Hornet Headliner Episode #1: Vaccines & Big Bird


Urva Jha and Celeste Eckstein

Urva: I’m Urva and you’re listening to the hornet headliner. In today’s episode, the vaccine becomes available for elementary school children— how is the government handling that? We talk to researcher and Zephyrus staff member Celeste Eckstein for more information.

Urva: Hi Celeste, tell us more about the COVID vaccine for elementary schoolers.

Celeste: So the vaccine was recently approved for the age group of five to 11-year-olds, which is, as we know, mostly elementary school kids. So it became widely available the week of November 8.

 So kids in Minnesota and beyond are just receiving their first doses now. And it’s a long process to get to the point where the vaccines are available for distribution. They completed the clinical trials on October 7, and then the FDA has an advisory panel that votes and then the official authorization, and then the CDC does the same thing all before it becomes available to the public.

Urva: So why is it the CDC and the FDA both?

Celeste: So the FDA is the entity that kind of decides is this safe, and is it effective? Like does this work as, as it claims to? And then the CDC goes more specifically, who would benefit from this? So the FDA can sort of say, Yes, this is safe. And then the CDC says, Yes, and we’re going to start with this group of people. We’re going to start distribution with this group.

Urva: Awesome. So how is vaccination looking in Hennepin County?

Celeste: So currently, in Hennepin County, there are over 77.4% of Minnesotans over 12 that are fully vaccinated, and that’s higher than Minnesota in general. At the high school, there are 80.5% of students fully vaccinated.

Urva: So tell us more about vaccines at Edina. How is that working?

Celeste: So the two middle schools Southview And Valley View have both hosted vaccination clinics where students as young as five years old can go and get their shots.

Urva: Yeah, so how’s that working? How’s that looking?

Celeste: Well, vaccine rollout has been I believe it’s been pretty successful so far. As of November 8, which by the time you know this is published, this number will be higher but as as of November 8, 14,089 doses have been given to kids aged five through 11 in Minnesota.

Urva: Wow, that’s incredible. So how many parents really are willing to get their child vaccinated?

Celeste: Well, there was this recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and they found that only 27% of parents are planning to go out right away and get their five to 11-year-olds vaccinated for COVID-19. And then a whole 30% said that they’re definitely not going to get their kids vaccinated. And I think it’s important to note that this vaccine for this age group is exactly the same as the one that’s administered to adults safe for the size. So the dose for this age group is 10 milligrams compared to the 30 milligrams that have been given to adults, but other than that the vaccines are fundamentally the same.

Urva: And how’s the government playing into that?

Celeste: So, Jill Biden is, you know, planning to start a campaign encouraging this young age group to get vaccinated, she’s planning to travel and visit schools and make up make direct appeals to parents to get their children vaccinated. However, not everyone shares this same level of support. Yeah, definitely.

Urva: So what are some of the opposing arguments?

Celeste: So, there are people that are afraid about, you know, what the effect of the vaccine is going to be on their children, you know, they’re just hesitant about it. And then there’s, of course, the people who are just, you know, they have not been vaccinated themselves. They’re just against the vaccine. And then on the other hand, you’ve also got a lot of families who are really eager, really looking forward to vaccinating their kids, you know, this is something they’ve been looking forward to for a long time. So you’ve got people that are, you know, you’ve got pretty split opinions here. ​​It is important to note that while some people have these concerns, the FDA, CDC, the vast majority of scientific research says that these vaccines are safe, effective, and our best defense against COVID-19.

Urva: Yeah, so, social media is something that’s definitely a huge role in our lives, evidently, our government to what can you say about vaccines and how social media has played into that?

Celeste: Well, I think fit just generally when you’re online, it’s you know, there’s there can be a lot of controversies, people will fight over pretty much anything. So we see one of those examples presented here. So Big Bird, the Sesame Street character, eight-foot-two, canary yellow bird, we all know, we all love him. Big Bird tweeted the following message, you know, I’ll quote it. I got the COVID-19 vaccine today, my wing is feeling a little sore, but it’ll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others happy, miss. And then he tagged Erica Hill, even said, I’ve been getting vaccines since I was a little bird. I had no idea. So this tweet that may seem innocent actually received a lot of blowback from major conservative figures. So social media certainly emphasized these conflicts. 

Urva: Yeah, definitely. Do you have any specific examples? Like?

Celeste: Yes, I do. So one of the most prominent is Ted Cruz. Cruz is a Republican senator from Texas. So, he replied to this big bird tweet directly to Big Bird and he says, and I quote, government propaganda for your five-year-old. So that was one of the examples and then another one. Arizona State Senator Wendy Rogers replied to that tweet with Big Bird is a communist. Others deemed Big Bird you know, they said things like this are evil, or you know, echoed Cruz’s claims of propaganda and there was a lot of there were some responses like that.

Urva: Yeah, that is interesting, to say the least. So how has Big Bird been politicized? And is this really his first time in a spotlight like this?

Celeste: Oh, absolutely not. And this might be surprising but Big Bird has actually been a point of multiple political, debates before and we’ll get into that but the first thing is Big Bird being vaccinated for COVID-19 is not a unique occurrence. Another Muppet Rosa, who is five years old was also you know, vaccinated. So this big bird is not the only Muppet who was vaccinated, just in case that’s a concern for people. And second, this is also not big birds’, the first time being vaccinated. The perennially six years old six-year-old bird was also vaccinated for Measles in 1972. And a video of this was posted by Muppets wiki. And it gained traction and to gain traction online in response to Cruz’s and others’ remarks.

Urva: Oh, that’s fascinating. It’s kind of clear how to some people, it might seem like the government is trying to send some sort of message through Big Bird. Is that really what’s going on, do you think?

Celeste: I do not think that Big Bird is the government’s puppet, so to speak, for encouraging vaccination. Um, the government has been open about promoting vaccination and encouraging citizens to get vaccinated. There have been like, you know, they’ve spent a lot of money encouraging people to get their COVID-19 vaccines. There’s a government website, we can do this.gov. And it’s, it’s about the COVID-19 public education vaccine. This is a website dedicated to telling people about, you know, why you should get the vaccine, helping you learn about it, helping you learn about boosters addressing like these myths, you know, the government is openly advocating, encouraging citizens to receive the vaccine. So we can put fears of the government somehow trying to like subliminally message that people should get vaccinated through Big Bird, like we can put that sort of fear to rest because Big Bird is not the government’s vessel for vaccination in you know, vaccination promotion.

Urva: Yeah, of course. So more about Big Bird being politicized. This is very clearly not a new occurrence like especially, like how you said with the whole measles vaccine, where else has this been seen?

Celeste: In 2017, The New York Times published an opinion and it was titled President Trump versus big bird. Because the author was criticizing Trump’s plans to, eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And this would have, you know, closed some television stations that, you know, wouldn’t have survived without federal support. And so, and so the author draws on the idea of Big Bird. You know, President Trump is facing off against Big Bird. So we’ve seen Big Bird in the political spotlight multiple times in past years because he’s come to represent the humanities in a way.

Urva: Yeah, because who doesn’t like Sesame Street? 

Celeste: exactly, exactly.

Urva: Yeah, thank you for joining us today.

Celeste: Yeah, it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Urva: That’s it for Big Bird and Vaccines. Thanks for listening. This week’s episode was reported on by Celeste Eckstein. This episode was produced by myself, Urva Jha. The opening track was written and played by Matthew Smith. The audio editor of the Hornet Headliner is Aditya Suresh. The managing editors are Dedeepya Guthikonda and Isa Li. The Editor-in-Chief is Mia DiLorenzo.