Nov 19, 2021 - Podcasts

The latest on COVID booster shots

The FDA is likely to sign off shortly on the Pfizer booster shot for everyone 18 and over, but many cities and states like New York City and California have already made boosters available to all adults. We look at what we do and don't know about who should get boosters and what kind is best.

  • Plus, President Biden meets with his North American counterparts.
  • And, the growing global reach of Mexican food.

Guests: Dr. Namandje N. Bumpus, Director of the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine; and Axios' Dave Lawler and Russell Contreras.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. 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 Friday, November 19th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: President Biden meets with his North American counterparts. Plus, the growing global reach of Mexican food.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the latest on COVID booster shots.

We're hearing so much about boosters - who's eligible, what shot you can get. The FDA is likely to sign off shortly on the Pfizer booster shot for all adults 18 and older, but many cities and states like New York City and California have already made boosters available to all adults.

Namamdje Bumpus is the director of the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine and she's joining us now from Baltimore with some more answers on boosters. Welcome Dr. Bumpus.

NAMANDJE BUMPUS: Hello, thank you for having me.

NIALA: Can we start by just explaining who's eligible to get a booster right now?

NAMANDJE: Yes currently, if you received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine initially, you're eligible for a booster if you're 65 years or older, aged 18 living in a long-term care setting or with certain underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or also over 18, working in a high-risk setting. If you have received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and you're 18 years or older, you're eligible for a vaccine. Anyone who's received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine at least two months ago, basically.

NIALA: But this could soon change, correct?

NAMANDJE: Yes, so the Pfizer vaccine could soon become available to all adults. And you know, that may be coming down the line also for the other vaccines as well but there are places where it has already been broadened and extended to all.

NIALA: Do we have data on what provides the best protection for your third shot, especially if you're thinking about mixing and matching?

NAMANDJE: We do not. So the studies so far are small. What we do know is that these vaccines all, you know, work and are efficacious. So they all provide value certainly as a booster, the data suggests. There are some data indicating that if you got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, specifically that getting a booster dose with one of the mRNA based vaccines, the Pfizer or the Moderna, could provide an extra benefit. So, you know, if you got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, at least two months ago, there are data suggesting increased benefit of getting a booster with one of the mRNA vaccines.

NIALA: Dr. Bumpus, if you're someone who's young or not in a high-risk group, you may be thinking, “Do I really need a booster?” What are the arguments for everyone who's already had two shots to get a third?

NAMANDJE: Yeah, so I think if you're younger specifically, if you've gotten the Johnson and Johnson, I do think that there are data suggesting value for all adults who received that vaccine to get a booster, either with the Johnson and Johnson or with the mRNA-based vaccines. For adults that received the Pfizer or Moderna, it's a little bit tricky. I think that for the people certainly who are in that 65 and older group, it's important and they should talk to their healthcare provider.

For younger adults, you know, we really don't have data strongly suggesting that younger people that don't have underlying medical conditions or, you know, live in long-term care settings or work in these high-risk settings are really in need of the booster, even though they could benefit. So I think it's really at this point, a personal decision for those folks and something to just talk out with their healthcare provider about how they feel as far as their individual risk, other family that they spend time with - because certainly a booster may decrease your ability to transmit if you do become infected. So I think it's really weighing all of these things, and, you know, talking out with your healthcare provider.

NIALA: Dr. Namandje Bumpus is the director of the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Thank you for being with us, Dr. Bumpus.

NAMANDJE: Thank you.

NIALA: In 15 seconds, we’re catching you up on all of President Biden’s global meetings this week.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Usually on Fridays, we wrap up the week in domestic politics. But given how big an international week it's been for President Biden, we asked Axios World Editor, Dave Lawler, to catch us up on meetings with three world leaders: Chinese President Xi Jinping at the beginning of the week and yesterday, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came in person to the White House for the first visit of this administration. Hey Dave.

DAVE LAWLER: Hey, Niala.

NIALA: Let's start with yesterday's meetings of our neighbors. What was on the agenda?

DAVE: So basically there were broad topics to be discussed, economics, the trade relationships between the three countries, migration always comes up. There was one, deliverable I guess, which is that Canada and Mexico agreed to donate vaccines in the amount that the U.S. had donated to them at the beginning of the pandemic to other countries in the hemisphere. So there was a deal on vaccines. The borders are now open between these countries, but there are still some policies on the pandemic that were up for discussion. And this wasn't really an in-depth negotiation. It was the first time the three of them got together. So it was kind of an agenda setting meeting for them to all hit the big topics, but not necessarily make a whole bunch of news.

NIALA: Of course the week began with president Biden speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Unlike yesterday, there was a lot of different news conferences and questions. There was not a joint statement or formal agreement at the end of this meeting. Do we know what came up?

DAVE: Yeah, so this was a very different meeting, This was a meeting that was intended to get the relationship back on track because there's been a lot of difficulty between the U.S. and China even sitting down together and having a conversation. So this was Biden's initiative to say, we need to set some guard rails in this relationship. We need to be able to talk to one another and we need to be able to work together on some issues like climate change, even if we know we're going to be competing on other issues. And so this again, as you mentioned, there was not some sweeping statement at the end that we've solved it, but there were signs that there was now going to be more communication between the leaders and that they had maybe come to some accommodation with how they could work together going forward.

NIALA: Axios’ World Editor Dave Lawler.

I was in London last week and I must say I was surprised how many Mexican restaurants were listed on Eater as “best new restaurants” in the city. But over the last decade, Mexican restaurants have been popping up all over the world -- not just in London but also Tokyo and beyond.

Axios Justice and Race reporter Russell Contreras has been writing that growing global reach is giving clues about where Mexicans are migrating -- AND about the power of social media. Hey, Russ!

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Great to be with you.

NIALA: Let's take the first part of this - is the spread of Mexican food sales solely about migration?

RUSSELL: No, it's a combination of things, Mexican food and its popularity has grown over the years because of social media. It's also grown because of TV and reach and chefs are moving across the world, really experimenting with foods, but it is also a clue about where people are coming from the diaspora. They're settling in London, they're going to France and they're going to Tokyo and they're bringing their food with them.

NIALA: And so in LA that has created a great fusion, like the famous Korean tacos. How else are we seeing different fusions of cultures from traditional Mexican cuisine?

RUSSELL: Well in Houston, you can get Desi-Mex, mixing Indian curries with tacos. You can get deli-Mex in Brooklyn, kosher tacos. And my favorite is a place called Blacxican Cocina here in Albuquerque, which is a mixture of soul food and Mexican food. And this shows that Mexican food not only evolves where it goes, but it evolves with the people who eat it. It's a food that is basically fusion food all around.

NIALA: Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras. Thank you, Russ.

RUSSELL: Good to be with you.

NIALA: Earlier this week we asked you what memories you had of your favorite children’s tv show - and, it seems like a lot of you are fans of The Electric Company. Thanks for sharing! Tomorrow, we’ll be dropping the latest episode of our monthly series on systemic racism, Hard Truths - and, we’ll be talking about the push to diversify children’s TV programming.

Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries.

We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird and David Toledo. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. And special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and have the best weekend.

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