Commander Divine is talking with Dr. Jennifer Ashton, (drjashton) chief medical correspondent for ABC News and author of The New Normal: A Roadmap to Resilience in the Pandemic Era. They discuss the value of vaccination and the terrible consequences that we’ve paid by being caught flat-footed regarding COVID-19.
- The most important factors when it comes to experiencing COVID severity
- The four elements of prevention control and how we can stop the virus from mutating
- Weighing the risks and benefits between COVID and taking the vaccine
Listen to this episode to get further insights on COVID and how the medical system has tried to deal with the pandemic in this VUCA world.
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Hey folks, this is Mark Divine. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind Podcast. Thanks so much for your time today, I don’t take it lightly. I know there’s a lot vying for your attention and the fact you’re here listening means a lot.
I’ve got an incredible guest today – Dr. Jennifer Ashton – who’s an expert on this pandemic. And has been really dealing with it non-stop since it started. At a very high level. She is ABC network’s chief medical correspondent – ABC news – I should say, chief medical correspondent. She works for “Good Morning America Three,” contributes to “World News Tonight.”
She’s got a private practice where she’s helping people battle Covid-19 and stay healthy. She’s also an md and a nutritionist. So really, really cool background.
Before I get into a conversation with her, let me remind you that for our part at Unbeatable Mind we’re doing our part to overcome the pandemic by making people mentally and physically tougher. If you haven’t taken the time to go check out what we’re doing at Unbeatable Mind I encourage you to go to unbeatablemind.com.
We’ve launched this really cool 30-day challenge back in January which we’ll be relaunching soon. We’ve got our virtual event coming up in a few weeks. And our tribe is really, really just growing. It’s got an incredible energy; we’ve got incredible people – all committed to forging an Unbeatable Mind body and spirit. And we’d love for you to join us. So learn more at unbeatablemind.com.
All right, let’s talk about this pandemic. I’ve been wanting to talk to someone like you Jennifer, for so long. And I’m really glad it’s you, because I love your background. I love that you’re a nutritionist, I love that you get to talk to people like Fauci and all these people who are kind of like the face of our response – for better, or for worse.
And everyone’s gotten caught up in this, right? There’s just so much anxiety and confusion about what’s real and what’s not. And “do I take a vaccine,” or, “don’t I take a vaccine.” And oh my gosh. It’s just a roller coaster…
Jennifer: I know. Where to begin?
Mark: Yeah, so where do we even begin? Let me back up. Let me suggest a starting place – let’s talk about you, first. Let’s talk about you – and then we’ll talk about like pandemic, and health, and immune system and all that fun stuff.
But where are you from? And what led you into the medical profession? And also, to be one of the few doctors who understand nutrition? Because that’s been one of my bones, right?
Jennifer: (laughing) Oh yeah.
Mark: Let’s talk about your background and how you got….
Jennifer: Well, first of all, it’s a real honor for me to be on your podcast, Mark. And I want to thank you for your service and everything you’ve done in the past with the navy. And everything that you’re doing with Unbeatable Mind. It’s just something I 1000% support philosophically in every way.
I was born on an Air Force Base, actually. My dad was in the Air Force. He was a doctor in the Air Force. So I was born on an Air Force base in California that is no longer operational. In San Bernardino…
Mark: George Air Force Base?
Mark: I’ve been there. We used to run some SEAL team programs in there, in the old living quarters, right? I mean, we turned it into a mock Iraqi village. (laughing) we probably ran through your house and trashed it.
Jennifer: Well, my dad used to tell stories – because he was stationed in Kra, Thailand during Vietnam – and he used to tell me stories about how the navy fighter pilots used to play drinking games in the officer’s club. And they used to put… wait, you’re gonna know what I’m talking about…
Mark: (laughing) totally. I’ve been there….
Jennifer: …put the tables together, and they used to wet them down. And they used to loosen their belt and put a hangar at the end of one of them. And go running down the table and hope that the hanger caught their belt.
My dad was not that brave, but he was there – I guess – in case any of them got hurt.
But I grew up in a medical family – my dad was a doctor; my mom was a nurse – aunts and uncles – doctors. My brother’s a doctor. It was literally all we knew. Kind of our public service of taking care of people and what a privilege that is.
And even though now, I refer to myself as a scientist, because that’s what medicine is – in college I was really more in liberal arts kind of thing. That was my jam.
And I’m very glad I went to medical school. I specialized in women’s health and surgery, because I liked the excitement of the operating room, but I liked the whole scope of knowing about everything…
And then just in 2013, I decided to go back to school on the weekends and get a master’s in nutrition. Because – as you probably know – doctors get taught zero nutrition…
Mark: Right. You don’t even have a semester of it, do you in medical school?
Jennifer: A semester? There’s like one lecture. I’m not joking.
So, I really wanted to… and nutritionists and dietitians know a lot about food – but they don’t go to medical school… so I wanted to kind of hybridize that. And as you said in the last year plus, I have been living, eating, breathing, sleeping all things covid in my role as chief medical correspondent for the number one network in the country.
And people often will ask “well, your specialty is ob/gyn. How can you be talking about covid?”
Two answers and they’re actually analogous to I think your training. You know, we had to learn the entire human body in medical school. We just can’t learn a system or a specialty or a body part so that’s one thing.
And then – as you mentioned – I do a deep dive into this every single day. I’m speaking to tony Fauci and the head of the FDA and CDC. And I was down at the White House meeting with Dr. Birx and Vice President Pence last March when this started.
And so we’re really plugged in. And from the get-go, it’s really been a story about how to communicate complex information.
Mark: Right. Yeah, I imagine you’ve had to do a deep dive and look into the science and the history of pandemics… there’s so much to know, because it’s a complicated thing, right? Depending on which angle you’re looking at.
Mark: I want to talk about… what is the sense… I don’t want to get into any conspiracy theories or anything like that, right? The pandemic is real, it’s hit us – early on I had some doubts – and all of us did – like “what’s the severity of this?”
We live in this really bubble in Encinitas, out here in California. And like we’ve had zero cases and no deaths and so we’re like “what?”
But then other areas, the country got hit really hard. And now a year and a few months later, we’re at a half a million deaths. And we’re like “oh wow.”
Okay, so this is real, and I regret some of my earlier thinking.
But where did this virus come from? Did it come from like…. Just spontaneously arise? Because when I looked into that, that’s unlikely, because it takes years, and years, and years, and years for a mutation to jump from animals to humans.
Or was this truly in the lab in Wuhan? Then somehow escaped?
Jennifer: Well so I’ll tell you what I know about that. And this is from conversations as well as from published data and research.
First of all – the world health organization just sent a team in to Wuhan to do their own investigation. It was really the first time that was allowed.
And they met with some obstacles – no question. The whole team was quarantined for two weeks on arrival. They were not allowed to independently evaluate clinical data of the first 100 or so patients in Wuhan that had covid.
So that’s not really a surprise, when you’re dealing with china. However they came out and they said that they think it is exceedingly unlikely that this virus was lab created.
Now you said “well, how does it happen otherwise?” Remember coronaviruses are a strain – there are at least seven known strains – some of them infect animals, some of them infect humans they’re responsible for 10 to 30 percent of the common colds. You and I have definitely both had one in our lifetimes, for sure…
Mark: It’s not new, it’s just this variant…
Jennifer: It’s not new. And for years emerging infectious disease specialists have been saying “better keep an eye on the horizon here. It’s only a matter of time. It’s only a matter of time. It’s only a matter of time…”
Mark: Before a more deadly version comes out, you mean…
Jennifer: Right. And before a pandemic of what’s called a high-impact respiratory pathogen spreads worldwide.
And remember for some history we saw it in 2002, we saw it in 2012 – MERS, SARS… and H1N1 – 2009, 2010…
So it’s a matter of in medicine and science – just like in the military – the prepared mind is someone who knows what’s happened in the past, who’s learned and done their own kind of assessment on that – what went right, what went wrong – and then takes every step possible to prepare for a worst-case scenario. That’s what we do in medicine.
We can’t just cross our fingers and hope the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen. At least not when you’re taking care of an individual patient.
And I think that really the whole world was caught flat-footed.
Mark: Right. Even though we’ve been warning, but… it’s difficult to go from warning to action on something that isn’t actionable yet.
Jennifer: That’s right.
Mark: Politics aside. No one was ready for it.
Jennifer: Yeah, I think no one was ready and the degree of really an unsophisticated level in terms of technology… global communication, sourcing of pharmaceuticals and lab products, testing… it’s abysmal, it is so abysmal. And we’ve all discovered how abysmal it is. Worldwide. In the last year.
You know, it’s mind-boggling… I’m sure you and your listeners would agree… that anyone can pick up their phone, get on amazon, order something in seconds – in seconds – and amazon knows your whole search history, where you are, what kind of car do you want…
But yet we can’t get real-time lab data within a state, within a country… I mean, it’s been eye-opening to say the least.
Mark: Yeah, I agree. I talk a lot about the transformation of culture. It happens a lot faster than the institutions that were kind of edifices, that were built in the culture to begin with, right? And so now we have this massive example of how we have these bureaucratic institutions that have fallen so far behind the private sector counterparts that it’s almost an embarrassment. You know what I mean?
Look what just happened in Texas. It’s an embarrassment that our power grid is the way it is, when we have the technology that we do. And it’s an embarrassment that our roads are falling apart and that we can’t respond to a global pandemic like this, when we have such incredible technology.
And culture understands this, and people are like wtf over it. You know what I mean? When are we gonna get this stuff fixed?
Jennifer: Yep. And I’ll tell you I knew – and I’m sure we’ll talk about the vaccine in more detail – but as we were watching and waiting for the FDA to authorize one, and then two, and now three different vaccines – I was saying on ABC for months as were many, many other people – the science of the vaccine development is not going to be the problem. It’s going to be the operationalization of this campaign, this rollout that we have never done.
And we don’t have a clue about how to do anything on that scale. And I said, “I’ll tell you who does know. Israel, south Korea, Germany… you better believe that they’re going to be…
Mark: And the US military, by the way…
Jennifer: That’s right.
Mark: We know how to do stuff like that, and that would have been a completely valid action to say, “hey, let’s let the military set this up like a like a wartime operation to get these things distributed and out there.” But that…
I think that one of the confusing things for a lot of people is why can like china have the response it has -when the us was just completely fragmented. It’s because of our political system, right? We have the centralized government…
But then – at least the way the administration handled it last year – states make a decision for themselves. And that turned into a total cluster…
Jennifer: And it still is, to some extent, right?
But I also look at this… I’m a big believer in staying in my lane… and so I’m a doctor and I communicate medical information to millions of people every day. Thank god, I’m not a politician…
Mark: Likewise. I’m with you on that. I would last about a half a day probably…
Jennifer: I don’t even think I would last that long. But I can tell you that one of the ways that I have repeatedly thought of this pandemic in addressing kind of the disaster and tragedy that’s happened to the united states in the setting of covid is – you know, I think of the country like one patient – one big patient, right? And what would you do if you were taking care of one patient.
And similarly and not totally sure that this is a great thing – but I’m going to be honest with you as always – I am a mother and I have a big maternal side. That doesn’t always mean sweet and cuddly by the way. You know I can drop the hammer like most parents if I need to.
And I will tell you, when you talk about why could china or other countries respond better, I do believe that it’s because – obviously there are pros and cons to this – but we are a very entitled, immediate gratification country. And we don’t know really what it’s like to sacrifice what we want for someone else.
And so if this were one of my kids, I would say “you know what? You can wait your turn. Sit down and wait your turn.” Or you know what? “I understand you want to do x, y or z. But we can’t always do what we want, okay? That’s called being a mature individual. That’s what distinguishes us from animals. We have a brain. We may want to do something, but we can’t do it.”
And I really feel like some parts of the country at various times – they needed a parent, they needed like a grown-up in the room to say “listen, this is not the time. This is not all about me, myself and I. It’s about ‘we.’ it’s about the person next to you. It’s about your family.”
And I don’t think that happened early enough.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, I think you’re right there.
Let me let me bring this to a personal level – I was in Germany over New Year’s Eve 2019, and I was participating in an event and teaching like this 50-hour non-stop yoga event – so, I was pretty wiped out by the time it was over. You know, no sleep… it’s kind of the way we do things…
And the host of the event had just come from China and he was sick as a dog. And I found out after the event that the event venue host – a different person – was in the hospital with respiratory issues and her husband was in the hospital… and a bunch of other people got sick…
And my wife and I, and stepdaughter – we felt a little bit off you know? And so we started taking some naturopathic stuff, we walked and drank a ton of wine through Paris afterwards. And then we were fine.
And then I started hearing about this pandemic coming out of china in February. But between you and me, I’m 100% sure that we got it in Germany…
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Let’s just assume that that’s true, and I had super mild symptoms but I’m a really healthy person, right? So this is kind of getting get us into the medical and nutrition side… and so we’ve now learned that if your immune system is strong you get infected, and you may not even know it. Or you’ll have very mild symptoms, oftentimes.
But sometimes, you look at someone who’s like pretty strong you think, and they just get literally hammered. Hammered. Or worse, right? They wind up having a critical incident.
Why is it affecting people so differently like that?
Jennifer: We don’t know. But I’ll tell you something… we do know that there are groups of people that are at much higher risk, okay? Black and brown people, older people, men… people who are obese, people who have diabetes, people have a compromised immune system, right?
But age and obesity are number one and number two. Then when you dive down deeper into that or to the healthy population, and you say “well, what about all these stories of the healthy people that were hospitalized.” And remember we see that with influenza also, right? Medicine is not like a slot machine – where if you insert a coin – if it’s the right coin you’re going to get the same output every single time.
And I also want to dovetail a little bit on what you said “well, if you have a strong immune system, you might not even know you’re infected.” Sometimes it’s actually the opposite – again, for reasons we don’t understand. If you have a very strong immune system you might mount such an aggressive immune response – we call it a cytokine storm – that it carpet bombs your whole body in responding to this virus.
So it’s these extremes, but in the middle of it are 50% or more people who get infected with this virus who have no symptoms.
Mark: Right, right.
Jennifer: And that can be any range of old, young, obese, normal weight… I mean, it really can be. So that is what has made this very, very difficult to slow down.
Mark: Right, I want to look at prevention and then what do you do if you know you’ve got it. Like, what are your recommendations aside from like the general obvious, you know – “exercise, eat well, get some sunshine…” you know, that type of stuff.
What are the things we can specifically do to ward off or prevent let’s just say… maybe nothing. Besides wearing a mask and social distancing for infection. Because, I mean, if you’re going to get it – you’re going to get it probably. But is there anything you can do that can kind of prevent even infection?
And then the second part is, if you know you’re infected – what are the things that you can do to like make sure you don’t have to go to a hospital? Like you’re not going to see a hospital bed?
Jennifer: Well listen, I talk about this a lot in my book “the new normal” right? I talk about pandemic proofing your body, and your mind, and your spirit. And your house, right? And the best treatment is prevention. We don’t do that so well in this country… we’d rather just treat something… we’re not as good with being proactive, we’re better at being reactive.
That’s never the way to go in medicine – it’s always, always better to prevent something than to have to respond to it.
So how do you do that? You know, anyone listening to you – which I’m sure are already dialed into this lifestyle, and the importance of this – it’s about having what I call the “trifecta” of good health. Which is how you eat, how you move and how you rest. That is your foundation. That is like the money you have in the bank account, that’s like your roof over your house. That is like your mattress or your box spring.
That is everything, right? And I can’t emphasize enough how important those things are to the extent that when I see a patient – because as you mentioned accurately and as I said – I’m not just a doctor on tv. I still have a practice which I love. And about 4 000 patients that have been my patients for – some of them – 16 years.
The first thing I say when they come to me and say “well, I’ve been having a problem with my weight. Or I’ve been having a problem with this… or my mood. I’ve been feeling depressed…”
The first thing I ask them is “how many hours are you sleeping? Tell me how you’re being active or what your fitness routine is like? And tell me what you’re eating?”
And until those three things are on lock, I don’t look any further. That’s how powerful they are. And we’re very conditioned in the western world and in this country in particular – to not feel as if we’re doing something unless a provider hands us a prescription.
Listen, if that’s necessary, it’s necessary – but that should be a last resort. Because those other things are so powerful, they are so powerful, and so I would say “how do we prevent getting covid?” It’s by starting from scratch and looking at those three things.
Then you have to look at principles of infection control. And you have to ask yourself four elements – also, I go through this in the book – time, place, people, space. So, how much time are you somewhere – 15 minutes or more is going to be higher risk than shorter… just walking by someone…
Place. Are you indoors or outdoors – if you’re indoors can the windows be open? Can fans be on? Even the exhaust fan over your stove by the way works to suck air out. Put your air conditioning fan on “on,”
Where are you? What’s the place? Indoors/outdoors?
Mark: So limiting the time that any infectious particles are able to be in the air to settle…
Jennifer: Yeah. If you walk by someone in the grocery store, you’re not going to have a problem. If you’re sitting with someone two feet away, for two and a half hours, eating and drinking – and that person has covid that’s a different story –
Mark: This is why the first responders – especially the nurses and healthcare practitioners – had such issues because they were around covid patients all day long. So they’re accumulating more of the covid virus in their body. Which makes it harder for the immune response to deal with it?
Jennifer: Pretty much, yeah. It’s a higher infectious dose and also their PPE… they weren’t as up to speed – they were to some extent, because it’s not their first rodeo. They’re used to putting on PPE in the hospital setting.
But this is a very transmissible virus. So these things that you have to ask yourself are really helpful… they’re basic tenets of infection control.
Mark: When I had a friend visit me from New Zealand – this is like six months ago, so I don’t know if they’ve changed their policies – he said “no we don’t have we don’t wear masks in New Zealand. They found out that the masks were making the people who wore them sicker.”
And I was like “wow, that’s really interesting.” And when I thought about that, I said, “well, yeah, if you’re wearing a mask and let’s say you get exposed to it. And then you put that mask on again, you know, maybe you’re exposing yourself a second time… or maybe you’re trapping it inside, and you’re breathing…
I mean is there anything to that? Or has that been debunked?
Jennifer: That has not been supported in peer review medical literature.
Jennifer: I can totally understand where the concept comes from… your lungs are not like a balloon. They’re not holding that virus in and you have to slowly exhale it to get rid of it. Remember this virus invades our cells, right? And once it’s in, it’s in. So, it’s not like kind of a revolving door scenario…
Mark: Can it come in through the skin? Or does it always have to come in through the nose or the mouth?
Jennifer: Mucous membranes and nasal passage.
Jennifer: Now the virus has been detected in stool, in urine and it has been transmitted in a lung transplant just recently in the united states. To my knowledge it has not been detected yet in semen or amniotic fluid. Or blood. But it is in other bodily fluids.
Mark: Wow, that’s interesting. Okay, what about…? This could you know be related to the issue of people who just don’t seem to get infected at all. This will maybe bridge us to the vaccine question. I’m speaking from my own personal experience – when I was in the navy I was mandatorily vaccinated for flu and cold and whatever it was… pretty much everything.
And I left the navy in 2011, and I just stopped doing any of that. And I can tell you that every year I would get the flu when I was in the navy, and when I stopped doing it, I’ve stopped getting sick, right?
So that’s my personal experience. I’m not saying that has anything to do with reality, but I think there’s a lot of placebo and nocebo effect for the human body. The way we think really makes a big difference.
And if I were to approach this from another perspective, the higher the vibration your body is which is effective – those three things you talked about, right? As well as how you think is going to have an effect upon what foreign agents are able to exist in that vibrational field.
So that’s more of a metaphysical approach. We don’t have to go there, but there’s certain people who just don’t ever seem to get sick. Regardless if they’re exposed.
Jennifer: Right, correct. Listen, I can tell you from a scientific standpoint the placebo and nocebo effect are real. They are real. They’re about 30% of the time…
Mark: How do we know that, by the way?
Jennifer: Extensive studies. Extensive… every test or treatment or therapeutic has to go through a blind… that therapy versus placebo. And it’s about 30% of the time – the placebo will generate a positive response.
And the same thing holds true for the nocebo, for the negative. If you think something is not going to work or you’re going to have a side effect – you have about a 30% chance that that is going to happen. So it does speak to what we don’t understand well enough – the metaphysical, the other kind of category of how our mind affects these things.
And listen, I’ve had influenza twice. Cultured positive for influenza in the last 10 or so years. Both of those years I got vaccinated, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t have gotten it if I hadn’t been vaccinated, right?
So your own experience matters – bigger, huge data matters also. And we have to be able to integrate both of those things, and make the best decisions we can for ourselves, and sometimes that’s not so easy.
Mark: No, well it goes to the point that you have this kind of national top-down approach to dealing with it. Then everyone has to take individual responsibility as well. And I think that that message didn’t come through that clearly, but it has in the last kind of four or five months. It’s like, “hey, you got a part in this.” Everyone’s got a part in this. Because we are a collective, but we’re also a bunch of individuals acting individually.
Jennifer: That’s right…
Mark: At least we need to line up and shoot in the same direction.
Jennifer: Yeah, and listen there’s other precedents that are interesting to talk about from a medical and societal ethics standpoint. You know, seat belt laws, right?
You know, someone could say, “well, what difference does it make. I don’t want to wear a seatbelt. If I get in an accident and I die, that’s my choice.”
Well, yeah. Except guess what? You could also kill someone else – you get injured and not killed and someone has to pay for that care. That all comes from us – by the way – it’s not just that person. But that’s a law, right? And someone could say, “well it’s infringing on my freedom.”
But guess what? There’s seat belt laws in this country, so it’s interesting. And I don’t know that there’s always a clear-cut right or wrong answer, but it’s definitely interesting to think about and talk about.
Mark: Right. So let’s get into vaccines. I’m curious… my aikido teacher works for Pfizer and he worked on the Pfizer vaccine – he’s really proud of his accomplishment. And then I’ve been following J&J and I think that’s fascinating.
And so we’re learning all sorts of new things about these and whether they’re going to work with one dose or two doses. And whether it works at room temperature or minus 50 degrees…
First off, can we just talk about the different approaches between the Pfizer Moderna and Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca? You know, help us understand like what’s the difference in terms of how these work?
Jennifer: So I would suggest your listeners think about this like… the analogy would be making a lasagna, right? You get 10 different chefs, they can make it 10 different ways it’s still going to be a lasagna when it comes out of the kitchen, right? Some might use zucchini noodles, some might use pasta noodles, some might use a red sauce, some might put more cheese in there…
But it’s still going to be a lasagna. So when you talk about right now the three authorized vaccines, two of them use mRNA technology which has been around – by the way – for 20 years…
Mark: For cancer delivery, right?
Jennifer: That’s right. Exactly. But this is the first time it’s ever been used to develop a vaccine. It does not get into the nucleus; it does not get into our DNA… that is a complete myth…
Understandable, because of the name, but that’s just not the science…
Mark: Yeah, it uses a messenger RNA to deliver a part of the spiked protein – the spike on the protein. Which is just a part of the whole virus.
Jennifer: That’s correct. So think of it like this vaccine is a USB port and it’s being connected to your body. And it’s telling your body what to do to protect itself against covid. So it has a little snippet of the spike protein. When it gets injected into your body, your immune system will start to see that… first, that part of the spike protein is translated and produced. Then your immune system sees that and says “what the heck is this? We’ve never seen this before.”
Because it’s just a snippet, it can’t infect you. And your immune system starts churning out warriors against that little piece. And so then it has memory.
So then if it were to see the whole thing it can say “oh, I know you. You’re going down.” So that’s the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. That technology.
Johnson and Johnson used an old tried and true adenovirus vector technology – which is an inactive part – think almost like a trojan horse, kind of thing. It sneaks in part of the spike protein. It’s inactive, it can’t make you sick. And then your body does the same thing. It makes these antibodies against it.
So how these vaccines work is not as significant as to how effective they are. And right now the three that we have in the US that are authorized – they’re all good. They’re all going to save lives.
The question really in speaking to the tony Fauci’s of the country – which I do on a regular basis – is how the variants that we see now and that we will see down the road will interact with the vaccine. Will the vaccine still offer protection? Or will the variants figure out a way to slip under the radar?
Now remember, viruses mutate for a living.
Mark: Yeah, it’s their job.
Jennifer: So when you hear a new variant, people shouldn’t be all freaked out. This is what viruses do and not every variant or mutation makes it worse some – less likely – make it weaker. But most of the time, when a virus mutates it’s for competitive advantage to that virus. And the way to stop the virus from mutating is to stop the virus from spreading.
Mark: Is it possible to completely eradicate something like the corona virus?
Jennifer: Most people are saying no, Mark. Most top infectious disease specialists in the world are saying that they believe that in five years or so sars-cov-2 will be endemic, like influenza. It’ll be around. It won’t be raging through the world like it is right now, but it’s not going to be completely eradicated.
Mark: Is there such thing as immunity to this? Or do the antibodies wear off after six months or so?
Jennifer: You know, that’s the thing that… right now, the published data suggests that the antibodies’ durability – which is what it’s called – lasts a variable amount of time. Sometimes as short as three to four months, other times as long as 18 months.
To go back to the example that we gave about having the common cold – you know, you and I have had more than one cold in our lifetimes. And they’re not all caused by coronaviruses, but a lot are.
So that kind of suggests to us that they don’t last forever, and that we might need a booster. Or as new variants crop up, they might need to reformulate these vaccines – which when you’re talking about mRNA vaccines is super easy to do – very quick, very easy.
Mark: And would they just update their vaccine and just keep shipping… and then you just get a booster shot to deal with the new variants every so often? That’s interesting.
Jennifer: That’s what it looks like, yeah. But again, we really won’t know until… let’s say the first vaccine was authorized on December 14th. We won’t really know till this coming December 14th what that’s looking like. What the virus is looking like.
Again, another military analogy here is in terms of these variants. We don’t sequence enough of our viral specimens in this country. You know, when the Biden administration took over, we were doing genetic sequencing that’s looking at the fingerprint of the viruses that are here in the US. Less than 1% of all specimens.
You can’t fight an enemy, unless you know it’s there, right? And so if we don’t start testing more – in terms of the genetic sequencing – we’re always going to be behind the eight-ball. We are starting to test more, but not enough.
Mark: Yeah, that’s interesting. I read an article yesterday that said like 30% of the military is refusing the vaccine. And I’m wondering if that’s kind of a nationwide statistic. Will that cross over?
And what’s the impact of you know 100 million people not taking the vaccine?
Jennifer: So the surveys and the polls that I’ve seen are around that 30 to 40 percent… people who do not want it. And as you know, I’m always transparent, so I’m going to give you my opinion on this now. This isn’t this isn’t my ABC statement, but I will tell you that in terms of, let’s say, the military refusing it, or you know various other professions let’s start with the individual.
When I see a real patient in my office, right? My job is to inform the patient of all the options and let the patient know – if appropriate – which one I would recommend. And then the ethical principle of patient autonomy is to support the patient in whatever decision she or he – I don’t usually take care of men – but makes. This is not a dictatorship in our medical system.
So, you know, another example is if someone has cancer, they don’t have to treat that cancer with traditional treatments. Or any treatment… not treating cancer is an option and it should be supported, right?
So I always say, I make recommendations, the patient makes decisions. And my job is to support those decisions.
Now, that’s for the lay person. If you have a certain job – which the military you can look at as a job, right? Or other ones – I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure there’s a plethora of examples of this – one could make the argument that your job requires you to get vaccinated, because if you were to get covid and die. Or a thousand other people in the military get covid and die, it can endanger our whole country, right?
And what I would say to that is “that’s what you signed up for,” right? That’s what I signed up for when I became a doctor… I can’t say “oh, you have HIV? I’m not taking care of you, because I might get it.”
That is the oath I took. That is what I signed up for.
And so I do believe that there are certain jobs that that comes with the territory. But I don’t know how that will all play out. I really do not know, and I think that’s again more of a legal and ethical kind of decision. But it will be interesting for sure.
Mark: I was kind of surprised because when I was in the SEAL teams we went over to a foreign country – I mean, they gave us everything, right? And we were kind of concerned that all these cocktails are running around their body at the same time. And some of us got really sick.
But we were given malaria and, you know, smallpox… and this, and that, and the other thing. All at the same time in one big, giant dose. And so we weren’t given a choice. So I’m kind of surprised that they’re even being given a choice…
Jennifer: Well, remember Tuskegee airmen, right? They weren’t given a choice either, and there’s certainly massive issues with this, right? And I like to hope that we don’t do the same things that we did in the past.
But yeah, absolutely. This is something that – there are going to be a lot of people with a lot of trepidation, concern, watching it unfold…
Mark: Right, I think you just need time to prove that it’s safe – because there’s a lot of skepticism – people have heard about things like sterility for young boys, and doctors getting sick after taking the vaccine. And who knows if they’re true, or just fake news?
And it’s just so hard to know these days. So a lot of people are just going to take a wait and see.
Jennifer: Well, listen – I’m going to throw another analogy – of course, I don’t know the specifics – but into your world here. The way you make a decision in clinical medicine, how you stratify risk – and I can do this instantaneously – like there are things you can do instantaneously, in your sleep from your training – is you ask yourself four questions in medicine.
What’s the risk of doing it? What’s the risk of not doing it? What’s the benefit of doing it? And what’s the benefit of not doing it?
And the good doctors literally can run through those four questions in seconds, right? And that’s how for myself, and for my children, I made the decision to get vaccinated. I said, “okay, I don’t know what the long-term risks of this vaccine are, because it was just developed.” So they don’t know two, five, ten years of data.
But I know what the risks of covid are. I know what they are – and by the way, my risk of dying is probably around one in a thousand, maybe less – because I don’t have any of those risk factors.
But we have a saying in medicine there are worse things than death. If you’re dead you’re dead. I don’t worry about dying, I worry about getting covid and getting post covid syndrome that affects my heart or my brain. And I can’t do my job. And that could be 10%, that could be 30%, that could be even higher.
That’s a known risk. And I worry about that. What’s the benefit of getting vaccinated? That I have a 95% reduction in my chances of getting seriously ill. That’s a fact. I can put that number in there.
The benefits of not getting vaccinated? I mean, that’s a question Mark. What are the benefits? No one knows, right? Like, we don’t know…
Mark: The only benefit would be the possibility of not getting some bad adverse effect that may or may not happen…
Jennifer: That’s right. That goes back to another question Mark. So that’s how people should make a decision. That’s part of why I wrote the book – to help people learn to think like a doctor – and if you start to go through those with any decision you make in medicine, it becomes like rote. You’ll do it all the time, and it will lead you to the right decision.
Mark: What does your gut tell you? Does your gut tell you the vaccine is safe? Or all these vaccines are safe?
Jennifer: Yeah, it does. And I’ll tell you not only based on science why I say that…
Mark: Yeah, I wanted your non-scientific… kind of your gut reaction… your intuition…
Jennifer: I’ll tell you my non my non-scientific answer to that is that pharmaceutical companies are in business to make a profit. They would not develop a vaccine that in the short term or the long term, was found to be dangerous, because they would ultimately lose money.
And I’m not trying to say that pharmaceutical companies don’t want to help people, they do. But they want to make a profit. And so the best way to do that is to produce a safe product that the whole world needs. The worst way to do that is to produce a product with a problem.
Mark: With your book “the new normal: a road map to resilience” – by the way, is that out now or is it pending?
Jennifer: Yes, it’s out now.
Mark: Congratulations. I can’t wait to read it.
Jennifer: Thank you. Thank you.
Mark: Is there any other like really salient point that we haven’t discussed that you’d like to kind of bring out?
Jennifer: Two things that I do discuss a lot, Mark, in the book. One is that I think over the past year the whole country has had a front row seat to examples of good communication and bad communication…
Mark: Oh, that’s for sure…
Jennifer: And in medicine, just like in life, I really believe that the really high caliber doctors and scientists are the first ones to say when they don’t know something. They’re the first ones to say, “I don’t have an answer to that, but here are the questions that I have.”
Sometimes the smart thing to do isn’t to just spout off some facts that you think you know, but it’s to ask the smart questions. And we saw some of that, and then we didn’t see a lot of it in the last year. And I think it’s important, because it does remind people of the disparity and what they should look for.
The other thing that I think is in the book that is as important as any of the other stuff about how to be fit, how to be mentally resilient, how to be physically resilient… is that you can’t talk about this pandemic – I’m going to bring it right back to your title of your podcast – without talking about the mental impact. The impact on our spirit, on our mind, on the psychology of us as individuals, and as a country.
You can’t heal a patient physically unless you address their spirit. And this has been very hard, because it’s relentless…
Mark: It’s relentless, and I think the part that’s really frustrated a lot of people is that we brought a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel to the cure or the remedy. And that destroyed a lot of businesses and put a lot of people out of work.
And now that who… the sanity check is like, “holy cow, we’ve just put a percentage of the global population that was on edge, at extreme risk of starvation.” And suicide has been going up in every single country. And you know as well as I, suicide isn’t tracked in real-time either.
But in countries where they track it closely – like japan – I read where suicide amongst women is up three times… like 3x in japan. That’s crazy. And the impact on our children for being out of school… oh my gosh… and the negativity from all the media backlash…
Jennifer: That’s right.
Mark: So this pandemic is probably – aside from the cost and the death toll – and then we didn’t even talk about what I’m curious about also – is like the people who are permanently debilitated, but aren’t in that list of people who passed away, right? That’s a big impact, too.
Jennifer: That’s right.
Mark: But then just across the board the economic destruction and all the things we’ve talked about – it’s insane. And you can always second-guess it and Monday morning quarterback the government’s responses, but it doesn’t do us any good.
The question is how are we going to move forward positively, and I think that’s why your book is really timely and important.
Jennifer: Well, thank you. Can I ask you a SEAL question?
Mark: Of course.
Jennifer: So what are the lessons from your experience and your training that could be extrapolated to the individual? What kind of… there’s nature and there’s nurture, right? There’s the actual character and personality of someone who wants to become a SEAL going in.
But then there’s your training and what kind of things that you’re taught to help you with uncertainty or the worst-case scenario. Have there been anything from that that you think is really useful for people? For the average person?
Mark: Very much so. A few things, one of the things about seals – the people who are attracted to it, to get to the program – is that we have an intense commitment to self-improvement. And then we formulate that into a daily discipline, you could say military are really disciplined – but we consider discipline to be a practice itself.
And so every day we discipline ourselves to get better in different areas. Physically and mentally and emotionally even.
So that’s one thing. And so that kind of covers some of the things you talked about in your book – especially those three kind of pillars – health, check. Physical exercise, training the body, check. Training the mind, check.
Sleeping well – you know, seals have had to learn that the hard way that we need to do that. And so we have a whole resiliency program around that.
But then the second thing, which is really unique, which is what our culture needs way more of is that we don’t do this just for ourselves. We do this for the team. We do this so that we’re not the limiting factor, right?
We do this so that we bring the best out of our teammates, so that e together everyone achieves more. The team becomes the main unit. We call it the SEAL teams, not the SEAL individuals, for a reason, right?
And then the third thing is – and this is also something that we’ve lost in our country – is we have a common vision for why we’re working together and what we’re working toward. So we have a common vision and mission. And then we align around that.
And we agree to disagree, but still execute the mission. You could be working with any different color, race – you could be working with you know person on the left, person on the right – republican, democrat – it doesn’t matter.
We can have those conversations over a beer after the mission is done. And you don’t have to agree with my position as a leader, and I’m going to take everyone’s input on board, and then together we’re going to figure out the right plan.
But the buck stops here, so I’ll make a decision. And if you don’t like it, fine. As long as you rally around the execution, getting it done. And then we can have a discussion afterwards in the debrief whether it was a good idea or not.
So those are three really unique aspects about the seals and what we teach in Unbeatable Mind – we teach aspects of that to leaders – is that we become very resilient and adaptable. Because we just are able to really come quickly to a plan, and then attack a problem really quickly. And then adapt and learn on the fly. Because we’ve got that individual accountability for excellence, we’ve got the team working together toward a common mission and vision, and we’re able to take brutally honest feedback when we’re wrong or when we screw up so that we can improve.
Jennifer: I think there’s a lot there. I think there’s a lot there that the individual can take from that and say “we’re gonna take some of this and start living it.” It’s really, really important…
Mark: Yeah, it’s important to understand the transformations our culture is going through. Everything has very positive aspects and very negative aspects. And so we see a lot of the negative aspects and we kind of focus on that, because we’re taught to focus on the negative in our culture. And so like cancel culture and all this crazy stuff that’s going on with social media and whatnot – that’s kind of the shadow side of our cultural transformation.
But on the positive side is many more people like you and I who are out there, and taking responsibility for our health, right? Medical practitioners looking at the systemic health, as opposed to just disease management. Entire industries that are cropping up around nutrition and sleep hygiene and exercise and recovery and sustainability, right?
And the technology that’s behind that is incredible. I think that we truly are undergoing a transformation of consciousness in a positive sense and the negative side is just really the degradation of old systems… you know, old people, even who are leading those systems, who haven’t transformed to a more open and inclusive point of view, right?
So maybe I went off on a little tangent there…
Jennifer: No, I think it was perfect. It was perfect.
Mark: So, your book “the new normal,” it’s obviously available on amazon and everywhere else. Do you have a personal website and twitter? How do people find you? (laughing) besides turning on the tv?
Jennifer: Yeah, that’s right… I’m on Instagram the most. Which is @drjashton and I try to answer as many questions as I can. I don’t really go on to Twitter and Facebook, because I think people are not that nice on those. And we need more civility not less of it.
But Instagram people tend to be pretty supportive. And I’m checking that all the time.
Mark: Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it, Dr. Ashton.
Jennifer: Thanks Mark. This was great. You’ve been awesome too and it was a real pleasure talking to you. Keep up the good work. You’re needed.
Mark: Thank you very much.
Thank you, folks. That’s Dr. Jennifer Ashton. Check out her book, “The New Normal: A Road Map to Resilience.” And check her out at Instagram.
Thanks again for listening. Appreciate it very much. Hope that was useful information, so you can take care of yourselves and your families. And be part of the solution and not the problem.
Be unbeatable. See you next time.