Monkeypox: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the recent monkeypox outbreak in the U.S., how we’ve fumbled our response to it, and some aspirations for this coming autumn.
Monkeypox: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 19
Aired on August 7, 2022

Main segment: 2022 monkeypox outbreak
Other segment: Trial of Alex Jones

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight.” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been a busy week. Al-Qaeda’s leader was killed by the U.S., Kansans overwhelmingly preserved abortion protections, and there was a big scandal in the world of science.

A prominent French scientist is apologizing after tweeting a photo he claimed was the image of a distant star taken by the James Webb space telescope. Turns out it was actually a close up photo of a slice of chorizo sausage. [Laughter]

John: What a great science joke! Also, this is probably a good time to tell you, that other James Webb telescope photo was actually just one of those old movie theater carpets. You idiot! [Laughter] You seriously grappled with the existence of extraterrestrial life over that photo. What a fucking moron! Anyway, we’re going to start tonight with Alex Jones. A man who boldly answers the question, “what if grimace were a proud boy?” [Laughter] Because Jones has had himself quite the week.

Jones under pressure, found liable in three separate defamation lawsuits brought by the families of ten victims of the Sandy Hook massacre. The jury for this case determining how much Jones must pay for his lies.

Sandy Hook is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured.

John: Look, obviously, those claims were disgusting. But they shouldn’t be that surprising, coming from a guy who literally named his platform after going to war with information. [Laughter] Guess what, Alex? You fucked with info, and this time, info fucking won. Not that Jones has put up much of a fight. In fact, judges have issued default judgments against Jones in multiple suits regarding his sandy hook remarks, after he failed to comply with court orders. So the trial this week was the first of three in which the only question is determining how much he’ll have to pay. And the way he’s handled this trial is almost a master class in “what not to do in court.” [Laughter] Starting with the fact he lied so many times, the exasperated judge had to say this:

It seems absurd to instruct you, again, that you must tell the truth while you testify, yet here I am: you must tell the truth while you testify. This is not your show. Do you understand what I have said? Yes or no? Do you understand what I have said?

Yes. I believe what I said was true, so I don’t —

Yes, you believe everything you say is true, but it isn’t. Your beliefs do not make something true. That is — that is what we’re doing here!

John: Yeah, and you can understand her frustration there. When it comes to rules a judge doesn’t expect to have to spell out, “don’t lie in court” is right up there with “you have to leave your beer outside,” “it’s not admissible evidence if it happened in a dream,” and “we do not celebrate halloween in here.” [Laughter] But that’s not the only way that Jones provoked the judge. Because he’s also continued to do his show, on which he has — among other things — baselessly linked her to pedophilia, and shown this image of her engulfed in flames. He also went after the jury, questioning their intelligence and implying that his political enemies had handpicked blue-collar people who were ill-equipped to decide what monetary damages he must pay. He even engaged in the pettiest kind of behavior, like this:

Spit your gum out, mr Jones.

It’s not gum.

Well, what is it? Because you’re not allowed food or gum of any kind in the courtroom.

I had my tooth pulled a week and a half ago. And I had some gauze in there earlier. And it’s been causing me to have some pain.

So, you’re chewing on your gauze?

Would you like me to show you?

No.

Right here.

I just want you to answer my question.

I was massaging the hole in my mouth with my tongue. I’ll show you right here.

I don’t want to see the inside of your mouth. [Laughter]

John: Holy shit. If you heard just her side of that interaction — from “spit it out” to “I don’t want to see the inside of your mouth” — you’d assume she was talking to a, a small child, or b, a dog. You would not guess she was talking to professional conspiracist/grown man, Alex Jones, until at least guess d. That is pathetic enough before you learn, later that day, you could very clearly see him turning away from the judge and putting something in his mouth. [Laughter] Look, obviously, a lot of this was deliberate shtick on Jones’s part. He decided to make this court hearing a circus, because he’s in the circus business. Which is particularly despicable, because the parents of one of the children that was killed at sandy hook, who were harassed constantly by Jones’s fans, were in that room. But there was one twist that he may not have seen coming. Because on Wednesday, one of the lawyers for the parents introduced a text message from Alex Jones’s phone, regarding the sandy hook shooting. Which was notable, because he’d previously testified that he’d searched his phone, and could find no such messages. And it then emerged exactly how it had been obtained.

Do you know where I got this?

No.

Mr. Jones, did you know that 12 days ago — 12 days ago — your attorneys messed up and sent me an entire digital copy of your entire cell phone with every text message you’ve sent for the past two years? And when informed, did not take any steps to identify it as privileged or protected in any way, and as of two days ago, it fell free and clear into my possession, and that is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn’t have text messages about Sandy Hook.

John: Oh, shit! [Laughter] First, credit to that lawyer for having the superhuman patience to sit on those text messages for 12 whole days. Just imagine receiving those records, with texts that probably said things like, “I know Sandy Hook really happened, I’m just a ghoul who wants to make the world suffer and make money doing it.” Followed immediately by one saying, “can you make the frogs look gayer in the graphics?” [Laughter] And saying to yourself “wait, your time will come.” But the contents of Jones’s phone could become a problem for him. Not only has the January 6th committee already requested those phone records, but they also show that Jones — who’s tried to plead poverty in this case — was earning revenue of as much as $800,000 per day in recent years from sales. In the end, it was determined that has to pay $4 million in compensatory damages — but, as we now know, that could be a week’s work for him — and another $45 million in punitive damages, though that’ll undoubtedly be the subject of further litigation. None of this is going to stop him. There are two more trials coming up, but he’s probably going to find ways to turn those into a clown show, and fundraise off them, too. But at the very least, this phone thing could make his life much more difficult, and for a while. And that is something we should all be allowed to enjoy. Because to wake up one morning and find out that Alex Jones’ lawyers mistakenly shared his cell phone records is a true blessing. We don’t deserve this, but one thing’s for sure: he definitely does. [Applause] And now this.

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Announcer: And now, some thoughts from c-span’s most frequent caller.

Let’s get to some phone calls. Let’s go to Walter in Butler, Indiana, good morning. Is the government doing enough to prevent cyberattacks?

Thanks for taking my call. I don’t know the answer, I have no idea.

Here’s Butler, Indiana, we hear from Walter.

Walter, Butler, Indiana.

Walter is joining us from Butler, Indiana.

On the republican line, Walter.

Walter.

Walter, republican line. Good morning.

When this whole corona thing started, I hunkered down in my bunker, I went and bought about 400 bottles of good Irish whiskey, I loaded up with all the top quality Maduro cigars. I went to the supermarket and got corned beef hash and spam, and I’ve been hanging out in my bunker ever since. I love watching tv because I’m too old to do exercise so I sit and watch the boob tube.

Thank you for taking my call. I usually talk to myself and no one listens, but now I have you on the line. I don’t have the internet, I don’t have Facebook, I don’t have a cell phone. When I get a little bummed out, I go out and feed the ducks.

I am the proud owner of no internet, no cell phone, I don’t tweet, Facebook. I write letters in cursive, I put them in a mailbox with a return-to-sender address on it.

I feel bad, you’ve got your cup of coffee and you’re probably dying to take a swig of it.

I’ll take it, thank you.

That’s probably all I’ve got to say, but I’ve still got spam. Remember spam? The key is to open it up and put it on a frying pan, put it together with some bread and mayo and you’re good to go.

Remember, Walter, 30 days is the in-between calls here on “Washington Journal.” [Applause]

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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns something that’s been getting more and more urgent over the past two months: Lea Michele‘s comeback. It’s an unpleasant surprise, and the longer we let it continue, the harder it’ll be to stop. Sorry, did I say Lea Michele’s comeback? I meant monkeypox. Monkeypox has come as an unpleasant surprise, and is becoming increasingly hard to stop. For the past several months, you may have noticed monkeypox being discussed with an increasing sense of alarm.

There are now dozens of confirmed cases of monkeypox in the United States.

Hundreds of confirmed monkeypox cases in the U.S.

U.S. Cases skyrocket from 1,400 less than two weeks ago to nearly 3,000 today.

The CDC now reporting more than 4,600 cases.

More than 5,200 cases reported.

More than 6,300 cases now reported.

Currently, the U.S. leads the world in case count, with over 7,000.

John: Yeah, monkeypox cases are rising sharply. And that’s the absolute worst collection of words you’re going to hear this summer, aside from maybe “50 year-old Dane Cook engaged to longtime 23 year-old girlfriend.” Although that’s not actually fair. It’s not that big of an age difference, they’re just an entire Timothee Chalamet apart. Math is fun! But the spread of monkeypox is genuinely alarming. Its most obvious symptom is skin lesions, which can in severe cases be extremely painful, and while the pain is not remotely funny, people have been getting very creative in how they describe it.

I had between 6 and 800 lesions. It was like someone taking a hole puncher all over my body, right under my skin.

It’s like somebody takes a dull knife that is searingly hot and is cutting inside of you and then uses a toothbrush afterwards and brushes it.

Any time it grazes something or touches something, it literally feels like someone’s taking a potato peeler to your skin.

It’s like sitting on shards of glass. And I hope that’s PG-rated enough.

John: That sounds really bad. And this isn’t the point, but “sitting on shards of glass,” while not entirely graphic, isn’t exactly PG either. If you took your kids to see “Minions: Rise of Gru” and the first ten minutes was the yellow thumbs plopping their asses on shards of glass, you’d race your kids out of the theater immediately. Sadly, as with Covid, there’s a lot of misinformation flying around right now. Online, there are theories like “monkeypox can be caused by the Covid vaccine.” Which it can’t. And that it escaped from a lab, which it didn’t. A spreading virus, yet again, is bringing out the worst in people, including targeting those suspected of carrying it. Take this TikTok video of a woman on the subway, with an image of a monkey and a question mark, clearly implying she had monkeypox. It got over two million views, and when the woman in question found out, this is how she responded:

Hi, I’m the girl from the video in which you’re watching is me sitting on the train talking on the phone. The skin condition that I have is called NF1, and the bumps that you see are tumors. The tumors are benign, but they’re still all over my skin and give me a lot of health complications, both physical and mental. You know, I’ve come a long way, and I like me. But you know, I’m not that healed, and I’m not above being vengeful.

John: Yeah, 5,000 middle fingers to the dumb fuck that thought taking an unsolicited video of a complete stranger and stigmatizing them for a medical condition was a good idea. That is clearly not what TikTok is for. Tiktok is for discovering you’ve been opening freezer pops wrong your entire life. Yeah, you just snap it in the middle! No scissors necessary, my whole life has been a lie! [Laughter] Frustratingly, despite the fact we’re still in the middle of the Covid pandemic, we seem to be replicating some of its key mistakes, from persecuting strangers to spreading misinformation to badly mismanaging the public-health response. So tonight, we thought it’d be worth talking about monkeypox: what it is, how we’ve fumbled our response to it, and what we should do going forward. And let’s start with the basics here. Monkeypox is a pox virus. It’s part of the same family that causes smallpox, though thankfully, it’s not nearly as transmissible or as fatal. It usually presents in humans with fever, swollen lymph nodes, exhaustion, headache, and a rash, though it can also cause complications like blindness, if the lesions reach your eyes, and in rare cases, can result in death. Now, quick note on the name. Despite being called monkeypox, it didn’t actually originate in monkeys. It was first discovered in 1958 in monkeys, in Denmark, but they likely got it from rodents, who are thought to be the main carriers. In fact, it’s endemic in rodents in central and West Africa, where there’ve been sporadic outbreaks for decades now, and it’s actually been transmitting between people continuously in Nigeria for at least five years now. Interestingly, the U.S. Even had its own monkeypox outbreak nearly 20 years ago, which came about thanks to an unexpected culprit.

Health officials are investigating what appears to be another case of an animal virus that has jumped to human beings. It’s called monkeypox and it may be linked to pet prairie dogs in the Midwest.

The midwestern prairie dog is not a common pet, but some pet stores have been selling them, along with other exotic animals from around the world. And that, say investigators, is why 30 people today are suspected of having a disease that has never been seen before in this country.

John: Okay, I have one main question, and it’s this: why the fuck anyone would want to own a prairie dog? And you know me — I have an abounding love for the rodent community. Guinea pigs? Excellent. Hamsters? Perfect. Capybara? Big, pensive sweetie. But it’s gonna be a hard pass from me on this little plague-ridden Freddy Kruger. Look at those fucking hands! Also, quick shout out to the absolute dipshit that came up with that name. Pour one out for the stupidest friend of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who saw an animal that is, generously, a big hamster that fucked a meerkat with garden rakes for hands, and went “dog,” and it somehow stuck. Now, thankfully, we managed to contain that particular outbreak, and put a stop to the sale of prairie dogs before person-to-person contact could begin. But now, things are clearly different. And look, there’s still a lot we don’t know, and information we have is still very much subject to change. But as it stands, as of this taping, the vast majority of cases have been among gay and bisexual men and their sexual networks. The virus spreads through sustained skin-to-skin contact. And it’s currently believed to be spreading most commonly during sex. Though in rarer cases, it can spread through respiratory droplets during prolonged face-to-face contact, or through bedding or towels used by someone with monkeypox. And the thing is, not long ago, there was an expectation that this outbreak might be containable. At the end of may, when there were roughly 130 confirmed cases outside of Africa, one W.H.O. official said this:

This outbreak can still be contained, and it is the objective of the world health organization and member states to contain this outbreak and to stop it.

John: Yeah, that sounded pretty reassuring, didn’t it? And i, for one, want to believe the words of the head of the “smallpox secretariat,” which is a very impressive-sounding job, while also sounding like the most depressing movie sequel of all time. [Laughter] And to be fair, that optimism wasn’t unwarranted. There were many reasons to think that we could, and indeed should, quickly get this under control. First, because monkeypox has been around for a while, we’re at least somewhat familiar with it. Also, because it’s similar to smallpox, there’s good reason to believe the tools we already have to fight that, work on monkeypox, too. So this wasn’t like the early days of Covid, when we didn’t know anything about anything. Remember march 2020? We were lysoling our groceries like they came out of the sewer, Geraldo was on tv claiming you could test for Covid by holding your breath, and we did a show on the coronavirus on march 1st, 2020, in which the main advice that we gave our full, unmasked, studio audience was to wash their hands. I even did a little dance about it. And while I was clearly wrong about Covid, I was right about those moves. I look like Julia Stiles in “Save the Last Dance.” Very white and unnecessarily hyped up by the crowd. [Laughter] But with monkeypox we were in the fortunate position of having pre-existing tests, vaccines, and treatments. Unfortunately, the rollout of each of them has been painfully flawed. And let’s start with tests. Testing for monkeypox was initially siloed within the CDC and its network of public-health labs, of which there are around 70. People also had to meet certain eligibility criteria to qualify for testing, making the whole process slow and cumbersome. And “slow and cumbersome” are the last words you want to hear in the early days of a disease outbreak, apart from, of course, the opening lines of “imagine” sung a cappella. [Laughter] As of early June, we were only conducting ten tests per day, in total, across the country, increasing to just 60 by the end of the month. Thankfully, testing has ramped up since then, with the Biden administration finally allowing commercial labs to test as well, but barriers still very much remain. For one thing, there is only one FDA approved test, requiring you to swab lesions. Which, aside from being painful, means you have to wait until they appear to even run a test, and they may not be the first symptom. So until we get new tests, like the saliva ones already being used in Europe, our case numbers are always going to lag. But what’s more, we, ridiculously, don’t have a system for gathering and sharing data. Monkeypox was spreading for more than two months before states were even required to share data with the CDC, making tracking cases across the country incredibly difficult. And the truth is, even communication within states can be absurdly antiquated.

You know, I talked to officials in Missouri and Florida who are counting monkeypox cases via fax. I think we all, in the United States, kind of expect public health to work like amazon prime. You know, we’re gonna get our packages in two days and everything will be fixed. But, unfortunately, you know, public health in this country has been underfunded for decades.

John: Okay, first, the only way we think public health is like amazon prime is that they both force people to pee in plastic containers. [Laughter] But second, fax machines? The only thing fax machines should be used for nowadays is for ending the sentence, “hey, remember fax machines?” [Laughter] And that is it. So, we didn’t know where the cases were or how many there were, and whatever numbers we did have were likely drastic undercounts, because we weren’t testing enough. Which is already very bad. Then, there’s the vaccines. Where, again, we should’ve been in pretty good shape. The U.S. Government’s actually been developing and stockpiling new smallpox vaccines since 9/11, when there were fears that it would be used as a bioweapon. Just watch this segment from 2002, which features a familiar face.

The U.S. government began stockpiling smallpox vaccine last year and has placed orders for tens of millions more doses.

We have enough material that if we needed to, god forbid, a catastrophe of a massive attack, we would be able to have a vaccine for everyone in the country.

John: Yeah, there he is! Anthony Fauci, the Forrest Gump of catastrophic contagion. [Laughter] But the point is, the government very smartly built up massive reserves of smallpox vaccine. It is just one of the one ways that the war on terror made us safer. [Laughter] But unfortunately, those huge stockpiles weren’t available at the start of this monkeypox outbreak, thanks to a number of key strategic errors. For a start, incredibly, we let 20 million doses expire. We just… Did that. [Laughter] Which seems especially unconscionable given, as I mentioned earlier, multiple African countries have had outbreaks of monkeypox for decades now, and might’ve appreciated a shot or two. Sharing vaccines would’ve served two purposes: basic human decency, but also, abject selfishness, in that stopping outbreaks over there might well have prevented the current outbreak over here. And yet, for some reason, we let the vaccine sit unused on a shelf in our reserves like an expired Chobani, or a $90 million dollar movie on HBO Max. [Laughter] By the way — hi there, new business daddy. Seems like you’re doing a really great job! [Laughter] I do get the vague sense you’re burning down my network for the insurance money, but I’m sure that’ll all pass. [Laughter] [applause] So, at one time, we had more than 20 million vaccines available. But when this outbreak began, we were down to just 2,400 usable doses, which is enough to fully vaccinate just 1,200 people. Now, we did have 300,000 doses sitting in a warehouse in Denmark, but for some reason, officials waited weeks as the virus spread, before finally deciding to ship them to the U.S. And that sequence of bad decisions is why we’ve been seeing scenes like these.

Hundreds lined up for the monkeypox vaccine last week at this clinic in Manhattan, but supplies quickly ran out.

I came here for like a few days already because I don’t have appointment. I went to the website and the — the website crashed.

Been trying to get a vaccine for the last almost two and a half, three weeks. Tried at multiple vaccine centers and everyone’s out of vaccines. So here I am.

John: Yeah, vaccines are apparently the Beyoncé concert tickets of healthcare. Announced with little warning, gone in 30 minutes, and will likely have you screaming “you won’t break my soul” at the top of your lungs. [Laughter] So, tests? Hampered by red tape. Vaccines? Expired by the millions. And finally, there’s treatments. Remember, monkeypox can be incredibly painful. And there is a drug that shows promise in reducing those symptoms. But it, too, is way harder to get than it should be.

An experimental drug that could help some people who have monkeypox is available, but the question is, can they get it?

The medication is called Tecovirimat, brand name Tpoxx. There’s no shortage of Tpoxx, but it’s only FDA approved for smallpox. For monkeypox, it’s still considered an investigational drug. The CDC has lifted some requirements so doctors can prescribe it under something called expanded access, but that involves hours of forms and extra appointments.

John: Yeah, and even if you found a doctor willing to do all of that, some patients are then finding themselves waiting days for shipments of the drug to arrive from the strategic national stockpile. Which just isn’t great, considering, remember, this can feel like sitting on shards of glass. It is not a condition you can just put off dealing with for a few days, like a cold, or a UTI if you’re super tired. [Laughter] Basically, every part of our early response to this made things harder than they needed to be. And I will say, there have been some improvements recently. We’ve seen some progress on testing. More vaccines are finally coming, with large numbers set to start arriving in October. And the paperwork for Tpoxx has been streamlined somewhat. So if you think you need any of those, you should still, absolutely, be seeking them out. But the delays we’ve seen in fixing these problems have been absolutely maddening. And it has been hard not to wonder whether the lack of urgency has anything to do with who’s been getting hit the hardest.

You know, this is obviously spreading. It’s something that warrants concern. What I don’t want to see for our community is the 1980s, HIV all over again. Where it wasn’t talked about, it was known that it was out there but there was no pressure to do anything about it because, “oh, it’s just the gays. It’s fine.”

John: Right. You have to believe that if monkeypox were spreading through heterosexual sex, things would be different. By now, you’d probably be able to get a free vax with purchase at every J.Crew in the country. Because, listen, it is not homophobic to acknowledge who’s currently most affected, which is gay and bisexual men, sex workers, and people who participate in sex with multiple partners. What is homophobic is when you blame or shame the people who are suffering, or when you decide you don’t need to care about this, because you don’t see their lives as valuable or their suffering as consequential. And that is where there are strong echoes of the aids crisis in some of the discussion around monkeypox. Just listen to Marjorie Taylor Greene, elected official and one-star Uber passenger, who dismissed it like this:

Of course, monkeypox is a threat to some people in our population. But we know what causes it and that’s pretty much — it’s basically a sexually transmitted disease. So it’s not a threat to most of the population. And so, it’s not a global pandemic, it’s really not. And people just have to laugh at it, mock it, and reject it. So, I think it’s — it’s another scam.

John: Okay, obviously, that’s ridiculous. If the way to get rid of something awful was for people to laugh at it and mock it, that woman clearly wouldn’t be in congress and yet, here we all are. [Applause] Greene also tweeted, “if monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease, why are kids getting it?” In an act of obvious dog whistle bigotry, suggesting gay people are a danger to children. When what’s clearly an actual danger to children is the QAnon congresswoman who once tweeted “the kids at Uvalde needed jr-15s” and I know there’s a temptation, when you see homophobia like that, to push back and say, “hey! It’s not just gay people, anyone can get monkeypox,” which is true. But it’s also true that, while anyone can get it, right now, certain people are getting it more. And crucially, they are the ones who should be receiving the lion’s share of the resources right now, and specific, targeted public-health guidance. And the messaging here can admittedly be a bit of a minefield. The queer community may be understandably reluctant to hear some straight person lecturing them about their sex lives, especially when that advice, historically, has so often come with an air of disapproval about it. And some, in this current crisis, have been tone deaf. One public health official here in New York pushed for a more abstinence-based approach, posting on his website, “if we had an outbreak associated with bowling, would we not warn people to stop bowling?” Which isn’t a great way to put it. In fact, an openly gay health official responded by tweeting “a white straight cis man comparing sex to bowling tells me so much about straight sex.” [Laughter] Which, honestly? That’s a fair hit. That’s a fair hit, right there. The official who wrote that tweet is actually now the deputy coordinator of the federal monkeypox response, and he’s been talking about this with a refreshing frankness. Like in this official video, where he walks through practical steps to avoid exposure, then offers this advice to people who think they, or their partner, may have been exposed.

Consider the following ways to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. Have virtual sex with no in-person contact. Masturbate together at a distance without touching each other and without touching any rash or sores. Remember to wash your hands with soap and water and disinfect fetish gear, sex toys, and any fabrics such as bedding, towels, clothing after having sex.

John: That’s great! That is honestly some of the best communication of public health guidance I’ve ever seen. It’s helpful, specific, and non-judgmental. And honestly, it’s pretty good advice for everyone. Far more people should be exploring virtual sex with no in-person contact, just make sure you aren’t doing it in the middle of a work meeting, Jeffrey. Although, that really should not be that hard. And it is not just the government. Community groups have been trying to frame health advice in a way that’s much more sex-positive, making it more likely to be well-received. Like this flyer from an L.A. LGBT center with the very practical tip: “forget slutty summer, hold off for anal autumn! Do it in cider donut season.” Which, again, is excellent. It’s good advice for now, it’s good advice for the fall, and it’s also a pretty good slogan for dunkin’. [Laughter] And while good messaging is certainly welcome here, it is depressing that we have to rely so heavily on it in the first place, given the many systemic failures that have brought us to this point. So, what can we do now? Well, in the short term, the next six to eight weeks are going to be crucial. So we need to be ramping up testing and data collection, and getting vaccines and antivirals to those who need them most. We also need to make quarantining more logistically possible for people, because monkeypox can require as long as four weeks of isolation. And for many, that’s going to be difficult to manage without extra support. But in the longer term, as if Covid had not already made this abundantly clear, we badly need to restructure our public health system so it’s better able to respond to a viral outbreak. And I’m not the only one saying that. Just listen to New York City’s health commissioner.

It is frustrating. We had a vaccine, we had a treatment, we had a test. And all of it was kind of rolled out more slowly than we would have liked, because of the fact that our permanent public health infrastructure has not been invested in for decades.

John: Yeah, he’s absolutely right, and he is not alone. Again and again, when we talked to public health professionals this week, there has been a sense that this was a gigantic fuck up. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who previously worked at the CDC, told us this was a real, perfect stress test for us. In this situation, we were uniquely prepared. We kind of had the questions ahead of time. We’re going to throw you a virus you already have a test for, already have vaccine for, already have a drug your government paid for and developed and discovered and stockpiled, let’s see how you respond to that. And we screwed it up. Which is humiliatingly bad. Basically, on a scale from 1-100, we scored a “no.” [Laughter] But the thing is, even if we do contain this outbreak, and even if we build up our public health infrastructure, there’s a bigger conversation worth having here. Because for far too long, we’ve indulged in the magical thinking that viruses that exist somewhere else, a, don’t matter, and b, will stay there. And monkeypox is such a clear example of how flawed and racist that thinking is. We had 20 million doses of a vaccine that could’ve helped countries in Africa that were known to be high-risk for outbreaks, and we didn’t help them. And we’re still not helping them. The sudden global demand for vaccines means that currently, zero doses are going to Nigeria and other countries in Africa. Which I know sounds awful, but to be fair, indifference to those suffering from pox-based viruses has been the story of America from day one. And I know fixing all of this may feel daunting. But we’re living through the alternative right now, and it’s not great. And think of it this way, if we can actually get our act together, maybe finally this country, and indeed the whole world, can have the anal autumn that we’ve all been promised. [Laughter] And now this.

Announcer: And now, Walter from Butler, Indiana, has some thoughts on mortality.

Let’s talk to Walter who is calling from Butler, Indiana. Walter, good morning.

Good morning, thanks for taking my call. I’m confused and I don’t mean to be snarky but so what? They die. When you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die. I haven’t been to a doctor since — I’m 65, 41 years. I don’t take any vitamins, I don’t try to eat well, and I do what I want. When you’re gonna go, you’re gonna go. I’ve never taken a medication in my life, I’ve never taken anything except a vitamin. And I got all sorts of hitches and problems and this and that. I don’t go to a doctor, and I feel like whenever the good lord is ready to take me home, I’m going to be taken home. In the end, we all die anyway so what does it matter which way you go? Just shut up and deal with life the best you can. My friends and I would get out of the house early in the morning, we’d get on our bicycles, and we’d play stickball in the streets, and if we wanted to go up to sears we’d actually hang on the back of a bus and drive up over —

Don’t do that.

It was just insane. Nobody gets out alive. Whatever, the mystery of life. What’s my end game? To be in a nursing home? Not know what I’m doing, with drool coming out of my mouth, and everyone around me is dead? Not on my watch.

All right.

You don’t win staying around longer. Everybody passes away and you have nobody to care for you anyway. I think you should just throw out all your medications, get up every day, thank the lord for the day you have. When you’re gonna go, go. Nothing is promised to you. When you want to die, just drop dead. [Applause]

John: That’s our show. See you next week. Thanks for watching, good night!

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