Dr. Vin Gupta on the Pandemic, Gun Violence, and More
Part of a Series
This week, physician and health policy expert Dr. Vin Gupta joins Daniella to discuss some of today’s most pressing public health issues, including access to gender-affirming care, the gun violence epidemic, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Daniella also revisits several highlights from the first two January 6 House Select Committee hearings and discusses the forthcoming and highly anticipated Supreme Court decisions.
Learn more about the podcast here.
Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. There are a lot of people out there making wild, uninformed claims about all kinds of things: gender-affirming care, mental health and gun violence, and especially the pandemic. So today, we have Dr. Vin Gupta on the pod to help us separate fact from fiction on each of these issues. But first, we’ve got to get to some news.
The January 6 hearings are officially underway. And as of this taping, we have had two of them. And I have to say, these hearings are super compelling. I know the committee put a lot of work into the presentation, even hiring a former TV news exec to produce them, and it’s paying off so far. They have been an engrossing and gut-wrenching look at the events on and around January 6, 2021. One of the most powerful pieces of testimony in my opinion has been from Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards, who was attacked and suffered a brain injury defending the Capitol building that day. Here she is describing the graphic scene she saw.
Caroline Edwards, testimony at the January 6 House Select Committee hearing: I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I’d seen out of the movies. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. You know, they were bleeding. They were throwing up. They were, you know, they had—I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood. You know, I was catching people as they fell. You know, it was carnage. It was chaos.
Gibbs Léger: Truly horrifying. In addition to the sobering reminder of how violent that day was, we’re getting vital, new information as well. We saw all kinds of new evidence that former President Donald Trump conspired to overturn the election with his MAGA supporters—an election that he knew he lost—and provoked the attack on the Capitol. We’re hearing former Trump aide after former Trump aide testify that everyone in his inner circle, including his campaign staff, his lawyers, his top cabinet officials, even his own family members, told him there was no basis to overturn the election. Instead, Trump decided to listen to a dwindling number of yes-men, like a drunk Rudy Giuliani, on election night, and Sidney Powell.
Here’s Bill Barr talking about one of their deranged conspiracy theories, that Dominion voting machines were somehow a source of widespread voter fraud.
Former Attorney General William Barr, video testimony aired at the January 6 House Select Committee hearing: And I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, “Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has, you know, lost contact with, he’s become detached from reality, if he really believed this stuff.” On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would, you know, tell him how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.
Gibbs Léger: Now, let’s be clear, Bill Barr is no savior. He may have said behind closed doors that there was no proof of widespread voter fraud, but he didn’t go public with that information until it was far too late. And of course, he’s one of the many former Trump officials who turned his story into a best-selling book, as he raked in cash while trying to save face. I do not like this man. So, whenever he talks about Trump’s election delusions, we should remind ourselves that he and all the other officials who knew that Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and the rest of these whack jobs were wrong about the election but did nothing to stop them are complicit for what we saw on January 6.
We also should not forget how absurd these allegations were. Here’s Eric Herschmann, one of Trump’s lawyers, from his deposition video, where he shared more details about how wild the delusions, lies, and conspiracies were that were being passed around in Trump’s inner circle by people like Rudy Giuliani and Peter Navarro.
Eric Herschmann, video testimony aired at the January 6 House Select Committee hearing: What they were proposing, I thought was nuts. It, as a theory, was also completely nuts. Right? I mean, it was a combination of Italians, the Germans. I mean different things had been floating around as to who was involved. I remember Hugo Chávez, and the Venezuelans. She has an affidavit from somebody who says they wrote a software, and something with the Philippine—just all over the radar.
Gibbs Léger: One of the real revelations from these hearings has been that the former president willfully chose to ignore reality and adopt whatever narrative would keep him in power. A federal judge on Monday put it really well. He called this quote, “a coup in search of a legal theory.” It was a conscious and deliberate attempt to invalidate millions of votes so that a wannabe dictator could illegitimately maintain power.
And we’ll continue to hear more shocking accounts of what transpired around January 6 in the coming days and weeks. Thursday afternoon, we’ll hear about the pressure campaign against the former Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results on January 6—an authority that the Vice President does not have, by the way—and we all remember what the consequences of this were. The insurrectionists set up a gallows outside of the Capitol and chanted, “Hang Mike Pence,” which Trump actually spoke approvingly about—the murder of his own vice president, like literally WTF.
All of these people knew what they were doing, and they must be held accountable. We can’t let January 6 become a dress rehearsal for future efforts to subvert our democracy and sabotage free and fair elections. I’m sure if you listen to this podcast, you’re already aware of that. But we need to keep watching and sharing these testimonies and findings. I am very interested to see what else is unearthed at the remaining hearings.
Now we’ve got to talk about the Supreme Court because we are about to get some decisions handed down that will very likely reveal just how much this institution has become an instrument for right-wing MAGA extremism, thanks to the conservative supermajority. Obviously, there’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health [Organization], the case where we expect SCOTUS to overturn Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortion. And if you’ve listened to recent episodes of this podcast, you’ll know that this is just the start of a concerning push to try and roll back unenumerated rights, which include the right to abortion access, contraception, gay marriage, interracial marriage, and more. And yet, there are even more rights on the line with other upcoming Supreme Court decisions that we haven’t really spoken about yet, including rights to clean air, religious freedom, effective governance, and safety from gun violence.
So, let’s talk about a couple of cases that really show how out of step the radical ideological vision of the Supreme Court is with most Americans. In the case of New York State Rifle and Pistol Association [Inc.]—that’s right—v. Bruen, two New Yorkers were denied an unrestricted concealed carry license for failing to meet the quote, “proper cause” requirement. So, they partnered with a regional NRA group to file a suit claiming that this 108-year-old—that’s right, 108-year-old—commonsense gun law violates their Second Amendment rights, which is BS by the way. If the court agrees, carrying guns outside of the home will be interpreted as a constitutional right under the Second Amendment. This decision will also undercut gun safety measures by deeming quote, “proper cause” statutes like the one in New York unconstitutional. It’s astounding that this is being considered in the midst of a string of deadly and preventable mass shootings, one of which, sadly—but ironically—took place in Buffalo, New York. And it’s happening at the same time as the Senate is attempting to advance bipartisan gun reform, an important step, but one that doesn’t go nearly far enough to preventing gun violence in this country.
Another troubling case is West Virginia v. EPA. In this case, the court is questioning whether new limits should be imposed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to protect the public from greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. They’re looking at two clean power rules from the Obama and Trump administrations. If the court rules in the way most expect it will, it could hamper the ability of our government to issue clean energy rules that we know are so critically needed to stop climate change and keep us healthy. The fact that they’re even ruling on this is proof that the court has lost sight of its mission in service of MAGA Republican activism. They’re manipulating the judicial process to install right-wing judges who will push an extreme agenda that the American people do not want.
The train is veering off the tracks over at the Supreme Court, and in order to set it right, we need to depoliticize SCOTUS and restore trust. For starters, we need justices who will bring balance back to the court, like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. We also need ethics restrictions on sitting justices—and I’m looking at you Clarence Thomas, and your wife, the January 6 conspirator—as well as increased transparency into the court’s workings. And while we’re at it, Congress can and should impose 18-year term limits on Supreme Court justices. Finally, because we know MAGA Republicans will fight to make everything I just mentioned impossible—and this is why we can’t have nice things—we need lawmakers to write bills, agency rules, and executive orders that protect our rights and are hardened against potential interference from the right-wing, activist Supreme Court. And we need to make sure that voters remember what this moment feels like come November.
If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. And please let us know what you think of the show. You can rate and review us wherever you’re streaming from, and we really appreciate your feedback. Stick around for our interview with Dr. Vin Gupta in just a beat.
Gibbs Léger: Dr. Vin Gupta is a physician, professor, and health policy expert who spent 15 years working to improve public health for organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. As a regular health policy analyst for NBC News, and a contributor to The New York Times and CNN New Day, he shares evidence-informed perspectives on issues like U.S. health care reform, the effects of climate change on human health, and gun violence prevention.
Dr. Gupta, thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”
Dr. Vin Gupta: Oh, thanks for having me back.
Gibbs Léger: And you know, before I get into our questions, I just want to say that your presence on my TV during COVID was very, at times, scary, but always, you know, reaffirming. So, I really, on behalf of the millions of us who watched you on TV over the past two years, thank you so much for all of that work.
Dr. Gupta: Thank you.
Gibbs Léger: So, I have a lot that I want to ask you about today. But to start off with, it is Pride Month. And unfortunately, it’s also a time when many politicians are choosing to limit or outright ban access to gender-affirming care for transgender people, and in particular, transgender youth. As a doctor, what role does gender-affirming care play in the mental and physical health of transgender people and what happens when you take that access away?
Dr. Gupta: Well, first of all, being a physician means doing no harm. At its core, if you don’t know a diagnosis, if you don’t know what may be going on with your patient, that’s okay. A lot of us struggle sometimes to figure out what the right treatment course is. That’s part of the art of medicine is really trying to do a deep dive, make sure that you’re providing high-quality care that’s ideally low cost. And so, the art of medicine is trying to figure out what might be at the root of the problem. You’re diagnosing an ailment.
And yet, if you don’t even allow for that therapeutic relationship to occur because you’re unwilling to provide gender-affirming care, or you’re unwilling to receive a patient as they are and the way that they identify themselves, you don’t even allow the art of medicine to take effect. You don’t allow that cycle to play itself out. And so, without that trust, I mean, really, what’s happening here is you’re rupturing trust—that physician-patient trust—upfront before you even have a chance to go down a diagnostic pathway, to really help somebody. And so, if you don’t have that upfront trust, especially in this era of COVID—especially, hopefully as we’re coming out of it, at least for this temporary reprieve—what we’ve realized now more than anything is that trust is really top of mind for people when they think about their personal health, when they think about who they want to get health care assistance from. It’s really all about: Do you trust the person that’s giving you medical advice that might be prescribing you something? So, if they don’t receive you as you are, you can’t hope to actually have a therapeutic relationship.
Gibbs Léger: You know, it’s wild to me. You know, Republicans want to make lifesaving care impossible to access for vulnerable people, like we just discussed, you know, but it seems like we can’t at all make it a little bit harder to buy a gun in this country. And I know you’ve been quite outspoken about gun violence in the U.S. And it’s not an overstatement to say that gun violence is an epidemic, and it clearly poses public health risks. Gun violence is a leading cause of death among young people in this country. And we’ve heard harrowing accounts in recent weeks from pediatricians like Roy Guerrero, who testified before Congress last week about what it was like to treat children in Uvalde [, Texas,] who had been shot, and some killed, by assault weapons in particular. And it was just awful. So, could you speak to some of the impacts that this gun violence problem is having on our overall public health, including and beyond the tragic mass shootings that get the most attention, and in particular, the impacts on our youngest and most vulnerable people?
Dr. Gupta: It’s important to keep in mind that between the headlines on these awful mass shootings that we’re seeing too many of, that really, the epidemic of gun violence impacts young people through suicide. There’s a rising burden of mental health disorders: depression, bipolar disease, you name it. That has spiked in the era of COVID. And what we’ve seen as a result of rising incidents of these mental health illnesses and the inability to care for it proactively is that there’s been a spike in suicides, and suicides largely in the United States amongst adolescents—younger folks—occur through gun violence, people shooting themselves. And there is a direct link here. The fact that that is the nature of suicide here in the United States is because we have unrestrained access to guns. And so, guns, yes, they are causing these horrific incidents that draw national attention wherever they occur. They certainly cajole politicians who would otherwise not want to talk about this issue into at least having to have some type of discussion about it, as we just saw with this bipartisan deal that, I think, failed to meet the moment, but it’s a start. Besides that, there is this chronic issue of suicide, of gun-related suicide in young people that is the largest driver of self-harm, of suicides, in the country. Gun violence is the reason why suicides are an epidemic in the United States, especially among young people. And it’s because of easy access, there’s no doubt about it.
And just to emphasize a point you made earlier, about pediatricians speaking out about what happened Uvalde and what we’ve seen time and again, there is no place—I say this as a military physician and as an ICU doc in the civilian world—there is no place for an assault rifle, or an AR-15 type weapon, in civilian hands—just full stop. Individuals should be trained on it, and I’ve been trained on an M4 rifle here in my role with the Air Force. You have to go through safety training. You have to go through ethics training on how to properly use a weapon of war. You have to specifically know how to store it, when it’s appropriate to use, rules of engagement. I mean, there’s a code of ethics here, a code of responsibility that undergirds my ability to access that type of weapon and when to use it. And yet, that same set of rules does not apply to civilians. It makes no sense. And so, if we’re having an evidence-based dialogue, discussion on who should and should not access these types of weapons, we should really look to examples within law enforcement and military about how these types of weapons are actually utilized, and the training that goes into making sure that people know what they’re doing and how they’re deploying these types of weapons.
Gibbs Léger: And I want to touch on what you just mentioned, the Senate announcing a bipartisan gun safety framework that includes some reforms. And you know, you alluded to the fact that you don’t think it goes far enough. So, let’s talk about that. You know, are there evidence-based policies that aren’t in this framework that you would like to see implemented?
Dr. Gupta: Number one, I think we need to return to a time when we have a ban on civilian access to assault weapons or assault-style weapons. Back to the era of the 1990s when we had that in place, and what do we see? We saw mass shootings in the single digits. It was a rare occurrence. And what we’ve seen in the case of Australia, in the case of United Kingdom, is when you pursue a policy like that, and maybe even go so far as to do buybacks of weapons that are already out there in the community—there are several of these that are already out there in the community—that that reduces the risk for a mass shooting-type event to occur again. I mean, there is simple data out there proving time and time again that easy access to these weapons—the mass proliferation of them—is the biggest driver, and the biggest risk factor for this to occur again, a Uvalde to occur again. So that needs to be front and center in this debate. The Second Amendment is being distorted and has been distorted over the last several decades since the assault weapons ban was lapsed, to somehow justify broad access to these weapons when I don’t think that was the founders’ intent. So that’s number one.
Number two, a minimum age of purchase for an assault weapon is critical. If number one is not going to happen—if we’re not going to ban it outright, and I know the politics aren’t there—then at least a minimum age is critical to reduce the risk of something like this happening, since there does seem like there’s a pretty significant age correlation. I mean, I would like to see a world in which we have a ban on assault weapons, and then if people want it, if people want to access it for sport, then let’s follow the example of Japan, or India, or China frankly, which is: They don’t restrict access to it for sport, but you have to go to a hunting range, check it out, get proper training on safety, and then you don’t get to take it home with you. You don’t get to take that weapon home with you. You have to store it back at the hunting range. That type of model should, in many ways, address the criticisms of those who say, “Well, why do we have to have a broad stroke approach here? There’s people, law-abiding citizens who use these weapons every single day for sport. Why are we going to take it away from them?” I think there is a way around that that then meets their needs, their hobbies, and yet keeps people safe. But we are not having these types of discussions.
Gibbs Léger: No, we definitely are not. I’m hopeful that in the future we will have them, because these all are commonsense reforms to, I think, the majority of us. Now obviously, when we have a doctor, such as yourself, on the show, we are going to talk about COVID. So, to start, can you give us a sense of the landscape right now of cases, variants, and risk?
Dr. Gupta: You know, right now, we’re in a place that I think is the new normal, where cases are probably a lot higher than what you’re seeing on the cable news ticker at the bottom right of your screen, depending on the news channel that you watch. That number might be 50,000 daily cases, or 100,000 daily cases, but it’s probably just a fraction of what’s actually, truly happening in the communities that we live in. Because we know that we’re likely only reporting about a tenth of what’s actually happening. So, there’s probably a million cases of COVID, of omicron, being exchanged and transmitted across the country in any given day. That’s a safe bet. I know several people in my own inner circle that have tested positive, some of who’ve needed therapy, some of whom have been quite sick, even if they haven’t needed to go to the hospital. And this is a common story. I’m sure many of you that are listening in are nodding your head saying, “Yeah, that’s happened to me or to a loved one.” This is happening more and more across the country, more case transmission, especially as people’s protection against testing positive is decreasing over time—not their protection against ending up in the hospital, but their protection against testing positive, since that booster for many has been many months ago now.
So, we’re in a place where cases are, I think, very, very high, much higher than what we’re accounting for formally. And that’s to be expected, because that’s what a contagious respiratory virus like omicron is going to do. It’s going to transmit itself. And there’s not a lot that we can do short of mask mandates and, frankly, stay-at-home orders to really hope to contain that. And even then, it’s not going to be totally sufficient. What we’re seeing in the hospitals should be encouraging. It’s not perfect. It’s never going to be perfect, especially given how varied our views and perspectives are in the diverse country that we live in. And yet, we’re looking at about 300-ish deaths day over day. Again, that is, in my view, unacceptable. Two to 3,000 deaths a week, 10,000 deaths a month, feels unnecessary. That’s double—I mean, if you think about it, 10,000 deaths a month is actually double—what you would typically see in a bad flu season in the heart of December, January. So, we’re still seeing that as we’re entering warmer weather across the country.
So, you know, certainly COVID hasn’t gone away. I think we’ve accepted as a nation—our policymakers across all 50 states have accepted—this level of death. I mean, it’s pretty clear based on the policies that have been allowed to lapse, like mask mandates on planes, in local jurisdictions across the country, because hospitals, we think, can handle this. And it’s true. All the hospitals I work for, that my colleagues across the country [work for]—we share notes all the time—there isn’t an ICU really out there right now that’s overwhelmingly stressed. I’m not saying it isn’t happening somewhere, but most hospitals across the country right now are not experiencing COVID-related stress, which is a good thing.
So that’s the new normal now. I think it’s absolutely going to change come November, December, maybe even as early as Halloween, where colder weather plus the fact that we’re not as protected at the population level as we think we are. 40 percent of the country has received a booster. Those that are very high risk, many of those individuals, a third of those that are very high risk, 65 and older, have not even received one booster, much less the fourth shot. And then there’s still a third of American adults who haven’t gotten one shot of the vaccine. So, when you think about: Is there enough people out there? Are there enough folks that are vulnerable, come the winter season, that they will end up in the hospital—have a high risk of ending up in the hospital—to get exposed to the next subvariant of omicron? The answer is yes. And flu is going to come back, we fear, based on what we’re seeing in Australia right now. We fear the flu’s gonna come back in a big way. So, we’re experiencing a reprieve. We all deserve this reprieve right now. The hospitals are experiencing a reprieve, but that is going to be a different reality come November 1.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, I feel like the last two Thanksgivings have been like, “Alright, let’s get our time in now,” and then come December it’s like, “Alright, back in the home we go.” And I want to talk a little bit about, you know, the people who aren’t getting vaccinated. And the fact that we’re still fighting to increase vaccine confidence to get more people vaccinated. You know, like other than the complete denial of the existence of the pandemic, which we know exists, like, what’s driving vaccine hesitancy still and do you think a new non-mRNA vaccine like Novavax might affect any of these discussions, or is it something deeper than that?
Dr. Gupta: No, I think we all in public health—those of us who have been speaking to the public or are appointed health leaders—need to have a lot of humility to understand what we’ve done to contribute to this to some degree. I think now that it’s fair to say that the messaging on why you get vaccinated early on was, and remains, detrimental to why we have such a high proportion of adults who remain unvaccinated, not even one shot in. And part of it is this constant stream of news from pharmaceutical companies: Pfizer and Moderna saying, “Well, we’ve just tested the fourth shot, and what about the fifth shot and the sixth shot?” And it’s not hard to draw a line between, “Well, gosh, why are we needing all these shots?”, and people questioning the effectiveness or the quality of the vaccines themselves.
And part of the reason why I think this race to more boosters is misguided, for most of us, not all of us, but for most of us, is rooted in the ways in which we talked about the vaccines in the first place. I mean, with the CDC director and others in the front of the podium back in the spring of 2021, saying that the vaccines were a force shield against testing even positive for COVID-19, you could doff your mask and pretend like we’re all past the pandemic, that proved pretty rapidly to be wrong. There were many of us from the very beginning that focused on what the vaccines we knew would do really well and do well over time, which was keep you out of the hospital, prevent severe pneumonia. Turns out, they still do that. Turns out for many of us that are say less than 65 and without serious underlying medical conditions, two doses of the vaccine still provide fantastic protection against ending up in the hospital, even if you’re, say, a year out from that second dose. Most of us probably have gotten a third shot at this point. I’m assuming many of us that are listening have gotten at least that third shot.
But part of that has been the media narrative, the rush from leading health officials saying, “Yes, gotta get that third shot, because it’s going to protect you from testing positive. It’s going to bolster up your protection against ending up in the hospital.” But if we think about what we’ve done for so long with the flu vaccine, we get one shot of the flu vaccine every year. It decreases the risk we end up in the hospital with severe flu by only—what?—in a good year, 50 percent. And we’re okay with that. There’s no boost. Here, two doses of the vaccine 12 months out, still gives you 80-plus percent protection against ending up in the hospital. Yeah, you’re not protected all that great against testing positive or getting a sore throat. That’s true. But why is 80 percent suddenly not fantastic when we tolerate a much lower bar for the flu vaccine?
So again, a lot of this hesitancy in my view—kind of zooming back out—is based on the ways in which we’ve talked about the vaccines, their purpose, how we define success. And we’re constantly seemingly trying to strive for something that I think is misaligned with reality. We’re never going to bake in enough protection in the population to, one, keep everybody out of the hospital. And we’re never going to give somebody enough protection to prevent them from ever testing positive. But if you’ve tracked closely the messaging, the messaging has focused on that goal. Boost to lower your chances of testing positive—at least that was the initial approach. And that approach, I think, ultimately was harmful because now people are saying, “Well gosh, why do I need more shots if I’m still protected against severe pneumonia?” And the answer is: You don’t.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, definitely. You know, it’s not just an American problem. There’s other, you know, across the country people—I mean, across the world—people saying things like, “Well, you’re vaccinated, and you guys are spreading the virus, so like maybe, like, I’m not gonna go ahead and do it.” And I’ve had to deal with that in my own family, as well. It’s been not great. Let’s move to something that maybe is a little bit better. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that we get a vaccine for kids under five years old approved as soon as this week. Can you talk about why it’s taken so long for this group to get an approved vaccine? And, you know, how do you think we’re going to do on the rollout based on what you’re seeing?
Dr. Gupta: You know, kids are always part of the last group to get tested for something that’s new, whether it’s a drug or it’s a vaccine, we want to make sure that healthy adults are actually the initial study population, because that is historically how we’ve done it. Pregnant women and children are not that initial—are not studied in the initial—series of studies to see if something’s safe, is it effective. We want to go for—we want to, ideally have—healthy volunteers, adult volunteers, step up first, and then others that might be higher risk, and certainly children and pregnant women, we want to minimize kind of those initial studies and trying to explore the unknown in those groups, because that’s historically how we’ve done it. We’re not comfortable as a society, leading, you know, doing these clinical trials on those groups. So, I think I think we can all understand why.
And so that’s the reason why there’s been a lag. We just haven’t had the data because it wasn’t part of—the initial data came on adults, because that’s the way we structured these clinical trials. Soon after the adult data on safety of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine started coming in, the children—the pediatric studies—were then started because we said, “Well, gosh, this is safe in adults, it’s probably gonna be safe in kids, let’s do some initial trials to figure that out.” What we saw then is an effort to find a dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that really minimize any risk of any side effect. Moderna, you may have remembered, in adults—especially young men—there was this risk of myocarditis. However mild it was, it got a lot of oxygen in media circles. And so, the question for Moderna was, well, what’s the dose that gives kids enough protection against COVID from ending up in the hospital but mitigates the risk of that? It took a lot of time to figure out what that right dose was.
And now, we’re finally seeing, a year later, that it’s two doses at a third of the dose, spread out by, say, four to six weeks, that does the trick: no side effects, keeps kiddos out of the hospital. But it took time. I mean, these things take time to, first, enroll enough children. You gotta get parents willing to enroll kids in this. It’s a lot easier, just for an adult to say, “You know what, yeah, sign me up, I’ll get a $50 gift card somewhere.” [It’s] a lot harder to convince parents to enroll their children into these types of studies. So, there’s that: getting enough kids enrolled, and then figuring out the proper dose. It’s felt like a long time, but in reality, this is a process that can take up to five years for drugs, for other vaccines. Here, we’ve done it in in a little under a year and a half since the initial rollout of the adult vaccine. So, it may have felt long. It certainly felt long to me as a parent of two young kiddos. But with some perspective, you realize it’s still going pretty darn fast.
Gibbs Léger: That’s really important to remember that we have, to borrow a phrase from [former] President Trump, things have been moving at warp speed when it comes to this vaccine. And yeah, it feels like a long time for those of us who were like—I couldn’t wait ‘til my kid turned five in February. I was like, “Let’s go!” But yeah, it is usually a longer process. So, that’s good to have that perspective.
So, I’d like to end this podcast on a positive note. We’ve been getting some other good news on the vaccine front in recent weeks. Moderna recently said that the booster that they’re hoping to roll out this fall is roughly eight times better at fighting omicron than the original booster. So, given all of that, and what you’re seeing now, and what we’ve already talked about in terms of, you know, November, you know, where do you think we’ll be this time next year? You know, will we have truly entered the endemic stage of our fight against COVID, like where, you know, the disruptions—like if there’s a kid who is positive in the class, like, it doesn’t disrupt your life so much?
Dr. Gupta: Yes, I do. And I think a lot a lot of it is going to be premised on the fact that these tools that everybody likes to talk about—”Oh, we have so many tools in our toolkit”—well, it turns out even right now, a lot of those tools are not broadly accessible, like Paxlovid, the Pfizer pill that’s so dramatically effective for folks that test positive and are higher risk, to keep them out of the hospital. The fact that that tool is actually still difficult to come by, and it’s not fully approved yet—supply is still very asymmetric based on the county that you might be living in, especially in rural and exurban counties—once that resolves itself, and it’s going to in the next six to eight months, hopefully by wintertime, you’re going to see a different posture here. And even though cases—I think cases—will continue to propagate across the country, what’s going to be easier is knowing what to do about it. And I also suspect that more people will be formally eligible for treatment. If they tested positive right now, we would restrict it to those that are higher risk. Watch those restrictions narrow down over time to something like Tamiflu. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paxlovid was indicated for all of us that tested positive for COVID down the road, just like Tamiflu is if you test positive for flu. I mean, really, two and up, if you test positive for flu, give Tamiflu a shot. It might keep you out of the hospital. Suspect something similar with Paxlovid. So, as we learn and have more of these tools, as kiddos under five at that point will be well protected, I hope, this is going to be a different conversation, because then the risk of a positive, to your point, is going to be less consequential because these tools, again, that we all like to cite and talk about will truly actually be more accessible to more people.
And so, that’s when individual risk decisions that a lot of people like to talk about with respect to masking and public places, “Well, make your own individual risk assessment.” It’s easy to say that now. But I think a lot of people that like to hang their hat on, “Well, mask if you want to,” don’t recognize that it’s still really hard to get medical access if you need it, if you tested positive, much less get therapies if you need it. But hopefully that’s a different case. And kids right now under five don’t have access to the vaccine. Once these realities resolve themselves and it’s easier to get therapy when you need it—anybody can get a vaccine that wants one—then individual decision-making on masking, not masking, tolerating a positive case in the classroom, those become different decisions.
Gibbs Léger: Well, I’m going to hold you to that. And I’m gonna hold that and keep my fingers crossed that that is the case, that we’re, you know, we will be entering a new phase, like you said, where it’s less disruptive, and that we have more access to treatments and that, you know, more people who aren’t vaccinated will maybe see the benefits of being vaccinated. So, Dr. Vin Gupta, I want to thank you for coming on “The Tent.” I want to thank you for all of the work that you have done to help educate the American people about this virus. So, thank you again for joining us.
Dr. Gupta: Thank you.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. I’ve got a little round robin of things I want to talk about here as we close out. First of all, there’s nothing funny about January 6, or the hearings, but the fact that Rudy Giuliani was drunk on election night is hilarious to me. And it just explains a lot. I think he was drunk a lot after the election, because—hoo boy! —just go back and look at those pictures. So that’s that.
Number two, for all the BTS fans out there—I know their songs because my son listens to them on KIDZ BOP—they’re not breaking up. They’re just taking a break and pursuing solo career options. I’m sure they’ll come back together just like One Direction … oh. Well, like NSYNC … oh. Anyway, they’re not breaking up.
Okay, third thing: Google what happened with this elephant in India. It is a tragic story because somebody lost their life. But I have questions. Why and how? These are my questions. The elephant killed this person—tragic—and then came back days later, traveled, I think, 200 kilometers, which is far, to, like, disrupt the funeral service and trample again and apparently destroyed the home. What is going on? What happened? There’s a story there. Twitter is going to find out what it is. But I’m kind of obsessed with the story.
And then my last thing, and most important thing to me—point of personal privilege of being the host of the show—is I’m going to shout out my sister, Arlene Gibbs, who wrote co-wrote a movie that premiered this weekend on the Hallmark Channel called “Caribbean Summer.” Yay! If you missed it, you can watch it on the Hallmark Channel today, Thursday, June 16 at 8:00 [p.m.]; or Sunday, June 19, at 12:00 noon; or Saturday, June 25 at 4:00 p.m. I’m very proud of her. You should like follow her on Instagram and like, you know. She lives in Rome. She leads a pretty fabulous life and is like very, super talented, and creative. What I loved about this movie, not just that my sister co-wrote it, were all like, the nods to our heritage. And it’s just really important to see yourself represented in the art that you consume. And so, the fact that she put in all these little nods to our Caribbean heritage, with the goat contest for who has the prettiest goat—yes, that is a real thing that happens in my parents’ village in Colombier, St. Maarten. It’s called “I Love My Ram”—to the fact that if you don’t say “good morning” or “good afternoon” before you start speaking to somebody in the store, they’re gonna look at you like you have no manners because you don’t. They’re gonna be very curt to you. I didn’t appreciate the shade about the Tabasco sauce. She claims that that wasn’t about me, but it felt like it was about me, so I’m gonna take it personal anyway. But despite that, it was a great movie. Even my husband who like does not watch rom coms at all—like, not at all—he was like, “It was pretty good. It was like I was entertained.” So anyway, check it out. Arlene, I love you. I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to see you in a couple of weeks. Yay.
As we just discussed, we are still in a pandemic. If you are eligible to get a booster or immunocompromised and can get another one, you should do that. And remember that again, not all of us can get vaccinated yet, so just, you know, be kind and courteous to the people you’re around. If they’ve got little kids, maybe put your mask on. Take care. Have a good week and we’ll talk to you next week.
“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. Tricia Woodcome is our booking producer, and Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.