It is both bizarre and telling to see evidence of increased intensity in enforcing the Panglossian “Shut up and get your vax, and you will be safe in the face of our ‘let ‘er rip’ policies,” even as more evidence comes in raising doubts about their wisdom and cost.
The wee problem is that emerging information continues to reinforce the idea that the West lacks choices it likes with respect to Covid. That is particularly hard to accept in our insistently optimistic, tech and expert obsessed culture, which has been reinforced by rule by MBA. A diseased managerialism has taken hold (our Clive reports that it’s even more pronounced in the UK) where if someone dares tell the higher-ups that there’s no way what they want can happen, they will suffer career harm for not being clever enough. he person who promised what can’t be delivered, and is good at finding scapegoats and excuses, will rise.
So in addition to demonizing just about everyone who isn’t enthusiastically on board with the “Go son, and get your vaccine, and resume your pre-Covid life” program (the “scapegoating” part), one of the common “excuse” reflexes is to depict the end of Covid as just around the corner. Unfortunately, so many people are engaged in this sort of behavior that it can’t be pinned on a single source, as the Friedman unit was.1
But it appears that the path the West has chosen, of focusing on vaccines and almost completely abandoning other ways to reduce contagion (everything from good masks to CO2 monitors at stores showing that they are not overcrowded relative to their ventilation level, and *gah* realistic quarantines, particularly at the border), we’re now seeing vaccines falling well short of their promise as more and more evidence accumulates of what scientist GM warned about from early on: that getting Covid is likely to do damage, even in supposedly mild cases. And because most people are going to get Covid multiple times, even assuming >90% effective vaccines and perfect compliance with boosters, there’s reason to worry that damage will compound.
Yes, we might get lucky and have Covid mutate into something really tame, but betting on luck is not a great way to manage public health.
With that disheartening pre-existing set of concerns, consider:
Vaccines Are Becoming an Inadequate Answer to Covid (Even Charitably Assuming Vaccines Alone Were Ever a Good Idea)
The disconnect between perceived political necessities (no lockdowns evah!) and the reality of falling vaccine efficacy is getting harder to finesse. But this does explain the screechy attacks on China and now Japan for having more effective Covid containment policies. The fact that a zero-credibility-in-the-Asian-tiger-countries institution presumes to lecture China about its internal affairs is both clueless and sure to win Chineses officials not only points at home but in wider Asia. What actual evidence is there that China’s lockdowns have harmed production more than the very high level of Covid cases in the US and resulting staff shortages? And how about the evidence that the refusal of workers to come back despite higher pay rates in many lines of work is due not just to early retirements (as in regarding job sites as representing too much Covid risk) but also Covid induced disability preventing many from returning?
But all of the criticism of China can’t hide outcomes like this:
— Gabriel Hébert-Mild™ ⓥ (@Gab_H_R) January 30, 2022
Lambert flagged a similarly incoherent position yesterday in Links:
Japan’s immigration experiment under cover of Covid FT. The deck: “The country has introduced restrictions on foreigners that risk blunting its soft power.” From the body: “Japan’s self-isolation and other measures to protect its citizenry sit only at the fiercer end of a spectrum of national strategies. Its comparatively low Covid mortality rates in a country with almost 30 per cent of the population over 65, are a solid rhetorical shield.” Low Covid mortality rates are “a solid rhetorical shield”? They really do want to kill us all, don’t they?
Yours truly adds:
How better to look like a country worth emulating than to manage Covid well?
Japan isn’t exactly well liked in the region, but the flip side is aside from a minority of hard core right wingers, it does not aspire to having regional influence. And it’s quite happy being isolated, thank you very much.
It is a little too obvious why the top officials are promoting the Big Lie that Asian countries who have kept Covid pretty well at bay should open up and let more people have the freedom to get sick and die:
1. More aggressive efforts to paper over not-great vaccine efficacy. The results of the booster shots in Israel were showing declining protection after four months. Consider this headline from STAT last week, which ought to know better: Early data indicate vaccines still protect against Omicron’s sister variant, BA.2. As GM commented:
“This week, the U.K. agency estimated that, for people at least two weeks out from their booster shot, vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease was 63% against BA.1, versus 70% for BA.2. While that might suggest that BA.2 is less of a threat to vaccine protection than its Omicron sister, the full estimate ranges overlapped.”
That makes it sound as if:
1. VE reaches a constant value after 2 weeks, never to decline. In reality it goes down to below 50% in mere weeks
2. 60-70% against symptoms (never mind infection) is somehow good
Keep in mind that 50% effectiveness is the minimum level for a vaccine to be approved. Having looked at the recent neutralization studies, GM estimates that boosters protect again Omicron for on the order of ten weeks.
2. Boost, boost, boost is running up against real world and health issues. How much patience would members fo the public have for being boosted every three months, particularly since some have serious enough short-term side effects that they can’t go to work for a day or two? Despite being vaccine-fixated, the US still does not mandate days off for getting shots and possible required downtime.
The European Medicines Agency joined with the WHO earlier this month joined with the WHO in warning that frequent boosters could create health risks of their own. From Fortune:
On Tuesday, EMA vaccine strategy chief Marco Cavaleri said there was still no data supporting the need for a fourth COVID vaccine dose. And even if multiple boosters do prove to be necessary, they would need to be spaced out in the style of annual flu jabs, rather than delivered every several months. He also warned that overly frequent booster doses could potentially lead to “problems with immune response.”
“While use of additional boosters can be part of contingency plans, repeated vaccinations within short intervals would not represent a sustainable long-term strategy,” Cavaleri said at a media briefing. He also said boosters “can be done once, or maybe twice, but it’s not something that we can think should be repeated constantly.”
3. Getting Omicron may not confer much immunity either. Weird cheery stories about families feeling relieved about getting Omicron (see Wall Street Journal and NBC) would not be entirely crazy if Omicron were mild and those mild cases conferred decent immunity. Or to put it more bluntly, in terms of the interests of the public health authorities: “No need to be mad at us for the vaccines not helping much/at all against Omicron! Getting it didn’t really hurt you and now you have immunity.”
Of course, no one is coming out and saying that, but GM has been finding evidence in papers often pursuing other arguments. For instance, from a new MedRxIv preprint, Omicron infection of vaccinated individuals enhances neutralizing immunity against the Delta variant:
They did not focus on Omicron neutralizaiton by Omicron sera in that paper, but on Delta neutralization by Omicron sera (that study was used as a “proof” of how Omicron will end the pandemic because it will kill Delta). So you have to compare across panels and look at the absolute numbers. And they are weak — titers for Omicron in the unvaccinated Omicron-convalescent were 100-150 (with the limit of detection of 40 [40 is a zero on this scale]) compared to 5-6 times that in the triple vaxxed. And it is not as if the triple vaxxed were highly protected against getting sick, only against really serious outcomes.
And from another fresh but not well written preprint Neutralizing immunity in vaccine breakthrough infections from the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron and Delta variants (the story is in the charts, particularly Figure 2), a big finding per GM is:
Based on this data that the Omicron convalescent show much weaker titers against Omicron than the Delta/WT convalescent against Delta/WT.
So all these people who got infected now will be susceptible to reinfection even sooner than was true for previous variants…
Joburg SA. My wife looked after two of her grandchildren yesterday. They had been sick on Thursday. I suggested she might want to wear a N95 while with them. Today they have fevers & are sick. Going to doc. Preschool caregiver said lots of children getting Omicron. Oh rats.
— Clive Granville (@CliveWGranville) January 31, 2022
Evidence Mounts That Getting Covid Is Harmful
The vaccines underperforming would not be a concern if it were actually true that all you have to worry about with Covid is its not-horrific death rate. But we’ve warned that is false, even just allowing for long Covid. And there’s more knock-on Covid effects to worry about.
An excellent one-stop wake-up call is an interview with Dr. Anthony Leonardi at WSWS. Leonardi, a top immunologist who studied at Johns Hopkins and a T cell expert, has had the misfortune to be one of Covid’s Cassandras. He’s a zero-Covid advocate and hence only zero-Covid allies like WSWS seem keen about amplifying his findings. He’s stepped even further outside the Anglosphere orthodoxy by warning against having children go to schools that are unsafe (by which I assume he means with poor/no masking and poor ventilation):
There’s publication that lists a lowered productive lifespan in kids, and it’s more of an attenuation in kids than adults. So, it’s a bad idea. We’re setting kids up to have chronic illness.
Yet more confirmation of the value of masking in schools:
NEW: Virus spread was 62% higher in school districts without mask ruleshttps://t.co/EObnS73xvV via @https://twitter.com/ABC12WJRT
— Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) January 24, 2022
This is an excellent interview and not at all dumbed down (WSWS had to insert what amounted to technical notes. Please read it in full. A few of many important observations:
I think Long COVID is going to be as diverse a problem as cancer. It’s hard to define, because, like cancers, they present as a very different spectrum of diseases depending on where they are and where they came from. Long COVID, I would say, for an easy definition, is a persistent sequela of SARS-COV-2 infection….
And not only that, but the immune system also goes haywire.
Now, the immune system is responsible for going into all the tissues in the body, except for a few immune-privileged sites. But SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t respect the immune-privileged site whatsoever. It brings T-cells into the brain. So, we can see the impact of the infection across every physiological system. Because if it distorts the immune system and the immune system is responsible for patrolling the body everywhere, then there are going to be problems everywhere.
If that isn’t cheery enough, Leonardi next turns to a study (in preprint) that infected rhesus macaques with Covid. All showed Lewy bodies in their brains. If you know anything about Lewy-body dementia (I have two friends who each had a parent who died of it), it’s a really bad way to go. No treatments, and if anything more of a roller-coaster for the patient and loved ones than Alzheimer’s. The swings in cognitive and physical function are often rapid and large. And Leonardi does not mince words:
And the problem with this is the disease process is irreversible. It begets an irreversible neurodegenerative process…
They didn’t do follow-up of them [the monkeys, they couldn’t having killed them to look at their brains], but one could imagine that once you kick off this process, you go down a course of neurological degeneration. And that’s what the human experiences, at least, they know that Lewy bodies will end up proceeding Lewy body dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Leonari is pro-vaccine but still aware of their limitations. He argues that they offer protection to T-cells. But he also notes:
This study showed that if you had a clinical reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 that you are at the same risk of developing Long COVID as someone unvaccinated. Meaning that with breakthrough infection, the virus can re-establish itself in the body.
And for another dose of sobering information about possible Covid costs
The hidden lung damage of people who were never hospitalised by Covid. Prof Fergus Gleeson + Dan Scoble (living with long Covid) spoke to @RebeccaJonesBBC
— Rob Lawrence (@RobLawrence) January 29, 2022
Yes, it isn’t pretty seeing that there are no good answers besides hunkering down and being super careful. Because I worked in the same large-ish room as a 93 year old with COPD, I wore a mask around her and insisted all the aides do the same (and not eat with her, which she hated, she did not like eating alone). But having a visibly fragile near you is a constant reminder of the risks. In Japan, the government encouraged families to wear masks at home during Covid waves. Hardly any Americans will go that far, or use next best measures like opening windows and doors whenever tolerable and installing a Corsi-Rosenthal box in every room that isn’t used only by one person.
And our lack of collective self discipline is and will continue to kill us. Go back and look at the life expectancy chart above if you doubt me.
1 For those too young to have been there, from Wiktionary:
(informal, humorous, neologism) A period of six months. From Thomas Friedman’s repeated use of the phrase “the next six months” as the time period when the outcome of the Iraq war will be resolved.