Giving Thanks For Antibodies with Dr. Ashish Jha | Crooked Media
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November 24, 2021
What A Day
Giving Thanks For Antibodies with Dr. Ashish Jha

In This Episode

  • Thanksgiving is almost here in the U.S., where COVID cases are up by more than 20 percent compared to last month. Dr. Ashish Jha, the Dean of Brown’s School of Public Health, helps us understand how we should compare these stats to last year, and what we can expect as we head into the holiday season.
  • And in headlines: Kevin Strickland was exonerated after 43 years in prison, a jury holds three pharmacy chains liable for contributing to the opioid crisis, and a Trump-presidency themed bar opened in Manhattan.


Show Notes:






Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, November 24th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, reminding you that at Thanksgiving dinner, the marshmallows and yams count as a vegetable.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, everything else is in fact a fruit, and it’s all filled with antioxidants.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, 100%. It’s basically just like a table of multivitamins. It’s all fair game on Thanksgiving.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, a jury holds three pharmacy chains liable for contributing to the opioid crisis. Plus a Trump presidency-themed bar opened in Manhattan.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, Thanksgiving is almost here in the U.S., and as the weather gets colder for clues on what the pandemic might look like as winter sets in, we have our eyes on Europe. As you can hear in this BBC report, it’s getting pretty serious.


[BBC clip] Austria is back in lockdown. It’s trying to control a rising COVID infection rate. And with new restrictions coming in in a number of European countries, we’ve seen protests in Belgium, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Croatia. Once again, we’re seeing the tension between public health measures and what some people see as a constraint on their personal freedoms.


Josie Duffy Rice: So Gideon, can you give us an overview of where things stand right now?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Broadly speaking, it does seem to be like the trends are pretty worrying, right? Overall, Europe accounts for over half of the global reported COVID deaths this month. That is according to the World Health Organization. And right now, there are almost 4,200 Europeans dying every day. As we heard in that clip, Austria entered a nationwide lockdown earlier this week—that is its fourth—to try and stem a wave of cases. And in Germany, which is seeing its own record case numbers, the health minister recently said at a news conference that in the months to come quote, “just about everyone in Germany will probably be either vaccinated, recovered or dead.”


Josie Duffy Rice: Whoa. That is not a casual thing to say at all.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: Wow. So Gideon here in the U.S., family and friends will be gathering tomorrow indoors for Thanksgiving dinner. So can you tell us a little bit about what cases look like for us right now?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. In the states, they’re up on average by more than 20% compared to a month ago. If you look at a chart right now, The New York Times one as an example, it’s kind of like where we were last year at this time when no one was vaccinated. So while those numbers are similar, the health outcomes overall are vastly, vastly improved by vaccinations, right? Still, though, there was a troubling statistic that I saw in a Bloomberg report recently, 18 states reported they have more ICU patients with confirmed or suspected COVID than they had a year ago.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s actually pretty terrifying. So how should we be thinking about all of this as we go into the holidays?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s difficult to put it all in perspective, and that’s what I wanted to do, particularly how we should compare these stats to last year, when, again, no one was vaccinated in the U.S. and to try to understand broadly what is happening and what we can expect. So Josie I spoke earlier with Dr. Ashish Jha. He is the dean at Brown School of Public Health. And I started by asking about what we’re seeing in Europe.


Dr. Ashish Jha: Yeah, so things in Europe are pretty bad. Obviously, not all of Europe, and Europe is a big place, but in many, many parts of Europe infection numbers are really rising quite dramatically. And on first blush, you may be surprised. What’s going on is large parts of the European population, like large parts of the American population have not gotten vaccinated. So even though their overall vaccination numbers are higher, there are plenty of communities with unvaccinated people. And that’s where you’re seeing most of this spread. Two other things are going on. They haven’t had the kind of Delta surge that we had in the summer and early fall and so right now, they’re kind of encountering Delta for the first time in a significant way. And then it’s getting cold in Europe just the way it is in the northern half of the country.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I think, does this lead to another sort of recalculation then of what number we should be getting to? I feel like that is always a moving target.


Dr. Ashish Jha: It is a moving target. And here’s how I think about it. So what you need is you need pretty high levels of immunity and probably about 90 to 95% of the population for the virus really to just kind of peter out on its own. That’s a very high degree of immunity. Now you get that immunity one of two ways, right, through vaccines or through natural infection, through infection-induced immunity. Both of those wane over time. In my mind, kind of when I look at America, about 60% of the population has been vaccinated. Probably another 15 or 20% of the population has been previously infected. So you say, OK, 75, that’s not bad. But a lot of those infections happened last year. I’m not sure how useful that is against Delta. So we still have a lot of people who are very vulnerable to this virus. And if you’re not boosted and if you haven’t got an infection recently, you’re still vulnerable to certainly getting infected and maybe even getting really sick.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And as you’re alluding to, cases are decidedly rising in the U.S. going into the holiday season. They had been declining some months ago. How should we be interpreting this at the moment then?


Dr. Ashish Jha: Yeah, there’s an interesting debate right now, which is should we even look at cases? Well, what we could say last year convincingly is when cases rose, hospitalizations followed two weeks later and the deaths followed another week or two after that. And so cases were the harbinger of what was to come. This year, you might think it’s really different because we have so many people who are vaccinated, but a vast majority of the cases are still in unvaccinated people, so when cases rise in America, we’re still seeing—in most places, not all places—but in most places cases rise and then hospitalizations and deaths follow. Cases still are important. Some places like Vermont, I’m actually seeing pretty substantial increases in cases and the hospitalizations are rising, but much, much more slowly than you’d expect, and deaths are rising much more slowly. And then you think, Ah, that’s what we want to get to. We want to get to a point where cases don’t translate into hospitalizations and deaths. But you have to have a very high level of population immunity for that to happen.


Gideon Resnick: How do we avoid a situation in which you just have, let’s say, 50 to 60% of the population with three shots and then perhaps another half that hasn’t gotten their first? And does that end up addressing the problem?


Dr. Ashish Jha: Yeah, that’s not where we want to be. What I’d like to be is 90% of the population with two to three shots, right? So for people who choose not to be vaccinated, let’s say they get infected, they recover. Nine months later, they’re going to be vulnerable again and they are going to get infected again. And that’s one heck of a way to get through the next few years. And so whereas vaccinated people, I think the third shot, I believe, is going to create probably durable immunity for at least another year. And so, OK, so vaccinated people are going to be getting boosters once a year. That’s OK. I get my flu shot every year. It doesn’t bother me too much. So we may get to a point where we have these two alternative realities where one group is getting boosted annually and largely staying infection-free, and another group that’s getting repeated infections every nine to 12 months and that functions as their booster. But let’s be very clear, that’s a horrible way to go because you’re going to be getting sick. Some of those people are going to die, they are going to have long COVID. So we really have to be thoughtful about how do we increase the number of people who get vaccinated.


Gideon Resnick: So on a practical level, for people that are going to celebrate Thanksgiving this week with their family, how should they be thinking about their plans given all that we’ve been talking about?


Dr. Ashish Jha: Yeah, last year we were at zero, right, because we hadn’t gotten the first vaccines out yet. So here’s how I think about it and actually, I’ll tell you what we’re doing. So I’m getting together with my brother and sister-in-law and their kids and my elderly parents. So how do we make that safe? Well, first of all, my elderly parents are boosted. My wife and I and my brother and sister-in-law have all gotten their boosters and we’re all adults. And our kids are either vaccinated or my youngest is not yet eligible. He just got his first shot, so he’s not immune. And I think in that context, it’s pretty safe that we could probably say, OK, we’re going to do nothing else and we’re good. So what we’re doing is we’re adding an antigen test for everybody. And that means if they’re negative, that doesn’t make it a zero risk, but it makes it exceedingly low at that point. And different people have different risk tolerance, but at that level, we’re all going to hang out. We’re going to have meals. No one’s going to wear a mask indoors, you know, and we’re not going to do some major party where we’re going to go to see 50 people, but we’ll have a few friends and family over, and I think that’s pretty safe.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I’m really glad that you mentioned the antigen tests because that is another way to add yet another level of safety for people that are gathering. There’s some reporting, though, that they are in relatively short supply at the moment. Do we know why that is and are we ever going to get to a point where this is not a concern, that it is quite easy for all of us to say we’re going to take these rapid tests whenever we want to?


Dr. Ashish Jha: Yeah, this is a source of incredible frustration for me. This is not where we should be 20 months into our pandemic. The supply right now is a bit better than it was a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago, things were really looking dire, it was very, very hard to get these antigen tests. The federal government has made a big push, and they’ve done two sets of things. First, they have started approving a lot of these tests that were sitting at the FDA for months and months and months and not getting approved. Adding more testing companies to the mix will help a lot in terms of supply. They’re also using other means to try to boost supply. I think most people can probably get an antigen test at a CVS or a Walgreens or Walmart. The problem is they’re still kind of expensive. There are about seven or eight bucks a test. And if you have a family gathering of 20 people, it’s, you know, it’s 150 bucks. Some people can afford that. But for other people, that’s really prohibitive. We need to get to a point where we’re like Europe. In Europe basically, you can get a test, cheap and easy, a buck a test and you can buy a box of 20 at your local grocery store. That’s where we want to get to. And it’s not like Europe’s got some magic technology that we don’t.


Gideon Resnick: What will you be looking for in the next couple of weeks to months to kind of ascertain where we are and where we’re going?


Dr. Ashish Jha: Great question. Two things: I want to see more of a split in the curves between infections and deaths. They have tracked way more closely to what we saw last year than I would feel comfortable. And I think it means to me that it’s still being driven primarily among unvaccinated people. I look forward to the day where we might see a spike in cases and no subsequent change in deaths, and you’d think, Oh, OK, this is a much, much better place to be. That’s what I’m looking for. I do think the next six weeks really through probably the first week or two of January are going to be, going to be bumpy. We’re going to see rises in cases holiday season, people gathering, infections are going to go up, especially in the northern half of the country. But I think even the southern half of the country is going to see increases. Once we get into January, I expect things to start turning around, as they did last year. Now they started turning my last year even before we started giving people vaccines. So I am really optimistic about where we get to as we get into later parts of the winter and spring. But the next couple of months are going to be hard, and what I’m hoping for is we can at least keep hospitalizations and deaths down because that’s obviously the thing that we really got to pay attention to the most.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah Josie, that was my conversation with Dr. Ashish Jha. He is the Dean at Brown’s School of Public Health.


Gideon Resnick: Thanks for that, Gideon. We’ll link to some more of the resources from the School of Public Health if you’d like to check those out. And when you gather with your own friends and family tomorrow, we hope you stay safe. That is the latest for now.


Gideon Resnick: Now, let’s get to some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: A federal jury found that the white nationalists who organized and participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia conspired to intimidate, harass or harm counter-protesters. That jury awarded more than $26 million in damages to the nine people who suffered emotional and physical harm during that 2017 rally. Jason Kessler, the rally’s lead organizer, and James Fields, the man who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, are among the many defendants in the case. The jury could not agree on whether or not the defendants engaged in a racially-motivated conspiracy to commit violence under federal law, but the plaintiffs’ lawyers plan on trying the defendants again for those charges. Another legal update on a mass tragedy yesterday, the Justice Department reached a settlement with the victims of the Parkland Florida shooting in 2018 that left 17 people dead. About $130 million is going to be split among the 52 families and victims. The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the FBI failed to act on tips that could have prevented the fatal shooting. The lead attorney for the families, Kristina Infante, celebrated the verdict, saying quote, “Although no resolution could ever restore what the Parkland families lost, this settlement marks an important step toward justice.”


Josie Duffy Rice: A federal jury in Cleveland said the country’s three biggest pharmacy chains are all responsible for playing a role in the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties. In yesterday’s verdict, jurors agreed that CVS Health, Walmart and Walgreens all dispensed pills in a way that contributed to a quote, “public nuisance”. This is the first time a civil judgment has been lodged against drug retailers, and the judge will hold an upcoming hearing to decide how much these companies should pay out. The decision also came one week after a federal report said synthetic opioids were mostly responsible for drug overdose deaths, spiking nearly 30% in the year between April 2020 and April 2021. Thousands of other plaintiffs elsewhere in the country were closely watching this civil case as well, as they plot out their own legal strategies against the pharmaceutical industry. But using the public nuisance argument has been hit or miss. This past month in separate cases such in California and Oklahoma rejected the idea when it was made against drug manufacturers. CVS and Walgreens said they both plan to appeal yesterday’s verdict, and Walmart is expected to as well.


Gideon Resnick: After 43 years in prison, Kevin Strickland was exonerated and the longest confirmed wrongful conviction case in U.S. history. In 1979, Strickland, a Black man, was convicted by an all-white jury for murdering three people. He was sentenced to life in prison at just 18 years of age with no chance of parole for 50 years, despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The case’s key witness Cynthia Douglass said she was pressured by police to testify against Strickland and tried to recant her testimony multiple times before she died in 2015. The admitted killers have even said that Strickland was not involved in the murders, and this year the former prosecutors in the case called for his release. A Missouri judge overturned the conviction yesterday, and Strickland, who is now 62-years old, was freed shortly after. He told The Washington Post that the first thing he wants to do now that he is free is to visit his mother’s grave.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s just such a sad sentence.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: Hard to imagine. If you want to go where everybody knows your name because your name is on a list of people who are arrested at the January 6th, there’s finally a bar for you. It’s called the 45 Wine & Whiskey Bar, and it’s a Trump presidency-themed establishment that opened recently in Manhattan’s Trump Tower.


Gideon Resnick: Oh no.


Josie Duffy Rice: I don’t know if I’ve ever read a more cursed sentence. Forbes was the first to report on the bar, which features tasteful, gold-framed photos from Trump’s years in office on every wall. One picture shows him entering Air Force One via a steep flight of stairs, which even critics of his presidency can admit was a moment when he demonstrated true bravery.


Gideon Resnick: Yes.


Josie Duffy Rice: Importantly, the menu at 45 White & Whiskey Bar offers a bevy of President Trump’s themed cocktails, starting at $24, including the Mar-a-Lago spritzer, the FLOTUS, the Rose Garden, the West Wing, and The Don. The crown jewel on the drink menu is the 45, which cost $45.


Gideon Resnick: Oh my God.


Josie Duffy Rice: Are you’re ready for this Gideon?


Gideon Resnick: No.


Josie Duffy Rice: It consists of—and this is not a joke—a whiskey cocktail served with a side of Diet Coke—a side of Diet Coke—two American beef sliders.


Gideon Resnick: Ugh.


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, it’s something people can order to toast four more years of Trump, plus at least five days of infection by E. coli.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I was going to say in a hyperbolic statement, if a drink is $45, I hope it kills me. Like it needs to be that potent.


Josie Duffy Rice: Needs to be that strong?


Gideon Resnick: Yes. But this would in fact kill me, and not in a way that would be fun. This is, by a process of elimination here or deduction or whatever, I don’t know English or math, the Diet Coke and the American beef sliders would be $21 here. Is that what we’re assuming?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think it is. And then we really have to just decide how much we think the actual Diet Coke is. It’s got to be, they’re charging $7 a Diet Coke at this restaurant.


Gideon Resnick: These are like, sports arena prices with like a 50% tip or something.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, exactly.


Gideon Resnick: World Series prices.


Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. And I bet you, I know some people who would willingly go.


Gideon Resnick: I do, too. Not me.


Josie Duffy Rice: Not us. Unless Crooked is paying our bill, in which case we might go check it out.


Gideon Resnick: Front it, please. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back with a new segment after some ads.


[ad break]


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Wednesday WAD squad and since you’ve got a holiday break coming up, we wanted to set you off with some conversation starters you can use at your Thanksgiving dinner, preferably with your family. Oldest family members at the table probably best for this.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Josie Did you know that Will Smith had so much sex as a teenager that his body rejected it at the level of his digestive system?


Josie Duffy Rice: I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that. I’m upset.


Gideon Resnick: You learn a well-known fact every single day that you live. That’s what they say. This is a new revelation from a memoir called “Will” that the legendary actor released this month. In excerpts that surfaced yesterday by BuzzFeed News, Smith discusses how being cheated on when he was 16-years old led to a period of quote, “rampant sexual intercourse” that would send many of us mere mortals to early graves. Using the exact right amount of detail, Smith wrote quote, “I had sex with so many women and it was so constitutionally disagreeable to my being that I developed a psychosomatic reaction to having an orgasm. It would literally make me gag and sometimes vomit.” That’s something that I always wanted to think about, and now I can. We can now add this to the list of private sex things that we know about America’s most beloved rapper-turned-movie-star, a list that’s length is somewhere between Infinite Jest and the Bible. As recently as September, we also learned about Smith’s short-lived plan to establish his own quote, “Harem” which he didn’t follow through on after realizing that it would be, quote, “horrific.” But Josie, I do want to test how well you understand human sexuality through the lens of the Fresh Prince. So I’m going to read you three, quote unquote “book excerpts” about how he dealt with his breakup, two fake, one real and you’re going to tell me if you can spot the real one. We are calling this segment, I Reflux.


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh man, OK, Gideon, I’m never going to forgive you for this, but uh . . .


Gideon Resnick: I don’t forgive myself for saying it or Jon or anyone in the vicinity of the process of this. OK, so here we go. Quote. “My stomach seemed to know what my mind didn’t: that only real relationships, not meaningless sex, would bring me the peace that I needed. But that wasn’t easy to explain when I was doubled over at the foot of a stranger’s bed.”  Now that we’re all settled in with that one, let’s go to number two. “I hope to God this beautiful stranger would be the one who would love me, who would make this pain go away. But invariably, there I was, retching and wretched. And the look in the eyes of the women even further deepened my agony.” Here’s number three Josie. “My body’s rejection of my lifestyle wasn’t limited to sex. Even kissing a woman who I was only interested in physically once led my tongue to swell and salivate wildly, before giving way to a bout of nausea that had me making excuses to go to the bathroom.”


Josie Duffy Rice: So only one of these is true.


Gideon Resnick: That’s correct.


Josie Duffy Rice: Don’t think it’s the third one because the third one is a scene from Hitch I’m pretty sure. So I feel like it’s got to be the first one.


Gideon Resnick: So, Josie, you think it is the first one, where our man Big Willie-style said quote, “but that wasn’t easy to explain when I was doubled over at the foot of a stranger’s bed.”


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.


Gideon Resnick: Well, you’re wrong. [buzz]


Josie Duffy Rice: No! OK, the second one?


Gideon Resnick: Would you like another guess?


Josie Duffy Rice: Is it the second one?


Gideon Resnick: It is the second one.


Josie Duffy Rice: OK, OK.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. Yes. He is a lyrical man, so he did a nice play on retching and wretched. Well, that’s sort of how I knew.


Josie Duffy Rice: I love it. I love it. Beautiful.


Gideon Resnick: A Shakespearean turn, if you will.


Josie Duffy Rice: I unfortunately, have lost at this game of I Reflux, but also we all have in our own way.


Gideon Resnick: We’ve all lost Josie, I was going to say, this is this is all a big loss for us as the human race, in fact.


Josie Duffy Rice: And to everybody who made me know about this, I am not thankful for you this Thanksgiving. That was I Reflux. One more thing before we go, we’re off for the next two days for Thanksgiving, so enjoy the long weekend and we’ll be back on Monday, November 29th.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you’d like to show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, pass the sweet potatoes, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just the atrocious menu at 45 Wine % Whiskey bar like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick


[together] And have a happy, happy Thanksgiving.


Gideon Resnick: It’s like we’re learning the word for the first time. This is going to be our first actually this year. Excited for my first. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.