Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 29 April, 2021

 

This is a surprising and special diary entry today.

It is sort of special, because it is the 200th article we’ve published on the topic of the Covid virus.  It is surprising, because, much as we feared the onset of the virus when we first started writing about it back in February 2020, we never imagined that at the end of April 2021, the virus would be raging around the world at levels worse than then, and that the US would have suffered 33 million reported cases and 589,033 deaths.

We also never imagined we’d have written 200 articles by now – we don’t know for sure, but we guess that over the course of those 200 articles, there are probably close to half a million words written (including a longer than usual 5,180 words in this entry).  And we also never expected we’d write an enormous 480 page book on the subject, and, most of all, we never expected Amazon would refuse to let us publish it through their service (but quickly agreed to sell the book when it was published/distributed elsewhere).

Talking about the book, to celebrate our 200th article, I’ve dropped the price of the Kindle version of the book, on Amazon.com only, from the usual $8.99, down to $1.99 between Saturday morning 1 May and the end of Friday night 7 May.  Amazon has the hard-cover book at various random seeming price points that I can’t control, but always below $20.

The book was published in December, so some parts have aged, but the main messaging and advice is as true today as it was then.

Some Thoughts Upon Reaching the 200th Covid Article

I started writing these diary entries first to help myself better understand the virus and what to personally expect.  But then a darker motivation came along – a need to expose and rebut the errors and lies that were astonishingly becoming a major part of the virus narrative.  Like most of us, I’d always believed and accepted without question that doctors knew best, and could be trusted to tailor our treatments to best match our needs and the medical solutions available.  Sure, and again like most of us, I’d happily bemoan the expense of American healthcare, but I also believed, as a fundamental article of faith, that part of the reason it was so expensive was because it was so good – the best in the world, in fact.

Now, a year and some later, it is obvious the US has staged one of the worst possible responses to the virus.  The numbers paint a stark story.  As you can see from the tables below, we are currently the second worst major country for the total number of cases experienced.  Even more tragically, we are the eighth worst major country in terms of deaths suffered.

Both these two statistics come from important-to-understand underlying factors.

Our huge number of cases is due to our inability to come up with a coherent and consistent approach to combatting the spread of the virus.  Every state came up with its own procedures and guidelines – sometimes fragmented even further, county by county, even city by city.  The extraordinary inconsistencies in terms of what was allowed to remain open and what was required to close were obvious to all but the people who created them, while the biggest inconsistency of all – we were closing everything down when we were facing daily new cases of less than 25,000 a day, but opening everything up again when suffering from 100,000 or more new cases a day – has largely gone unnoticed.  Why was 25k cases a day something to react strongly to, but 100k cases a day evidence of victory and having conquered the virus?

The FDA interfered and prevented the rapid development and distribution of at-home low-cost Covid tests, and also made the “official” PCR tests cumbersome and slow to the point of being useless.  Our inability to quickly know if we had contracted the virus or not meant many people were spreading it, unawares – something that readily available and timely testing would have prevented.  The authorities gave us “mixed messages” (that’s the polite way of saying “lied to us”) about such key things as the importance of masks and the relative risks of contaminated surfaces vs the air around us.

The underlying conflict between the media and Democrats on one side, and President Trump on the other side made it very difficult for any of the sometimes sensible things Trump said to be properly promoted to the country, while the stupid things that he said too-often were allowed to obliterate the credibility of his administration as a whole, which further weakened any semblance of national leadership or coordination.  Finding a balance between safety on the one hand, and “life as it normally is” on the other hand became politicized and the issues misstated, driving people on both sides of the argument to take clearly extreme and nonsensical positions.  Sanity and compromise were lost.

The inexplicable but utter failure of any attempts at coordinated tracking and tracing of newly infected people to find who else they might have passed their infection to meant the virus could run virtually unchecked.  While other countries closed their borders and/or instituted quarantines for incoming travelers, our attempts to do so ended up as another political battle rather than medical discussion, with the result being the US, even today, has one of the most uncontrolled open-border policies of any country in the world.

I could continue, but I think you get the point.  It is easy to see alternate scenarios that would have brought about much lower case rates, and therefore, directly lead to much lower death rates too.  We have no excuse for any of our misfortunate, which has been fully self-inflicted.

If Canada has managed to have less than one third our cases per million people, why couldn’t we have done the same?  Are the Canadians three times better, three times cleverer, than us?  The world as a whole has five times lower cases than we do – again, why are we doing so badly?  Why can’t we lead the world from the front, rather than trail behind at the back?

As for our tragically high death rate – more than the total number of Americans killed in all wars in the last century (and still increasing) – what can we say about that?  There was, for example, the initial rush to put ailing patients on ventilators – not because it was the best treatment, but because it was the safest treatment for the doctors and nurses.

But the biggest thing of all, leading to perhaps two-thirds or more of our deaths, was the unfounded refusal by the medical authorities to acknowledge the life-saving properties of first hydroxychloroquine, then subsequently a range of other drugs, the most notable of which being ivermectin.  The government rushed to spend billions of dollars to develop high-cost proprietary new treatments about which little or nothing is known (and which offer very weak benefits), while ignoring the growing number of well-known low-cost out-of-patent drugs that are showing astonishing levels of positive response to the virus.

It is increasingly plain that a combination of inexcusable ignorance that makes anything new/expensive seem good and anything old/affordable seem irrelevant, eagerly aided and abetted by the big pharma companies who see multi-billion dollar opportunities to develop and sell new anti-viral drugs, has meant that we are turning our back, every day, on drugs that have massively proven themselves over tens of independent and refereed studies and tens of thousands of patients, while rushing to embrace unknown new drugs based on the thinnest of studies by their developers alone (hardly independent and impartial).

Is it really the best we can do to tell people, once they get infected, to just stay at home, take it easy, drink plenty of fluids, but to take no medications at all unless they become seriously unwell and require hospitalization?

I hope, when the dust settles in a decade or so, historians will be able to strip away the lies, the posturing, the rhetoric and the artifice, and see the last 15 months as they truly have been, and create a fair record of our tribulations and the reasons why.  Maybe even some of the diary entries I’ve compiled will be helpful in seeing the dozens of mistakes, errors, and missed opportunities.

Back to the “Normal” Diary Contents

We have drugs available now that can help Covid sufferers in the early stages of their infection, reduce the chance of them needing hospitalization, reduce their chance of dying, and reduce their chance of becoming a “long haul” Covid sufferer with permanent lung damage and other organ impairments.  But you’d not know about that from reading the regular press.

Instead, you see articles like this, promising us a new pill being developed which will “Kill Covid within days”.  In other words, the new pill, not yet developed, not yet trialed and tested, will end up doing, at great cost, what ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine can do now.  What a shame there isn’t some company standing to make billions from these two low-cost generic drugs – if there was, then their lobbying and publicity departments would be writing similar articles and placing similar commentaries into the mouths of pliant “experts”.

Here’s another example of big Pharma pushing and publicizing their expensive experimental new drugs. The thing conspicuously missing from both these two articles is any information on what they might cost, or how much the drug companies might profit from them.  An earlier article I cited one or two diary entries earlier estimated that Merck might stand to make $5 billion in the first year of sales of the new anti-viral drug it is developing – oh, that is $5 billion, in the US alone.

Is it any wonder that we’re being given such a lopsided perspective on the drugs available to treat Covid when there are literally tens of billions of dollars at stake?

To be clear, I don’t blame the drug companies at all.  Their priority is to develop new profitable proprietary drugs.  Everyone knows that.  Instead, I blame all the “enablers” – starting with researchers who rely on drug company funding, extending on through lazy journalists (who also don’t really understand complex medical or statistical analysis matters) who are happy to print press releases rather than question then, continuing on through doctors who have become accustomed to getting their information from the drug companies or from the major government regulatory agencies and are unwilling to open their eyes and think for themselves, which leads us ultimately ending with the regulators who should know better but are experiencing a “regulatory capture” phenomenon.

It is the story of cigarettes and tobacco all over again, isn’t it.  Remember all the tobacco ads – doctors promoting their favorite brands of cigarettes, recommending them as a treatment for coughs, scientific studies showing the benefits of smoking, scientific studies showing the safety of smoking and proving no connection between smoking and lung cancer, then the decades long series of delaying tactics as the tobacco companies fought against every bit of regulation and restriction?  The tobacco companies controlled the smoking agenda for many decades.  We should not be astonished that nowadays it is big pharma that is controlling the anti-viral drug agenda, nor should we be surprised that they’re willing to sacrifice ivermectin and all the other low-cost generic treatments in favor of creating unnecessary new proprietary treatments.

I mentioned regulatory capture.  That is a really interesting concept – here’s a definition and explanation.  If that concept seems familiar, it should be.  Isn’t that exactly what we’ve seen with the FAA and their lack of oversight when it came to Boeing and its development of the 737 MAX?  When the DoT allows airlines to merge and has the gall to then tell us that allowing airlines to merge will give us lower prices and more choices?

While the drug companies are rushing to develop their new anti-viral drugs, in some cases being given hundreds of millions of dollars of funding by the US government to do so, and are arranging for major press coverage of their “progress”, other researchers are struggling to get any funding at all, and can get no more publicity than a MedRxiv preprint article.  Such as, for example, this intriguing newly released write-up of assorted herbal supplements that are showing initial promise with anti-viral properties.

I know that “herbal supplement” is an unfortunate phrase that all-too-often is code for “snake oil/nonsense”, but what if this is real?  Shouldn’t the government be funding any and all research into any and all promising new treatments?  And which would you prefer, to be prescribed a low-cost natural “herbal supplement” or to take some strange chemical creation of incompletely proven safety, and at much higher cost?

Every once in a rare while, there is an occasional blip of broader publicity for some of these lower cost existing treatments, such as this 60 Minutes feature.  But these occasional appearances never get picked up and made into mainstream conventional wisdom – they always remain as unusual odd “out of the normal” type things.

We’re now being advised by the CDC that it is safe to not wear a mask outside, as long as you’re not in a large crowded group of people.  That’s maybe a good thing, but it creates a terrible new social ambiguity – when you see an unmasked person, does that mean the person is vaccinated, or does it mean the person is simply refusing to comply with masking requirements?  How can we prove we’ve been vaccinated, short of now having to carry our vaccination form with us wherever we go?

A related item is this, with a somewhat misleading headline that claims “jabs do prevent transmission”.  But if you read the article itself, you’ll see that the actual claim is either a 49% or 38% reduction in vaccinated people passing the virus on to others.  We’re not sure “prevent” is the best word to use in such a case – surely “reduce” would be a much fairer choice.

We find ourselves agreeing with Dr Fauci on this occasion, when he says younger people should get vaccinated, not just for their own protection, but also to protect older people around them.

But our agreement is qualified rather than absolute.  I found myself counseling my 16 year old daughter to delay getting vaccinated for as long as possible.  As older readers will probably agree, our risk analysis changes when we get older.  I’m quite happy to do things like visit Chernobyl, for example – even if there is a heightened risk of getting cancer in a couple of decades as a result, there’s also a palpable risk/probability that in a couple of decades I’ll be dead anyway.  The same for eating foods like burnt-on-the-outside steak that might cause cancer in a similar timeframe.  Plus, at 65, my age is pushing me inexorably up the Covid risk chart – for people like me, getting vaccinated is clearly indicated.

But for Anna, with many more decades of life ahead of her, and no real risk of a nasty Covid infection at her age, does it make the same sense to accept unknown possibly longer term problems with the vaccine?  I keep seeing little-publicized stories of possible problems with the vaccines (not just the headline clot issue – a couple more are mentioned below), and I can’t forget that the reason these mRNA vaccines are so new is that until now, all attempts to create safe mRNA vaccines have failed.

And when I see all the colossal blunders and unforced errors that our authorities have made so far when it comes to responding to the virus, I have totally no confidence that the “emergency use authorization” that these still experimental vaccines have been given is 100% the correct thing to have done.

I’m not an anti-vaxxer when it comes to “normal” vaccines that work in the time-tested manner.  But when I see some of the claims of problems with these new vaccines being so rudely dismissed, more in the form of ad hominem attacks (“this person is obviously a crackpot and fool and doesn’t know what he is talking about”) or using circular illogic (“these vaccines are safe because we say they are safe, and we’d not say they’re safe unless they were”), rather than being countered with facts and rational scientific reasoning, that makes me more concerned rather than less than some of the fringe concerns being expressed might actually have some substance to them.

So, like most parents, I’m happy to accept a slight increase in personal risk (ie that Anna becomes infected and then passes it to me) in exchange for less risk on her part (all the possible unknowns).

If you have teenage children or grandchildren, can I suggest you consider getting vaccinated yourself as a first response to the risk presented by your (grand)children, and then carefully and slowly see how things unfold for the vaccines in general and their use on children in particular before urging them to accept the risk of vaccination for your sake.

There’s no doubt that the new Covid case numbers in the US are delightfully dropping at present, and are now down to the lowest levels since mid October last year.  That’s an outstanding achievement, in large part because of our vaccination program.

But that doesn’t mean the battle has been won.  Some states are struggling to keep their numbers down, with one such example being Oregon, with some of its most populous counties now moving back into the highest risk category.

Current Numbers

Tennessee has now appeared in the US state list of worst states by case rates, while Utah happily goes away.

Bahrain has moved up the minor country list, and highly-vaccinated Israel has now dropped off entirely (it is in 12th place currently).  As mentioned on Sunday, Gibraltar had a data revision, which is why its new total case count now appears less than it was a week ago.

Both the US and UK dropped a place on the death list table.

A reminder that our last table, the new cases in the last week table, is now only considering countries with more than a million people.  So the three very small countries that had been included last week will no longer appear.

Although India continues to hog the headlines, we feel a lot of these headlines are written by journalists who don’t understand that it is normal for the second biggest country in the world to have a high rate of cases.  In terms of cases per million people, India currently ranks as 33rd, reporting 1,795 new cases per million people over that last week.  The worst country remains Uruguay, with 5,696 new cases per million in the same time period – almost exactly four times the rate of India.

Why don’t the newspaper articles also mention the 32 other countries with worse rates than India?

US Best and Worst States

Rank Cases/Million Deaths/Million
A week ago Now A week ago Now
1 Best HI (22,359) HI (22,765) HI (336) HI (341)
2 VT VT VT VT
3 OR OR AK AK
4 ME ME ME ME
5 WA (51,731) WA (53,050) OR (585) OR (591)
47 UT (123,000) TN (123,949) MS (2,410) MS (2,418)
48 IA IA RI RI
49 SD SD MA MA
50 RI (137,845) RI (139,610) NY NY
51 Worst ND (139,602) ND (140,800) NJ (2,849) NJ (2,874)

 

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Andorra (167,285) Andorra (170,590)
2 Montenegro Montenegro
3 San Marino San Marino
4 Gibraltar (127,394) Gibraltar (127,156)
5 Slovenia Slovenia
6 Luxembourg Luxembourg
7 Aruba Bahrain
8 St Barth Aruba
9 Bahrain St Barth
10 Israel (91,090) Estonia (91,659)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Republic (150,380) Czech Republic (151,839)
2 USA (98,233) USA (99,349)
3 Sweden (91,829) Sweden (95,326)
4 Netherlands Netherlands
5 France France
6 Belgium Belgium
7 Portugal Portugal
8 Spain Spain
9 Poland Poland
10 Jordan Jordan
11 Brazil Brazil
12 Italy (64,927) Italy (66,391)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Rep (2,684) Czech Rep (2,724)
2 Belgium Belgium
3 Italy Italy
4 UK (1,868) Brazil (1,877)
5 Brazil (1,795) UK (1,870)
6 Peru (1,758) Peru (1,832)
7 USA (1,757) Poland (1,774)
8 Poland  (1,697) USA  (1,771)
9 Portugal Portugal (1,669)
10 Spain (1,657) Spain (1,669)

 

Top Rates in New Cases Reported in the Last Week (new cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Uruguay  5,567 Uruguay  5,696
2 Turkey  4,872 Cyprus
3 Cyprus  4,815 Bahrain
4 Bahrain  4,156 Argentina
5 Seychelles  4,098 (tiny country) Croatia
6 Andorra  3,891 (tiny country) Turkey
7 Bermuda  3,833 (tiny country) Netherlands
8 Croatia  3,772 Lithuania
9 Argentina  3,681 Sweden
10 France  3,376 France
11 Netherlands  3,362 Costa Rica
12 Sweden  3,145 Mongolia  2,388

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

I mentioned above some new reports of vaccine side effects.  One of the stranger ones is a claim that the vaccine is inducing tinnitus in some people.  It is also being reported elsewhere, such as in Britain too.

This is particularly interesting, because Covid itself has also been linked with causing tinnitus.  So it seems far from impossible that the “safe imitations” of the Covid virus in the vaccines might be doing the same thing.  Let’s hope this is the only Covid symptom that the vaccines induce.

Here’s a study that makes you wonder “what is the point”.  It looks at the various strains of the virus that were being detected back in March/April last year, and attempts to draw some conclusions from its findings.  But does anyone care about a year and more ago – aren’t we more concerned by the reality of present new versions of the virus, rather than what happened in the past?

Yet another study of sorts that points to strong benefits from ivermectin use.  Sometimes I wonder, what is the point of this – if the 52 trials so far aren’t persuasive, perhaps nothing will ever be persuasive.

One of the puzzles of Covid has been the significant number of people who continue to suffer a lack of good health after being “cured” of Covid.  Doctors have been very slow even to acknowledge this is a real thing, but now that it has become impossible to ignore, they’re coming up with some scary discoveries.

This article suggests that the virus alters our genes, hence permanently changing some parts of our lungs (and possibly other organs too).  That would certainly explain much of the “long haul” symptoms and suffering.

We occasionally read about passengers being banned from airlines due to their refusal to wear a mask on the flight.  That’s certainly an impactful consequence as a result of passengers being so unthinkably stupid as to refuse to comply with airline requirements.  But it would be even more impactful if you regularly needed to fly from your home town to where your job is located, and there is only one airline that operates the route.

So how to understand the idiocy of the Alaska state senator who has now been banned from Alaska Airlines due to her repeated refusals to wear a mask on flights?

Her response is not to apologize abjectly and promise never to do it again.  Instead, she is demanding that the “monopoly” on air services within Alaska be reviewed.

There’s no secret about the “monopoly” in Alaska – there’s barely enough traffic for one airline, and absolutely not enough for two.

The linked article says that her former simple short nonstop flight now is a 20 hour journey including crossing in and out of Canada and taking a ferry, as well as 14 hours of driving.  Each way.

Serves her right.

Vaccine News

Another vaccine side effect – Israel is examining the possibility that heart inflammation is occurring in some people after taking the Pfizer vaccine.

We have to ask – why aren’t the CDC and FDA now rushing to pause the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine?  We’re not saying the Pfizer vaccine is bad, but we most definitely are saying there seems to be a double standard at play – the Pfizer vaccine causes more clots than the J&J vaccine, might cause tinnitus, might cause heart inflammation, and in some cases provokes a severe allergic reaction that could kill the person within minutes.  But they don’t get any pause, unlike the J&J vaccine.

Another form of double standard can be seen in Argentina compared to Brazil.  Brazil has refused to allow the Russian Sputnik V vaccine into the country, Argentina is welcoming it in with open arms, and so too is Mexico.

We do acknowledge a lack of transparency in terms of the effectiveness of the Sputnik V vaccine.  We like its underlying “design concept”, but we want to see clear and certain results, and those remain unreleased and/or unreliable.

It is curious to see two countries, so close to each other, but with such different opinions of the vaccine.

Other vaccines continue to appear, and some are coming from unexpected places, like for example, here’s a vaccine that has been developed in Kazakhstan.  What would Borat say about that!  It actually seems like it could be a good vaccine, but just like the Russian vaccine, we’d like to know a lot more about it before making a recommendation.

In any event, it is currently being made in such small quantities that it is unlikely to be available outside of Kazakhstan any time soon.

A small but significant number of people are not getting the necessary second shot of their vaccines.  The first shot doesn’t provide full protection, and the protection it does provide seems to fade relatively quickly.

This makes us wonder about the practicality of Pfizer/BioNTech’s new claim that a third shot will be needed, possibly within nine months of the first two shots.  What will be the uptake rate of the third shot?

It also raises an interesting question.  At what point does the declining effectiveness of a vaccine become too low, and justify/require getting a booster shot?  Do we really need a third shot at 9 months, or could we wait ten months?  How about a full year?  And so on?  Of course, Pfizer/BioNTech would be keen to see a third shot as quickly as possible, followed again by a fourth shot, and more.  But do we really need them as frequently as Pfizer/BioNTech say?

Merck tries to obscure how it is turning its back on ivermectin – a drug it already offers – while pressing on to develop a high-profit alternative in the form of a new drug, molnupiravir.  It is trying to wrap itself up in a mantle of virtue by climbing on the India bandwagon and claims to be trying to accelerate access for the drug in India.  How public-spirited of Merck….

India might be lousy at managing its Covid outbreak, but it sure is great at getting plenty of sympathetic PR on the world stage.

Timings And Numbers

It is interesting to see how the US daily rate of vaccines given has been dropping for over two weeks.  This is not due to a shortage of vaccines, but a shortage of people wanting them.  Currently, 29% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, and another 13% have had their first dose and are waiting to have their second.  Clearly we are starting to get appreciable benefits from this, but equally clearly, we’ve still got a long way to go before Covid and all the needed precautions and worries becomes a thing of the past.

We also continue to be in the novel situation whereby Canada’s new case rate is higher than ours.  Canada’s rate is higher than the world average, higher than us, higher than the UK and higher than Europe.  That is very surprising and at odds with their earlier excellent low numbers.

This article wonders, in part, if the problem is Canada’s not very effective quarantining of international visitors.

Closings and Openings

Continuing to focus on Canada for a minute, perhaps now that their rate of new virus cases is higher than our rate, they could agree to open the land border between our two countries again.  Clearly, it is safer for an American to visit somewhere in Canada at present than it is for a Canadian to move from one part of the country to another.

Talking about borders, the Isle of Man is reopening its border, but with a crazy set of rules and requirements.  They are imposing a quarantine of anyone arriving – that is perhaps not crazy, but the quarantine is for only seven days, followed by three days of unenforced limited contact out of quarantine.

There’s one clear lesson from countries who impose quarantines, and that is that an appreciable number of cases occur after seven days.  Seven days is too short.  Requiring people to self-police and self-control for three more days is both still not long enough (two weeks is the usual standard and even that is on the short side of adequate) and also sure to not be strictly observed by all such people.  Murphy’s Law works with double strength in such cases.

Excellent news came out this week for the cruise lines and the people who love to cruise.  The CDC has issued guidelines allowing the cruiselines to restart cruises from mid-July.

Curiously, the guidelines require 95% of passengers to be vaccinated and 98% of crew.  Why not 100% in both cases?

A bellwether event that signals the current thinking in the business/convention industry was the announcement this week that the annual enormous extravaganza each early January that is the Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas, will proceed next year.  This year it held a “virtual” show that was a disappointment to everyone who “participated”, and I’m sure many people will be keen to turn up in person next year – even if only to see the strange new tunnel transport service under the convention center building that was developed by Elon Musk’s “Boring Company”.

 Who Should Pay

The EU is now suing AstraZeneca over the delays in delivering vaccine supplies.  That’s an interesting concept – if there is to be a liability for delays, can private citizens in turn sue their governments for government-caused delays?  Can Europeans sue their EU government for its ineptness in contracting for adequate supplies of vaccine in the first place?

The EU should be careful.  What goes around, comes around, and it might end up with a very pyrrhic victory.

Talking about lawsuits, Russia seems to have essentially “stolen” the formula for making remdesivir last year, or so the owner of the remdesivir patent, Gilead, is claiming in a suit it is bringing against Russia, to be heard in Russia’s own Supreme Court.  I’m not very sanguine about Gilead’s chances in that venue, but quite likely, this is merely a necessary first step prior to then appealing to one of the various European/International Courts.

Shortages

We’ve managed to get through the toilet paper shortage and the hand sanitizer shortage, even the ventilator shortage.

But now we are being warned of an even worse looming shortage – a gas shortage.  And that on top of the surging price of gasoline – I paid $3.999 per gallon for some super grade petrol this week in the Seattle area.

Is it time to get an electric car?

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

 

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