In This Episode
Abdul reflects on the pandemic and what it’s taught us about ourselves and our societies. Then Abdul shares his own vaccine experience and talks to America Dissected listeners—including Crooked’s own Akilah Hughes—about theirs.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: America Dissected is brought to you by The Cost of Care podcast from Lemonada Media. David Smith grew up in a Mormon community in Utah and lost his father, sister and brother to the same epidemic. On a brand new podcast, The Cost of Care, David explores whether their deaths were preventable, and why the United States has the most expensive, worst-performing health care system in the world. It can bankrupt you, demoralize you, or actually kill you. In this show, we’ll figure out how we ended up with a system that leaves people powerless in the face of life or death decisions, and how we can make health a priority for everyone, regardless of zip code or the other predictors of life expectancy. The Cost of Care from Lemonada Media premieres April 15th. And you can listen wherever you get your podcasts.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Friends, I’m so excited to report that America Dissected has been nominated for a Webby Award. Our episode with Dr. Fauci back in July was nominated for best episode in the Science and Education podcast. Go to vote.webbyawards.com and search for America Dissected to vote today. Again, that’s vote.webbyawards.com and search for America Dissected.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Cases are surging in India, where they’ve recorded more than 350,000 new cases for the fifth day in a row, and supplies are running short. A CDC advisory panel voted to recommend lifting the pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week, adding a warning label about the risk of rare clotting events. Johnson & Johnson is now back in use across the United States. And after the first 200 million doses in arms, vaccine supply begins to outpace vaccine demand, as vaccine hesitancy slows the pace of vaccinations. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. And it may not be the end, but it’s certainly the beginning of the end.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: This was President Joe Biden this week:
[clip of President Biden] When tomorrow’s vaccine and vaccination numbers come out, it will show that today, we did it. Today we hit 200 million shots.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And that’s a really big deal. But we’re not quite done with this thing yet. In order to defeat this pandemic, the consensus among epidemiologists is that we’ll need nearly 75 to 85% of Americans to get vaccinated. Those 200 million doses President Biden just told us about, that equals only about 41% of Americans, who’ve received any dose at all. On April 13th, we hit a different kind of milestone: the number of people getting vaccinated every day began to go down. Make no mistake, that’s not because there’s less vaccine. That’s because there’s less people who want a vaccine. That means that the next phase of our vaccine rollout is going to be about demand. To beat this pandemic, we’ve got to take on the vaccine hesitancy that’s stopping or delaying too many people from getting their vaccines. Today, I wanted to focus on the experience of getting vaccinated because in sharing our own experiences, perhaps we can inspire others to do the same. I got that notification that I was eligible for a vaccine appointment unexpectedly, and I signed up for my appointment as soon as I could. I got vaccinated on a Thursday evening at the University of Michigan Hospital, just a few miles from my house. They had a very orderly process where I followed the signs to the vaccine clinic. I waited in a socially-distanced line for about 15 minutes until I finally got to the front. They verified my identity and asked if I had any allergies. Thankfully, I don’t have any that I know of, and so I was guided to a really nice nurse named Lisa. Lisa told me about the Pfizer vaccine, which I was about to get, and she told me about what I could expect afterwards. She warned me to expect a sore arm and possibly some cold-like symptoms the next day. And then she asked me what arm I wanted the vaccine in. I chose the left one, and I got it in the right one the next time. Not because there’s any good medical reason to do it, but because I have a weird semi-obsession with symmetry. Here’s the thing: I hate shots! I cannot stand them. The idea of someone stabbing me with a piece of metal bothers me to no end. My parents still tell the story of the horror show of getting me vaccinated when I was five. It took four people to hold me down. A small part of me, to be honest, still wants to be that five-year old kid, but it might take a lot more people to hold me down now, and well, I’m a grown-ass man. So instead, I just don’t look. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, reward myself with a gummy bear afterwards. Yes, the same gummy bears with which I was rewarded when I was five. This shot, it wasn’t that bad at all. Just a poke. And there it was, done and done. And what did I get for it? Well, freedom! I knew that I’d done my part to protect myself, my loved ones, and my community from the virus. I waited the recommended 15 minutes. The whole time I was thinking about just how incredible it was that we’d developed this incredible vaccine in under a year. And I was really feeling gratitude to live in a time when we had vaccines, when we didn’t have to watch yet more people die of this preventable disease. But I also thought a lot about the small freedoms this vaccine would give me back. I thought about how excited I was to travel again, how much I couldn’t wait to people-watch in crowded places, or enjoy a nice meal at a crowded restaurant. I was thinking about how I couldn’t wait to get back to a Michigan football game. It’s a strange thing. Michigan played football this year, but it’s not the same without the fans. Everyone knows that if you go to the game, it’s all about the fans. You go for each other, and we’re getting vaccinated for each other too. The next day, I was a little sore in my arm, but nothing else. My next vaccine appointment was four weeks later, same experience. This time, though, the next day I felt groggy, like I had a mild cold. All those immune cells that had been tipped off by the first vaccine were chasing the second one. And that’s a good thing because it means that if they ever encounter the real thing, they’ll be ready. I drank lots of fluids, popped the Tylenol, took a nap and felt better by the end of the day. That’s my vaccine experience. Of course, my vaccine story is just one. As we look to vaccinate the whole country, everyone will access their vaccine differently. Some easily like me, others unfortunately not. Over the last few weeks, I’ve asked listeners like you to share their vaccine stories with us, we got tons of submissions: stories of individuals working on the front lines, people who are homebound hunting down a way to get a vaccine without leaving their home, cancer survivors driving hours, people walking through grocery stores being offered a vaccine at random. Different stories from different lives. I asked a few of you to sit down with me to tell us your story in depth today, you’ll hear those. Catherine Barker, a cancer survivor in Texas who drove hours to hunt down a vaccine. Maddie Lausch, an American living in Germany who’s been watching her family get vaccinated back in Kansas. And even one listener you might recognize, Crooked’s very own Akilah Hughes, co-host of What A Day. Their vaccination stories and more after the break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: My first conversation is with Katherine Barker, a cancer survivor living in Texas. Texas’s first day of lockdown, way back in March 2020, lined up, coincidentally, with the two-year anniversary of Katherine’s cancer diagnosis. Over the last 12 months, Katherine has been living cautiously, protecting herself and those around her. Katherine finally found hope, as many of us did, when vaccines became available in Texas. But soon found that getting one wouldn’t be so straightforward.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Katherine, tell us about how the pandemic changed your life.
Katherine Barker: So whenever we went into lockdown last March, that was just a few weeks before my two-year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer. So I had already come out the other side and survived, but it definitely was terrifying and I have stayed completely in lockdown last year, made me really nervous about teaching and I got a lot of pushback from my school board, my school district. And that kind of got to a point where the best option was for me to quit. So it’s been a, it’s been a wild year.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I can’t imagine, and I’m really glad to hear that you’re in remission, and I’m really sorry that you had to go through that. That just sounds really harrowing. What was your vaccine experience like? I mean, when you heard that there were vaccines available, what was the first thing that went through your mind?
Katherine Barker: Honestly, it’s been a little odd as a young cancer survivor, and I was not sure if I really qualified as someone who was at high risk. So I was a little unsure at first if I should jump on signing up for the vaccine, but then I also really didn’t know how to sign up for the vaccine. Communication has not really been great. So I did eventually sign up mid-January for Dallas County, and I didn’t hear anything for a month or—it ended up being more than that, but after about a month, some other friends told me that I could sign up through any county that I wanted to, and I didn’t even realize that. So then I started signing up through any county I felt like I could drive to. And then my sister lives down in Austin, and she let me know that the county near her, Bell County, was wide open for appointments. So I ended up making an appointment down in Bell County in Killeen, Texas. So I drove three hours to go get the vaccine.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. So tell me about the moment that you first learned that you would get your vaccine.
Katherine Barker: It did, it was a little weird because I was able to just immediately make an appointment through Bell County, whereas everything else for the last month and a half before that had seemed so like, you go through registration and then you wait and then it’s nothing. But this was literally just going on the website making the appointment. And it was like: Oh, I have an appointment, I’m going to get the vaccine, and it’s just done—I have to drive three hours, but then it’s going to be done.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: How long between when you got your appointment and when you actually got the vaccine?
Katherine Barker: Less than a week.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow, and what did you do to prepare?
Katherine Barker: Took the day off of work, but that was really it. I think that I went back through different resources, probably your podcast, of just making sure that I actually really knew if there was anything I needed to prepare for now that I was actually getting the vaccine myself. But really, I just needed the day off of work still to go down there.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And what was it like to finally get your vaccine?
Katherine Barker: It was definitely a relief. It felt good, like it was actually, we were making progress and getting somewhere, and like I maybe didn’t have to be so scared all the time.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It must have been such a relief.
Katherine Barker: Yeah, for sure.
Akilah Hughes: How has your life changed now that you are vaccinated?
Katherine Barker: Um, really not much at all as far as day in and day out. You know, I’m still trying to make sure that doing my part on making sure this doesn’t get worse. I think I’m still worried about the variants and contributing to anything, so I still haven’t exactly gone out and done anything. But I also haven’t hit my two weeks post the-second-dose mark. And I think once I get there, I will feel more comfortable maybe venturing out.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What’s the first thing you want to do?
Katherine Barker: I don’t know! I think about getting inside a restaurant, I think that’s kind of what a lot of people want to do, but it’s still just almost like it freaks me out, just the idea of sitting in a restaurant in closed air.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, I um, so I gotta ask, what restaurant would you go to?
Katherine Barker: Oh, man. I don’t even know now that I think about that. There’s some really good restaurants in Dallas. Whiskey Cake is one of my favorite ones.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What’s the, what’s the go-to meal at Whiskey Cake?
Katherine Barker: They have this like—now it almost sounds kind of lame—but there’s it’s a turkey sandwich, turkey avocado sandwich that I love. But they have really good drinks too. I get the, I think it’s the wabbit smash is my favorite drink.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Oh wow. That’s so, that’s not lame at all, that’s what makes life. That you find the thing that you enjoy, and you enjoy it. And so that first turkey avocado sandwich will be brought to you by the vaccine. Which vaccine did you end up getting, by the way?
Katherine Barker: Pfizer.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Pfizer. And what was the experience of actually getting vaccinated?
Katherine Barker: Like the first appointment, we actually had to wait about an hour and a half in line, which I wasn’t really expecting. I mean, I guess I figured there’d be some kind of wait time, but getting to the community center, I had to stand outside in line for a while, and then get inside of the building, and then sit and wait in there, and then by the time getting to where the shots were, it was just three tables and it was three firefighters who were given shifts, and like rotations to take, so it kind of slowed down the whole process. But then by my second appointment, it was entirely different, and it was in and out in less than maybe 30 minutes. And there were several tables with people set up doing the shots. So very different between the two times, but I never had any side effects with either of them.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What would you tell people who are still somewhat hesitant about getting their vaccine?
Katherine Barker: Go get one. Um, I know that we all need to do what we can. I really hate the idea that I think it’s already become a foregone conclusion that this is going to be an annual flu shot kind of situation. And I wish that we would all get vaccinated so that we could completely get rid of COVID.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, let’s hope that folks follow your advice. We really appreciate you joining us to share your experience. And wishing you well and I hope that you enjoy that turkey avocado sandwich and that wabbit smash. It sounds delightful.
Katherine Barker: Thank you so much.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: My next conversation is with Maddie Lausch, an American living in Germany. Maddie watched the full extent of America’s failed COVID response while experiencing a successful response firsthand. But now the story’s turned.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Maddie, thank you so much for taking the time to join us on the podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about you?
Maddie Lausch: Yeah, I’m an American originally from Kansas, and I’m currently living in Hamburg, and I’ve been here for almost four years.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What takes you to Hamburg?
Maddie Lausch: My husband and I always wanted to live outside of the US and luckily he is a very gifted IT specialist and so very marketable around the world.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So tell me a little bit about your vaccine experience.
Maddie Lausch: Over here, it’s so far been pretty nonexistent. It’s interesting coming from especially the middle of the U.S., and seeing Oklahoma is doing an amazing job with vaccines right now, especially with the help of the tribes. And Germany has this really weird confluence of bureaucracy and great health care. And that just means that the vaccines are, we’re not hearing a lot about it. It hasn’t been offered to me. I kind of thought that it would because I had a medical event last year that had me in the hospital. So I was like: oh, of course, they’ll want to be really taking care of people who are more at risk. My husband has asthma, but we haven’t heard anything. The last that I heard was a couple of months ago from Chancellor Merkel, who said we would probably be eligible for vaccines in September. And that’s about the last I’ve heard.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So it must be frustrating watching family and friends and loved ones in the US getting vaccinated. And you still really don’t know when yours is coming up.
Maddie Lausch: Yeah, I’m excited. I, my mom’s getting her next jab this week, I believe. My dad is fully vaccinated. Several friends, very excited for them. But yes, it’s definitely frustrating, especially because it’s always, the lockdown’s, we’re coming into something like the third lockdown now, but we’ve never really left the second. And our numbers just keep going up and up. And so the lockdowns aren’t really working. And the vaccines, we’re not having any headway on those. It’s just a weird situation.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Is it possible to come back to the United States to get vaccinated? Would you consider it?
Maddie Lausch: So actually, we’re moving back to the U.S. in a month. Not the best time to move internationally, I would say. And we are taking all precautions before, but we will probably get vaccinated once we land in the U.S., before most people here in Germany. That wasn’t an intentional setup. We had decided independently to go back for multiple reasons, but it doesn’t make it harder to go back.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. And, you know, when you shared this, as you shared this with German friends, what’s their response?
Maddie Lausch: Oh, you’ll get vaccinated before me, typically.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. And you know what the hold up in Germany is.
Maddie Lausch: So we’ve been hearing a couple of different things. A) there is some vaccine hesitancy in Germany. It actually started in Germany, the vaccine hesitancy movement, like in the 19th century. And it’s interesting to see veins of that still active and alive today. I think that they’re trying to coordinate with the EU. And vaccine equity, which is really important, but it just seems to be causing a hold up for everyone. But again, it has not been incredibly transparent with the general public, not even just me as a non-German speaker for the most part. It’s getting better, but it’s still not perfect. Even when I talk with my German friends, they’re like: no, I haven’t heard anything. Or: oh, I tried to call my doctor and they didn’t have a timeline. All of that fun stuff.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And that’s despite generally really good health care in Germany. What’s been your health care experience overall?
Maddie Lausch: I have actually experienced excellent health care treatment here. Yeah, like I said, I had a medical emergency that put me in the hospital last year. I had incredible health care. The ambulance to the hospital was basically free. My stays, I wasn’t worried that I would be charged so much that I couldn’t pay it. And I’ve gotten follow-up care that was all pretty much subsidized by the health care system. We do pay a higher rate for general coverage here, but I will say coverage has been a lot better for me.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And that’s, I think probably a large part because you’re not German, right?
Maddie Lausch: It’s part of it. They have a private and a public system here. So some people will pay an even higher percentage into the private system, and be seen that way, and it gives them some would say better care. I don’t know if I would go that far. It’s sometimes give them give them quicker care for things. They maybe have more doctors that they have available to them. But from what I have heard from my friends, my experience, my German friends, my experience isn’t that much different from theirs.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, we really appreciate you sharing your experience, Maddie, and wish you safety and good health, and a safe and not too-painful move. And good luck getting your vaccine when you when you get home. Any message to folks who are vaccine hesitant out there and thinking twice about getting their vaccine even if they have access to it?
Maddie Lausch: Think beyond yourselves, I guess, is my kind of cynical way of looking at it. Think of the people that you come into contact with, not just the people that you love, but the people that you see in your life.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate that. And thank you again for taking the time to join us.
Maddie Lausch: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for inviting me on.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We’ll be back to hear from Akilah about her vaccination experience after the break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And now for a conversation with someone near and dear to the Crooked family: Akilah Hughes on her vaccination experience.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Akilah Hughes, thank you so much for joining us, and talking to us about your vaccine experience.
Akilah Hughes: Awesome. Thanks for having me, Abdul. It’s good to see you.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Walk us through your thinking about this. Was it something that immediately you were like: I am definitely getting that as soon as I can! Or was something like: well, I’ll wait and and see. Or one of those things where you wanted to learn more and sort of figure out where you stood?
Akilah Hughes: You know, we can even back it up a little bit of a month like further back. Basically, when Donald Trump lost the election, I was like: OK, so the vaccines are just going to be like the Putin vaccine.[laughs] Like, this will probably be something that’s like tested that we can trust. So, like, that was a huge relief because objectively, I do not believe I would have gotten the vaccine if [laughs] Donald Trump was still the president because it’s like he’s, you know, who could trust it? Who could ever trust it?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah.
Akilah Hughes: But, you know, once I knew that it was like legit and, you know, Dr. Fauci was saying it was safe and there was plenty of research being put out, I was in the camp of, like, the soonest I can get it, I will get it. And that means no matter what, like by any means necessary, I need to do this. And part of the reason for that is like I have preexisting conditions. So like my pandemic looked a little bit different than a lot of my friends who are just like: oh, well, you know, we’re young, so, like, we can still go see people and we can do—like I didn’t really get to leave my house at all. You know, I was going to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions for, like preexisting conditions and coming home. And so, you know, the only future that I could see required me taking a vaccine that would limit the, you know, the chances of me getting incredibly sick and dying. And like all of the—I mean, not all of the conditions I have, but several of them are like affecting my lungs and lung capacity. And like, you know, I think it’s a, it was the perfect kind of pandemic for someone like me to be like: oh, well, I could just, like, drop out of society for a minute and like, see what’s what, when everything shakes out.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’m really glad to hear that you were able to get your vaccine and—tell me about the experience of sort of figuring out how to get one. How did you go about doing that? Who’d you talk to? Who was your first point of entry, and what we’re all the different bases that you covered to to get yours.
Akilah Hughes: You know, I was one of those people who was looking at websites and trying to figure out what anything meant, you know, as early as like when they were here in California just vaccinating people who are 70 and older, because I’m like: I think that, like, people with preexisting conditions could probably weasel their way in. And like objectively, that was how I felt. Like I can admit that I’m like: yeah, I would like everyone older than me to get it first, but if they, you know, are dillydallying, I’m going to, I’m going to slide in there at the end of the day and take that extra shot. And so I had some friends who actually, like, just waited outside of a Walgreens until like, [laughs] you know, 8:00 p.m. and they’re like: OK, we have a throwaway dose—and they were able to get it two weeks before I was. But the way that I finally navigated it, I had a friend who, you know, sadly, their mother died of COVID, and when they were visiting their mother, they were able to get the vaccine, you know, within a couple of weeks to, like, just be able to visit her in hospice, I guess Like, that was a thing. And so they were saying that, you know, here in L.A., there was like a, you know, it was just a bunch of different links. And so they sent me a link that was like: hey, well, this is the one that they sent me to use for, like, my mom’s stuff, and I know that, like, you are looking to get vaccinated. Here’s a link. And so, like, several times, you know, I would sign up and they’re like: no, you’re not qualified, you’re not qualified. And it kind of was like this daily grind of like: look, I’m just going to keep trying to get this like they’re concert tickets in the first five minutes. [laughs] This is my Coachella and I will refresh the page.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Finesse.
Akilah Hughes: Totally. And it’s like, you know, and it’s the lowest version of, like, survival of the fittest, where I’m like: look, I’m going to survive this, so I’m going to figure it out. And thankfully, you know, I was able to make an appointment. And when I got there, like, you know, I was a little bit relieved because I assumed it would be a lot of older people, and like, you know, if they told me to leave, I would have absolutely been like: sure, you know, all right, you got me. But they were like: no, like, if you got an appointment, you’re good, and like, we’re not, you know, because you have an appointment, this dose is scheduled for you. So like: if you don’t take it, we’re going to have to figure this out at the end of the day. And because of the location that I was going to, it wasn’t something where people were like know to drive up or something. It was like a community center in the back, like, you know, there’s just no way you were going to know. And so I was able to get the Pfizer vaccine within like two weeks of getting a link from just a friend who happened to get it because of a horrible thing that happened to her.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. And how did you feel the minute you got that first vaccine? What did it mean to you?
Akilah Hughes: Oh, my gosh. I cried so much. It was funny because so they have the little overflow place if you get a vaccine where they want you to wait just in case you have side effects for a few minutes. And I was like, it was the first time I’d really been talking to strangers because we’re all just sitting there. I was like: are you guys high? I’m like so high! And like no one was really reacting. Like they all thought it was just like another day in their life. But I was so relieved just because I think that there was this barrier to even fantasizing about a future. Right? Like I’m a person who before the pandemic was always like: well, in a month I’m going on this trip, or I’m going to have to do this thing for another company, or I’m going to be working different places, or like I just always had something to look forward to. And that completely went away in a pandemic. And so there was just like a huge weight lifted. And I remember, like the vaccine place is about an hour from where I live, and, you know, I drove home. It was just like the music blaring, singing in the car, I just felt like: yeeeees! Summer’s on! We going to be fully vaxxed up soon! Like, I was so excited, I’m sure the people around me driving were like: OK, well, she’s having a mental breakdown [laughs] so like let’s just get away from her car before she goes into a ditch. I was just elated.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And now that you’re fully vaccinated, how has it changed your life?
Akilah Hughes: I mean, I definitely feel like everything is just, as far as the anxiety of going out in the world and like the tension of, like, you know, I’m walking my dog and someone’s walking towards me without a mask or, you know, just thinking about what I want to do with my life and where I can go. Like I’ve already scheduled a trip to see my family in May, which is like something that I absolutely would not have tried. You know, like I have a housemate who has traveled throughout the pandemic, but I was just never, I couldn’t trust it and I didn’t want to get sick or get anybody else sick. And so, like, now I feel like: OK, well, I can safely do these things. And, yeah, it’s just it’s completely alleviated all of the stress of thinking, like, you know, one false move and you’re going to be dead in two weeks. Like that was really what, how I was living my life and I’m very glad to not feel that way anymore.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I can’t imagine. Well, we’re really grateful that that you got your your vaccine and we’re really grateful that you shared your experience with us. What’s your message to folks who are hesitant, who are looking at this and saying: yeah, maybe later, maybe never? What would you tell them?
Akilah Hughes: Well, here’s what I would say to the never people is that, like, I don’t know how you can live your life in a place of 1) fear, but 2) we all have access to information about the safety of the vaccines. We can reference people who have had, if they’ve had a bad reaction there is information on all of those things. And so with all of that information at your disposal, it is, I think, choosing ignorance for one, to just be like: well, it’s going to, you know, I’m going to be the one person in a billion people who has, like, you know, grows horn out of her back or whatever happens, you know? Like I think that it’s just, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But also, we don’t know how having COVID will affect people in the long haul. And that is a thing that is still being discussed, still being studied. And so, like, even if you get an asymptomatic case and you’re like OK, for now, it is worth then having the prevention going on. And so it’s like I hope that people take that to heart. It’s just like, wouldn’t it be better to just not get sick at all? But if you’re waiting, I would say, you know, look at the world. I have friends who are from Canada who live in the US, who have elderly parents in Canada who obviously have preexisting conditions and are in a high-risk group who still can’t get the vaccine, in a time when the variants are changing and the likelihood of getting sick is still on the rise. You know, they’re not out of the woods. And their kids here in the US have been able to get the vaccine. And so I think that it is naïve to assume that you will always have the access that you have now. And it’s weird to just sort of like rest on like: well, we’ll always have it. You know, I think that we’re really lucky that we have three options for vaccines in the US right now. And I think that, like, it just, it is kind of taking for granted what is, in my mind, a miracle. Like we were prepared to wait four years for this. Why would you just not get it? Because we’re also, you know, you’re not only hurting yourself, you’re raising the likelihood that more people will get sick. So, you know, just be a little bit less selfish. Think about how nice it would be to not be sick from COVID. And let’s try to kill these variants while we can
Akilah Hughes: I hear you. I really appreciate that message and really grateful to you for sharing it. And I’m grateful to you for for sharing your experience and your perspective. That was Akilah Hughes. She is the host of What A Day. If you’re not listening to them, then I don’t even know what you’re doing most mornings. And really grateful to you for joining.
Akilah Hughes: Awesome. Thank you Abdul.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: These three experiences and mine, are only a small window into our effort to get America and the world vaccinated against COVID-19. While I couldn’t share every story you sent us, there are a few others about hunting down and receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
[recording of Elizabeth] Hi, this is Elizabeth from Austin, Texas. Earlier this month, my local news station did a story on a group of volunteers, the COVID coaches, who are helping people set up COVID vaccine appointments. They will set up your appointment or invite you to join a WhatsApp group so you can set up your own appointment. I joined a WhatsApp group on a Monday afternoon. About an hour later, a message appeared stating that Walgreens had appointments. I scheduled my first vaccine dose for the following day and I will get my second dose next week. I drove an hour to a Walgreens in San Marcos to get my medicine a vaccine, and I will happily drive an hour to San Marcos again next week to get my second dose.
[clip] So I do volunteer work with a nonprofit institution. Because of the nature of the volunteer work, I became eligible for a vaccine. When I got the email telling me I was eligible, I actually didn’t believe it. I felt a little conflicted about getting the vaccine, but I decided ultimately that I shouldn’t really deputize myself to determine my place in the rollout. And if the people who are, you know, coordinating the effort are saying I’m in a group that should get vaccinated, then I should go get my vaccine.
[recording of Amanda Hoffman] Hi, my name is Amanda Hoffman. In January, Arizona became the first state to implement a mass drive-through vaccination operation at State Farm Stadium. When they asked for volunteers in exchange for getting the COVID vaccine, my husband and I jumped at the opportunity. It was a long night on our feet and it was cold. Even in Arizona, temps were in the 30s overnight in January, but it was also a lot of fun. Everyone was really excited to be there and to be a part of history. I was giddy as I sat in line to get my shot at the end of my shift, and despite being up all night, I was wired by the time I got home. We’ve since gotten our second shot and it’s brought so much relief to our family. Oh, and our side, effects were minimal. I had a source arm for about a day after the shot and I felt a little sluggish after the second, but it really wasn’t bad at all.
[voice recording] This is the recording about my difficulty getting the vaccine for my mom, who is 92. I called numerous places or emailed and could get no one had any idea of what would be going on for homebound people. I had a friend whose sister is a nurse practitioner physician’s assistant, and once I got a note from her doctor saying she could get the vaccination, this person came to my mom’s home and vaccinated her with the J&J one-dose vaccine. And she’s had no side effects other than she’s glad she’s vaccinated so she can see the great grandkids again.
[clip of Andre in Norway] I’m Andre, an American in Norway. I’ve been here in Norway for the entire COVID pandemic. Last year, the Norwegian government mostly handled things pretty well. And then the U.S. went from being one of the worst that human pandemic, to one of the best. I have a couple of health conditions that put me in group four of eight. So I should have been vaccinated back in mid-March, which is still well after when I would have been had I still been in Oklahoma. Now, vaccines here in Norway seem to have completely stopped, and cases seem to be creeping upwards.
[recording of Hannah in Santa Cruz] Hi Abdul. I’m calling from Santa Cruz, California. My name is Hannah, I’m a teacher and I’m also 28 weeks pregnant. I just got my second dose of the Moderna vaccine this morning. Yay! Had some minor side effects after the first one. Had a lot of support from my midwife, from my partner, and just a lot of encouraging news coming out from the American Obstetrics and Gynecologic Association, reinforcing the decision that it’s the best choice not just for my health, but for my baby’s health, and also for community health. So I feel like I’m playing my part, not just by protecting myself but protecting my family, and protecting my school community.
[recording of Evie] Hi, my name is Evie. I live in Jersey City, New Jersey. My vaccination experience was really wonderful. My partner was able to get an appointment at the mega site in Newark on the very same afternoon that we became eligible. But I went along with him and was able to be slotted in and get my vaccination at the same time. They were all really friendly, kind, funny, and considerate of how everyone was doing, and be sure we all were OK and had what we needed.
[recording of Liz in Denver] My name is Liz and I am in Denver, Colorado. I’m currently at a mass vaccination site waiting the fifteen minutes after getting vaccinated! I am super, super excited and hopeful. I can’t wait until I’m fully vaccinated and I can finally see my dad face-to-face. He lives in a different state and soon we’ll be both fully vaccinated. And I can finally give him a hug. It’s the little things.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: As usual, here’s what I’m watching right now: COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in India, which has rapidly become the global pandemic hotspot. There, cases are 3x higher than their 2020 peak, with outbreaks across the northern part of the country. Indeed, scientists have isolated a new variant some are calling the double mutant, which has spread rapidly. This should remind us that it’s not enough for us to vaccinate America alone, without also vaccinating the rest of the world. Right now, India and South Africa have proposed a plan to the World Trade Organization that would suspend patent rights for the vaccines to facilitate local manufacturing. But the US government opposes those plans because of heavy lobbying from the vaccine manufacturers. Every single day the virus spreads unchecked in countries around the world, is a day that it has an opportunity to evolve new mutations that could allow it to evade our vaccine-mediated immunity. No patent is worth that, especially when the research behind those patents have been bought and paid for by you and I, the American taxpayers. We can do better. We must do better. Last week, the CDC panel that advises on national vaccine policy voted to recommend lifting the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, putting a warning label on the vaccine regarding a rare but serious blood clot they found among a total of 15 cases during their investigation. Soon afterwards, vaccine clinics across the country resumed administering the J&J vaccine. All of the cases were women, and nearly all of them, between 18 and 49. The choice to put a warning label on the vaccine rather than put limitations on who could receive the J&J vaccine, reflects the extreme rarity of the possible side effect. That even among women ages 18 to 49, the risk of COVID far outweighs the risk of these clots. It reminds us that all of the vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and effective, and that the system worked the way it was supposed to.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Finally, this is our last episode of the season. But don’t worry, America Dissected isn’t going anywhere. We’re just zooming out to talk about all of the other stories we haven’t been paying attention to, like: the ongoing opioid epidemic, new breakthroughs in genetics and why we’ve got to rethink public policy about supporting people with long-term care needs. And we’ll also be checking in on the pandemic, because as much as we wish it was, this pandemic ain’t over. But perhaps we’re on the way. The choices we make over the next few months will dictate how fast that happens, but it couldn’t happen fast enough. Since March last year, our team at America Dissected have done our best to bring you perspectives and insights about the pandemic, to empower you with information that you and your family could use to stay safe, but also to understand why this is happening and what we can do about it. We’ve tried to highlight the stories that we don’t always hear, from the folks on the front lines to those who wish they didn’t have to be. We’ve tried always to highlight the ways our society’s inequities have patterned this pandemic, and what communities are doing to address it. And we’ve tried always to stick to the science and let it lead us out, because science always wins. I’m grateful to you for your ears throughout this pod, and for trusting us with your time and attention. I hope you’ll continue to listen into the next season. We promise to keep leading with the science and integrity, and highlighting the people, the stories, and the perspectives you need to understand what really matters for health. That’s it for season two. I’ll see you next week. Oh, and don’t forget to go to vote.webbyawards.com and show us some love.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: 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 and Lyra Smith. The theme song is by Taka Asuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sara Geismer, Sandy Girard, and me: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.