olympics more than ever
  • A one-size-fits-all vaccination campaign strategy won’t be successful 
  • Indian med students tackle the country’s crisis from afar
What To Expect of the Tokyo Games
An Olympic silver medalist-turned-health expert gives a unique perspective
As Tokyo enters a COVID-19 state of emergency, what can we expect from the Olympics this summer? 
In a Q&A adapted from a Public Health On Call episode, Olympic silver medalist and public health expert, Tara Kirk Sell, gives her unique perspective on what we could expect from the Games, what the Olympic committees are doing to keep athletes safe, what could go wrong—but most importantly, why we need the Olympics now more than ever. 
What’s happening on the ground in Japan:
  • The Games have barred all domestic and international spectators.
  • Japan is ramping up vaccinations; it's estimated that about 80% of people in the Olympic Village are going to be vaccinated.
  • The 3 C’s approach: Avoid close spaces, crowds, and close contact.
  • The Tokyo Olympic Playbook outlines robust safety measures for athletes, with reduced interaction in the village. 
  • Athletes:
    • Are expected to wear masks except when they’re competing.
    • Will rely on private transportation rather than buses.
    • Will be tested daily.
There are many things that could go wrong, but we need the Olympics now more than ever, says Kirk Sell.
“As we come out of this pandemic, we’re seeing the divisions and nationalism,''  she says. “The Olympics really shows us how we can come together—and how we're going to need to come together to get fully out of this pandemic.”
Carrying Equity in COVID-19 Vaccination Forward: Guidance Informed by Communities of Color
Seven months into the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the U.S., nearly 50% of Americans have been vaccinated. This is notable, but a significant amount of work remains to be done.
Since January 2021, CommuniVax, a national rapid research coalition of social scientists, public health experts, and community advocates, has worked with Black and Hispanic/Latino communities in Alabama, California, Idaho, Maryland, and Virginia to assess infrastructure and listen to community members and other key stakeholders in order to understand how best to promote awareness of, access to, and acceptability of COVID-19 vaccines. 
The findings were published in a report this week: Carrying Equity in COVID-19 Vaccination Forward: Guidance Informed by Communities of Color
In a Q&A, Monica Schoch-Spana breaks down some key takeaways:
  • It’s problematic to blame low vaccine coverage on hesitancy alone. Hesitancy is too simple an explanation for a complex set of circumstances that could include issues of access, like a lack of transportation to vaccination sites in rural areas, limited hours at sites, and/or inability to take time off of work for appointments or dealing with side effects. 
  • Don’t assume that all communities of color face the same circumstances. Lot of characteristics shape a person’s worldview, including age, gender, political/religious identity, education, socioeconomic status, etc. No single message can reach all white individuals and the same goes for Black and Hispanic/Latino persons. 
  • Community partnerships are key for vaccine delivery and communication strategies. Schoch-Spana cites the success of the Latino Task Force in San Francisco’s Mission District that conducted door-to-door outreach for testing and vaccines: Currently, more than 67% of the Hispanic/Latino population in SF has been vaccinated.
  • COVID vaccines provide opportunities for public health systems to consider the “whole person.” Sites can provide other critical goods and services like food, housing and job opportunities, and resources for other support services. 
A more highly evolved vaccination campaign has the potential to open the door to systems-level change to address health equity gaps. They could, for example, help ramp up a larger, nation-wide immunization program to make sure people have access to all of the 13 vaccinations recommended throughout the life course, from measles to flu.
Related: The National Urban League’s annual State of Black America report—produced in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity and the Brookings Institution—details the  devastation Black communities have faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Confronting a COVID-19 Crisis Half a World Away
As a native of India, Hopkins medical student Pranjal Agrawal, has seen firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19. Agrawal’s uncle died just before she started medical school. Since then, everyone in her family in India has been infected. Not able to be there physically, she and several classmates started looking for ways to help from afar.
The result: Students have been filling in gaps of the COVID-19 response identified by Hopkins faculty and the Johns Hopkins India Institute’s COVID-19 task force. Along with partners on the ground, they’re connecting NGOs with resources and raising awareness about fundraisers, ramping up antigen testing programs, and combating misinformation.
In early May, India saw more than 400,000 new cases and 4,000 deaths per day.
While cases are trending downward, the country is grieving the deaths of more than 391,000 people.
“If India is not safe, the world's not safe. COVID anywhere affects us everywhere, and so we can't lay down the guard,” says Amita Gupta, professor of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Vermont's Response to COVID-19
Vermont has had far fewer COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than many other states, and health commissioner Mark Levine cites a number of reasons. Levine talks with Josh Sharfstein about Vermont’s response to the pandemic, how the state is now addressing gaps in vaccination, and why it’s so important for all decisions to be driven by data and science, not politics.
Plus: Stephanie Desmon sat down with the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs to talk about the podcast that was “born out of the pandemic,” but other critical issues—from climate change to racism to mental health—could also use the “COVID treatment.”

Public health is pretty silent when it’s successful, and we want to make sure people understand that the work never stops,” Desmon says.
It's-A Me, Antibodio!
The CDC says fully vaccinated people can forgo masks in most situations, and do not need to seek out diagnostic tests for COVID-19—even if they have known exposures (unless they experience symptoms). In other words, let Super Mario demonstrate what it’s like to live that vaccinated life.
Guillain-Barré and Vaccines: What You Need to Know (The New York Times)
The link between the rare neurological disorder and the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may be real, but the risk appears to be very small. Plus: This is not the first vaccine that has been linked to Guillain-Barré. “I think the data are pretty compelling that the flu vaccine causes Guillain-Barré syndrome, but it’s a very small risk,” says Dan Salmon. “We don’t really understand the biological mechanism. It’s an incredible frustration.”

Under conservative pressure, Tennessee health officials end vaccine outreach for kids and teens (CBS News)
Tennessee's Department of Public Health announced it will end vaccine outreach efforts for children and teens following pressure from conservative Republican state lawmakers. The Tennessean reports that the changes will apply to vaccines against all diseases, not just COVID-19. Amber D’Souza says it’s worrying to see politics getting in the way of science, saying any barrier to getting the word out about vaccines, their efficacy, and accessibility is concerning. 
Dispiriting setback: COVID deaths, cases rise again globally (Associated Press)
COVID-19 deaths and cases are on the rise again globally—a setback that is triggering another round of restrictions and dampening hopes for a return to normal life. The rise in cases is attributed to relaxed public health measures, low vaccination rates, and the increased spread of the more transmissible delta variant. David Dowdy says: “It’s important that we recognize that COVID has the potential for explosive outbreaks.”
Copyright © 2021 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, All rights reserved.

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