Sep 22, 2021 - Podcasts

Universities force choices on COVID vaccine mixing

On Monday, the Biden administration said it would lift travel restrictions starting in November, for travelers from 33 countries who are fully vaccinated. That means that the U.S. will let in people who have received vaccines that aren’t yet authorized here in the U.S. by the FDA, like the AstraZeneca vaccine. But for international students who are coming here to study, that may not be the case.

  • Plus, a test of the global financial system from China.
  • And, why vinyl record sales keep exploding.

Guests: Reuters' Ahmed Aboulenein, The Johns Hopkins News-Letter's Michelle Limpe, Axios' Felix Salmon and Erica Pandey.

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, 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 Wednesday, September 22nd. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: A test of the global financial system, from China. Plus, why vinyl record sales keep exploding. But first, today’s One Big Thing: universities force choices on COVID vaccine mixing.

On Monday, the Biden administration said it would lift travel restrictions, starting this November, for travelers from 33 countries who are fully vaccinated. That means the U.S. will be letting in people who've received vaccines that aren't yet authorized here in the U.S. by the FDA, like the AstraZeneca vaccine. But for international students who are coming here to study, that's not always the case. We're here with Michelle Limpe, a Johns Hopkins junior from the Philippines. Hi Michelle. Thanks for being with us.

MICHELLE LIMPE: Hi, thank you for having me.

NIALA: So first, can you tell me, what is your vaccine status?

MICHELLE: So, Johns Hopkins released this mandate that all students who are planning to return in the fall have to be fully vaccinated which is why I received my two shots of AstraZeneca while I was home in the Philippines. I received my last shot, like late July before coming to the United States. About a week and a half before classes started the university changed its mandate and said they would only accept FDA approved vaccines. And this came as such a surprise to all of us students, because at that point, a lot of us were already back in the United States and of course, had already been fully vaccinated at home if possible.

NIALA: Are you going to get an FDA approved vaccine?

MICHELLE: Right now, I'm just trying as long as possible to delay. I personally just do not feel yet that it is safe right now for me to get another two shots of another vaccine. I'm also a U.S. citizen. So I feel like it would be improper for me to not follow CDC guidelines that are saying that the 28 days are for immunocompromised people and that people should be waiting eight months to get a booster shot.

NIALA: You're not just a student, you're also a student journalist. You're a managing editor of the News-Letter, which is the student paper at Johns Hopkins. What are you hearing from other students? How are students on campus reacting to this? Especially the international student population.

MICHELLE: I spoke to our representative of our student government. They just want-we as international students-we want increased transparency from the school on how they're making these decisions. And also we want the school to take responsibility and be liable for students who get revaccinated.

NIALA: Michelle Limpe is a junior at Johns Hopkins. She's also managing editor of their student newspaper, The News-Letter. Thank you, Michelle, for taking the time to speak with us.

MICHELLE: Thank you so much.

NIALA: So while some international students like Michelle are being forced to make choices about getting a second kind of vaccine, I wanted to get some clarity on what the research actually says about this. Ahmed Aboulenein is a health reporter at Reuters who's been looking into this. Hey Ahmed.


NIALA: What is the science saying about this idea of revaccination? Like having one vaccine like Michelle had and then stacking another like Moderna or Pfizer on top of that, is this safe?

AHMED: We don't know for sure. And what the CDC has said about this is that at least when it comes to MRNA vaccines, they're not interchangeable. It's in fact, preferable to delay a second dose rather than receive a different vaccine according to the CDC.

NIALA: Michelle is studying at Johns Hopkins University. And you spoke to a Johns Hopkins scholar about this in your reporting, about how universities should be handling this, what was his recommendation?

AHMED: Yeah, I spoke to Dr. Amesh Adalja, who is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. And he was in favor of governments standardizing what counts as fully vaccinated to include shots that may not be available in the countries where those governments are, and that would translate to other institutions, including, universities.

NIALA: We asked Johns Hopkins University for a statement about the situation. And we got an email from Executive Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Steven Gange. And I'm going to quote him here: “while there is yet no controlled studies on revaccination, Johns Hopkins vaccine, medical, and public health experts do not believe there is a risk to double or cross-platform vaccination. Ahmed is there agreement among public health experts about whether or not there's harm?

AHMED: Every expert I've spoken to has said, it's likely that there is no harm, but emphasis here on likely, because they've also all said that we just don't have enough data to be a hundred percent sure.

NIALA: Ahmed Aboulenein is a health reporter at Reuters in Washington, DC. Ahmed, thank you for taking the time to speak with us, I appreciate it.

AHMED: My pleasure.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, Felix Salmon joins me to explain why we’re facing a Lehman Brothers-style test of the global economy.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. During the last financial crisis, we talked a lot about companies that were too big to fail. And we're hearing that again with discussion of the Chinese construction giant Evergrande, which is near default on more than $300 billion worth of debt. Felix Salmon is Axios’ chief financial correspondent and here to explain why this is the first big test of a global financial system since the pandemic started. Hey Felix.


NIALA: Felix, this is a complicated mess. That said, what do we need to know about Evergrande?

FELIX: This is this absolutely massive company in China, mostly in residential property, but they have everything from electric cars to shopping malls - they have been one of the driving forces behind the Chinese property bubble, which you probably have heard of.

NIALA: Can you tell us why everyone should pay attention when they hear this?

FELIX: What everyone is worried about is that we're going to see in China, what we saw basically in the United States in 2008, that property prices will collapse, that there'll be a wave of bankruptcies. This affects millions of people in China. There are over one and a half million Chinese people who are owed apartments by this company. There are millions more who lent money to this company. There are banks whose balance sheets are exposed to this company. If it falls apart in a chaotic manner, that could have devastating consequences for China, and given the centrality of China to the world, to the world.

NIALA: You and I are talking as the markets are opening Wednesday morning in Asia. What clues does that tell us about how this may play out this week?

FELIX: Good news. The Shanghai composite, like the main stock market in China, opened on Wednesday around like 1%, like that's perfectly normal for the Shanghai composite, but it does mean that this consensus that built up over certainly Tuesday that the Chinese government was not going to allow a chaotic collapse seems to have made its way into the Chinese market too.

NIALA: Felix Salmon is Axios’ chief financial correspondent. Thank you, Felix.

FELIX: Thanks Niala.

NIALA: While we know some retail has been crushed by COVID -- vinyl record sales are actually rising, reports Axios’ Erica Pandey. Erica, this has been a pretty remarkable trend, right?

ERICA PANDEY: That's right, Niala. And it's the younger enthusiasts that are sort of driving this revival trend. I mean, here's a staggering stat for you. In 2020, U.S. vinyl sales top CD sales for the first time since 1986. And this year that growth keeps exploding vinyl sales are up 108% in the first six months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. That has made vinyl stores kind of a rare winner in this pandemic retail apocalypse. And when I asked these record store owners, what keeps these people coming back and buying, they say that records have this kind of eternal coolness that hasn't faded. On top of that, the sound quality has, you know, a lot of character to it, you can hear pops and crackles. Some people really love that. And younger consumers are even displaying their vinyl records, putting them on shelves or on their walls. And I, I guess that that idea of, you know, streaming services, you're, you're renting music, the idea of being able to own something you care about and own the piece of music still, uh, still has a hold on, on consumers today.

NIALA: That’s Erica Pandey, business reporter for Axios. Thanks for filling in for me yesterday!

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can always send us feedback by emailing us at podcasts at axios dot com. And if you have time to leave us a starred review on Apple, we’d really appreciate it because it helps people find us. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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