Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Vax Matters podcast explores facts, myths, misconceptions around vaccines

Vax Matters, a new podcast series from the Louisiana Department of Health’s (LDH) Immunization Program, has released the first three episodes in a planned 36-podcast series over the coming year.

The podcast, with a new episode being released every two weeks, will take a deep dive and explore the history and future of vaccines, as well as address facts, misconceptions and myths on a variety of immunization topics.

In each episode, host Diane Deaton, a former TV personality and weathercaster for WAFB 9News in Baton Rouge, along with a guest host, will speak with medical and infectious disease experts from Louisiana, as well as across the country, to address that episode’s topic.

In a two-part episode just released, Deaton and guest host Deon Guillory speak with Dr. Frank Welch, a leading national expert on immunizations and former medical director for Emergency Preparedness at LDH, on the history of vaccines. During the episodes, Dr. Welch walks listeners through the origin of modern vaccines beginning with smallpox through the polio epidemic. Welch explains why some vaccines are grouped and how it is decided which flu strain will be used each year for the vaccine.

Dr. Welch also discusses how vaccines are developed today and the progress we have seen in the last few years and the medical research and tests that are conducted before a vaccine is ever approved.

“I think it's important in society that we recognize the difference between an opinion and scientific research and scientific fact,” Dr. Welch concluded.

In another of the episodes released, Deaton and Guillory speak with Dr. Joseph Kanter, the state health officer at LDH, to discuss the COVID vaccine and recount the past two years of living during the current pandemic. Dr. Kanter will take us behind the scenes as LDH and hospitals responded to the outbreak over the past two years, how the pandemic has impacted our lives and the role vaccines have played during that time.

“To have a vaccine developed from start to finish with full safety and efficacy testing in less than a year from the time that this virus entered this country is nothing short of miraculous,” Dr. Kanter said in Episode 1 of Vax Matters. “I think these companies deserve a lot of credit for helping save lives. We would (have) lost thousands and thousands of more lives in the second year of this pandemic if we had to deal with it without the tool of these vaccines.”

Dr. Kanter also talks about the importance of the vaccine and other FDA-approved tools that are available or will become available in the coming months to fight COVID.

Future topics will look at vaccine mistrust among minorities, vaccines and fertility, how outbreaks happen, and more detailed looks at our most common and well-known vaccines.

In the trailer for the Vax Matters podcast, Deaton introduces the podcast by saying, “For decades, vaccines were something most of us probably didn’t give much thought to. Then COVID happened and suddenly vaccines were all we thought about. Today, facts about vaccines matter more than ever.”

Vax Matters can be found and downloaded on all the top podcast platforms including Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Audible and Stitcher.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

When should I get a second COVID-19 booster shot?

By DR. MARTHA WHYTE | OPH Region 7 Medical Director

Since COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December 2020, we have seen occasional changes in the vaccination guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Following the availability of and recommendation for the first series of vaccinations, boosters have been recommended for those who are eligible. Now, there is a general push for a second Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) or Moderna (Spikevax) booster shot.

With the second booster shot, many Americans are currently asking when to get it, who should get it and how beneficial it is.

When to get it?

For most individuals to be considered fully vaccinated, they must have received their initial round of primary vaccines and their first booster shot. CDC says guidelines remain relatively the same for most Americans, but recommendations have changed, based on age, immune status and type of original vaccine received.

Timing is important for second boosters — at least four months after the first booster shot was administered. Those who received the J&J vaccine must wait at least four months from receiving their primary dose and booster.

Who should get it?

Health officials are now recommending the second coronavirus booster shot for:

  • Those who are age 50 or older
  • Individuals ages 12 and up who are moderately or severely immunocompromised (Pfizer only for ages 12-17)
  • Those with two doses (one primary and one booster) of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Janssen vaccine.

How beneficial is it?

Recent research shows that during the Omicron surge, those who were boosted were 7 times less likely to be hospitalized and 21 times less likely to die from COVID-19 as compared to unvaccinated individuals.

The average American desires to remain healthy and help keep their loved ones healthy as well. Factors that may affect the choice of a second booster shot include the greater risk for severe disease from COVID-19, the concern over giving COVID-19 to someone close who is immunocompromised, or greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Second boosters are meant to prevent hospitalizations. However, as with any vaccine, the second booster shot has a relative effective time in the body. It is not an end-all to complete protection against COVID-19. The series of vaccines and the second booster help to build immunity against infection and protect the individual for the life of the vaccine.

The choice of whether to receive a second booster shot, ultimately, is left up to the individual and their medical professional.

Future important life events and recent COVID-19 diagnoses are just two reasons that some individuals may choose to wait to receiving a second dose. Other factors include daily schedule constraints and the general thought of overall health being good and already adequately vaccinated.

If you are in a group listed above that is eligible for the second booster, or you know of someone who is, talk to your doctor. To book your free second booster or schedule an in-home vaccination, call 1-855-453-0774 or visit vaccines.gov. Find pertinent information around the second booster shot and other COVID-19 updates at www.cdc.gov.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

LDH highlights work of regional public health offices during National Public Health Week

The Louisiana Department of Health is celebrating National Public Health Week April 4-10, highlighting the importance of community health and the vital role public health professionals serve in making communities healthier. 

Led by Assistant Secretary Kim Hood, the LDH Office of Public Health (OPH) manages the network of public health units in nine regions throughout the state. Local officials and non-profit organizations partner with OPH to make sure the most vulnerable populations have access to the care and support they need.

Studies show poverty and poor health outcomes are closely linked. When faced with financial hardship, people must decide between their daily living expenses versus their health needs. As a result, they are more likely to go without necessary care such as consulting with a doctor or getting a prescription.

These issues are made even worse during a health crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as major storms which have hit so many Louisiana parishes. In public health, we know in a disaster that vulnerable people are vulnerable.

LDH's public health teams work closely with parish and local partners to overcome impediments to healthier lives. The Office of Public Health provides free vaccines for COVID-19, flu and other diseases. OPH is also on the frontlines in the preparation and response to natural disasters such as hurricanes and other emergencies. Dedicated public health workers also help keep the food supply safe, ensure the quality of drinking water, provide parents and kids with nutritious foods, and work behind the scenes in many ways to improve and protect health.

Here are some of the ways your Office of Public Health works to keep you safe and healthy.

Regional services

Greater New Orleans (Region 1) is focusing on the totality of health — addressing the social determinants of health and health justice. Region 1 OPH’s efforts utilize community health workers and social workers as conduits between the State and safety-net institutions to shore up hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV prevention and treatment. Region 1 also working closely with Metropolitan Human Services District and other behavioral health entities to provide competent and comprehensive care to all patients or clients who have experienced toxic stress and healthcare inaccessibility.

Throughout the state, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides healthy foods and other support for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum and infants and children up to age five. Other WIC services include breastfeeding support via live video with lactation consultants who are available 24/7, nutrition education and referrals to other social services. In the Greater Baton Rouge area (Region 2), WIC is now providing additional money to buy fruits and vegetables through September 2022. Region 2’s 11 WIC clinics serve more than 12,000 participants per month.

Many residents in river and coastal parishes (Region 3) continue to strive to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Ida, especially in lower Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. Families remain displaced, and the public health unit serving South Lafourche was significantly damaged. The town of Golden Meadow has generously been providing temporary space for public health services. In addition, Region 3 is implementing the Community Healthways program which provides additional assistance for basic needs including rent and utilities for families coping with hardships, such as those caused by Hurricane Ida.

LDH staff and partners remain active in Acadiana (Region 4) hosting many events and health fairs encouraging COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Region 4 staff will be working with physicians and nurses in the region to educate moms about the importance of Safe Sleep involving babies with the goal of lowering the instance of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID). With summer approaching, staff will work to educate the community on drowning prevention.

In the Southwest (Region 5), the Office of Public Health is committed to improving the lives of residents still dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Laura on top of ongoing issues like food insecurity and financial hardship. Region 5 Community Health Workers are stationed in parish health units, ready to listen to residents’ concerns and help direct them to helpful resources.

In Central Louisiana (Region 6), OPH staff continue to work to provide communities access to vital healthcare resources. Since 2020, Region 6 teams have tested more than 65,000 people for COVID-19 and have provided immunizations to 55,000 people. Most recently, Region 6 OPH partnered with Sleeves Up Avoyelles to host the Central Louisiana Rural Health Summit, addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect rural communities and provide solutions and resources to target these issues.

In Northwest Louisiana (Region 7), the staff has teamed up with the Women’s Council of Shreveport/Bossier on identifying ways to assist with meeting the health needs of birthing persons and children to cope with pressing issues including mental health, safe sleep and gun violence.

In the Northeast (Region 8), a newly formed health disparities team’s main goal is to develop programs that promote equitable health outcomes for those who are most vulnerable. Another key focus in Region 8 is fighting the opioid crisis, including partnering with other state and community partners to create the first Opioid Substance Use Recovery Coalition to help communities that are especially impacted.

In the Florida and Northshore parishes (Region 9), LDH teams are focused on serving women, infants and children in Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes through the WIC Program. Parish health units in Livingston, Amite, Hammond, Bogalusa, Franklinton and Slidell provide assistance to breastfeeding mothers with prenatal breastfeeding education support, breastfeeding education, healthy WIC food packages, peer counseling, breast pump support (free hospital grade pumps and personal electric pumps), consultations with certified lactation consultants and lactation rooms at most WIC sites.

Monday, March 28, 2022

LDH's Omar Khalid shares his experience on TV's 'Jeopardy!'

(Omar Khalid, senior advisor to Office of Public Health Assistant Secretary Kim Hood, appeared on “Jeopardy!” on March 24, where he finished in second place against Tim McCaigue, an app developer from California, and Ciara Donegan, an undergraduate student from Maryland who won first place.)

The Louisiana Department of Health's Omar Khalid, right, appeared on "Jeopardy!" on March 24 with Ken Jennings as host.

By OMAR KHALID | Chief of Staff, LDH Office of Public Health

I’ve been a “Jeopardy!” viewer for most of my life and have taken the contestant test at least 10 times over the years. Normally, you take the 50-question test, with 10 seconds to type in a response for each question, and never hear back. This time, I found an email in my inbox’s spam folder inviting me to take a follow-up test! I was actually sick with COVID and there were no available slots left, and I was devastated that I may have missed my one shot. Luckily, I got a follow-up email about a month later and scheduled another test. It was identical to the first test, but you take it on Zoom so they can see it’s really you. Again, there was no response on how I did.

About two months later, I got yet another email inviting me to play a mock game of “Jeopardy!” on Zoom. We used clicking pens as buzzers, played a few clues in a game setting against other would-be contestants, and gave a short interview to test out how we would perform on TV. Passing that step put us into a pool of contestants eligible to tape an episode of “Jeopardy!” — but we were told only about a third of those in the pool would get the call to tape an episode. I was quite surprised when I did get a call about a week later inviting me to fly to L.A. to be on the show.

The production itself was extremely professional, and as a public health employee I was pleased to see how incredibly safe they were with COVID-19 precautions. Because my taping was nearly at the height of the Omicron peak, we were required to submit a PCR test before our flight and tested again 12 hours before our taping. The set itself had a COVID safety coordinator and everyone was masked for the entirety of the day. When you see me on TV, those were the only moments I spent without my mask on from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There was no studio audience, but the other contestants sat physically distanced in the audience seating and watched each other’s games, as an entire week’s episodes were recorded in one day.

Since longtime host Alex Trebek lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, there has been no permanent host on the show. We found out 74-game champion Ken Jennings would be our host on the day of taping. He was very warm and funny — and a bit taller in person — and I personally would like to see him become the new permanent host.

As for my game, I’ve been getting a lot of kudos for being a car expert since I answered four out of five questions in the “Classic Cars” category (and a $2,000 clue on the Le Mans race), but I definitely feel this is unwarranted. They were just bits of trivia I had stored in my head from 40 years on Earth. There were a number of clues that were quite easy, but I have to say our "Final Jeopardy!" was one of the easiest I’ve seen in a long time. I had little chance to overcome the leader in the game but at least I got to go out on a correct response! 

I was also surprised to learn that I did not have any incorrect responses, not an unheard-of feat on the show. It happened most recently a few days before my episode, but it felt good to bat 1.000. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the day against two very strong opponents, but as the process for even appearing on the show proved, there is definitely an element of luck involved at every step. I have no regrets about how I played and have been supremely overwhelmed at all of the love and support I’ve received in the days since my episode aired.

I recommend the experience to anyone. The Jeopardy! Anytime Test is free to take online at any time. Your results are held for one year, and then you can take it again. Even if you don’t think you’d do great on the show, I encourage you to take it just for fun!

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Adult Protective Services investigated 1,662 exploitation cases in 2021

By ELI MELILLO | Public Information Officer, LDH Bureau of Media and Communications

In 2021, Adult Protective Services investigated 1,662 cases of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual or financial), neglect, exploitation or extortion of disabled adults between the ages of 18-59.

As part of the Louisiana Department of Health's Office of Aging and Adult Services, Adult Protective Services is responsible for investigating reports of abuse and arranging for services to protect these vulnerable adults. The impact of victimization of vulnerable adults is often detrimental to their long-term safety and stability and physical and mental health.

"It's a lasting effect that is seen throughout the community," said Adult Protection Specialist Supervisor Anona Bowie.

Human traffickers target potential victims throughout our communities, particularly those individuals residing in shelters, participating in out-patient treatment programs, interacting online with persons unknown to them, and other circumstances wherein the traffickers gain knowledge of the vulnerabilities of the victims. Human traffickers identify and target individuals with little or no familial involvement and lack of social interaction. The traffickers prey on vulnerable adults to gain access to their monthly financial benefits and sometimes to coerce or force the vulnerable adults into situations involving labor or sex trafficking. Human traffickers gain access and control of the victims' financial benefits but fail to provide the victim with basic needs other than housing. Often, even the housing provided by traffickers is inadequate to meet the needs of the victims.

Human trafficking victims with vulnerabilities or disabilities may exhibit limited mental capacity to make decisions, advocate for themselves or complete even the most basic activities of daily living independently. "Let's say the victim requires specific medical therapies … When the trafficker takes control, the individual may no longer have access to essential medical treatments or care — and money and other benefits intended for the individual are diverted to the trafficker. Consequently, the vulnerable adult goes without necessities such as access to medicine, healthy foods, and medical care," said Bowie.

Adult Protective Services Assistant Program Director Shannon Ioannou urges people to be vigilant and aware of peculiar changes within their neighborhoods and communities. Typically, multiple victims are housed in the same residence together and are frequently relocated by the traffickers to avoid suspicion by neighbors or other community members. Community members may notice these vulnerable adults publicly soliciting individuals for food and money or observe the victims being required to fulfill roles of manual labor or other tasks that appear to pose immediate risk of harm to adults. Victims may exhibit other behaviors such as trespassing, vagrancy and shoplifting, which are often actions indicative of possible human trafficking and exploitation of these vulnerable adults.

If you suspect abuse, neglect, exploitation or extortion of a vulnerable or disabled adult age 18-59, contact Adult Protective Services at our 24-hour hotline, 1-800-898-4910.

If you suspect abuse, neglect, exploitation, or extortion of adults age 60 or older, please contact Elderly Protective Services at 1-833-577-6532 or 225-342-0144.

Please contact 911 immediately for situations posing an imminent risk of harm to vulnerable adults.