Health and Human Services closed standalone vaccine office, merged it amid restructuring

The claim: The U.S. government’s  vaccine safety office was closed.

The deadly spread of COVID-19 has triggered a blame game on social media amid the election season.

On Oct. 25, the group Occupy Democrats claimed on Facebook that the Trump administration in 2019 “quietly closed a vaccine safety office, hindering efforts to trace the long-term safety of a COVID vaccine. This is a shocking disregard for the health and wellbeing of Americans. If at this stage, you still think Trump cares about you, you’re not smart enough to vote.”

More: Fact check: Neither Biden nor Trump is calling for mandated COVID-19 vaccines

Origin of the vaccine office claim

The claim stems from reorganization within the Department of Health and Human Services that affected the National Vaccine Program Office.

In March 2019, less than a year before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., HHS Secretary Alex Azar spelled out the changes in a letter to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is ranking member on the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Service, and Education.

As part of a broader reorganization of the department, Azar said, the National Vaccine Program Office was shut down as a separate entity in an effort to “improve the integrity and quality” of programs within the office of the Assistant Secretary for Health “and increase operational efficiencies by eliminating program redundancies and decreasing program costs.”

In this July 27, 2020, file photo, Nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y.
In this July 27, 2020, file photo, Nurse Kathe Olmstead prepares a shot that is part of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., in Binghamton, N.Y.

He said the National Vaccine Program Office would be merged with the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) to form the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP). 

“This effort will provide cross-cutting, science-based, health-promoting advice and recommendations to the ASH on issues pertaining to blood and tissue safety and availability; HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and other infectious diseases; and vaccines and immunization.”

More: Fact check: Trump’s past flu vaccinations not linked to increased COVID-19 risk

He said the changes were proposed by a ” working group of career staff” and would allow for the “more efficient management” of multiple committees currently managed separately by vaccine and HIV/AIDS offices.

In effect, the vaccine office was merged into one focused on infectious diseases.

The effect of the restructuring

The New York Times, quoting experts, said the elimination of the office left the long-term safety effort for coronavirus vaccines fragmented among federal agencies, with no central leadership.

While the office was ostensibly folded into another, it no longer really functions as it did before, said Daniel Salmon. He was director of vaccine safety at National Vaccine Program Office from 2007-12. He now directs the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In part, people with the necessary training and background are no longer on staff.

“When you remove all the technical experience, you don’t have the capacity to make

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Northwest Houston bars hope to weather COVID-19 restrictions that keep them closed

Bars across Texas reopened their doors following Gov. Greg Abbott’s Oct. 7 order allowing individual counties to determine if it’s safe.

However, Harris County is still not allowing bars that don’t serve food to reopen, including some in northwest Harris County. The county still has a high degree of community spread of the virus, county officials said.

“Indoor, maskless gatherings should not be taking place right now, and this applies to bars as well,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted in response to Abbott’s order.


While some bars have been able to reopen because they sell food, those without a kitchen or food truck are still left not knowing when they’ll be able to open again.

Franklin’s Tower, at 4307 Treaschwig Road in Spring, first closed in March for the initial shutdown, and was only open for a few weeks after being allowed to reopen in May.

“It’s absolutely terrible,” Franklin’s Tower owner Brandi Neal said. “We’re in the neighborhood where my venue has provided not only a lot of jobs, but also a community atmosphere around here.”

Neal said her bar was a community staple in Spring, offering local artists space to paint murals, live performances from area musicians every weekend and homemade goods from small business owners close by.

“Basically, I’m just trying to hold on,” Neal said. “I really thought we’d be able to stay open.”

Neal said she is working on acquiring a food truck for her bar so they can reopen. She said she wanted to be back open months ago but at this point isn’t sure when that will be possible.

She has applied for business loans to try to keep the bar afloat but said everything she applied for has either been denied or pending. Many of her employees are still waiting for the bar to reopen to start working again.

“Luckily, our customers have been really good for them, and they’ve been cleaning houses or mowing lawns or running errands for them,” Neal said. “Some have gotten a little part-time work with bars in other counties, but they’re all waiting for us to be open.”

Meanwhile, Ultra Bar, 744 Cypress Creek Parkway, was planning to debut in March before the pandemic hit, setting back their opening indefinitely.

“We were devastated,” Ultra Bar Co-Owner Jamie Woo-Hughley said. “We don’t know what the future is for the bar industry.”

Woo-Hughley said they had done a total reconstruction for their building, but didn’t add a kitchen — so now they’re unable to open their bar. Now, she said, they plan to add a food truck outside in hopes they will be able to open.

“That’s really the only thing we have to try and recover other than just acting as a venue,” she said. “Even with that, you don’t know how many people can come in.”

With indoor bars, Harris County epidemiologist Maria Rivera said it’s harder to stop the spread of viruses

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U.S.-Canada border to remain closed to non-essential travel for another month as cases rise

The U.S.-Canadian border will remain closed to non-essential travel until late November as the U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any other country in the world. 

The ban on non-essential travel was put in place in March and has been extended every month since then. 


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On Monday, Canada’s public safety minister announced the earliest the border will reopen is now Nov. 21 in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The closure was set to expire on Oct. 21. 

“We are extending non-essential travel restrictions with the United States until November 21, 2020. Our decisions will continue to be based on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe,” Canadian Emergency Minister Bill Blair said in a tweet Monday. 

The restrictions do not apply to essential workers such as health care professionals, airline crews and truck drivers. Americans and Canadians returning to their countries are also exempted from the border closure. 

The move comes as many parts of the U.S. are experiencing surges in coronavirus cases, prompting fears about a devastating second wave of infections going into flu season and the colder months. The U.S. reported more than 70,000 new infections on Friday, making it the highest single-day increase for the country since late July. 

Canada was able to largely flatten the curve over the summer,  but has been experiencing a rise in new daily cases since the end of August. 

As of Monday, the U.S. confirmed more than 8 million coronavirus cases and nearly 220,000 deaths. Canada has recorded nearly 210,000 cases and just under 10,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW

ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE COULD GET WORSE DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

PROPOSAL TO LET CORONAVIRUS SPREAD NATURALLY THROUGH US POPULATION INTERESTS WHITE HOUSE, ALARMS MEDICAL ESTABLISHMENT

EUROPE REENTERS LOCKDOWNS AS COVID-19 CASES SURGE

THE FIRST DEATH FROM A CORONAVIRUS REINFECTION HAS BEEN REPORTED

US SENATOR TOOK OFF MASK REPEATEDLY ON FLIGHT. HE CHAIRS COMMITTEE THAT OVERSEES AIRLINE SAFETY


 

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Let’s stay active when gyms are closed and sports are on pause



Early-morning exercisers get in a workout at a Montreal gym on Oct. 5, days before the city's gyms had to close again.


© Provided by The Gazette
Early-morning exercisers get in a workout at a Montreal gym on Oct. 5, days before the city’s gyms had to close again.

Here we go again. As the number of COVID-19 cases has risen back to critical levels across the country, gyms are seeing their capacities reduced or being closed altogether. Limits have been placed on team sports at the recreational and competitive level. And while not all provinces have put the brakes on sports and certain other types of physical activity, the risk of another coast-to-coast shutdown is high.

Back in March, when gyms closed for the first time, spring was right around the corner. Days were getting longer and the weather warmer, which made it easier to find ways to do a workout outdoors . This time around, it’s dark when we roll out of bed and dark again when we sit down to dinner, which means it’s less inviting at either end of the day to get in a workout.

With more obstacles in their way, Canadians are likely to go back to the more sedentary habits they adopted in the spring, when — according to data collected by ParticipACTION, the national organization whose mandate is to get Canadians moving — people were more likely to watch television or sit in front of a computer screen than exercise.

When it comes to the consequences of COVID-19, a lack of exercise may seem trivial, but for many people exercise isn’t just a boost to their physical health; it also improves their mental health — a theory that’s supported by a growing body of evidence. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Some people actively seek out exercise as a therapeutic option to improve mental health, be it at the suggestion of a medical professional or by virtue of the good feeling that often accompanies a good sweat. Others are so used to their exercise routine that they go into a funk when their workout schedule is disrupted. Then there are those who have very defined goals that are at risk of being abandoned without access to a training facility, which adds to their stress level.

Also worth mentioning is the loss of social connection, which can be felt by anyone who plays team sports or prefers to sweat in a group versus on their own. Beer-league hockey, soccer and basketball players, curlers, masters athletes, gym rats and others of all ages who play organized sports are at risk of being negatively affected emotionally and physically by the loss of their exercise routine.

Several studies have emerged looking at the mental health effects of the change in physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of which came to a similar conclusion: those who let

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