Mental health is a social justice issue | Crooked Media
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July 06, 2021
America Dissected
Mental health is a social justice issue

In This Episode

Abdul dissects the various ways that people with mental illness are stigmatized, marginalized, and oppressed in our society. Then he talks to Dr. Ashwin Vasan, President and CEO of Fountain House, a nonprofit organization focused on creating safe and welcoming spaces for people with serious mental illness, about their work to make mental health the next social justice issue.




Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The Biden administration has failed to reach its July 4th goal of 70% vaccinations among eligible people. Only 58% of American adults are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases start to tick upwards across the country as the Delta variant spreads among unvaccinated people. And a new analysis shows that during the 2012 election cycle, Big Pharma funded over 2,400 campaigns for state legislators across the country. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. Welcome back.


For the first time in 16 months, my family and I traveled beyond what we can reasonably drive. Our travels took us to new places we never seen before, and places whose contours have shaped part of our lives. We delighted in the time we had away from home, a reminder that travel is a gift, one that the science of vaccines newly made possible. But just underneath that, joy and gratitude was an aching nostalgia. The realization that all of these things that we had taken for granted before had been profoundly off limits for the past 16 months. My daughter lived nearly half her life during that time. And we were the lucky ones. For so many others who work in these industries, the past 15 months have meant joblessness, profound insecurity about meeting the most basic needs, let alone the stresses of COVID-19 itself. For so many others, this pandemic left 600,000 human-sized holes in families and hearts. The irony of my time away was that I got a view of the pandemic from beyond my four walls and what I could find in digitized images on the Internet. The reality of this, all that we lost, came into much clearer focus. The mental health consequences of this pandemic have been and will continue to be profound. After all, we’ve lived through a 16-month collective trauma, with loss of lives and livelihoods yes, but also small comforts and joys at every corner. Indeed, symptoms of depression and anxiety are sky high, particularly among young people. Between January of 2019 and January of 2021, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the share of U.S. adults reporting symptoms consistent with depression or anxiety jumped from 11% to 41%. Some psychologists have even coined a new term for post-pandemic mental health challenges: post-pandemic stress disorder. After all, trauma has consequences. Few of us feel particularly mentally healthy right now, and that shows up in different ways: less showering or working out, more irritability, less motivation to do things that we previously enjoyed. No matter who you are, if you’re feeling like you need support, please, get the help you need. For people living with serious mental illness already, the impact of the pandemic has been even more profound. Stressors like the loss of loved ones, jobs, or health care can be catastrophic. And they have been. Without the ability to turn to each other or to a provider, millions of Americans have turned to substances to self-medicate. Overdose deaths have skyrocketed during the pandemic, particularly among Black Americans and rural white Americans, who’ve been hit hardest by the pandemic. In Kentucky, for example, overdose deaths were up 55% from 209 and 2020. If there ever was a time for a national reckoning about mental health, this is it. Millions are suffering, and yet we’re not really having that conversation. Instead, mental illness is a silent pandemic because we keep brushing it under the rug, we stigmatize it. So in order to take on the looming epidemic of mental illness, we first have to get beyond the stigma that’s been stopping us from talking about it all along. There are lots of great organizations working to address the stigma, working to normalize the discussion of mental illness. The Biden administration, for its part, dedicated two and a half billion dollars of the American Rescue Plan to addressing mental illness and substance use across the country. But it’s still not enough. So what will it take to create a sustained progressive change when it comes to mental health in our country? Our guest today has some ideas. Dr. Ashwin Vasan is the President and CEO of Fountain House, a national nonprofit organization that provides services for people living with serious mental illness. Their model uses a clubhouse to provide a community for people whom our stigma and callousness have stolen it from. Their clubhouses are amazing places. But providing a safe space for people marginalized by the world isn’t enough. So Aswin and the team are working now to make sure that the rest of the world is a safe and inclusive of people with mental illness as their clubhouses are. And that’ll take building a movement. More on why mental health needs to be a social justice issue after the break.


[ad break]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: OK. Uh, can you introduce yourself to the tape?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Yep. I’m Dr. Ashwin Vasan. I’m the President and CEO of Fountain House.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’ve known Dr. Ashwin Vasan since before he was a doctor. In fact, we went to med school together. We both taught public health at Columbia at the same time. And while I was rebuilding a health department in Detroit, he was leading action to improve equity for New York City. Needless to say, we’ve become great friends through it all. When he approached me about a new organization he was working at and his mission to turn mental health into the social justice issue it needs to be to break the stigma that is keeping too many people from the support they need and deserve, I wasn’t just intrigued, I was inspired. In fact, I work with Ashwin’s organization, Fountain House, to do just that. I wanted to have him on the pod to share that vision and what it could mean for the millions of people living with mental illness in our country.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to step back. You know, you and I have known each other for a long time, we went to med school together and we followed very parallel paths. And so much of your focus is now on mental health. Can you tell us where your passion for mental health comes from?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Yeah, thanks for the question, and it’s just really good to be here Abdul. I think going back, it’s really starts with the, with a focus on equity, and on sort of basically people who are pushed to the margins of society or have gotten a raw end of the deal. I grew up outside of Chicago. My mother was a physician. She practiced on the south side and the west side of Chicago in low-income neighborhoods where I saw very clearly that there were two Chicagos, there were two Americas playing out in front of my eyes. Even as a kid. Those are my, some of my earliest memories were just trailing her, tagging on to her white coat and just watching how her nursery—premature baby, she took she took care of premature babies—how almost every single premature baby in her nursery was a baby of color, came from a family of color. And, you know, you don’t really understand as a kid how that imprints on you but then you go home to the safety of your home and your suburban or your peri-urban sanctuary that your parents create for you, and you realize that life I just left or that thing I just saw was very different than the one I’m living every day. Going even further back on my father’s side—my parents come from Chennai, India, and we have a whole range of backgrounds in my family. Some folks who are very stable and well-off and others who are really at the margins and kind of living income to income, month to month, paycheck to paycheck. And my dad’s uncle was a community physician, a general practitioner, and he was really the patriarch of that side of the family. And he was known for running a public clinic in this area of Chennai where he would treat everyone the same, whether it was a member of parliament or someone struggling with homelessness on the street. And so those stories get told down as a kind of oral tradition. I never met him—he passed before I was born but those stories get told and passed down as an oral tradition and I think somehow imprint on us. I mean, visiting India, even as a kid, you realize, you don’t quite comprehend how there are so many people living in kind of abject poverty. And I’m sure you experienced similar things going back to Egypt as a kid. You just, you realize they’re just two worlds out there and that imprints on you in some way. And I guess based on my parents’ work and the lessons they taught me, I always felt like I should be on the side of the people who are getting the raw end of the deal. You know, I started out my career in, after school, working in global health and really focusing on global HIV and the distribution of AIDS medications in the global South. And, you know, that was really a central fight about social justice and equity. Why are the drugs that were so readily available here in the global North not available in the global South, where the pand—where the HIV pandemic at the time was really raging. And I think we’re seeing that play out again with the COVID vaccine. And so I’ve had this focus, and then take that on through to my domestic work, which is focused on vulnerable populations. I’ve always had that sort of equity-in-vulnerable-populations focus. How did I draw myself into mental health was really, it was as much a personal journey as an extension of that professional one. As I started to do work here in New York with populations affected by homelessness, refugees, veterans, people involved in the criminal legal system, the thread that connected all of those populations is the overrepresentation of mental illness, particularly serious mental illness in those populations. And so that was always something that I knew we were neglecting as we were developing public health approaches and public policy approaches to address those issues. But on a personal level, I’ve experienced family members living with and losing their lives to mental illness and addiction, and coming from an immigrant background I don’t think that’s something we talk about very much. That’s in fact, it’s something we push under the rug very actively, stigmatize very, very directly. It’s seen as weakness or an individual character flaw rather than the health condition, health conditions that they are. So for me, it also represented a reckoning and a, and a reckoning with my past, my family’s past, and bringing my personal and professional histories into alignment. So taking over Fountain House about 20 months ago really felt like the right next step in my journey.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So you have this thread of of justice that underlies your work in health, both in your mother’s story, in your uncle’s story, and in your story, your work in HIV. When did you realize that we don’t bring the same justice lens to mental health inequities as we do to physical health inequities? Frankly, we just treat the mind and the body is as fundamentally separate. When did you first realize that?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: I first realized it in the HIV work that I was doing at the World Health Organization and at Partners in Health. Obviously, we were fighting on a very pragmatic level to get access to medications, access to lifesaving AIDS drugs, and we were fighting were fighting for the dignity and the equity of people who were left behind in that calculus. But you can’t spend any time, particularly near to communities, working in communities—I was working in places like Rwanda, Uganda, Lesotho—and you can’t really go next to communities affected by things like HIV, which have such baked inequities, and not see the personal traumatic impact on people’s lives, even if they’re on medication and on, have been able to access care. They’ve lost people. They’ve suffered before they receive that care. But it was always in the back of my mind. It never felt like something you can intervene on, especially in those resource-poor settings, resource-limited settings. And, but it was always there. It was very visible, particularly as I started to work directly with communities. Working in Rwanda in particular, I think, you know, I was there a good 12, 14 years after the genocide but you still saw the really deep scars, traumatic impacts of the genocide on communities, on people’s health-seeking behavior. And so that’s where at first, I think, you know, I started to realize that there’s something here, but there was never really an architecture for me to understand how to intervene on it because global mental health wasn’t a thing. You know, it really wasn’t something that was mainstreamed into the public health conversation. Then I, then I went to medical school and, you know this, starting to see patients and interacting with communities, you see how co-occurring physical and mental health conditions run together, how people who have, who struggle with access to care or who have financial barriers to care, or who have other social stressors in their lives that are impacting their health—you see the toll that that takes. And particularly as a student watching how little the system actually has for people to intervene on mental health issues, and how little we actually do for people in many cases, particularly people who are lower income and already struggling with the number of structural barriers—that that really resonated with me. And then, of course, as I started to do public health work domestically, and you think about population groups that are actively pushed through the cracks, not just falling through the cracks in our systems, but pushed, discriminated against, stigmatized and pushed through our cracks. The one that keeps coming up is people with serious mental illness. And so at each of those touch points in my life and my professional life, you start to realize we’re doing something wrong here. We’re really doing something wrong here in our approach. We don’t regard this in the same way as we would regard other public health epidemics. We don’t, you know, we treat this still, society still treats this as an individual issue. We atomize it and silo it as something that you as a person needs to recover from and deal with. And we have still yet to really talk about what our collective approach is, what our public policy-driven approach is, what our political approach is. What our public health approach is too: prevention, care and long-term treatment of mental health conditions. And so that’s really what I think we have an opportunity to do now, finally.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, I want to, this point is a really important one, because it shows up both in the narrative that we have for people who are living with mental illness, that this is something for you to sort of go away and figure out on your own rather than something for us as a collective in a society to engage with together. And I think a lot of that conversation is starting to shift because people are starting to recognize that all of us are affected by the world in which we live, has impact on our mental health, and though not all of us are affected in the same way. There’s an important point you made about people with serious mental illness. Can you speak to what that means? How do we think about serious mental illness within the context of the conversation we’re having today?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: You know, classically, I think—and this is very much driven by psychiatry—in the field is classically serious mental illness is, has been regarded as a certain set of conditions, like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, that we associate with greater functional impairment. But increasingly, there’s a movement to regard serious mental illness as the functional impairment itself, regardless of what the disease characteristics are. You know, if you’ve got per se post-traumatic stress, that’s impacting your ability to to hold a job, maintain your relationships, go to school, achieve your goals, then that’s pretty serious as far as I’m concerned. And so there is a diagnostic sort of bucket that it usually falls into, but we—certainly the work that I do in public health and mental health is trying to really focus on how do we get people back to a level of function and well-being that they can reintegrate and recover. And that really drives at the fundamental truth that you’re getting at, which is that for time in memoriam, we’ve never really believed that people with those conditions can recover. We basically said you’re castaway people, you’re throw-away people, and that you need to be institutionalized or taken off the streets or taken out of our communities and separated and segregated from us because of the way you make us feel, the general public, right? And that’s a, that still plagues our public policy today with regard to serious mental illness.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So I want to you after the break, first about what Fountain House is and how it how it takes this on. And then how we think beyond fountain house on these issues. But first, we’ll take a quick break. We’ll be back with Dr. Ashwin Vasan after this break.


[ad break]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We’re back with Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Before we left on the break, Ashwin, we talked a bit about the important centrality of function as we think about the work that needs to be done to engage people with serious mental illness, and to create space that empowers those folks and allows them to be and do in society, as all of us deserve. Can you talk about Fountain House and how it’s, what it was founded to do, what it does now, and how it plays a role in that work?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Yeah, that’s, Fountain House is a national mental health nonprofit that’s fighting to improve health, increase opportunity, and to end social and economic isolation for people living with serious mental illness. What that means is we take on very specifically all of the dimensions of issues, from services to policy, that affect the lives of people living with serious mental illness in the United States. It was started, Fountain House, 73 years ago in 1948 by a group of people living with serious mental illness who were leaving an institutional setting, and on the steps of the New York Public Library basically said: how do we create safety, dignity, choice, and a place that we can go every day with purpose and with intention in the same way that the rest of society and the rest of humanity needs and wants? And it’s really investing in this idea that we deserve an opportunity to live full and complete lives—in our communities, not in institutional settings, but in our communities—and to recapture as much of that function that is lost  as we can possibly capture. And so Fountain House for 73 years has invested in that very clear thesis.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What does that work look like, day to day? How does, we imagine, we walk into a Fountain House today, or we’ll just say post pandemic—what does it look like? What do we see? What’s going on?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Yeah, so we, in 1948, and that was very much of the time, is they they wanted to create a safe space for folks to go and they called it a clubhouse, and much in the way that they were clubhouses, members-only club houses for a whole host of interest groups at that time and continue to be—they created one for themselves. And that was a place where they could go every single day, build relationships, break social isolation, learn to build back confidence skills and to, in order to achieve their goals. Over the next 73 years that model, the clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation, has expanded to over 200 sites in nearly 40 states and in 100 additional sites in 30 countries around the world. So what you have is a network, a very grassroots community network of these basic locations of social infrastructure. Places where people can go, build community, find community, and feel a sense of safety, dignity and choice, which is the conduit through which they can improve their health and recapture their lives. It’s essentially community therapy and community as an adjunct to other pillars of recovery in the community: health care and housing being two of the main ones. We know that none of these things exist in isolation. And so today, if you walk into a Fountain House here in New York, any one of our branches or our affiliates around the country, you will see people with serious mental illness working together, congregating, engaged in joint activities, skills building, defining their educational goals, seeking employment, engaged in joint collective work, building the skills back to break social isolation, and connecting into basic services like health care and housing and benefits and nutritional support. So on the one hand, we’re service oriented. On the other hand, we’re very much opportunity focused.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: One of the things that the existence of a Fountain House implies is that this kind of supportive atmosphere that has deliberately tried to remove obstacles, doesn’t exist outside of Fountain House. And one of the most compelling pieces of what you all are doing now is starting to think about what it means to build the kind of capacities that people find in Fountain House, outside of farmhouse. And I want to ask you, this implies a certain engagement with the recognition that there are deep and profound injustices facing people with serious mental illness in our societies. What does it look like to take them on? What does it look like to embrace society’s marginalization and mistreatment of people with serious mental illness as a social justice issue? Tell me a little bit about that vision, that perspective.


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Yeah, I think you’ve encapsulated it really well. We are both embodying services and social justice, in the same way that an organization like Planned Parenthood does for reproductive justice and women’s rights. Their strength in advocating for a better world and better policies, better laws and the dignity and the rights that that women deserve, is grounded in their community-based services. In that same way, our grounding in the lived experience and in engagement and accompaniment of people with serious mental illness is the platform through which we will build the Planned Parenthood for mental health, in that we will use that service delivery network as a, as a leaping-off point to engage in the core and intersectional policies that really impact the lives of people with serious mental illness, mostly in negative ways. You said it yourself: we’ve created a milieu, an environment in Fountain House, founded on a set of values, processes, and rules that support the dignity of these folks because we see them and recognize them and regard them as full human beings—the rest of society doesn’t. And so how do we go about fighting for changes in laws, and civil protections, and rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, while also recognizing that, you know, people with serious mental illness have lower access to health care, have lower access to affordable housing—the kind of core building blocks of better public policy and public administration. That’s really what we’re talking about when we say changing community conditions for people with serious mental illness.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So walk me through the world as it ought to be. What are the three to five top things that we have to take on to make our country, our world, a place that is more welcoming, inclusive and empowering of people with serious mental illness?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: That’s great. Yeah, I mean, I think we have to focus on care and conditions. When we talk about care, we have a mental health system that is underfunded, 7% of our entire three trillion dollar health system, 7% of that spending goes to mental health. That’s not good enough. One out of three Americans, 111 million Americans live in a mental health professional shortage area. Mental health care is reimbursed and, by insurance companies at 83cents on the dollar, 17 cents is lost on every transaction—which over the course of a three trillion dollar system adds up to a lot of money. And so we have a starved, structurally-imbalanced and starved system of mental health care and we need to strengthen access for people, broadly, and specifically for people with serious mental illness. That means better access to community psychiatrists, better access and more psychiatrists and psychologists of color, because we know that 80%—while serious mental illness affects, is actually quite democratic in how it affects people, there are deep inequities in access to care underneath that and so the outcomes are very different. We have a system, because of those financial incentives, where you’re seeing psychiatric beds closed, psychiatric hospitals closed. We’ve seen the progressive trans-institutionalization from psychiatric inpatient settings to our criminal justice system and punishment. One out of five people in jail, in prison has a serious mental illness. So we have to think about these sort of care-focus and systems-focused fixes first because at a basic minimum, when people need help, when people are in crisis, when people need long-term care for serious mental illness, they can’t get it, in the main.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And what about on the condition side?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: And then on the condition side, you look, whether it’s jobs, educational opportunities, access to affordable housing, certainly income inequality and economic security, as well as just civil rights and civic inclusion—those are a set of, underneath each of those buckets are a set of laws that disproportionately negatively impact people with serious mental illness. Just take enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act as one civil rights focused set of conditions, people with serious mental illness are actually covered under the ADA but when you look at enforcement, whether it’s by employers, by schools and educational institutions, by government enforcement holding those institutions accountable for equal rights under the law for people with serious mental illness, it’s not happening. There’s housing discrimination, there’s benefits discrimination, there’s health care discrimination—and we have to, in the same way that we’ve had a really robust national movement for the rights of physically disabled people where they have demanded the full menu of rights and civic inclusion, we need the same sort of movement for people with serious mental illness. And I think finally where we’re at that time.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: One of the places that I find to be a really, really important space for focus, which Fountain House has really taken on the responsibility to tackle, is the way we respond to people who are having, who are in crisis with serious mental illness. And one of the projects that I think is one of the most impactful that Fountain House has taken on is the Care Responders Project. And we found that the intersection between aggressive policing, systemic racism, and marginalization of people with serious mental illness has led to the murders of too many people at the hands of the police. Can you tell us about Care Responders? Can you talk to us about what it takes to dismantle that brutal intersection and what a future ought to look like where we no longer allow people with serious mental illness to be murdered by by police officers?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Yeah, I think this has been one of our touchstone issues early in my tenure at Fountain House because the people we serve are demanding change at this moment. We’ve seen a broader call for racial justice and police reform in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Aubery and so many others, countless other lives needlessly taken. But underneath that is the fact that one out of four people killed at the hands of police are living with serious mental illness. The majority of those are people of color. And so there is a toxic intersection of policing, mental illness, and racial injustice that we have to call out, and we have an opportunity to focus in on, in terms of reform of the system. Separate and apart from that, you’ve got the federal 988 hotline, suicide prevention hotline, which is coming online in 2022, which is going to mandate that communities set up a separate line for people experiencing mental health issues. And we have to deliver services to underneath that hotline that are health first, that are staffed by professionals who are expert at de-escalation, expert at engagement—and that include peer, licensed peer behavioral health specialists who can, who are shown through data and to be expert at engagement, at trust building, in these very precious moments that you have to make decisions when someone is in emotional distress or has a mental health crisis. And so the work that we’ve done with care responders is very much in line with what I described as our Planned Parenthood theorem, which is we have community based services in so many communities across this country, in so many states, which means we’ve done half the work of movement-building, which is organizing. People are organized in those communities and receiving services. What they haven’t been done to date is aligned and mobilized. And so we’ve begun over the last nine months to work—it started pre-2020 election—to organize communities in places like Cleveland and Seattle, across the state of California and across Michigan, and in places like San Antonio, where there is a robust discussion about how do we redirect resources away from policing for mental health emergencies, how do we bring 988 online? And what’s missing from the conversation and so many of those places is the voice of people with lived experience, and the voice of the services and programs and community mental health organizations like ours that are partnering with them and serving them. And so we’ve been able to get a seat at the table through advocacy, through organization, through campaigning, to say we demand a different way of doing things that elevates our humanity, elevates this as a health issue, and that minimizes the risk to our lives—this is what people are saying—that minimize the risk to our lives by continuing to use a punitive approach to what is ultimately a health problem. And so I think that’s going to continue to snowball. We’re starting to see communities all across the country, whether or not they have a Fountain House affiliate. We’ve started with communities that have Fountain House affiliates, but it goes well beyond that. I think we are starting to see a movement to finally get police out of mental health emergencies, and to get the health professionals we need on-site in those acute moments. And so we have something to say here. It’s never really been done before, to organize people with serious mental illness in this way. And we’re really proud to to be to, be doing that with our, with our partners and with other communities.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, we’re really grateful for the work, and the way that Fountain House centers people with serious mental illness, creates a platform for them to be advocates for their own liberation and their own empowerment, is incredible. Dr. Ashwin Vasan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today and share with us your vision for mental health as a social justice issue. One last point: where can people go to get involved if they’re, if they’re interested?


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: So you can find out everything you need to know about Fountain House, about care responders, about getting involved in our campaigns by going to our website, www[dot]fountainhouse[dot]org. Follow us on social media. And we’re always keeping folks up to date about new developments and growth. So we look forward to getting you folks involved.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Awesome. Well, thank you again, Ashwin. Thank you for your leadership, your fight, and your time today.


Dr. Ashwin Vasan: Thanks, Abdul. Great to be here.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: As usual, here’s what I’m watching right now, only 58% of American adults are fully vaccinated. That’s well short of President Biden’s goal of 70%. I want to step back for a second. It’s astounding to me that 4 in 10 Americans are still refusing to get vaccinated, considering what we’ve just come through. And yet, in the context of America’s polarization, it’s not that surprising. Nearly the same number don’t believe that the last election, despite all the evidence, was legitimate. Ultimately, this isn’t even about the vaccine. It’s about whether or not we trust one another and the institutions we’ve built for our mutual support. And that trust is hard to maintain in light of two overwhelming features of our society. The first is inequality. Many Americans just simply don’t have access to the institutions that they’re being asked to trust. How do you trust science when the universities that teach it seems so far out of reach from the broken schools you or your child are attending? Why should you trust the government when the politicians who run it, are trying to take away your vote, or are deliberately telling you that it’s trying to hurt you? Which gets us to the second feature of our society: misinformation. Because of the choices that social media corporations like Facebook have made to put their profit over the truth, disinformation can travel further, faster than the truth. But we can’t ignore the space where inequality and disinformation meet. When you’re excluded from the institutions that make decisions in your life, you’re way less likely to believe them and way more likely to believe lies about them. Though the administration’s effort to put the vaccine absolutely any and everywhere anyone could want to get it should be lauded, they were never going to address the profound inequity and disinformation that is at the heart of vaccine resistance by the Fourth of July. But COVID isn’t over. The Delta variant has juiced COVID cases by 15% over the past two weeks, mainly in communities with high rates of unvaccinated people across the country. At this point, nearly every single COVID-19 death has been among unvaccinated Americans. COVID has always been another way that inequality kills in America, but even more so now.


Finally, an analysis from Stat News showed that 2,400 candidates for state legislative offices received funding from a pharmaceutical corporation or its industry trade group. Why? To make sure that state legislators don’t pass legislation to lower prescription drug prices. Big Pharma’s donations, like everything else, has always been about the bottom line.


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America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producer is Olivia Martinez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and masters the show. Production support from Tara Terpstra, Lyra Smith and Ari Shwartz. The theme song is Taka Asuzawa and Alex Sugiura, Our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, and Me: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.