Jul 27, 2021 - Podcasts

Vaccine mandates are here

Yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require its employees to be vaccinated. The news came as officials from New York City and the state of California announced similar mandates for their workers.

  • Plus, tempering expectations for the Jan. 6 committee.
  • And, what COVID-19 taught us about friendships.

Guests: Axios' Caitlin Owens, Alayna Treene, Mike Allen, Ina Fried, and author of Friends Forever, Suzanne Degges-White.

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, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. 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 Tuesday, July 27th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: theater vs. politics at the January 6 committee hearings. Plus, the pandemic’s effect on our friendships.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: employer vaccine mandates are here.

We’ve been talking for months about whether employer mandates for vaccines were coming - well yesterday the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to require its employees to be vaccinated. The news came as officials from New York City and the state of California announced similar mandates for their workers.

Axios health reporter Caitlin Owens has been tracking this and joins us now. Hey, good morning, Caitlin.

CAITLIN OWENS: Good morning.

NIALA: Why did all of these things happen yesterday?

CAITLIN: So yesterday was a big day for vaccine requirements. You know, just to kind of preface it, this isn't coming out of nowhere. There's been a lot of talk recently, specifically about within healthcare settings, about requiring workers to be vaccinated because cases and hospitalizations in the U S are on the rise, especially in states, in counties that have low vaccination rates. So I think this is at least partially a reaction to the uptick in cases that are a result of the spread of the Delta variant in the U.S.

NIALA: When we think about New York and California, about 70% of adults in New York City have had at least one vaccine dose and in California, that number is 60%. That's higher than the national average. Could these requirements really make a big difference in the national vaccination rates?

CAITLIN: We'll have to see how widespread they become, first of all. But I think an interesting test case to watch is France where it has gone further than the U.S. has. The rule itself, it prevents unvaccinated people from being in a lot of indoor places which in turn has led to a giant uptick in the number of people looking to get vaccinated and getting those vaccines.

Now, the U.S. again, we're talking about individual states and cities and states at this point, and then, in healthcare settings. So these are much narrower vaccine requirements, but vaccine requirements in and of themselves, especially if more widespread could lead to higher vaccine rates.

NIALA: There's also been a big backlash in France. What are we thinking in terms of a backlash against employer mandates in the U.S.?

CAITLIN: You know, it's kind of interesting, a lot of red states kind of preemptively banned vaccine mandates at least in certain settings. You know, red states have gone this route of saying that there will be no vaccine requirements within state, or local governments or some have extended it to schools. Montana has extended their rules to say that you cannot discriminate based on vaccination status. So these red states kind of preemptively blocked at least some vaccine mandates.

NIALA: Caitlin, we're calling these employer mandates for vaccinations, but almost all of them also say that if you don't want to get the vaccine, you have to submit to a weekly Covid test instead.

CAITLIN: Right, so this is the way I think about it: There are some employer vaccine mandates where at least as far as I can tell, the choice is either get vaccinated or get fired. We're also seeing what I think of as consequences for being unvaccinated where it may be if your employer has a vaccine requirement, the alternative is not that you get fired, it's that you have weekly Covid testing. So I think it's an important distinction between a vaccine requirement and again, what I'm calling consequences for being unvaccinated.

NIALA: Axios’ health reporter, Caitlin Owens. Thanks, Caitlin.

CAITLIN: Thank you.

We’ll be back in 15 seconds with what to expect from today’s first public hearing for the January 6 committee.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. This morning is the first day of hearings for the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection on January 6th. Axios’ Alayna Treene, who was in the Capitol on January 6th is joining us now with what to expect from this committee. Good morning, Alayna.

ALAYNA TREENE: Good morning, Niala. Thank you for having me.

NIALA: Alayna, at this point, who's actually on this committee? Because there's been a lot of movement on that front.

ALAYNA: There has been and it's been quite controversial, I think, to say the least. But right now there are nine members currently on there. There are two Republicans, and then there's three key Democrats. So there's Chairman Bennie Thompson who is really leading the investigation, but then also Rep Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin, two people who led the impeachment trials of former president Trump. And Raskin really even specifically had a key role, because the second trial was all about what happened on January 6. He was behind that really haunting footage that we saw during the second impeachment trial. And I think that they're planning to use similar tactics and strategy today during the hearing.

NIALA: So what are you expecting will happen today?

ALAYNA: So today I think is really going to be a big scene setter. There is still a lot of skepticism from people across the country over how bad January 6 was. And I think they're really trying to paint the picture of what happened and present a timeline as well, of how events unfolded that day.

NIALA: How effective do you think this will be?

ALAYNA: It's a great question, Niala. And it's hard. I think a big challenge that they face is knowing that this country is very divided. People like Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans who are connected to the Republican base are really painting this as a partisan exercise and a partisan investigation, and a huge fear is how this could potentially spill and will likely spill into an election year, 2022. The midterms are just 18 months away. And so, as much as how speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats are saying they want this to be nonpartisan or bipartisan, and they do have two Republicans on the panel, it's unclear if it will be seen or portrayed that way. And it's going to be really difficult, I think, for them to cut through, to some of the voters who really just don't agree with what Democrats have been saying about January 6.

NIALA: Alayna Treene is Axios’ congressional reporter. Thanks, Alayna.

ALAYNA: Thank you so much, Niala.

NIALA: Americans have fewer friends and are less likely to have a best friend than in the past. That's according to new research and Axios co-founder Mike Allen has just written about this and he is here with me now in person. Hello, Mike.

MIKE ALLEN: Niala, this is the first time we've been face-to-face for work. We've had coffee, we've had donuts, we've had chicken, but we've never done an actual interview.

NIALA: We haven't! So welcome to the Axios Today's studio. Mike, it's appropriate that we are talking about friendship in person. Why does this matter at this moment in particular?

MIKE: Well, people are lonely and the country is breaking apart. We need friends and that's why I was so struck by this research which I ran across on Twitter. It's by the Survey Center on American Life. It's a project of the American Enterprise Institute and what they did was they replicated some questions Gallup had asked in 1990, so they could compare it and they found that compared to 30 years ago, we're less likely to have a best friend and we’re likely to have fewer friends at a time when it seems like we need them more than ever.

NIALA: I spoke earlier with Suzanne Degges-White. She's a professor at Northern Illinois University about this whole issue. And here's one thing she told me -

SUZANNE DEGGES-WHITE: I think the main thing that's important is to recognize that we need time and space to get connected to ourselves. We really need that space to kind of reflect, because to be a good friend and to know what we value, we have to know who we are.

MIKE: Yeah, I love that idea of filling up the tank and she coined the phrase “friendscape.” What I love, Niala, as I sit down with people, I hear people saying they like the idea of fewer better friends, that that might be one of the few good things that has come from this horrible time for our country.

NIALA: Axios co-founder Mike Allen, thank you.

MIKE: Niala, have a friendly day.

NIALA: You can hear my full interview with Suzanne Degges-White about friendships and the pandemic on Monday's episode of Axios Re:Cap, where I am guest hosting all week. Find it wherever you get your podcasts.

Before we go today - Axios' Ina Fried is on the ground in Tokyo for the Olympics and sent her latest dispatch on one of the biggest surprises of her trip so far at the men's gymnastics final:

INA FRIED: I really thought, “Oh, you know, I watch it every four years. I know what's going on.” Boy, was I wrong. With the naked eye, it's really hard to follow, not to mention the fact that there's four events typically going on simultaneously.

NIALA: Ina’s picking up the biggest stories for us in the midst of it all -- more from her soon - and for up to the minute updates, follow her on Twitter - her handle is Ina Fried.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

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

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