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More vaccines could be headed to Austin as FDA greenlights single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine
This story was updated Monday to include that the vaccine received official approval by the FDA this weekend.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is to be shipped out this month, increasing the number of vaccines available.
In a virtual meeting on Friday, the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee unanimously approved of the U.S.'s third available COVID-19 vaccine, which was officially approved on Saturday. Federal officials say 4 million doses will go out nationally this week, with an expected 20 million doses to be available by the end of March. The Texas Department of State Health Services has said it expects to receive about 200,000 doses, but has not released a timeline of when doses will be shipped and available.
How was the vaccine passed?
Johnson & Johnson proposed their single-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization to the FDA earlier this month. On Thursday, the department said they found the vaccine to be safe and effective after conducting a clinical trial.
When tested on 44,000 people around the world, the vaccine was found to be around 66% effective against moderate to severe symptoms 28 days after vaccination. The vaccine's efficacy was highest, at 72%, in the U.S., while it was found to be lower in countries such as South Africa where more infectious strains are prevalent.
Most notably, none of the clinical trial participants died from COVID-19 at least 28 days after the shot. The vaccine also appears to drastically cut down hospitalizations to the disease and showed 86% efficacy against severe reactions.
What makes this vaccine different than the others?
While the two existing vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are more effective—around 95%—the Johnson & Johnson candidate has three significant advantages.
First, the vaccine is infinitely easier to store and ship. When the winter storm hit Texas, power outages wiped out about 1,000 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the state, which are required to be refrigerated. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, however, requires no refrigeration. It also takes up significantly less space because it only requires one dosage instead of two, meaning the same amount of doses can be allocated to twice as many people.
Second, because it is a single-shot vaccine, it will also speed up the painfully slow vaccination process that currently exists.
On Friday, Austin-Travis County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Jason Pickett said that the vaccine's adaptability and ease of use will make it vital to fighting the virus.
"With Johnson & Johnson vaccine, one of the advantages is it does not require the same specific handling that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do," Pickett said. "Its availability, the fact that you can get one shot only, the fact that it can tolerate a better temperature range and get out to providers that wouldn't be able to handle the other vaccines as easily, makes this a very effective tool in fighting the pandemic."
Finally, the vaccine has proven to be mostly effective against new strains of the disease. When tested against the South African strain, the vaccine still had 64% efficacy at preventing moderate to severe effects from the disease. Moderna and Pfizer were conducted before these more infection strains were widely spread.
What does this mean for Austin and the rest of Texas?
As Joe Biden meets with Gov. Greg Abbott in Houston to talk winter storm damages and the vaccine rollout, a shipment of 1.5 million vaccine doses are being brought to the state for next week. Abbott said that Texas will see vaccine shipments "increase dramatically" in the coming days.
According to Abbott, the state has allocated 8,000 doses to a new "Save Our Seniors" program, which is dedicated to bringing homebound seniors vaccine doses. However, with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine pending approval on Friday, Abbott said they could have up to four times their original number brought to senior residents.
Abbott said that most of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be targeted toward senior residents. The state of Texas has given around 40% of seniors 65 and older at least one dose of the vaccine, and they hope to jump to 50% by the end of the week.
In late January, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said that the vaccine will be available at any neighborhood pharmacy or medical office.
"In terms of vaccines it is a winner, and there are lots of benefits to this vaccine in terms of the public health response," Escott said. "The fact that it's a single dose makes it feasible for every clinic, every pharmacy, every doctor's office to have supplies so that folks can go to the places they normally get their vaccines to obtain this."
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone where a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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Austin City Limits fest and iHeartRadio Fest are the latest festivals to announce the removal of rapper DaBaby, who has come under fire for homophobic comments made during a recent festival.
The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk, was dropped by Lollapalooza just hours before his set on Sunday, followed by the Governor's Ball in New York and Nevada's Day N Vegas after making unsolicited comments about men with HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami. Rolling Stone Magazine confirmed with iHeartRadio organizers that DaBaby will no longer perform.
DaBaby will no longer be performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival — lineup update coming soon. pic.twitter.com/jAYfdJFxJf
— ACL Festival (@aclfestival) August 3, 2021
There is no word on who he will be replaced with yet, though rumors on ACL's subreddit, r/aclfestival, are saying they expect Tyler, The Creator, who performed at Lollapalooza. Kirk will be replaced at Day N Vegas by rapper Roddy Ricch.
Kirk later backtracked his offensive statements on his Instagram story, but again faced criticism for not exactly apologizing.
After facing a second round of backlash for his Instagram statements, the rapper posted on Instagram, saying:
In addition to being dropped from the festivals, DaBaby has been denounced by fellow celebrities like Dua Lipa, Madonna and Elton John.
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