Axios Today podcast: Clearing up the latest booster confusion

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New data from the National Institutes of Health shows that people who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might benefit from getting a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot. But J&J has asked the FDA to approve a second shot for its own vaccine.

  • Plus, Miya Marcano and new attention on missing and murdered women of color.

  • And, Snapchat is trying to get its users to run for office.

Guests: Axios' Caitlin Owens and Alexi McCammond, and attorney Marlon Hill.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Alex Sugiura, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Michael Hanf, and David Toledo. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today.

It’s Thursday October 14th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following: Miya Marcano, and new attention on missing and murdered women of color. Plus, Snapchat is trying to get its users to run for office.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: clearing up the latest confusion around COVID boosters.

New data from the National Institutes of Health shows that people who got the J and J vaccine might benefit from getting a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot. But Johnson & Johnson has asked the FDA to approve a second shot for its own vaccine. So what's the right move here?

Here to explain is Caitlin Owens, a healthcare reporter for Axios, who's also here to explain what you need to know ahead of several booster-related panels at that the FDA are having, starting today. Hey Caitlin.

CAITLIN OWENS: Hey, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Caitlin, this is pretty confusing, I feel like I should just say to you, but what does this new data tell us about mixing and matching boosters?

CAITLIN: So obviously J & J recipients, there's not as many of them. There's about 15 million in the U.S. They only got one shot. This is going to be the big looming question: should they get another shot of J & J or should they get one of these MRNs shots, which, you know, according to the data out yesterday by the NIH elicits a greater neutralizing antibody response, which is one form of immune protection.

NIALA: So who is authorized to get booster shots right now?

CAITLIN: So right now, remember the first group to get authorized for a booster shot were immunocompromised people. Then a couple of weeks ago we had the Pfizer booster process. And this FDA panel said, we're going to limit it to people 65 and older, as well as people with high risk conditions and then the CDC added high risk occupations. And those are only Pfizer recipients. By the end of probably next week, that could be expanded to people who got J & J and then a really similar population, the 65 and older and people at high risk of severe disease. Those groups who got Moderna will probably be eligible for a booster. Another interesting thing that could come up this week when the FDA panel is meeting, is that Moderna does seem to have a higher effectiveness for longer than Pfizer does. So, we might see a little bit of the argument that if Moderna is working better for longer, why did these people need a boost, at least right now?

NIALA: As we're having this conversation about boosters, Caitlin, I just have to ask you the medical ethics question that a lot of people are still wondering about. Which is, the U.S. arguing about booster shots when in many other countries people have not been able to get even one shot.

CAITLIN: These conversations about boosters are happening simultaneously as we talk about vaccinating the rest of the world. The question is, is one debate hurting the other, right. You know, is the booster discussion -- is giving boosters detrimental to the goal of vaccinating the world. A lot of people say yes, and then, some people argue that we can do both at the same time. There are shots like the Chinese vaccine, that just don't work very well. It turns out. So, even the argument for the people who got that, AstraZeneca, you know, there's other people who are vaccinated and in theory have a stronger case for getting a booster, even before people who got Pfizer and Moderna.

NIALA: So Caitlin, these FDA panels start today. What do people need to know about the process?

CAITLIN: So, It's a multi-step process. You know, it's kind of an advisory panel meets, they consider the data, there's a lot of debate about it. The FDA itself will have to make a decision about whether to authorize boosters and for who, so that will come. And then a CDC advisory panel will meet and discuss further recommendations. But this could end up being confusing for someone who's just kind of casually tuning into this process.

NIALA: Axios’ Caitlin Owens. You can follow Caitlin on Twitter for more about this for the next couple of days, especially. Thank you, Caitlin.

CAITLIN: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment, we’re back with the activism inspired by one woman’s death.

Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today, 19-year-old Miya Marcano will be laid to rest in a funeral in her hometown of Cooper City, Florida. I've followed her disappearance and death closely for the past few weeks, because like me, Miya was also Caribbean-American and from South Florida.

Miya was murdered by a maintenance worker in the apartment building where she had been living in Orlando, attending university.

"The community is pretty distressed and saddened, but the community is also emboldened by, by turning this pain into, into purposeful power as well."

That’s Marlon Hill, a Caribbean-American attorney - an old friend of mine from Miami - and a good friend of the Marcano family.

Sadly, Mia is one of many. Last year, 268,884 girls and women were reported missing in the US, according to the National Crime Information Center. And a third of the women reported missing were Black — far greater than their share of the overall female population.

Marlon told me Miya Marcano’s family is starting a foundation to provide support and resources for others whose loved ones go missing -- especially those most vulnerable of families.

"Whenever someone is missing, you know, we need to really treat it. With a higher level of urgency -and contribution of resources to, to bring some closure for the families. And especially for families that don't have as high visibility or, or may come from on the serve communities, which in fact many times happens to be communities of color."

We’ll have a link to more information in our show notes.

Snapchat claims to reach more than 90% of Americans age 18 to 34, which is why the app is venturing into the realm of civic engagement by providing information to its users to help them run for political office. Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond has been following the story.

Alexi, how does this young candidates project with Snapchat?

ALEXI MCCAMMOND: So it's called run for office mini, and it's a module that you can use when you're in the Snapchat app. And it basically is pretty simple, from there you put in your zip code and then you can pick up to five issues that you care about from a list of about 30 to kind of get a sense of what types of local issues might align with your interests and are available to you. So then you get a list of those things in your area that you can sign up for everything from like, local school board to city council and mayor. Snapchat says that they know that these young people are thinking about politics and engaging with politics, but now they're trying to get them to go one step further and actually do something about it beyond voting.

NIALA: what are some of the issues that are being expressed? what do we know about what really engages this January?

ALEXI: of those nearly 2 million snap users who I mentioned engaged with this run for office module, the top five issues that they indicated they cared about were civil, right. Education, the environment, healthcare and jobs. there are a couple of things missing from that top five. Of course, I think of something like infrastructure, which we are hearing a lot about, especially coming out of Washington and those who hold federal office, but that's not necessarily something that's engaging and inspiring and motivating this new generation. You might want to run for local office. So I think that's kind of one interesting thing that I took away from that data.

NIALA: What are people in the political realm telling you about what they think of this effort by Snapchat.

ALEXI: Well, I, you know, you look around the country and you see some secretaries of state, including even Republican secretaries of state, pushing this module to their constituents through local press interviews. They've done in recent days on TV and otherwise. You know, these partner organizations work with young, you know, state level elected officials who are talking to constituents every day. So I think Snapchat has a pretty good relationship with folks on the hill. They've been doing partnerships with, lawmakers in Congress, in the us Senate, even before this. So they have a presence that, that I think will help them in their efforts moving forward.

NIALA: Axios political reporter, Alexi McCammond. Thank you, Alexi.

ALEXI: Thank you so much.

NIALA: OK one last thing before we go today -- it’s been hard to miss, but did you see William Shatner just became the oldest man to go to space? I was thoroughly delighted by how moving the experience was for Captain Kirk. The 90-year-old went up in Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket yesterday - and told Bezos about what it was like to experience the blackness of space - and watch the blue of our planet below:

WILLIAM SHATNER: “What you have given me, is the most profound experience -- I'm so filled with emotion about what just happened. I just -- it's extraordinary.”

I’m Niala Boodhoo -- thanks for listening -- stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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