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May 04, 2021
What A Day
Vaccine But Not Herd Immunity

In This Episode

  • Four mothers who had been separated from their children at the border by the Trump administration will finally be reunited with them this week, according to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas yesterday. These are the first families to be brought together as a result of a task force President Biden created shortly after taking office, and over the next few weeks, an additional 32 families from across Mexico and Central America are set to be reunited.
  • Public health experts think it’s unlikely we’ll ever reach herd immunity in the U.S., at least not anytime in the foreseeable future, because of factors like more contagious virus variants and vaccine hesitancy.
  • And in headlines: Biden’s EPA to cut hydrofluorocarbons, CVS and Walgreens were responsible for the bulk of discarded vaccines, and Bill and Melinda Gates announce their divorce.




Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, May 4th. I’m Akilah Hughes


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we are pulling a Chewbacca for Star Wars day and letting our dog drive the car.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, don’t tell anybody, but I’ve been letting Fauci do that for a while now. He hasn’t gotten into any accidents.


Gideon Resnick: Thankfully, nobody will know now, uh so.  . . [laughter] On today’s show, some migrant families separated at the border years ago will finally be reunited. Plus, we’ll have headlines. But first, the latest.


Akilah Hughes: So you probably saw that horrifying headline yesterday that the U.S. likely won’t return immunity against COVID any time soon. That’s the percentage of people who need vaccines and antibodies so that all the people who can’t get them because they’re really young or sick or whatever, are still protected in public. I’d say this news gave us all pandemic flashbacks, but we’re still in this horrible shit, so really, it was just more bad news on top of bad news. But I want to help listeners put that into perspective. The herd immunity threshold has bounced around a little bit, but because of the variants, it’s estimated to be about 80% of the population. And that number is important because for a lot of epidemiologists, they think it’s the benchmark for truly returning to so-called normalcy. But with the endless politicization, the lack of true patriotism and reluctance for other reasons, there’s about 30% of Americans who aren’t getting vaccinated. And so obviously that’s too high a number to truly reach herd immunity.


Gideon Resnick: Right. And hopefully that number budges with time. We’ll see. So that seems like mostly bad news still, though. Is there another way out of this hellscape then?


Akilah Hughes: Truly out of it? No, not really. But the goal now is really to make sure that the vulnerable get vaccinated. That will definitely help COVID-19 outcomes in the future. The New York Times reported yesterday that Pfizer announced they’ll soon be approving the vaccine for use in 12- to 15-year olds, and that the FDA could authorize it as early as next week. The company also suggested that by the end of the year, it might have a pill that can be used to treat infections. So things are looking up all over the place. And beyond that, our friend Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, made the argument on Twitter that with the vaccines that have already been administered, infections will be low and treatments are improving. So things could probably be manageable at least.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, or more manageable and potentially seasonal, like other cold and flu viruses maybe. And that herd immunity fans can maybe relax a little bit.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I mean, kind of. We still don’t know the long-term effects of the virus. And mutations are still happening, and without drug companies releasing the vaccine patents to the world, the chances of us being able to travel safely worldwide are pretty low.


Gideon Resnick: But is there a but in here somewhere?


Akilah Hughes: There is a little bit of a but, uh so . . . but even Dr. Fauci has been more focused lately to set a goal to make vaccines available to everyone. And even as far back as last fall, he said that herd immunity is ideal, but it’s not required. Here’s a clip:


[clip of Dr. Fauci] That’s not a fundamental strategy that we’re using. The fundamental strategy that we clearly articulate and go by through the task force is to try to prevent as many infections as you possibly can prevent.


Akilah Hughes: That’s right. So TL;DR, COVID-19 is not going to just be a bad memory anytime soon, but we’re not totally doomed. But we’re going to turn to some other news. Giddy, there’s some developments from the country’s southern border. What are they?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced yesterday that four mothers who have been separated from their children at the border, some as far back as four years ago, will finally be reunited with them this week. These are the first families brought together as a result of a task force created by President Biden shortly after taking office, which we talked about a while ago. The four women are reportedly from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. Now, while officials aren’t releasing many more details about these families, they did say that two of the moms had been separated from their sons in late 2017, before the broader introduction of the Trump policy across the whole border. But all four are part of a larger group of 36 families that the Biden administration allowed into the US while figuring out a solution for the other children who are here.


Akilah Hughes: Yes, so it’s a big deal, but it’s also a big problem to solve. So what do we know about how many more families—more than just these four—need to be reunited?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So in total, there were some 5,500 children who are known to have been separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration policy. Back in 2018, a federal judge in California ordered the previous administration to get rid of the policy and bring the families back together. But today, more than a thousand or so families are thought to still be apart. And by the time Trump left office, there were still about 645 parents that his administration had not contacted. So this new task force under Biden has found about 200 or so, so far. Here’s Mayorkas talking about the situation on CNN yesterday.


[clip of Sec. Mayorkas] We do indeed have hundreds and hundreds of family files to review to make sure that the individuals indeed have been separated. We know where they are. We can verify their identity and their qualifications to receive humanitarian parole—a benefit that we extend to them as part of the healing and reunification process.


Akilah Hughes: Oh, that’s really great news. And what have the response been like to the news so far?


Gideon Resnick: Well, for now, it’s a little bit muted. So, for instance, the lead counsel at the ACLU, which is involved in an ongoing class action suit, said in part, quote “We are thrilled for the four families that are going to be reunited this week, but we are not feeling like this is a time for celebration.” That’s mostly because the reunification process has gone so slowly. Reportedly, the ACLU team has also been talking to the Biden administration about things for these families like financial compensation, mental health resources, legal permanent residency, and more. So, clearly, the Biden administration is going to keep facing pressure on this.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, but it’s hopeful news. And listeners might remember that this comes while there has been a sharp increase of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the southern border, too. So what’s the latest on that?


Gideon Resnick: Well, as of late March, the Biden administration estimated there would be as many as 25,000 unaccompanied children arriving this month earlier this year. There was also overcrowding at shelters where reportedly children were spending an average of as much as 130 hours in Border Patrol custody. That prompted the administration to make more facilities into temporary shelters. And then some other news on immigration. Yesterday, Biden formally raised the cap on the number of refugees allowed in the country to 62,500 over the next six months. This comes just a few weeks after he said that he would leave the Trump number of just 15,000 in place, which drew widespread criticism. Biden said the quote unquote “sad truth” was that he didn’t think the U.S. would reach the new number this year, attributing that to budget and staffing cuts from the last administration. So tons to follow on immigration and the administration’s response, but that is the latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re talking about an honest celebrity snap: Will Smith unleashed one of his best posts of the pandemic on Sunday, an Instagram photo with the caption “I’m going to be real wit y’all. I’m in the worst shape of my life.” The photo shows Smith outside in a grassy backyard in either short shorts or boxer briefs and an unzipped track jacket, mouth open as if he’s telling a great story to people at an off-screen party. He is maybe higher up on the Dad Bod scale than he was and, say, “Independence Day.” But the post got a hugely positive reaction with one commenter writing, quote “Umm, I think you look Daddy AF to me.” So Giddy, did you see this and did you heart it, and is he Daddy AF?


Gideon Resnick: All of the above. No, I haven’t had a chance to heart it yet. I do, I do virtually heart it. I heart most Will Smith content. I do think that the focus on the belly, if you will, is not the right focus, when I saw the image. The focus was definitely on the fit.


Akilah Hughes: Oh yeah. The outfit was pretty interesting. I don’t really know exactly where he was coming or going, but something was happening.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah I, I, the chaos of that ensemble was really what I was looking at. But good for him! You know, he like, he always looks great. Um, we, we don’t need to all have six packs that we’re showing off all the time.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Clearly like. [laughs If we really had that as a requirement, I don’t think the world would turn.


Gideon Resnick: But same question if you Akilah: how did you feel about all this?


Akilah Hughes: I mean, I think, you know, good for him, for that being the worst shape of his life. I think, [laughs] I don’t know if my worst shape of my life would be a picture I’d post on the Internet. That’s how, quite frankly, it looks—


Gideon Resnick: Agreed.


Akilah Hughes: Also like, you know, at least you’re out wearing pants. My worst shape is also like my worst mental state. So, like [laughs].


Gideon Resnick: Yes!


Akilah Hughes: It would be like a pile of crumbs next to me and just like me crying into a book. But I think that he’s, you know, he’s great. And I do think that he has set this kind of insane standard over the years for being just ripped. He’s like the original super hero. Like he basically did the Tom Cruise track of, like, always be ripped and running in your movies. And I don’t really envy that either. I don’t like running that much. But, like, I think it’s good. I think it’s good to see that he took a little bit of a break, and if he wants to bounce back, great. But if not even better: more posts like this. We all liked it. I will give you more hearts if you you know, just to come succumb. Succumb to the fun of couches and uh, quarantine life.


Gideon Resnick: Just be wary that your Gemini Man that is after you, trying to kill you, might be in better shape now. So that’s the only thing that I pass along, is it did get scary out there.


Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Yeah, it might have to be a relay, if you’re going to chase down bad guys. But just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. Be a superhero like Will Smith, you know, and just like let yourself go a little bit, it’s fine. No one is even judging that. And we’ll be back after some ad.


Akilah Hughes: Hey, WAD squad, if you love this show, I want to recommend the award winning business and tech podcast Pivot. Pivot is a raw, unfiltered look at the week’s top stories hosted by journalist Kara Swisher and NYU Professor Scott Galloway. From telehealth to the future of remote work, join Kara and Scott as they dove into the heart of what’s happening, what comes next, and what it all means for you. Listen to Pivot every Tuesday and Friday wherever you get your podcasts.


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


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The president of Colombia officially withdrew a controversial tax proposal after days of mass nationwide protests. People have been on the streets since last Wednesday after the government first proposed tax changes that would have lowered the threshold for salaries to be taxed. Under that proposal, people making as little as $656 a month would be affected. Labor unions across the country claimed that the hikes would disproportionately affect the poorest people in the country, who are already feeling the economic impacts of the pandemic. The peaceful protests began in response to the hikes, but as police in riot gear started violently cracking down, leading to the death of over 14 protesters, the demonstrations grew to encompass a larger public dissatisfaction with the government. Protests are still going strong, even after the proposal was withdrawn and the country’s finance minister resigned


Akilah Hughes: After Trump fought for years to cut shower head and toilet regulation, the Biden administration is finally reining in appliances. Biden’s EPA proposed a new rule yesterday to significantly cut down on harmful greenhouse gases that are used in refrigerators and air conditioners. Hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs are considered a major driver of global warming, with a warming effect that can be hundreds or thousands of times more powerful than that of carbon dioxide. Under the new EPA proposal, the United States must reduce the production and use of the gases by 85% over the next 15 years. If accomplished, the EPA predicts that the rule could eliminate the equivalent of three years’ worth of emissions from the country’s power sector. This rule is one of the Biden administration’s first significant steps to combat climate change.


Gideon Resnick: As long as I can still flush the toilet 15 times if I want to.


Akilah Hughes: If you want, [laughs] just that old time feeling. [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: Yup, bring it back. Famously unsentimental pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens apparently threw out more vaccines than most states combined. According to data from the CDC, they accounted for about 70% of all wasted vaccine doses through March of this year. As Marie Kondo said, you want things that inspire joy—it honestly doesn’t matter whether they inspire a robust immune response. That’s like totally not the point. The data here are incomplete. And importantly, the under 200,000 doses that have been reported wasted is tiny, compared to the 146 million that have now been administered in the US. Still, the outsized role of CVS and Walgreens in vaccine trashing is intriguing. One explanation for it is that the Trump administration relied heavily on these companies to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities, which presented unique challenges they were not prepared for. Anyway, if you still need a shot and want to be absolutely sure you’re not taking one from someone else, there is a super ethical option. Just build a time machine and hang out by Walgreens trash cans sometime around December 20.


Akilah Hughes: All right, get that, get that time machine together. Pour out a glass of water that has been recycled from human waste for the marriage of Bill and Melinda Gates, which the couple announced was ending yesterday. In the Twitter post they wrote that the decision came after much hard work and thought, but added that, quote “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.” The two have been married for 27 years. During that time, their work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation served as the gold standard for billionaire philanthropy, and is a great influence on global public health efforts. Bill himself is worth about $124 billion, and of that fortune, the three Gates children are set to inherit a meager ten million dollars each. With some simple math, we can see that the amount of money that divorce lawyers have to divvy up between Bill and Melinda equals approximately two countries worth of money.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, man, those poor kids, how are they ever going to get on in life with just that 10 million?


Akilah Hughes: I don’t know. What their new step-mom, Akilah. [laughs] And those are the headlines.


Akilah Hughes: Exciting news, the season premiere of America Dissected season 3 just dropped. In this new season, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed sits down with scientists, culture makers and policy leaders to discuss topics like mental health, climate change and new scientific discoveries. Guests will include Representative Cori Busch, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and more. Listen to new episodes of America Dissected every Tuesday. Subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you’d like show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, marry us if you’re Bill or Melinda Gates, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re in reading, and not just time travel theories focused on retrieving vaccines 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 May the Forth be with you!


Akilah Hughes: You know, we say this every year, one day May the 5th will be with us. How about that?


Gideon Resnick: It will, if we dream hard enough and George Lucas allows it, I mean, most importantly.


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.