Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 10 December, 2020

 

It has been a record breaking few days, with the US registering higher-than-ever-before numbers of deaths.  On several days, we exceeded 2,880 deaths a day – a number which has a certain significance.  That is the daily number that results from deaths occurring at a rate of two every minute.  We broke through the 16 million total case number today, and on Friday morning will exceed 300,000 deaths.

A week ago, we were the seventh most afflicted country in the world, as measured by death rate.  Today we have moved up to sixth place, and fifth place is looking increasingly possible in another week or two.

It is true that tomorrow the Pfizer vaccine will almost certainly be given an “emergency use approval” allowing it to be administered to specific groups of at-risk people in the US, with the defined group of “at-risk people” likely to be “everyone 16 and over”!  But is that something to be excited and happy about, or not?

I’m no anti-vaxxer.  Not at all.  I decry the fear-mongering, ignorance, and mathematical/statistical idiocy that surrounds anti-vaxxers and their ridiculous claims.  But neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna “vaccines” are vaccines as we know such things to be.  The comfort we’ve derived from 200 years of progressively better understood vaccine development, and the underlying concept of using an inactivated or weaker strain of a virus as a way of safely teaching our bodies what to do if it encounters the real virus has in this case been replaced by new methodologies and processes and ways to create some type of future defense capability within our bodies.

The “messenger RNA” concept espoused by these two vaccines has been experimented with for about twenty years now, and prior to these two vaccines, has never been able to be managed and successfully used in a practical “vaccine”.  Have the researchers happily got it right this time, or have the compressed trials just not been long enough to allow for longer-term side-effects of these drugs to appear?  Things like auto-immune disease, infertility and/or cancer take time to become noted, and while there’s no reason to anticipate any of these three (or assorted other) things to occur, there’s no guarantee at present they might not, either.  We just don’t know, and in a case where we don’t know, making sweeping claims of safety and rushing to mass-vaccinate tens, even hundreds of millions of people seems ill-advised rather than justified.

It astonishes me that the same people who argue vehemently against using known-to-be-safe drugs such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as treatments and preventative measures then pivot 180° and argue enthusiastically in support of these vaccines about which we know so little.

Even looking at the positive side of the vaccines – their claims of around 95% effectiveness – are dubious, due to the major uncertainty of these numbers because of the small sample sizes.  If you’re in, for example, an elderly age group, you might find the vaccine is claiming “100% effectiveness” based on one person in the control group in your age range becoming infected, and none in the trial group.  But if tomorrow, one person in the trial group then becomes infected, you’ve gone from 100% effective to “makes no difference”, all in a single event.

That’s a bit like the claims that used to be made about the Concorde – it was “the safest plane to ever fly” for several decades, but then after one single accident, it suddenly became one of the most dangerous – the huge switch in status being because there were so extremely few Concordes and flying so seldom that a single crash caused a major percentage shift in safety.

We could be vaccinating hundreds of millions of people around the world, only to then discover some unexpected but really nasty side-effect.  The chances of this are probably very low, but offset against that are the hundreds of millions of people potentially at risk.

Plus we don’t yet have any idea how long they remain effective for, and there is the astonishing statement by Pfizer’s chairman that they don’t yet know if a vaccinated person might still get a weak dose of the virus or not, and if they did become infected, whether they’d be infectious and capable of passing it on to other people.  Isn’t that sort of a big deal?

Other vague mysteries are also in the background – for example, with the AstraZeneca vaccine, it seems our bodies start to build up a resistance to the vaccine itself, making each subsequent dose less effective.

So I’m going to hold back from being vaccinated as long as I can, waiting to see what happens; meantime, more and more vaccines are being developed and in some cases, being actively distributed and used.  It is entirely possible that the very first vaccine to become available will not prove to be the very best vaccine.

If you’re in a low-risk group (not too old and no comorbidities) and are living a low-risk lifestyle (not a lot of socializing, you don’t work indoors, etc), you might want to be slow rather than fast to be vaccinated too.

But – and here’s an important disclaimer.  Don’t let me keep you away from the vaccine if you feel you’re at risk.  It seems more likely than not that the vaccine will provide good protection for most people in most cases; and sometimes a bird in the hand (protection against the real threat of the virus) is better than two in the bush (concerns about unknown and potentially non-existent side-effects or complications).  There’s lots more about the vaccine and concerns/unknowns in the special Supporter only content below.

Current Numbers

In the US state rankings, we had ND edge out LA for 47th place in the death list.  All other ranks stayed the same.

In the minor country list, Slovenia’s brief appearance on Sunday has now been edged out by Georgia.  In the major country list, Europe continues to edge out South America, with the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Italy all moving up.

On the death list, the US is now at, I think, its highest place ever, and Brazil has been replaced by the Czech Republic.

 

US Best and Worst States

Rank Cases/Million Deaths/Million
A week ago Now A week ago Now
1 Best VT (7,439) VT (8,675) VT (120) VT (143)
2 ME ME ME ME
3 HI HI HI HI
4 NH NH AK AK
5 OR (18,800) OR (21,300) OR (231) OR (266)
47 WI WI (73,182) LA ND (1,447)
48 NE NE CT CT
49 IA IA MA MA
50 SD SD NY NY
51 Worst ND (106,428) ND (113,802) NJ (1,953) NJ (1,998)

 

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Andorra (89,294) Andorra (92,990)
2 Montenegro Montenegro
3 Luxembourg Luxembourg
4 French Polynesia French Polynesia
5 Bahrain San Marino
6 San Marino Bahrain
7 Qatar Qatar
8 Armenia Armenia
9 Aruba Aruba
10 Panama (39,421) Georgia (44,898)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Republic (50,167) Czech Republic (52,560)
2 Belgium Belgium
3 USA (43,803) USA (48,331)
4 Spain Spain
5 France France
6 Argentina Netherlands
7 Netherlands Portugal
8 Brazil Argentina
9 Portugal Brazil
10 Peru Sweden
11 Chile Italy (29,578)
12 Italy (27,553) Chile (29,519)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Belgium (1,456) Belgium (1,516)
2 Peru Peru
3 Spain Italy
4 Italy Spain
5 UK UK
6 Argentina USA (903)
7 USA (852) Argentina
8 Mexico France
9 France Mexico
10 Brazil (822) Czech Republic (861)

 

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

I was worrying about the testing and validation of the western vaccines prior to them being offered to us, but we should all count our blessings.  In Russia, their vaccine was approved before it had conducted a Phase Three trial at all (which makes one wonder how they were able to quote effectiveness percentages), and now is being mass-deployed.

The scary thing is that some Russian employers are demanding their staff take the vaccine, with the threat of being fired if they don’t.  Thank goodness that would never happen here, right?

Or, perhaps, wrong.

This article helpfully volunteers the information that US employers can mandate their employees must take the vaccine, and can fire people who refuse to comply.

I’ve mentioned before about airlines looking to make a vaccine a compulsory pre-requisite before they’ll let you fly internationally with them.  Now cruise lines are very cautiously exploring the same concept.  The key difference is that we are forced to board a plane to fly internationally, but no-one is forcing any of us to go on a leisure cruise, so the cruise lines are anxiously wondering how insistent they can be before they start to lose passengers.

So the cruise lines are “floating trial balloons” like this story, to see how people react.  Within the story is a nonsense claim that they are waiting for advice from their lawyers about whether they can require such a thing or not.  That is almost certainly not the case at all – they are watching and waiting to see how their potential cruise passengers will react to the vaccine as a whole, and the thought of mandatory vaccination prior to a cruise in particular.

For sure, the cruise lines don’t want their current attempts at restarting cruising to keep collapsing with stories/outcomes like this.  (It has subsequently been suggested that the “infected” passenger may not have been infected, but the damage has already been done to the cruise and every other passenger on the voyage.)

And here’s a surprising thing.  Notwithstanding all the claims of having thoroughly tested and proven that the Pfizer vaccine was safe, Britain had barely got half way into its first day of general vaccinating before it discovered a severe adverse effect, and is now warning people with strong allergies to not be vaccinated, or at least to make sure they’ve an Epi-pen at hand shortly thereafter!

What other surprises are waiting for us?

Here’s an article designed to make us feel happy and comfortable with the thought of being vaccinated, because, the article tells us

On Wednesday the researchers did what no other vaccine developers had yet done: they published the full data on their trials in the Lancet medical journal.

The article goes on to quote gloating self-congratulatory commentary by company officials to a point where one’s vomit reflex becomes almost uncontrollable.  Because there’s one rather fundamental problem.

“Full data” was not published.  Full data would include, well, everything, wouldn’t it.  Profiles of all 11,636 test subjects, their ages, demographic data, comorbidities, and medical histories, and then, person by person, details of the vaccinations or placebos they were given, and what happened to them subsequently.  That would enable any and every researcher to run their own analysis on the full data, and confirm or contradict the conclusions being presented to us.

Instead, we’re given brief summary tables of aggregate results.  To call that full data is an insulting inaccuracy.

I mentioned in the public part that the Chairman of Pfizer is admitting there are important aspects of his vaccine that are not yet known.  Here’s another interesting thing – new research is evaluating whether a “cocktail” of vaccines might create a better overall level of protection than just one.

The problem is, it is unclear if it is possible, after being given a double full strength dose of one of the two mRNA vaccines, it is then possible to “re-vaccinate” with a new cocktail of vaccines.   This is another case where we’re doing research after rather than before the vaccine approval is received.

Lewis Carroll nicely expressed this concept in Alice in Wonderland.  Sentence first, trial second.  It is as ridiculous in real life as it was in his book.

Timings And Numbers

Sunday saw seven states with shrinking rates of new cases being reported every day, with California the worst state in the nation.

On Monday that grew to 10 states, and on Tuesday, 11 states had shrinking cases (both days saw California performing the worst).  Then Wednesday and Thursday dropped to only 8 states with dropping rates of new cases, and now Arizona on both days was the worst performer.  California today is at third place.

I’d wondered on Sunday if we’d see any result of Thanksgiving activities.  The record levels of new cases this week seems to suggest we are, and this article underscores that.

Closings and Openings

Hotel restaurants have come up with a clever idea – offer private dining to patrons, in empty hotel rooms.  That gives diners a safer seeming approach to enjoying a decent meal, and if they then decide to keep the room overnight, the hotel benefits further, too.

A point of concern is that hotels and all other buildings with central air systems worry us.  Where is the air that is being pumped into the room coming from?  Seldom or never from outside; instead, it is usually a large percentage of recycled air from somewhere else in the hotel, and may or may not have gone through effective filtering before it reaches you.

Who Should Pay

Covid testing is now available with costs as little as $10.  American Airlines hopes you don’t know that – it is selling an “at-home” Covid test for $129 (although these are more expensive tests and the test swabs have to be couriered to a central facility).

Nonetheless, it is clear that someone is making good money from selling these kits, and considering that AA is one of the major beneficiaries of making it easy for people to be tested, we’d think it a bit unfair if they were the people pocketing the profit.

Logic?  What Logic?

Los Angeles says “Stay at home, except when shopping at the local mall“.  That’s crazy, even by Californian standards.

Even crazier though are the people who protest against being required to wear a mask.  I’m an individualistic freedom-lover too, but I’m the first to put a mask on any time I’m close to other people.  It isn’t a case of freedom, it is a case of common sense.

But craziest of all are the people who gleefully plan high-risk travel activities at present.

Virus?  What Virus?

Still talking crazy, apparently not all doctors are a credit to their profession.  Yet a vocal minority of people still insist I shouldn’t comment on the virus because I’m not a doctor.

Well, the choice is yours – who’d you rather listen to – me behind a mask, or the now ex-doctor who refuses to wear one?

Medical

One of the risks we’re least worried about is the risk of passing virus particles in semen.  Common sense would suggest that if one is infected or thinks one is infected, the last thing to do would be to, ahem, get much closer than 6 ft from someone else!  And if you were doing activities that caused a bit of heavy breathing, that’s probably the major risk element present.

But talking about gender issues, here’s some really bad news for my fellow men.

Other

I was disappointed to see that Time made a very predictable choice for “Man of the Year”, or as it is now called, “Person of the Year”, and chose both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris jointly for that honor.  I say that not out of disrespect for them, but because I felt by clear the best choice was another “two person ticket” – Dr Fauci and front-line healthcare workers in general.

Time has another three – maybe even another seven – years to give the nod to Biden/Harris, but hopefully by this time next year, Dr Fauci will be receding into our memories again, and healthcare workers will be back to being the shadowy “behind the scenes/taken for granted” people, even though they perform essential and seldom appreciated work, in good times just as much as in bad.

A little bit of rhetoric, perhaps?  A sneeze is a “mini atomic bomb”?  This claim is made because virus particles from a sneeze can travel more than six feet.  Uh, no, not really.  Mini atomic bombs are somewhat more harmful and over greater distances than that (although very much less harmful than most people imagine – this is a fascinating interactive calculator).

Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again on Sunday.

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