Jan 8, 2021

Your vaccine questions, answered.

Your vaccine questions, answered.

Plus, we talk to Perdue-Warnock voters.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

Two weeks ago, I asked all of you to send in questions you had about the COVID-19 vaccine, and promised to find an expert to respond to them. I reached out to Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo from Johns Hopkins University, an epidemiologist who I’ve been using as a source throughout the pandemic. She pointed me to Dr. William Moss, a pediatrician who has an expertise in vaccines. In today’s newsletter, he’ll be answering the 10 questions I saw repeated most in the Tangle poll.

In Wednesday’s Tangle about the Georgia Senate runoffs, I offhandedly said something about how I’d “love to speak to” some of the 18,000 or so Georgia voters who cast a ballot for Raphael Warnock (Democrat) and Sen. David Perdue (Republican incumbent). Well, it turns out some of them were reading my newsletter. So, today, I’ll share their explanations about why they split their ticket in the most important Senate race of recent memory.

Given the importance of this topic, I’ve decided to make today’s newsletter available to everyone. We’ll be back to the standard Tangle format on Monday — and if you want to continue to receive Friday editions, you can become a paying subscriber below:

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On Wednesday, I wrote that Jon Ossoff, at 33 years old, would become the youngest person elected to the Senate chamber since Joe Biden in 1973. In fact, Ossoff is becoming the youngest Democrat elected to the Senate chamber since 1973. As one reader noted, Republican Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma was elected in 1981 at the age of 31.

This is the 26th Tangle correction in its 71-week existence and the first since December 21st. I track corrections in an effort to be transparent and plan to stop tracking them when the number becomes embarrassing (just kidding, I’ll do this forever).


Yesterday, Philip from Washington D.C. responded to the final paragraphs of the newsletter titled “The end of Trump.” They wrote, “That's a fine rhetorical flourish, but just not right: the end isn't for another two weeks, and that leaves a lot of time for both justice and for mischief. You should be calling on Congress to make this right. You should be pushing policymakers to take up the question of why police allowed this to happen, immediately. Impeachment should be getting a lot of discussion. The future of the GOP hangs very much in the balance. Nothing is yet decided.”

Another reader wrote in to say, “Admittedly this is a minor point, but the last time something like this [happened] was not 1814. In 1954, the Capitol was attacked by four Puerto Rican nationalists.” This is true: in 1954, five Congressmen were injured when four Puerto Rican nationalists who wanted independence snuck into the Capitol and opened fire from the visitors’ gallery in the House of Representatives chamber. There have been a few other shootings or bomb threats at the Capitol — but I still maintain that the distinction from Wednesday is that there was an actual mob-like force that breached the Capitol building. You can read a brief history of Capitol attacks here.

Quick hits

  1. In a two-minute address to the nation last night, Donald Trump finally acknowledged he lost the election. “Now Congress has certified the results. A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20,” he said. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power. This moment calls for healing and reconciliation.” On Friday morning, Trump said he will not attend Joe Biden’s inauguration. Democrats, the Wall Street Journal editorial board and several sitting Republicans are calling for Trump to be impeached, resign or removed from office under the 25th Amendment before inauguration day.
  2. Dozens have been arrested in the wake of the Capitol riot, and officials say more will be charged. More than 60 officers were injured, and last night a Capitol Police officer who had been erroneously reported as dead earlier in the day officially died from his injuries. The officer, Brian Sicknick, is just the fourth Capitol Police officer to die in the line of duty in over two centuries. Five people have now been confirmed dead in the riot.
  3. Yesterday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos submitted her resignation, calling the mob riots at the Capitol building an “inflection point.” Elaine Chao, the Transportation Secretary and wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also resigned in protest. The Capitol Police chief and sergeant-at-arms responsible for keeping the building safe have also resigned.
  4. President-elect Joe Biden completed his Cabinet nominees, tapping Merrick Garland as attorney general, Marty Walsh as Labor secretary, Gina Raimondo as Commerce secretary, and Isabel Guzman to lead the Small Business Administration.
  5. For the first time ever, the United States had 4,000 COVID-19 deaths yesterday. Additionally, the U.S. economy lost 140,000 jobs last month, ending seven months of consistent job growth and signaling a major setback to the economic recovery from coronavirus.
  6. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Sidney Powell for $1.3 billion in damages after she spread conspiracy theories about Dominion’s alleged attempt to change the election results.

Your vaccine questions, answered.

Last week, I looked through more than 1,000 reader responses and picked out 10 questions that I saw pop up repeatedly — questions that I thought would be the most useful for readers to know the answers to. I took those questions to Dr. William Moss. Here is William’s bio:

William Moss, MD, MPH is a pediatrician with subspecialty training in infectious diseases who has conducted studies of infectious diseases in children for 30 years in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and India among other countries. He is a Professor in the Departments of Epidemiology, International Health and Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Executive Director of the International Vaccine Access Center, a Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, and Project Director of the Southern and Central Africa International Centers of Excellence for Malaria Research (ICEMR). His broad research interests are the epidemiology and control of childhood infections in low-income countries. The specific focus of his current research is in the epidemiology and control of malaria in southern and central Africa, understanding the impact of the HIV epidemic on measles control and eradication, the care and treatment of HIV-infected children in rural Zambia, and the feasibility and utility of serological surveys to guide immunization programs.

Special thank you to Matthew from Yardley, PA, a reader who suggested I do this — it was really cool to see all the questions come in, and to hear Dr. Moss’s responses.

Finally, a quick note: Given the nature of this topic, I asked Dr. Moss to reply to the questions in writing, not over the phone, so he could be as precise as he needed to be with his language. What you’ll see below are 10 reader questions I sent him, with his responses that he emailed to me, copy and pasted directly into the newsletter. In a few places, I have annotated his responses with additional context from news reports — these are denoted with asterisks, in italics, and signed “Tangle staff.”

Q: Can you summarize for a layperson how the mRNA vaccine is different from traditional vaccines?

Moss: All vaccines work by presenting all or part of a pathogen, whether a virus or a bacteria, to our immune system so that if we are ever exposed to that pathogen our immune system is primed and ready to fight. Traditional vaccines are based on the administration of a killed or weakened pathogen or proteins from that pathogen. mRNA vaccines differ in that, instead of administering part or all of a pathogen, a piece of genetic code (instructions) is administered and our muscle cells produce the protein. Our immune system then responds to the proteins produced by our own cells and this confers protection.

Q: Are you monitoring or researching the effects of the vaccine on pregnant women, under 18s, immunocompromised, and other unusual groups?

Moss: Yes, there are ongoing studies to assess the safety and efficacy of the current Covid-19 vaccines in special populations, such as children, pregnant and lactating women, and people with different immunocompromising conditions. We will learn much more about this in the coming year.

Q:  Is it likely this vaccine will be effective against future strains of this virus?

Moss: All viruses mutate over time and SARS-CoV-2 is no exception. The question of whether the virus will mutate such that the current vaccines are less effective is not clear at this time.* Studies are currently ongoing to see whether the immune responses induced by the current vaccines are effective against the UK and South Africa variants. However, as long as the virus keeps spreading it will continue to mutate. I think it likely that the current vaccines will be effective but we will have to see. There are examples where viral mutations have not impacted the effectiveness of the vaccine over many decades, such as for [the] measles vaccine.

*Though more studies are needed, this morning, Reuters reported that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears to be effective against the new coronavirus mutation discovered in Britain and South Africa. — Tangle staff

Q: How have we investigated the potential for long-term side effects? Is that even possible?

Moss: Studies of potential long-term side effects are ongoing through both the phase 3 trials that led to Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and following widespread administration of the vaccines through surveillance conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the vast majority of side effects associated with vaccines occur within the first two months after vaccination and we have good data on side effects during this time period.

Q: What do you think the chances are that this will be a yearly vaccination? How long will immunity last?

Moss: How long immunity will last is an important question to which we do not yet know the answer. This will take longer follow-up of people who were vaccinated. Based on other vaccines and the nature of SARS-CoV-2, it is unlikely yearly vaccination will be required but later booster doses may be needed to maintain protection.

Q: When will we know if the allergic reactions are flukes or if some people need to avoid them?

Moss: The allergic reactions are not flukes but real reactions to some component of the vaccines.* We still do not know the exact cause of these reactions but some think it may be a reaction to the fatty coat that surrounds and protects the mRNA in the vaccine, specifically polyethylene glycol, a compound found in many products including skin creams and toothpaste and that has been associated with allergic reactions. People who have an immediate allergic reaction to the first vaccine dose should not receive additional doses of either mRNA Covid-19 vaccine.

*Yesterday, the CDC reported that there have been 29 serious allergic reactions among the more than 1.9 million doses administered. That adds up to about 11.1 cases of anaphylaxis out of 1 million doses. The rate of a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine is 1.3 per 1 million. "The anaphylaxis rate for Covid-19 vaccines may seem high compared to flu vaccines. But I want to reassure you that this is still a rare outcome," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a news conference. — Tangle staff

Q: We know the vaccines that have been approved protect vaccinated people from severe cases of the virus. How will we know if they also prevent those people from transmitting the virus?

Moss: Studies are ongoing to determine whether the current vaccines prevent virus transmission and we should begin to have answers in the next couple of months. If the current vaccines protect against disease by reducing virus replication in the body, which is highly likely, then they are also likely to reduce transmission. However, it may be possible that some vaccinated individuals who acquire asymptomatic infection may be able to transmit the virus under certain circumstances, for example after very close contact. However, we need to wait for the studies.

Q: How necessary will it be for people to take the vaccines that have already contracted the virus and showed symptoms?

Moss: People who have had COVID-19 will have an immune response and are likely protected for some time, although we do not yet know for how long. However, this immune response is variable and is less in people with less severe disease. Because of this variability, it is best for people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 to be vaccinated to ensure they are protected. However, vaccination may not be as urgent as in people who have never been infected.

Q: What's the most impactful way to respond to someone who thinks getting the vaccine is a bad idea?

Moss: The first thing to do is to listen and learn why they think getting the vaccine is a bad idea. For some people, correcting misinformation can be helpful but this does not work for everyone. People want to do what is right but often underestimate the risk of COVID-19 and overestimate the risk of the vaccine. Correcting these misunderstandings may be helpful.

Q: Are you worried about potential long-term effects of an mRNA based vaccine? There has been no mRNA based vaccine that has been broadly distributed before, and we are using COVID-19 as a test run for a novel vaccine platform.

Moss: It is true that there has never before been an approved mRNA vaccine and studies of long-term side effects are needed. However, there is no reason to think there will be long-term side effects to mRNA vaccines. The mRNA does not persist in our cells but is degraded.

Your responses, recorded.

Earlier this week, I wrote about wanting to hear from voters who split their tickets between Republicans and Democrats in Georgia. Two Tangle readers wrote in with every different responses — and I have shared them below. Both replies have been lightly edited (with the readers’ permission) for clarity, typos and length.

Andrew from Atlanta, Georgia wrote in and said: “I'm a 24-year-old Georgian who voted for David Perdue and Rafael [sic] Warnock in the run-off election yesterday. I wanted to share some of my reasons for this decision — as an Independent who leans conservative, my arguments are mostly for voting split-party ticket instead of straight Republican.

1) I believe the November election and recent political environment has shown that Georgia is really divided between our two parties. I believe that Georgia will be as poorly-represented by the two liberal senators we have just elected as we would have been by the two conservative senators running against them. Two moderate senators would be great, but at least with one liberal and one conservative senator more Georgians would be represented.

2) It was important to me to elect at least one of the two Republicans running and avoid a Democrat hold on the White House, House, and Senate. I believed with a slim Republican majority — and a number of moderate Republicans willing to play ball with good-faith initiatives from the left — the Democrats would need to scale back their more liberal policies, cabinet picks, and budget bills. I'm worried about the power that liberals will wield with this majority.

3) Perdue and Ossoff are, as far as I can tell, both spineless lap-dogs for their respective national parties and would green-light anything McConnell or Schumer tell them to, respectively. There was no reason to be excited about voting for either of them, it was just a decision of which party you wanted to give a free vote to.

4) Loeffler and Warnock were different. Loeffler was a terrible, unpredictable candidate running on a truly terrible platform of being as rich, pro-Trump, and anti-liberal as humanly possible. Warnock, unlike Ossoff, does not strike me as a party loyalist, but rather someone driven by principles and ideals which align with the Democratic party's goals. I am optimistic that when these principles conflict with legislation proposed by Democrats, he will stick to his principles. I am genuinely glad to see him representing Georgians and look forward to his time in the Senate.

5) Based on points 1 and 2, I believed voting for one Republican and one Democrat was the best possible decision here. Based on points 3 and 4, it was clear that Warnock was that Democrat and Perdue was, by extension, that Republican. This ticket has the added benefit (as a conservative, remember) that the Democrat I am voting for will only have 2 years to prove himself, and can be voted out next year if Georgians don't feel he is representing us well.

To share some feedback from the ground on why Loeffler and Perdue lost, I think you mostly got it right: Loeffler and Perdue were vile candidates who have tarnished their image by supporting efforts to overthrow the election and not supporting stimulus efforts, and Trump (along with Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, etc.) undermined conservative trust in the election system and support for Georgia Republicans. I would have confidently told you a week ago that the GOP wouldn't rally here in Georgia. As for why Warnock performed so much better than Ossoff, I think my arguments for Warnock are part of it. Additionally, if you weren't in Georgia when Ossoff ran for his House seat, you may not realize that Georgian's just don't like him, and the lack of local support combined with the forceful out-of-state support for Ossoff made him feel like an outsider being planted by the DNC.”

Another reader named Sandra from Forsyth County, Georgia, wrote in to say she had voted Perdue-Warnock and asked me what I wanted to know. I sent her a series of questions on Wednesday, and then the events of the day unfolded.

“I did intend to discuss it but then yesterday happened and I don't know, I was just stunned into silence by everything,” she wrote to me Friday morning. “Our elected officials, our people, even people I have known most of my life have surprised me in the very worst ways possible over the past year. It's like a whole segment of our country is in a Trump cult. It's very depressing. I've always voted for Republicans until Trump. Now, I don't want anything to do with Republicans. So I guess I'm an independent now. I think of myself as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. Republicans used to be fiscal conservatives but now no one is.

“I voted for Biden because Trump is a madman. I split my vote for the GA senators because I wanted there to be a Republican majority so there would still be some checks and balances in our government. I think Biden is okay, but the far left has ideas that don't match mine. And as to why I picked Warnock... it was really more of a vote against Loeffler. She was too much of a Trump supporter, seemed like a complete idiot in the debate I watched between her and Warnock, and [she seemed] like a soulless pod person every time I heard her speak.”

Have a nice day.

A massive windmill in Rotterdam, Netherlands, is so large and so powerful it is upending the industry’s expectations about what can be done with renewable energy. The turbine stands 853 feet tall (for context, the Empire State building is 1,250 feet tall). Its diameter with the spinning rotors is 722 feet, more than two football fields across. Next-generation models built off of this prototype will be the largest structures in mainland Western Europe. And one single turbine can put out 13 megawatts of power, enough to “light up a town of 12,000 homes,” according to The New York Times.

“A top executive at the world’s leading wind farm developer called it a ‘bit of a leapfrog over the latest technology,’” The Times reported. “And an analyst said the machine’s size and advance sales had ‘shaken the industry.’” The turbine is a third bigger than the largest turbine in service right now, and experts say the prototype is blowing researchers away (get it?). General Electric, which has pioneered the prototype, is planning to build an array of them offshore, where they can gather maximum wind and power.

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