The Atlantic Daily: Is Waning Immunity Actually a Crisis?

The White House might’ve gotten a bit ahead of itself on booster shots. Then: This Labor Day weekend, we debate 2021’s song of the summer.

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.

Cells on a brick wall
Getty ; The Atlantic

Your COVID-19 booster shot might’ve just gotten bumped back a bit.

Last month, President Joe Biden set a mid-September launch goal for mRNA boosters, to be distributed eight months after the second shot for most American adults. But the CDC advisory committee tasked with recommending how Americans use the vaccines never gave the green light. Now, according to a New York Times report, health officials are advising the White House to rethink its plan.

One big problem is numbers: The FDA is still waiting on more data from vaccine makers, as well as some from Israel, where research on fading immunity spooked American officials into pushing for boosters in the first place.

The numbers are important here because they point to two questions underlying the whole strategy. Our staff writer Katherine J. Wu answered them in a new report, out today.

(1) Is waning immunity actually a crisis?

COVID-19 shots continue to perform very well, particularly against the worst outcomes, such as hospitalization and death. “The recent numbers on vaccine effectiveness aren’t really that alarming,” Katie writes. And some of them could be explained not by anything to do with the immune system, but by the rise of the coronavirus’s Delta variant, which didn’t exist when the vaccines were first designed.

(2) Can boosters fix it?

The immunological case just isn’t there yet, most experts told Katie. And each additional shot offers diminishing returns, meaning mass boosters are like “topping off a drink that’s already on the verge of spilling over” when “billions around the globe have yet to take a sip at all.”

Read Katie’s full explanation on waning immunity.

People wade through water on August 31, 2021, in Barataria, Louisiana.
Brandon Bell / Getty

Revisit the week that was. Our senior editor Alan Taylor rounds up some striking photography from a difficult week.

Read. Six writers and editors share the books they loved this season. Check out their choices, or revisit our lovely summer reading guide one last time before we retire it for the fall.

Watch. No, we didn’t need another Cinderella movie. Instead, try Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (in theaters today), which is worth seeing not for its hero, but for its villain.

Feeling nostalgic? In last month’s movie club, we revisited four 2001 films our readers loved.

On the small screen, Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building charms by putting two Boomers alongside a Millennial in a crime comedy.

Listen. Which song defined this summer? We discuss below.

As the sun sets on summer 2021, we’re looking back at the songs that defined a complicated season.

This is the part of the newsletter where we say, yes, we know that “song of the summer” is an arbitrary and flawed descriptor. But even if you’re not a pop-music fan—we see you, indie lovers and classical defenders—these selections can help us read the cultural moment that was.

Below, four music fans from our newsroom talk about their choice for this year’s title.

Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)

Skeptics who call Lil Nas X more meme-maker than musician are wrong. On this manifesto-like smash, the young rapper’s gravelly voice, eclectic production, rangy melody, and slang poetry (yell it: “AssinHawaii!”) tease the listener’s brainstem more than any stunt or tweet ever could. Out and about this summer, I’ve encountered various “Montero” remixes in which Lil Nas X’s songwriting holds up—but the original version still feels like futuristic technology we’ve only begun to understand.

— Spencer Kornhaber, Culture writer

Olivia Rodrigo, “Good 4 U

The breakout pop star’s angst-ridden anthem about an ex who moved on too quickly may not be as cotton-candy-light as most songs of the summer, but that’s why the chart-topping “Good 4 U” works. Rodrigo’s raw hurt seeps into her sarcastic lyrics, and the foot-stomping rock melody is both undeniably fun and intensely angry. In other words, it’s a dopamine rush of a bop with a cathartic bite. What song could be more appropriate for the “hot vax summer” that didn’t turn out so hot after all?

— Shirley Li, Culture writer

BTS, “Butter

Butter, as we all know, makes everything better. So it’s no surprise that the aptly named BTS single slid into hearts across the globe with catchy promises of funky fun. In a summer that was defined by uncertainties, plenty of pop stars found that it’s cool to be sad. Yet the group’s Michael Jackson–inspired track, which marks BTS’s second English-language release, easily pushes past a field of anxious and apologetic ballads to give a defiant taste of what summer should, and could, be.

— Jennifer Baik, assistant editor

Lorde, “Solar Power

No song better encapsulates the agony and the ecstasy—or is it the ecstasy and the agony?—of summer 2021. Those three sun-soaked minutes captured everything we wanted from the past few months: vitamin D, freedom, camaraderie, release, and the prospect of aggressive, near-term climate-change mitigation. And we got them for, well, about six weeks. But then, like Lorde’s underwhelming LP, came the Delta variant, and a reconciliation process likely to extend into October.

— Robinson Meyer, staff writer covering climate

Did we overlook any summertime smashes? Weigh in: Send us your nominees for 2021’s song of the summer. (We, too, love revisiting the classics, but recent releases only, please. We don’t make the rules of pop culture! We just abide.)

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.