In This Episode
Abdul and Guest Host Tre’vell Anderson answer everything you wanted to know (and maybe didn’t know you wanted to know) about public health, COVID-19, and the year ahead.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Hey friends, welcome back. Happy New Year. I hope you’ve had a fantastic holiday. As you all know, this is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. We’re doing things a little bit differently today. Joining us today is Tre’vell Anderson, host of Crooked Media’s What A Day podcast and guest host with me today, We’ll be sharing in a conversation that features all of the questions that you’ve asked and a little bit more about the pandemic, where we’re headed, and about the foundational basis of public health. I hope you enjoy.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right, Tre’vell Anderson is an award winning journalist, social curator and world changer who always comes to slay. Tre’vell, thank you for slaying on our pod.
Tre’vell Anderson: Thanks for having me. I’m excited for our conversation today.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well thank you again for making it. So this episode is going to be a little bit different than you’re used to. We wanted to have a conversation where Tre’vell is going to serve as the voice of the audience. So we’re going to share a conversation today and they’re going to read some questions to me. I’m going to read some questions to them. But most of all, we’re going to share a great conversation about this pandemic, where we are right now, about public health and about where we go from here.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m excited to get into all of the COVID, Omicron, O-micron. I don’t know how you say it. I say O-micron,
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how to how to pronounce that letter until I had to talk about it on CNN. And so I was like, All right, I googled, how do you say this? So I think there’s two approaches. One is Omicron and the other one is Ah-micron. But like, I’m not Greek, that’s the thing. We’re like the other side, my family is from the other side of the Mediterranean so, uh . . .
Tre’vell Anderson: They make me say over on What A Day, they make me say Ah-micron. But I’m country, I’m from South Carolina so my default is O-micron. But you know, I’m working through that.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I agree, like it should be O-micron, right? I mean, if you’re going to put an i in that word, it’s O-micron, right? Otherwise, just like, you know, transliterate it a different way.
Tre’vell Anderson: Valid point. Valid point.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Our episode is going to look a little bit different than usual. We really wanted to set up a conversation to really bring out the questions that folks have about where we are in the pandemic, what public health is doing about it, and where we go from here. And I thought, who better to have this conversation than Tre’vell, who’s been covering this on our partner podcast What A Day and so was really engaged in this conversation day to day, but also sets up a conversation where they and I can really have a conversation about where we go from here and what we know, what we don’t and where we go. All right. Tre’vell, you ready?
Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s do it.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You want to go, you want to ask the first question.
Tre’vell Anderson: First question: you know, I feel like we’ve been at this thing for three years, it feels like there’s so much still up in the air, but like, did anyone see this pandemic coming down the road and they could have given us, you know, a little heads up?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, you know, here’s the thing, they both saw it coming and didn’t see it coming. Here’s what I mean by that. We’ve been getting warnings from the public health professionals who track these things for decades now that it was really only a matter of when and not if, that we should be vigilant and be ready. Well there’s a unique thing about humanity where we’re really good at ignoring imminent threats, right? We just, we always kick them off another day. Take, climate change, it’s a perfect example of this.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And the problem is, is because nobody could name exactly what the virus was going to be, where it was going to show up, or when it made kicking the can down the road a lot easier. And so we’ve been disinvesting in public health and the tools that we needed to be able to fight this pandemic for decades now. If you look in particular during the Great Recession, we saw the greatest disinvestment in state and local public health that we’ve seen in a long time, in large part because of the austerity that defined that period. And so the hard part about public health is you’re like, Listen, we got to be ready for the next threat? They’re like, Well, the next threat hasn’t come for a long time, why do we think there’s going to be a next threat? And like, Well, these really smart people who’ve been studying this stuff tell us that there’s going to be a next threat. And they’re like, Well, I don’t see it coming, so why don’t we draw down? And so we’ve been disinvesting and disinvesting and disinvesting, and that’s left us flat-footed when it comes to this particular pandemic. So we had seen it coming, but we couldn’t name when, we couldn’t name if. The hard part, right, is that, you know, if you’re sitting here saying, Look, it’s coming, it’s coming – and it hasn’t come yet, you always look like a Cassandra until it actually comes. In which case, right, you don’t want to be right about these things. That’s the problem with being an epidemiologist. I’ll be honest with you, Tre’vell, the worst thing about being an epidemiologist is that you actually never know, you actually never know when it’s coming and when you’re right, everybody is upset about it. And when you’re wrong, nobody takes you seriously. So it’s, it’s a no-win situation as it goes. I want to ask you, how has COVID been for you? Walk me through the dynamics of your experience of the pandemic.
Tre’vell Anderson: You know, it has been a journey. I’ll say it that way, it has been a journey. I think much like everyone else, just having kind of the, my everyday schedule up-ended was a challenge at the beginning. Like staying home, not being able to go out and dip it and do it in the ways that I want to, right? Just, it just, it did not feel good. And now, almost three years later, it’s like, Wow, is this our new normal? Are we ever going back to that, that former world that we all enjoyed so much? And like, I feel like every day, especially now with Omicron and, you know, mask mandates are coming back and all these different things, right, it’s just like, Wow, we’re just going to be wearing masks until I die, is what it feels like.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s a painful thought. You know, I’ve got a-
Tre’vell Anderson: Isn’t it?! It is!
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I’ve got a four-year old and it’s hard to believe but like most of her life has been in this pandemic. Like she’s really good at reading eye’s because half the time she can’t even tell if somebody is like actually smiling, like in their mouth.
Tre’vell Anderson: Oh my god.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So like, really good at just reading eyes and you know, whether or not someone smiling or glaring behind the mask. And I’m like, you know, I guess that’s a good thing, but also, you shouldn’t have to do that, right? Because, you know, I drop her off to preschool and every kid’s got a mask, every teacher’s wearing a mask and that’s just not normal. At the same time, I’m really glad that they do that at her school. It’s really important, particularly given that she’s not yet old enough to be able to receive a vaccine. So, you know, it is a weird world in which that we’re living and where we’ve gotten somewhat accustomed to this like new normal where everything’s done on Zoom and you can’t really see and touch people.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And you know, I think it’s also been hard, the ways that, like all of the conversation around vaccines and masks have, just like, in my words, revealed the true colors of a lot of people, you know? Whether it’s family members or friends who, you know, don’t believe in science.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: Or, you know, and it’s just like, Wow! Like, I had all of this respect for you at one point in time and wow, you are just ignorant, right? Or, like, and some people, I do want to say some people have, you know, legitimate earned skepticism of like the medical establishment, especially Black folks, OK? We do. However, it’s just like at this point, like we said, almost now three years into this, to still be on the anti-vax train, it’s just, it’s, I just, you know, sometimes I just want to, you know, shake somebody into consciousness really quickly. But you can’t do that. You can’t put your hands on people. It’s like, that’s how I’m like just dealing with and navigating this moment. And I guess I want to ask you, like, how are we going into year three of this? We are the United States, we’re supposed to be so advanced, to have all of these resources and all of that, but like you’re three, now Omicron seems to be like, you know, really unsettling so much. Not to mention what’s happening, right, in the international sector, right? Where the vaccination rates aren’t where ours are. But like, how are we still going at this three years in when we’re supposed to have like the best medical situation and stuff like that?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, my friend, that’s a really, really, really good question. And it is a tragic and frustrating condemnation of a couple of things. The first is that, you know, we are the richest, most powerful country in the world. And for a long time, we had thought that when there was this kind of threat that it would bring us together, but that happened in the context where we had recently elected someone who understood that division is a very powerful way to gain power, particularly when you’re playing to the racism and grievance of a population that feels that their cultural dominance for a very long time is under threat. And that person decided that, that he wanted to politicize this pandemic in a way that was, that could not be undone. And so almost everything that came after it was seen in a political light. And of course, you know, for him, his incentives were to politicize it in a way that denied its very existence, which meant that there was an implicit denial of all of the things that we needed to do to protect ourselves from it. And early on that meant doing things like wearing masks or quarantining and isolating, or investing in contact tracing and being willing to participate in the collective goods that are the fundamentals of public health. And we all thought that after we’d failed on that, that our technical capacity, right, our prowess in science, research and development was going to save us, that we were going to be able to innovate our way out of this and once we had developed a vaccine that was safe and effective, that it was only a matter of time until everybody did the obvious thing, got vaccinated and moved out. But it turns out that the oldest technology is probably public trust, right? It’s the thing that civilizations are built out of. You know, you can’t trust the public, you can’t trust public institutions, then at some point the whole thing kind of collapses. And the reality of it is that public trust has been eroded so deeply that it has defeated our capacity to get this technology, this lifesaving technology, this, you know, marvel of medical science out to people. And we’re now in a situation where we’re only about 60% of our population has been vaccinated. And so what that means is that there are many, many pockets of people in whom every new variant gets to enrich itself. And then there’s the point where unfortunately, we have not understood the lesson that we are in fact, in a global pandemic, which means that we cannot only act locally. We must act globally. And we have in so many ways failed to do what it takes to vaccinate the whole globe. And so you continue to see new variants emerging in communities all over the world where either there is little access to vaccines, or the slowness with which we’ve moved vaccines has allowed misinformation and disinformation to creep in faster to cut public trust in vaccines. In particular, right, we don’t quite know where Omicron emerged, but we do know that it enriched itself first in South Africa, and in South Africa, right, only about 35% of people are fully vaccinated. And that is not a function of the fact that they don’t have vaccine in South Africa, it’s a function of the fact that people don’t want to take it. But to your point, earlier Tre’vell the point that you made about the earned skepticism of medical science in the Black community, that ports to South Africa, where, by the way, they were dealing with a serious pandemic not 20 years ago, and that was the HIV pandemic. We don’t call it a pandemic, right, because the people whom it infected, whether here or abroad, were people that our society implicitly or explicitly marginalizes, whether you’re talking about members of the LGBTQ community or you’re talking about Black folk. And so when our companies kept lifesaving antiretroviral medications away from South Africans who were struggling under the weight of the HIV pandemic, right, it said something to people about how we value their lives. And it wasn’t until the patents on those medications were finally let go of and waivers were finally given so that in South Africa, they could manufacture their own antiretrovirals, that people trusted them. And we’re seeing history repeat itself, not two decades later. And so the impact of systemic racism and marginalization, it continues to hurt people and it also comes back and reverberates and hits us. And so, you know, this is a truly global pandemic, and you know, the fact of the matter is you, as you as an individual or as a collective may look down on others or marginalize others or or hold back resources from others, but the same virus that can infect them can infect you. And in some respects, COVID has demonstrated that none of us, right, no matter how much resource that you think you have, none of us is is truly immune. And yet, and yet, the people who suffered worst have tended to be the people who are most marginalized in our society or abroad.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Oh, Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. I want to ask you, what’s still keeping you up at night? What are you still really worried about most when it comes to coping right now?
Tre’vell Anderson: I think the main thing that I’m worried and concerned about is just the uncertainty, right? Like, you know, I am vaccinated, fully vaccinated. I got my boster shot and everything and yet we’re still, you know, the breakthrough cases, I think, are concerning for a lot of people, right, who are, who want to be out and about, who want to have some semblance of normalness to their holiday season. You know, right now, all of the holiday parties are happening. Folks want to go out. And I think a lot of it is like, even if you are vaccinated, even if you are boosted, I think for me, it has been worrisome just to be in shared space with people again, whether that’s your family, whether that’s your friend group, whether that’s going out to a concert or whatever, I’ve had just a lot of uncertainty about doing that. Even as I see everybody else doing it and being fine after the fact, it’s just something that I still haven’t yet been able to like quite shake. Any time I do go out and do something, I have to just put that kind of thought to the wayside, put it in the back of my head and not let it like, you know, impede me. So I think that’s the main thing is just the uncertainty and, you know, having to allow this all to unfold as it will unfold and really not being able to, like have any control over it, it seems.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, that feeling of helplessness and the lack of knowledge about when it’s all going to end I feel like it’s such a cause for anxiety about this moment. And you never really know who has been vaccinated, who could be carrying the virus. At the same time, I hope, you know, I hope that you take some comfort in knowing that you made a really good set of decisions three times to get to get vaccinated, because that’s the most important thing that we can do. I sort of think about personal COVID protection as getting dressed to go out in the snow. I know that’s not something, you know, if you’re from South Carolina, you did very often when you’re a kid but growing up here in Michigan, I’ll tell you, you know, keeping yourself warm is about layers, right? You put on that thermal underwear, then you put on, you know, that sweater, then you put on that coat, you put on your gloves and your hat and your scarf, and in that three-dose boost that you’ve gotten, that three doses of vaccine, that’s like the coat. If you’re going to go out in the cold, the last thing you should forget is your coat. You’re not gonna wear thermal underwear fine. I mean, if you really just want to put your coat on like bare-chested? Fine, right? But at least wear your coat, right? I can imagine, I actually remember my mother yelling at me, particularly about those things. And so, you know, you’ve done the thing that is the most important, right? You’ve put on that coat. And in the end, it’s the best way to protect yourself and also protect others from what you potentially could be carrying, right? And that like, that’s the other part of this. I wish folks understood that like, you are doing a public service when you choose to get vaccinated because you’re not just protecting yourself, you’re protecting others from you, and you’re protecting the community by putting up one more barrier that the virus has to go through to be able to spread. And then the next thing is the mask, right? Like, it’s the, that’s the sort of next the next biggest, most important thing. That being said, I don’t know if you saw this article in The Atlantic about someone, someone wrote about that most people in their community treat, COVID like it’s over. And did you, did you read that article by chance?
Tre’vell Anderson: I didn’t read that article, but like I said, I’m from South Carolina, my mom still lives in South Carolina, and it’s like I went to go visit a number of months ago and it’s like COVID is not happening. My mother has been going to work every single day since all of this foolishness went down, and she’s vaccinated and she wears her mask and she’s a germophobe period, so she’s cleaning everything anyway. But like, it is absurd how different it is from here in L.A., for example, where generally people seem to be wearing masks, getting vaccinated, etc. to go to someplace like South Carolina, where they’re, overall just don’t seem to care.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We’ll be back with more of my conversation with guest host Tre’vell Anderson after this break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: We’re back with more of my conversation with guest host Tre’vell Anderson.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It is profoundly frustrating because the sad truth of it is that there’s a thing that we, there’s a trick that we play on ourselves, which is that, you know, we only ever really see our own experience. And it’s a relatively recent thing that we can actually collectively measure experiences like, yeah, I think about the ability to, you know, collect data that is actually reliable over time. It’s a pretty new thing in human societies. So we’re not really all that great at engaging with empirics and, you know, broader numbers. But, you know, if you don’t want to do a thing to protect yourself from a risk that is out there, it’s easy to just ignore the risk and to say that those collective numbers are lying to you because it hasn’t happened to you yet. And I worry that, you know, you do that enough times, in the end, it is the reason why we’re now nearing up on 800,000 people who’ve died of this disease. And the only moment when people really engage with the truth of it is when it’s too late. Like, Oh, it has happened to me now, right? And I worry a lot about what that says about our ability to take on other broad collective kinds of challenges, climate change being the obvious one, right? Because like, if people aren’t willing to take a vaccine that clearly definitively protects them from a virus that they know is out there because at least they’ve heard the stories of friends and neighbors getting sick, what does it mean for people deciding to, you know, curtail their carbon footprint or, you know, rethink the way that we provide ourselves energy? Of course, you know fossil fuels are out because they’re cheap and easy to be able to protect ourselves from a bad thing that could happen. And, you know, given the tragic tornadoes that tore through the Middle West this past weekend, it is a reminder that just because you don’t see it coming doesn’t mean that it won’t come, right? And so it really is just a sad sort of space of mind that we’ve all, you know, many of us have chosen to occupy.
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s super sad, but at the same time, it makes me want to ask then like is, is there any hope, right? Is there something that we should be holding on to considering how sad the circumstances seem to be to like, keep us going or push us through this next year?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Tre’vell, thank you for bringing the hope. I appreciate you. I, look there’s a lot to bring us hope. The first is that, you know, the nature of this is that this virus in the long term is interested in spreading itself, but doesn’t really quite care if it makes us sick. It really doesn’t. And the early evidence, and I still say early, and I don’t want folks to take what I’m about to say and be like, Eh, it’s not that serious, Abdul said so. No. It’s still serious, but we’re seeing a trend toward less severity, right? Omicron seems to be causing less severe illness than, than Delta did, certainly. And that’s a, that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t hang my hat on it, right? And you still should be putting your coat on and putting those gloves and that hat on, but it is, it is important. And then the other part of this is that every time a new variant rips through society, it leaves a lot of acquired immunity in its wake. And as that happens, more and more people, right, will become functionally, even in the short term, immune, which reduces the capacity for the next one and the next one, right. And so all of our hopes are that we are going to get to this point where this virus moves to become endemic, meaning it’s no longer pandemic, meaning that it looks like it’s seasonal and so this is something that will continue to have to contend with, but it’s not going to be the fundamental pillar upon which we make decisions in our lives anymore. And I know that, you know, folks have been listening to folks like me say that for a long time and they’re like, Yeah, but they just keep, we keep getting all these new variants. It’s going to be variant after variant, we’re going to work through the Greek alphabet, they’re going to move to the Arabic alphabet and I’ll know how to pronounce those ones. But, but I assure you that this is how these things work. And let’s not forget it, right, the last major pandemic that humanity faced was the 1918 flu pandemic, and it lasted right around three years. Right? And so these things unfortunately run their course. And here’s the, here’s the tragic thing, it didn’t have to be this bad, but looking to the future, my hope is that, that as this moves to endemic, we can start getting more and more of our lives back. But here’s the hard part, right, like, people always use an analogy of war for this pandemic, and it’s just not the best analogy, because the thing about a war is like it ends with a treaty, right? There’s like a bang, right? It’s like, All right, it’s over, war’s over. It’s not going to be like that. This is, this is going to end slowly, right? It’s just going to take less and less mind space, justifiably so. And we’re going to get more and more of our lives back, and there are going to be parts of our lives that are going to kind of stay where they were just because we all kind of decided that, you know sweat pants are great.
Tre’vell Anderson: Sweat pants are amazing. I’ve also been selling a lot of friends that like, I think even when this all is over, I probably will still wear a mask on a plane. You know, being in that confined area with all of those people, I probably should have been wearing a mask from the beginning. You know, so like there are some, you know, things that I’m sure we’ll still be taking with us after this is all over.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Some learnings. I mean, like, honestly, if you, if you travel in East Asia, wearing masks in large, congested public spaces, is a pretty normal thing. You know, we don’t do it here, but it’s a pretty normal thing and it’s not inadvisable, right? I mean, it’s a, it is a helpful tool to make sure that the air that you breathe and the air that others breathe from you is filtered. I mean, that’s what it is, the filter on your face, so . . .
Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Let’s move to some questions from the audience. A lot of these are quite technical, so I’m going to refer to Tre’vell and they’re going to ask the questions. Sound good?
Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s do it. The first one I’m going to read out comes from Larissa. It says: If I have the Pfizer booster, how safe am I seeing someone who is unvaccinated, and how safe are they?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So from what we understand, per the limited evidence that exists right now is that people who are boosted have the same antibody response to Omicron that people who had had two shots had to garden-variety COIVD. And so it is not the most advisable thing, you know, to be interacting in close quarters with somebody who is not vaccinated simply because their risk is potentially much higher of carrying. And it’s probably not going to be Omicron, at least at this point, it’s probably going to be Delta. But they’re a lot safer interacting with you than they would have been interacting with someone else who is unvaccinated. So my recommendation is that, you know, if that’s the circumstance, if you can be outside, that’s better and if you can wear a mask, that’s better still. But from what we understand, you know, being triple vaxxed when it comes to Omicron was like being double vaxxed when it came to garden variety COVID.
Tre’vell Anderson: Hmm. OK. And so it’s the holiday season, folks are traveling home, folks are having parties and whatnot. Should folks be concerned about other people’s vax status, you know, if they’re coming over to their home or going to their home? What should people be thinking in your mind about that?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I would say if you’ve got vulnerable people who, you know, at this point, I’d say anybody over the age of 65 even if they’ve been triple vaxxed, and certainly children who cannot be vaccinated, so under the age of five, I would be a bit concerned and I actually I think it would be OK for you to say, you know, are you vaccinated? And one opportunity here, obviously, you can’t, you know, everybody’s social circumstances are different. You’re not just going to tell people they can’t come to your house. So one approach here might be rapid antigen testing. It’s a really helpful way to, you know, to make sure that somebody is negative just before they enter into a space. But you know, the important thing is, you know, it should be a pretty, a pretty recent test. Ideally, it’d be, you know, before we leave, we’re going to all test and then we’re going to meet at someone’s home. Doing it the day before, or, you know, even earlier in the day of, it’s just there’s more time in which somebody could have been infected. So that’s one approach to doing that. And obviously, you know, we’re trying to avoid not just getting COVID, but also creating too much drama in our families, and so that might be one way to just say, Look, everybody’s going to take a rapid antigen test before we all get together. And that way we know that we’re doing this safely and we’re not going to turn this into a superspreader event.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And many, many of those tests you can now get at like CVS or Walgreens or something like that. So it’s a lot more accessible than testing was, you know, a year ago.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s absolutely right. That’s absolutely right. And the Biden administration has pushed forward an executive order which requires insurance companies to reimburse. There had been some holdup there, but it’s rather certain that that’s going to move forward. So just make sure you hold on to those receipts.
Tre’vell Anderson: Now, you mentioned earlier that you have a young child. Yohanna asks advice for parents of kids under age two who can’t get vaccinated, even though the parents themselves are fully vaccinated and boosted.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, it’s a hard situation to be in, right? You know, our little one, Emini, is in that position. She’s four. And the good news is that we’re hoping for late quarter one or early quarter two to have some evidence from clinical trials on younger children. So you know, they may be next up to get vaccinated, which is great news. But for now, the most important tool you have is a mask. I know that’s really hard, particularly for the youngest kids. You know, the good news with my kids, she’s four, she can keep it on reliably, understands why she needs to wear it, has a good sense of that. But there was a lot harder early on in the pandemic when she was two and just didn’t, could not keep it on. The rapid testing approach is a really helpful one. And then, you know, keeping outside depending upon where you are in the country, and then from there, social distancing. The good news is that, you know, this virus has been relatively less likely to make younger children ill, although there is some evidence from Omicron now that the, though the probability of hospitalization among children who are younger than five is still quite low. It is a bit higher for Omicron than it has been for other variants, and so that is still something to keep in mind. And, you know, I know that that’s really quite limiting for families. I know it because I’ve lived it. But that’s the way to be thinking about it, is, you know, can we have our kid wear a mask? Can we have other people wear masks around our kid? Can we make sure that we’ve swabbed everyone when we all get together? And can we make safer choices around maybe staying outside or potentially maybe forgoing a social interaction where our kid could be exposed?
Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely. All right, we’ve got a question here representing the Johnson & Johnson hive, and they asked: with O-micron us J&J’ers feel right back at risk again. Any insight on another booster for the Johnson & Johnson folks?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, for right now, the most important thing is make sure you get boosted and I would get boosted with one of the other mRNA-based vaccines, whether that’s Pfizer or Moderna. We’re still waiting on evidence around what protection folks who’ve had a J&J and then an mRNA-based vaccine, what protection they have against Omicron. But until then, I would sit tight and wait further for their response. We’re just, the evidence is still not out yet. We still don’t have those studies available as of December 14th, when we’re taping this.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, and then speaking of someone else asked about the effect COVID has had on mental health and addiction. Any sense of what that impact might be? I know there’s been a lot of conversations about, just like a lot of people have been going through things during this pandemic. I don’t know if it’s manifested into actual studies yet or not.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It has, and unfortunately, they’re rather devastating. We know that the risk of opioid overdose in particular when it comes to substance use is up about 30%, and that is the highest we’ve ever experienced in this country. We know that rates of mental illness, in particular anxiety and depression are also way up. And particularly for young people for whom this pandemic has robbed them of milestones and opportunities, a you talked about Tre’vell, right the opportunity to sort of live your life as a young person, take advantage of all the things that you can do as a young person that you know, create the memories that you take with you as you, you grow older, those opportunities that, you know, youth is fleeting. And so it has been particularly hard on young people. The key thing I would say, you know, is, you know, if you’re feeling, you know, a particular kind of way and have thoughts of hurting yourself, the key thing is to visit the suicide hotline. It’s available. And I know, you know, in, during the holidays, it can be particularly challenging. That hotline is one 800 273 8255. Again, that’s 1 800 273 8255. And then, you know, there are a lot of sources of support. And I do think that if you’re feeling, you know, down or like, you just don’t want to do the things that you usually want to do or you’re feeling just a lot of anxiety, it’s really important to get help. And if you’re not feeling those things, then don’t hesitate to reach out to people because you know, a lot more folks are feeling those things than have been and so it’s just really, really important to take care of ourselves. Obviously, you know, even if you do take care of yourself, it doesn’t make the pandemic go away, but it does help you cope with the pandemic. And that’s really important. Tre’vell, you know, in folks that you may community with and you know, who you’re close to, have you noticed an uptick in mental illness and folks just not feeling great about their circumstances?
Tre’vell Anderson: Definitely. I mean, I think a lot of my friends, you know, we speak openly about like being in depressive states, just, you know, looking at the ways of the world, not being able to go out and meet people, being hesitant to hug people. And I know for myself, like I got into therapy throughout this journey of the pandemic because it was, listen, it was, it was a struggle for me at the beginning. OK? But you’re right that, you know, therapy has been a great tool for me to figure out ways to cope, to figure out ways to kind of manage not only kind of the work stuff and the pandemic stuff, but also just like life as it is now. And so availing ourselves of any of these many tools, and I like to also, you know, remind younger folks, college students in particular that like, you know, go to the counseling services folks on your campus, right? One, make them earn they check, but two, they’re there to help you, they’re there to help you work through some of these, you know, unique issues that you might be facing and dealing with. And so therapy, other forms of support, I am a big proponent of that.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, I really appreciate you sharing that. You know, Sara, who is a college psychiatrist, would really appreciate you sharing that too. So that’s right. You know, if you’re on campus, those resources are there for you. They’re available for you. So please take advantage of them. And you know, there are resources available elsewhere as well. And so please, if you’re feeling down, if you’re feeling, you know, not quite yourself, it’s important to get help. And you know, this is an investment in yourself, right? It’s an investment in your well-being. And you know, there is a lot to look forward to as we talked about, but you know, you want to be ready for it. And so it’s really important to get help now. What else you got, Tre’vell?
Tre’vell Anderson: All right. We’ve got another question here, a couple of questions that folks have about anti-vaxxers. And so I’m going to combine two into one question, which is: someone wants to know how do you go about changing the minds of folks who are anti-vaxxers? And another person is interested in knowing like, what’s the best way to combat or counter all of the conspiracy theories that are out there? I think earlier in the pandemic, they were saying that there were like 5G strips in the masks, right? Or that your jab, you know, they’re putting a tracking device in your jab, you know, all of these absurd things that folks have been kind of proliferating on the internet, how do you come in push back against some of that?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You know, I wish there were 5G strips in my mask, that’d be amazing. I have like, really good, really good service everywhere. I often, you know, I think sometimes we have a really broken stereotype of how conversations that are meaningful go. Like we think sometimes that someone’s going to be spouting off some absurd conspiracy theory and that you’re going to save the day with a rightly-timed correction, and then folks are going to be like, Thank you Tre’vell for showing me the truth, I deeply appreciate that, I was\, I was in a bad way and then you educated me, and now I know, right? That’s just not how it works. And I think that sometimes we’ve got to disabuse ourselves of that stereotype in order to actually have what meaningful conversations look like. And any meaningful conversation I’ve ever had about a hard thing when, yes, this is going to be a hard conversation, right, people who hold on to these conspiracy theories, they hold on to them for a lot of different reasons and because of how heated this conversation has become, they know they’re trading off a lot to hold on to them. And so every conversation I’ve ever had like this has to start from a place of empathy, which is to say, Hey, I want you to understand why I care about you. Like I want you to know that I love you, I care about you, and I want to have this conversation even though it’s hard because I care about you, and I want to understand where you’re coming from and what’s not, not just informing what you think, but what you feel. And I think if we get folks to share what they feel, then it’s a lot easier to say, well, you know, here’s – first, I want to validate your emotions. I understand why you feel a particular kind of way, but that doesn’t entitle you to your own truth, right? That entitles you to your feelings. And you’re entitled your feelings but that doesn’t change the fact that science is science and here’s where we are and here’s why what you’re saying is not true and here’s what the truth is. And then leave it there, right? People are going to push back and there and say, Well, you’re imbibing all this crazy stuff from the media, you believe that, you haven’t even done your own research. And you’re like, OK, but I want you to understand, right, that all of these claims that you’re making are demonstrably false and science is a process, and you can go and take a look at it yourself. I hope that you will. And then slowly but surely keep coming back to it, right? Keep validating how folks feel, but also pushing back on their illogic and their unfortunate misinformation. In the public space, right, the mistake that we often make is that we inadvertently share disinformation when we’re trying to push back on disinformation. And so the most important thing when you see something absurd: don’t share it. Right?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Instead, say what you’re for, right? Push back with the truth. And so don’t make yourself an inadvertent sharer of disinformation in trying to push back on it. Tre’vell, you know, you’re a journalist and you’ve covered a lot of this on What A Day. What do you recommend to folks as you think about pushing back on mis- and disinformation?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Well, I love what you said about kind of those personal one-on-one conversations with your loved ones, with people that are in your community, and recognizing and affirming the skepticism, the feelings that they have about, you know, whatever the circumstance may be, but then also providing the proper information. It is a difficult conversation. It is hard. I have a family member who was peddling some of those conspiracy theories, and she did not stop even, you know, despite all of the information, proper information that she was receiving, she didn’t stop peddling that information until she got COVID. And, you know, she did no she did not die from COVID, but she was close, you know? And I hate that it took that, like, it had to go that far for her to come to whatever realization that she needed. But I think it is important for us as individuals to remember that like, you know, all we can do is share the proper information. All we can do is affirm the skepticism, the feelings, the uncertainty that members of our community have, and do our best to bring them to the light, as they say, in the Black church. But recognizing that like you’re not going to be able to to convince everyone, you know? There are some people who will need to get COVID and be on a ventilator before they believe, you know, that they need to get vaccinated. And that’s, you know, their choice. They can do what they feel like they need to do for themselves. But I think we as individuals can’t, you know, harp on or shoulder too much of that burden. If you’re doing and providing the proper information, I think that’s the way to go about it. And then in the public sphere, I think your point about making sure that you’re not spreading disinformation unintentionally, is a really good thing. I make sure that like, you know, I’m not sharing nothing unless I am clear that, like, you know, is linked back to the CDC or the FDA, you know, the people who get paid to make these decisions who went to school all these many years to be, you know, legitimate in terms of their reads and perspectives on those things. I think as a journalist, I’m all about media literacy. I’m all about verifying and fact checking as an individual. And that includes from, you know, the mainstream publications as well. And I think if we all become a little bit more vigilant about doing that, then we’ll get to a space where a lot more folks are equipped to challenge and push back on, you know, some of the foolishness that we hear out there.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I really appreciate that. I’m really sorry about your experience with your loved one. That’s really painful, but grateful that they, that they recovered. And also glad that their experience actually informed the way that they think about this moving forward. That’s a really hard thing to go to for you and them. Tre’vell, I want to thank you so much for coming on the pod today, guest hosting with me. It was just so, so nice to make community together and to come across these shows. We had a, we’re going to call it What A Dissected. Gives a whole new, whole new meaning to WAD. But just really, really grateful for you, your insights, your perspective and you know, your good humor and joy. I hope that you have a fantastic holiday and just really grateful again for your time.
Tre’vell Anderson: Thank you so much for having me. Call me back any time.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s it for today. On your way out, if you haven’t already rated, reviewed and shared our show, please do. And if you love the show, I hope you’ll drop by the Crooked Media store for some America Dissected drip. We’ve got our logo mugs and t-shirts, our Science Always Wins t-shirts, sweatshirts, and dad caps, and our Safe and Effective tees. 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, Lyra Smith, and Ari Schwartz. The theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.