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State Providers Won't Distribute Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

Matt Slocum

On today's program: How federal and local officials share information could impact vaccinations, now that Pennsylvania providers have been instructed to halt administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine until April 20; a change in the city’s census tract could impact how the Hill District gets federal assistance moving forward; and a local tech-worker union says Google isn’t meeting with them to finalize a contract.

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine distribution is on ‘pause’(0:00 — 6:01)

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended a pause in the administration of the Johnson & Johnson single dose COVID-19 vaccine due to six cases of blood clots in women between the ages of 18 and 48. Nearly 7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered so far in the U.S.

The state Department of Health notified vaccine providers in the Commonwealth to temporarily halt distributing this vaccine.

How might the tone of the messaging from federal, state and local health officials impact the public’s reaction?

“It’s my sense that nothing is tested [for tone] that comes out of CDC,” says Baruch Fischhoff. He’s a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies public perception of risk and human decision-making. “People, in good faith, write things that make sense to them and then just put it out.”

The CDC is convening an emergency meeting today of the Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices to further review cases for any details on the significance of this rare occurrence.

“My guess is that they think the public is more worried about vaccine safety than about not getting vaccines, and so they have set their threshold in that direction, but I don’t know what people think,” says Fischhoff.

“Unless you ask people how they interpret your messages, both your overt messages, what you put in the press release, and your actions, the decision that you choose to make, you don’t know what people think.”

Fischhoff says it’s the job of public health agencies to find out how the public interprets its actions.

How the Penguins got a census tract line moved in the Hill District (6:05 — 13:26)

The City Planning Commission could vote this month on plans to build a 26-story First National Bank tower. This construction would be the first major development of the 28-acre site that was home to the Civic Arena. The community’s role with the Penguins and their developer Buccini Pollin Group has been contentious for years, and now there seems to be another sticking point.

In February, the U.S. Census Bureau placed the old arena site in the same census tract as the Hill District. Previously the site was in the downtown tract.

“Every 10 years, the Census Bureau, with help from local authorities, takes a look at all of these census tracts,” says Rich Lord, a reporter with PublicSource. “There are like 75,000 of them nationwide and there’s supposed to be around 4,000 people in each one.” These tract lines typically change as the population changes.

Lord says the effort to change the census tract boundary seems to have started with the Penguins, who wanted Opportunity Zone Status for the site which would give them the opportunity to attract tax-favored investment.

“The Penguins worked through Mayor [Bill] Peduto’s office, then worked through the state, then they interestingly joined forces with the United Steelworkers to approach the [U.S.] Commerce Department and then the Census Bureau,” says Lord.

Hill District community and business leaders weren’t involved in these conversations about changing the census tract, says Lord.

Ultimately, the Penguins reached out to the County, which then reached out to the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission to recommend the census district change.

“When the news came out on February 2, it caught the community groups, including the Hill Community Development Corporation, completely by surprise,” says Lord. “The Penguins will tell you that it caught them by surprise too, that they thought this had become a dead issue, but, in the end, of course, they got what they wanted.”

Lord says Hill District leaders believe this change will have negative ramifications, as census tracts inform where Community Development Block grants and tax credit programs can be applied.

“Hill leaders are worried that the arena site is gonna change the demographics of the Hill District to the extent that the broader neighborhood won’t be able to tap into these various federal programs that depend on census tract demographics.”

Google contract workers have a union but have yet to negotiate a contract(13:33 — 18:00)

The nationwide labor movement suffered a setback last week when Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama voted not to join a union.

But 90.5 WESA’s An-Li Herring reports, even a local union organizing doesn’t end the fight.

Workers at Pittsburgh’s Google office are believed to be the first white-collar employees to organize while doing work for a major tech firm. But a year and a half later, they have yet to negotiate their first contract.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Corrected: April 15, 2021 at 12:49 PM EDT
This story includes a correction to note Allegheny County recommended the census district change. The original post said the Penguins had asked the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission to make the change.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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