Nicole Karlis

It's not a fluke: Allergy season is out of control this year

If you've felt like your seasonal allergies are worse this year, you're not alone. Higher temperatures are linked with longer tree and grass pollen seasons.

According to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports, temperature increases in northern California are worsening pollen-related allergies, while precipitation changes are associated with more mold spores in the air.

"Climate change is really a problem for health, and we are living and breathing the effects of climate change now," said the study's senior author, Kari Nadeau, professor of medicine and of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine.

Nadeau, according to a news release, became interested in the subject because she noticed that patients said their seasonal allergies were getting worse.

"As an allergist, it is my duty to follow the pollen counts, and I was noticing that the start date of the tree pollen season was earlier every year," Nadeau said. "My patients were complaining, and I would say, 'This is such a tough year,' but then I thought, wait, I'm saying that every year."

In the study, researchers collected data at a National Allergy Bureau–certified pollen counting station in Los Altos Hills, California. They indexed tree, grass, weed pollens and mold spores in the air weekly throughout an 18-year-period, from 2002 through 2019. In their analysis, the researchers found that the pollen season in northern California now starts earlier and ends later. Specifically, local tree pollen and mold spores grew by 0.47 and 0.51 weeks per year, each year of the study. The researchers also found links between allergen levels and environmental changes.

While the study is local to northern California, the trend tracks across the United States.

Beyond environmental changes, higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are believed to be connected to higher levels of pollen, too. A separate study published in 2000 found that ragweed plants , a culprit of seasonal hay fever, grew in size when they were exposed to more carbon dioxide. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, carbon dioxide increases plant growth rate. That's a particularly frightening prospect in the case of weeds like ragweed.

"In the fall, ragweed is a major culprit in allergies because when it's warmer it grows longer," Kenneth Mendez, the president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, previously told Salon. "Frost is the first thing that kills ragweed, the first frost, so the later and later you have a longer growing season the worse the allergies will be."

In 2018, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst found that ragweed will expand its reach as temperatures rise. Using machine learning, researchers calculated that in roughly 35 years its ecological range will move northward, bringing hay fever to regions it has never been before. Seasonal allergies can be a trigger for asthma.

Last year, masks coincidentally provided some relief for allergy sufferers. Pollen grains range in size from 200 microns to 10 microns, and masks were able to block some of them out when people stepped outside.

As vaccination rates rise, Americans are collectively looking forward to spending this summer outside and unmasked, in contrast to last year's dismal pandemic summer that many spent cooped up inside. Yet for more and more allergy-sufferers, seasonal allergies are putting a damper on the joy we associate with summer weather.

Could a human actually be engulfed by a whale? A marine biologist weighs in

Last week, headlines about a humpback whale briefly "swallowing" a lobster diver in Cape Cod splashed across news outlets. "Diver describes being nearly swallowed by a humpback whale," CNN reported of the modern-day Jonah. "MA lobster diver survives being swallowed by whale," The Daily Beast stated.

For the record, the diver wasn't swallowed; indeed, it is inaccurate to say that because he was allegedly engulfed in the humpback whale's mouth, and did not go down the whale's esophagus. According to the Cape Cod Times, Michael Packard was on his second dive of the day just before 8 AM, about 10 feet above the sandy ocean floor, when he was engulfed by a humpback whale.

"All of a sudden, I felt this huge shove and the next thing I knew it was completely black," Packard said. "I could sense I was moving, and I could feel the whale squeezing with the muscles in his mouth."

At first, he thought he was getting attacked by a great white shark, but said he quickly realized it was a whale because he couldn't feel any teeth and hadn't suffered from any immediate injuries. On the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Packard said he was "struggling and banging and kicking," as he thought he was going to die. He estimated in a Reddit thread that he was in the whale's mouth for 30 to 40 seconds, and that he was released when the whale surfaced.

Since the story has been published, many skeptics have voiced their opinions on whether or not the account is true. According to The New York Post, the lack of barotrauma from ascending from 45 to 35 feet deep to the surface in such a short amount of time would likely cause more serious injuries. Yet, as a lobster diver, Packard is presumably an experienced diver, and perhaps knew how to adjust his body to avoid compression or decompression injuries.

Regardless, this latest tale of a man getting caught in a whale's mouth touches on an ongoing narrative in human history that intersects with the mysteriousness of whales, and perhaps our subconscious fear of their size. Humpback whales usually range from 39 to 52 feet in length and weigh around 36 metric tons — which equates to around 79,000 pounds. That's about the same weight as a fully loaded big rig semi truck. And while Packard's situation is very rare, it is not the first time there has been a report of such an incident.

In the late nineteenth century a man reported being trapped in a whale's mouth, although the accuracy of his story has been debated as well. Most famously, there's the biblical story of Jonah and the whale, in which the prophet Jonah allegedly spent three days and three nights in a whale's stomach. More recently, in California in November 2020, kayakers got in the way of a whale feeding by the surface — an incident that was documented on video.

But clearly, the most important question is one of plausibility. Does Packard's story add up? And if Packard, as he claims, did get engulfed in a whale's mouth, what would that be like?

To help answer these questions, I interviewed comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg, Ph.D., who is a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; her research focuses on whales. As always, this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

So, what would it be like inside a humpback whale's mouth? Especially 45 feet below the surface?

It's about the size of a small Volkswagen Bug. Think about the size of a Beetle car, in terms of the volume — and that's when it's fully expanded. Getting into a whale's mouth is kind of like getting into a small car. It's got about that much room, but you take out all the chairs in the car, the wall and, of course, the walls are going to be very different depending which part you reach out and touch.

Once you're inside a space like that, the throat and tongue area is extremely stretchy. So I would imagine it's a lot like jumping on a bouncy castle, one of those air castles, that kids play on. The sides will be very hard because there's the jaw itself which will have closed around you at that point. So that's bone, that will be hard, and the upper jaw is also made of bone, and it has the baleen plates hanging down from it on either side.

So, imagine a Polynesian hut with the statue roof that has the palm fronds on it. It's kind of like having that kind of material all around you on either side. It's very hairy, very brushy, a bit pointy — maybe a little bit more like hairs than like palm fronds — but just imagine that there's there's a lot of this hairy stuff hanging down on either this side, but very stiff bristles of hair are baleen plates which are used for filter feeding. So they have a brushy surface on the inside, but the plates themselves look like giant fingernails, and they're made of the same kind of material as your own fingernails. So while they're hairy on the tongue side, on the outside, they are very stiff almost like the edges of your fingernails are.

What is it like to touch the baleen plates?

If you push against them, they might feel like wire mesh, but it has a little bit of give to it. You couldn't swim between the plates because you could barely get your pinky finger in between each plate — that's how close together they are, and that particular pattern allows for water to be pushed out between the plates. The hairs trap the food that they're eating, like a sieve. You wouldn't be able to swim out through those planes, you'd have to wait for the whale to open its mouth to get back out again.

And I imagine it's pretty dark in there too?

Absolutely. Well, you know, it's pretty dark anyway if you're diving near the bottom of the sea floor which is where this guy was — I'm not sure how deep he was. But when you're inside the whale's mouth it would just be dark because there's no light in there. And so that's why I've only described that you'd feel as opposed to what you would see. You might not even see this whale coming. I'm sure trying to eat him wasn't intentional — which is why he was released — but if you are a fish, the camouflage of the whale's mouth is perfectly adapted for the way that it feeds. The inside throat area is actually black where the tongue is. So it's just like darkness coming toward you.

It doesn't really look like anything that you would recognize. Looking down from the surface of the ocean it's pretty dark. And if you look up, it's pretty light. So the baleen plates are lighter colored, they look a little bit more like sky, whereas the tongue looks more like the darkness you'd see if you look down in the water.

So what would it be like in a whale's mouth for 30 to 40 seconds?

Well, it's a long time if you think about it. Most people can't even hold their breath for that long. The problem is twofold: one is that you become very disoriented right away because you're now being swept up inside this animal's mouth. If you're trying to force your way out, you don't even know which way is out because everything's dark. But at least you know you won't be swallowed.

Right... because that's impossible?

Yes, it is impossible for a whale to actually swallow him. I want to draw that distinction. I know people are thinking of [Packard] as some modern day Jonah, but if you believe the story of Jonah, literally, Jonah was swallowed by technically a big fish. In those days, they didn't have the taxonomy we have today.

So whales were considered fish, but we don't know if they really meant giant fish or meant a giant whale.

Anyway, a whale's throat is actually pretty small. I've dissected a lot of whales, and I've tried to put my arm down the throat of a dead whale, and I can barely get my arm down that throat. So it'd be really hard for my whole body to go down that throat. It's too small of an opening, and that's because these animals are not swallowing large prey — they're swallowing lots of little tiny things. Feeding is kind of like drinking a thick milkshake for them. They squeeze out the water and then they have this flurry of little tiny fish or tiny shrimp-like animals that they swallow, and that flurry can go down to very small things. They don't want to drink the seawater — the kidneys have to work extra hard to get rid of all that extra salt. So they exclude the water by pushing it out through the baleen plates, and essentially licking off the baleen plates to get the snack that they want to eat, and just swallow the flurry of little tiny fish.

So if a whale has got a diver in their mouth, it would be like if you eat cherries and there's a pit — you feel it with your tongue you know it's there, you're like — I have to spit that out.

Do you know if the whale could have tasted the diver?

That's a really good question and nobody knows for sure because no one can really ask a whale: "Does it taste good?" But I will say anatomically there are taste buds in whales. It's been studied more in those small-toothed whales like dolphins. It's not really clear on the big whales. But there are anatomical structures that are taste buds, but they're just not as prevalent as the ones we have and it's not clear what they sense they work. Whales could be sensing salinity, or the mucus that sits on the outside of a fish's body, to know that it's fish and not a rock or whatever they might be scooping up, especially for feeding at the bottom, which is what this whale was doing.

So what would the journey to the surface be like?

Well, the whale would probably be trying to squeeze out the water at that point so they could then swallow its prey. At that point it would realize, "hey, there's nothing in here, and there's a thing that's way too large to just be prey because it's not compressing when I squeeze these muscles." So I imagine it would get tighter around the person as the muscles contract that throat area; your Volkswagen is starting to collapse.

To me, the biggest danger is actually the fact that the whale is moving to the surface. When you change pressures, which you would be doing if you are heading to the surface, the air in your body starts to expand. And as a diver, if you get panicked you could really injure yourself by not releasing the extra air, because you might get scared and hold your breath, which is you know a lot of us, We're scared, we freeze, and we hold our breath. That's the worst thing for a diver to do if they're being pulled up towards the surface. As an experienced diver, he probably knew to continue to breathe out when he felt the weight if he realized he was in a whale, which I assumed he did pretty soon afterwards. When you realize the whale was taking him upwards, he probably was breathing out, which is a good thing to do because then the air in his lungs would not tear the lung tissue as it expands.

And then what about when he reached the surface, how much force does the whale use to spit something out?

I'm sure it's hardly any pressure at all. It's just a little push to push him out.

How the anti-vaccine movement is trying to co-opt Juneteenth

After promoting conspiracy theories and unfounded claims about the COVID-19 vaccines on social media, Naomi Wolf's Twitter account was suspended. Once admired and embraced by third-wave feminists after publishing her first book, "The Beauty Myth," Wolf has deviated over the years into a conspiracy theorist and a COVID truther. From repeatedly pushing the false claim that a vaccinated woman's menstrual cycle can throw off an unvaccinated woman's cycle to more recently suggesting that the sewage of vaccinated people needed to be separated from those who are unvaccinated, Wolf's divergence exemplifies an ongoing trend in which the fringe left unites with the fringe right under the anti-vaccine umbrella.

This year, on Juneteenth — or June 19th, also known as Freedom Day — the latest variation of the anti-vaccine movement will be in peak form as it co-opts a celebration meant to commemorate the emancipation of those who were enslaved in the United States.

According to an event listing being promoted by the "medical freedom for all" organization Do We Need This, Wolf is headlining a fundraiser that day titled "Liberate Our Five Freedoms," which will cost $25 at the door (cash only). The event, which will take place in a small town in Columbia County in upstate New York, seeks to appropriate a holiday honoring the end of slavery by focusing on the "five freedoms" that anti-vaxxers claim have been taken away from them. Mask mandates and vaccine passports are among the policies that they say have infringed on their "freedoms."

Imran Ahmed, CEO of The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), told Salon this strategy to co-opt Emancipation Day is an attempt by the anti-vaccine movement to reach a new group of people while creating more divisiveness between the "fars and the not fars": in other words, pairing up extremists on both ends of the political spectrum and pitting them against non-extremists via one very offensive event.

Ahmed said the appropriation of Juneteenth is symbolically reminiscent of the attempts by some figures, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), to analogize the gold Star of David patches that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust to vaccination logo patches meant to share one's vaccination status.

"It creates divisiveness, and it helps them reach people . . . on both sides of the divide," Ahmed said. "It is an attempt to show prima facie on the surface, an attempt to talk to African American audiences or to Jewish audiences and appropriate symbols of great historic atrocities.

"At the same time, it also allows them to access people who themselves have misappropriated these symbols for their own ulterior motives, often which are highly racist and offensive on their own level."

Throughout the pandemic, anti-vaxxers have frequently wed alternative health views with far-right conspiracy theories. That has created a previously unimaginable union: New Age-y, Hippie-adjacent types, who oppose vaccines and embrace holistic health views, aligning themselves with far-right activists.

At first glance, it might seem like these two types have nothing in common. But when one takes a closer look, Ahmed said, they're all opposed to "the existing order" in some "substantial way."

"Whether [that opposition] is to democracy, or to racial tolerance — it could even just be the way that our societies are structured to capitalism, for example — these are people who all agree that the system as it stands now [is] offensive for various reasons," he said. Ahmed noted that both groups are "anti-elist . . . conspiracists" who "use digital tools to simulate populism rather than actually being popular."

Unsurprisingly, the event Wolf is headlining on June 19 isn't the only one promoting a dual anti-vaccine/far-right agenda in an attempt to co-opt Juneteenth.

In Tampa, Florida, a so-called Health & Freedom Conference runs from June 17 through June 19, 2021; the event is being advertised as a "3-day, mask free, freedom fighting festival," and features prominent "Stop the Steal" figures with links to Donald Trump — including Roger Stone, Sidney Powell and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. It also features prominent alternative health speakers who have been promoting COVID-19 and QAnon conspiracy theories. That includes Christiane Northrup, who positions herself as "a leading authority on women's health and wellness."

In April, a similar conference took place in Oklahoma, which largely centered around opposition to COVID-19 public health measures. Among the speakers were General Michael Flynn and discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose scientific paper linking the MMR vaccine and autism was retracted by medical journal the Lancet yet famously paved the way for much of the modern anti-vaccination movement.

The role of social media in fomenting the modern anti-vaccination conspiracy movement cannot be underestimated, Ahmed said.

"Extremisms are converging, hybridizing and creating new threats at an unprecedented pace. . . and the reason that's able to happen is of course because social media brought them together," he added. "It allows them to market to each other for free — and that's happening because they've been tolerated on those platforms."

Help! My family won't get the vaccine

Dear Pandemic Problems,

There's a growing rift between me and my son-in-law, who says the COVID-19 vaccines are not safe because they have not been "FDA approved." What makes our rift even more difficult? His wife and grown kids with families themselves will also not get the vaccine because of this FDA approval issue. What do I do?

Sincerely,

Ruffled by Rifts

Ruffled by Rifts, it does appear that rifts are all around you — or at the very least, you are in the minority of being willing to get vaccinated in your family. I know it's frustrating, and rest assured that you are not alone. I've answered many questions now from people who find themselves in similar predicaments. Plus, it doesn't help that families being divided on whether or not to get vaccinated is adding fuel to perhaps decades of family drama, and at the very least four years of the Trump era tearing families apart.

I have no idea if your family members are staunch anti-vaxxers, or to what extent political allegiances play a role here. But I do know that undermining their concerns won't help if there is any hope of them getting vaccinated. The best approach is to listen to their concerns, and have empathy, which it sounds like you've done a little bit of already.

So, you say that your son-in-law is saying the COVID-19 vaccines are not "safe" because they have not been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While partly true, this is a classic example of how misinformation spreads. Technically, the COVID-19 vaccines haven't been "approved" by the FDA. However, all three vaccines available in the U.S. have been granted an emergency use authorization, also known as an EUA.

EUAs, by the way, aren't limited to vaccines — they sometimes are issued for medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, and some therapeutics. When it comes to passing an EUA, there are specific conditions that must be considered; they are likely to be granted in situations when "there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives."

That is certainly that case with COVID-19. The FDA usually takes years to formally approve a vaccine, but in the coronavirus pandemic, the priority was to get a safe vaccine in as many peoples' arms as quickly as possible — hence the emergency use authorization.

But just because there's a bureaucratic difference between an EUA and approval doesn't mean that there isn't a rigor to attaining an EUA. Specific criteria must be met. For example, clinical trials must be done on tens of thousands of study participants to generate at least two months of sufficient scientific data needed for the FDA to determine a vaccine's safety and efficacy. You can read more about this process here.

In order to apply for full FDA approval, a company needs to show at least six months of data. Since Pfizer now has that, recently submitted an application for full approval. The FDA is expected to take at least a few weeks to review it, according to NBC News.

Now, what do you do? Well, I suggest expressing your concerns about their health and safety, and what the consequences are of not getting vaccinated. You could also note that attaining an emergency use authorization is a very rigorous process. And ask: Once the FDA formally approves the Pfizer vaccine, will you get it? While it's not ideal for your family members to wait, it's better than a straight-out refusal of getting vaccinated. Hopefully if they have more understanding into the EUA process, and perhaps speak with their doctors, they can be persuaded to be vaccinated.

Sincerely,

Pandemic Problems

Dear Pandemic Problems,

My husband is refusing to get the Covid vaccine. I will be fully vaccinated by the end of the week. Am I wrong to not want to be intimate with him for fear he could infect me?

Sincerely,

Hesitant about Intimacy

Dear Hesitant about Intimacy,

Congratulations on being fully vaccinated so soon. As someone who recently joined the fully-vaccinated club, I feel so grateful not having to worry (as much) about getting the coronavirus, potentially dying from it or spreading it to people. It seriously feels so good, and I'm excited for you to feel so good, too.

And yet, you are at a crossroads with your husband not getting vaccinated. I'm curious, why is he refusing the vaccine? The first step to understanding someone's hesitancy is to better understand why they don't want to be vaccinated. It could be due to misinformation they've consumed, a previous trauma or experience.

You ask: "Am I wrong to not want to be intimate with him for fear he could infect me?"

Unfortunately, I cannot answer this question for you. The CDC has not issued guidance on sex between vaccinated and unvaccinated people, and what the risk is. (Hopefully they will soon.) The CDC states that vaccinated people can still possibly get infected and spread the virus to others, but there is still much to be learned from this situation. I'm definitely not a marriage therapist, but here's what I would tell my best friend: do not anything you're uncomfortable with, as that won't be good for your marriage.

I hope you and your spouse can talk about the implications of him not getting vaccinated, and how that might impact the future of your marriage. My hope is that he will listen, and carefully consider your concerns. If not, there's always couple's therapy. If you can't afford to pay out of pocket, check with your insurance or look for free or low-cost counseling options.

Sincerely,

Pandemic Problems

"Pandemic Problems" is an advice column that answers readers' pandemic questions — often with help from public health data, philosophy professors and therapists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing." Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at nkarlis@salon.com. Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.

Why some New Age influencers believe Trump is a 'lightworker'

Lorie Ladd gazes into the camera with glossy eyes, a look that mimics the long stare one gets after meditating. She's about to give one of her sermons, one of the "most challenging" ones she's ever had to make, she explains. Ladd says she's received a message that needs to be shared from "higher dimensional consciousnesses," what she refers to as the "Galactic Federation of Light." But before revealing the message, Ladd, a self-described "ascension teacher," advises her viewers to shed the stereotypes that have been "programmed" into them — "polarities," she calls them, like "Democrat" and "Republican" — and listen to her message: Donald Trump is a "massive and powerful lightworker."

"To say that I was shocked was an understatement," Ladd tells her nearly 139,000 YouTube followers of her revelation. "I have been digesting information from my guides about what this lightworker in human form looking like Donald Trump has been doing for the human collective; this man has more charge around him than any other human on the planet right now."

Ladd goes on to explain that her video isn't a "political one," but a "consciousness one," and that she's not talking about "voting," but "ascension." Trump, as she explains in the next half hour, is here to help assist humans in what many in the New Age and spiritual communities refer to as a great "awakening" of consciousness. The idea behind the awakening is that human consciousness is approaching a "fifth dimension," which will eventually bring humans closer to the "Source."

A lightworker, as defined by well-being magazine Happiness, is someone who feels "an enormous pull towards helping others." The term, they say, can be interchangeable with "crystal babies," "indigos," "Earth angels" and "star seeds"; "these spiritual beings volunteer to act as a beacon for the Earth, and commit to serving humanity," the story continues. The magazine states that the term was first coined by the New Age author Michael Mirdad.

This rhetoric might sound cultish, but these phrases don't belong to any one specific religious sect. Indeed, such belief systems are part of a larger, more diffuse New Age culture embraced by the ever-increasing number of Americans leaving organized religion in droves — or who were never religious in the first place — and turning to conspirituality by way of many self-described spiritual and wellness influencers online.

Conspirituality, the term that defines this movement, was coined by researcher Charlotte Ward. She describes conspirituality as "a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews." There is no official indoctrination video, no book to read; the hundreds of thousands of people who embrace these New Age-like beliefs find them on YouTube vlogs like Ladd's, as well as Instagram and Facebook. Recently, conspiritualists have begun to overlap with the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon.

This notion that Trump is a lightworker shares obvious parallels with the belief, held by some evangelicals, that Trump is comparable to Jesus; similarly, some QAnon followers believe that Trump is the "world leader" whose mission is to "save the children."

Yet what makes the lightworker theory especially odd is that it has emerged from a demographic that would have previously been described as apolitical, or even far-left.

However, as the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol showed, QAnon and Trump adherents are no longer just middle-aged, conservative white men like the Republican Party of yore. Many of those who embrace right-wing fringe beliefs are yogis, and love-and-light types, too. Take Jake Angeli for example, the so-called "QAnon Shaman" who donned a horned hat and spear-tipped American flag as he stormed the Capitol building on January 6. The 33-year-old, who identifies as having "shamanistic" beliefs, was recently granted the right to be fed an all-organic diet in jail in line with his religious practice.

Ladd's declaration that Trump was a lightworker sent shockwaves through conspiritual and self-help communities. (Salon reached out to Ladd for comment, but did not receive a response.) Some spirituality and consciousness bloggers vehemently disagreed. But many influential figures in the community thought Ladd was onto something, including Christiane Northrup, a physician and best-selling author who has been spreading anti-vaccination rhetoric and has embraced QAnon.

Matthew Remski, a co-host of the Conspirituality podcast and a cult dynamics researcher, described Northrup as a "conspirituality aggregator" who feeds what she finds most interesting to her followers, of which she has many.

"What I think is really brilliant about this particular iteration of QAnon — or 'soft' or 'pastel Q,' you could call it — is that it's really effective at evading content moderation," Remski said. "To only really say something positive about the person who's at the head of QAnon mythology and sort of soft-pedal all of the aggression and triumph that is going to be involved in his mission is a really good way of brand-washing QAnon for the wellness set."

Indeed, while social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have suspended many accounts sharing QAnon-related disinformation, the wellness influencers remain. Dr. Ronald Purser, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and the author of "McMindfulness," said that in uncertain times, societies see a rise of "occultures," meaning "groups of people who are attracted to strange occult and esoteric ideas, mixing them in unforeseen ways with political movements."

"A common theme in such movements is the need for purification, purifying and purging unwanted elements – toxins, impurities, or anything foreign or other," Purser said. "This is why we see so many New Age yoga practitioners seduced by QAnon."

Purser said there are parallels between the rise of "occultures" now and the role spirituality and mysticism played in Nazi Germany. Notably, the Third Reich appropriated the swastika, a symbol used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains; the word means "well-being" in Sanskrit.

"Consider Hitler, who was obsessed with the occult, was a vegetarian, used astrologers [and] oracles," Purser said. "The Nazi Heinrich Himmler, head of SS, was enamored with Eastern mysticism, and he sent an expedition to Tibet in search of lost remnants of a secret and pure Aryan race; Hitler was seen as a 'light worker' [as in someone who's saving humanity] that would purge Germany of Jews."

Purser added that Trump and his enablers have "mastered the ability of weaponized mass delusion through social media."

"Many of the New Agers drawn to QAnon are probably suffering from unresolved trauma – like many in Trump's base as well," Purser said. "It's easier to look to a savior and to find scapegoats than to face one's own fears and pain."

When asked about the term lightworker, and where it derives from, Remski said he first heard it when he was in a "Course in Miracles cult" from 1999 to 2003. The name is a reference to a book, titled "A Course in Miracles," that was published by Helen Schucman in 1976; Schucman claimed the book had been spoken to her via "inner dictation" from Christ. Remski said the word "light" appears in the text frequently.

"Light is not only the sort of keynote of this Manichaean universe in which things are either light or shadow, they're either good or bad, it's also like schizotypal as a universe, it is given this materiality as well," Remski said of Schucman's book. "Light is said to be something that can fill a person up, it can blow a person apart, it can enter a person, and I think it probably overlaps with some pre-modern ideas like prana or ch'ithose kind of folk medicine ideas of vital force — but it's also associated with an absolute truth, an ontological transformation . . . like once once light enters into you, you are forever changed."

Remski believes the conspiritual rhetoric around "light" started after the book was published. While the book "A Course in Miracles" doesn't include the term "lightworker," the theme of light itself runs throughout. "The key is only the light that shines away the shapes and forms and fears of nothing," a typical passage reads.

One prominent figure who was deeply influenced by "A Course in Miracles" is former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. In 1996, Williamson wrote a book, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,'" that was structured as a reflection on the original text. Williamson, too, has used the term "lightworker" before; in a 2013 Facebook post, Williamson wrote, "A light-worker is not someone who ignores the darkness; it's someone who transforms the darkness."

Obviously, Williamson and Trump are political opposites; Williamson, a Democrat, came down hard and repeatedly on Trump's policies during her 2020 campaign. Salon asked Williamson what she thought about the term "lightworker" being used to describe Trump. She replied via email: "I think it's insane. . . . Like many others, I don't understand it but I find it deeply disturbing."

When asked why he believes people have been so eager to embrace this belief that Trump is a "lightworker," Remski said that it is because it can "offer all of the benefits of the conspiratorial mindset, without a lot of the drawbacks."

"Because you're saying something kind about him," Remski said, "as the social psychologists basically repeat over and over again."

Remski believes conspiracy theories are attractive because they "satisfy epistemic needs." "Like, 'I'm now I'm going to know something that nobody else knows,' or 'I'm going to meet my survival needs, meaning this information is going to help me tolerate what's happening, but also maybe even preserve me from danger,'" he said.

But as the social media spread of the "lightworker" theory illustrates, conspiracy theories also open up their adherents to communities of people that they can hang out with, Remski mused.

'Vaccine guilt' is a real thing

When Emily Brimmer's family dentist sent out an email that they were administering vaccines, she jumped at the opportunity. Brimmer is certainly entitled to get one: though only 36 years old, she has type 1 diabetes, lives with family and helps to take care of her 101-year-old aunt. But once inoculated, Brimmer wasn't prepared for one of the unexpected side effects: guilt.

"When you say, 'I got a shot,' there's automatically this kind of perceived feeling of judgment that is like 'Why did you get a shot, and how did you get a shot?'" Brimmer told Salon. "There's just this need to justify the entire thing."

Technically, as a type-1 diabetic, Brimmer is in the "high risk" category. Her primary care doctor wrote her a note affirming this, which she used to get her vaccine. The caveat was that she had to travel from New York, where she lives, to Pennsylvania.

"So that kind of made me feel guilty," Brimmer said in reference to having to cross state borders. "But it's not like I cut any lines, or dressed up like grandmothers and tried to sneak in. . . everything I did was by the book, and on paper I shouldn't feel guilty."

But Brimmer does. And far from being an isolated anxiety, vaccine guilt is actually quite common. Psychotherapist Alyza Berman, founder and clinical director of The Berman Center, told Salon via email that such feelings emerge from a variety of factors: situational comparison, survivor's guilt, and fear of criticism or retribution. And certainly the piecemeal vaccine rollout, and arcane tiered system of eligibility, factor into that guilt when patients appear to sidestep the rules — even if they aren't actually doing so.

"Given the severity of this pandemic and continued rising death toll, people feel guilty when they qualify to be vaccinated before others who've already suffered great losses during the pandemic, or could stand to lose even more as COVID goes on," Berman said. "As human beings, we have an intrinsic nature to want to quantify and compare ourselves to others, whether for good or bad reasons."

Berman said that this can create "an enormous mental toll on people and weigh heavily on someone's psyche when they're trying to evaluate if they're doing the right thing."

Hence, feelings of guilt.

Berman said the phenomenon is "more common than you'd think" and that it's "affecting many people in very similar ways." In other words, something is happening sociologically.

Rick Patterson told Salon via email that he and his wife were able to receive their vaccines "substantially early." She was volunteering at one of the vaccination sites, which often is a way for volunteers to get a vaccine early.

"It was complete luck we were able to obtain our vaccinations when we did, and I feel that there are so many people who need this more than we do right now," Patterson said. He added that it was an "overwhelming thought," that there were "still so many who have not and might not be able to get it anywhere in the near future." Indeed, the inequity troubled him.

Patterson said he feels that his wife, as a vaccination site volunteer, deserved the shot more than him.

"But as her husband, what really gave me the obligation to have one too?" he asked.

Many bioethicists and mental health professionals agree that feeling guilty isn't beneficial to anyone. If you're offered a vaccine, you shouldn't feel guilty. But if you are committing fraud to get a shot early — say, dressing up like an elderly person — then that is something to feel guilty about.

"There is a difference between accepting and even taking advantage of unfairness that exists, and creating unfairness," Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado, told Denver-based Magazine 5280. "We all have an obligation to try not to create unfairness."

So what are the guilty to do?

"The main advice I can give someone suffering from vaccine guilt is to give yourself a break," Berman said. "We've been put through an impossible situation over the past year, the likes of which no one has ever seen before." That's inarguably true.

Why some New Agers think Trump is a 'lightworker' — in a troubling parallel to mysticism in Nazi Germany

Lorie Ladd gazes into the camera with glossy eyes, a look that mimics the long stare one gets after meditating. She's about to give one one of her sermons, one of "most challenging" ones she's ever had to make, she explains. Ladd says she's received a message that needs to be shared from "higher dimensional consciousnesses," what she refers to as the "Galactic Federation of Light." But before revealing the message, Ladd, a self-described "ascension teacher," advises her viewers to shed the stereotypes that have been "programmed" into them — "polarities," she calls them, like "Democrat" and "Republican" — and listen to her message: Donald Trump is a "massive and powerful lightworker."

"To say that I was shocked was an understatement," Ladd tells her nearly 139,000 YouTube followers of her revelation. "I have been digesting information from my guides about what this lightworker in human form looking like Donald Trump has been doing for the human collective; this man has more charge around him than any other human on the planet right now."

Ladd goes on to explain that her video isn't a "political one," but a "consciousness one," and that she's not talking about "voting," but "ascension." Trump, as she explains in the next half hour, is here to help assist humans in what many in the New Age and spiritual communities refer to as a great "awakening" of consciousness. The idea behind the awakening is that human consciousness is approaching a "fifth dimension," which will eventually bring humans closer to the "Source."

A lightworker, as defined by well-being magazine Happiness, is someone who feels "an enormous pull towards helping others." The term, they say, can be interchangeable with "crystal babies," "indigos," "Earth angels" and "star seeds"; "these spiritual beings volunteer to act as a beacon for the Earth, and commit to serving humanity," the story continues.

This rhetoric might sound cultish, but these phrases don't belong to any one specific religious sect. Indeed, such belief systems are part of a larger, more diffuse New Age culture embraced by the ever-increasing number of Americans leaving organized religion in droves — or who were never religious in the first place — and turning to conspirituality by way of many self-described spiritual and wellness influencers online.

Conspirituality, the term that defines this movement, was coined by researcher Charlotte Ward. She describes conspirituality as "a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fueled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews." There is no official indoctrination video, no book to read; the hundreds of thousands of people who embrace these New Age-like beliefs find them on YouTube vlogs like Ladd's, as well as Instagram and Facebook. Recently, conspiritualists have begun to overlap with the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon.

This notion that Trump is a lightworker shares obvious parallels with the belief, held by some evangelicals, that Trump is comparable to Jesus; similarly, some QAnon followers believe that Trump is the "world leader" whose mission is to "save the children."

Yet what makes the lightworker theory especially odd is that it has emerged from a demographic that would have previously been described as apolitical, or even far-left.

However, as the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol showed, QAnon and Trump adherents no longer middle-aged, conservative white men like the Republican Party of yore. Many of those who embrace right-wing fringe beliefs are yogis, woo-woo, love-and-light types, too. Take Jake Angeli for example, the so-called "QAnon Shaman" who donned a horned hat and spear-tipped American flag as he stormed the Capitol building on January 6. The 33-year-old, who identifies as having "shamanistic" beliefs, was recently granted the right to be fed an all-organic diet in jail in line with his religious practice.

Ladd's declaration that Trump was a lightworker sent shockwaves through conspiritual and self-help communities. (Salon reached out to Ladd for comment, but did not receive a response.) Some spirituality and consciousness bloggers vehemently disagreed. But many influential figures in the community thought Ladd was onto something, including Christiane Northrup, a physician and best-selling author who has been spreading anti-vaccination rhetoric and has embraced QAnon.

Matthew Remski, a co-host of the Conspirituality podcast and a cult dynamics researcher, described Northrup as a "conspirituality aggregator" who feeds what she finds most interesting to her followers, of which she has many.

"What I think is really brilliant about this particular iteration of QAnon — or 'soft' or 'pastel Q,' you could call it — is that it's really effective at evading content moderation," Remski said. "To only really say something positive about the person who's at the head of QAnon mythology and sort of soft-pedal all of the aggression and triumph that is going to be involved in his mission is a really good way of brand-washing QAnon for the wellness set."

Indeed, while social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have suspended many accounts sharing QAnon-related disinformation, the wellness influencers remain. Dr. Ronald Purser, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and the author of "McMindfulness," said that in uncertain times, societies see a rise of "occultures," meaning "groups of people who are attracted to strange occult and esoteric ideas, mixing them in unforeseen ways with political movements."

"A common theme in such movements is the need for purification, purifying and purging unwanted elements – toxins, impurities, or anything foreign or other," Purser said. "This is why we see so many New Age yoga practitioners seduced by QAnon."

Purser said there are parallels between the rise of "occultures" now and the role spirituality and mysticism played in Nazi Germany. Notably, the Third Reich appropriated the swastika, a symbol used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains; the word means "well-being" in Sanskrit.

"Consider Hitler, who was obsessed with the occult, was a vegetarian, used astrologers [and] oracles," Purser said. "The Nazi Heinrich Himmler, head of SS, was enamored with Eastern mysticism, and he sent an expedition to Tibet in search of lost remnants of a secret and pure Aryan race; Hitler was seen as a 'light worker' [as in someone who's saving humanity] that would purge Germany of Jews."

Purser added that Trump and his enablers have "mastered the ability of weaponized mass delusion through social media."

"Many of the New Agers drawn to QAnon are probably suffering from unresolved trauma – like many in Trump's base as well," Purser said. "It's easier to look to a savior and to find scapegoats than to face one's own fears and pain."

When asked about the term lightworker, and where it derives from, Remski said he first heard it when he was in a "Course in Miracles" cult from 1999 to 2003. The name is a reference to a book, titled "A Course in Miracles," that was published by Helen Schucman in 1976; Schucman claimed the book had been spoken to her via "inner dictation" from Christ. Remski said the word "light" appears in the text frequently.

"Light is not only the sort of keynote of this Manichaean universe in which things are either light or shadow, they're either good or bad, it's also like schizotypal as a universe, it is given this materiality as well," Remski said of Schucman's book. "Light is said to be something that can fill a person up, it can blow a person apart, it can enter a person, and I think it probably overlaps with some pre-modern ideas like prana or ch'ithose kind of folk medicine ideas of vital force — but it's also associated with an absolute truth, an ontological transformation . . . like once once light enters into you, you are forever changed."

While the book "A Course in Miracles" doesn't include the term "light worker," the theme of light itself runs throughout. "The key is only the light that shines away the shapes and forms and fears of nothing," a typical passage reads.

One prominent figure who was deeply influenced by "A Course in Miracles" is former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson. In 1996, Williamson wrote a book, "A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of 'A Course in Miracles,'" that was structured as a reflection on the original text. Williamson, too, has used the term "light worker" before; in a 2013 Facebook post, Williamson wrote, "A light-worker is not someone who ignores the darkness; it's someone who transforms the darkness."

Obviously, Williamson and Trump are political opposites; Williamson, a Democrat, came down hard and repeatedly on Trump's policies during her 2020 campaign. Salon asked Williamson what she thought about the term "lightworker" being used to describe Trump. She replied via email: "I think it's insane. . . . Like many others, I don't understand it but I find it deeply disturbing."

When asked why he believes people have been so eager to embrace this belief that Trump is a "lightworker," Remski said that it is because it can "offer all of the benefits of the conspiratorial mindset, without a lot of the drawbacks."

"Because you're saying something kind about him," Remski said, "as the social psychologists basically repeat over and over again."

Remski believes conspiracy theories are attractive because they "satisfy epistemic needs." "Like, 'I'm now I'm going to know something that nobody else knows,' or 'I'm going to meet my survival needs, meaning this information is going to help me tolerate what's happening, but also maybe even preserve me from danger,'" he said.

But as the social media spread of the "lightworker" theory illustrates, conspiracy theories also open up their adherents to communities of people that they can hang out with, Remski mused.

Why America's power grids will keep failing us

Wednesday marked the third day millions of Texans found themselves without power following a rare winter storm and frigid temperatures dipping into the low 20s. While power is being restored in some areas, rotating outages are expected to start on Wednesday in Texas.

The situation is dire for many Texans. According to The New York Times, at least 23 people have died as of Wednesday morning. Emergency rooms saw a wave of people with carbon monoxide poisoning, the aftermath of attempts to keep warm. Likewise, clean water access is a growing issue as pipes freeze in the Lone Star State.

And Texas isn't alone: As the remnants of the winter storm make its way across the Midwest, and a second winter storm looms in the Northeast, rolling power outages are popping up in parts of Missouri, Louisiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon. The situation is eerily similar to what happened in California last summer, when rolling blackouts were sparked by a demand-driven energy shortage; then, a massive heat wave increased air conditioner use and forced rolling power outages. Those blackouts were the first of their kind since 2001 when California faced an electricity crisis.

All these recent incidents are raising concerns over the fragility of the country's fragmented power grid, and how vulnerable these systems are to extreme weather events compounded by climate change.

So what went wrong in Texas?

"Many of the problems we're seeing, both in California now in Texas, are due to the fact that the grid we have in both places is dumb and old, as opposed to being smart, new and flexible," said Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley. "Fossil fuel grids" like the one in Texas, and like what California used to have until they transitioned away from them, are "really dumb systems — they're not adaptive or flexible, and that is really causing a lot of the problems you're seeing in Texas today," Kammen added.

Indeed, fossil fuel power plants are generally built to be far away from population centers, which means that the power has to be shipped long distances. This alone, Kammen said, creates a very "inflexible" system. In Texas, the power shortage happened after natural gas plants couldn't supply the 30 gigawatts of power they were expected to supply. To put this in perspective, 30 gigawatts is more than the average demand in California, Kammen said.

"The idea that so much gas would go offline, because of these freezing events, really speaks to a system that's not adaptable," Kammen said. "It''s not able to reroute power because we have smart interchanges on the transmission network; it's a system that is fundamentally not up to speed . . . they don't have enough sensors on the power lines, on the power plants, so they can predict this."

In a smart grid, which would enable a two-way flow of electricity and data enabled by technology, there would be backup generators, and energy storage systems in place that would have the ability to send power if, say, the turbines went down. While ice forced some turbines in Texas to shut down, energy experts agree — despite Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott casting blame at frozen wind turbines — that frozen turbines are not the root of the cause of the power outages in Texas.

Kammen described the situation in Texas as "policy and technology" failing— especially for low-income communities.

"We know that when these events happen, the power losses are earliest and generally longest in the lowest income communities," Kammen said. "So there's a real environmental justice damage that comes from not having a smarter, more renewable energy–enabled grid."

Kammen added that California, New Jersey and New York — which have become leaders in implementing solar panels — are examples of how states can implement a renewable energy plan.

"In an ice and snow storm like this, what you would have needed to have people do is literally go and shovel the snow off the roof," Kammen said. "I'm hoping that this will push Texas to recognize the large economic benefit of moving to enabling distributed rooftop solar, and more wind farms distributed across the state can be a real benefit here." Modern wind turbines, Kammen noted, have built-in heating systems.

But the problems with the grid in Texas were also the result of a perfect storm of poor planning, decrepit infrastructure, and blind worship of the free market by policymakers.

Vijay Modi, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, told Salon what he believes is happening in Texas is the agglomeration of five separate shifts that have happened in America over the last few decades. First, we've built more housing. Second, our civilization has become more reliant on gas. Third, electric heat pumps have become more popular, especially in the South. Fourth, there's been a momentum in some parts of the country to embrace a free market power utility system — especially in Texas. And finally, many of our gas pipelines and power systems — like the one in Texas — aren't weatherized. Indeed, power grids across the country weren't built with climate change in mind.

"All these factors combined with a weather event unusual for Texas added up to an inadequate supply for this rare event," Modi said. "Unfortunately, we are likely to see more rare events in the future because we have so much more housing and people to support with an aging infrastructure and unusual weather systems."

Modi added that now is the time to "rethink how we engineer our systems for resiliency and for reliability."

Both experts had different opinions on whether this situation — more frequent power outages, rolling blackouts to ease the demand on power grids during extreme weather — would constitute the new normal.

"The short answer is that the new normal is not just because of climate and weather, but it's because of our expectations too," Modi said. "I work in countries where many don't have electricity access at all, for them, the new normal is to get at least enough for lighting and communication. Our new normal will go towards, 'I want to be able to run my electric heat, charge my electric vehicle, run my appliances and my WiFi all at the same time maybe and do so reliably.'"

Modi added that America "can and should deploy smarter engineering solutions that don't require a new $20,000 per customer infrastructure investment to get this reliability."

Meanwhile, Kammen deemed the situation in Texas "the new abnormal."

"It's the new abnormal, if anything — because only after the fact can analysts figure [whether] the Texas storm was driven by the abnormal climate change we're seeing."

Baby bust: Why the coronavirus pandemic is making many Americans rethink having kids

When lockdowns rippled across the country last March, many experts speculated that couples cohabitating together would be more apt to have sex and therefore procreate. There is precedent for this speculation: a month-long blackout in Zanzibar in 2008 — in which many were forced to stay home more frequently, just as one might during a pandemic — caused a mini-baby boom nine months later.

Yet predictions of a pandemic baby boom did not take into account how the loss of jobs, income, childcare services — and an overburdened healthcare system fighting a highly contagious coronavirus — would take a massive mental and emotional toll on women and families across the country. Monthly birth data shows that being confined to one house with your significant other doesn't make for primed conditions to bring another human being into this world, even if popular Etsy baby-wear emblazoned with "Mommy and daddy didn't practice social distancing" suggests otherwise.

According to a Bloomberg analysis, births decreased by 19 percent in California between December 2019 and December 2020. Data from Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, and Ohio show large declines in birth rates since the pandemic started compared to the previous year's data, too. A survey conducted by Modern Fertility, a company that sells fertility tests directly to consumers, found that 30 percent of nearly 4,000 people surveyed stated they changed their fertility plans due to COVID-19. One in four of those respondents said they've become unsure about having children at all; the most commonly cited reason was uncertainty about the world. Notably, a similar number of respondents stated that COVID-19 accelerated their timelines for having children.

Indeed, this tumultuous moment has caused many to rethink having kids.

Sarah Logan, editor of The Bunny Hub, told Salon via email that she and her husband decided not to have another baby right now because of the pandemic.

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

Nearly a year later, they are still on pause.

"With both of us working from home while there are two little rugrats running circles around us all day long, it's a miracle we manage to get anything done," Miller said. "We know we're not getting any younger, but unfortunately our biological clocks don't always align perfectly with our plans in life; if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that no good comes of forcing something that doesn't feel right. So, our plan is to sit tight and see how things unravel."

But deciding not to have children during the pandemic is a choice that not everyone has the privilege to make. For some who were pregnant and seeking abortions just as the pandemic hit, lockdown limited their access to providers and clinics as a handful of states made it it nearly impossible to terminate pregnancies. For people who were planning on undergoing fertility procedures like in vitro fertilization, the pandemic completely threw a wrench in those plans too — as, at the beginning of the pandemic, many of these appointments were put on hold, delayed, or deemed "non-essential" or "elective" procedures.

Sarah Urbanski had originally planned to utilize a known donor's sperm who lived abroad. The known donor would also be the same donor for her partner's pregnancy later on. But the couple quickly realized that once the pandemic hit, due to travel restrictions, that they were going to have to change plans.

"We pivoted to egg retrievals to allow ourselves to push our timeline out with our known donor hoping that travel restrictions might lessen," Urbanski said, adding that they're now doing reciprocal IVF which is when one partner supplies the eggs to be used for IVF, while the other partner carries the pregnancy. "We're trying to see it as a wonderful option for us, but no part in our fertility journey has gone according to what we originally had planned."

Urbanski said they will be working with an anonymous donor from a cryobank now, but it's been tough to rework their original plan in the middle of the pandemic.

"Any given day there's definitely some highs and lows and you know there's nothing really easy about that, and we're not in a vacuum," Urbanski said. "We have folks who are becoming pregnant and announcing that, and we're so happy for people in our chosen family and community. But it's definitely tough when we're coming around — you know, a year and a half, two years that we've been talking about this — and we still feel like we're at the starting line of our journey."

Fauci says it will be 'open season' for COVID-19 vaccine by April

On Thursday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered hopeful news about vaccine availability and the country's lagging roll-out. On NBC's "Today" show, echoing remarks from earlier in the day, Fauci said there could be an "open season" on available vaccine doses by April.

"By the time we get to April, that will be what I would call, for better wording, 'open season,' namely, virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated," Fauci said. "From then on, it would likely take several more months just logistically to get the vaccine into people's arms, so that hopefully as we get into the middle and end of the summer, we could have accomplished the goal of what we're talking about — namely the overwhelming majority of people in this country having gotten vaccinated."

The news coincides with the Biden administration's announcement that they've purchased another 200 million doses of the two coronavirus vaccines, increasing supply by 50 percent to a total of 600 million doses. Securing these additional vaccines means that by the end of July, everyone eligible for inoculation is covered. As previously reported by the New York Times, the Trump administration passed up an offer to purchase Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine beyond the initial 100 million doses. President Joe Biden previously stated that a lack of vaccines was in part to blame for America's slow vaccine roll-out.

On Thursday, Fauci said Americans can expect vaccinations to "pick up" very soon. Currently, eligibility for the COVID-19 varies in each state and county, prioritizing frontline workers, and people over the age of 65 who are considered to have a higher risk of have severe disease outcomes.

"If you look at what's going to happen as we get into March and April the number of available doses will allow for much more of a mass vaccination approach, which is really much more accelerated than what you're seeing now," Fauci said. "If you compare now to what we were doing just literally a month ago, the escalation has really been considerable."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46.3 million doses have been administered; 34.7 million Americans have received the first dose, and nearly 11.2 million people have received both doses. The population of the United States is about 331 million; experts believe that 80 to 90% of the population must be vaccinated, or immune to coronavirus due to prior infection, in order for herd immunity to be achieved.

Notably, there's no estimated timeline for when children under the age of 16 can receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is authorized for 16- to 17-year-olds as well as adults. The Moderna vaccine was authorized for people 18 and over, and is currently running clinical trials for 12 to 17-year-olds.

In an interview with Propublica, Fauci said he is hopeful children will be able to get the coronavirus vaccine by September 2021.

"We're in the process of starting clinical trials in what we call age de-escalation, where you do a clinical trial with people 16 to 12, then 12 to 9, then 9 to 6," Fauci said. "I would think by the time we get to school opening, we likely will be able to get people who come into the first grade."

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