I'm Not Dreaming Of A COVID Christmas with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed | Crooked Media
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December 16, 2021
What A Day
I'm Not Dreaming Of A COVID Christmas with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed

In This Episode

  • As we jump head first into the holiday season, COVID-19 news has been overwhelming. Britain logged its highest number of daily COVID cases ever, attributed to a steep rise in confirmed Omicron cases, and organizations in the U.S. are changing their COVID-19 policies. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed joins us to give us a sense of how we should view this moment.
  • And in headlines: The monthly child tax credits are about to expire, a North Carolina man was sentenced to 28 months in prison for threatening to harm House Speaker Nancy Pelosi right after last year’s insurrection, and German authorities arrested six people accused of plotting to murder a pro-vaccine politician.






Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, December 16th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson, and this is What A Day, where we will make no attempt to hide our emotions if we’re upset during White Elephant.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, if we have a good gift and you steal it, we pledge to make a huge scene, even if you’re just playing the game by the rules.


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, I’m committed to being my absolute worst self during White Elephant this year, so watch out.


Gideon Resnick: And I am committed to backing Tre’vell up, because if the gift is good, you can’t steal it. On today’s show, monthly child tax credits will expire unless Congress acts soon. Plus, there must be an invisibility cloak around J.K. Rowling’s name because it barely appears in the new trailer for Fantastic Beasts.


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, we’re going to begin with the pandemic. I know, I know—you’re tired of it, but listen, all right? There’s been a lot going on. As we jump head first into the holiday season, the last 24 hours of news in particular have felt a little bit chaotic. There’s Britain, which logged its highest number of daily COVID cases ever, attributed to a steep rise in confirmed Omicron cases. Schools like New York University and Princeton canceled some in-person gatherings and will hold finals remotely. The NBA might change its COVID protocols after a recent outbreak among players, coaches, and staff. And New York’s Met Opera mandate boosters for employees and audiences. There’s so much and there’s so much more that we didn’t even list there.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, it certainly feels like something is starting to happen that’s not good. It also seems like every person I know anecdotally has been either testing positive or talking about people that have tested positive. So, it certainly seems like the beginning of something. And at the same time, there is some positive news that we’ve learned about vaccines and Omicron, which we are going to get into in a moment. So with all of this good, bad, and in-between information that is coming at us at a mile a minute, we wanted to check back in one more time with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed before the end of the year to get a sense of how we should view this moment. He is an epidemiologist and the host of Crooked’s America Dissected Abdul, welcome back to the show.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.


Gideon Resnick: So the last time we talked to you at the end of November, you mentioned that there were three big questions that we had to answer about Omicron. One was if it was more transmissible. Two was if it renders vaccines less effective, and three was, is it more or less severe? So what answers to those do we have at this point?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yes, yes and we think less


Gideon Resnick: OK, cool.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It is almost definitely more transmissible, substantially more transmissible than even Delta, which folks should remember is more transmissible than the garden-xz variety SARS-CoV-2 that we’ve been dealing with for most of the pandemic. And we know that because of how fast it has enriched itself to become the dominant variant in South Africa, now increasingly in parts of Europe. When it comes to immune escape, specifically vaccine escape, the evidence shows that the effect of a booster when it comes to your blood recognizing Omicron means that the binding of your antibodies is about the same as two doses would have been to garden-variety COVID-19. You know, if you had to choose between get a booster or getting COVID, a booster is a better way to go. And that’s why you’re hearing everybody say, you know, it’s now time to be thinking about having been boosted as being fully vaccinated. And then when it comes to severity, there is a rather convincing study from, ironically, a insurer out of South Africa that suggests that the probability of hospitalization or severe COVID is substantially lower among folks who’ve been infected with Omicron. So that is good news for now. I do want folks to understand what we’re talking about. We’re talking about as a proportion of the number of people who are infected, the number who wind up in the hospital is lower. But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get fewer people who wind up in a hospital, simply because it’s a numbers game. So if you’ve got a virus that is substantially more transmissible, then more people are going to get infected and even if a lower proportion of them end up in the hospital, a potentially higher number overall could end up in the hospital.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And I want to talk about the sort of glass half full potential aspect of all of this that we were talking about before we started recording here. You were alluding to the end of the 1918 flu epidemic that at that point there was a variant that ended up being more transmissible, ultimately less severe, led to it being endemic. If this is our glass half full moment, is that what we could be looking at now, the beginning of the end?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: [sighs] We’ve thought this so many times in this pandemic that at this point it’s somewhat old hat. Everyone’s like, this has to be the last one, right? I hope that’s true. I don’t know enough about the future to say that that is. The reality is, is that 1918, is that the pandemic lasted about three years. And we are getting into our third year of COVID-19. I mean, it was named COVID-19 because it emerged in 2019. We’re now going on 2022


Gideon Resnick: Dark. Dark, dark, dark.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: There is some hope there. But you know, the most important way that we can bring this pandemic to a close, at least personally, is do what we can to protect ourselves. Meaning get that third dose. If you haven’t gotten the first two, I don’t even know what you’re doing here. The key here is take your destiny as much as you can into your own hands by doing the things that you can to protect yourself and thereby protecting other folks in our community who you come in contact with.


Tre’vell Anderson: So now when it comes to vaccines, yesterday during a White House COVID briefing, Dr. Fauci said this:


[clip of Dr. Fauci] Our booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster. And so the message remains clear: if you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of Omicron, if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot.


Tre’vell Anderson: So now that also seem to be the consensus at a World Health Organization meeting yesterday, that at least these vaccines would protect against severe disease. Is that encouraging news? Like, should that be upping people’s hopes as we talk about this? And then additionally, when will we know kind of more definitely and with more certainty that this is the case?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, this is, this is really good news. When Omicron first emerged, there were a number of questions about what this might mean for the next one. And you heard from the CEOs of the major vaccine manufacturers that they were primed and ready to create an Omicron-specific dose. And the evidence suggests that we don’t need that. But the key thing is it only works if you take it, right?


Gideon Resnick: And a lot of what we’ve been talking about about these boosters has been specifically about people who got three mRNA shots. I have to ask for the J&J hive that is at this company, myself included: do we have any indications at all that the same protection would be offered from J&J plus an mRNA?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I wish I could tell you that we did. We don’t have that evidence yet, and I assume that it’s going to be near in coming. I would presume, though, considering that if you’ve had that mRNA booster that you’re going to be relatively protected.


Gideon Resnick: Got it. Got it.


Tre’vell Anderson: So what are some of the risks and concerns that we should be thinking of if cases alone explode to new records, even if they are overall resulting in fewer severe outcomes? We know that, you know, Britain just recorded their highest number of cases throughout the entire pandemic just yesterday.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, that’s right, Tre’vell. Look, the worry here is that the health care system gets overrun. And don’t forget we’re not dealing with the health care system from 2020. We know that there has been a tremendous amount of attrition and no, not because of these vaccine mandates, but because people are burnt out and tired and they’re sick and tired of having to take care of people who are not getting vaccinated. And then the other concern that we should always be paying attention to is vulnerable populations, and one of those is children. We don’t have an FDA-approved vaccine for kids under the age of five yet. You know, as I think about my kid, who’s four years old, that is a real concern of mine with this variant.


Gideon Resnick: I want to also talk about like this moment that we’re in in the U.S. So obviously, people are going to be gathering and traveling a lot in the next few days and weeks. Has anything that you have learned in the last few weeks changed how you think you and your family might behave over the next couple of weeks?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Our family’s planning on a quick trip this weekend and we thought a little bit about whether or not we wanted to go forward with it. Our daughter, Emini, is really good at wearing a mask and that to me is really important. Had she not been, I might think twice about getting on an airplane, about going to travel and seeing people. But because she is, I feel a bit more comfortable and confident about that. And the place we’re going has a indoor vaccine verification requirement, and that matters a lot to me, too, knowing that she’ll be a bit safer because the people around her are vaccinated, even though she can’t be. So we’re not canceling our plans, but we are being really vigilant. We can’t underestimate the psychological and mental health impact of this pandemic, and another holiday season without the things that make the holidays as special as they are really has a cost. And so I don’t think the right answer is, you know, just stay inside and don’t go see anyone and don’t spend time with family or friends. I think the answer is, how do we do those things safely?


Gideon Resnick: And since this is going to be our last chance to talk to you before we go on a hiatus ourselves, what should we all be looking for in the days and weeks to come to kind of help us understand where the pandemic is and where it could be going?


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We’re going to get a lot more information about Omicron as it makes its way through the United States. And also, I would make sure that as you’re engaging in this holiday moment, try not to be overly anxious about where things are headed. I think knowledge is power here and knowing that there’s likely going to be a surge in cases, that’s important. And I hope that folks don’t allow this particular moment to put too much of an overcast over holiday moment where all of us have come through a couple of really difficult years. And I think it is important to make sure, safely of course, but to enjoy the moments that are special.


Tre’vell Anderson: I love that. Abdul is an epidemiologist and host of Crooked Media’s America Dissected. Thanks as always for joining us and hopefully you have a safe and happy and wonderful holiday as well.


Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Tre’vell, Gideon, it’s always a privilege, and I wish you all a safe, healthy, happy holiday and hope that we get to catch up and maybe talk about something that’s not not Covax.


Tre’vell Anderson: Crossing our fingers.


Gideon Resnick: That would be lovely. That would be really lovely.


Tre’vell Anderson: We’ll continue to follow this story, and if you haven’t already, subscribe to America Dissected. New episodes drop every Tuesday. That’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The final monthly child tax credits of the year were sent out yesterday, leaving nearly 10 million children at risk of falling back into poverty if the program is not extended. Biden’s Build Back Better bill would renew the monthly payments to low-income families in 2022 but it might not pass before the end of the year. With Senator Joe Manchin holding out on his vote and other senators still negotiating different parts of Build Back Better, some Democrats are shifting their priorities to voting rights. The party is considering putting off a spending bill altogether to pass the Freedom to Vote Act in advance of next year’s midterm elections, citing urgent concerns over Republican gerrymandering in numerous states. President Biden said yesterday that he would support this pivot, even if it means temporarily shelving his spending plan. And Senate Democrats are considering changing the rules of the chamber to pass the Freedom to Vote Act with a simple majority. But Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema said yesterday that she is not on board with the motion, leaving the party with limited options to push their agenda. What do you know? Same old same.


Tre’vell Anderson: They can’t get nothing done over there, all right? Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin officially entered a new plea yesterday in the federal civil rights charges against him: guilty. Surprise, surprise. He originally pleaded not guilty, but the change is part of a deal he made with federal prosecutors, who will now seek a 25-year prison sentence for him instead of life. Earlier this year, Chauvin was sentenced by a state court to over 22 years in prison for murdering George Floyd. If this new deal goes through, then Chauvin would serve out both punishments at the same time and could increase his chances at leaving prison within his life. Meanwhile, in Chicago yesterday, the City Council unanimously approved a $2.9 million settlement to a Black woman who had a traumatizing encounter with police in 2019. In February of that year, officers forced their way into the home of an Anjanette Young, searching for a person who lived in her apartment at least four years before. During the encounter, Young was forced to stand in front of a dozen mostly white police officers while naked and handcuffed. After voting, city alderwoman Jeanette Taylor said quote, “2.9 million may seem like a lot, but it will never give Ms. Young back her dignity and respect and the trust that she’s lost.


Gideon Resnick: It’s true. In Germany, some have moved on to the lesser known stage of anti-vaccine advocacy that can come after ‘doing one’s own research’: ‘doing violent militias’ is the stage. German authorities arrested six people in Dresden yesterday for allegedly plotting to murder at least one pro-vaccine politician. The six are part of the growing anti-vaccine movement in the country, where also in recent days, politicians and journalists received strange packages filled with raw meat—somebody watched The Godfather a couple too many times. The parcels came with notes saying the meat was toxic and more would be on its way if certain anti-vax demands were not met. Again, this is scary, but seems to only work as a threat if you assume that most people won’t think twice about eating random food that comes in the mail. You would be assuming correctly about me, but otherwise, I don’t know. Germany’s new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has described the individuals behind these actions as a quote, “tiny minority of unhinged extremists” and is backing an effort to pass a countrywide vaccine mandate next February. Moving to the US, an extremist wielding no meat but lots of guns was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison yesterday for making threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi right after last year’s insurrection. On January 7th, while in D.C. with two firearms and 2,500 rounds of ammunition, the QAnon-crazed man texted a relative saying that he would harm Pelosi. Thankfully, that relative contacted the FBI. During yesterday’s sentencing, he told the judge quote, “I know what I did was wrong. It was political hyperbole that was too hyper.”


Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.


Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm.


Tre’vell Anderson: Here’s an update on the person who filled our childhoods with wonder and our adulthood with fear of famous people’s opinions: J.K. Rowling’s latest movie, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” unveiled its trailer this week, but notably, the author’s name is barely visible, appearing only in minuscule text in the bottom of the last frame. It’s as if the movie was brought into existence by magic. And it’s a stark departure from the series’ other trailers, like the one in 2018’s “The Crimes of Grindelwald” which proclaimed itself as being quote, “from writer J.K. Rowling” in a big, full-frame title. Of course, what’s driving this is clear: Rowling’s appeal has dipped significantly since she made transphobia her main post-Harry Potter focus. As recently as last week, she tweeted harsh criticism of Scotland’s Gender Recognition Act, which would make it easier for trans people in Scotland to be legally recognized by their preferred gender identities. Rowling’s name wasn’t listed in the trailer for HBO Max’s upcoming Harry Potter reunion special either, and allegedly she will not appear in it outside of archival footage. For her, maybe that’s a worthwhile trade-off for the freedom to spread views that harm millions and fall apart under one second of scrutiny.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, I’m sure she wants as much possible time to continue posting. That seems to be the goal.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, to keep wreaking havoc on all of our lives just by being bored, because that’s what this feels like. But I’ll leave it at that.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, 1000%. Oh, and those are the headlines.


Tre’vell Anderson: One more thing before we go: catch up on the latest episode of Hysteria. This week, Alissa Mastromonaco and Grace Parra Janney discuss California Governor Newsom’s trolling of the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, the devastating tornadoes in central and southern states, and the explosive texts revealed by the January 6th committee. New episodes of Hysteria drop every Thursday. Listen and follow wherever you get your podcasts.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like to show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, follow us on Instagram @whataday, and tell your friends to listen.


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you are into reading, and not just tiny little text at the bottom of Harry Potter trailers like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And get your hands on my White Elephant gift.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, I picked it first. You did not get the chance to pick it.


Gideon Resnick: I saw it from across the room, and when I made eye contact, that obviously means it’s mine. It’s very clear. Those are in the rules.


Tre’vell Anderson: Love at first sight.


Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm. 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.