The Pro-Life Self-Defeating Legal Trap: Be careful what you wish for

What happens if the US Supreme Court overturns the half-century of precedent on abortion? I discussed that in some detail three years ago (“News Analysis: What Happens if Roe v. Wade is Overturned?”, by Michael Bilow, Feb 20, 2019), and that article was updated when the Reproductive Privacy Act took effect on June 19, 2019, writing into RI state law the current federal standards under Roe v. Wade (and its lesser-known companion Doe v. Bolton decided on the same day) in 1973 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, in case the Supreme Court should overturn or weaken those.

Although a reversal of Roe would have little direct effect in RI because of this statutory protection, it would have drastic consequences in other states, many of which have “trigger” statutes that would ban abortion automatically if Roe were overturned. But the reasoning used to reverse Roe, if the Supreme Court does that, could threaten many other fundamental rights that have been assumed safely protected under American law until now.

With a strongly conservative Supreme Court reinforced by three members appointed by Donald Trump, it is widely expected that a case awaiting decision will significantly curtail or even completely eliminate the constitutional right to abortion prior to “viability,” usually considered to be 24 weeks into an ordinary 39-week pregnancy, recognized under Casey. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the State of Mississippi enacted a law clearly violating the Casey standard, intending to raise exactly the kind of litigation test that would offer an opportunity to reverse it. Dobbs received two hours of oral argument before the Supreme Court on December 1, 2021, after which most analysts concluded that federal protection of abortion rights is likely doomed by the time a ruling is due by June 2022.

The often-criticized aspect of Roe and Casey on a legal basis is that, undeniably, the text of the Constitution and Bill of Rights are silent on abortion, and indeed on any aspect of childbirth and reproduction. Unlike freedom of speech or press, free exercise of religion and right to trial by jury, this simply did not seem to enter into the mindset of the Colonial-era Framers, despite their finding time to explicitly prohibit quartering of soldiers in private homes.

The emergence of childbirth and reproduction as areas of life where individuals have constitutional rights against government interference first arose in a 1965 ruling, Griswold v. Connecticut, that invalidated a Connecticut state law the denied access to contraception even for married couples, finding a right of privacy in the “penumbra” (shadow) of the Bill of Rights. The court ruled: “We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights – older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred… Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.” In a 1972 case from Massachusetts that reaffirmed Griswold the year before Roe was decided, Eisenstadt v. Baird, the constitutional right of access to contraceptives was extended to unmarried people.

Over time, and especially in Casey, the right of privacy applicable to childbirth and reproduction came to be seen as grounded in the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Most of the time, courts are concerned with “procedural due process,” which provides protections such as requiring notice of charges and fair trials before locking up someone and thereby depriving them of their liberty. However, there is another prong that courts have come to call “substantive due process” that prevents the government from doing certain things regardless of the procedures used. No one really likes the idea of substantive due process, because in practice it allows judges and courts to decide on the basis of their own opinions what topics are off-limits for legislatures and the political process. At the same time, no one has found any other good way to stop legislatures and politicians from enacting, for example, what Justice Potter Stewart in his Griswold dissent called “an uncommonly silly law,” that since 1879 banned contraceptives in Connecticut.

Since the 1960s, only cranks and crackpots have been seriously concerned about whether states can ban contraceptives, and Griswold and Eisenstadt would be almost forgotten today if that was the limit of their significance, but they have become landmark cases because they laid the precedential groundwork for a series of rulings touching sensitive and controversial issues, well beyond abortion in Roe and Casey.

In 1967, the Supreme Court held in Loving v. Virginia that state law prohibiting inter-racial marriage was unconstitutional, violating both substantive due process and equal protection.

Until the 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, states were allowed to criminalize homosexual conduct between consenting adults, a practice upheld by a 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick. Even as recently as 1986, the decision by the Supreme Court that there was no constitutionally recognized “fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy,” as the majority opinion phrased it, shocked most observers who expected the ruling to go the other way. After decades of criticism, Bowers was outright overruled by Lawrence, bringing private consensual sexual conduct within the scope of substantive due process protection. By 2015, the court, on the basis of both substantive due process and equal protection, ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right, citing the Loving precedent.

The Supreme Court withdrawing substantive due process protection from abortion, as could happen in Dobbs, would be the first time in US history where protection of a fundamental constitutional right was taken away after being recognized. In theory, it would open the door to a similar reversal on same-sex marriage or even allow reinstating criminal penalties for being gay. While this seems unlikely given current political realities – and it’s not clear what happens if people who have been married are suddenly declared unmarried – there is a dangerous slippery slope here. In theory, states might again be free to outlaw inter-racial marriage.

But there’s yet one more aspect social conservatives do not seem to have considered in fighting to return abortion as a political question to state legislatures: what kind of power would they then entrust to political vagaries? Between 1980 and 2015, China had what has come to be known as the “one-child policy,” imposing severe civil disabilities and ostracism for parents who chose to have more than a single child. In the face of widespread popular resistance and even non-compliance, China gradually backed off their population-control policy, allowing exceptions for rural farmers, in 2015 allowing a maximum of two children for everyone and finally ending the program only in 2021. But while China maintained its population-control policy in some form for over 40 years, there were horrific consequences ranging from forced contraception and forced sterilization to forced abortion; in the most extreme cases, cultural preference for sons rather than daughters encouraged female infanticide.

China is a one-party communist dictatorship where dissent is not tolerated, but what would happen if something like their one-child policy were adopted by a state legislature in the US? Under what legal theory could such a draconian policy be challenged? What, to put it bluntly, prevents a state government from mandating unwanted sterilizations and abortions? Shockingly, the Supreme Court in a 1927 case, Buck v. Bell, upheld the power of states then in the grip of the pseudo-scientific eugenics movement to forcibly sterilize people “for the protection and health of the state.” While hardly anyone thinks Buck would be followed by the courts now, it has never been explicitly overruled and remains, technically, valid law.

It turns out, as one of my philosophy professors often said, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It’s pretty clear whose goose is about to be cooked. The legal principle that extends substantive due process protection to your right to have an abortion when the government tries to stop you is exactly the same legal principle that prevents the government from forcing you have an abortion. One of the key factors distinguishing US freedom from Chinese-style dictatorship is rule of law: If the Supreme Court deteriorates to one more partisan rubber stamp in a hopelessly polarized political stalemate, we move inexorably closer to Chinese-style dictatorship. As the plurality warned in their opinion in Casey: “The Court must take care to speak and act in ways that allow people to accept its decisions on the terms the Court claims for them, as grounded truly in principle, not as compromises with social and political pressures having, as such, no bearing on the principled choices that the Court is obliged to make.”

Omicron virus “variant of concern”: More transmissible, unknown if otherwise more dangerous

A new “variant of concern” (VOC) for the virus that causes COVID-19 has today been assigned Greek letter “omicron” by the World Health Organization (WHO) at an emergency meeting of the organization’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

In the particular case of the new omicron variant, designated B.1.1.529 in the PANGOLIN nomenclature, its prevalence where found so far in South Africa and Botswana strongly suggests that it is more highly transmissible than the delta variant B.1.617.2 it supplanted. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant [in patients recovered from infection from another variant], as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa,” the WHO said in a statement.

According to WHO, the first known case of the omicron variant was found in a specimen collected on Nov 9. According to the PANGOLIN sheet, it was first sequenced for detection on Nov 11.

WHO TAG-VE said that while standard tests are able to detect the omicron variant, one of its characteristic mutations, called “S gene dropout,” causes one of the components of ordinary polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis to fail, and “this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.”

Whether the omicron VOC exhibits harmful behavior beyond increased transmissibility, such as increased virulence or increased resistance to vaccines and treatments, is not yet known and is unlikely to be known for several weeks, but at this time there is no evidence for it. Vaccines work by training the immune system using proteins present on the outer surface of the virus, so in theory the more mutations a variant exhibits the greater the risk that the immune system trained by either a vaccine or a prior infection will be unable to recognize the variant as effectively.

Promoted from status as a “variant under monitoring” (VUM), the VOC designation of omicron is the most severe classification, used for variants with significant genetic mutations that demonstrate, at a level of global public health effect, evidence of increased transmissibility, increased virulence, or increased ability to escape tests, vaccines, or treatments. The status of “variant of interest” (“VOI”) is between the two, with evidence of significant mutations and consequence but not yet affecting global public health. WHO assigns Greek letter designations to VOIs and VOCs to aid in public recognition: there are currently four active VOCs (alpha, beta, gamma, delta) and two VOIs (lambda, mu) prior to the new omicron designation. Variants demoted from VOC or VOI to VUM retain their Greek letters (eta, iota, kappa, theta).

Shortly after the WHO announcement, President Joe Biden issued a statement that the US would ban travel from a number of African countries: “As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.” Biden further said the best way for Americans to protect themselves is to get a booster shot if they have already been vaccinated and to get vaccinated if not already.

Biden noted the global spread of the pandemic: “Finally, for the world community: the news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations. The United States has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match America’s speed and generosity.”

Can Police Dragnet Search All Students to Look for a Gun?

On November 15 at 1:21pm, Principal Brooke Macomber of Coventry High School issued a statement: “The Coventry Police are currently in the building investigating a threat that was overheard during passing time. In an abundance of caution, upon becoming aware of this threat, we placed the school in lockdown and contacted the police… The CPD and State Police are in the process of searching all students, classrooms and belongings to ensure the safety of our school community.”

Coventry Police statement on high school gun search

The next day, Coventry Police issued a statement: “On 11/16/21, Coventry Police Department arrested the student responsible for the lockdown incident at the Coventry High School on 11/15/21. No weapons were located and the student does not have access to firearms. The student was charged with Disorderly Conduct and the case will be referred to Family Court.”

Coventry Police statement on high school gun search

Captain Matthew Blair of the Coventry Police told Motif in an interview, “Somebody overheard what they believe was a student say ‘he has a gun’ – those four words. A teacher immediately confirmed it, followed by a few other students that heard it in the hallway in between classes, so they immediately enacted what they call ‘hold from passing,’ which is basically nobody leaves class. And then after the school resource officer got involved, within the first couple minutes, they issued a lockdown for the whole school, until we were able to get more information. So they did that, were reviewing cameras and footage and talking to people involved. And they were unable to determine who exactly it was that said it, or even what group of kids it was said it. They basically had some kids in a hallway in hoodies that they couldn’t identify… After a few minutes, I personally got there along with the chief and a few other people. Because we were unable to determine the extent of the threat or what exactly had taken place and what the context of it was, the decision was made to begin to search the students and their bags, room by room, including desks, trash cans, and brought in ballistic-sniffing canines and they were able to conduct a thorough and full search of each student at the school, each bag that each student had. We passed the ballistic-sniffing dogs through all the rooms, did what we were satisfied was a thorough search of the common areas, classrooms, and then walking dogs through the hallways where the lockers were. The handlers in particular were confident that if there were a gun, they would have alerted to it. We were satisfied after all students were released, after the search was conducted, that the school was safe, and they were allowed to return to classes the following day.”

Individual students were searched for weapons by pat down, with male officers searching male students and female officers searching female students, Blair said, but that procedure found nothing suspicious and did not result in, for example, asking students to empty their pockets. Contents of bags and purses were searched more thoroughly, he said. The search faced practical problems in that about 1,600 students were on the premises at the time, he said.

As to the charges, Blair said, “The following day, the school resource officer was able to receive some tips from a few students and narrowed down the group of students that the comment came from to about four students, and then questioned those students individually, and basically was able to determine one of the students that actually made the comment, and the students that made the comment ended up admitting that he had made the comment.”

Asked why the comment might have been made, Blair told Motif the student said “that he was reenacting a video game. That was the statement he had made to the school resource officer, and obviously there’s a lot to that because he didn’t come forward and say, ‘Oh, no, I was just, you know, joking,’ or whatever, the day before, ‘I was making this comment,’ because it would have probably alleviated some of the issues, or much of the issues that took place the day before, but he didn’t do that. So whether that’s true or not, we don’t know. He didn’t have a gun with him; he was checked. He didn’t have access to guns as far as we know; that was followed up on. So basically, just a foolish comment made by a juvenile that kicked all that off.”

We asked Blair whether consent to search was sought from either the students or their parents and guardians. “No, no, and the reason for that is because of the exigency of the issue at hand. Obviously, a student may have a gun or comment that someone in the school had a gun, we had to make sure the student population was safe. There’s a public safety exception to the search warrant requirement, which is kind of what we would operate under in that circumstance: exigent circumstances, one, and then public safety exception would be number two. And we use kind of those exceptions to the search warrant requirement, which are well established in Supreme Court law, to conduct the least intrusive method of search that was available to us, which was the pat down search of the students to make sure that they were safe and get them out of there safely.”

What would have happened if a student refused to be searched? “We would have still had to search them or bring them into another area to hopefully reason with them if it was that big of an issue where they refused, and we would have gotten school staff and/or parents involved. That didn’t happen. No, I think as a matter of fact, quite the opposite thing happened where, at least from the feedback we got the parents were, as a general rule, overall satisfied with our response to the situation,” Blair said, and no one objected “get a warrant.” Could they discipline that student? Could they suspend that student, prohibiting them from entering school premises? Even worse, could they physically forcibly search that student? In short, can the school draw an adverse inference that a refusal to be searched constitutes a threat per se?

Did the school and the police handle this correctly? On social media, the bulk of comments approve of the dragnet search of all students, but it is important to step back and look at, among other things, the law.

Police would never be allowed to conduct such a dragnet search of all people in a public place, such as a shopping mall, outside of a school setting, on the basis of an unattributed claim that someone heard someone else mention a gun, although Blair made exactly the opposite argument: “You can’t take the the situation outside of the circumstances that were at hand, which was we weren’t able to identify the students at all. So at that point, it’d be similar if there was a lockdown at a shopping mall, the same circumstances would have been undertaken.”

Citizens have a basic constitutional right, in the words of the Fourth Amendment, “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…” (The RI State Constitution has a similar provision.) In practice, this means police must have probable cause, or at least reasonable suspicion, to seize (detain) a person and search them, and by definition such probable cause or reasonable suspicion applies only to a particular individual or small group, based upon evidence pertaining to them specifically.

The courts have held that while the Fourth Amendment protects school students, in the landmark 1985 US Supreme Court decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O., educators need only meet the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion” rather than “probable cause” in a school setting. In that case, two students were caught smoking tobacco cigarettes in the school restroom and one of them, identified by her initials “T.L.O.,” denied participating, after which the vice-principal searched her purse and found marijuana, rolling papers, a pipe, and – most damningly – a list of customers who owed her money from dealing drugs, as a result of which she was expelled and criminally charged.

The reasonable suspicion standard, enunciated in the 1968 US Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, requires “specific and articulable facts” – precisely the opposite of a dragnet search of everybody. Courts on many occasions held dragnet searches illegal, as in the 1979 US Supreme Court decision in Ybarra v. Illinois, holding that a search warrant for a bar and its bartender did not allow the police to search the customers who just happened to be in the bar.

Steven Brown, executive director of the RI chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told Motif, “The intrusive search of every student in the school under these circumstances is very troubling, but I am not sure there would be strong legal grounds for challenging it. Unfortunately, the courts have upheld mass searches of students under circumstances much less fraught than this.” Brown pointed to a 2011 US First Circuit Court of Appeals case, ironically involving the Coventry public schools and police a decade ago, Lopera v. Coventry, 640 F.3d 388, where a bitterly divided panel voted, 2-1, to affirm a lower court summary judgment of a lawsuit that arose out of a high school boys competition.

In Lopera, the Central Falls soccer team played as visitors against the Coventry soccer team, and immediately afterward there were allegations by about 20 Coventry football players – not soccer players – that the Central Falls players had stolen iPods and cell phones from their locker room. As the appeals court explained, “Central Falls is a racially diverse community, and the Central Falls team consisted entirely of Spanish-speaking Hispanic players, save for one Portuguese player. Coventry, by contrast, is predominantly non-Hispanic and white, and its high school reflected this. The Central Falls players allege that Coventry players uttered racial epithets during the game, calling them ‘spics’ and demanding that they speak English.”

The Central Falls coach, along with his assistant coach, searched his players and their bags, satisfying himself after a half-hour that nothing had been stolen, but then, the appeals court further summarized, the coach “testified, a crowd of fifty or sixty Coventry students and adults had gathered around the bus… members of the crowd yelled that they knew his players had the items. He testified that students and adults in the crowd stated that the players were ‘from the ghetto,’ knew how to ‘hide things’ and ‘lie good,’ and could not be trusted. The players recounted similar accusations and vitriol, including racial slurs like ‘spic…’ He also testified that members of the crowd stated that they would not let the Central Falls players leave until the items had been found.”

Someone called the Coventry Police and reported something like a fight or riot, causing several cars to respond and box in the Central Falls bus. The police then conducted their own search of the Central Falls players after obtaining the consent of their coach, although he later claimed that he was placed under duress by the near-riot and therefore his consent was not voluntary. No stolen items were ever found, and Coventry Police escorted the bus out of town for the safety of the Central Falls team.

At no point, it must be emphasized, did the appeals court hold that the search was actually legal: instead, the issue was whether the Coventry Police could have reasonably believed that the Central Falls coach had authority in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) to consent to the search of his players and whether they could have reasonably believed that his consent was voluntary. That’s the way qualified immunity for the police works: in the words of the appeals court, citing Supreme Court precedent, “The qualified immunity defense ‘is designed to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”’”

The ruling in Lopera was 2-1, with Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson dissenting on whether the consent to the search by the coach could be voluntary: “The appellants, a team of young Hispanic soccer players from Central Falls, Rhode Island were subjected to shockingly disgraceful and humiliating conduct by the police and their fellow citizens alike while visiting another high school in Coventry, Rhode Island. After playing a tense game against Coventry’s team, the Central Falls players were surrounded by a mob seething with racial animosity and casting false accusations of theft… My colleagues think that a reasonable officer would be unaware of the duress this state of affairs would inspire in the team’s coach… while he was surrounded by an angry mob and unable to depart with his players left little room for choice.”

The decision in Lopera acknowledges the considerable jurisprudential uncertainty about the scope of authority of school officials to search students, noting that T.L.O. limits but does not eliminate their ability to act in loco parentis, citing the 1995 US Supreme Court decision in Vermonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, ruling students whose parents refused consent to their being drug-tested could be banned from athletics.

Blair said about the recent gun search, “We operated under exigency, which those requirements are less restrictive, when you have a public safety emergency, and especially when you’ve got the safety and welfare of 1,600 students and 300-plus staff members at a public school, on top, in light of, what’s gone on in our country over the last couple decades. We take those things seriously. So that’s how we operate.” Asked directly to clarify, Blair confirmed that he was talking about school shootings.

But exigency is a legal doctrine that applies specifically and narrowly as an exception to seeking a judicial warrant when it would be otherwise required, such as to prevent the imminent destruction of evidence, and it is difficult to see that the police would not have had time to do that. The school was already locked down, there was a substantial presence of police officers and rescue workers, and calling a judge would have taken as little as 15 minutes. But would a judge have granted such a warrant for a dragnet search? Probably not.

Searching every student in a school is clearly a violation of the T.L.O. standard of “reasonable suspicion” which, by definition, must be based upon specific and particular information. The school officials and police in Coventry were certainly motivated by a fear that a student may have had a gun in school, but despite honorable intentions they have to accept that even high school students live in a free society with fundamental civil rights that must be respected. Blair was eloquent in defending each step of the process that his department followed, and it seems evident that they have the support of the community.

But a gun is not a magically dangerous object where mere possibility that someone may have mentioned one in a school hallway justifies the wholesale abrogation of basic civil liberties: remember that no one saw a gun, no one identified who possibly had a gun, and the dragnet search – regardless of its illegality – in fact found no gun. Even assuming for the sake of argument that an overheard remark constitutes a sufficient threat, “He has a gun” is still very different from “I have a gun” and nowhere near “I’m going to shoot someone.”

If a student who was subjected to the gun search sues, Coventry would try to argue a qualified immunity defense that there is no authoritative court decision saying they were in the wrong, but that is far from saying they were in the right. Given Coventry’s legal history of defending in court what Judge Thompson called “a mob seething with racial animosity,” this should be a road they are reluctant to travel.

Brown of the ACLU said, “We have not received any complaints about the [recent gun] searches. If we do, however, we will look into it more closely.”

As of press time, the Coventry superintendent and high school principal did not return telephone messages from Motif.

Candyman actor Tony Todd talks Providence

Tony Todd is the face and voice behind one of the most iconic characters in horror films: Candyman. He’s also appeared in hundreds of other roles across TV, films, video games and his first passion, the stage. He’ll be one of over 100 celebrity guests attending this year’s Comic Con at the RI Convention Center November 5 – 7. We caught up with him just before he headed out to the Con from his home in California.

Mike Ryan (Motif): I usually ask Comic Con guests if they’ve been to RI before. But in your case, you have some real local ties.

Tony Todd: I did spend some time at Trinity Rep, long ago near the start [of my career]. It was an amazing, formative experience with a group of people who were invested entirely in their art – fermenting creativity in ourselves and each other constantly, and in every part of the artistic process theater involves. The acting, finding the character, but also writing and music and set design and costuming – we were all involved in all of it.

I lived on Federal Hill and would walk to Trinity. It was a fun, interesting neighborhood. People would be sitting in front of the shops talking to you. There was a bakery where they would say, ‘There’s that kid, that theater kid – give him a cannoli!’ Those were great cannolis.

But mostly we were at work creating. We were in the theater twelve hours a day and it was the most intense artistic experience. I think three of us from that group are still acting professionally. I still work with Bob Sacchetti on scripts we write together today — we met in that program. We had talented people working very hard there, and it was remarkable.

MR: What is the difference between commanding a stage and commanding the camera, or a film environment? 

TT: Nothing compares to working on stage. There’s something organic and exciting about being in the same space with your audience. You feel a connection and there’s an energy that flows back and forth. You have to rely totally on the human instrument. Don’t get me wrong, I love film too, but it’s very different.

MR: What about working in video games?

TT: That’s a whole different process. They do MoCap [Motion Capture] and cover you in little dots. You have to move and speak very precisely, and everything – everything – has to be in your imagination. You’re acting against nothing, with no set or costume, so you have to have these things in your head. I enjoy it, but it’s a whole different process.
MR: Are you a gamer yourself?

TT: I am. I don’t have a lot of time for it, but I go back to Colecovision – remember that?

MR: Yes! [Coleco made a gaming system in the early 80s] What have you been playing lately?

TT: I’ve been doing a lot of sports games. And Call of Duty. That’s a good one. But surprisingly, I don’t even have a PS5 yet!

MR: Are there any Rhode Island landmarks you’re looking forward to seeing again?

TT: I want to get some of those hot dogs – the NY System? There used to be these great music clubs around the downtown, like the Heartbreak Hotel, Leo’s. The Met had $2 beers. David Byrne had just graduated from RISD and you could walk into a venue and listen to his music with just a few people in the audience. And the Brothers, near city hall. 

MR: Haven Brothers?

TT: Right, Haven Brothers. And you could smell the Providence River from there.

MR: They’ve fixed that!

TT: There were a few good dive bars downtown too.

MR: You like visiting dive bars

TT: When I visit a new city, that’s where I like to go first. A good dive bar is real. That’s where you find the locals, people who really have a sense of the place.

MR: You’re involved in other areas of the arts?

TT: I love all the arts. Painting, music, performance – it all brings people together and builds communities and energy. It helps people think outside of themselves, and that’s important. I think that’s something we’re missing more right now – society is split into these little cultural slivers that don’t interact the way they used to. We used to have a lot more elements of common culture. I also love to read — you gain so much by reading the classics, starting with Shakespeare. But I just read 11 works by August WIlson. You take so much from that. Writing and directing were my original focus in college and at Trinity, but then I got more into acting.

MR: Let’s talk a little bit about your most iconic role. Why do you think Candyman has had such a lasting impact?

TT: I think it just resonated with people. The director, Bernard Rose was looking to capture a fable, but when he moved the setting to Chicago, it came to life with an urban perspective that hadn’t really been exposed before, not so much in the horror genre. The film and the character really resonated.

MR: What was it like to revisit that character again after all this time?

TT: It was a pleasure. That whole film was just a great experience. With Jordan Peele there was so much creativity, and the film was able to deal a lot more head on with some issues. And it was wonderful to work with Nia DaCosta. Working with a female director was great, and I think so important right now. I think it’s a great continuation of the story.

MR: Was the recent reboot a handing off of the Candyman baton?

TT: What is the last shot in the film? That has your answer!

MR: What projects do you have coming up?

TT: There are three unpublished screenplays I’m working on with Bob Sacchetti. No one has picked them up yet, but we keep working on them. I also just finished shooting Travelling Light, LOOK UP CAST. It’s an amazing cast, and that should be coming out. I just did some video games as well — we shot one in Sweden, that was interesting. Venom 2 and a new Spider Man game are coming out.

This interview was edited for length. Tony Todd is at RI Comic Con Nov 5 – 7

Meet Charlotte: One of the first RI children protected by COVID-19 vaccine

Charlotte O’Gorman, age 10, displaying her card outside the Sockanosset center, one of the first children in RI to receive the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo: Maureen O’Gorman)

Maureen O’Gorman was so eager to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination for her 10 year-old daughter Charlotte that she began refreshing her web browser repeatedly 15 minutes before appointments opened yesterday at 2:00pm. They were able to obtain a 7:30am slot this morning at the state-run Sockanosset facility when it opened, making Charlotte one of the first in RI to receive a dose of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine.

In addition to vaccination appointments at state-run facilities and independent pharmacies at vaccinateri.org there will be children-only clinics at schools with a continuously updated list at covid.ri.gov/5to11vaccine. Every school clinic is open to all children aged 5-11 regardless of which school they attend or where they live. Chain pharmacies (including CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Stop and Shop) offer scheduling through their own web sites. Family and pediatric medical offices are in many cases offering vaccinations with further information available by contacting the office directly. (See “RI Children Ages 5-11 Likely Start COVID-19 Vaccinations Nov 8”, by Michael Bilow, Oct 27.)

UPDATE: On November 5, the RI Department of Health (DoH) cautioned that it is important to register for vaccination in advance: “Vaccination sites plan the amount of vaccine to have on hand using registration information. People who arrive at vaccination clinics without appointments may not receive a vaccine if there is not enough supply at the clinic. Registering in advance is the best way to guarantee that a dose will be on site for your child.”

Charlotte herself has been eager to be vaccinated. When she received her flu shot a few weeks ago, she joked that she was “practicing” for her COVID-19 shot. “Everyone there, they were really comforting. ‘It’s not going to hurt. We’ve got your vaccine.’ Everyone was very nice. It was fun,” Charlotte said about her experience, but “I don’t feel any different.” The Band-Aid hurt more than the shot, she said.

Maureen said that the facility was well set up; she was surprised there were not more children in queue, but guessed that the early morning time might not be popular although hers was one of three or four family groups in that time slot. It worked out well for them, she said, because they could go on their way before school and work.

“They had a separate shot area. They had three stations set up to handle kids in a separate area with a separate waiting space. There were coloring pages during your wait period. They gave all the kids a fidget spinner. They asked which arm they wanted,” Maureen said. “There are three kids named ‘Charlotte’ getting their shot at Sockanosset today,” so the facility was careful to distinguish by surname and date of birth, she said.

Maureen works as an educational supervisor and as an adjunct college professor. “I decided to get Charlotte vaccinated because, with the holidays coming up, she’ll be mixing with people of all ages and I want to make sure that everybody involved is as safe as possible, for her health and the health of those around her. I also consider it very high priority because I work in a congregate care setting… that’s had several outbreaks, so she’s at high risk of exposure through me,” she said. “I want to keep her as safe as possible. At the beginning of this, she actually stayed with relatives, but now that’s not practical because of the spotty nature of the thing and she has to go to school in person.”

Nationally, non-profit organization focusing on health issues KFF reported parents of children aged 5-11 attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination: 34% eager, 32% wait and see, 7% only if required, and 24% definitely not. KFF separately explained, “This means there initially will likely be high demand for vaccines, when scale up and distribution issues noted above may pose challenges. After this initial surge, however, the primary challenge is likely to shift to addressing concerns or questions that contribute to reluctance to vaccinating younger children.”

Parents of children 5-11 on COVID-19 vaccination: 34% eager, 32% wait and see, 7% only if required, 24% definitely not.
(Source: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/poll-finding/kff-covid-19-vaccine-monitor-trends-among-children-school/ )

The RI Department of Health (DoH) recommends COVID-19 vaccination for everyone eligible. DoH said in a statement yesterday, “Children of all ages can become ill with COVID-19. Most children do not become as sick as adults. However, some children become severely ill with COVID-19. Children with underlying conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and asthma, may be at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, 194 children 14 and younger have been hospitalized in Rhode Island with COVID-19. Additionally, children can spread COVID-19 to the other people in their lives (who may be more vulnerable).”

A personal experience started Maureen thinking that an encounter with COVID-19 infection could “come back to haunt” Charlotte long into the future: before she was old enough to attend school herself, Maureen caught chicken pox from her older brother, a typical childhood case that was almost forgotten until decades later, in 2020, when she had an outbreak of shingles as an adult.

“I know that in most kids COVID-19 is not a big deal, and you could probably count on one hand the number of children my daughter’s age who have died of COVID-19, but nowadays post-polio syndrome is a thing and people who had chicken pox get shingles [later in life]. We don’t know what the COVID virus that lies in your body is going to look like in 30 or 40 years. So I’m kind of thinking long-term on this. I don’t consider her high-risk at this moment in time; of course she could get COVID and she is low risk for immediate danger now, however I don’t know what carrying COVID in her body for 30 or 40 years, what that would look like. So my middle-aged daughter will be thanking me someday.”

Maureen emphasized, “Charlotte will never get shingles because she got the chicken pox vaccine. Charlotte will never get post-polio because she will never get polio thanks to a vaccine. I do not know what post-COVID will look like in 2058, but Charlotte will never need to worry about it.” In other words, from a cost-benefit perspective the risks of not vaccinating are substantial and unknowable, while the risks of vaccinating are quantifiable and understood.

“I don’t have any anxiety about the vaccine. My understanding is the only serious side effect is the myocarditis [heart inflammation] that’s only been an issue with males, and insofar as I’m aware there are no cases of that not resolved successfully,” she said. “It’s easy for me to be brave and say I have no concerns about the vaccine, but I have a daughter so, right then and there, we’re talking about a myocarditis risk that goes from a very slim chance to effectively zero chance,” she said.

Disclosure: Maureen O’Gorman is an occasional contributor to Motif. She wrote about the first day of drive-through COVID-19 testing in RI (“Drive-Thru for COVID-19 Test: These efficient test sites will help RI reach the goal of testing 1,000 Rhode Islanders a day”, Apr 1, 2020).

Rent Relief in RI: How to apply, progress report

Rent relief is available for RI tenants with applications accepted on the web – rihousing.com/rentreliefri – and successful applicants will receive grants that do not need to be paid back or counted as income. Money can cover back rent after April 1, 2020; up to three months of upcoming rent; a security deposit if needed; and utilities such as electricity, water, trash, and heat. Up to 18 months of assistance is available. Applications can be for rent, utilities, or both.

Applicants must have “area median income” (“AMI”) below certain limits that vary based upon location and household size; must have experienced reduction in income (including unemployment), incurred significant costs, or experienced financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the pandemic; and must be at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability (such as having unpaid back rent or an eviction notice).

RI Rent Relief program summary as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)

There is a Rent Relief RI telephone call center, (855)608-8756 toll-free, operating Monday through Friday 8:30am–5:30pm and Saturday 8:00am–1:00pm. “All of our partner materials are available in English and Spanish. When you call the call center, you can get English, Spanish, and Portuguese help right away. You can get almost any other language if you say ‘I need this language’ and you hold for a few minutes; we use a language service at the call center. The application is available in, I don’t know, like 147 different languages, there’s just a toggle button at the top and you choose your language and that application appears there,” Christine Hunsinger, chief strategy and innovation officer at RI Housing, told Motif in an interview. “I’ve only, in the whole time we’ve been running this program, run into one instance where it took us a couple of days to find someone who spoke a very specific dialect of an African language. We had to go out of state for that. I don’t remember what it was called, but we did it. I will tell you it took way longer than I was comfortable with, but we can do most languages pretty quickly.”

RI Rent Relief approved application summary as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)

RI Housing lists a number of non-profit partner organizations who can help applicants through the process, providing advice and counseling as well as services such as printing and scanning of documents. Statewide partners providing legal advice are the Center for Justice and Rhode Island Legal Services, and a number of other-than-legal services partners include the Center for Southeast Asians, Crossroads RI, ONE Neighborhood Builders, Tri-County Community Action Agency, East Bay Community Action Program, Comprehensive Community Action Program (CCAP), and Family Service of RI.

RI Rent Relief application summary as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)
RI Rent Relief geographical detail as of Oct 1, 2021.
(Source: RI Housing)

Congress specifically made undocumented immigrants eligible for the rent relief program, Hunsinger said. “We work very closely with a number of partners who work in the undocumented community because they’re eligible, too, and folks who are undocumented tend to be hesitant about government programs, and we want them to come in and apply.” Where documents are lacking, she said, the program allows for self-attestation and even waiver of the requirement. “We don’t ask anybody their status…I run into quite a few partners who will call me and say, ‘Look, I’ve got an undocumented family, but they don’t have a photo ID.’ And so I just waived it. They’re working with the family, they they’re involved with the family, and they help them fill out the forms, and they tell me what they can’t provide. And they tell me why and we waive. It is one of the few programs. There were a lot of federal programs during the pandemic that folks who were undocumented were not eligible for. This one they are eligible for, but it’s not simple. You have to have to gain a community’s trust that doesn’t doesn’t trust the government. So it’s hard, and that’s where those on the ground partners are so important.”

Hunsinger said RI Housing has invested heavily in technology to process applications and report on the status of the program. As of a few weeks ago, “All the documents can be signed electronically on the computer. We actually had the the technology company upgrade it. It used to be that you had to download the attestation and fill it out and scan it back in, but now you can do it right in the [web] system so you don’t require a printer,” she said. “As far as scanning documents into the system, you can do that, or you can upload them from your computer. The other thing you can do is take a picture on your phone, because we know a lot of folks have cell phones and they’re they’re quite good with them. You can e-mail it to either your caseworker or e-mail it to a partner who can upload it for you. So we’ll take it any way we can get it.”

According to the program “dashboard” Hunsinger said is updated every weekday morning, as of Oct 1 there have been 11,795 accounts created and 6,149 completed applications, with $31,181,986 paid to 3,768 landlords and $2,770,035 paid to 657 tenants. RI Housing also maintains a web report on evictions in the state.

“The federal government requires a prioritization system, so the people who have eviction notices, who have been out of work the longest, and who have the least income, go first,” Hunsinger said. “We think the eviction notice piece is particularly important, because if you’ve got a hearing, we want to try to pay that out and prevent that hearing from going forward so that you can stay in your home.”

RI Evictions, page 1 of 2, as of Aug 31, 2021.
(Source: RI Supreme Court)
RI Evictions, page 2 of 2, as of Aug 31, 2021.
(Source: RI Supreme Court)

Processing is now very quick, Hunsinger said. “From the time it’s assigned to a case manager, we’ll do all of our outreach attempts within 10 days. The landlord we contact three times within five days and, if they don’t respond, then we can make it direct pay to tenants, and the tenants get 10 days to respond to our our outreach efforts and provide what they need” to complete an application. “At the end of 10 days, you’ve either completed the application and we have what we need to make a determination, then we either approve or deny it based on your eligibility, or you haven’t done that, and haven’t responded and we’ll deny it.”

Changes authorized from the federal level have simplified the process, Hunsinger said, eliminating much of the initial complexity. “We asked you about your income because it is a means-tested program. If you live in a qualified census tract – that’s a [US Housing and Urban Development] designation – where the majority of renters are 80% of area median income or below, we don’t ask you for income documentation anymore. That’s one of the changes that we’ve made to make it simpler. So if you live in one of those areas who don’t have to provide proof of your income.” The web site should automatically determine from the applicant address whether the census tract exemption applies, she said. A similar exemption applies to anyone on a qualifying government assistance program, she said, including SNAP (“food stamps”), WIC, RI Works.

“The [RI] program has not been without its problems. We came up and we had a technology failure, we had to procure a new vendor and start over. So I understand that there’s been a backlog and a lag in processing. We learn stuff. Every time we interact with a group of people, we take their feedback very seriously. We have made a number of changes to make it simpler to make it more accessible. We’ve increased our presence in the community. So aside from those partners, we do on-site events. Last night, we were at an addiction clinic in Pawtucket, where folks from Pawtucket could come and get help completing their application. If we could get it finished there, we had somebody there and could look at it and approve it. We could start applications with with folks who hadn’t started yet. So we’ve done a number of things: really, really pushed it so that we are more accessible, more present and make it easier on the on the folks who need the money.”

The American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021, contained a wide variety of pandemic economic relief programs, but a major provision allocated $21.6 billion to forestall evictions of tenants behind on their rent and $10 billion to homeowners behind on their mortgages, as well as $4.5 billion to those behind on utility payments. A study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimates that by December 2021 such debt nationally will reach $18.6 billion for 2 million households, which is 6% of all households, with an average of $9,300 per household.

FDA Recommends Third Pfizer Vaccine Booster Shot: Only for age 65 and high risk of severe COVID-19

September 17, 2021 — In an all-day meeting that became somewhat disorganized at the end, the Vaccines and Related Biologic Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended, by unanimous 18-0 vote, authorization for third booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, officially now called Comirnaty, but restricted to those either age 65 and older or at “high risk of severe COVID-19.” By informal poll, the committee also recommended including in the latter category health care workers and others at increased likelihood of exposure by virtue of occupation. Exactly who is at “high risk” will be left to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who are expected to meet next week. Basic eligibility for booster doses kicks in six months after primary vaccination has been completed.

This unplanned vote was taken after the planned vote on authorizing third booster doses for the general public without age or other restrictions was resoundingly defeated, 16-2. The consensus expressed by the members seemed to be that the data provided by Pfizer with their application was of low quality and based on a study with small sample size of 330 test subjects. The cost-benefit balance was clearer, the committee clearly thought, with older people whose immune systems are naturally and normally less robust. Because vaccines work by teaching the immune system to recognize a virus, the effectiveness of a vaccine is ordinarily reduced with age.

The first vote was a blunt rejection of expressed desire for widespread booster dose authorization sought by Pfizer and the Biden administration. While the FDA is not obligated to follow the recommendations of its advisory committees of outside experts, it is extremely rare for them to be overruled.

Most of the questions from the committee were directed to guest experts from the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Weizmann Institute. Israel leads the world in vaccinating its population, approximately three months ahead of the US and the UK, and made the decision to authorize third booster doses beginning in July in phases, first to age 60 and older and eventually within a few weeks down to age 16 and older. The Israeli experts said that the virus reproduction rate, known as R0 (“R-nought”), was about 1.3 when booster doses began to be administered, a bad situation corresponding to a doubling of infections every 10 days, and fell to 0.96 by the end of August, a slight day-to-day decrease in total infections. They said that their model predicted that without booster doses the entire hospital capacity of the nation would have been exhausted by the beginning of September.

The Israeli experts emphasized that the vaccines even without a third booster dose remained very protective, but they observed a reduction in effectiveness from 97% after initially completing full vaccination to 85% six months later. While any vaccine more than 50% is medically valuable, they explained that these numbers implied a breakthrough rate of 3% (=100%-97%) rising to 15% (=100%-85%), a five-fold increase. Officially, the committee was supposed to consider only the data submitted by Pfizer with the application, using the Israeli data only for general guidance.

Because almost all useful data on the virus now must be derived from real-world observational studies rather than randomized controlled trials, it is difficult if not impossible to determine whether increasing occurrences of breakthrough infections are attributable to waning vaccine effectiveness per se or to other factors such as the nearly universal prevalence of the newer delta variant of the virus. Such statistical confounding factors left the committee unsure of how to compare risks and benefits. Ultimately, the committee was concerned that booster doses in young people might cause rare but significant adverse effects, such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), and seemed to conclude that the data were insufficient to compare such risks to those resulting from COVID-19 infection.

There was a clear expectation that Pfizer would reapply for authorization of booster doses for the general public without age restriction once they had better data.

Toward Enshrining Roe v. Wade: Texas Law Backfires

Last week hell froze over as RI Congressional Rep Jim Langevin came forward in an editorial supporting a woman’s right to choose (Providence Journal, September 9, 2021). In case you missed it, the Texas legislature has enacted legislation essentially putting bounties on women who opt to terminate a pregnancy after the first six weeks.

As a result, Langevin, who has long opposed a woman’s right to choose, has become a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, meant to protect women’s rights to safe and accessible abortions throughout the United States.

“Faced with the reality that Roe might no longer be the law of the land in a few months,” Langevin wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that I cannot support a reality where extremist state legislators can dictate women’s medical decisions. At the end of the day, we have to put our trust in women.”

Bravo, Rep. Langevin!

Out this September: Looking for some new entertainment? Look no further!

Motif contributor Katarina Dulude rounded up her top picks for entertainment this September, including a few local selections. 

September 2: If spooky season can’t come soon enough for you, check out What We Do in the Shadows, which will be returning for its third season on September 2. This horror comedy mockumentary was created by Jemaine Clement and produced by Taika Waititi, who is perhaps best known for directing Thor: Ragnarok and the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. The show is based on the creators’ earlier film of the same name and tells the story of four vampire roommates and their familiar living in modern times in Staten Island. Its third season will be available on September 2 on FX and Hulu. It’s worth taking a bite out of this incredibly hilarious and absurdly fun show.

September 3: The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame and Loki and follows Shang-Chi, a skilled martial artist, who is drawn back into The Ten Rings, a shady organization, to confront the past he left behind. Director Daniel Cretton described the film as both funny and “a cross between a classic kung fu film and a family drama.” The film will receive a 45-day theatrical release.

September 9-17: Looking for a live performance? The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins by Haus of Glitter will be presented outdoors through the Wilbury Theatre Group at the former home of Esek Hopkins. The activist dance opera is described by co-directors Anthony Andrade, Assitan Coulibaly, ​Steven Choummalaithong, Matt Garza and Trent Lee as “a story of mermaids, revolution and resilience [that] exposes how our BIPOC lineages intersect with Hopkins’ legacy of white supremacy.” Tickets are available here.

September 14: For those who enjoy a good romance, Farah Naz Rishi’s It All Comes Back to You will be released midway through September. The contemporary romance book centers around teens Kiran and Deen. Kiran doesn’t know what to make of her sister’s new quickly moving relationship. Deen is thrilled his brother has found a girlfriend so that the attention can shift off of him for a while. However, when Deen and Kiran come face to face, they agree to keep their past a secret. Four years prior they dated until Deen ghosted Kiran without an explanation. Now, Kiran is determined to find out why and Deen is equally determined to make sure she never finds out. 

September 17: Netflix’s hit British dramedy series Sex Education makes its return this September. For those who haven’t seen the series, it begins with Otis, the teenage son of a sex therapist, who discovers that despite his own inexperience, he is adept at giving sex advice to others. With his best friend and crush, he turns this into a business. The series explores the emotional (and sexual) likes of teens in a way that is funny, awkward and incredibly heartfelt. Much of the third series has been kept under wraps, but it’s clear that a new headmistress will be changing things up at the teens’ school, for better or worse.

September 21: Inspired by the story of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, the book Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao will be released this month. Described as Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale, the sci-fi reimaging follows Wu Zetian, who seeks vengeance for her sister’s death at the hands of an intensely patriarchal military system that pairs boys and girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots used to battle mecha aliens. While boys are revered, girls must serve as their concubines and often die from the mental strain. When Zetian gets her vengeance on the boy responsible for her sister’s death and emerges unscathed, it is discovered that she is an Iron Widow, a special type of female pilot, much-feared and much-silenced. She is paired with the strongest and most controversial male pilot in an attempt to tame her, but after getting a taste for power, Zetian will not give it up.

September 30-October 24: Opening their 37th season, A Lie Agreed Upon will be premiering at The Gamm Theatre on the last day of September. This play, written and directed by Tony Estrella, modernizes Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. “Inconvenient truths fight alternative facts, minority rights battle majority rule, and individual conscience clashes with economic interest in this powerful reinvention of Ibsen’s masterpiece.” More information is available here.

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine fully approved by US FDA: RI hopes will boost take-up rate

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today approved full licensure for the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that was given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on December 11, 2020, for recipients age 16 and older. It will now be known under the trade name “Comirnaty” (pronounced koe-mir’-na-tee). The identical vaccine will continue to be available under EUA issued May 10, 2021, for recipients ages 12 to 15 and under subsequent EUA as a third dose for immuno-compromised recipients.

About 92 million people in the US have been administered the Pfizer vaccine under EUA. Full approval is expected to persuade some who have been hesitant to get an “experimental” vaccine. Full approval may also smooth legal obstacles to COVID-19 vaccine mandates by public and private employers and schools, where existing vaccines (such as for measles, mumps, and rubella) are already mandated.

In a statement, the FDA said approval was based upon clinical trial data from both before and after the EUA, including one for effectiveness with 40,000 participants and one for safety with 44,000 participants, in each case half receiving the vaccine and half receiving a placebo. The vaccine was found 91% effective in preventing sickness from COVID-19. About 12,000 vaccine recipients were monitored for adverse events for at least six months.

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. “While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

“Our scientific and medical experts conducted an incredibly thorough and thoughtful evaluation of this vaccine. We evaluated scientific data and information included in hundreds of thousands of pages, conducted our own analyses of Comirnaty’s safety and effectiveness, and performed a detailed assessment of the manufacturing processes, including inspections of the manufacturing facilities,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “We have not lost sight that the COVID-19 public health crisis continues in the U.S. and that the public is counting on safe and effective vaccines. The public and medical community can be confident that although we approved this vaccine expeditiously, it was fully in keeping with our existing high standards for vaccines in the U.S.”

In Rhode Island, free vaccination sites can be found on the state government web site vaccinateri.org for the general public, as well as more than 100 back-to-school clinics in communities listed at back2schoolri.com.

RI Gov. Dan McKee said in a statement, “To anyone who was on the fence, the science is crystal clear. These vaccines are safe, and they are very effective at keeping people healthy. It is time. It is time to protect yourself. It is time to protect your family. It is time to get vaccinated. We have vaccination opportunities available in communities across Rhode Island. If you have not gotten your shot, get vaccinated today.”

“The FDA did an extremely thorough review of this vaccine and reaffirmed that it absolutely was safe,” said RI Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, in a statement. “It is undeniable that the COVID-19 vaccines save lives. If you are eligible, get vaccinated today to protect you and your family. It’s easier than it has ever been before.”