Social Distance

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Phone calls about science, health, and how to keep things in perspective.

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  • Episode 122

    Is It Over?

    Though the pandemic continues around the world, the end appears in sight in the United States. At the same time, this episode will mark the last one for Social Distance.

    Jim, Maeve, and returning host Katherine Wells gather to say goodbye to the show, listen to voicemails from past expert guests, and reflect on what we’ve learned these last fifteen months.

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  • Episode 121

    Breakthrough Infections and Lonely Puppies

    While case counts in the U.S. continue to drop, there are still headlines about variants and "breakthrough" infections that might worry you. Fortunately, The Atlantic staff writer Katherine Wu explains to James Hamblin and Maeve Higgins why these shouldn't alarm us just yet. And staff writer Sarah Zhang drops in to help figure out how to keep pandemic puppies from being too anxious as people return to pre-pandemic routines.

  • Episode 120

    It's Time to Tango

    Now that Jim's "Quite Possibly Wonderful Summer" is coming to fruition, a lot of listeners have been considering the present and future. Can you go to a tango festival? What should parents be watching for? And why, exactly, is the Surgeon General wearing that uniform? Hit play for answers and a short history lesson from historian and listener Ruth Fairbanks.

  • Episode 119

    Dealing With Post-Pandemic Trauma

    We've all been suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another, and as the U.S. starts to emerge, we'll need to reckon with that. The Atlantic's Ed Yong discusses his piece on pandemic trauma, how to think about it, and what he's learned in talking to psychiatrists and other experts.

    We want to hear from you! Email your questions or concerns to or leave a voicemail at 202-642-6487.

  • Episode 118

    Share the Vaccine 'Recipe'

    When the Biden administration announced support for waiving COVID vaccine patents last week, it was met with praise, relief, skepticism, and alarm among different groups—but surprise all around. Pharmaceutical giants have long fought efforts to have their intellectual property released to meet international needs. And they’ve backed it up with immense political muscle. Could this time be different? Would it disincentivize future research, as critics like Bill Gates claim? And how much (and how quickly) could it help?

    To understand the issue, Jim and Maeve are joined by Julie Rovner, the Chief Washington Correspondent for Kaiser Health News and host of the podcast “What The Health?”

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  • Episode 117

    Long COVID Questions Answered

    Writer F.T. Kola returns to recount her experience with long COVID. What explains its strange constellation of symptoms? Will it ever go away? And why does vaccination seem to help?

    F.T., Jim, and Maeve are joined by Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist investigating long COVID at her Yale lab. She explains what we know about the condition — and how two theories about its root cause mean the difference between a cure and no clear end in sight.

    Jim's piece on herd immunity: How Herd Immunity Happens

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  • Episode 116

    The Consequences of Vaccine Nationalism

    While wealthier countries reopen, India and the rest of the world face a terrifying new peak in the pandemic. How did it come to this? What can be done? And with new variants and limited supplies, how does the global vaccine strategy need to change to prevent more coronavirus spikes?

    Staff writer Yasmeen Serhan joins Jim and Maeve to explain.

    Jim’s piece:  One Vaccine to Rule Them All

    Yasmeen’s piece: India's COVID-19 Crisis Is the World's Crisis

  • Episode 115

    When Can I Take Off My Mask?

    The pandemic has led to “hygiene theater,” which gives a false sense of security. As vaccination continues, people should feel able to abandon many precautions—while continuing to focus on what really matters. How do we thread the needle between being too cautious and too cavalier? Staff writer Derek Thompson joins to help us understand public messaging. 

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  • Episode 114

    The Johnson & Johnson Pause

    Should the ‘pause’ in Johnson & Johnson vaccine worry us? Also, Jim got his first shot! But with so many people experiencing strong reactions to their second doses, what should he — and maybe you — expect? 

    Atlantic staff writer Katherine Wu joins to explain (and stays to talk cicadas!)

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  • Episode 112

    No Shirt. No Shoes. No Shots. No Service.

    Vaccine passports are almost certainly in our near future. But what are they exactly? And with concerns about vaccine equity now complicated by partisan fearmongering, how should they be implemented?

    Art Caplan, a bioethicist with NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine who’s spent years thinking about vaccine ethics, joins Jim and Maeve to explain.

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  • Episode 111

    A History of Pandemic Xenophobia & Racism

    The recent shootings in Atlanta highlighted a surge of anti-Asian violence in the United States throughout the pandemic. Disease stigma and racism have together shaped pandemic response and policy for centuries.

    And so to better understand this history, Jim and Maeve speak with Alexandre White, a sociologist and medical historian at Johns Hopkins University. He shares his views on how a legacy of prejudice tied to disease should lead us to reexamine how we respond when outbreaks occur.

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  • Episode 106

    ‘A Disaster for Feminism’

    Nearly a year ago, The Atlantic staff writer Helen Lewis predicted the pandemic would be “a disaster for feminism” and far too many of her predictions have proven true. With women leaving the workforce at unprecedented rates, why has the pandemic’s burden fallen so much harder on them? And what can we, as a society, do about it?

    Also: Jim and Maeve answer listener questions about the virus (and discuss chickens).

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  • Episode 105

    A Forever Pandemic

    Vaccines are a public good. And if we don’t make a lot more of them, COVID-19 may never really go away. 

    Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiology professor at Yale’s School of Public Health who joined the show in May to talk about his career as an AIDS activist, explains to Jim and Maeve how our moral failure to help vaccinate the rest of the world may come back to haunt us — and what big steps we’d need to take to prevent that.

    Please fill out our listener survey at It helps us understand who we’re making this show for and how we can keep improving it. (And it helps us to make new shows that suit what you like!)

  • Episode 103

    Have We Turned the Corner?

    People are getting vaccinated, but it’s not happening quickly enough. Case counts are dropping fast, but a near-record number of people are still sick. Do we have reason for optimism? Or could optimism still get us in trouble?

    Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, staff writers and co-founders of the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic, join Jim and Maeve this week.

    Where is Katherine? She’s still working on The Experiment, which launches next week! Hosted by WNYC’s Julia Longoria, the new podcast will examine the myths and ideas at the heart of the American experiment and the way powerful forces of history collide with our everyday lives. The trailer’s beautiful. Check it out here. And the first episode drops February 4th.

  • Episode 102

    Who Gets The Next Shot?

    Dr. Ruth Faden, an expert in biomedical ethics with Johns Hopkins University, has helped vaccine drives answer some tough questions: Who should be ahead of who? Do we prioritize speed or equity? And once people are inoculated, should they get ‘vaccine passports’ allowing freer movement?

    She joins James Hamblin and guest host Maeve Higgins to assess how we’ve done — and what we could expect next.

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  • Episode 101


    Last month, we learned about the “UK variant.” Now, more mutations from South Africa and Brazil have made headlines. How bad are they? And should you change anything you’re doing already?

    Dr. Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the Galveston National Laboratory who studies coronaviruses, joins to explain.

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  • Episode 100

    How Badly Is Vaccination Going?

    We were supposed to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year. We’ve fallen well short of that. Should we be worried?

    Jim and Katherine are joined by Juliette Kayyem, a former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security who ran intergovernmental efforts like the one behind the vaccine rollout. She explains what’s going on, what the problems have been, and why we shouldn’t be too concerned (yet).

    They’re also joined by a listener named Craig seeking advice on a tough situation: when can you travel to see an ill family member?

  • Episode 99

    The Vaccine is Here! What Now?

    We're very relieved, but now entering the strange time of vaccine purgatory.

    Staff writer Sarah Zhang joins Jim and Katherine to answer your questions.

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