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How Joe Biden did so well in Georgia


In Atlanta, people gather to dance and celebrate the election of Joe Biden as the next president.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson


Bev-Freda Jackson, American University School of Public Affairs


For nearly 30 years, the state of Georgia has voted reliably Republican in presidential elections. Not since 1992 has the state backed a Democrat for president. Now, the hand recount of 2020 election ballots has confirmed Joe Biden won the state.



The initial returns from Georgia on election night leaned Republican, but in the days that followed, the balance of the count shifted steadily, as ballots from in and around Atlanta were counted. These votes were largely from communities of color, mostly African American – and they represent much of the state’s rich history of civil rights advocacy.



Atlanta, often called the “cradle of the civil rights movement,” was the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. and made up much of the congressional district represented by the late John Lewis.



I am a political scientist and race scholar, with specific emphasis on examining social justice movement strategy and the impact of collective action. To me, the story behind how those Biden-Harris voters were mobilized – with others across the state – is the latest chapter in the state’s history of community organizing for peaceful democratic political change.



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Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to a church gathering in Albany, Ga., about desegregation efforts and civil rights, in July 1962.
AP Photo



A long history



Social justice movements and civil rights activism have always been important in Georgia. Even during Reconstruction, in the wake of the Civil War, the organizers worked to teach Georgians about voting rights and the rules for qualifying to vote in a state that had long denied them that right.



Efforts continued through the years, including rule changes that added more than 100,000 Black voters to the state’s rolls between 1940 and 1947. In the 1950s and 1960s, voting rights campaigns across the South sought to remove the vestiges of a Jim Crow system that suppressed Black voters with literacy tests, grandfather clauses and physical intimidation.



One major effort was the 1961-1962 Albany Movement, based in the Georgia town of that name. The effort was led initially by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, with later help from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, two of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations at the time. At the outset, Albany’s population was 40% Black, but many of them were not registered to vote.



The Albany Movement was the first attempt to completely desegregate a community, including through teaching nonviolence for people to engage in civil disobedience. The tactics and strategies pioneered there were successful in Albany and, as King and his movement shifted to Birmingham, Alabama, formed the basis for their work as well.



Between 1960 and 1964, half a million Black voters were registered in Georgia, as part of a larger Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee voter registration drive across the South.



Those decades of activism built strong networks for grassroots organizing and taught many people how to effectively fight segregation and racism with boycotts, sit-ins and other nonviolent methods of direct action resistance. After King’s assassination in 1968, the movement slowed significantly, showing how important it was to decentralize future civil rights efforts, rather than focusing them on one specific person or place.



Decades later, the Movement for Black Lives arose in response to police brutality against Black Americans, and built on the lessons learned through the 1960s.



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Georgia politician and activist Stacey Abrams speaks to a crowd in advance of the 2020 election.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson



A new movement



The latest push for Black voters in Georgia came in 2018, after former State Representative Stacey Abrams, a Black Democratic woman, narrowly lost the race for governor to Brian Kemp, a white Republican man.



Her loss was largely attributed to the efforts of Kemp, who had been the state’s top elections official, to suppress Black votes. Those efforts included throwing more than half a million voters off the rolls – most of them Black – and tightening other voting rules.



In the wake of that election, Abrams committed herself to fight voter suppression in Georgia. She created an organization called Fair Fight to get the purged voters back on the rolls and to register others who were eligible to vote as well.



She began these efforts when Black Georgians’ attention had turned strongly to politics after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The 2020 death of civil rights icon and longtime Congressman John Lewis brought more attention to racial inequality. Many people realized they had been disenfranchised and were suffering from “intolerance fatigue,” the feeling of being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”



Abrams and Fair Fight benefited from the state’s 2016 implementation of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, sometimes called the “motor voter” law, which gives people the opportunity to register to vote at the same time that they apply for or renew a driver’s license.



Altogether, that collective effort registered 800,000 new voters in Georgia since Abrams’ 2018 loss. Some of those were likely among the many that Secretary of State Kemp had forced off the rolls, but many were also people who had never before been registered to vote in Georgia.



In addition to getting people’s names on the voting rolls, these groups pushed the importance of actually voting and taught people how to vote safely, including by mail or in-person before Election Day. Their efforts resulted in a 63% increase over the 2016 statistics for mail-in and early in-person voting ballots cast.



Overall, Georgia’s 2020 turnout was roughly 800,000 more than in the 2016 presidential election.



An additional factor in the Georgia election result may have been President Donald Trump’s own statements discouraging his supporters from voting, but the real key was the grassroots organization, the modern echo of the Albany Movement, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other efforts, that brought new voters into the fold.The Conversation



Bev-Freda Jackson, Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, American University School of Public Affairs



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


How mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna work, why they're a breakthrough and why they need to be kept so cold

 Moderna’s new mRNA vaccine is almost 94.5% effective in large-scale trials.

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images


Sanjay Mishra, Vanderbilt University


As the weather cools, the number of infections of the COVID-19 pandemic are rising sharply. Hamstrung by pandemic fatigue, economic constraints and political discord, public health officials have struggled to control the surging pandemic. But now, a rush of interim analyses from pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have spurred optimism that a novel type of vaccine made from messenger RNA, known as mRNA, can offer high levels of protection by preventing COVID-19 among people who are vaccinated.



Although unpublished, these preliminary reports have exceeded the expectations of many vaccine experts, including mine. Until early this year, I worked on developing vaccine candidates against Zika and dengue. Now I am coordinating an international effort to collect reports on adult patients with current or previous cancers who have also been diagnosed with COVID-19.



Promising preliminary results



Moderna reported that during the phase 3 study of its vaccine candidate mRNA-1273, which enrolled 30,000 adult U.S. participants, just five of the 95 COVID-19 cases occurred among the vaccinated, while 90 infections were identified in the placebo group. This corresponds to an efficacy of 94.5%. None of the infected patients who received the vaccine developed severe COVID-19, while 11 (12%) of those who received the placebo did.



Similarly, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidate, BNT162b2, was 90% effective in preventing infection during the phase 3 clinical trial, which enrolled 43,538 participants, with 30% in U.S. and 42% abroad



How does mRNA vaccine work?



Vaccines train the immune system to recognize the disease-causing part of a virus. Vaccines traditionally contain either weakened viruses or purified signature proteins of the virus.



But an mRNA vaccine is different, because rather than having the viral protein injected, a person receives genetic material – mRNA – that encodes the viral protein. When these genetic instructions are injected into the upper arm, the muscle cells translate them to make the viral protein directly in the body.



This approach mimics what the SARS-CoV-2 does in nature – but the vaccine mRNA codes only for the critical fragment of the viral protein. This gives the immune system a preview of what the real virus looks like without causing disease. This preview gives the immune system time to design powerful antibodies that can neutralize the real virus if the individual is ever infected.



While this synthetic mRNA is genetic material, it cannot be transmitted to the next generation. After an mRNA injection, this molecule guides the protein production inside the muscle cells, which reaches peak levels for 24 to 48 hours and can last for a few more days. 1200w, 1800w, 754w, 1508w, 2262w" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px">

The immunization timeline for the Moderna vaccine trial.
undefined undefined/iStock/Getty Images Plus



Why is making an mRNA vaccine so fast?



Traditional vaccine development, although well studied, is very time-consuming and cannot respond instantaneously against novel pandemics such as COVID-19.



For example, for seasonal flu, it takes roughly six months from identification of the circulating influenza virus strain to produce a vaccine. The candidate flu vaccine virus is grown for about three weeks to produce a hybrid virus, which is less dangerous and better able to grow in hens’ eggs. The hybrid virus is then injected into a lot of fertilized eggs and incubated for several days to make more copies. Then the fluid containing virus is harvested from eggs, the vaccine viruses are killed, and the viral proteins are purified over several days.



The mRNA vaccines can leapfrog the hurdles of developing traditional vaccines such as producing noninfectious viruses, or producing viral proteins at medically demanding levels of purity.



MRNA vaccines eliminate much of the manufacturing process because rather than having viral proteins injected, the human body uses the instructions to manufacture viral proteins itself.



Also, mRNA molecules are far simpler than proteins. For vaccines, mRNA is manufactured by chemical rather than biological synthesis, so it is much quicker than conventional vaccines to be redesigned, scaled up and mass-produced.



In fact, within days of the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus becoming available, the mRNA code for a candidate vaccine testing was ready. What’s most attractive is that once the mRNA vaccine tools become viable, mRNA can be quickly tailored for other future pandemics. 1200w, 1800w, 754w, 1508w, 2262w" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px">

A comparison of traditional with the new mRNA vaccines.



What are problems with mRNA?



MRNA technology isn’t new. It was shown a while back that when synthetic mRNA is injected into an animal, the cells can produce a desired protein. But the progress remained slow. That’s because mRNA is not only notoriously unstable and easy to degrade into smaller components, it is also easily destroyed by the human body’s immune defenses, which make delivering it to the target very inefficient.



But beginning in 2005, researchers figured out how to stabilize mRNA and package it into small particles to deliver it as a vaccine. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be the first using this technology to be approved by the FDA.



After a decade of work, the mRNA vaccines are now ready for evaluation. Physicians will be watching for unintended immune reactions, which can be both helpful and detrimental.



Why keep mRNA supercold?



The most important challenge for development of a mRNA vaccine remains its inherent instability, because it is more likely to break apart above freezing temperatures.



Modification of the mRNA building blocks and development of the particles that can cocoon it relatively safely have helped the mRNA vaccine candidates. But this new class of vaccine still requires unprecedented freezer conditions for distribution and administration.



What are the refrigeration requirements?



The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine will need to be optimally stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and will degrade in around five days at normal refrigeration temperatures of slightly above freezing.



[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]



In contrast, Moderna claims its vaccine can be maintained at most home or medical freezer temperatures for up to six months for shipping and longer-term storage. Moderna also claims its vaccine can remain stable at standard refrigerated conditions, of 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, for up to 30 days after thawing, within the six-month shelf life.



Not surprisingly, Pfizer is also developing shipping containers using dry ice to address shipping constraints.The Conversation



Sanjay Mishra, Project Coordinator & Staff Scientist, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Twitter posts show that people are profoundly sad – and are visiting parks to cheer up

Joe Roman, University of Vermont and Taylor Ricketts, University of Vermont

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the “happiness” of people’s words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.

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