The U.S. Is Relying On Other Countries’ Data To Make Its Booster Shot Decisions

“Israeli presenters provided slide after slide showing the power of booster shots. But not all of the FDA advisors were convinced. “What they’re seeing in Israel is not necessarily what we’re seeing here in the U.S.,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of Chicago Medical School and member of the advisory committee, during the meeting. In an interview with FiveThirtyEight, she explained that Israel’s data is “interesting and very compelling,” but that Israel differs from the U.S. on key characteristics: Namely, a higher share of the Israeli population is inoculated, and a larger proportion of breakthrough cases in Israel led to hospitalization prior to the booster shot rollout. As a result, she said, Israel had a clear need for additional shots to bump up immunity. In the U.S., meanwhile, the vaccines were still highly protective against severe COVID-19 disease and death.

Chatterjee said that her eventual votes — in favor of booster shots — were not based on data from Israel. Still, the Israeli scientists’ very presence at the meeting demonstrated the shortcomings of the U.S. health system. If the U.S. doesn’t comprehensively track its own data, it has to rely on other countries to tell it how to keep Americans safe. Meanwhile, without clear evidence that they can refer to in making their own COVID-19 decisions, many Americans have been confused about whether they are eligible for — or even need — a booster shot.

Israel has a universal health care system for all citizens and permanent residents. So does the U.K., another country that the U.S. looks to for COVID-19 data. Beyond the health care benefits that such policies provide to residents, universal health care has a clear advantage for data scientists seeking to answer medical questions. When every person in the country is plugged into the same health care system, it’s very easy to standardize your data.”

“In the U.S., vaccine research is far more complicated. Rather than one singular, standardized system housing health care data, 50 different states have their own systems, along with hundreds of local health departments and thousands of hospitals. “In the U.S., everything is incredibly fragmented,” said Zoë McLaren, a health economist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “And so you get a very fragmented view of what’s going on in the country.””

“Without a unified dataset allowing U.S. researchers to analyze how well the vaccines are working, policymakers are left with limited information to make crucial decisions, such as determining who should be first in line for a booster shot.”

COVID-19 Was Always Going To Be A Struggle For The CDC. But Trump Sure Didn’t Help.

“And, to be sure, the Trump administration did things that not only were well outside established norms but also undermined the CDC and the entire field of public health. For example, on April 3, 2020, while announcing the agency’s recommendation to wear masks, the president repeatedly emphasized that no one had to wear masks and explicitly said that he personally wasn’t going to wear one.

The administration also pushed for edits to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, long the primary means for communicating scientific data to other researchers and the broader medical community. These edits were political, designed to downplay the growing number of COVID-19 deaths and support decisions the administration had already made about issues like school reopenings. Emails revealed that members of the Trump administration were accusing the CDC of trying to make the administration look bad by releasing data disclosing the dire nature of the pandemic.

Those kinds of actions by a presidential administration were unprecedented. And they contributed to a loss of morale and a sense within the CDC that everyone just needed to keep their heads down and not make waves. But the political issues weren’t just about what the administration did — they were also about what it didn’t do.

By early March 2020, the CDC had all but disappeared from press briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. No one in the Trump administration ever explicitly said that the agency wouldn’t be speaking to the public. But, quietly, that’s exactly what happened. By May 2020, the Union of Concerned Scientists could graph the disappearance of the CDC. And this was a completely different situation from what had happened in past pandemics, when presidents let the CDC take the lead.

At the same time, the Trump administration did not seem to facilitate communication between the CDC and outside experts — something the scientists I spoke to said had been the norm for past administrations faced with a public health crisis.”

How the world missed more than half of all Covid-19 deaths

“The United States alone is estimated to have had 905,000 Covid-19 fatalities, vastly more than the 579,000 deaths officially reported, and more than any other country. The calculation is based on modeling of excess mortality that has occurred during the pandemic.

The drastic difference highlights how difficult it is to keep track of even basic metrics like deaths when a deadly disease is raging. The higher toll also means the ripples of the pandemic have spread wider than realized, particularly for health workers on the front lines who have repeatedly faced the onslaught with limited medical resources and personal protection. And the undercounts have important consequences for how countries allocate resources, anticipate future hot spots, and address health inequities.”

The Trump administration forced Apple to turn over lawmakers’ data. Democrats are outraged.

“That the Department of Justice sought the private phone data of US lawmakers without their knowledge is remarkable and disturbing. While details are still emerging, the exchange sets a concerning precedent about the ability of the executive branch to obtain the digital records of lawmakers as well as tech companies’ roles in complying with such orders.”

“The DOJ’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced on Friday that he will start a review of the agency’s actions under the Trump administration and will look at “whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.””

Unemployment Is Much Worse Than You Think — Here’s Why.

“Over the years, the rate of unemployment has become not just a gauge of the health of the labor market but the most common yardstick policymakers use to assess the health of the economy as a whole.

By this measure, despite the pandemic, things don’t look so bad right now. The headline unemployment rate for December stood at 6.7 percent. In recent years, there’s been some public recognition that that the headline rate is something of an undercount, since it only includes people actively looking for work; so-called discouraged workers who are unsure of how to go about a job search or who are too discouraged to try any more don’t show up in that top-line number. And, for decades now, the BLS has diligently supplemented the headline unemployment rate with additional information about these workers.

But it turns out that discouraged workers aren’t the only problem with the unemployment rate. In fact, these days the headline unemployment rate isn’t just an undercount, it actually paints an alternate reality that masks the degree to which low- and moderate-income people are hurting. As a result, policymakers believe these Americans are better off than they actually are.

There are two additional problems with the way we count people who are unemployed.

First, there’s no accounting for how many hours a part-time worker is working.”

“Our unemployment figures make it look like the person working a handful of hours because that’s the only work they can get is just as “employed” as a full-time CEO. In practice, this means that the unemployment rate actively obscures how many workers are living in poverty in part not because they don’t have a job, but because they can’t get enough hours.

Second, the data doesn’t indicate whether the job a worker is doing pays enough to keep them out of poverty.”

“Anyone who wants full-time work but can only find part-time work, and those working full-time but earning too little to climb above the poverty line, should be considered functionally unemployed. I’ve begun to calculate this, which I’ve dubbed the True Rate of Unemployment. And the TRU in December wasn’t 6.7 percent — it was an alarming 25.1 percent.”

“In February 2020, when the economy was supposedly “hot,” the official BLS release suggested that a mere 3.5 percent of Americans were unemployed, but the “TRU” number was 24 percent.”

Michigan Voters Demand That Police Get Warrants for Electronic Data

“Michigan voters Tuesday night had a message for police: Get a warrant. Yes, for their phones, too.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Michigan Proposal 2. The referendum, put to the ballot by lawmakers, amends the state constitution to add “electronic data and electronic communications” to the state’s search and seizure laws.”

Why the policing problem isn’t about “a few bad apples”

“No matter how you look at it, the American criminal justice system is riddled with biases. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko cataloged, we know that black people are nearly twice as likely to be pulled over and more likely to be searched once they’re stopped even though they’re less likely to have contraband; and that unarmed black people are more than three times as likely to be shot by police as unarmed whites.”

“Let’s think about the Floyd case. Before we get to the killing, let’s think about the arrest. The store owner called the police and said that someone had tried to pass a fake $20 bill. The police respond, and what they do is virtually impossible to imagine happening to a white person. What they do is to approach Mr. Floyd’s car like he’s a violent thug. They order Mr. Floyd and the passengers to exit the car. One officer has his hand on his gun. They put Mr. Floyd in handcuffs. When he falls to the ground, they leave him on the ground in handcuffs, and then, as the whole world knows, they hold him down by his back and knee and legs for 10 minutes until he dies. I just can’t imagine that happening to a white person over a $20 bill.”

“Part of the evidence that the system was designed this way, and one of the reasons it recurs over and over again, is because a lot of the conduct that people of color complain about is totally legal. So I don’t think the case against the officers in the Floyd case is a slam-dunk by any means. The defense will be that their use of force was reasonable. And they have a case to make. They don’t have a great case, given that Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, but what they will say is that he was resisting arrest and they used reasonable force to subdue him. And obviously there comes a point where the reasonableness of that force is extinguished by the fact that his body is lying limp and motionless on the ground. But up until then, I think they have an argument that what they were doing was legal.
Outside of that case, in theory, the power that police have is unreal. I have a police officer buddy who comes and visits my criminal law class, and to demonstrate how much power he has, he invites my students to go on a ride-along in his car, to see what it’s like to patrol the streets of DC. He plays a game with them called Pick That Car. He tells the student, “Pick any car that you want, and I’ll stop it.” So the student will say, “How about that white Camry over there.”

He’s a good cop. He waits until he has a legal reason. But he says that he could follow any car, and after five minutes or three blocks, the driver will commit some traffic infraction, and then under the law he has the power to stop the car, to order the driver and the passengers to get out of the car. If he has reasonable suspicion that they might be armed or dangerous, he could touch their bodies, he can frisk them, he can ask to search their car. And it’s totally legal. That’s an example of the extraordinary power that police have.”

“A hundred years from now, when people want to know what it was like to be alive in 2020, the Ferguson report is one of the things they’ll look at. It’s this amazing synthesis of data and stories. The data includes the fact that every single time the police used a dog in Ferguson, they used it against a black person.”

“So there’s one story in there in which a woman calls the police because her boyfriend’s beating her up. By the time the police get there, he’s gone. The police look around the apartment and they say, “Does he live here?” And she says, “Yes, he does.” The police say, “You’re under arrest for occupancy permit violation, because his name isn’t on the lease.” When that happened to another woman in Ferguson, she said she would never call the police again, she didn’t care if she was being killed. Again, this is how the police do black people and brown people. They don’t treat white people like this, certainly not as systematically as they do black and brown people.”

“I think a lot of people go into the work because they really want to help communities, and they really want to make a difference, and this belief is based on my experience as a prosecutor working with police officers of all backgrounds and of all races. So I don’t think that police officers are especially racist. But I do think we give them tools and authority in a context that leads them to deploy it unjustly against people of color.”

How “truth decay” is harming America’s coronavirus recovery

“Truth decay encompasses four trends, each of which is relevant to what we’re experiencing now.
The first is increasing disagreement about facts and data. An example in this context would be the disagreement about the safety of vaccines and whether people will take them once they’re made and distributed.

The second trend is the increased blurring of the line between fact and opinion. This is caused a lot by commentary in cable news or social media, places where facts and opinion are mixed together and make it really hard to determine what’s real and what’s someone’s opinion or analysis.

The third trend is the increasing volume of opinion compared to fact. You’re just seeing a lot more opinion out there. If you’re looking for facts, you have to work pretty hard to dig through all that commentary before you can actually find the raw facts you might be looking for.

Finally, declining trust in key institutions that provide information. We’re experiencing this now with the government and the media.

Put together, people are not sure what’s true what’s not, and they don’t even really know where to turn to find factual information they’re looking for.”

“Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, seems to be the guy providing the media and the public with the necessary facts about the coronavirus right now. But because the president undercuts him and disagrees with a lot of what he says, he’s become somewhat of a polarizing figure. If you’re a Trump fan, you might not be a Fauci fan, and vice versa.

At such a crucial time, how is the expertise of someone like Fauci or other public health experts not innately trusted?”

“people like to confirm their own beliefs. They don’t necessarily want to hear information that disagrees with their views, and it leads people to reject information from experts that doesn’t fit their narrative.”

“I’m skeptical this moment will lead to only facts coming from the top and an extra effort from the bottom to seek facts. Tens of thousands of Americans have died, millions have fallen ill, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a change. The US isn’t rising to the moment.”

“this is a national failure because it prevents us from making progress on the big issues that our country needs to confront if we want to continue being a prosperous nation and maintain the position we have in the world.”

In fight against coronavirus, governments embrace surveillance

“The rush to embrace data-sharing and even apps that track infected people’s whereabouts raises the question: Where are Europe’s data regulators? For now, they are largely keeping an eye on developments and even in some cases giving their blessings to new data-collection initiatives.”

How polarization shaped Americans’ responses to coronavirus, in one chart

“As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in late February and early March, President Trump and his allies in the conservative media adopted a skeptical tone. Trump said that “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear;” Fox Business host Trish Regan called it “yet another attempt to impeach the president.”

Some preliminary early data suggests that Trump and Fox downplaying the pandemic made Trump supporters less likely to take the disease seriously early on.”

“on March 13, Trump declared a national emergency over coronavirus, and, afterward, started taking the virus more seriously in public rhetoric and response. And starting on March 13, the partisan tilt disappears”

“Schaffner’s research here is very preliminary. It’s worth noting that there are several possible confounding variables, including the fact that some of the hardest-hit earlier states were blue-leaning coastal ones like Washington, California, and New York.

But his findings are consistent with early polling on coronavirus showing the same partisan gap, with Democrats consistently saying they were more likely to take individual action on coronavirus than Republicans.

It also fits with what we’ve observed more broadly during the Trump administration: The president’s stance on something causes Republicans to align with it and Democrats to oppose it, as well as a large, pre-Trump body of research on public opinion suggesting that voters often take cues on complex policy issues from trusted elites.”

“as evidence continues to mount for a partisan gap in coronavirus response early on, we should take seriously the possibility that Trump returning to downplaying the risks of the virus would also lead to a vast swath of the American public ignoring public health advice — and thus contributing to the pandemic’s rapid spread.”