We May Be Living in a Moment of Misplaced Optimism

Yves here. Richard Murphy is writing from a UK vantage, and the UK has reasons to curb its cheer. Even if the Covid front looks oh so much better, it’s still awfully close in geographical terms to the EU, which is undergoing yet another surge. And there’s Brexit to dampen the economy too. But the optimism in the US seems to be running ahead of events too (although Lambert’s one-stop Greed & Fear index was only at a mildly elevated 58 yesterday).

Remember that the US is 8th in vaccination progress. From Statista as of March 17:

And Nature explained on the 18th why herd immunity to Covid is “probably impossible” (hat tip Michael M):

That threshold is generally achievable only with high vaccination rates, and many scientists had thought that once people started being immunized en masse, herd immunity would permit society to return to normal. Most estimates had placed the threshold at 60–70% of the population gaining immunity, either through vaccinations or past exposure to the virus. But as the pandemic enters its second year, the thinking has begun to shift. In February, independent data scientist Youyang Gu changed the name of his popular COVID-19 forecasting model from ‘Path to Herd Immunity’ to ‘Path to Normality’. He said that reaching a herd-immunity threshold was looking unlikely because of factors such as vaccine hesitancy, the emergence of new variants and the delayed arrival of vaccinations for children.

Gu is a data scientist, but his thinking aligns with that of many in the epidemiology community. “We’re moving away from the idea that we’ll hit the herd-immunity threshold and then the pandemic will go away for good,” says epidemiologist Lauren Ancel Meyers, executive director of the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. This shift reflects the complexities and challenges of the pandemic, and shouldn’t overshadow the fact that vaccination is helping. “The vaccine will mean that the virus will start to dissipate on its own,” Meyers says. But as new variants arise and immunity from infections potentially wanes, “we may find ourselves months or a year down the road still battling the threat, and having to deal with future surges”.

The main points in the article are:

It’s unclear whether vaccines prevent transmission

Vaccine roll-out is uneven

New variants change the herd-immunity equation

Immunity might not last forever (an understatement!)

Vaccines might change human behaviour

However, its detailed vaccination progress chart paints a cheerier picture for the US than the overall one above did:

But in the US we also have some other big shoes to drop, despite the size of the stimulus package that is rolling out, like what to do about the residential and commercial rent arrearages that are too large for most of the tenants to pay off?

Now to Murphy’s take.

By Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and a political economist. He has been described by the Guardian newspaper as an “anti-poverty campaigner and tax expert”. He is Professor of Practice in International Political Economy at City University, London and Director of Tax Research UK. He is a non-executive director of Cambridge Econometrics. He is a member of the Progressive Economy Forum. Originally published at Tax Research UK

The FT has reported this morning that:

The planned reopening of the economy, the Budget’s renewed support for workers and businesses, and the rapid vaccine rollout have boosted UK consumer confidence to the highest level since before the first lockdown last March, fuelling hopes of a spending rebound.

It is said that the fool and their money are easily parted, and I cannot help but think that there is a great deal of foolishness  in the mood of the nation at present. The only comfort in that is that the so-called Covid bounce for the government may be as misplaced.

To be blunt, I very much doubt that we are going to see the summer that so many (me included, if I am completely honest) would like to look forward to.

Europe is already heading into third wave Covid lockdowns. The NHS is actively preparing for the same to happen here, before the summer.

The widespread assumption that the Covid pandemic us over as far as the UK is concerned could well be wrong. For a start, we now face a different pandemic from that which we faced last year : the virus has mutated.

And in the face of that England (but not Wales and Scotland, where vaccination has been considerably better managed) faces the nightmare scenario of having a half vaccinated, and so still intensely vulnerable, population in which the opportunity for the rampant spread of vaccine immune variants is high.

We know such spread is possible. Healthcare is collapsing in Brazil right now.

We also know that the AZ vaccine offers little protection against variants; Pfizer maybe a bit more, and Moderna has yet to appear on the scene.

And it is now apparent that in the politically motivated rush for single jabs which do not provide vaccination, whatever politicians might claim, but which are simply the first dose of a course that might do so, there has already been gross mismanagement because it is now becoming  apparent that sufficient vaccine to guarantee the delivery of the absolutely essential second doses may not have  been held back.

In the meantime cases are rising, most especially amongst the young. There are arguments to be had about the testing: lateral flow tests are notoriously  unreliable. But the problem is that this was also the pattern last September.

In fact, the apparent euphoria of this moment feels rather like last August, which was very obviously a false period of hope when seen in retrospect. So too might this moment be just that. If cases rise, vaccines are denied, second doses do not happen on time, and the progression that the NHS fears towards another outbreak occurs rather than the virus following the government’s roadmap, then we are in deep trouble. And this moment of optimism will be shown to have been deeply misplaced.

I could be wrong about this, of course. I would like to be. But my instincts tell me that this mood of optimism in the country is misplaced.

This also suggests something else. That is that the sense of disappointment that might follow the crushing of hope that the government has unwisely created will be intense. It might even turn to anger. We may not be in for the summer we hoped for, but that does not mean it may not be eventful, in all the wrong ways.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Obviously, the big unknown is if the vaccine provides full immunity or if the vaccinated can become infected and shed viruses without symptoms.

    Another issue – and one that never occurred to me until yesterday talking to a colleague who is suffering from Long Covid – is that there is still uncertainty over whether those with long Covid could be long term sources of infection if, as some think, they are permanently harbouring some virus in their tissues. He has been warned by his virologist not to assume he is not a potential carrier, so he can’t visit his relatives.

    There is another wave gathering pace already in Europe and so April looks bad. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that even with a lot of vaccination the US will escape a B117 wave at the same time. Some sources are predicting that the UK and Ireland, which have been through a B117 wave, may be hit with another wave in May. The blame seems to be going to (yet another) premature lifting of restrictions, and infections spread by children going to school – this is a very controversial issue within the epidemiological community, there doesn’t seem to be any unambiguous studies, and everyone is quoting the studies that suit their arguments.

    Incidentally, while reading through the vaccination plan in Ireland, I see that they are prioritising young people after the vulnerable have had their shots. Its not clearly stated, but it seems the thinking is that young people are the primary spreaders, so it makes more sense to try to immunise them early. I wonder if this is a widely followed strategy?

    A key problem of course is political pressure to open up too quickly. All over Europe there is a palpable desperation among politicians to have a ‘normal’ summer, combined with an unwillingness to do what is necessary to achieve it. Maybe the vaccine will do the job for us – I was actually feeling quite optimistic on this point earlier this week, but the scientists I follow on the topic seem to have had a turn towards pessimism for now on the basis of the most recent figures.

    In Ireland there is a growing call for a zero Covid strategy. To achieve it, the existing lockdown would have to be more strictly enforced with a curfew to stop evening social events (its pretty clear that these are what is stopping levels dropping below current rates of around 10 per 100,000 positives a day). Plus of course proper quarantine, which should have been done a year ago. But the government is silent on this.

    1. The Rev Kev

      ‘there is still uncertainty over whether those with long Covid could be long term sources of infection if, as some think, they are permanently harbouring some virus in their tissues.’

      If true, that is the most unwelcome news that I have heard this month. Even when it’s over, it’s still not over.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        We’ve mentioned that concern, which has been stated in medical articles (as in not studies but quotes from experts) at least a month ago. It would help explain why SARS-COV-2, which was until December, depicted as having a slow rate of mutations, is now being depicted as mutating a lot. I sincerely doubt they way the virus works has changed or that epidemiologists understood it badly early on. The most logical explanation is Long Covid, since the cumulative number of cases in rising along with the length of time the ones who had it early and haven’t shaken it have had it.

    2. cocomaan

      In Ireland there is a growing call for a zero Covid strategy. To achieve it, the existing lockdown would have to be more strictly enforced with a curfew to stop evening social events (its pretty clear that these are what is stopping levels dropping below current rates of around 10 per 100,000 positives a day). Plus of course proper quarantine, which should have been done a year ago. But the government is silent on this.

      Where I always tell people to pump the brakes on a lockdown-based zero covid strategy is in considering aerosol transmission.

      Locking people down in an 8 storey high rise apartment building means that unless the air handler has been fixed up, everyone in that apartment building is going to spend the next few months breathing Covid air. This is a bigger concern for low income people in low income housing.

      Lockdown not only prevents them from going to jobs most influenced by lockdown, but also puts them right into a covid pressure cooker, seems to me.

      Lockdowns in the USA have had questionable value: https://apnews.com/article/public-health-health-florida-coronavirus-pandemic-ron-desantis-889df3826d4da96447b329f524c33047?fbclid=IwAR2aDFalhgfdIbmkRmnoO0Rz80q2aa3Frkj0iNh1CwQKnZHsecd7pVhsCKI Public health interventions like this need to be considered extremely carefully.

        1. cocomaan

          Absolutely believe that. A family member who we’d lost touch with died of an OD during the early stages of the pandemic.

          They’d been on probation after an arrest for DUI or possession or something. When lockdown started, they couldn’t go to rehab and as far as I know were just stuck inside their house. A few weeks later, the fatal OD. Everyone said they’d been making good progress.

          There’s been a few other suicides of young people I’ve heard about in my circle, I don’t think its coincidence.

          1. flora

            I’m very sorry. This is a much bigger problem than the MSM recognizes or reports on, imo.

            This MedCram utube talks about covid, stress and depression. I can’t follow the detailed medical explanation, but I found it useful to understand why this is a rising problem, even above the level it was already before C19.

            Stress and COVID 19: Improving The Immune System, Anxiety, and Depression


      1. Louis

        But you’re an evil monster who wants kill grandma. /s

        I put in a sarcasm to avoid any confusion but lockdowns are a de facto religion for some people–if you question their efficacy they literally regard you as wanting to kill grandma.

        If you truly believe if following the science, the policies need to change as science changes. However, to a certain percentage of people (including on the left) following the science means only following what supports their worldview.

    3. Mikel

      Basically, it’s still the experimental phase where they are seeing who gets sick again and how sick, although they have the therapy shots, and then what tweaks they need to make to begin the yearly series of shots that people are going to be expected to take.

    4. Tom Doak

      My #1 cause for concern is that you would think all of the vaccine makers would be trying desperately to find some data they can put out that their vaccine prevents transmission . . . but there has been none at all.

      Just a faint whistling sound in the dark.

      1. Jen

        If they prevented transmission, the vaccines would have no further value, now would they? These companies are banking on vaccine futures.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, the issue is different. It’s highly unlikely that a vaccine against a respiratory virus would ever achieve sterilizing immunity. The vaccine gets in the nose and then has to reach the lungs (or stomach, some get mainly digestive symptoms) before it gets to the blood stream, which is where the trained immune system goes to war. So the individual has to have virus in his nose and lungs or digestive system before he fights off the virus. The question is whether the infection is beaten early enough to prevent the viral load from getting high enough that the patient is capable of spreading the disease.

          1. Cuibono

            we MIGHT see nasal vaccines in the not too distant future….like with flu they do better at lowering transmission. but still, true sterilizing immunity is as you say unlikely.

            1. Equitable > Equal

              Considering the fact that both Ireland and the Netherlands (and probably others) reported ZERO influenza cases this winter, I’d say we should be applying whatever their anti-influenza tactics are to the ‘fight against Covid’. By the look of things, they are 100% effective at stopping both transmission and infection. Amazing.

      2. Cuibono

        they are promising said data soon…but this weeks back- peddling by CDC and Fauci et al on the renewed focus on masking et tells me that the data was leaked.

      3. campbeln

        This, paired with the only guaranteed immunity these vaccines have (to legal liability) give me no reason to hope they are the key to a return to normalcy.

  2. cocomaan

    Good article. I think what needs to be said here is that anyone expressing certainty about the efficacy of lockdowns, the success of vaccinations, or the doom of society from variants, are all selling something. We just don’t know. The fact is that we’re operating in a heavy fog of war. The virus has escaped many attempts at understanding it.

    The politicians are useless and counterproductive, as usually.

    But it feels like public health officials have shifted strategy from making sure announcements (“6 feet and wash your hands”) to now saying things like, “You should expect the vaccine to fully work for 90 days, after that it might not.” And “Three feet might be okay.” or “10 days might be fine we don’t know”.

    The problem with expressing that level of uncertainty is that they leave out the idea that a 90 day effective vaccine means taking the vaccine 4 times a year, so 8 shots, and possibly 4-8 sick days from work a year. For many workers in America, that’s ALL of their sick time.

    I think this crisis reveals what a hollowed out shell our Public Health Service really is.

    1. Dirk77

      Actually, in the US you typically don’t get sick time anymore; it’s bundled with vacation and appointment time. My last job: 3 weeks total. A friend working in the same building but different company gets 2 weeks. Both PMC. Hurrah.

      1. cocomaan

        Ah, yeah, you’re definitely right.

        I work in the non profit field and they generally are more flexible on vacation because the pay is shite. Different sick and vacation pools.

        But I’ve had those jobs where it’s all PTO and it’s awful.

        1. TMoney

          Prior to COVID, I always went to work sick with PTO – because of the incentives. Yes I was an awful coworker – but my employer wasn’t doing me any favors. PTO is designed to make you come to work sick – if you want a vacation. So I did.

          After COVIDs work from home reset, most office jobs employers are going to be less convinced about sick time (not more) – because (all together now) You can work from home !

    2. Larry Y

      US never had a proper lock down. Border controls and screenings were a joke, and there was no effort to contemplate what would be needed to support a proper quarantine and isolation, much less proper discussion of regulations and legislation.

      Too many people were delusional that it wasn’t going to appear in their community. And still don’t grasp how exponential spread works.

      Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, etc…

      1. Louis

        Lockdowns are effective at preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed when things get really bad.

        However, they are not a sustainable long-term.

        It may not be PC to say but we’re probably never going to get zero cases–the best we can hope for is to get as many people as possible vaccinated and take other measures to keep the spread as low as possible.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          They don’t need to be long term if you get infections down to a low enough level that contact tracing works.

          You also need to be bloody-minded about quarantines of people arriving from other countries and who were exposed. Serious supervision and big time fines. Poland even puts people in prison for 6-12 months for breaking quarantine a second time.

    3. Louis

      There was a piece in the New York Times recently about how people on both the right and the left had gotten it wrong on COVID-19.

      The right’s problem is obvious being anti-science but there some on the left who’d misconstrued it as wellto your first paragraph above the certainty of doom

    1. Susan the other

      Yes, and aggressively develop new medicines. And also too: last nite sleeping with the BBC, I dozed in and out of a report about virus hunters in various places besides east Asia. They have discovered new bat colonies far and wide that are carriers of many different corona viruses. It was being said, maybe a decade ago, that climate change, warming, would change epidemiology. With all of the forces converging against us it seems only logical that we will be wearing masks and goggles for some time unless we stop putting all our faith in vaccinations (the whole idea of vaccination is squashed when there are hundreds of dangerous viruses all mutating at some exponential rate) and focus on good medicines that are as accessible as a bottle of aspirin. And not expensive.

        1. QuicksilverMessenger

          One part could be the suggestion that bats have very high levels of melatonin. And I’ve seen this proposition here in the comments from time to time. Not sure if any real studies have been done on this though as of yet

        2. Greg

          The bats might not be immune. The same zoonotic bug can have very different effects on each species. For example, I recently had unfortunate reason to learn that duck chlamydia (bacterial, not viral) manifests as a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory problem in humans.

    2. Mantid

      St. Eustache, et al. Yes, I second the Ivemectin reference. Many studies from pre-prints to peer review are showing Ivermectin’s effectiveness and safety. Here’s another excellent link of Dr. John Campbell’s recent interview with Dr. Tess Lawrie. He has been a sceptic regarding Ivermectin but in the last half of this interview (another thorough review of current literature) he becomes animated and seemingly convinced. The word is getting out but of course suppressed by many due to Ivermectin’s low cost (pennies) and it’s being off patent. Le Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYF8bnmdQfY

      1. marku52

        Here is a shorter discussion with Dr Lawrie. She is rather “gobsmacked” at how it seems to be impossible to get a paper with positive IVM results published.

        Why, it’s almost as if there is some secretive force that doesn’t want there to be any inexpensive treatments….

        1. john buell

          Similar positive claims about hydroxychlorophine by some mainstream scientists who are not Trumpites. They also point out the role its low cost may have in the lack of attention to it. I will try to find a link.

  3. Retaj

    Anecdotally, when doing my essential shopping, I saw twice as many people sans mask as I have seen in recent months. I am in an area where the majority of people wear face coverings, so this means one out of forty became three out of forty.

    With the reduction of the Christmas surge, I did have thoughts that it would be okay to relax and take more risks. This partially explains what these folks are doing. With variants, this is only the eye of the storm, so I am hunkering down for the next surge.

  4. Rob Dunford

    I said this to all my friends, this virus will have the last word. It’s like that old game of ‘whack-a-mole’.

  5. Isotope_C14

    “We also know that the AZ vaccine offers little protection against variants; Pfizer maybe a bit more, and Moderna has yet to appear on the scene.”

    Do we know that? I love the take from the chartered accountant and a political economist class of immunology scientists.

    Never in the history of science was a study loaded in a particular way to make a particular person, or group of persons richer. Sarcasm off.

    Wish these guys would talk about MMR 2 and the fact that the mumps titer has a direct relation to COVID symptoms. Of course, that MMR 2 vaccine won’t make anyone a billion bux.

    1. Cojo

      Interesting finding. Wonder if this also has a bearing on the fact that young children (for the most part recently vaccinated with MMR) do not have significant symptoms from COVID infections. Just looked up the article on this theory for anyone interested.

      1. Cojo

        Just reviewed the study more closely and looks like they also made the link to childhood vaccination. Also interesting to note that the mumps antibody titers tend to decline much more rapidly over time vs the measles and rubella titers in vaccinated individuals.

        This is definitely an important study but will need to be followed up with further studies that help clarify whether this is a causative effect or just correlation.

    1. Spring Texan

      Yes, this is a huge problem. The availability of Soviet and Chinese vaccines helps SOMEWHAT, but not enough. This is my biggest worry.

      The vaccines are amazing but there do need to be enough of them worldwide or there will continue to be so much unnecessary death and suffering. There needs to be a TRIPS waiver, which the United States is fiercely resisting.

  6. Halcyon

    My perception on the UK situation: there will be no further lockdowns under any circumstances. If necessary, if they arrive, news of renewed waves of COVID deaths will be suppressed or downplayed by the media as much as possible. If the vaccines cannot prevent these deaths, they will be viewed as inevitable. The public, media, and particularly the Tory base will go along with it.

  7. Anthony G Stegman

    Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. I feel that this is the best approach regarding the pandemic. Gloom and doom all the time is never helpful, nor is seeing the world through rose colored glasses. In my neck of the woods case counts have dropped dramatically. Hospitals Have seen a sharp decline in admissions due to COVID. So it is natural to begin feeling upbeat about the pandemic. Having said this I am still taking precautions and limiting my social interactions, but I am not in a fearful and paranoid state.

    1. Spring Texan

      I am hearing the same from doctors about situations in their hospitals in MANY locales – it is encouraging.

      1. campbeln

        Case counts dropping coincide with the WHO recommendation re: cycle thresholds on the PCR tests from my observations (or am I wrong in that?).

        As such, I’ve seen this as noise rather than data despite the recent numbers being likely closer to a truer representation of cases.

  8. AdamK

    I find Michael Osterholm the most reliable source on the subject and listening to his weekly podcast. you can find his podcasts on spotify, Apple etc. My thought was that we as a society are so invested in the religion of progress that we think we can overcome a pandemic just by using innovative technology with no pain for society. So the solution can come only with the combination of closures and vaccines, since development, distribution and administration takes time especially in large population like in the US. Dr. Osterholm way of communicating with his audience is without the regular sugarcoating we hear from other experts in the media, and until now all his predictions were proved to be right. He also suggested to administer one shot for as many people as possible before the new wave of B117 and other mutations is coming upon us, a suggestion that so far wasn’t accepted by the Biden committee of experts.

    1. Harold

      I thought Osterholm was the best I ever heard. He also stressed that lockdown can’t really work unless people are compensated to stay home. They just won’t/ can’t comply. But people don’t want to absorb this message. Instead they are all betting on a quick fix from vaccines.

    2. patD

      Absolutely agree about Osterholm. His “Minnesota nice” style was at first jarring to my cynical coastal ears, but I’ve listened to him every week for the last year and lost all my skepticism. He’s never uttered a word of baseless optimism and has taken heat for that. And he’s upfront about the disagreement regarding his advocacy of prioritizing first doses . Podcast site is CIDRAP podcasts. Highly recommend.

      1. Petter

        Second or third that. Osterholm has been my reliable source throughout the pandemic via his podcasts, alhough it was his appearance on Joe Rogan last March that first got my attention. I was a bit confused by his hurricane metaphor. On his podcasts he’s been referring to the hurricane as being offshore but getting closer, as in 75 miles but not that the USA was in the eye. But on television – I had to check – he did say eye of the hurricane. And he’s never been specific about when the hurricane will hit, because he doesn’t know. I haven’t listened to this week’s podcast yet but in previous podcasts it has varied from six to up to fourteen weeks, because, again, he doesn’t know. What he is sure of, and what he’s betting his reputation on, is that there will be a new wave. He’s hoping he’s wrong and is prepared to eat major poo poo.
        Preparing to listen this week’s podcast.

  9. Watt4Bob

    I don’t see any clear reporting on the obvious situation we are in, that is being forced to accept the necessity of allowing obviously corrupt, politicized opinions equal time, when facing a public health catastrophe.

    It seems clear that in the interests of stopping all out insurrection, the democrats have decided from the senate, all the way to the various state houses to placate those insistent on the necessity of ‘re-opening the economy’ come what may.

    And with that in mind, we had better get ready to endure ‘come what may’

    So, we’re almost surely going to endure a new and more miserable surge in Covid damage because we’re unwilling to resist the surge in ignorance?

  10. Glen

    I think we are going to have a bit of an economic recovery, but we are also going to have a resurgence of CV. How bad, I don’t know.

    1. campbeln

      I believe the surge in the economy is being driven by inventory rebuild plus shortages of any one of the many raw materials along the supply chain that’s been affected by shutdowns plus stimulus checks. Not sure how any of that runs long term, though…

      Back in February/March 2020 we purchased any electronics and otherwise long supply chain items we thought we were going to need over the next 12-18 months. Seems this was a good approach, if premature by 6-12 months.

  11. No Party

    The pressure to return to normal in my neck of the American woods is nearly unbearable (Maryland). I’ve been blessed to be able to telework for the past year, but as a manager my boss is now pressuring me to come into work nearly everyday, for ridiculous things like “Pizza Thursday” team-building events, and “brainstorming” meetings in small windowless conference rooms, where we breathe in each other’s aerosols all day. The mask discipline while I’m at work is a joke; even though Biden implemented a mandatory mask policy for everyone while on federal property, the people at my agency can barely keep their mask on during the course of a 15 minute discussion. Receptionists in the lobby, no masks (the plexiglass protects them!); during VTCs, no one is wearing masks around the table (they won’t understand my brilliant talking points on the far end!). And forget about proper ventilation in these buildings (none of the windows open; if they did, employees would be too tempted to end their misery by jumping out!).

    Somehow my agency is getting vaccines directly from Operation Warp Speed, and they are embellishing the stats by automatically reporting that every employee wants a vaccine through our place of work (even if they don’t), so that they get as many vaccines as possible. Of course, they also tell us to sign up for a vaccine through the state, so worst-case scenario that could mean all 15,000 people where I work are signed up for a vaccine in two places (one from work, one from the state). It’s a god-damn free-for-all. I’d hate to be the one analyzing all of this data, trying to figure out where to distribute vaccines next.

    My agency is doing this in a relentless pursuit to bring everyone back to work, and return to “business as usual.” They can’t stand that employees are working from home, and they are categorizing more of us as “frontline” workers so they can tell us to get vaccinated. Not necessarily forcing us, but definitely pressuring us; my boss has said many times that “I consider you a frontline worker because I expect you to return to work on April 1st.” Kind of a veiled threat, but nothing that would stand up in court. He of course is already vaccinated, and thinks he’s in the clear (Governor Hogan opened up businesses to 100% capacity!! Everyone will have a vaccine by May!! It’s over!!!).

    I hope it is over soon, but I have my doubts. And I can’t justify getting a vaccine at such a relatively young age, when my in-laws (whom we live with) can’t even get one from the state. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

    At least my father (who has pre-existing conditions) is finally getting vaccinated. His boss (multi-millionaire who owns the business) is flying all his managers to his alma mater to get vaccinated (the boss is a generous donor there). If only everyone in need of a vaccine knew a rich business owner with connections! That’s some American vaccination plan for you.

  12. JTMcPhee

    Maybe this is the ultimate expression of the corruption of the powers that be, especially of that husk of a chimaera, the private corporation branded as the “Democratic Party.” LLC. ™ (r) (c) E Pluribus Unim.

  13. Mikerw0

    I agree with the article, but have a different point of view to many comments above about corruption, incompetence, etc.

    We are fighting human nature. We are asking, nee weakly demanding, that society instantly adopt totally new patterns of behavior including masking, quarantining, etc. It’s a big ask and probably an unreasonable ask.

    Add to that that it has been a reasonably hard winter and people want to end cabin fever. So its natural to over interpret any “green shoots”. Because after all the bad news its what we want to hear.

    The problem is this genie ain’t going back in the bottle.

  14. wadge22

    Absent from this (informative) discussion of Covid likelihoods is any mention of the stock/everything market. It seems to me to be so clearly in peaky bubbly frothy territory as to constitute just as big a threat to any assumption of normalcy on the horizon as the deadly virus does. The zoo has gone nuts, as we here should well know.
    Even if the global pandemic faded suddenly and mysteriously, as I think I remember reading (can’t find link rite now, PBS transcript istr) of the 1918 flu, I would still have to weigh my bets carefully whether this is a time to be optimistic. Things seem dangerously out of control in more than just the public health arena.
    I should point out that I do understand the contrasts between having one’s retirement plans disrupted on the one hand and dying alone in a hospital hallway on the other. I’m not trying to say they should be similarly alarming. Nevertheless, I think our broader, multifaceted societal precarity bears note in any discussion of potential for optimism.

    1. wadge22

      I see Yves made more mention of “other big shoes to drop” etc. than I was remembering as I composed my comment. Mr slow reader here had been reading the other comments for some time after reading the initial article, guess it was all becoming one of those blurs. Slow down, wadgey.
      Stilltho, we’ve gotta keep both eyes open, is all I’m saying.

      1. campbeln

        Naw, it’s good to put an exclamation point behind it. Your comment helped remind me to put it in the broader context so it’s appreciated from this commentator at least.

    2. Equitable > Equal

      The wider real economy has not been this indebted in many years, and I agree that upon the reopening of society, there will be some serious speedbumps ahead. What will happen with all the commercial and private rental arrears that have become too big to pay? What will happen when all the zombie businesses that have survived entirely on government handouts for about a year now start to file for bankruptcy? What will happen when the level of fraudulent unemployment claims becomes clear? Not to mention, how will governments service the debt they themselves accumulated in the face of the aforementioned brakes on growth?

      I think landlords will face an uphill battle not to be left holding the bag on a lot of this, but that doesn’t account for much of the problems we were all forced into accepting

    3. ChiGal in Carolina

      There is a theory out there that the 1918 pandemic was not influenza but rather a coronavirus, still with us as the common cold.

      I will look for a link.

      1. ChiGal in Carolina

        Could not find it so maybe not credible, but there is this which details that the 1918 virus did not just disappear

        The impact of this pandemic was not limited to 1918–1919. All influenza A pandemics since that time, and indeed almost all cases of influenza A worldwide (excepting human infections from avian viruses such as H5N1 and H7N7), have been caused by descendants of the 1918 virus, including “drifted” H1N1 viruses and reassorted H2N2 and H3N2 viruses. The latter are composed of key genes from the 1918 virus, updated by subsequently incorporated avian influenza genes that code for novel surface proteins, making the 1918 virus indeed the “mother” of all pandemics.


    1. dummy

      looks like mother nature has decided to punish our hubris, we have been abusing the planet for too long, and nature has its ways of restoring the equilibrium. get ready for lots of oncoming waves.

    2. Petter

      It’s here in Norway but nor evenly distributed. In Oslo and the greater Oslo region the R is at 1.7 in some city districts and municipalities with the British variant predominant. The Brazilian and South African has also been detected, the latter in Bodø, another hard hit city on the northwest cost. Strict lockdowns, rising hospitalizations (to the degree that my regional hospital has to recruit ICU nurses from other parts of the country), and a severe shortage of vaccines. Some countries are starting up with AstraZenica again but Norway is waiting. As of today 4.85% of the population is fully vaccinated, another 9,22 % having received one dose.
      Related: news conferences almost every day (I stopped watching them) with new rules, regulations and clarifications. Even the Director of the Heath Department can’t keep with them. When asked during a news conference how many could gather under various circumstances (with family, with friends, etc , he couldn’t answer and asked the Director of the Norwegian CDC to help him out.
      And oh yes, the Prime minister got busted. Too many people at her birthday party, 14 in all, at her 60th birthday party held at mountain hotel – ski resort back in February. She had gotten confused about the number of family members who could gather before it could be called an “arrangement, (I can’t even keep this straight ) but it was definitely an arrangement under the new regulations. She has apologized profusely and may be fined.
      As for me, age 75, still waiting for my vaccine appointment.

  15. Spring Texan

    Personally, I think the optimism about COVID here is well warranted. People have gotten stuck in a fear loop. The vaccines really are amazing, and things ARE looking up as long as we can continue to get more and more people vaccinated.

    I’m not optimistic about things other than COVID and also very worried about COVID worldwide given that we are not doing what could be done to allow production of sufficient vaccine. But here in the US – really I think it’s getting better all the time.

    People I like to listen to on podcasts/youtube are Dr Vinay Prasad, Dr. Monica Gandhi, ZDoggMD, to me they are the voices of good sense on this.

    Also highly recommended are the virologists at This Week in Virology.

    The variants are not as worrying as they are sometimes depicted. The future is NOT certain but I think Yves is far too bleak.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Go read the Sat morning post on how the CDC was either grossly incompetent or lied on its claims re school reopenings. We’ll get another wave just from that.

      And what about “current vaccines are not terribly effective against new variants” don’t you understand?

  16. RMO

    Hey! Canada is in 41st place! Well, at least I get to take my over 80 year old mum for her first shot today. A month ago the official schedule had her only being able to make an attempt to get an appointment on March 22nd so things seem to be improving somewhat.

    Also, it looks like things may have changed again here in BC and I may now be eligible to get my vaccination sooner due to the fact I’m supposed to be somewhat immune deficient as a result of losing my spleen many years ago in an accident.

  17. Cuibono

    “like what to do about the residential and commercial rent arrearages that are too large for most of the tenants to pay off? ”

    Not sure if you know but rental assitance will be available to many at up to 80% AMI for 12 months rent in many jurisdictions.
    Landlords and tenants are saved! Banks too!
    All good!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It’s $25 billion total when the arrearages were ALREADY at $80 billion a month or two ago and rent is due every month, so the amount just keeps rising. It was pushing $70 billion as of early December.


      And see:

      Eligible households that include an individual who has been unemployed for the 90 days prior to application for assistance and households with income at or below 50 percent of the area median are to be prioritized for assistance.


      So if you were unemployed earlier and can’t catch up, “merely” suffered a cut in hours or pay, or were unemployed for <90 days, tough luck.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Straw man, plus a most states haven’t started getting money out….and as indicated, for most households that are behind, the size of the liability keeps rising. If they suffered a lasting hit to income and can’t afford their rent, they’re still going under, just more slowly.

  18. Sigmund Neal Krieger

    There are things that we know, and things that we believe. Most of our social conduct is guided by things that we believe. I believe that when I wear a mask I am protecting those with whom I come in contact with, if they wear a mask they are protecting me. There is wide spread mask wearing; nonetheless, the transsmission rate of the virus remains relatively high. The current rates of recorded infection, hospitalization, and mortality are declining. Our experience over the past year is that the infection is treatable and the virus has limited to no effect on children and healthy adults. As vaccination proceeds the growing problem is that of rent arrearages. I suggest that landlord and tenant submit a jointly rendered claim and the governemnt pays half the arrearage and half and the landlord absorbes half. As to the developing variants, enhanced vaccines will be required and the problem of politization will be at hand. Political unrest will increase as the size of the underclass continues to increase because we stayed in lockdown for far too long a time. Our medical problem has an ancillary problem, a large number of politicians view the medical problem as an opportunity to expand governmental control over the populus.

  19. Pedro

    This is a troubling text, full of ill-informed opinions quoted as facts.
    Contrary to what is written, the AZ vaccine is quite effective in preventing deaths from variants, opting for one dose and delaying the second to vaccinate more people faster is a better population wide strategy and lateral flow tests are extremely reliable and accurate and not the opposite as the text states.
    It’s a bit troubling to read this text.

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