Aug 11, 2022 - Podcasts

Making sense of Polio’s return

British health authorities said Wednesday that around 1 million children in London are being offered polio boosters, after the virus was detected in the city’s sewage. The first U.S. case in nearly a decade was diagnosed in New York last month.

  • Plus: a powerhouse union has a message for Democrats ahead of the midterms.
  • And: new help for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

Guests: Axios' Adriel Bettelheim and Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union in Las Vegas, NV.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. 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: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, August 11th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Today: a powerhouse union has a message for Democrats ahead of the midterms. Plus, new help for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.

But first, making sense of the return of Polio, that’s today’s One Big Thing.

NIALA: British health authorities said Wednesday that around 1 million children in London are being offered polio boosters. After the virus was detected in the city's sewage. And in New York officials say there could be hundreds or even thousands of undiagnosed polio cases in the state. The first US case in nearly a decade was diagnosed in New York last month. Axios senior healthcare editor, Adriel Bettelheim is back with more. Hi Adriel.

ADRIEL BETTELHEIM: Nice to be with you.

NIALA: Let's get the most important question out of the way. Are we going to see a major resurgence of polio in the US?

ADRIEL: I don't think you're going to see quite what is going on in other parts of the world in, in places like West Africa where the virus is spreading uncontrolled, but it still is a major public health concern if you're not vaccinated. I mean, uh, in the United States, more than 90% of people are vaccinated, I think by the age two. It's required in many places to attend school unless you have a religious exemption or, and you're in a state that leaves the decision up to the parents. So the coverage is very good. The threat is really to people who are unvaccinated and who may be contracting this from people who've been abroad. The belief is these are vaccine derived cases. In, in other words, the weakened virus in an oral vaccine, not the type that's taken in the US, but in the developing world. That weakened live virus can mutate and then it becomes more like a natural version of the poliovirus, which can spread if you don't have a vaccine.

NIALA: As we're seeing all of these infectious diseases, it's understandable that some people are jittery about all of this. But do you think it's better to think of this as, we're actually just doing a better job tracking all of these diseases?

ADRIEL: For sure. I mean, I think the surveillance has been fortified. I think the pandemic, uh, gave, you know, public health authorities more wherewithal. Congress and the administration gave them more money. But there are threats out there and some of them are novel and I think we're sort of discovering how viruses adapt and mutate to treatments. And this game never really stops. You're never totally free from the threat. So that's why it's still important they say, to have widespread vaccinations and it's important to have, you know, uptakes so that you don't get sort of uncontrolled community spread.

NIALA: Adriel Bettelheim is the senior healthcare editor at Axios. Thanks Adriel.

ADRIEL: Thank you very much.

Biden signs law to expand heath care benefits for veterans

NIALA: Another health headline for you this morning:

President Biden yesterday signed into law a bill that expands health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. The White House is calling the bipartisan PACT Act the most significant expansion to veterans' health care in thirty years. Burn pits were common during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for disposing of military waste, putting toxins into the air and into military members’ lungs.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them.

NIALA: President Biden’s son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.

This new law is expected to provide coverage for some 3.5 million veterans.

NIALA: Back in a moment with how a union in Nevada is trying to change the narrative around workers and inflation.

The Nevada Culinary Union has a message for Democrats ahead of the midterms

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I’m Niala Boodhoo.

The latest inflation numbers out yesterday show the worst might be behind us: the consumer price index rose 8.5% from last July and there was almost no change in the last month. These are signs that inflation could be cooling off but it's still top of mind for many Americans as rent and food prices continue to climb.

And in Nevada, a powerful union is using that to mobilize their members for Democrats in the midterms. The Culinary Union represents 60,000 people from bartenders to casino workers, and takes credit for Joe Biden’s Presidential win in the state in 2020. But this year, members say they’re frustrated at how some economists, corporations and the GOP have blamed inflation on stimulus checks and employee demands for higher wages.

I was in Las Vegas last week for a conference and sat down with Ted Pappageorge, secretary treasurer of the culinary union. We spoke at union headquarters, a few blocks off the strip.

NIALA: Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.

TED PAPPAGEORGE: Well, we're happy to be here. Thank you.

NIALA: Your union is the largest black, Latino, Asian American and immigrant organization in the state. What are your members telling you right now about the democratic party, particularly in Washington?

TED: Well, my members are pretty blunt. Our members here at culinary 226 and they tell you exactly what's on their mind. And right now the cost of housing, the price of rent, the price groceries, the price of gas. They are talking about these Supreme Court rulings. But it, it really is the economy that's the majority of the conversation out there right now. And it's an election year. And what are Democrats doing about it?

NIALA: What do they want Democrats to be doing about this?

TED: Well, I think that Democrats need to come out swinging. They gotta come out fighting about inflation. This whole question about working class voters and what did Democrats do with working class voters and, you know, Latino working class voters. Well, what to do is to first step, you have to talk to working class voters, and then you have to fight for working class voter issues. Because the messaging that the inflation is here because Democrats are here is, is a powerful thing. We have to own that. We have to understand that and we gotta duke it out person to person face to face. And that's our message to President Biden and our message to Democrats. It's time to get busy.

NIALA: Can you tell me about your canvasing efforts, particularly now in the lead up to November, what you've done so far this year and what you're doing to reach to 60,000 plus members that you have in the state?

TED: We are spending a lot of time talking to folks inside the shops, but also in the neighborhoods we've gotta have our members families register to vote and ready to vote and prepare to vote and their neighbors And in 2020, we were on the doors where most Democrats were not. We put together a safe system. We hit 650,000 doors. Um, we plan to talk to 1.1 million folks this time around in a midterm. We've just never done that before. So we started early. We started in March through the primaries.

Right now, the talking heads of the world and the economists of the world have said that because, because workers got help in, uh, housing, they got help with healthcare. They got help to put food on their tables with food banks. And now they're demanding wage increases to keep up with this inflation out there that workers and families and working families are to blame for inflation. It's disgusting. Uh, we reject that gotta get registered and we got it ready to vote in a midterm like we haven't done before. If we have these fights, I think we can, uh, we can win.

NIALA: Ted Pappageorge is the secretary treasurer of the culinary union. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate it.

TED: Great. Thank you.

Dolly Parton celebrates growth of her Imagination Library

NIALA: One fun thing before we go today.


NIALA: That’s music icon Dolly Parton in Columbus, Ohio earlier this week to celebrate the growth of her Imagination Library, the program she began in 1995 that mails a book a month to children from birth to five years old. About 186 million books have been mailed out globally since then, and about 3 million have gone to Ohio families. Dolly says she created the program as a tribute to her father, who never learned to read as a child. Thanks to Axios’ local Tyler Buchanan for recording this audio for us in Columbus.


NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! Please subscribe to Axios wherever you listen, and leave us a rating.

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

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