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Transcript: Minisode One: The one where we talk about vaccines.

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0:00  [intro music]

Ra  0:38  

Welcome to the first minisode episode of Abolition is for Everybody. Minisodes are much shorter, and a little less polished, but still super friendly, and still all about abolition. My name is Ra, I was a co-host last season, and I’ll be a co-host in season two. Abolition is for Everybody is produced by Initiate Justice, and hosted on Anchor.FM, which is a child company of Spotify and today’s minisode is talking about that. How do we make abolitionist choices in real life situations? What do vaccines have to do with abolition? How do we live our values while doing the work? Today, to help guide us through these questions, we have Taina and Michelle. Hi, yall, can you introduce yourself and tell us why you’re here?

Taina  1:27  

Thank you Ra, my name is Taina Vargas. My pronouns are she and her. I’m the co-founder and executive director of Initiate Justice. I was also a co-host of season one of Abolition is for Everybody and I am an overall fan of vaccines.

Michelle  1:42  

Hello, everyone my name is Michelle, she/her/hers and I’m the Communications Coordinator here at Initiate Justice. I do all of the behind the scenes work for Abolition is for Everybody from the planning, to the editing, to the scheduling our guests, all of course, with the help of the Initiate Justice team., but I think before we you know, dive into more about vaccines, I wanted to provide a little bit more context. For those of you who don’t know, recently Spotify was asked to, you know, assess their values, and speak against misinformation about vaccines that was coming from one of their biggest platforms on Spotify who continuously spread this information.

Ra  2:25  

Wow, that that’s a lot. That’s a lot um, Taina not all of us are as versed in vaccinations as you are. Can you tell us? Can you tell us why this matters to us as abolitionists?

Taina  2:36  

Absolutely and first of all, let me preface everything that I’m about to say, by saying that I am not a doctor or a medical expert so everything that I say should be taken with a grain of salt and I think that’s kind of like the overall message that we’re talking about here today is you know, people should not be getting their medical advice from podcasts. But I am happy to share, you know, the information that I have gathered from being a participant in the trials for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, and also just a lot of research that I’ve done on the subject. Yeah, and then I’m also just happy to frame this in an abolitionist framework, and, you know, talk about why it’s important for those of us who care about community safety, who care about, you know, loving and protecting one another, why it’s important for us to get vaccinated against COVID. So I can just go ahead and start with my experience, as I just mentioned, I was actually a participant in the the Pfizer vaccine trials, which was a very exciting opportunity for me. I was, I was invited to participate in the trials in August of 2020 s fairly early on in, in the pandemic, but at this point, we were already in phase three of the vaccine trial. So for folks who might not be aware of how the processes work, the way that vaccines are created are first, no, the vaccine is created in a lab. And then they go through phase one of trials, which is, you know, testing maybe a couple of 100 folks to see if the vaccine works on them, recording if there are any side effects and making any adjustments as necessary. Then moving into phase two, where they test the vaccine on a couple of 1000 people and then I entered the trial in phase three, where they were testing on on 10s of 1000s of people at that point, I was one of them close to 50,000 people worldwide who were were part of this study. And the way that the trial worked was I showed up to the clinic they asked me a bunch of questions to make sure you know that I was relatively like healthy and informed and have not been previously infected with COVID because that could skew the results of the trial and I was given a shot, it was a blind study at that point so I did not know if I was receiving the actual COVID-19 vaccine, or if I was receiving a placebo. So that was in September of 2020. A few weeks later, I went back and received a second dose and throughout the course of the trial, I would go to the clinic every now and then where they would take blood samples to test my antibody levels. They, I fill out a diary every week, which I still fill out. It’s now February 2020. Every Friday I fill in a diary reporting, if I have been exposed to COVID, or if I’m experiencing any symptoms. I was paid for my time. Every time I go to the clinic, I get paid. I also receive $5 every time I take 30 seconds to fill out my little e-diary. Which is kind of cool thing. But yeah, and then I ended up finding out maybe about five months after I participated in the study. So actually, yeah, like February of 2021, just over a year, this is about a year now. The study was unblinded and I found out that I did receive the real vaccine. So I’ve been fully vaccinated since September of 2020, and probably one of the first people in the world to receive the vaccine and then I also had the exciting opportunity to participate in the booster trial as well. So when Pfizer was determining whether or not folks will need a booster, they, you know, they conducted another series of trials for that. So, in April of 2021, I received a booster for against COVID so I have been fully vaccinated and boosted since April of 2021. And yeah,

Michelle  6:48  

I like that you have your whole timeline written out, which these are very important dates for you.

Taina  6:54  

[laughs]

Ra  6:54  

[laughs] And shocking when you put it in the context of the whole world, you know, like nobody else was vaccinated, really like it’s a very small group.

Taina  7:01  

Yeah and I speak about a with enthusiasm, one, because I did see like my participation in this trial, like, in line with my abolitionist values. I recognize that not everybody is able to participate in trials, you know, maybe because of their own health issues or concerns. So, you know, having the ability to participate in trials, felt like the right thing to do to, you know, help folks like have access to the vaccines in a timely manner. It’s also like a principle of mine like not to encourage like other folks to do things if I’m not willing to do it myself. So you know, not only was I willing to get the heck being I was willing to participate in the, in the trial process before it was approved. And, you know, if I could back up and add to the timeline a little bit. You know, I participated in the trial in September of last year, the Pfizer vaccine received emergency use, use authorization from the FDA in December of 2020. So just a couple of months after I got my shots, and then received full approval from the FDA. So it’s no longer you know, just emergency use authorized, fully approved by the FDA as of, I think mid 2021, I have to go back and look at the exact date. But yeah, and then the the booster started being rolled out, I think in like, September of last year. So you know, it was just a couple months ahead of the curve. But yeah, it felt like a really important thing to do. Not only like to protect, like my health and safety, but for the health and safety of folks around me. I always tell folks, really, at no point in this pandemic, I’ve been seriously concerned about my own health, like I am a relatively young, healthy person and, and feel like if I got COVID, I will probably survive it. But I did have a lot of anxiety about getting COVID and unknowingly spreading it to somebody who was more vulnerable and like somebody who was older, or immunocompromised, or spreading it to someone who has spread it to someone you know, that’s just like the way that an incredibly contagious virus like COVID work. So-

As an immuno compromised person, I want to say thank you. And, and just for listeners in terms of how we did it at IJ, at our offices too, I was really well protected through all stages of this. I think that’s important to say that we as an organization really stepped up and mandated either vaccinations or clarity about status and protected everybody who was involved just kind of an example of answering some of those first questions.

No thanks for for adding that Ra, and, you know, if I could say a little bit about people who are maybe like vaccine hesitant, that’s another reason that I joined the trials because, you know, not not everybody is a biologist or immunologist and has like all the information about vaccines. And there’s a lot of misinformation out there, so that was another reason that I participated in the trials and was very, like, open about the process and open about my feelings on vaccines and their safety and their efficacy bcause I do think there’s a lot of questions out there. So I was happy to be in a position where I could answer questions like from firsthand experience where I could show people like, hey, this is safe and effective. And, you know, something that is really important for for all of us to do to protect ourselves and those aroundus. 

Michelle  10:37  

So I guess one question, Taina, is how? You know, I know there’s a lot of debate on vaccines and how you’re taking care of others, not just yourself. So how exactly are vaccines abolitionist?

Taina  10:54  

Thanks for that question, Michelle, that is a really great question. I mean, I really do think that it just comes down to the principle of community safety, and safety, not just meaning, like protection from, you know, violence, or you know, what is considered a crime. Safety also means doing what we can to protect, like the health and well being of ourselves and those around us. So, when we talk about abolition, we also talk about universal health care and adequate access-

Michelle  11:26  

Right.

Taina  11:26  

to quality mental health care. And of course, there are huge issues with existing systems that we have in our healthcare system, like Big Pharma and the fact that, you know, we exist in a capitalist system where our health care, is it actually a for profit system and that is a huge problem. And I know that that’s a reason that people would say that they distrust vaccines, because of our, you know, overall system being profit based. But I think it’s really important for us as abolitionists to like, separate those things. And say, yes, it’s true that we are existing in a capitalist and flawed system. But that does not take away from the fact that vaccines are one of the most safe and effective methods for protecting health, or extending life expectancy across the decades, you know, for various diseases. And even if it, you know, exists in a flawed system, it doesn’t take away from the fact the scientific fact that this is our best protection for ourselves and those around us when it comes to protecting one another from COVID.

Ra 12:36

And Taina, I know, as abolitionists we often talk about, like uplifting and centering, marginalized communities. That sort of relates to the politics around vaccines as well, doesn’t it?

Taina 12:52

Absolutely. I mean, the health disparities that exist in our overall health care system are replicated in the, you know, the contraction rates and death rates of COVID-19 as well. So black folks, indigenous folks, like other marginalized communities of color, are harder hit by the COVID pandemic. And, you know, there are also a lot of reasons I think that marginalized communities might be skeptical of, you know, certain health care interventions. So I think that’s why it’s like really important for us to address this head on, head on and validate people’s concerns and say, yes, lots of questionable things have happened in the past. However, there is a plethora of data and scientific evidence to show that the vaccines are safe and effective, and particularly considering how, you know, black, brown, indigenous folks are severely impacted by COVID. It’s that’s why it’s like so important for you know, black, brown and indigenous communities to step up, to get vaccinated, to get the facts and to encourage others to do the same would also encourage folks to, of course, you know, make the health decision that is best for them. But when you are, you know, making decisions about your health, but also about like what content you consume, try to try to go to like diverse and authoritative sources whenever you’re making those decisions. So, you know, an authoritative source, for example, is not your person, your friend posting on Facebook that their cousins, sisters, mom’s auntie, you know had had a side effect from getting vaccinated. Authoritative sources include peer reviewed studies, consortiums of medical experts, such as the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. You know, like I said at the beginning of this episode, like I’m not a medical expert, so I’m here to share like my personal experience participating in the trials, but I definitely want to encourage Also, when it comes to vaccines or anything else in their life, you know, try to do your best to find like authoritative sources and doing your research.

Ra  15:10  

In 2021, NPR had this article where they traced back all of the vaccine hoax, all the false information, and it came back to 12 people, half of which were working together. So, I mean, it was it was the vast majority of the content that we see about these things. And that’s why the issue with Spotify is so insidious, because, yes, it’s just one man producing these hoaxes, but the way the internet works, that information travels so far. And if the information you’re reading goes back to one man, it’s not good information and you need to go back to the drawing board, and look for other sources. If I’m understanding all of this correctly, it sounds like Spotify was asked us to step up and correct some of this misinformation and they did not so and now Taina, you’ve shared with us this wealth of reasons why refusing to like, actually face this misinformation head on is, is actively violent. It’s an act of harm. So then, I guess, Michelle, you will have the hard question. Some folks in our space are boycotting Spotify. So why are we still here? And maybe more importantly, can you walk us through how we got to the decision to stay on this platform?

Michelle  16:32  

Yes, thank you, Ra, it was not an easy decision. You know, making abolitionists decisions in a non abolitionist world are pretty hard. It’s difficult. And while we 100% stand with those who pulled their media from this platform, we did take a minute to assess ourselves and our goals with Abolition is for Everybody. And, you know, like you mentioned, Ra, we decided to continue streaming on Spotify. Some of our reasons being that one, we do not make money from this podcast. Spotify does not pay us. And we also, you know, have a resource others might not, we do have Taina on the team who’s super versed in accurate vaccine information. And, you know, half our listeners do come from this platform. Half of them are from Spotify. You know, we have an audience here that we can give that information to that they might not get it elsewhere. And that’s what our podcast has always been about. Having the difficult conversations others don’t have, you know, having the conversations you can’t find elsewhere. So, you know, that is why we decided to stay. We think boycotting is powerful. We do a lot of organizing work here at Initiate Justice, but we also think it’s important using our platform to educate others. And we also encourage others who have chosen to stay on this platform to use it and make an episode reminding people that you know, vaccines save lives.

Taina  17:58  

I also want to invite folks if you are listening to Abolition is for Everybody on Spotify, please feel free to listen to us on a on another platform. You know, we are available on Apple podcasts and anywhere else that you you get your podcasts. We think it’s like really important for individuals to like have agency and like make decisions about you know, where they consume their content. But given the fact that Spotify has made it pretty clear that they are siding with profit and siding with people who are spreading misinformation and disinformation, I definitely encourage folks to listen to this podcast on another platform if that’s something you’re able to do

[outro music]