Covid-19 Diary : Thursday 10 June, 2021

Word this week emerged of a US report concluding that the Covid virus may have leaked from the Wuhan lab.  But there’s an interesting twist to what otherwise seems like just one more in a growing chorus of stories all pointing credibly at the Wuhan labs as the source of the virus.

The twist?  The report dates to May – but not May this year.  May last year.  Why was it not publicized at the time?  Instead, the media, quite likely knowing about this report, decided to ignore it because it didn’t fit their predisposition to disagree with everything Trump said, and not only did they not publicize the report, they censored and de-platformed people who tried to raise credible concerns that the virus was artificially made and sourced from the Chinese Wuhan virus research facility.

The UK continues to tie itself in knots about the subject of vaccination “passports” (but, of course, so too do we in the US).  This article quotes scientists – probably the same scientists who worry about “vaccine hesitancy” and the reluctance of people to be vaccinated against Covid – now worrying that giving vaccinated people preferential treatment would cause social division.

They can’t have it both ways.  If they want to encourage people to be vaccinated, one of the best ways to do so is to give vaccinated people the privileges and benefits that naturally and fairly flow from having been vaccinated.

This article raises concerns about the Indian aka Delta virus variant becoming more common in the US.  It is the variant that is causing the UK to suffer new growth in cases, and there’s of course a concern the same thing might be about to happen here too.

The article goes on to wonder if we’ll make Joe Biden’s “70% of people fully vaccinated by 4 July” target.  There is no need to wonder, the outcome is very obvious.

On 9 June, the US had 42.2% of the population fully vaccinated, meaning we need to vaccinate 27.8% more people in 24 days.  Currently we are vaccinating about 0.33% of the population each day.  Unless we immediately start vaccinating people at a rate four times higher – ie 1.2%, we’re going to miss that target; and indeed, the target is probably already impossible because it takes 21 or 28 days to fully vaccinate a person with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

That’s not to say we’ve not done a good job to date, but the peak vaccinating rate of 1.01% on one day only, 13 April, was rapidly abandoned as rates then started going back downhill again.  With the worry of the Indian variant, and mixed messages about what is happening to the numbers of new cases being reported each day, there’s every reason to want to speed up our vaccinating program.

If you’ve not been vaccinated, and are hesitating to do so, I’d suggest you do the same as me, and choose the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  With only one jab instead of two, there are fewer side effects, and it doesn’t use the new mRNA process to create immunity.  While its quoted effectiveness is lower than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it is measuring a different thing, so you can’t compare the three vaccines (yes, it is woefully unacceptable that vaccine manufacturers can pick and choose the number they choose to highlight to support their vaccine approval requests, isn’t it).

Here’s an interesting thing that surely slipped past my radar, although back in 2016, few of us were probably at all interested in arcane legislation to do with medical matters.  Did you know that the grandly named “21st Century Cures Act” allows the government to bypass the otherwise present requirement for patient informed consent prior to being dosed with experimental medicines and vaccines?

That sure does not seem like a good change.  Details here.

It is interesting how social pressures have changed – well, at least here in the Seattle area – with mask wearing.  Initially, I felt awkward wearing a mask, and feared other people would see it as a social signal indicating either that I was a hypochondriac or that I was infected with some serious disease.  That changed quickly, and soon enough I felt relaxed and comfortable wearing a mask, and awkward/embarrassed if I didn’t have a mask with me in public, and very resentful of people who were not wearing masks, or not wearing their masks correctly.

But now, with mask wearing disappearing as quickly as it appeared, what to do and how to feel?  I’ve enjoyed, the last 15 months, not suffering a single cough/cold/sore throat, nor having to even think about ‘flu either.  When they lift the final requirements to wear masks, for example, on planes, I’m wondering if I might not want to continue wearing a mask, because in the past, more often than not, after a long international flight, within a week, I’ve come down with a cold.

But if I’m the only person on the plane with a mask on, I expect I’d again feel like a social pariah.  Or might other people also be thinking about wearing masks from time to time in “high risk” situations?  I’d be interested to know what you plan to do.

This article talks about some of these mask-wearing issues.

Current Numbers

There were no changes in US rankings, and unlikely to be any in the foreseeable future.  The differences in weekly case and death rates are so minute, and the gaps between the state rankings so large, that it would take many months for most rankings to become likely to change.  I might abandon this table because it has become so static, due to the slow down in new cases and deaths.

Slovenia dropped two places in the minor country list.  A few minor swaps in the major country list.

On the death list, Argentina came straight in to ninth place, and looks likely to move up to 8th or even 7th place within a week.

And, the most “interesting” list, the rankings for the last week, had the usual mix of rapid risers and fallers.  The US and Canada both reported 285 new cases per million, with the US enjoying a 13% drop from a week previously.  The UK had a rate of 645 new cases per million, a 63% rise.  The world as a whole had a 16% decline.

US Best and Worst States

Rank Cases/Million Deaths/Million
A week ago Now A week ago Now
1 Best HI (25,710) HI (25,986) HI (354) HI (357)
2 VT VT VT VT
3 OR OR AK AK
4 ME ME ME ME
5 WA (57,909) WA (58,481) OR (636) OR (646)
47 UT (126,897) UT (127,494) MS (2,461) MS (2,469)
48 IA IA RI RI
49 SD SD MA MA
50 RI RI NY NY
51 Worst ND (144,474) ND (144,806) NJ (2,956) NJ (2,963)

 

Top Case Rates Minor Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Andorra (177,723) Andorra (178,403)
2 Montenegro Montenegro
3 San Marino San Marino
4 Bahrain (140,499) Bahrain (145,699)
5 Gibraltar  (127,635) Gibraltar  (127,843)
6 Slovenia Maldives
7 Maldives Seychelles
8 Seychelles Slovenia
9 Luxembourg Luxembourg
10 Aruba (102,795) Aruba (103,262)

 

Top Case Rates Major Countries (cases per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Czech Republic (154,988) Czech Republic (155,173)
2 Sweden (106,031) Sweden (106,584)
3 USA (102,691) USA (102,983)
4 Netherlands Netherlands
5 Belgium Belgium
6 France Argentina (89,198)
7 Argentina (85,227) France
8 Portugal Portugal
9 Spain Brazil (80,452)
10 Brazil  (78,539) Spain
11 Poland Poland
12 Chile (72,823) Chile (75,425)

 

Top Death Rate Major Countries (deaths per million)

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Peru  (5,538) Peru  (5,624)
2 Czech Rep  (2,809) Czech Rep  (2,816)
3 Brazil Brazil
4 Belgium Belgium
5 Italy Italy
6 Poland Poland
7 UK (1,873) UK (1,874)
8 USA  (1,836) USA  (1,845)
9 Mexico (1,750) Argentina (1,841)
10 Colombia (1,748) Colombia (1,830)

 

Top Rates in New Cases Reported in the Last Week (new cases per million) for Countries over one million population

Rank One Week Ago Today
1 Bahrain  9,792 Uruguay  7,350
2 Uruguay  6,898 Bahrain  5,292
3 Argentina Argentina
4 Colombia Colombia
5 Costa Rica Paraguay
6 Paraguay Mongolia
7 Chile Chile
8 Trinidad & Tobago Costa Rica
9 Brazil  2,156 Kuwait
10 Kuwait Brazil 1,924
11 Mongolia Oman
12 Malaysia  1,654 Trinidad & Tobago  1,805

 

I Am Not a Doctor, But….

I may have mentioned an earlier report about this before, but here is (another) report indicating that people with extended Covid symptoms – the “long haul” sufferers – report improvements after being vaccinated.  Another reason to be vaccinated.

I mentioned before some social ambivalence about mask wearing.  But here’s a “solution” to the broader question of social distancing that strikes me as more gauche and awkward than just improvising as you go.

Apropos those color coded bracelets, I can’t think of anything more ridiculous than elbow bumping.  I’d rather have my arm amputated than elbow bump anyone.  Just thought you’d like to know that…..  Well, standing anxiously back and making namaste gestures is perhaps even more affected, pompous, and ridiculous.

We’ve been so focused on vaccinating that perhaps we’ve lost focus on another part of the control process – testing.  Keeping in mind that at least one in every 20 vaccinated people can still expect to come down with the virus, we still need good, fast, convenient, and inexpensive testing.  Testing also provides a “compromise” approach for people who refuse to either be vaccinated or disclose their vaccination status.  I wonder why such people have no objections to being tested?  Germany is still using testing as part of its control measures, and of course, many countries are requiring both vaccination and testing before allowing people in.

I’d mentioned above about enjoying freedom from colds over the last 15 months.  I’m sure you have too.  But, guess what.  They’re coming back again, and some people are reporting them as worse than before.

Many people who are refusing to be vaccinated point to concerns about the validity of the vaccine trials and add further doubt as to the effectiveness of the FDA scrutiny of the results.  It is easy to automatically reject such concerns, but the reality is more supportive of people who are anxious about these vaccines than we might wish were so.

There are of course abundant examples of drug companies having their applications for approval rejected by the FDA.  And there are also puzzling decisions by the FDA to approve new drugs (and not to approve other ones) – for example, remdesivir, a very expensive drug that might provide some weak benefits for Covid sufferers.

With that as background, what can one make of this story about the FDA approving an Alzheimers drug despite a lack of evidence to support the drug’s effectiveness.  That’s a story that continued during the week beyond the article linked, if you’re interested, some Googling will show you more and more “dirt” unfolding about the FDA’s decision, a decision which seems, to be polite, very puzzling indeed.

But there is also the “flip-side” – the FDA’s refusal to consider the ultra-documented and demonstrated value of ivermectin and other off-the-shelf inexpensive safe treatments.  Which leads to the next section.

Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine

Two more major strong studies were published this week supporting ivermectin use – one in Indonesia and one in Argentina.

It has long since become apparent that, for the pharmaceutical companies, it is all about the money they could make by developing and selling new drugs, and the money they’d not make by selling out-of-patent drugs like IVM and HCQ.  Here’s an article that touches on that.  But how to explain the aversion to the drugs by the FDA and WHO?

Also deserving scrutiny and demanding answers is the eagerness by what was once one of the foremost US medical journals (JAMA) to publish a “hit piece” on ivermectin, notwithstanding flaws in its methodology and that much of the funding came from big pharma companies – a situation reminiscent to how the tobacco companies could, for decades, “prove” that cigarette smoking was safe, and cite endless doctors who themselves smoked and recommended it to their patients with respiratory problems.

This article ponders JAMA’s role.  It can’t find any good excuses for JAMA.

Vaccine News

A surprise this week when Royal Caribbean said it would not require proof of vaccination as a prerequisite for passengers wishing to board its cruises in FL and TX.  They’ll still require this for passengers boarding cruises in WA and the Bahamas.

This is very disappointing.  While we are vaccinated, we’re not invulnerable – neither to infections nor to having them become severe and life threatening, so it remains in our interest to minimize our chances of being infected, and the very best minimization possible is to surround ourselves only with other vaccinated people.

One wonders what Royal Caribbean’s liability might be if – better to say when – a person gets a Covid infection on one of their cruises.  Clearly their decision was not “based on the science” but rather based on the dollars involved.

More details here.

Timings And Numbers

I’m rather proud of this new chart (the lower of the two) and the nice way the line changes color depending on its value (I just discovered how to do this in Excel).  It is essentially a more smoothed version of the more volatile orange line in the top chart.

The point it is showing is that the rate of decline for daily new case numbers in the US is itself declining (ie the green line is going up).  The last week – ten days have been skewed a bit by the Memorial Day weekend and a reduced rate of case reporting over that period, probably due to public health reporting services being closed, but my feeling is we are moving beyond that now and starting to uncover whatever the underlying trend is before the three-day weekend obscured it.  Based on inadequate data and too few days of trend, it does seem possible though that case numbers are no longer dropping at the same rate as before.

Of course, any rate of dropping is still very much better than any rate of increase, but it does suggest that perhaps the lid on the pot is struggling to keep its contents contained.

I publish an updated chart every morning on Twitter.

Here’s a fairly large list of countries and their vaccination status.  In particular, notice the Israeli curve – in part because this is a percent of the total population, and so younger children who aren’t yet allowed to be vaccinated will prevent curves from going all the way to 100%, and also in part showing how vaccination rates drop off after the “low hanging fruit” have been harvested.

We seem to be seeing a similar process in the US, with our vaccination numbers starting to level out, too.  Is a 70% target even realistic if Israel is stuck at about the 60% level?  Some specific parts of the US are claiming to have reached 70% – such as the city of Seattle, for example, but when you read the fine print of their claim, it is 70% of people aged 12 and up, not 70% of everyone.

Closings and Openings

Here’s an interesting approach to setting policies for allowing visitors – Hawaii is basing its approach on its own in-state vaccination rate. It actually makes good sense.

And, whether it makes sense or not, at least it is a clearly articulable policy, unlike in Canada, where we’re told only that “the government is currently crafting plans” – a statement that is totally vague both in terms of what the plans will be and when they will be adopted.

What happens in China is always a somewhat murky issue, especially when it comes to the subject of the virus, but here’s an interesting report, even if it is only partially accurate.

The most surprising part is how quickly and strongly China is responding to the slightest hint of a new outbreak.  In the last week, China had a mere 167 new cases reported, compared to which the US had 95,000 (and has only one quarter the population).  So China’s case rate is about 2,300 times lower than the US, and yet they’re invoking strict measures over many millions of people, while we’re happily abandoning all our controls.

Logic?  What Logic?

I like Scotland and England both, but I have to say the current situation of “devolved powers” where Scotland gets to set its own laws for some things but not other things is crazy, and much worse than in the US, where there are two levels – state and federal.

A clear case of that was a cruise ship sailing from England to Scotland.  England was happy with the cruise, but Scotland refused to let the ship dock in Scotland.  So people can freely drive between England and Scotland, but if they get on a cruise ship, different rules apply.  It is amusing to note that many of the people on board are from Scotland – they drove down to Liverpool to get on the ship, and now aren’t allowed off in Glasgow, but will be allowed to drive back home from England once the cruise completes the rest of its itinerary.

What is particularly puzzling – and who knows who to blame for this – it seems the inability of the ship to dock in Scotland only became apparent once it had sailed from Liverpool.  Details here.

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

 

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