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Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill could soon be easier to find
Apr 22, 2022
Episode 648

Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill could soon be easier to find

Plus, we're talking about sanctions, national parks and Mexican pizza.

Today on Economics on Tap, we’re talking about the Biden administration’s plan to make Paxlovid, Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill, available in pharmacies across the United States. It might be easier said than done. Plus, Iran has tolerated economic sanctions for decades. Will the same hold true for Russia? We’ll also discuss the speedy demise of CNN+ and Google’s time-lapsed images showing the effects of climate change. We end with a round of Half Full/Half Empty. Today’s categories: Netflix (with ads!), a slowed-down U.S. Postal Service, Earth Day, national parks reservation systems and the return of Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza.

Here’s everything we talked about on the show today:

Tell us what you think about today’s show. Email us at or leave us a voice message at 508-827-6278, or 508-U-B-SMART.

April 22, 2022 Make Me Smart transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Amy Scott: Doo doo doo doo doo. I haven’t quite nailed the baseline yet.

Sabri Ben-Achour: One day they can do acapella version

Amy Scott: Hey, everybody, I’m Amy Scott I’m in for Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to make me smart where we make today make sense. Least we try right.

Sabri Ben-Achour: And I’m Sabri Ben-Achour in for Kai Ryssdal. Thank you to everyone for joining this Friday for Economics on Tap. Whether you are joining us on the YouTube live stream or listening to the podcast.

Amy Scott: We’ve got some news and then we’ll do a round of Half Full/Half Empty. And first Sabri I guess we should check in, what are you drinking?

Sabri Ben-Achour: I’m drinking DayQuil which is really just…

Amy Scott: Straight from the bottle ladies and gentlemen.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Well, because those caps gets so disgusting. I don’t know how anyone uses those caps because it gets so sticky and gross. And you put them down and you’re so sick you forget to wash them. And then they’re just there’s always some leftover. It’s a real product flaw in my view.

Amy Scott: So are you feeling okay?

Sabri Ben-Achour: I mean, I’ve felt better I took a nap. And actually Oh my god, I had horrible dreams that I overslept and, and I was actually in the office in my pajamas, and trying to get on the Make Me Smart. Zoom. And everyone was there, but I couldn’t get on. I was walking around in my underwear. It was a horrible stress dream.

Amy Scott: Classic radio dream. I’m telling you. So I have made myself an old fashioned today. You know, the weather is finally starting to get a little warmer here. And this has been my winter drink. So I feel like it’s we’re on the cusp of of shifting to something a little more. I don’t know. Light, but I can’t really talk Dayquil. It tastes about the same don’t you think?

Sabri Ben-Achour: They do kind of taste similar? Okay, well, so I guess now we should do the news huh.

Amy Scott: I guess so. Yeah. Do you want to go first? Or do you want me to start?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh, you go right ahead.

Amy Scott: Okay, so happy Earth Day everybody. Um, this is I’m going to start with something kind of this kind of downer and then go to kind of something more happy. So I don’t know, if you use Google. I actually don’t really for the most part. But today I saw their their doodle, you know, every holiday or like significant event. They changed the the thing you see on the homepage. And today, I noticed it was it’s these time lapse photos from Google Earth and other sources. And they’re showing basically the impact of climate change over time. It’s pretty stunning. Like, they’ve got a time lapse of the snow disappearing from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a glacier retreating in Greenland, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. I mean, it’s it’s really stark, but also kind of cool that we have this technology that I think they say they’re using it to kind of empower people to make change. But honestly, like seeing it for in front of your eyes is pretty dramatic. So check it out. It’s pretty interesting, pretty sobering, but also I think, potentially could lead to some change. Then the other one I wanted to talk about is something I saw in Bloomberg just after I finished hosting Marketplace, which is the Biden administration is finalizing plans to make Pfizer’s COVID-19  pill, which I don’t know if I can say right, Paxlovid, available at any pharmacy in the United States, and an administration official spoke, you know, anonymously to kind of give a preview of this. I guess we’ll get more details next week, but it’s an oral antiviral pill that can reduce the effects and the severity of COVID-19. And it’s been pretty hard to get in a lot of places since it was approved in December. I don’t know if you’ve had any experience trying to chase this down but so it’s now available, I guess, at 20,000 locations around the country, but now. You know, as soon as the this plan is finalized, any pharmacy that wants it will be able to order it directly from the federal government. Merck has its own version of an antiviral treatment, which is also starting to get more widely available. But this is good news. I mean, cases are rising, and a lot of places with this BA.2 sub variant. And this drug has been shown to be really effective at preventing hospitalizations and death. It’s also, of course, good news for Pfizer. The drug is expected to be one of the fastest selling treatments of all time. One forecaster said revenue for this year is predicted at $24 billion. So there’s that.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Wow. I wonder if people will just like, just, you know, down it, like, like Dayquil from the bottle, you know, just like at the slightest cold, they’ll just sort of throw the whole kitchen sink at it. And they’ll just get it just in case no matter what. I will do that.

Amy Scott: I hope not. I hope people use it responsibly. Yeah, and I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how much it costs. Like, I think there are a lot of questions. Also, the federal government is still trying to get funding for to pay for it’s all the doses it’s ordering of this stuff. So I don’t know, we’ll see. But, um, I have been on a couple of text chains with friends, like telling me where, where it is and where they could get it. And so I think it’ll be interesting to see how this, well, it’s just another tool, right in the arsenal of trying to get to some normal. Right.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah. And sounds like maybe it’s less specific than the vaccines too. I mean, because each but you know, that each variant seems to evade the vaccines slightly differently to some extent.

Amy Scott: Yes. Hopefully, this remains effective.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I was looking at a couple of things. One was an article in Foreign Policy by Kouroush Ziabari who was basically saying, you know, let’s look at history and ask whether sanctions are actually going to work on Russia. And he said, just look at Iran, you know, that’s that country has been on sanctions, under sanctions for decades, decades, decades, and it shares a few things. With Russia, number one, it has energy, it produces energy, you know, that it’s always going to have that, and someone’s always going to want it somewhere somehow, in the international economy, and sometimes will even be given a green light to sell it, you know, in Russia’s case. And he said, you know, when your problem with a with a regime is fundamental to its, its nature, no, just like people, you know, no, country or government is going to say, “Gosh, it has gotten so expensive to shop now, I think I’m going to rethink the entire panoply of principles and ideologies on which decades of my, you know, political system have been built,” you know, they’re not going to just like, dismantle that. And, you know, granted, Russia  is not quite the same thing as Iran. But, you know, I think the analogy applies. So, you know, the counteeargument is that, okay, but sanctions are a lot cheaper than war, you know, than expanding war than military intervention. So it’s, it’s not probably that they’re a great idea. It’s just that they’re the least horrible idea.

Amy Scott: It’s all we’ve got, right, yeah.

Sabri Ben-Achour: And I was also struck by the, the demise of CNN+ and Netflix, which I know we’ve covered a bunch on the shows. But it just, the thing about CNN+ is, I think that could have worked if they had been able to do live breaking news stuff on the streaming service, but they could not because they’re locked into these carrying agreements with cable basically, they can’t bring you CNN, like cable version of CNN, to streaming because of those agreements. It’s sort of like these, these chains of the past are kind of holding them back. And that was one of the reasons that was given for why you know, this this niche, you know, this niche offering whatever to call it, was not to not it’s not going to work. That’s why the plug was pulled. So I don’t know it’s just gonna be very interesting to see what sticks on the wall, you know, in the streaming world.

Amy Scott: Yeah, I had a friend who was saying, you know, he signed up for it and didn’t realize that it didn’t come with access to CNN. Like, wait a minute, that’s kind of, you know, a package. Right. And but that is a huge challenge. It is tricky. And it’s interesting to see I mean, as Stephanie Hughes reported today it’s it’s sort of a missed opportunity to see what this could have looked like streaming news and now we’ll have to wait I guess for the next effort. All right, well, do you have anything else you wanted to talk about?

Sabri Ben-Achour: No, I’m good. I’m good.

Amy Scott I feel like before we get we’re gonna play a game right but before we go there I just some listeners with wanting to see your plants I mean, you have a lot. I can see and know that’s just a fraction right?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, I counted one time and I had 100 plants inside and then that we have on the roof of the building which does not belong to us to my apartment but they have like graciously allowed me to like put a bunch of plants out.

Amy Scott: They’ve given you air rights.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Well, they’ve they’ve not taken them away is how I think it’s probably a better phrase, but I actually put like an irrigation system. Its from my – to my shower and it goes out the window and then like onto the building to keep everything hydrated. It looks nice in the sun, right now it’s kind of desolate. Okay, so I can’t like move my laptop around very well, but I’ll give you like, I don’t know what you can see there. Anyway, I have these curtains that I put up to block the light from my eyes because I was sitting here at the beginning of pandemic working every day. And some of these grow lights are like heavy duty, like the ones used in marijuana farms and they put out UV and I would like I started like not being able to see well in the evening. I think it was getting like night blindness from sitting next to the girl lights are too long. Anyway, so now I have curtains I put up but I took them down for us. But here’s one here’s one plant that I like.

Amy Scott: Oh, that’s cool. So it’s super long.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, it’s super long. And it grows on it grows on trees. And it’s it’s called the mistletoe cactus. And it’s found – the interesting thing about it is that. Interesting thing about it is that you know, all cacti evolved in Latin America, South America, that’s where they are found, like, naturally. And this is the one the one single cactus that somehow traveled to Africa and Sri Lanka and nobody knows how it got there.

Amy Scott: Like on the back of a turtle or something.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah, that’s um, because that like they were like, “Well, how could that be?” Yeah, so I think maybe it was some sort of maybe now extinct um, there’s a bunch of explanations that could be like a now extinct bird that like pooped out the seeds in Sri Lanka and and then went extinct or something. Anyway, that’s that’s the…

Amy Scott: Yeah, that’s super cool. We got to do like a whole show on submarines plants at some point.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Well yeah, when maybe when we want to for the last ever episode.

Amy Scott: For our final episode.

Sabri Ben-Achour: So right so, wait, now we have the game right?

Amy Scott: Yeah.

Sabri Ben-Achour Half full/half empty. Hosted by our very own Drew Jostad. Drew, take it away.

Drew Jostad: Are you half full or half empty on Netflix with ads?


Sabri Ben-Achour: 



Amy Scott: Oh gosh, I’m gonna say half empty on the idea of it. I mean, as someone pointed out, I think on Marketplace that’s basically like basic cable you know, paying for service and having to watch ads which is is like the worst of both worlds.

Sabri Ben-Achour:  Yeah, I’ll say I’m have full on that just because you that’s what I grew up with. Maybe maybe the commercials will be good. Maybe.

Amy Scott: You know, my kids because they’ve grown up in the age of streaming. They haven’t seen a lot of commercials. So when they get like during the Olympics or something, they make us watch every commercial because they love it. So I mean, you raise a good point right there is some like cultural literacy that happens from watching ads that this generation is missing out on.

Drew Jostad: All right, next. Oh, sorry.

Sabri Ben-Achour: No, no, go go go.

Drew Jostad: Next to the USPS is slowing first class package delivery to lower costs. Are you half full or half empty?

Sabri Ben-Achour: I mean, I’m half full on that. I guess because I don’t remember the last time that I used the Postal Service for shipping, everything I get is from Amazon. And they’re kind of fast. So I guess I mean, if it’s saving the money then good for them.

Amy Scott: Yeah, I don’t know, I’m, I’m sad. I love the Postal Service, you know, and it had, it’s already slowed down so much I’ve had so many things just disappear. I would say I’m half empty. I mean, something’s got to change, right? I mean, they they need either more funding or a total overhaul. And I’m sympathetic to those who are trying to like keep this business alive in the age of Amazon and all these competitors and delivery services. But yeah, I like my post office.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Yeah. Yeah.

Amy Scott: But I also Sabri lives in New York City where everything is at your doorstep. Right. And, and I think for those of us who, especially in rural places where sometimes the post office is all you got, right?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Oh, yeah, that’s such a good point. Different. Yeah. Well, now I feel like a monster. No, I love the post office too.

Amy Scott: Right. Okay, we’re Yeah, we’re pro-post office.

Drew Jostad: Yeah. Okay. Are you half full or half empty on Earth Day?

Amy Scott: You want to be a monster? I was gonna say half empty. The plant guy is like “boo!”

Sabri Ben-Achour: Of course, half full, half full. You know, although it is it, but it is a little my friend just pointed this out on Instagram. He was like, “all y’all, you know, supporting Earth Day while you’re also like buying one time use outfits for parties and throwing them out.” And, you know, you think like, I remember there have been like Earth Day celebrations. And they show the footage afterwards and there’s always like garbage everywhere. And no, obviously, it’s great to bring attention to, you know, the environment and playing it. But it’s, you know, it’s also a problem, which is this sort of sad part about it.

Amy Scott: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s this one, there’s the you know, it’s like Black History Month or Women’s History Month, there’s a way of kind of confining our awareness and our discussion about major issues to these certain time periods. And then like, we did it, so we’re gonna move on, right. We’ll talk about that next year. So I think in that way, it can be troubling, but I was reading about the history of it today. It started in 1970, partly inspired by this major oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. And I was looking at the pictures of like community cleanups, like kids out with brooms and teachings and protests all over the country. And it was super inspiring. And, you know, it came out of a time of tremendous social unrest and upheaval, the, you know, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the labor movement. And so with that context, like I have a renewed appreciation for Earth Day. You know, forget about the company marketing and stuff. That’s, you know, I’m over that, although I did just talk about that Google story, which is, you know, kind of marketing. But anyway, um, yeah, definitely pro Earth. I’m gonna say that.

Drew Jostad: Amy Scott comes out in favor of Earth.

Amy Scott: I feel like that’s a fairly safe position to take, right.

Drew Jostad: Okay, well, the timed entry reservation systems at National Parks may be here to stay Are you half full or half empty?

Sabri Ben-Achour:  I’m half empty on that, while acknowledging how necessary it might be. I mean, from that it’s just not an experience you you want to have to sort of like book and schedule and get an allotted moment to appreciate you know, the whole idea of nature as you like you just sort of throw yourself out there and absorb it and enjoy it not like “Now serving nature customer 555.” Like that’s not how I want to experience Yellowstone.

Amy Scott: I hear you. Okay. How do I feel about this? Because I’ve been to I’ve done a couple road trips, the past couple summers to some of the big national parks and it’s been I’ve been in those lines. It’s really not fun, but I’m so glad people are getting out to see these amazing national parks. I can say I’m also pro-National Park.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Careful, gonna get canceled for that one.

Amy Scott: We need more. Right? We need more space. And I wonder if this is going to last? I mean, you said drew this it’s here to stay. I wonder if the interest is going to last post, you know, pandemic because that’s really when this kind of took off was when people were canceling their their vacations and not flying and so it’s like, let’s go to the outdoors and yeah, but I would much rather have a reserved slot and not feel like I’m on top of everybody other person then to…

Sabri Ben-Achour: Well, maybe we just need like more parks, you know, so that like they’re get less crowded.

Amy Scott: Totally need more parks. No, I would agree.

Drew Jostad: Last topic are you half full or half empty on the return of Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza?

Sabri Ben-Achour: Amy?

Amy Scott: Okay, I think it’s time for a little confession. I love Taco Bell. Yeah, I do. But partly because I have been a vegetarian, mostly vegetarian since I was 18. And so – and back then there weren’t a lot of options. So it was like my go to for road trips. And you know, when I was a broke high school student, like that’s where my friends would, then I would go to eat, there was one near our high school. So, but I don’t know about the pizza, because I think it probably has meat on it. So I can’t weigh in on that particular thing. All I’m gonna say is like, you know, options are good.

Sabri Ben-Achour: It sounds amazing. Sounds amazing. I don’t  – I haven’t had Taco Bell much since I was like a kid. But I do miss it. It was really good. I’m sure that Mexican pizza is gonna be real good.

Amy Scott: Drew, do we know what’s on this Mexican pizza?

Drew Jostad: I do not know. I’m scanning here.

Amy Scott: I may have to get back to you on this. Right.

Drew Jostad: It looks like so it looks like there’s somebody who is like substituting beans for the beef for a vegetarian Mexican pizza.

Amy Scott: There you go. It can be done. That’s my kind of person.

Drew Jostad: Seems to be huge with South Asian American immigrants.

Amy Scott: Oh, interesting.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Did you say substituting beans for the the meat you say?

Drew Jostad: Yeah.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Interesting.

Amy Scott: I’m a big fan of green chilies on pizza. So I can see a bean being a good thing. Don’t @ me.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Drew did you have  – did you have anything to do with this question?

Drew Jostad:  No.

Sabri Ben-Achour: I feel like this was a…

Amy Scott: Don’t you feel like somebody knew that I’m like, secret Taco Bell fan. I don’t think I’ve shared that before publicly. My family knows it well.

Sabri Ben-Achour: I’m a McDonald’s person.

Amy Scott: Ah, it’s a pretty good time for us to wrap it up. I will be back on Monday with Kai for Tuesday’s Deep Dive. We’re looking into the growing rental market and how more and more investors are pouring money into building homes not for sale, but for rent and we’re going to try to figure out what that means for wealth creation in this country.

Sabri Ben-Achour: And if you’ve got any questions for us, you can send us a voice memo or email to or leave us a voice message we are at 508-827-6278 or also known as 508-U-B-SMART.

Amy Scott: Make Me Smart is produced by Marissa Cabrera and Marque Greene. Our intern is Tiffany Bui. Today’s episode was engineered by the great Drew Jostad. The senior producer is Bridget Bodnar.

Sabri Ben-Achour: The team behind our game is Steven Byeon. Mel Rosenberg and Emily Macune with theme music written by Drew Jostad and the director of on demand is Donna Tam. Steven did I get your name right this time?

Amy Scott:  I think you did.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Okay.

Amy Scott: Cheers.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Cheers.

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The team

Marissa Cabrera Producer
Bridget Bodnar Senior producer
Tony Wagner Digital Producer
Marque Greene Associate Producer