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HIV activists hail Fauci amid coronavirus crisis — but it wasn’t always that way

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ACT UP protest at the National Institutes of Health on April 21, 1990. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading voice of medical authority as the world confronts the coronavirus, is no stranger to viral epidemics — nor protesters who once displayed him in effigy in frustration amid new infections and rising death tolls.

At the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the early 1990s, Fauci was at the front lines as director of the National Institutes of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, a role he began in 1984 and continues to this day. During that time, Fauci’s research contributed to the understanding of HIV’s destruction of the immune system and therapy that has significantly contained the disease in more recent years.

Now, as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Fauci has provided sage advice, calmed fears, and — at times — acted as voice of accountability for the Trump administration amid efforts to contain COVID-19.

As the coronavirus epidemic began to unfold, Fauci himself compared the situation to the early days of the HIV epidemic — as well as other diseases — because “there’s still a lot that’s unknown.“

“It’s not that different than the very early years of the HIV epidemic, of the anthrax attacks, of the concern about the pre-pandemic bird flu,” Fauci said March 9 on CNN’s “New Day.” “Everything has a little bit of a different twist to it. It’s not exactly the same, but there’s always that uncertainty that gets people very anxious.”

Under Fauci’s leadership, NIH in 1987 developed AZT, or zidovudine, the first antiretroviral approved for the treatment of HIV, although the epidemic continued. After more research, when combinations of drugs were seen to be effective against HIV, NIH cleared the way for more effective therapy in 1996.

Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV & Hepatitis Policy Institute, was among the advocates fighting HIV/AIDS who hailed Fauci’s work both then and now.

“No one does a better job at explaining and conquering infectious diseases, whether it is HIV/AIDS or coronavirus, than Tony Fauci,” Schmid said. “Not only is he one of the world’s top infectious disease doctors but he knows how to articulate complicated issues and on top of it, understands how to address them utilizing an all parts of society approach. He has been there since the earliest days of the AIDS crisis and can take all of what he has learned and done over the years, including working with presidents of both parties, to now deal with the coronavirus.”

But it wasn’t always a happy relationship with HIV/AIDS activists. As the HIV/AIDS epidemic raged and continued to the claim the lives of thousands of gay men, Fauci was the target of activists who accused him of not moving quickly with new medicines to fight the disease.

ACT UP, the grassroots network that held “die-in” protests to draw attention to mass fatalities from HIV/AIDS amid silence from the U.S. government, held a massive demonstration at the National Institutes of Health on April 21, 1990, as reported at the time by the Washington Blade and published in a subsequent article now available in the archives.

According to the article, written by veteran Blade reporter Lou Chibbaro, Jr., more than 1,000 demonstrators marched through the sprawling grounds of the NIH “using placards, costumes, bull horns and red-colored tape to draw attention to their demand for faster government action on AIDS research programs.”

One photo taken at the event by the Blade — but never published until now — shows three protesters dressed in black robes and skull masks in the style of the Grim Reaper.

The three hold a large coffin-like box with letters reading, “Fauci: Resign Now — Release Compound: O.” Another holds a sign reading, “120,000 AIDS Deaths, Courtesy NIH.” Another holds up a pole within a bloody head mask on top and a sign underneath designating the effigy as “Fauci.”

“Scores of drugs and alternative treatments languish untested while more than 200 new cases of AIDS are diagnosed each day,” stated ACT UP in papers distributed at the demonstration.

Police reportedly arrested 61 protesters during the four-hour demonstration and charged them with trespassing, including five members of ACT UP/D.C.

Following the demonstration, Fauci reportedly said he was sympathetic to ACT UP’s cause, but believes its allegations were untrue. Further, Fauci was quoted as saying NIH implemented recent changes to direct more resources to fight infections diseases like HIV/AIDS.

ACT UP protest at the National Institutes of Health on April 21, 1990. (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

A chief critic of Fauci was Larry Kramer, a longtime HIV/AIDS activist who helped found ACT UP in the late 1980s and remains hostile to this day. As recently as 2015, Kramer in an op-ed for The Advocate faulted Fauci for failing to live up to his promise to find a cure for HIV infection. (Kramer didn’t respond to a Blade email this week to comment on Fauci’s approach to the coronavirus.)

Kramer’s harsh words may be persiflage. Fauci was quoted in a 2012 article in the New Yorker about Larry Kramer as saying he’s come to regard the activist as a friend, crediting his work with instituting a major change in medicine against infectious diseases.

But to say the relationship between HIV/AIDS activists and Fauci was entirely frosty would be inaccurate. On Dec. 22, 1990, also as reported by the Blade, when President George H.W. Bush met with gay men with AIDS at NIH, Fauci was among those who took part in the discussion.

Also at the meeting was first lady Barbara Bush and George Bush, Jr., otherwise known as future President George W. Bush. It was the first time “a sitting U.S. president formally met with open gays,” the Blade reported at the time

The presidential party, Fauci reportedly said, listened to the gay men in attendance and sat in on a support sessions for people undertaking NIH’s experimental AIDS drug trials. Some of the men had HIV, some had developed AIDS, the Blade reported.

The elder Bush shook hands with each of the men and presented them with a commemorative presidential tie pin, according to the Blade.

“He was really touched,” Fauci was quoted as saying. “This was not just a formality. He was really interested.”

The meeting, Fauci reportedly said, was open to the White House press corps and news photographers took photos of the elder Bush shaking hands with the men.

“But much to his disappointment, Fauci said, almost all the photos appearing in the nation’s daily newspapers the next day were of a different part of the NIH visit — when the president cradled babies with AIDS in the NIH pediatric ward,” the Blade reported.

Asia Russell, executive director of the New York-based group HealthGAP, was among the HIV/AIDS activists at the time and told the Blade this week that work was responsible for pushing Fauci into supporting the community.

“Dr. Fauci has been the target of AIDS activists’ campaigns and protests in the past, and those protests delivered results — they helped him see how access to the benefits of science is not neutral, it’s driven, or hindered, by politics, and that remains true today,” Russell said.

Thirty years after the massive protest at NIH, the nature of the virus inspiring fear among the public and responsible for the deaths of thousands worldwide has changed, but Fauci’s work has not.

Russell said Fauci in his role within the White House Coronavirus Task Force has brought to the fore shortcomings in the Trump administration’s approach to COVID-19, which she said “has been a disgrace.”

“It’s an embarrassment that Dr. Fauci, a trusted voice in public health, has to testify before Congress and make the rounds on the Sunday shows to contradict the lies the president is telling,” Russell said.

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California unveils digital COVID-19 vaccination records

Californians will enter into a state-owned website their name, date of birth and email or phone associated with their vaccine records

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

SACRAMENTO – Officials announced Friday that the state is providing Californians with a newly created way to access their coronavirus vaccination records in a digital format.

Dr. Erica Pan, the state’s epidemiologist told reporters the new tool allows residents access to their COVID-19 vaccination records from the state’s immunization registry and includes the same information as the paper cards issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To access the information, Californians will enter into a state-owned website their name, date of birth and email or phone associated with their vaccine records and they will be asked to create a four-digit PIN. The record will include a QR code that users can save to their mobile phones.

With nearly 20 million people fully vaccinated in California and proof of vaccination already required in some circumstances such as travel, state health officials felt there would be demand for the tool, though it remains optional, Pan noted.

“The odds are someone is going to misplace their paper CDC card and a digital COVID-19 vaccine record provides a convenient backup,” she told reporters.

 Amy Tong, director of the state’s department of technology told reporters that businesses that use a QR scanner would see the same information as residents — their name, birthdates and vaccination details, she said. She added that businesses would not be able to store that data for future use.

The system is accessible through myvaccinerecord.cdph.ca.gov. Governor Gavin Newsom has said the digital version wouldn’t be a “passport” or a requirement.

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LA Public Health emphasizes vaccinations as pandemic guidelines relax

The County will also follow the State on lifting current travel restrictions on June 15 to align with CDC travel recommendations

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – On June 15, the state of California will be lifting most capacity limits and distancing restrictions at businesses, and Los Angeles County will align with the State in order to allow businesses to fully re-open. Specific requirements will continue for large capacity events, schools, day cares, day camps, high-risk congregant settings and health care facilities.

The County remains in the least restrictive yellow tier in the State’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework.

The County will also follow the State on lifting current travel restrictions on June 15 to align with CDC travel recommendations. Businesses must comply with all Cal/OSHA requirements at worksites past the June 15 reopening.

Tuesday, the State released the final blueprint tier numbers before the Blueprint for a Safer Economy program is retired next week; L.A. County’s adjusted case rate remains at 0.7 new cases per 100,000 people, and the overall test positivity rate remains at 0.4% across the county and in areas with the fewest health affirming resources.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will host a Virtual Town Hall on Reopening on Thursday, June 10, at 6:00 p.m. Join the town hall to get the latest updates on the June 15 reopening of Los Angeles County. The town hall will be streamed live on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube @lapublichealth. For more information and to submit a question, visit: tinyurl.com/AskReopeningTownHall

Public Health confirmed 13 new deaths and 186 new cases of COVID-19. Of the 13 new deaths reported Tuesday, three people that passed away were over the age of 80, six people who died were between the ages of 65 and 79 and four people who died were between the ages of 50 and 64.

To date, Public Health identified 1,245,412 positive cases of COVID-19 across all areas of L.A. County and a total of 24,404 deaths. There are 232 people with COVID-19 currently hospitalized and 16% of these people are in the ICU.

“As California reopens and most physical distancing requirements and capacity limits are lifted a week from today, it’s very important that those not vaccinated continue to take precautions,” said Barbara Ferrer, Director of Public Health.

“While we are making great progress with vaccinations in the County with 54% of L.A. County residents 16 and over fully vaccinated and 65 percent having received one dose of the vaccine, there are millions of residents who do not have protection from COVID-19. For those not yet vaccinated, and the over 1.3 million children under 12 years old, wearing a face covering remains important for preventing transmission.”

Free COVID-19 vaccines are available for everyone age 12 and older. You do not need to have health insurance and you will not be asked about your immigration status. Vaccines are offered at hundreds of locations across L.A. County. These include clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, places of worship, and mobile clinics. Many sites are open late and on weekends and no appointment needed at many locations.

To find a vaccination site near you, to make an appointment at vaccination sites, and much more, visit: www.VaccinateLACounty.com (English) and www.VacunateLosAngeles.com (Spanish). If you don’t have internet access, can’t use a computer, or you’re over 65, you can call 1-833-540-0473 for help finding an appointment, connecting to free transportation to and from a vaccination site, or scheduling a home-visit if you are homebound. Vaccinations are always free and open to eligible residents and workers regardless of immigration status.

With 12-17 year olds now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, providing accurate and important information to teens is critical. Public Health participated in a COVID Vaccine Teen Forum and helped answer some of the most popular questions from Los Angeles County teens themselves, ranging from vaccine safety to how they can talk to their parents about getting the vaccine. The forum can be seen at the following link: https://youtu.be/U7U5VnckkP0.

Through Thursday, June 10, everyone 18 and older coming to get their first vaccine or who brings a first-time vaccine recipient with them to their second dose appointment at County-run vaccination sites, L.A. City and St. John’s Well Child and Family Center sites, will have an opportunity to win a pair of season tickets to the 2021-2022 home season of either the LA Football Club soccer team or the LA Dodgers. Official rules and participating site locations can be found on the Los Angeles County Vaccination Sweepstakes page online.

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Newsom; “Vax for the Win” and LA sports teams also enter vax push

The incentives aim to give an extra nudge to those who still need to get vaccinated, especially in hard-to-reach communities

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California Governor Gavin Newsom appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live Thursday (Screenshot via YouTube)

SACRAMENTO – California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a multi-million dollar vaccine incentive program Thursday to motivate more people to get vaccinated leading up to June 15, when the state economy is slated to fully reopen. The $116.5 million vaccine incentive program is the largest in the nation to boost vaccinations as the state prepares to fully reopen the economy June 15.

The incentives aim to give an extra nudge to those who still need to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially those in hard-to-reach communities, while also thanking everyone who has already been vaccinated.

More than 62.8 percent of Californians aged 12+ are at least partially vaccinated, but an estimated 12 million people who are eligible still have not gotten a vaccine to protect their health and the well-being of their communities.

“Getting every eligible Californian vaccinated is how we bring our state roaring back from this pandemic,” said the Governor. “California has already made incredible progress in the fight against COVID-19, with the lowest case rates in the country, while administering millions more vaccines than any other state. But we aren’t stopping there, we’re doing everything it takes to get Californians vaccinated as we approach June 15 to help us fully reopen safely.”

California residents who have been vaccinated are already entered for cash prizes, and those who haven’t been can get inoculated for the chance to receive a $50 card and win cash prizes. “You don’t have to register to do this as is the case in other states,” Newsom said. “You’re automatically registered.”

Beginning on May 27, the next two million people who begin and complete their COVID-19 vaccination will automatically be eligible to receive a $50 prepaid or grocery card, worth a total of $100 million. It gives them the option to select from a $50 Virtual Prepaid Card (which can be spent online, in-store where major debit cards are accepted, or added to a mobile wallet to be used to shop in stores that accept mobile wallets), or a $50 grocery gift card from Kroger (which includes Ralphs, Food 4 Less and Foods Co.) or Albertsons (which includes Safeway, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions and Andronico’s Community Markets), while supplies last.

Californians will receive a text message with an electronic prepaid card redemption code sent to their mobile phone or email address 7-10 days after their two-dose series of Pfizer or Moderna, or single dose of Johnson and Johnson. An incentive card will be held for those who start their vaccination at the launch of the program.

Those who do not have a mobile phone or email address can receive a physical card by calling 1-833-993-3873, 7-10 days after receiving their final dose. Those without a permanent address can also call to coordinate delivery.

For more information, visit COVID19.ca.gov/vax-for-the-win. To schedule an appointment to be vaccinated, visit MyTurn.ca.gov or call the CA COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Launches Vaccination Sweepstakes with Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Galaxy

In Los Angeles County, starting tomorrow, Friday, May 28, two Los Angeles County residents 18 and older who get their first vaccine or bring a person needing their first vaccine to their second dose appointment can enter to win a pair (2) of 2021-22 season tickets to the Los Angeles Kings or 2022 season tickets to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The vaccination sweepstakes will run from Friday, May 28 to Thursday, June 3. Two residents will be awarded prizes.

Residents can book appointments or walk in to County, LA City, and St. John’s Well Child and Family clinic vaccination sites to enter.

For more information, including official rules and participating site locations, residents can visit the Los Angeles County Vaccination Sweepstakes page at: www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/vaccine/sweepstakes.htm

Must be a Los Angeles County resident 18 years or older to enter.

Related: Jimmy Kimmel- ‘GOP Throws Out MyPillow Mike, Trump’s Crazy Memorial Day Message & Governor Gavin Newsom Sneaks In’

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