Vaccine Hesitation, Under God with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed | Crooked Media
July 07, 2021
What A Day
Vaccine Hesitation, Under God with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed

In This Episode

  • Reflecting upon President Biden’s missed July 4th vaccination goals, we talked to epidemiologist and former Detroit health commissioner Dr. Abdul El-Sayed about the spread of the Delta variant and Republican vaccination hesitancy. We also discussed concerns of a potential resurgence of COVID-19 when a partially-vaccinated America returns to indoor, crowded spaces this fall and winter.
  • And in headlines: Hurricane Elsa to make landfall on Florida’s coast, a new large-scale ransomware attack, and Nikole Hannah-Jones chooses Howard University over UNC-Chapel Hill.





Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, July 7th. I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, the podcast that’s also a treatment for mild to moderate sunburns with no FDA approval.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, if you hold your phone speaker up to your bright red shoulder, something might happen, but also something might not. So . . .


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. The question sort of becomes, how bad do you want to feel better?


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. I mean, I think not bad enough if you’re not doing this already. On today’s show, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed joins us to talk about vaccinations in the U.S. and some responses to the Delta variant. Plus, we’ll have headlines. But first, the latest:


[clip of President Biden] So please get vaccinated now. It works. It’s free. It’s never been easier and it’s never been more important. Do it now, for yourself and the people you care about, for your neighborhood, for your country. It sounds corny, but it’s a patriotic thing to do.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. I mean, even beyond being patriotic, it’s like a lifesaving thing to do. He said that too, though. So anyway, that was President Biden yesterday, once again encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. But of course, that plea came after America fell short of a goal that he set for July 4th. The administration wanted to hit 70% of adults in the country with at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. And they came up just short at around 67%. So that’s very close, but still a little bit missing the mark.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that’s right. And this came after the White House used a lot of different tactics to try and reverse those falling vaccination rates while at the same time dealing with the more transmissible Delta variant that is now the dominant strain in the U.S.. In that short speech he gave yesterday, Biden set a new goal: 160 million people fully vaccinated by the end of this week. Right now, we’re less than two and a half million people away. So it seems like a possibility. And to get there, he emphasized a localized approach to getting people shots, like more mobile clinics, opportunities to get vaccinated at work, getting employees paid time off for vaccinations and more. So to talk about all of this and everything else going on, we’re joined again by epidemiologist, host of America Dissected and much, much, much more: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. Welcome again to WAD. We are so lucky to have you.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Gideon and Akilah, it is such a privilege to be with you all today.


Akilah Hughes: Oh, well, thank you. We we love having you. So let’s start with those July 4th goals. As we mentioned, the country came up just short of 70% of adults with the first shot. So what strategies to encourage vaccinations do you think worked, and what might not have?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, I mean, everybody heard the men. And at this point, if folks aren’t vaccinated, one really has to ask what gives? I think, you know, we have this term vaccine hesitancy, and I just don’t think it’s really hesitancy anymore. It’s, it’s really hardened into resistance. We have seen, though, the use of incentives in a pretty profound way, whether it was everything from going to get a free beer in New Jersey or being enrolled into a full-tuition scholarship or a million dollar lottery in places like Ohio and most recently in my home state of Michigan. And it turns out that if you give people an incentive to do the thing that they really ought to do, as if, you know, 15 months under lockdown was not an incentive enough, or the potential of dying of a disease that killed 600,000 people was not incentive enough, you could also win a million dollars or go to college for free. And so those are starting to work. And I think they’ve had a lot of impact in some communities. The reality of it, though, is like all things pandemic, the vaccine has also been politicized in a way that has been really detrimental. And when folks take something as simple and lifesaving, as safe and effective as a vaccine and turn it into some sort of referendum on their sense of who they are given their political identity, I think it is really hard to push beyond. That said, I really admire a lot of the work that the administration is doing. One last point, though, is also to say that, you know, it’s not just folks who are ideologically opposed. There are still people for whom there are real barriers. And I think the push that was just announced yesterday by the Biden administration to get vaccines door to door, to get them in the hands of pediatricians and doctors in any circumstance, you know, even emergency rooms, somebody comes in and they’ve got some acute pain, you make sure that on their way out they’ve been offered a COVID vaccine. I think those things are going to be really helpful. And it’s important for us, even as we think about the ideological opposition, to also understand that for a lot of people aren’t as easy as they may seem if you’re privileged enough to have a car to get where you need to go, to be able to take time off work.


Akilah Hughes: Right.


Gideon Resnick: Totally.


Akilah Hughes: Maybe they should throw another million dollars, pony up? [laughs] Just keep coming up with millions for people to just do the thing.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’ll get a third dose. Honestly.


Akilah Hughes: [laughs]


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’m just kidding. I really won’t get a third dose. That’s not recommended.


Akilah Hughes: You know, these are just jokes. But I mean, if we don’t hit 70% and we miss out on herd immunity through vaccines, like, how major of a problem is that? We’ve seen some other people saying: we’ll get there, just because enough people will get sick or whatever. But like, what’s the truth, man?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, this is starting to become the tale of two pandemics. And there is one for people who have decided to get vaccinated. We get to go out and have brunch and enjoy our lives as if it was 2019, again, with some caveats. But for others, in communities where people have not gotten vaccinated, we continue to see outbreaks. And outbreaks, not just of your garden variety COVID-19 circa July of 2020, you’re talking about the Delta variant, which is both more transmissible and evidence suggests it may also be more deadly. And that means that in these communities, people are going to continue to struggle with COVID-19, even as in major urban centers where there are high degrees of vaccination that people are coming out of the pandemic, so to speak.


Akilah Hughes: Well, last weekend, several Republican governors got together to urge their residents to get vaccinated. But a Washington Post ABC poll found that 47% of Republicans were unlikely to ever get a shot. So is there anything else that Biden could do so people would put their health before party? Like, is it too late for conservatives who’ve been led astray until like 15 minutes ago?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: If he comes out tomorrow and says that his election was wasn’t real? [laughs]


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, he’s: like, OK, fine, please get vaccinated, whatever you need to hear.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Listen, listen. OK, fine. Look, I do give plaudits to these Republican governors because as crazy as it sounds, by doing this they’re risking a lot of political ire and opening themselves up to attack from, unfortunately, the de facto leader of their party, who is the former president, Donald Trump. And so, you know, we need more Republicans to step up. But really, I think part of this is the goal of putting this vaccine in the hands of primary care doctors is a really important one, because in a number of rural communities, one of the most trusted people in that community is the primary care doc. And if that primary care doc can both have a conversation about the vaccine with somebody and then immediately offer it to them before they leave the office, that can really be an important source of increasing vaccination rates in some of these communities. You know, again, if 16 months in lockdown and 600,000 people killed doesn’t move you, at some point the real question is what will?


Akilah Hughes: Yeah.


Gideon Resnick: And also on Delta, so in recent days, Johnson & Johnson said that their vaccine was effective against it. Then we have the health ministry in Israel saying that according to some preliminary data they have, the Pfizer vaccine is still extremely good at preventing the severe disease, although less effective at preventing an infection in the first place. That number was a new update. What should we take away from these developments from different places and how should it affect how we view the variant?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We’re not dealing with the old status quo. There are a lot of people who say: well, I lived through those first several months of the pandemic and I didn’t get sick, so what’s the big issue now? Well, COVID-19 is not the same thing as it was a year ago. We’re talking about a variant of a virus that has made it more transmissible and data suggests also potentially more deadly. And so you’re taking your life in your hands in a situation where we have a safe and effective means of preventing the virus.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, last week, L.A. County encouraged even the vaccinated people to keep the masks on when they’re indoors, which is incredibly frustrating since it’s different from basically all other domestic guidance that we’ve seen and it comes after this rushed reopening that lifted all those mask mandates. But based on the science that you’ve seen about the Delta variant, is that advice that you think everyone, wherever they are, should follow?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, it really depends on where you are. If you’re in a office setting where people are required to verify their vaccination status to enter, I would say that you’re good to go without wearing a mask. Right? The risk is that the way that the mask information was rolled out created a space where people who are not vaccinated could free ride on other people’s vaccination status because we weren’t verifying vaccine status. And so wherever you may be out in the public in an indoor setting, you don’t necessarily know if the people around you who are unmasked have also been vaccinated. So my recommendation is this: if you know that everybody is vaccinated, I wouldn’t wear a mask indoors; if you don’t know that, you would be OK not to, but it would be prudent and less risky for both yourself and the public to to put that mask on in a public space where people are not verifying vaccine status.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and finally here, we’re past the peak of summer, and before we know it, we are going to hit fall and winter again, unfortunately. So what is your expectation of what we’re going to see in terms of infection rates as temperatures begin to drop in certain places around the country? And to the point that Akilah, I think, was driving at, how insanely difficult is the prospect of reversing course on public health guidance if and when there’s a change in how things are looking?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, from what we understand so far, and it’s only been a couple of seasons with COVID-19, is that this is a seasonal virus and part of that is is mediated simply by human behavior. When we when we are in colder climates, we are more likely to go inside and we’re more likely to be huddled closer together and that increases the potential for spread. And in those communities that are largely unvaccinated, the risk of Delta spread in the fall is likely to increase. And the numbers that we’re seeing now creeping up, you know, in the middle of summer are likely to accelerate in the situation where people don’t make the choice to get vaccinated. So that really is a scary thing. And even worse, you know, where this scenario gets even more dangerous is if we have another variant against which vaccines are not highly effective. That is really the scenario where people’s unwillingness to follow mask guidance, that’s the scenario that I’m worried about. So let’s hope that we don’t get there. Let’s hope that more people choose to get vaccinated. Let’s hope that we get vaccines out to the rest of the world, and let’s hope that we can we can finally, finally put this pandemic to rest.


Akilah Hughes: A dream. Well, epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of America Dissected, thank you so much for joining us, as always. And for the listeners, catch the latest episode wherever you get your podcasts. And that’s the latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about continuing efforts by the Olympics to make itself worse. A roster unveiled yesterday by USA Track and Field showed that the country’s fastest woman, Sha’Carri Richardson, will not be competing in Tokyo this year after she tested positive for weed. Richardson’s 30-day suspension knocked her out of the 100 meter dash by voiding her first-place finish at the Olympic trials. But there was still a chance she’d run in the 4×100 meter relay race since it takes place after her suspension ends. USA Track and Field declined to put her on the team, though, even though they have two discretionary picks they could have used to select her regardless of her performance in the qualifier, they chose the 6th and 7th place finishers in that race, instead saying, quote “We must maintain fairness for all of the athletes who attempted to realize their dreams by securing a place on the U.S. Olympic track and field team.” So for anyone who is looking forward to watching Richardson become the star of this year’s games, this development is truly heartbreaking. Gideon, what is your reaction?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, I think it is heartbreaking, heartbreaking for her and all the work that she’s put in and her family. It’s a major bummer. And obviously, you look at a situation like this and you’re like, OK, these rules just have to change. Like these rules have to at the very least, like be looked at and maybe we do something different in the future because we have just had a scenario in which the person who was going to win gold, the person who is like one of the fastest humans—


Akilah Hughes: Already setting world records.


Gideon Resnick: Yes! Like literally one of the fastest humans on the planet is not going to be able to participate in the sport that would have demonstrated that ability. And that is like just crushing for her and her family, like I said, and for people who we’re going to be excited about watching it. So, yeah, like, it’s obviously people are like you shouldn’t be punished for something that is so insanely minor also in a state where it was and is legal. But this really just seems like a situation where it’s like, OK, we got to look at these rules because these rules are not working and they’re stupid as hell. And this is like the prime example.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, fully.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. But how are you feeling about all of this?


Akilah Hughes: I mean, I you know, I think about all of the different things that have come out from the Olympics in the past few weeks and I see a trend. You know, Simone Biles can’t perform the tricks that only she can do because she’s pulling too far away. Sha’Carri Richardson, you know, obviously there was a rule against having weed in your system, but this is the fastest person on earth being punished. You know, Nigerien relay teams are being sidelined because of really small technicalities. Black women who compete in swimming are told they can’t wear specific hair caps because it doesn’t, you know, fit the shape of a human head because I guess most humans don’t have hair. I just don’t know exactly what the point is, but what I do know is that there are a lot of people who are making billions of dollars and most of them are white, selling marijuana while there are Black people in jail and now Black people being kept out of competitions that I’m sure they would win even by more if they weren’t on weed. Like, she’s doing them a favor if anything. So it’s just, you know, harkens back to just the idea of meritocracy and how the goalposts continue to move. But, you know, to the point about it being marijuana, I think it’s just, it’s really ridiculous when, you know, so much of the world is legalizing it or at least decriminalizing it, to punish someone, an athlete who I can’t imagine is getting more out of that, you know, people are like, well, it’s a anti-inflammatory. I’m like, OK, so you can’t take Advil, you can’t drink coffee. Like, what’s the line? And what is more dangerous? You know, we’re not stopping all of the athletes from drinking. That’s part of the Olympic Village, you know. So it’s, I think that it’s, it’s a real pick and choose time for the Olympics and I don’t love it. You know, I think that I’m probably going to watch a lot less of the track events now because what’s, for me, what’s the point? You know, like, I’m happy for these other athletes, but if they’re not competing against the best in the world, then they’re just running. But, you know, just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. If you’re working for the Olympics, maybe ask yourself why. And we’ll be back after some ads.


Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: As of this recording, Hurricane Elsa is quickly approaching landfall on Florida’s west coast. Already heavy rain and 70 mile per hour winds have been hitting the Florida Keys and the southern part of the state, including Miami, leaving over 12 million people under tornado watch. Florida expanded a state of emergency to cover a total of over 25 counties. And President Biden has already approved an emergency declaration for the state. Now, all of this is happening while rescue teams in Surfside, Florida, are still working on search efforts following the tragic collapse of a large condo building nearly two weeks ago. The death toll from the incident stood at 36 as of yesterday. The rescue teams were directed to put the search on hold if winds there exceed 45 miles per hour.


Akilah Hughes: Last night, the Brooklyn Borough President and former police captain Eric Adams won the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City. Most absentee votes counted—I know—the Associated Press called the race as Adams led former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia by 8,426 votes, giving him 50.5% of the vote and edging out Garcia, who received 49.5%. The primary, which started on June 22nd, marked the first time New York City used a ranked-choice voting system for a race of this size, and needless to say, it had its bumps. It was a crowded field with 2020 presidential hopeful and Times Square subway stop enthusiast Andrew Yang, and former City Hall legal adviser Maya Wiley, yet Adams stood out as a moderate candidate who campaigned on fighting rising crime. If Adams wins the general election against Republican Curtis Sliwa, he will be the city’s second Black mayor


Gideon Resnick: After giving us all a master class in how not to offer someone a job, UNC Chapel Hill’s offer of a tenured professorship to Nikole Hannah-Jones was turned down yesterday. Instead Hannah-Jones will join the faculty at Howard University, a historically Black institution. To recap, Hannah-Jones was initially invited to UNC without job protection, likely due to the influence of a large donor to the school who opposed her work with The 1619 Project. UNC students, staff, and alumns described the move as racist and politically motivated. Hannah-Jones explained her decision to turn down even a tenured position in an interview yesterday, saying that, quote “It’s not my job to heal at the University of North Carolina.” That seems to be true. Hannah-Jones will be joined at Howard by fellow MacArthur Grant recipient Ta-Nehisi Coates, who will be a chair in the school’s English department.


Akilah Hughes: I’m so jealous. I wish I was in college right now. Between 800 and 1,500 companies are currently in the middle of a classic involuntary digital detox after the biggest ransomware attack on record locked them out of their systems. The attack was mounted by a group called R-Evil, who are masters of hacking as well as crystal clear branding. They went after a Miami-based enterprise software company called Kaseya, and then the hack spread to the company’s customers in at least 17 countries. R-Evil attacked last Friday before the holiday weekend when, instead of focusing on computer chips and software, Americans were thinking of potato chips and soft drinks—nailed it, killed it. You love it. They’re asking for $70 million in Bitcoin to unlock all affected systems. But will also cut deals with individuals for between 25,000 and five million. You know, they’re not too picky. R-Evil is believed to be based in Russia and was also behind the hack and extortion of $11 million from an American meat processing company back in May. President Biden has directed intelligence agencies to investigate this latest attack. Anyway, this is a reminder that we still need a holiday that celebrates IT departments.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, and my IT department should have told me not to click on the 100,1-800 We Are Evil line.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Shouldn’t have done that. Now, now you’re now you’re screwed. And those are the headlines. [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, do a digital detox, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just good and equitable job offers like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And thank you IT departments!


Akilah Hughes: You all are great. You make my computer start, restart, stop start. We love it.


Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.


Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.


Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers.


Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.


Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.