August 24, 2021

Monday produced one of the most significant moments of the pandemic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

President Joe Biden called it “a key milestone in our nation’s fight against COVID.”

Then again, was it really significant?

The media did a superb job Monday of breaking down exactly what Monday’s announcement could mean — and why it’s significant.

Because, at first, maybe not a whole lot has changed among individuals. Consider this: About 171 million Americans — 51.5% — were fully vaccinated before the FDA’s full approval of any vaccine. And 201.4 million (60.7%) have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Again, that’s before the FDA gave full approval.

As far as the vaccine skeptics, Biden told them Monday, “The moment you’ve been waiting for is here. It’s time for you to go get your vaccination and get it today.”

But will Monday’s announcement really swing the holdouts to get vaccinated? As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote, “The short answer is that we don’t know yet.”

Blake points to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation that showed 30% of unvaccinated people said they would be more likely to get the shot if it was approved. Many who aren’t getting it said safety is a concern. And of those who said they will “definitely not” get the vaccine, the overwhelming majority said the vaccine presented more of a risk than the coronavirus. Blake wrote, “… among the 10 percent who say they’ll ‘wait and see,’ they believe the virus is more dangerous by a 50-to-34 margin. Those ‘wait and see’ folks would seem to have some important new information in their deliberations.”

Monday’s news might convince some to finally go ahead and get the shot. But, of course, there will be those who will never get the vaccine no matter what.

But there’s another reason why Monday’s news is significant, and it’s one of the first things mentioned (smartly, I should add) on CNN as soon as the story broke. The FDA’s full stamp of approval means businesses, workplaces and schools now might feel more confident in demanding their employees, customers and students get vaccinated.

As Blake wrote, “Some were already headed in that direction, but relatively few had used mandates. Now they can do so with a fully authorized vaccine — similar to other vaccines that are mandated in places like schools, etc. — which makes such mandates significantly more difficult to challenge in court.”

Politico’s Katherine Ellen Foley and Lauren Gardner wrote, “Within hours of the announcement Monday, the Pentagon said it would accelerate plans to mandate vaccination for active-duty troops, and New York City said it would require vaccination for all teachers ahead of the new school year. Several companies and universities have announced plans for mandates that would be triggered by FDA’s full approval of COVID shots.”

There was plenty of good work and analysis coming out of Monday’s news. As Politico wrote, “From a scientific standpoint, the approval is virtually meaningless given that the shot has been given to hundreds of millions of people worldwide, said Paul Offit, a vaccine expert at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel.”

However, for a story that has always been about the science, Monday’s news showed why it matters even beyond the science.

Pfizer’s CEO speaks

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, right, speaking next to President Joe Biden in June. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told Lester Holt on Monday’s “NBC Nightly News” that while Pfizer is developing a “specialized vaccine for delta,” he is “almost certain that we will not need it because the booster shot of the current vaccine is very, very, very effective against delta. But we cannot take that chance.”

As far as his company, Bourla said, “We have asked our employees that they should be fully vaccinated or, taking twice a week, the test. But, you know, we have approximately 90% of our people already vaccinated, fully vaccinated.”

As far as Monday’s news, Bourla said, “I think that, for those people that were a little bit reluctant because they wanted to see a full approval, now they have the full confirmation of one of the most respected agencies in the world, the FDA, that the product that the vaccine is effective and safe.”

News from Afghanistan

Still lots of strong journalism regarding Afghanistan. Here are some highlights and notable pieces:

DeSantis pushes back against AP

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is all fired up. He sent a strongly worded letter to The Associated Press after his press secretary was temporarily suspended from Twitter after an AP reporter received online harassment and threats for a story he wrote.

Brendan Farrington, an AP reporter in the Florida capital of Tallahassee, wrote a story about how one of DeSantis’ top donors also invests in a COVID-19 drug that DeSantis promotes. In a since-deleted tweet, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted Farrington’s story and told her followers to “drag them.” Another Pushaw tweet said that if Farrington didn’t change his story she would “put you on blast.” She also retweeted a message that said “Light. Them. Up.” in reference to the AP.

The AP wrote a letter to DeSantis about Pushaw’s tweets, and Pushaw was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours. On Monday, DeSantis wrote to incoming AP CEO Daisy Veerasingham. He started with, “I assumed your letter was to notify me that you were issuing a retraction of the partisan smear piece you published last week. Instead, you had the temerity to complain about the deserved blowback that your botched and discredited attempt to concoct a political narrative has received. The ploy will not work to divert attention from the fact that the Associated Press published a false narrative that will lead some to decline effective treatment for COVID infections.”

The rather long (actually, too long) letter concluded with “You succeeded in publishing a misleading, clickbait headline about one of your political opponents, but at the expense of deterring individuals infected with COVID from seeking life-saving treatment, which will cost lives. Was it worth it?”

I’m not sure DeSantis can take the moral high ground when it comes to protecting Floridians from being impacted by COVID-19.

Crossing the line?

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Over the weekend, Fox News’ Rachel Campos-Duffy found someone else to blame for the problems associated with the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan: first lady Dr. Jill Biden.

First, Campos-Duffy questioned President Joe Biden’s competency, saying, “When you look at what’s hurting America, when you look at this lack of leadership, and you wonder who are the people responsible for putting someone this incompetent and frankly this, you know, mentally frail in this position?”

She then, incredibly and recklessly, added, “I’m sorry, as a political spouse, I can’t help but look at Jill Biden. No one knew better his state of mind than Dr. Jill Biden. And if you ask me, the most patriotic thing Jill Biden could have done was tell her husband — to love her husband and not let him run in this mental state that he’s in. I think she failed the country as well.”

Michael LaRosa, the press secretary for Jill Biden, tweeted, “This is disgusting. @RCamposDuffy and @FoxNews know better. They can do better and their viewers deserve better. I hope they’ll apologize to the First Lady and leave this kind of talk in the (trash can emoji) where it belongs.”

Answers in the form of a mess

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Hey “Jeopardy,” Aaron Rodgers might still be available — you know, since you’re still looking for a host after fumbling your first pick of Mike Richards. In an interview with Adam Schein on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Radio, the Green Bay Packers quarterback was asked if he would have taken the “Jeopardy” job had it been offered.

“Yes, I definitely would have,” Rodgers said. “I mean, if they would have figured out a way to make it work with my schedule, yeah, for sure.”

The interview was before Richards stepped down, and “Jeopardy” already said that hosting the show was a full-time gig, meaning Rodgers’ football schedule would have been in the way. But Rodgers did perform well as a guest host.

Meanwhile, “Jeopardy” is going to go back to using guest hosts until it figures out a permanent host. CNN’s Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy reported that the first guest host will be Mayim Bialik, who has already been picked to host “Jeopardy” prime-time specials. She originally was not considered for the full-time “Jeopardy” job because of a busy schedule that includes her sitcom on Fox, “Call Me Kat.” That could change if “Jeopardy” adjusts its schedule to work around Bialik’s schedule.

In his newsletter, former Hollywood Reporter editor Matthew Belloni wrote, “I’m told by two show insiders that it’s now (Ken) Jennings’ job to lose.” Stelter also reported that sources told him Jennings is the “hands-down favorite.”

Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan joins the large chorus of those singing the praises of The Ringer reporter Claire McNear and her excellent reporting on Richards. Sullivan’s column: “How journalism saved ‘Jeopardy!’ from an unworthy host after an utter failure of corporate vetting.”

Media tidbits

  • Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist and writer, has joined the New York Times as an Opinion columnist. Kathleen Kingsbury, the Times’ Opinion editor, writes about the hire.
  • Good stuff for Poynter from Tom Rosenstiel: “What can journalists do about the Unreality Crisis?”
  • The latest from Politico’s Jack Shafer: “More Money and Fewer Readers: The Paradox of Subscriber Journalism.”
  • Exciting news for those of us who are obsessed with the HBO show “Succession.” Season three will debut in October, according to the show’s Twitter account. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. You have a little more than a month to catch up on the first two seasons. And The New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead is out with a new profile of the show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, in “The Real C.E.O. of ‘Succession.’”
  • I missed including this in the newsletter last week, but longtime hockey writer and sports columnist Jay Greenberg recently died, reportedly from complications of the West Nile virus. He was 71. His career included writing for The Kansas City Star, Philadelphia Daily News, Sports Illustrated, Toronto Sun and, most notably, the New York Post. I knew Jay a little from our shared time on the National Hockey League beat and found him to be a no-holds-barred writer who wrote the truth, and a heck of a nice guy. New York Post sports columnist Mike Vaccaro has a nice tribute.
  • The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reports that former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy is returning to TNT as an analyst. He was with TNT in 2019-20 when he was in between stints as a coach.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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