In This Episode
- The AstraZeneca vaccine was shown to completely prevent serious cases of COVID in a US clinical trial. We dig into the efficacy data on it, and what it means for the US and global vaccination campaigns.
- The House held a hearing on D.C. statehood yesterday. DC has 700,000 residents and a large Black population, but no direct representation in Congress… House democrats want to change that, but they face an uphill battle in the Senate.
- And in headlines: a gunman open fired inside a grocery store in Boulder, a massive fire at a Rohingya refugee camp, and workplace controversies at ‘Ellen’ have led to a steep drop-off in viewers.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, March 23. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, reminding you to please not download our free podcast illegally.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. All right. We work really hard on it and we make it free for a reason. So why would you do that?
Gideon Resnick: You shouldn’t torrent a car, so you shouldn’t torrent this show. On today’s show, an update on what is going on in Congress at the moment, including a push for D.C. statehood, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest:
[clip of Dr. Rochelle Walensky] We are at a critical point in this pandemic, a fork in the road, where we as a country must decide which path we are going to take. We must act now. And I am worried that if we don’t take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge.
Akilah Hughes: Oh, that is bleak. Well, that was CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky with a familiar message, but one that some people need to keep hearing, I guess. Also in familiar territory, there was more news about AstraZeneca. WAD is contractually obligated to talk about AstraZeneca news every single day, I guess. But seriously, we got data from the company’s U.S. trial on their vaccine. So Gideon, what did we learn?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, what a series of trials and tribulations for this company. So the top line here is that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was basically 100% effective in preventing serious illness and 79% effective against any and all symptomatic COVID. So the important takeaway is that it prevented people from going to the hospital or dying, point blank. A very big success in that regard. And the trial, which involved more than 32,000 participants, also reportedly did not turn up serious safety issues. As we’ve been talking about, there were concerns in Europe over these rare reports of blood clots. So these trial results open the door to a possible authorization in the US. But according to The Washington Post, that clearance might only happen by May. Dr. Fauci said that it was too soon to say what the role of AstraZeneca will be in the overall U.S. vaccination campaign, but that the trial results prove it was, quote “a good vaccine.” I like the way that he undersells things. Things are either good or bad. And the bigger deal could be that a US stamp of approval might help its reputation in other places that have been a bit shakier on it recently. It’s going to be necessary for many, many countries, and we already saw one recent example of the US promising to loan doses out.
Akilah Hughes: All right. But let’s go back to the efficacy data from the trial. So let’s talk about what that 79% number really means and how important it actually is.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so there are different overall numbers we might hear about when it comes to efficacy. The 79% number is basically saying that people who got the vaccine were 79% less likely to have any symptoms of COVID than the placebo group. But we also know, like we said, that there were 100% protection offered from severe disease. There’s a good recent Vox video we can link it to in our show notes that explains why that severe disease number is probably more important than the symptom number. Essentially, the ultimate goal for public health officials is to make COVID less deadly and less serious. It might not go away completely, but that is the ultimate goal. And that’s why it’s more important to focus on how effective these shots are in preventing severe disease. And a lot of times people do focus on that other number and they try to compare. Moderna is at 95%, AstraZeneca is at 79%. But that’s not really the headline number that we should ultimately be paying attention to. And it’s not really apples to apples even to compare those trials either, because they took place at different times under different conditions and also with the presence of variants.
Akilah Hughes: Hey, don’t underestimate people’s ability to be elitist about vaccines, but we are getting closer to that May date when President Biden wanted states to make all adults eligible for getting vaccines. So do we feel like we’re going to meet the deadline?
Gideon Resnick: I sure hope so. And slowly but surely we’re seeing states start to open things up. That’s a positive sign. There are some places like New York State where there is still this steady movement through tiers. For instance, today they’re starting to allow anyone 50 and older. Then there are places like West Virginia that has just opened it all up. They have allowed for anyone 16 and older to get a shot. Governor Jim Justice said that older populations are still going to be prioritized there, but that anyone can now basically get in line. Tennessee is reportedly going to fully open eligibility in early April. And Arizona is also offering shots to all ages at certain sites throughout the state. That is 16 and up. In short, it continues to be vax on vax on vax time. And hopefully we will really be cooking in the next couple of months. Do not let me say that phrase again. Let’s shift gears to a conversation happening at DC about, well, D.C.—Akilah, let’s talk about this big hearing yesterday on statehood.
Akilah Hughes: All right. So the first thing that I learned is that hearings allow for a lot of dumb-ass questions. But before I get there, I’ll explain what happened. So the House had a hearing on D.C. statehood yesterday and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser testified, among others. Democrats in the House are expected to pass a bill in the next couple of months on this. So if you don’t know the background, basically the District of Columbia has laws and taxes—more taxes than any state in the Union—but has no actual representation in Congress, including senators. The 700,000 people who live there have taxation without representation, they just don’t have a harbor to throw tea into. So for scale, that’s a bigger population than Wyoming and Vermont. And there’s a very large Black population there. It’s literally nicknamed Chocolate City. So you can probably see why this is a moral issue and a racial justice issue. And it’s not a new issue, but it’s definitely gained mainstream traction recently with Biden and the Dems holding all the power.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and so the subject is D.C. statehood. Where does Congress stand at the moment? I think I can guess, but why don’t you tell us?
Akilah Hughes: All right. So Republicans are against it. They say it’s unconstitutional and that it’s just a way for Democrats to gain votes in Congress. Most Dems support it, but, you know, blah, blah, filibuster 60 vote supermajority, same old, same old in terms of getting this passed in the Senate. Here’s Mayor Bowser making the historical, logical and constitutional argument for statehood:
[clip Mayor Muriel Bowser] They say Washington, D.C. statehood is unconstitutional, even though constitutional experts have refuted this claim. Article one of the Constitution is not an obstacle, as H.R. 51 makes clear, a federal district will remain for the federal government, its buildings and its workings, and the rest of the area where people live will become the 51st state.
Akilah Hughes: Right. So like she said, under the Democratic House bill, there would still be federal lands. It would just be shrunk to the two miles that encapsulate the White House, the Supreme Court, and the Capitol. But the rest would become the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth in honor of Frederick Douglass.
Gideon Resnick: Right. So you mentioned dumb questions also at the hearing and general silliness. Please elaborate there.
Akilah Hughes: All right. So the Heritage Foundation, which is a conservative Reagan-era think tank, let Zach Smith, who if you don’t know who that is, that’s fair. He’s a very much a rando. He testified that he’s against statehood because you know what? I think I have to let him speak for himself because it is it is too dumb to repeat:
[clip of Zach Smith] There’s no question that D.C. residents already impact the national debate. For the members here today, how many of you saw D.C. statehood yard signs or bumper stickers or banners on your way to this hearing today? I certainly did. Where else in the nation could some such simple actions reach so many members of Congress?
Akilah Hughes: Hmm. So his point was that if you can drive by signs, that means they’re basically already a state, if you think about it.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. A bumper sticker is the same as a senator, right? That’s the same.
Akilah Hughes: Right. [laughs] It was honestly so stupid, I had to take a walk. But other conservatives raised questions about lack of airports, landfill and car dealerships in D.C., which we all know is the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution: it’s not a state if there’s nowhere to buy a used car for Happy Honda Days.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, the founders were, in fact, the KIA hamsters in those cars. And the other story that is kind of bubbling up now in D.C. is what the next big legislative push from the Biden White House might be.
Akilah Hughes: Right. So The New York Times and The Washington Post both put out stories yesterday saying that members of Biden’s team are planning to recommend that the president call for another massive spending package for as much as three trillion dollars. You know, because stuntin is a habit, I guess. But according to The New York Times story, Biden’s advisers are going to recommend that the bills be split up into two: one that focuses on infrastructure like roads, bridges, clean energy, rural broadband, which, you know, could get some Republican support if they’re smart; and the second bill that focuses on investing in people and the job market. So that’s money for free community college, a national paid leave program for parents, and universal pre-K. So we still don’t know many of the details yet, but this falls under the whole Build Back Better idea from Biden’s campaign. And according to reporting, it could be partially funded through taxes on corporations and the wealthy, which could then very much limit Republican support. As you know, they love the billionaires.
Gideon Resnick: OK, so it might finally actually be infrastructure week after long last, but we’ll see.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. When asked about it, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, quote “conversations are ongoing, so any speculation about future economic proposals is premature.” Go off, Jen. Very diplomatic. We’ll follow this as it develops. But that’s the latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about vaccine perks. Krispy Kreme announced yesterday that from now until the end of the year, they’ll give a free donut to anyone who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated. It’s not a one-time offer either. Under the new promotion, Americans with vaccine cards can try the country’s most densely glazed donut for free every single day. So Giddy, what’s your reaction?
Gideon Resnick: My reaction is I’m going to do it. I want to try this out. It sounds so much like a “terms and conditions may apply” type of thing. I don’t believe it until I hear some anecdotal evidence from myself or persons that I know. But it sounds, it sounds OK. I do worry like we were talking about before, when we have some of these things that are supposed to incentivize people, but you know, we also have a problem in terms of not having everybody have equal access and opportunity at the moment. But, you know, let’s say in the future we are all a vaccinated nation, it’s time to poison ourselves with donuts. You know, we earned it.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, you’re right. You know, we have a new virus and it’s called Donut Mania in America. [laughs] We love them.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. It’s never left. And it’s going to come back. So same question for you, Akilah: how are you feeling about this?
Akilah Hughes: You know, I think it’s really, really nice of them to offer free donuts. They make so many donuts every day that I doubt that this is going to stop the, you know, the consumption of a dozen donuts. I feel like people are going to buy in bulk, as they often do. I also think, you know, if they’re trying to be equal access, why not extend this to like gas stations that sell Krispy Kreme? Because there are not a lot of Krispy Kremes across the country, you know?
Gideon Resnick: It’s true.
Akilah Hughes: It’s pretty narrow chain. And I think that that feels like their, you know, maybe heavily favoring some people who live closer to, you know, those delicious, delicious fried goods. But, yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I’d do it. I feel like my doctor wouldn’t recommend it. There’s a lot of cholesterol and runs high in my family. So, you know, I would like to do it. Is it the right thing to do? I don’t know. You know, jury’s out.
Gideon Resnick: I think this should be extended to honey buns and vending machines, Takis, other 7-Eleven snacks.
Akilah Hughes: Anything glazed.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, truly. Anything, anything that snackable, we will have earned it at that point. And I think, I think it’s, it’s only worth it.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. It’s also like, why were there no donuts while we were in quarantine? Like that would have been really helpful for morale at that point. I think the vaccine is its own reward in a lot of ways. But just like that, we have checked our temps. Stay safe, eat some donuts, you know. I’ve got a hankering all of a sudden, and we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Some tragic news that we’re following, a gunman opened fire inside a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, yesterday. At least 10 people were reported dead as of last night. And more details may come out by the time you hear this. The shooting took place on the second story of King Soopers, a supermarket chain. And the suspect, a white adult man, was taken out of the store in handcuffs and is currently in custody. Dozens of people inside the store were evacuated. The mayor of Boulder, Sam Weaver, responded on Twitter, writing, quote “Words can do no justice to the tragedy that has unfolded this afternoon, our community will soon grieve our losses.” We will keep you updated on this story as it develops.
Akilah Hughes: A massive fire burned down hundreds of shelters at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh yesterday. At least 20,000 people had to flee the settlement and at least five people are suspected to be dead. This was the third fire to hit the camps in four days. And last Friday, two separate fires burned down hundreds of shelters and health facilities. An official in charge of responding to the fire said that the cause was unknown. A spokesperson from Amnesty International pointed out that the fires were happening too frequently to be just coincidental. Currently, over a million Rohingya refugees live in those cramped shelters after escaping persecution in Myanmar around 2017.
Gideon Resnick: The fun to watch, scary to make, daytime talk show, Ellen, has lost more than a million viewers over the past year, indicating that audiences are turned off by reports of workplace misconduct. In July, BuzzFeed ran an article that included staffers’ allegations of racism, fear and intimidation at the Ellen offices. That was followed by an internal investigation and the firing of three high-level producers. Ellen offered an apology on the air, where she suggested that her Be Kind brand glossed over the messy realities of being human, which we can assume sometimes led people to give post-traumatic stress disorder to over 1,000 production assistants. That is a rough estimate. It is not a real statistic. Please do not cite in front of Ellen. It could be dangerous for you and me. Ellen’s loss of over one million viewers is equal to a loss of 43% of her audience, which is a way bigger decline than has been seen among her fellow daytime hosts and partners in and smiling, Kelly Clarkson, Dr. Phil—also slightly scary, and Kelly Ripa.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, Dakota Johnson is vindicated. Many of us who followed the story of blood testing fraud at Theranos had the same note: this is interesting, but I wish it was way more nasty. Our dreams came true last week with the news that the founders of San Francisco feces testing startup uBiome have been charged with fraud for allegedly bilking 60 million from investors on a stinky foundation of questionable science and deceptive billing. In the same way that Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes said she’d made breakthroughs in analyzing blood, the founders of uBiome said that they could extract actionable health data from at-home poop testing. These claims helped them reach a 600 million dollar valuation, plus get an award from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, which basically exists to hype up this exact service. Over time uBiome’s business model became more about billing insurance companies for tests that weren’t necessary or clinically valid, which became a problem once the insurance companies caught on. uBiome was raided by the FBI in April of 2019, and now the founders could have to pay millions and are facing jail time. Officers, before you take them in definitely ask them to wash their hands, OK. Nasty. Anyway, let the record show, I only invested a little bit.
Gideon Resnick: Same. Just a couple of million. That’s it.
Akilah Hughes: You know, I just liked that it said poop on the Nasdaq. Am I wrong?
Gideon Resnick: No.
Akilah Hughes: Well, those are the headlines. One last thing before we go: on this week’s episode of Pod Save the People, DeRay McKesson and the crew are joined by author Cleo Wade to talk about her new book, What the Road Said. The story explores the idea that it’s OK to be afraid or to wander down the wrong path sometimes. It’s a great conversation. Listen and subscribe to Pod Save the People wherever you get your podcasts.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today, if you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, grab a free donut, and tell your friends listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just lists of smiley daytime TV hosts like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out, subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick
[together] And get lost stinky Theranos!
Gideon Resnick: I just want an HBO doc. You know, I want like a play-by-play HBO doc: What was happening at the poop store. That’s what I want to know.
Akilah Hughes: Lies mostly
Gideon Resnick: Lies and poop.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded next by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.