After repeatedly claiming that a Biden Administration would “follow the science” on Covid, it now appears to be hoist on its petard of instead relying on least effort approaches combined with better propaganda, aka placing all its bets on vaccines.
These headlines illustrate the problem. The first is the lead in the Wall Street Journal; the second is from the Financial Times:
It’s hard to know where to begin. First, as we’ve pointed out repeatedly, the officialdom has grossly oversold the vaccines, treating them as if they prevent contagion, as opposed to hospitalization and death. Mind you, the latter is important not just on an individual but also a societal level, to keep hospitals from imploding. But after the CDC denying the possibility of breakthrough cases and refusing to track them after its May “Mission Accomplished,” we’re now at the point where the press is writing about breakthrough hospitalizations.
So the “get boosted to fight Omicron” is bonkers on two levels. First, “fight” to most people means “fight it spreading” which they haven’t under Delta. And of course it presupposes that the current vaccines would be effective against Omicron. We’ve said as soon as we started writing about Omicron that experts were very much in agreement that it had multiple signs of being able to substantially and likely even entirely evade the current vaccines as well as infection-acquired immunity. There’s already anecdata-level confirmation. The three first cases in Israel were all in vaccinated citizens. 13 members of the Portuguese soccer team Belenenses tested positive for Omicron after one recently returned from South Africa. All the team members were vaccinated.
Mind you, it is not yet clear if Omicron will replace Delta or exist along side it, and how quickly Omicron will get established and spread. So there is some logic in pressing the public to get vaccinated and boosted, since the US looks to be moving into a winter Delta wave, at least in the northern part of the country.
However, the messaging over the weekend continued to be upbeat about how well the current vaccines would work against Omicron, despite the lack of good reasons to think so and evidence of the reverse. I ran this embarrassing clip yesterday. It’s worth featuring it again to further identify Gottlieb with Pfizer-serving hopium:
There’s a reasonable degree of confidence in vaccine circles that [with] at least three doses . . . the patient is going to have fairly good protection against this variant
On top of that, on Monday Biden himself stepped up to yet again try to act as if he’s in front of the Omicron situation, when he’s refusing to take the one action that could really matter, which is to clamp down hard on entry from overseas, which could be done via barring flights or mandatory quarantine (the US did bar entry from eight African countries but as we know Omicron is now in the UK, Netherlands, Portugal, Hong Kong…). But since the US refused to impose serious quarantines anytime earlier in this crisis, we don’t have the apparatus ready now.
This is right at the top of Biden’s remarks, barely over a minute in, after saluting Thanksgiving, South African officials, and the WHO, just a minute in:
But while we have that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omnicron [sic], it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does. It gives us time. It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot. You have to get the booster.
No surprises, sadly. Biden then argues, “First, this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic…” when panic is the appropriate protective response when faced with the possibility of very bad outcomes. You can always recalibrate if warranted when you have better information. But the speech is all vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate, get boosted, vaccinate the kids, vaccinate the world, as well as a statement There is one sentence about masking, and a remark that while not everything is yet known about Omicron, “I believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease.” How nice.
Fauci also said early that morning that lockdowns were off the table, which is a remarkable statement since that’s a state-level, not a Federal decision. A reporter picked up on that and challenged Biden, who said:
Well, because if people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for the lockdown.
Looks like his team has not gotten the memo that Omicron is estimated on a preliminary basis to be 500% as contagious as Delta [UPDATE: although that may be due to mainly and maybe entirely to immune escape rather than raw transmission/reproductive power Delta was more contagious due to replication force]. If that proves to be the case, cloth and surgical masks won’t cut it, even if worn properly, which is also regularly not observed.
Contrast this happy talk with the dose of reality from Moderna’s CEO in an interview with the Financial Times. Keep in mind that corporate-speak, especially when telling customers what they don’t want to hear, has to be measured:
Stéphane Bancel said the high number of Omicron mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of the variant in South Africa suggested that the current crop of vaccines may need to be modified next year.
“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He added: “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”
Bancel poured more cold water on the idea that a new vaccine could be developed and distributed at the former warp speed. Bancel is also concerned about the possibility of needing to make vaccines both for Delta and Omicron, which means production could not be turned fully over to producing an Omicron vaccine. Recall that Pfizer promised a new vaccine if needed in 100 days. Again from the Financial Times:
Bancel said data indicating how existing vaccines performed against the Omicron variant, and whether it caused severe disease, should become available within two weeks.
But he said it would take several months before an Omicron-specific vaccine could be produced at scale, and suggested there might be a case for giving more potent boosters to the elderly or people with compromised immune systems in the meantime.
“[Moderna] and Pfizer cannot get a billion doses next week. The maths doesn’t work. But could we get the billion doses out by the summer? Sure,” said Bancel, who predicted Moderna could make a total of 2bn-3bn doses in 2022.
But he said it would be risky to shift Moderna’s entire production capacity to an Omicron-targeted jab at a time when other variants were still in circulation.
GM pointed out:
Moderna did a lot of shitty things in the pandemic in terms of patents, insider trading, etc.
But scientifically they have been the most honest actors in the vaccine space throughout — much more honest than Pfizer and also than most governments. Pfizer’s CEO was talking about how there will probably be reasonable protection yesterday.
Meanwhile Moderna were the first to warn the vaccines will fail quickly, and with data too, many months before they actually failed.
Back to the Biden front. The President’s vaccine mandate took a second setback on Monday as 10 states who had sued to block the injection requirement for health workers in hospitals via threatening to cut Federal funding won a preliminary injunction. From The Hill:
The ruling by a Missouri-based federal judge applies to health care employees in the 10 states that sued to block the administration’s Nov. 5 rule. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, a Trump appointee, appeared persuaded by the states’ argument that the mandate would lead to staffing shortages.
“The scale falls clearly in favor of healthcare facilities operating with some unvaccinated employees, staff, trainees, students, volunteers and contractors, rather than the swift, irremediable impact of requiring healthcare facilities to choose between two undesirable choices — providing substandard care or providing no healthcare at all,” Schelp wrote in a 32-page order
In September, the New York Times reported 97% to 99% compliance rates at large hospital chains. Yet a newly published CDC report, but admittedly only through September 15, said only 70% of hospital workers were vaccinated.
One reason some hospitals are reporting high vaccine uptake rates is handing out waivers like candy. As a senior member of a hospital wrote recently:
I have now had 4 employees in the office today for medical exemptions. One is 2 months pregnant – the other 3 are folks with COVID antibody positive.
We already have no employees – losing even one will be a cataclysm.
I have now been scheduled with 4 more of these people tomorrow – the email about being fired on DEC 1 went out today.
I went to the chief of staff today and informed him that I will be filling out these forms on every one of these young people.
He said to me – We are following the DUKE model – it has been all over the hospital management world – have them fill out any exemption – religious or medical – and they are automatically accepted – it is how these hospitals are reporting near 100% compliance. “They are so stupidly fucked if they think we can afford to fire a single person”. Everyone in Washington knows this is happening too.
This is apparently going on all over the country.
The vaccine-or-test mandate (which some for their administrative convenience or managerial preferences are upping into a vaccine-only policy) for establishments of 100 employees or over is also falling by the wayside. Admittedly some companies are true believers; one reader said his employer was requiring vaccinations of all workers and contractors, even those who worked at home. But those who were less gung ho or more desperate to keep workers are more and more going into inaction mode after a Federal court issued a temporary stay against the OSHA emergency rule. From Alex Berenson (yes I know he can be controversial on science but this isn’t a science matter):
I have now heard from several people that they have either submitted requests for exemptions and heard nothing back or been given helpful advice on how to be approved. Others have simply ignored their employers’ deadlines and faced no penalties.
With discontent over the mandate high and rising, the job market tight, and a good chance the Supreme Court will strike down the Biden rule before it ever takes effect, the fact employers are slow-walking enforcement shouldn’t surprise anyone. The mess over boosters only makes matters worse. Companies will surely not want to be in the position of having this fight with employees every six months.
Remember the US is an employment-at-will country, so companies could still implement OSHA-type requirements all on their own. And yes, the Berenson report is anecdata, but there are similar stories from other sources, as well as accounts of other employers being strict.
Finally, the Wall Street Journal, in a breaking story, confirms something we’d also warned about in our initial report last Friday, which picked up on Thomas Peakcock’s take in his GitHub discussion of Omicron even before it was named B.1.1.529: that it looked as if it would evade monoclonal antibody treatments. From the Journal:
Preliminary tests indicate the Covid-19 antibody drug cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. loses effectiveness against Omicron, the company said Tuesday, a sign that some products in an important class of therapies might need modifying if the new strain becomes widespread.
Separate testing of another authorized Covid-19 antibody drug cocktail, from Eli Lilly & Co., indicates it also isn’t as effective against Omicron, outside scientists said. Lilly said it is testing the new variant against its antibody treatment and wouldn’t speculate on what the results will be.
So while it would be far more pleasant to have some cheery news on the Covid front, as one curmudgeon I know regularly says, “If you want a happy ending, watch a Disney movie.”