Plummeting COVID rates and FDA approval of a brand new, one-shot vaccine seem like very good news! And it is...if it weren't for our propensity to screw it all up again, as our guest on today's BradCast explains. [Audio link to today's full show is posted below this summary.]
But first, in other good/bad news reports today, the former conservative President was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to a year in prison on Monday! The bad news is that it wasn't our former "conservative" President, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Still, it does suggest that modern, civilized democracies can hold even the most powerful to account. We'll see if the U.S. justice system learns anything from that example.
In the meantime, we clearly have yet to learn the lesson about the need to modernize our critical infrastructure --- or of the dangers of deregulating, privatizing, and profiteering from essential services such as power and water. The shameful, widespread outages in Texas from a winter storm two weeks ago offered a fresh reminder about that, even as hundreds of thousands in Houston remain under boil water orders today. But, much less noticed and reported on than the mess in Texas is the fact that tens of thousands are still without clean water --- or even any water at all --- in much of Jackson, Mississippi, where decades of failure to invest in the city's antiquated water system has now left much of it without water at all for the past two weeks. As it turns out, however, the areas of Jackson without water just happen to be the predominately black areas of the state's 80% African-American capital city.
Long overdue improvements to critical infrastructure could finally begin in some states and cities with the passage of President Biden's wildly popular American Rescue Plan. The U.S. House passed the $1.9 trillion package --- which includes $1,400 individual checks and hundreds of billions in relief to families, businesses, schools, unemployed workers, as well as cash-strapped cities and states --- late last Friday night. The House version also a includes the very popular $15/hour minimum wage mandate, even though the Senate Parliamentarian declared last week that the provision could not be included for passage under Senate Budget Reconciliation rules. Those rules would allow the package to be adopted by a simple majority vote in the Senate this week, rather than the 60 votes currently needed for passage under the Senate's archaic, undemocratic, Jim Crow-era filibuster rules.
Despite the popularity of the package (76% approval over all, including 60% of Republican voters), there were zero votes for passage by GOPers in the gerrymandered House. Republicans in the Senate are believed likely to similarly ignore the preferences of a majority of their own voters. That, even though the measure enjoys bi-partisan approval by voters and the package also includes tens of billions of dollars to speed distribution of COVID vaccines.
Speaking of which, a third vaccine received FDA approval over the weekend, and millions of doses are now said to be on on their way to distribution points. The first single-dose vaccine to be granted FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19 is Johnson & Johnson's. It is said to be highly effective and requires only regular refrigeration for storage, as opposed to sub-freezers. So, in theory, it is much easier to get out and into people's arms quickly. But is it as effective as Pfizer and Moderna's vaccine? And does it matter one way or another? We discuss that with our guest today as well.
As COVID infection, hospitalization and death rates have been plummeting in recent weeks, epidemiologists have become worried. There are signs that the precipitous drop after the horrendously deadly autumn surge last year has begun to plateau at similarly high rates to those we saw just before that surge. But now, there are much more transmissible variants emerging. At the same time, states and cities are beginning to lift restrictions again --- just as they did before last year's surge that quickly propelled deaths to more than 500,000 in the U.S.
We're joined today for some very helpful insight on both the vaccines and concerns about the current rate of spread, by DR. KARL KRUPP of University of Arizona's Zuckerman College of Public Health. In short, Krupp warns, "we're screwing it up all over again."
"To be quite blunt about it" Krupp tells me, citing those who ignored warnings from public health authorities about reopening schools and businesses before Thanksgiving last year, "It's funny how short of a memory we have. We're just approaching where we were in the middle of October. We're just coming back from where we went the first time we did everything wrong. And the question is, are we going to do everything wrong this time?"
His answer is not necessarily encouraging, as he predicts that we could very well see not only a fourth surge, but one that is even higher than what devastated the nation late last year.
As to the vaccines, we talk about the fact that Johnson & Johnson's, while only requiring a single dose, is said to be only 66% effective against the virus, as compared to the 94 and 95% rates of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Though the newest vaccine to obtain FDA approval also is said to be 85% effective against severe cases and, to date, 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death.
But, if given a choice, wouldn't it be smarter to take the Pfizer or Moderna versions? Krupp is sympathetic to those concerns, but argues that Americans should take any vaccine they can get as quickly as possible right now. He explains why. He also answers a bunch of questions about whether those who have been vaccinated can still become infected or infect others and discusses concerns that minority communities are currently being vaccinated at far lower rates.
He also offers his predictions as to when life might actually return to normal, and when it will return to mostly normal --- or at least something that feels much more like the Before Times. Please tune in for today's very insightful --- and hopefully helpful! --- conversation...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)