Tuesday ReadsPosted: March 16, 2021
It’s strange that the news is so boring since Trump disappeared from view. Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad he’s gone, but I’m still getting adjusted to the new reality. We are starting to see more media criticism of Biden, so his honeymoon could be ending. There are also the pandemic and the investigations into Trump’s finances and the January 6 insurrection to read about. There are some interesting stories out there today; here’s what I’ve come across this morning.
Something weird is going on with the attacks on the AstraZenica vaccine. Stat: The curious case of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is facing a crisis of confidence, with one European country after another, as if seized by a fit of panic, temporarily suspending its use over concerns about reports of blood clots in people who received it.
Denmark, Iceland, and Norway had earlier said they would temporarily stop using the two-dose vaccine. On Sunday, Ireland announced a similar decision. France, Germany, and Italy followed on Monday.
Experts and Europe’s regulatory body insist that the vaccine’s benefit — preventing Covid-19 and helping to stop the pandemic — outweighs its risks. They note that the number of people to report the side effect is relatively small, and no causal link has been established.
But experts are also now worried that the decisions by multiple countries to suspend the vaccine’s use could make it harder to convince people to receive it should the concerns turn out, as they expect, to be a false alarm.
More from Stat:
“When there are choices, I think the inclination would be that you aren’t stuck, so to speak, with a vaccine if you have questions,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a Pfizer board member. She said the concerns may be overstated, and that she is surprised how quickly European countries decided to act.
The decisions, even if temporary, are likely to have other ripple effects. They put extraordinary pressure on a large clinical trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine being conducted in the United States, which has not authorized the vaccine’s use. And they raise questions about the rollout of a product that, globally, was expected to be produced most inexpensively and distributed most broadly.
In the wake of the decisions by more countries to suspend the vaccine’s use, the European Medicines Agency called an “extraordinary meeting” on Thursday to analyze the risks of the vaccine.
“While its investigation is ongoing, EMA currently remains of the view that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects,” the agency said in a statement.
Who benefits if the AstraZenica vaccine continues to be rejected by countries? Pfizer. What’s going on?
So I guess we’ll be learning more about this, but it looks like AstraZenica’s vaccine has the same risks as the others.
A shocking story at the Atlantic about the government’s tracking of data on the Coronavirus by Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal: Why the Pandemic Experts Failed. We’re still thinking about pandemic data in the wrong ways.
A few minutes before midnight on March 4, 2020, the two of us emailed every U.S. state and the District of Columbia with a simple question: How many people have been tested in your state, total, for the coronavirus?
By then, about 150 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States, and 11 had died of the disease. Yet the CDC had stopped publicly reporting the number of Americans tested for the virus. Without that piece of data, the tally of cases was impossible to interpret—were only a handful of people sick? Or had only a handful of people been tested? To our shock, we learned that very few Americans had been tested.
The consequences of this testing shortage, we realized, could be cataclysmic. A few days later, we founded the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic with Erin Kissane, an editor, and Jeff Hammerbacher, a data scientist. Every day last spring, the project’s volunteers collected coronavirus data for every U.S. state and territory. We assumed that the government had these data, and we hoped a small amount of reporting might prod it into publishing them.
Not until early May, when the CDC published its own deeply inadequate data dashboard, did we realize the depth of its ignorance. And when the White House reproduced one of our charts, it confirmed our fears: The government was using our data. For months, the American government had no idea how many people were sick with COVID-19, how many were lying in hospitals, or how many had died. And the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic, started as a temporary volunteer effort, had become a de facto source of pandemic data for the United States.
After spending a year building one of the only U.S. pandemic-data sources, we have come to see the government’s initial failure here as the fault on which the entire catastrophe pivots. The government has made progress since May; it is finally able to track pandemic data. Yet some underlying failures remain unfixed. The same calamity could happen again….
The COVID Tracking Project ultimately tallied more than 363 million tests, 28 million cases, and 515,148 deaths nationwide. It ended its daily data collection last week and will close this spring. Over the past year, we have learned much that, we hope, might prevent a project like ours from ever being needed again. We have learned that America’s public-health establishment is obsessed with data but curiously distant from them. We have learned how this establishment can fail to understand, or act on, what data it does have. We have learned how the process of producing pandemic data shapes how the pandemic itself is understood. And we have learned that these problems are not likely to be fixed by a change of administration or by a reinvigorated bureaucracy.
That is because, as with so much else, President Donald Trump’s incompetence slowed the pandemic response, but did not define it. We have learned that the country’s systems largely worked as designed. Only by adopting different ways of thinking about data can we prevent another disaster:
Read the rest at The Atlantic. Let’s hope the Biden administration is paying attention.
Trump won’t promote the vaccine among his followers, but his staff rushed to get them before they left the White House. Vanity Fair: Shot Chasers: How Officials in Trump’s Lame-Duck White House Scrambled to Score COVID-19 Vaccinations.
In late December and early January, as COVID-19 vaccines were just beginning their chaotic rollout to the states, a secretive scramble took place inside the Trump White House. One after another, political appointees at very high levels approached chief of staff Mark Meadows and members of the National Security Council to ask a favor: They wanted to be on the list.
It was, to be sure, the ultimate VIP list: On it were the names of U.S. government officials whose work was considered so essential that they needed to be vaccinated against COVID-19 from a limited allotment that would otherwise have gone to the general public. The allotment was intended to protect career staff who could not telecommute (such as White House butlers), critical workers in the field (such as Secret Service agents), and those in the line of presidential succession (such as the secretary of state). The question of who was eligible in an outgoing administration, with just weeks remaining until the inauguration of a new president, was complex. To make the cut your role had to be “essential” to national functions.
The quest to get on the White House list—which was closely guarded by Meadows’s office and a small cadre of NSC officials—attracted an array of supplicants. They ranged from the representatives of cabinet secretaries to young White House desk jockeys to those prepared to leverage their connections to President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Among this group, Vanity Fair has learned, were chiefs of staff of cabinet agencies, some of whose bosses had become notorious for publicly disregarding pandemic safeguards like mask wearing. They wanted to know, “Would they be able to get four or six doses for their front office?” said a former senior administration official. Though some would claim to be inquiring on behalf of their teams, the official said, in fact “their ask was not about their employees.”
According to the story, Meadows told people they would have to wait, but . . .
But in a White House awash in special favors, that didn’t stop almost every stripe of political appointee, at almost every rung of the ladder, from “shamelessly” attempting to jump the line, according to a senior administration official. (Meadows and President Trump did not respond to requests for comment.) [….]
The previously unreported struggle over the White House list was just one front in a sprawling secret war that raged for months at the highest levels of the federal government. The question of how to equitably vaccinate a federal workforce of 2.1 million people in the midst of a presidential transition ended up pitting the National Security Council against officials from Operation Warp Speed, and career staff against political appointees. It also sparked resentment, suspicions of missing doses, and allegations of line jumping.
Read more at Vanity Fair.
On the New York investigation into the Trump Organization, Business Insider, (via Yahoo news) reports: Trump’s CFO’s ex-daughter-in-law is cooperating with prosecutors and ‘refuses to be silenced,’ her lawyer says.
An attorney representing the former daughter-in-law of the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg says she’s cooperating with prosecutors conducting an inquiry into Donald Trump’s finances and “refuses to be silenced.”
“Jennifer Weisselberg is committed to speaking the truth, no matter how difficult that may be,” her attorney, Duncan Levin, told Insider in a statement. “She will continue to cooperate fully with the various law enforcement agencies that are investigating her ex-husband’s family and the very powerful interests they represent.”
“Jennifer refuses to be silenced any longer by those who are conspiring to prevent her from sharing what she has learned over the past 25 years,” Levin added.
Levin’s comments come in response to a request for comment Friday about a New Yorker story on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s investigation into the former president and the Trump Organization. The story includes an anecdote from Jennifer Weisselberg, who told the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer she met Trump at a shiva and that he shared photos of naked women at the Jewish mourning ceremony.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into Trump and his company. Court filings suggest prosecutors are focusing on whether they illegally kept two sets of books – one that painted a rosy financial picture to obtain favorable loan terms, another featuring grim data to pay less in taxes.
Click the link for more details.
A few more links of possible interest:
The Washington Post: Biden and allies launch stimulus campaign focused on competitive battleground states.
Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Opinion: Biden can easily lift the refugee ceiling. So why hasn’t he?
The New York Times: Plenty of Vaccines, but Not Enough Arms: A Warning Sign in Cherokee Nation.
So . . . what’s on your mind today?