January 13, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 77—Political violence, and vaccines

As America prepares to say goodbye to one of the most polarizing presidents in U.S. history, emotions are at an all-time high. That was evident during the recent rioting that took place at the U.S. Capitol. While officials work to create calm throughout the nation, IU expert Ore Koren says once a person engages in political violence, it becomes easier to do it again and again. Koren, an assistant professor of political science and researcher of organized political violence, says one of the surprising things about the invasion to the Capitol building is that it happened in a country with a strong domestic security apparatus and a president that has been advocating, at least officially, for a strong law-and-order agenda. In other countries, Koren says, when we see a lot of violence, it happens because when a party refuses to give away power or blames the other for cheating, there is no real way to verify whether these allegations are true, and no political and legal institutional to provide a forum for discussing these claims. Though not an election expert, Koren thinks the events at the Capitol set a bad precedent. He contributes much of the cause of the event to misinformation. People mobilized based on a conspiracy with no evidence, he says, a major problem that needs to be addressed. While many people are saying the riot will have long-term negative implications, Koren says there is also a possibility it can help in the long run, if political and security leaders can understand and address the grave consequences of manipulating democratic institutions for political gain.

And as Americans deal with political upheaval, the country is still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. But as states start to administer the first doses of vaccine, Americans are feeling a glimmer of hope. As with most vaccines, though, some people have concerns about possible allergic reactions. Aaron Carroll, professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, says it’s not at all surprising that allergic reactions happen. What matters most, he says, is the severity and the rate at which they occur. And for the Covid vaccines, there’s no doubt that the value of vaccination outweighs the risk. On Dec. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance on administering the Covid vaccines, noting that a small number of people had experienced significant allergic reactions. The C.D.C. recommended that everyone who received a vaccine be observed for at least 15 minutes and those with a history of severe allergic reactions should be observed for 30 minutes. While anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction, is nothing to be ignored, Carroll says it’s most commonly associated with allergies to foods, like peanuts, or bee stings, and it’s the reason many people carry EpiPens. Even so, Carroll says an average of around 60 people die each year from hornet, wasp and bee stings and three times as many die from food allergies. When the C.D.C. updated its guidance, at least six out of hundreds of thousands of recipients had experienced a severe allergic reaction, but all of them recovered with treatment. Put those numbers in context: more than 2.1 million people in the United States have received a dose of a vaccine at this point and so far, according to reports, about 11 severe allergic reactions — representing about one in 190,000 doses administered — have been noted. Carroll says every potential bad outcome of a Covid vaccine should be weighed against the chance of getting sick or dying from the disease. More than 670,000 Americans have been hospitalized with the disease this year, and scientists are still struggling to treat so-called long-haulers, who endure long-term effects of the disease. Furthermore, surges are occurring all over the country now. Carroll says for the crisis to end, we need herd immunity, and the only way to reach that is to get most people immunized or infected. More people infected, he says, would be a tragedy. While vaccines aren’t perfect, Carroll says, they have the potential to help stop this pandemic.