The Atlantic Daily: How Our Pandemic Public-Health Messaging Backfired

Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.


America’s recent streak of good vaccine news continues: According to the Biden administration, the country will have enough doses by the end of May to vaccinate all adults.

This is a welcome development for those wearied by this strange vaccine purgatory. But not all Americans are on the same page when it comes to the rollout.

  • We keep repeating the same mistakes in our public-health messaging. “The steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism,” Zeynep Tufekci argues.

  • We already know how vaccinated people should behave. “The turning point does not arrive for individuals, one by one, as soon as they’ve been vaccinated; it comes for all of us at once, when a population becomes immune,” James Hamblin writes.

  • Many factors influence vaccine hesitancy. The third of Americans who reportedly don’t want or are undecided about the vaccine are driven by “a constellation of motivations, insecurities, reasonable fears, and less reasonable conspiracy theories,” Derek Thompson reports.

    Arrow pointing to sign that says "vaccines by appointment only"
    (AP / Charles Krupa / The Atlantic)

    One question, answered: A 68-year-old named Patrick planned to get vaccinated this week, but recently experienced a mild case of COVID-19. He asks our Social Distance podcast host James Hamblin to weigh in on whether he should wait a few weeks before getting his first shot.

    James talks it through on the latest episode:

    So with a lot of diseases, you don’t want to get vaccinated right after you’ve had it, because there can be an increased rate of side effects. If you already have high levels of this acute immune reaction going on, and then you get vaccinated, your body could react more strongly than it would otherwise. We don’t know a lot yet about how that would work with this vaccine, because it’s so new, and I think it’s very reasonable to wait that amount of time.

    I doubt that it would be a high-risk thing to go ahead and get it. But I also would expect that you have enough protection, having just been sick, that it would be almost impossible for you to get a serious bout of COVID in that time. You are protected, essentially, at least from severe disease. So I don’t think you can go wrong by waiting that period. I certainly wouldn’t wait a year. I wouldn’t expect the immunity that you’re going to have after this infection lasts extremely long or is going to be 100 percent. We’re not seeing people have reinfection cases really shortly after being sick, so I think that should be reassuring.

    Listen to the full discussion on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

    Tonight’s Atlantic-approved isolation activity:

    How about a movie? Minari is now available to rent online. Our critic David Sims called it “one of the first must-sees of 2021.”

    “[Director Lee Isaac] Chung’s visual vocabulary stands out as the master narrative engine,” the professor Anne Anlin Cheng pointed out.

    Today’s break from the news:

    We love a good planetary debate: Mars is a hellhole, the writer and journalist Shannon Stirone argues.