Politics

The Covid Fight Gets More Challenging

Biden and the states confront a fast-morphing virus, while Republicans have already started looking to 2022. It’s Tuesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

The House impeachment managers walked the article of impeachment to the Senate yesterday.


The 2020 election is barely behind us, but inevitably the talk of 2022 has already begun.

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, announced yesterday that he would not run for another term next year, setting up a primary fight in a Midwestern G.O.P. stronghold that will inevitably offer clues about the direction of the Republican Party.

But the simple fact of Portman’s decision to retire — and the reasons he gave for doing so — said something about the state of American politics. A veteran of the George W. Bush administration, Portman had developed a reputation in the Senate as a staunch conservative who nonetheless insisted on reaching across the aisle.

He helped push through the new North American trade deal in 2019, and was part of the bipartisan coalition that pushed a pandemic relief package late last year, then pressured House and Senate leadership to finally pass it at the end of December.

Widely seen as a leading contender to replace him is Representative Jim Jordan, a die-hard Trump ally whose heavily gerrymandered district is likely to be redrawn this year — and not in his favor.

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

If Jordan can win a statewide primary to succeed Portman, it would signal a significant victory for Trumpism in a state where the Republican electorate has historically been well balanced between working-class white voters and more affluent white suburban Republicans. Think of John Kasich, and before that, William Saxbe: This isn’t supposed to be the most Trump-friendly Republican state.

The opposite is true of Arkansas, where Trump enjoyed some of his strongest support in the 2020 election (62 percent voted for him). That would seem to make it fertile terrain for Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the former White House press secretary for Trump, who yesterday announced her bid for Arkansas governor, her father’s old job.

If she wins, it would plant a clear flag for Trump’s influence, at least in the strongest of Republican strongholds.

Sanders sounded Trumplike in her announcement video, posted on Twitter. “With the radical left now in charge of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense. In fact, your governor must be on the front line,” she said. “So today, I announce my candidacy for governor of Arkansas.”


New York Times Podcasts

Ezra Klein, a founder of Vox.com and newly hired New York Times Opinion columnist, recently recorded the first episode of his podcast for us. In it, he spoke with Dr. Vivek Murthy, Biden’s nominee for surgeon general, a post he previously held from 2014 to 2017.

They spoke about the challenges the coronavirus pandemic continues to pose, the politicization of science and how the country can move past the crisis.

“There are times, you know, when we are 50 states and there are times where we’re one nation,” Murthy said at one point. “This is a time where we have to be one nation. And if we don’t do that, then we are not going to turn this pandemic around and we are going to continue to lose more people to this terrible virus.”

Listen to the episode here. You can listen and subscribe to “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Stitcher (here’s how to listen).

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