Politics Monday: Of Course We Need a Vaccine Passport

Travel is ticking back up, and with it talk of a vaccine passport, writes New York Times reporter Claire Moses. It’s not a new idea — inoculations against yellow fever and other diseases are already required for travel to certain countries. Growing up in the Foreign Service, my diplomatic passport was twinned with a passport-sized yellow vaccination booklet.

Opposing on grounds of personal freedom

Like everything else pandemic, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has politicized the notion of a vaccine passport, using the cover of “personal freedoms” to prevent their use.

…vaccination passports reduce individual freedom and will harm patient privacy.

Governor Ron DeSantis

Suing the feds to release cruise industry

And there’s a weird twist to this position, because the return of Florida’s cruise industry, in dry dock since March of last year, is dependent on the concept of a vaccination passport. DeSantis cares so much about this key business that he has sued the Biden administration to release the CDC’s hold. Does his left hand not know what his right hand is doing?

It’s just such a bizarre, mixed signal.

Peter Ricci, director of hospitality and tourism management programs at Florida Atlantic University, quoted in Wendy Rhodes, The Palm Beach Post, April 12

Prolonging the pandemic

He’s fighting for the liberation of unvaccinated people to spread germs as they please in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — one that appears to be surging again. By preventing Floridians to distinguish between who is vaccinated and who is not, DeSantis is telling us to be content with prolonging the pandemic.

The Editors of The Palm Beach Post

Florida leads the country in the number of COVID variant cases, which are 50% more contagious and 64% more deadly. On March 21st, Florida’s deaths surpassed two million. Two million souls are nothing more than data points. You won’t hear this from the state’s confident governor.

I think things are going well.

Governor Ron DeSantis
Pulitzer Prize winner Clay Bennett, Washington Post News Service, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Wellness Wednesday: Feel the Liberation of Getting the Vaccine

Not only was there no longer like a light at the end of the tunnel, there was no longer any tunnel.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin, in Jordan Mendoza’s USA Today article.

We were in the dark

Yes, we were all in that dark nowhere for months, feeling terrified and lost and hopeless and unseeing.

I thought I’d never get sprung.

My friend Deb

The vaccine lights the way

And, then, the unimaginable happened. A light beamed from not too far away, revealing a short tunnel through which we only had to step to be delivered from the Coronavirus killing machine. Yes, it seemed like an eternal wait, complicated by lottery scrambling for access, but then I entered a grocery store for the first time in eleven months. Inhaling the heady scent of fresh bread, I got a needle in my arm and the world changed.

Gratitude washes over us

United States is the first country to administer 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, on track to meet the president’s goal of administering 200 million shots in his first 100 days in office. USA Today reporter Jordan Mendoza writes about Americans getting emotional when being vaccinated.

As soon as I got into the line, I saw an elderly person in a wheelchair getting their vaccine, and I think it was just like a really full-circle moment for me.

Michael Limus, 29, Sacramento, California

The magnitude of the moment just kept washing over me.

Kristen Whitson, 38, Oregon, Wisconsin

I had tears in my eyes, literally. But I also had just a tremendous amount of gratitude and hope in my heart that better days were ahead for all of us.

Tom Miner, 25, Charlotte, North Carolina 

I feel like it’s one step closer to a little bit more normalcy for my family.

Travel blogger Hather Montgome

It’s still miraculous that we’ve been able to come so far.

Mike DiBenedetto, 46, Phoenix

Zimbabwean-American Dr. Tererai Trent and her husband, Mark Trent, celebrated being vaccinated in the best possible way.

Compassion carries us forward

Everyone benefits if you’re a little bit more compassionate and open to being more flexible and more understanding of different challenges and needs. The pandemic is not the only time we should be thinking about these things.

Travis Chi Wing Lau, Assistant Professor, Kenyon College, Columbus, Ohio

Family Friday: What If All Our Elders Were Family?

Readers of this blog will recognize some of my aunts and uncles by name: Snooky, Elaine, Terry, Carl, Marie. And cousins, loads of cousins. They were all once the province of summer, the midwestern landscape that my Foreign Service family visited on what the State Department calls “home leave.”

These days, we keep in touch with each other by text, email, letters, telephone, Facebook, Zoom. No one is left out. Many of us have had at least one vaccine, several of us lucky enough to be fully vaccinated.

The same cannot be said for millions of older Americans who are isolated, an increasingly perilous condition during this awful pandemic. Technical challenges, narrow access points, and a widening eligibility pool all threaten to leave our most vulnerable unvaccinated.

Older Americans are isolated

Jean Andrade, an 88-year-old who lives alone, has been waiting for her COVID-19 vaccine since she became eligible under state guidelines nearly a month ago … an untold number of older adults like Andrade are getting left behind, unseen, because they are too overwhelmed, too frail or too poor to fend for themselves.

Gillian Flaccus, Heather Hollingsworth and Russ Bynum, Associated Press

access to vaccines is limited

It was hard enough to score a vaccine in Florida when only those aged 65 and above were eligible. Now, the floodgates have opened to anyone with underlying medical condition as well as teachers and other workers.

Floridians who are 75 and older make up 62% of the residents killed by the coronavirus since the pandemic began, but only 32% of the people who have received their second of the two-shot vaccine, according to state numbers. I suspect computer literacy is the culprit. Navigating online signups successfully has required an alacrity with running multiple screens at a time and entering data at lightning speed as available sign-up slots disappear.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

So let’s behave like family

It’s time to begin emergency airlifts of ungrateful grandchildren to Florida until all grandparents are registered.

Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post

Or, as a local politician who steered vaccines to a client community of affluent seniors recently said:

I hate the thought that anybody would think that I would only be going out and helping one community because I’m their lawyer; that bothers me….They’re not just a client of mine, but they’re like family,” Bogen said, according to a Sun Sentinel article.

Mark Bogen, Broward County Commissioner and lawyer for Wynmoore, quoted in article by Herald Tribune reporter Zac Anderson

Maybe it’s time to behave as if the elderly were family to us all.

Wellness Wednesday: How I Became Newly Grateful for Being Healthy

It’s been quite the two years. In 2019, I survived a ruptured aneurysm. As I completed my recovery in early 2020, the world went into pandemic lockdown, and both my husband and I — both high risk — have lived apart from much of the world for nearly a year.

But February delivered three pieces of good news that will carry us forward into whatever 2021 has in store.

  1. My doctor pronounced me in excellent shape.
  2. My husband and I are fully vaccinated.
  3. I don’t have breast cancer.

Let me say a few words about that final item, and the doctors that carried me there.

The Gynecologist

Like most of us, I delayed many medical appointments last year. When I did get in to see my gynecologist in early January, she identified a small mass in one of my breasts. I have “dense breasts,” which is to say that it’s never easy to figure out which lump is normal and which might mean trouble According to the CDC, about half of all women age 40 and above are in this category. Dr. K gave me orders for a mammogram and an ultrasound, and an appointment with a “breast doctor” to review the radiology report. I realized this meant a breast cancer doctor.

I wasn’t that worried, but I was pissed off. Adding yet another medical situation to these challenging two years was too much. I didn’t want another doctor in my e-Rolodex, thank you very much. Unfair. Boo-hoo. Etcetera.

I allowed myself to pout for a couple of days, listened to wise people who reminded me that life doesn’t work that way, and made my appointments.

The Radiologist

The imaging center radiologist looked at the images as the technician put me through my paces. She was reassuring: the tissue looked no different from other fatty breast tissue. Several days later, I received the written report. In black and white, it said “Not cancer.” Good news. If I hadn’t already scheduled an appointment with the breast surgeon, that would have been that.

However, as I discovered during my long hospital stay in Amsterdam, I am a super-compliant patient, and so I gathered my records and prepared for a brief conversation with the next doctor along the lines of “Sorry to waste your time, never mind.”

The Breast Surgeon hi

But that’s not the conversation we had.

About 16 percent of breast cancers do not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound. If you were sure the lump wasn’t new, we’d let this go for six months. But, you are not sure, and I don’t want to be wrong. A biopsy will tell me for sure what we’re dealing with. It’s your choice.

Dr. M

I realized that I hadn’t survived, recovered, and thrived in these past two years just to hope for the best. I scheduled the surgery.

The Primary Care Doctor

It’s called a lumpectomy when the tumor is cancer, but an excisional breast biopsy when the substance removed is unknown. Either way, it’s surgery, and I had to be deemed healthy enough to withstand the process.

The hours that I spent getting evaluated — in-person instead of on the telephone for the first time since March — were the most lively, interactive, and positive of the past year. Every interaction affirmed my progress in recovery. Big item in the silver lining category.

The Breast Surgeon

At 7:45 AM the Monday following Valentine’s Day, Dr. M. marked up my breast. “Nice timing for Valentine’s Day,” I said. “Yeah, just felt you up,” she quipped back. I laughed as I was wheeled into the operating room in the outpatient facility, and then it was over. Dr. M called my husband to say that it looked like plain old fatty tissue. We were home by 10.

I spent that day and the next icing, resting, and binging on Netflix. I had no pain, no swelling, because the cut was tiny and I’d also followed the guidelines to get a super-supportive sports bra. The Syrokan runs a little small but lives up to the hype. When I showed my husband the incision, I realized we were commemorating Mardi Gras with the New Orleans tradition of “flashing,” sans beads. Eventually, I turned off Netflix and got back to walking: a mile, two, four.

One week later, Dr. M showed me the pathology report: Benign, it said. Benign fibrofatty mammary parenchyma, a lipoma, a benign fat tumor. Same material as the rest of the breast, just encased in material that makes it feel more dense, like chicken fat in a baggie. In six months, I’ll do another mammogram for a new baseline. That’s it.

Tears came to my eyes. They still do as I realize, once again, how grateful I am to be well, once again

Lessons Learned

Be better about documenting what’s going on in my body. Don’t put off medical appointments — my husband and I will be back in doctors’ offices in mid-March. Do what they tell you to do. And keep going, every day, with something that will make you stronger: walk, do yoga, do the polka, lift weights. It really doesn’t matter what, just keep moving. It helps if it’s kinda fun.

And this from USA Today’s Adrianna Rodriguez: Doctors recommend patients schedule their mammogram before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, or space out the two appointments, after some women have been mistaking swollen lymph nodes, a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine, for breast lumps.

Here’s to our health, dear readers! Enjoy the sights and sounds of early morning in our backyard.

Palm Beach and Holland Lag in Vaccine Rollout

Holland, the country that gave me back my life in 2019, and Palm Beach, the Florida county in which I continue my recovery, would appear to have little in common. Tulips and clogs and bicycles, versus palm trees and flip flops and Hummers. Yes, there are canals in both places, but Florida’s are alligator-prone drainage ditches and the Netherlands’ are quaint waterways.

Among the most striking differences between Holland and my home county is the health care system. The Dutch mandate health insurance, taking the issue of coverage out of the conversation surrounding access to care. Among the miraculous elements contributing to my survival and recovery while I was in Amsterdam was that my New York State retiree health insurance fully covered the costs of my care. Had I been just a few months older, Medicare would not have paid my Amsterdam hospital bill as our national elderly health insurance system does not cover out-of-country costs. It was yet another issue I had not considered as our fateful cruise departed the American shores.

However, Palm Beach County and Holland have something surprising in common right now in the most dire public health issue in a century. Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic, both are lagging behind in administering the coronavirus vaccine.

Palm beach county is not vaccine ready

Jane Musgrave’s article in The Palm Beach Post lays out criticism against Palm Beach County for its lack of visible preparation for distribution of the coronavirus vaccine. It is disappointing. We have benefitted from the county’s leadership in requiring masks despite the lack of a statewide mandate. Governor Ron DeSantis’ callous lack of leadership throughout the pandemic has resulted in Florida’s 1.4 million cases and nearly 23,000 deaths, and the numbers are galloping ahead.

Andy Marlette, News Journal

Palm Beach County hospital and nursing home staff have received the vaccine in the first wave announced by DeSantis, and that’s following the public health direction from Washington. However, rather than following the guidance and placing essential workers in the second wave — grocery store clerks, bus drivers, first-responders, the people who make the world work for us — the governor went “off script,”

governor desantis didn’t follow the state plan

As reported by Jeffrey Schweers in the Tallahassee Democrat, the Florida state plan followed CDC guidance, focusing on long-term care residents, hospital workers at the front lines of the coronavirus battle, workers essential to the running of society, and people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of getting the disease.

The state plan outlined procedures for distribution, inventory management, storage and handling, second-dose reminders, provider recruitment and enrolling, and communication with the public, Schweers writes.

We have a solid plan.

Jared Moskowitz, Florida Emergency Management director

But Governor Ron DeSantis went off script almost immediately, tossing out the state plan and all its structure while opening up availability to everyone in Florida 65 and over. There are 4 million very of us very anxious old people desperately trying to find out where to sign up. The county Health Department, now saddled with the job without the time or funds to have built the capacity, saw its COVID telephone hotline crash. Our local CVS is waiting for the vaccine. Our doctor’s office doesn’t have any information. I’ve sent an email to the county — as appeared in Jane Musgrove’s Palm Beach Post article — with the information I hope someone sees so that we can be put in line.

However, we are more fortunate than most in being able to sustain our self-imposed lockdown until the process reveals itself. We’ll be alright.

Holland is not vaccine ready

Holland, like the rest of the world, has been ahead of the United States in addressing the coronavirus pandemic. The friends we made among the staff and other patients at OLVG Hospital in Amsterdam are enduring another nearly complete lockdown while practicing the public health measures — wearing masks, keeping social distance, washing their hands — to keep themselves and their fellow citizens healthy.

However, the Netherlands has fallen behind the other European Union countries in beginning the rollout for the vaccine. In Mike Corder’s recent article for the Associated Press, he describes the Netherlands’ slow preparation for the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine. Holland, which begins inoculating Dutch citizens today, is the last member of the European Union to take this life-saving step.

This is outrageous. It is not a strategy, but chaos — total chaos — and the preparations were poor and too late.”

Geert Wilders, leader of the largest Dutch opposition party

We need functioning government

The outrage in Holland may be played up by politics in the constitutional monarchy, where multiple parties vie for parliamentary leadership. My husband and I are watching a fascinating political drama about such a process in Denmark, Borgen. It has infused us with a belief in government and, yes, even politicians. It’s been an excellent antidote to the past four years in America.

No political drama prepared us for watching domestic terrorists storm and desecrate the Capitol this past week, though. The silver lining may be, as Majority Whip James Clyburn said on the PBS NewsHour, that Republicans have finally been shocked into governing.

[While in the bunker during the assault on the Capitol] I saw how the government ought to work, Nancy and Mitch coming together and saying what we needed to do to get back to the Capitol and get back on the floor and continue doing what’s necessary to have a peaceful transfer of power.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, speaking on the PBS NewsHour

Twitter got rid of Donald Trump, permanently, yesterday. The country will be rid of him on January 20. It will be permanent, too, if he is twice impeached by the US House of Representatives.

And, look, he’s already said that he wants to be doing things that nobody else has much done before. This will help accommodate him … no president has ever been impeached for a second time before.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, speaking on the PBS NewsHour