The science deniers are losing: Support for immunization jumps in new Gallup poll

There are two main factors in any successful vaccination program: 1) To have a safe and effective vaccine , and 2) To make sure enough people get the vaccine to achieve herd immunity.

Unfortunately, a combination of factors has led many Americans to be wary of vaccines. Some reticence is based in legitimate historical trauma, such as the Tuskegee experiments that left some Black Americans distrustful of government and medicine mixing. Some of it is people falling down rabbit holes of partial information or misinformation from anti-vaccine activists, as well as conspiracy theories about the pandemic in general. And some of it is people simply not knowing enough about the vaccine, how it was developed, and what the trial process entailed to make them enthusiastic about getting it.

So will there be enough people getting the vaccine to put an end to the pandemic? Time will tell, but a new Gallup poll offers some hopeful news on that front. In November, the number of Americans who say they are willing to get the coronavirus vaccine jumped to 63%, continuing the increase from 50% in September and 58% in October.


With the FDA moving forward in the approval process with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and with people already starting to be immunized in the U.K., that's encouraging news. A return to normalcy will depend on a majority of the population being immune, and widespread vaccination is a far better way to get there than through mass sickness and death.

For those who are still hesitant about getting the vaccine, check out what Dr. Samara Friedman shared about how they were developed and why she won't hesitate to get it as soon as it's available:

"The FDA is likely going to approve the Pfizer Covid vaccine when they meet on December 10th. The Moderna vaccine will probably be approved shortly thereafter. This is an incredible feat of modern medicine, and our best chance to hopefully get our lives back to near normal relatively soon. However, it is new and it was done quickly, so understandably, people may be hesitant to get it; even people who vaccinate against all other diseases.

Will I be getting the vaccine? ABSOLUTELY. As a physician, I will probably have the opportunity to be immunized prior to New Year's and yes, I will be taking it as soon as possible.

But, it is a new vaccine technology and done in record time, so aren't I worried about its safety? Nope, not any more so than any other vaccine or other medical intervention.

Why? Let's start with how this vaccine works. This is an mRNA vaccine. Past vaccines typically use a live but weakened "attenuated" virus, or dead viral material "inactivated" virus, or a piece of the virus's protein or even a toxin produced by the virus. The Covid vaccine is very different. It contains mRNA (messenger genetic material) that encodes for the Covid spike protein. This causes your cells to then produce the Covid spike protein. In contrast, when you are sick with Covid, the virus hijacks your cell to produce many copies of the entire virus. Then it destroys the cell, busting it open to release its newly formed viral particles. When your cells release just the spike protein, it will stimulate your immune system to form antibodies to the Covid spike protein without you getting sick. There is no possibility of getting Covid from the vaccine. When your body is subsequently exposed to Covid, it will quickly recognize the spike protein and destroy it before it can make you sick. This was 95% effective in preventing Covid, which is an even better percentage than most other vaccines. However, you must take both doses (about 3-4 weeks apart).

Am I concerned about it being new? And previously untested? No, I'm not. This type of technology is not entirely new. It has been studied and used in cancer research. They have been making mRNA vaccines and studying them to specifically target proteins on tumor cells and train your immune system to then destroy the tumor. In this case, it is not a vaccine in the preventive sense, as it is targeted to a tumor that you already have. It is not currently widespread because it has to be custom made for each tumor. But, it has been "around the block" for a while now. The technology was also being studied for other Coronaviruses. It never came to fruition, because the diseases never reached pandemic proportions, and then the funding dried up. The mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell, and it does not affect your DNA, and therefore has no lasting impact on your cell.

Am I concerned about the speed with which it was developed? Weren't significant corners cut in order to get this out so quickly? No and no. What was cut out of the equation was mostly red tape, and what was added was technology and funding. We were given the genetic code by scientists in China to start vaccine production in January; before Covid was even documented to have reached our shores. From there, the vaccine was developed from the technology we had from the prior Coronavirus and cancer research, and was completed in March. Normally, there would be months of waiting for the FDA to even look at the work done prior to approving Phase 1 trials. Because of the urgent nature of this, it was essentially put on the top of the wait pile, which cut out months of waiting, but did not cut any corners. Between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines (both mRNA, with a slightly different delivery system), they were tested in 37,000 people in Phase 3 (and an additional 37,000 received a placebo). That is on par with, if not better than the vaccines currently available.

Aren't I concerned that the FDA is about to approve it, and there may be side effects that haven't been seen yet? Nope on this one too. We know from decades of vaccine research, since you typically just get 1, 2 or 3 doses and then you are done with it, that nearly all side effects from vaccines occur in the first 6 weeks. Like other vaccines, minor side effects may occur(soreness at injection site, muscle aches, fever). Severe adverse reactions are extremely rare, and again, occur quickly if they are going to occur at all. As a healthy 40-something year old woman, my risk of dying from Covid is about 1 in 250 to 1 in a 1,000. That is not a rare event! And even if I don't die from it, I could have long term lung damage and other issues that affect my quality of life. Because vaccines are given to healthy people (unlike medications for treating a disease that is already present) they are held to a much higher standard for approval. My risk of having a significant adverse reaction from the Covid vaccine is minuscule in comparison to my risk with Covid. In fact, there have been no severe reactions to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to date.

For the rest of the population (outside of healthcare workers or those in nursing homes), who will likely be able to get the vaccine in February or March, there will be even more time passed and more people who have received the vaccine to be the "guinea pigs" here.

Anyone who is pregnant - it has not yet been tested in your group (although I do know that many pregnant front line health care workers are planning to take it). For those under 18 years old - it is also not yet tested. Moderna will be starting a trial shortly. Hopefully it will be approved by summer. But for everyone else, I highly recommend getting it as soon as you can; for you, for your loved ones, for those who cannot (perhaps because they are immunocompromised), for the many businesses that are on the verge of permanent shut down, and for kids to safely return to schools. I will be rolling up my sleeve for it as soon as it is offered.

If you'd like, please do feel free to cut and paste on your own social media sites. Sharing of information is so important to combating this pandemic. We have now surpassed 15 million documented Covid cases in our country (5 million of which were in the last 30 days) and over 2,000 people are dying per day. I do not plan on making the post shareable, as I don't need militant anti-vaxers tracking me down.

Samara Friedman, M.D.
Orthopaedic Surgery

(While, I am not an expert in vaccines, as a physician, I do have the necessary skills to interpret medical studies and evaluate data. Additionally, I have been listening to the experts in virology, infectious disease, and epidemiology.)"

You don't have to be an expert in vaccines to listen to those who have dedicated their lives to their development. When it comes to risk, we know that there are very real risks from COVID-19, and since the incidences of adverse vaccine events are far, far lower, the risk-benefit ratio comes out greatly in favor of getting the vaccine.

Modern medicine truly has come so far, and the incredible feat of this newvaccine development should be celebrated whole-heartedly.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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