Over the last, almost three years, we’ve learned that Covid-19 is capable of changing rapidly and blowing through our immunity, whether natural or vaccine induced. This means we can’t expect ‘herd immunity’ to kick in and finally cause the virus to die out. So how do we get rid of it? Is it even possible?
A new study detailed in this New Atlas article makes me cautiously optimistic. Apparently, researchers have discovered an ‘epitope’ that stays pretty much the same across all the mutations up to BA.1 and BA.2. It may also stay the same for BA.4 and BA.5, the two variants we’re battling at the moment, but the research is lagging a bit behind on them.
Essentially what this means is that there may be an area of vulnerability on the virus that doesn’t change every five minutes. If a suitable vaccine can be created to target that vulnerability then scientists may have found the ‘master key’ to all variants.
But… The thing with fast moving mutations is that blocking off this ‘master vulnerability’ could make a hitherto unproductive mutation become productive, by default. This hypothetical mutation could make it easier for the virus to infect frogs or cats or some other host. If that’s the case, it could simmer in a different environment and possibly cross-over again at a later date. Or…best case scenario, it could settle into an animal host and stay there.
Either way, I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that science does find a ‘master key’ against Covid because I really would like to see friends and family in the flesh again.
I’m getting my second booster [4th jab] tomorrow, so I thought I’d better do a RAT [Rapid Antigen Test] before hand…just in case. As you can tell by the title, I’m still Covid-free.
Given how long the Offspring and I have been self-isolating, you’d think we’d have nothing to worry about, but the reality is that we haven’t been living in a complete bubble. We do have to go to the chemist [pharmacist] every so often, or the IGA [local independent supermarket], or into a service station to pay for petrol, or into a confined space for a booster. We’re always masked, but these days most other people are not. So when you get the sniffles, you worry.
In this case, I was 99.9% certain we only had hay fever – the wattle is blooming like crazy at the moment. Nevertheless, with so many people around us catching the damn virus, it’s hard not to worry. Anyway, it seems we’re still part of the roughly 17 million Australians who still haven’t had the virus.
In case anyone’s wondering, the booster I’m getting tomorrow will be Pfizer. Working on the theory that mixing and matching increases the effectiveness of the current vaccines/boosters, I’ve had the two initial AZ jabs, one Moderna jab and now one Pfizer jab. I guess that makes me a Heinz. 😀
Just read a thought-provoking article in New Atlas about the cognitive deficits experienced by people who have had severe Covid:
‘A new study has presented the most rigorous investigation to date into the long-term cognitive impacts of severe COVID-19. The research, led by scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, found persistent cognitive deficits in hospitalized patients equivalent to declines consistent with 20 years of brain aging.’
The study followed the post-Covid recovery of 46 people who had all had severe Covid, including 16 who had been ventilated. Their cognitive functions were compared to that of ‘age and demographically matched healthy control subjects.’ It was found that the more severe the disease, the greater the cognitive impairment:
‘These COVID patients were slower to respond to tasks and less accurate in their responses, compared to their matched controls. More specifically, the COVID patients performed poorly on “verbal analogical reasoning” tasks which are designed to test particular word-based reasoning cognitive domains.’
And as if that were not enough, there is some evidence to suggest that:
I know everyone wants to believe that the worst of Covid is over, but with Omicron morphing into BA.4 and BA.5 already, it’s not done with us yet. Please treat this disease with the caution it deserves. Even if you’re fully vaccinated. Even if you’ve had it before. Because there may be outcomes worse than death. 😦
Before I begin, I have to clarify that I’m only looking at the effectiveness of vaccines against the original Omicron variant in this post. I have no information about the Omicron BA.2 variant.
First up, a truth that no government wants to admit: neither Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca do much to protect against symptomatic disease with Omicron:
I took this data from a study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa2119451 If you scroll down to Table 3, which appears just before the Discussion, you can check the raw data for yourselves. This data compares the effectiveness of all three vaccines against the Delta variant and the Omicron variant. This is an example:
As you can see, AstraZeneca is shown by its scientific name rather than the one we’re all familiar with. The same applies to Pfizer – BNT162b2 – and Moderna – mRNA-1273. For each vaccine, Table 3 displays its effectiveness against Delta and Omicron at specific time points. The 2 – 4 week time point is when the vaccine is at its most effective in preventing symptomatic disease. You can then see how quickly that effectiveness wanes over time.
Because I found the presentation of the data a bit hard to follow, I translated it into a spreadsheet and made it more visually clear:
Despite my best efforts, the data is still confusing so let me walk you through it. On the far left you have the effectiveness of the three vaccines at just 2 doses. As you can see, after 5 months, none of them are very effective and AstraZeneca is the least effective of all. This means that if you are Australian, over 65 and received only 2 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, you have virtually no protection. AT. ALL.
Until just 2 weeks ago, I fell into the ‘no protection at all’ category.
Now let’s have a look at what effect the boosters have. I’m going to start by looking at each vaccine boosted by itself – i.e. by a third dose of the same vaccine.
Looking at the table above you can see that 2 doses of AstraZeneca boosted with a 3rd dose of AstraZeneca – i.e. 3 doses of AstraZeneca – provides a maximum of 55.6% protection at 2-4 weeks. By week 9 – just over 2 months later – that protection has dropped to 46.7%.
Two initial doses of Pfizer followed by a Pfizer booster – i.e. 3 doses of Pfizer – provides a maximum of 67.2% protection. By week 10 that’s dropped to 45.7% protection.
Two initial doses of Moderna followed by a Moderna booster – i.e. 3 doses of Moderna – provides a maximum of 66.3% protection. I can’t tell you what that protection becomes at week 10 because there is no data for it. The reason there’s no data is because there were only 7 people in the study who had 3 doses of Moderna. I guess that was simply too small a sample size to be significant.
To recap, 3 doses of the same vaccine at weeks 2 – 4 – i.e. when protection was highest – resulted in:
55.6% protection for AstraZeneca
66.3% protection for Moderna
67.2% protection for Pfizer
Pfizer comes out on top, but only by a very small percent. AstraZeneca is roughly 11% worse than either of the mRNA vaccines. That said, the level of protection still isn’t stellar…for any of them.
Now, let’s see what happens when you mix-and-match vaccines.
When AstraZeneca is boosted by Pfizer, the level of protection at week 2-4 is 62.4%. AstraZeneca boosted by Moderna provides quite a bit more protection at 70.1%.
Significantly, boosting with Moderna causes that protection to also wane less by weeks 9 – 10:
60.9% with Moderna
39.6% with Pfizer
I’m pleased to say that I received my Moderna booster two weeks ago so my protection is reasonably high. I say ‘reasonably’ because I only have 1/2 a thyroid. That means my immune system is a bit compromised and the vaccines can’t provide me with the same level of protection.
The most interesting bit of data, however, is yet to come.
If you received two doses of Pfizer and followed that up with the Moderna booster, you will have the highest level of protection at 73.9%. By contrast, two doses of Moderna followed by a Pfizer booster will only give you a 64.9% level of protection.
So in conclusion:
Get a booster as soon as you hit the 3 month mark [after your second dose of whatever].
If at all possible, get the Moderna booster, especially if you received AstraZeneca as your base vaccine.
Any booster is better than none.
Keep taking precautions even after you receive your booster – even 73.9% protection isn’t all that much.
The study I’ve referenced here only looked at protections from symptomatic disease. Not severe disease. Not death. If the vaccines work the same way against Omicron as they did against earlier variants then there’s a good chance they will protect against severe disease and death, but the data isn’t in yet, so they may not. And given that BA.2 is a bit of an unknown quantity, we don’t even know if the boosters are as effective against it as they are against BA.1.
Governments and media have gone quiet on the pandemic, leading a lot of people to believe that the danger is over. It’s not. It’s just that no-one wants to admit that vaccines are not the magic bullet we were promised. The continuing death toll here in Australia and elsewhere in the world is proof of that.
Get your booster. Wear a mask. Don’t be a fool, the life you save may be your own.
I have very personal reasons for wanting the pandemic restrictions precautions to remain in place, but I realise that most young, healthy people have no such concerns. They know they’re immortal so the death toll from Covid is simply a number…right?
Wrong. The numbers shown on the graph below are for the US only, and while the great majority of Covid deaths occur in the 50+ age brackets, there are some eye-wateringly large numbers in the younger age groups as well:
The numbers shown in the graph above are already out of date but they provide a useful snapshot of who’s been dying in the US. As a mother, I can’t look at 795 children dying of Covid without getting a lump in my throat. Covid is an awful way to die.
And what about the young adult age group? 5,581 deaths doesn’t seem like a lot in a population of 360+ million people, but what if we compare those deaths to military personnel lost by the US in the last 100 odd years?
‘Only’ 1,928 young lives lost during the 20 years the US military spent in Afghanistan:
Covid 5,581 vs Afghan War 1,928.
I’m not going to bother working out the yearly average. These numbers speak for themselves.
Click on the pic below to see the full sized version. There you will see that ‘only’ 4,431 young people died in the Iraq offensive.
Covid 5,581 vs Iraq War 4,431.
Going further back in time to a period in which I was a young adult, the Vietnam war resulted in 58,220 deaths from a range of causes:
That’s a lot more than the 18 – 29 year olds [5,581] who’ve died from Covid thus far, but the Vietnam war went on for roughly ten and a half years – from August 5, 1964 to May 7, 1975 – and the youngest soldiers to die were only 16 while the oldest was 62:
I don’t want to create shifty numbers by counting those Covid deaths under 19 or those in the 40 to 64 year old age brackets. Instead, I’ll just add the 18-29 year old group to that of the 30-39 year olds – i.e. 5581 + 16,343.
Why? Because 18 to 39 is a realistic age range for people fighting in wars, and if I’m going to compare Covid deaths to military deaths then I want it to be as accurate as possible.
So, combining those two age groups gives a total of 21,924 Covid deaths. Divide 21,924 by 2 [ie the two years of the pandemic], and you get an average of 10,962 Covid deaths per year.
If you now divide the total number of Vietnam deaths [58,220] by 10.5 [i.e. the number of years of the war], you get an average of 5544.762 deaths per year.
Covid = 10,962 deaths per year Vietnam = 5544.8 deaths per year
Further back still, US forces suffered a total of 36,913 military deaths in Korea from 1950 to 1953:
Although the Korean War never officially ended, active fighting only lasted for three years so I’ll base my calculations on the 3 year number. If you divide the total number of deaths in Korea [36,913] by 3 [ie the number of years], you get an average of 12,304 deaths per year.
Covid = 10,962 deaths per year Korea = 12,304 deaths per year
For the first time, we get a war that’s been more deadly than Covid, but we had to go back almost 70 years to do so.
And finally we go all the way back to World War II.
World War II
In World War II, the US lost 407,300 military lives from December 11, 1941 to September 2, 1945. That’s a period of almost 4 years. If we divide the total number of military deaths [407,300] by 4 [i.e. the number of years of the war], we get an average of 101,825 deaths per year.
Covid = 10,962 deaths per year WWII = 101,825 deaths per year
Another war that has beaten the number of Covid deaths…or has it?
What if I add up all those military deaths and average them over the total number of years in which wars were fought?
The screenshot above is from an Excel spreadsheet I created. The Covid deaths by age group are eight days out of date but they were the only ones I could find so I inserted a more up to date figure in the final Totals row.
To me, two things almost leap off the page:
there have now been almost twice as many Covid deaths in the US as all military deaths combined [since 1941],
the military deaths in the US took place over a period of 45 years. The Covid deaths occurred in just two years. And the pandemic isn’t over.
If the US lost this many people in a war, the nation would be in mourning for a century. Why do these Covid deaths not inspire the same sense of horror…and respect?
A lot of people say that restrictions cannot last forever. They say that people have to be given their personal freedoms back.
I say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Personal freedoms are not a right. They cannot exist without a society to support them. The social contract says that individuals give up some things in order to receive the protection of the ‘group’.
What kind of protection? Education, healthcare, law enforcement, a justice system, public transport, roads, jobs, homes, high tech gadgets, nightclubs, parties, power, food, clean water to drink and flush indoor toilets…
Now think about what would happen if all electricity stopped being produced for two weeks. Would you survive without light, aircon, heating, food delivered to supermarkets, rubbish removed from the streets, street lighting, access to hospitals, public transport etc etc.?
Some of you would, 99.9999999% of us wouldn’t.
All the protections I’ve listed plus thousands more are our reward for contributing to society and abiding by its rules. If we don’t want to abide by those rules we are free to find a desert island and live like savages.
If we can’t survive on our own, we have to accept that personal freedom, individual freedom can only exist within the context of a society of some sort. But that freedom must be earned.
How? Through social responsibility towards all members of society, even those you don’t personally care about.
Why? Because everyone will get old and sick eventually. If you want to be cared for when your time comes then you have to pay your dues now.
And finally a word about restrictions. Wearing a mask to protect yourself and others is not fun, but it’s miles better than dying of Covid. It’s also preferable to having your economy collapse because everyone is off work being sick.
Good hygiene is something everyone should practise all the time, not just when a pandemic hits. Not washing your hands after pointing percy at the porcelain, or wiping your bum, or picking your nose is disgusting. Only creeps do that. Yuck.
Keeping your distance from others so as not to spread the virus may not be ‘fun’. In fact, it can crimp your social life if clubbing or getting pissed at the pub are your favourite things in life. But keeping your distance from others won’t kill you. It could kill me, and dying is no fun either.
More to the point, dying is permanent. No coming back from the grave. No miraculous resurrections. Dead is dead is dead. Forever.
By contrast, missing out on your social life is temporary. Equating the two is like saying that stubbing your toe is as bad as having the whole leg amputated.
With the greatest respect, grow a pair and grow the fuck up.
Bananas in Pajamas? No, BA.2 is a sub-variant of Omicron and it’s mooted to be even more infectious than other variants. Now there’s research coming out of Japan that suggests it could also be a whole lot more virulent:
‘When the researchers infected hamsters with BA.2 and BA.1, the animals infected with BA.2 got sicker and had worse lung function. In tissues samples, the lungs of BA.2-infected hamsters had more damage than those infected by BA.1.’
The CNN article contains a link to the actual journal article so I clicked it. Doing so gave me access to the PDF of the research. I understood the abstract, kind-a, and the discussion, kind-a, not much in the middle, but what impressed me was the dogged persistence of the researchers. Every time their experiments came up with unexpected results, they changed the focus of the experiments to investigate the new leads…like detectives.
That dogged persistence, and the quality control the Japanese are known for, convinced me that this is no error-riddled study dashed off between breakfast and lunch. And that makes their conclusion even more chilling:
If the Japanese research is confirmed, BA.2 could become our worst nightmare at a time when most states here in Australia are easing up on restrictions and opening their borders.
Thank you, Dan Andrews. At the rate that BA.2 is spreading, there should be definitive data available long before we throw caution to the winds.
“It looks like we might be looking at a new Greek letter here,” agreed Deborah Fuller, a virologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who reviewed the study but was not part of the research.
Since the beginning of February, 2022, Denmark has removed all pandemic restrictions. Denmark also happens to be the only country in Europe where BA.2 is well and truly the dominant strain. This is a graph of the death toll in Denmark:
If you click the worldometers link and hover your mouse over the very end of the line on the graph, you will see that the data is for February 18, just two days ago. Only time will tell exactly how virulent BA.2 really is, but I’m not dumping my mask any time soon.
My thanks to Mole for bringing the Japanese research to my attention…our attention. Stay safe my friends.
I’m writing this as someone who lives in the most locked down city on Earth – Melbourne. We suffered through the first wave of Covid-19 and lost 820 people to the virus, but that death toll could have been much, much worse; during the first wave in Italy, 35,142(1) Italians lost their lives.
Returning to the first wave of Covid-19 in Melbourne, we eliminated the virus and kept it from spreading to the rest of Victoria and the other states by putting ourselves into a VERY strict lockdown. That lockdown included a curfew and a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around Melbourne. It worked. In fact, the same restrictions continued to eliminate the virus from Victoria until NSW, with the tacit approval of the Federal government, decided that we all had to ‘live with Covid’. Thanks to our long border with NSW, we could no longer keep the virus out.
The other States and territories – Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT – continued to keep Delta out until Omicron came along. Western Australia is now the only state still trying to keep Omicron out. Across the ditch, our New Zealand cousins have not given up the fight against Covid-19 either. The battle may have changed from elimination to a fighting retreat, but it continues. The battle also continues in many of the countries of Asia, but we hear so very little about them.
That’s a lot of data and the forest tends to get lost in the trees so I created a subset(2) of the data to show the difference between the Asian approach to Covid-19 and that of most Western countries. I’ve included Australia and New Zealand as part of Asia, because that is what we are.
In the screenshot below, the data is sorted by total deaths:
Iceland did the best with just 46 deaths while the USA did the worst with 904,038 deaths, but Iceland has a very small population while the USA has a very large one. In the next screenshot, I sorted the data according to deaths per million in order to account for differences in population size:
Iceland appears on the top of the list, again, because something is screwy with the ‘per million’ figure. I suspect a human error resulted in the decimal point being left off, but I’m too lazy to look up the population of Iceland to be sure.
Setting Iceland aside, the data suddenly reveals two surprises:
China does the best with just 3 deaths per million. [Remember that China has a population of roughly 1.4 billionpeople]
Hungary does the worst with 4,285 deaths per million.
Hungary is the country of my birth. It’s a small country with a small population [roughly 9.6 million]. That population is now smaller by 41,229 people. I’m glad my parents are no longer alive to see what has happened to their country. That said, the USA and the UK have the dubious honour of having the second and third worst results after Hungary.
So how do you measure success in a pandemic? Is it money saved? Or lives?
In a recent video, Dr John expressed disbelief that China would continue to eliminate the virus ‘in the age of Omicron’. In the comments, all sorts of theories were raised, most denigrating China’s strategy as futile, draconian and only possible in such a tightly regulated nation. The unspoken assumption was that no sane person would want to live like that.
I’m not an apologist for China because I don’t think it needs one. Yes, the Chinese government probably is guilty of human rights violations, but people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The murder of George Floyd in the US brought the plight of Black America into sharp focus. When police feel they can kill Black Americans without fear of consequences, that’s a human rights violation. When children can be murdered at school because there is no gun control, that’s a human rights violation.
Here in Australia, the media shone a spotlight on our asylum seekers recently, but only because a famous tennis star was locked up with them for a very short time. What we’ve done to asylum seekers in the name of ‘stopping the boats’ is also a human rights violation. Would they be treated the same way if they were white and came from a European country?
But our human rights violations aren’t restricted to asylum seekers. The ‘deaths in custody’ of hundreds of First Nations Australians doesn’t rate a mention unless there’s some political twist to the story. That’s an ongoing human rights violation, yet no one wants to haul Australia off before the Court of International Justice in The Hague. Is it because we belong to ‘us’ and everyone else is ‘them’?
I’m sure China’s strategy of elimination isn’t motivated by pure altruism, but I suspect the Chinese government has worked out that its economy depends on the health of the populace. Dead people can’t manufacture anything. Dead people can’t buy anything either. Maybe that’s a lesson all neo-liberal governments need to learn.
Vaccines are great but they’re not a silver bullet that will save us from the inconvenience of old fashioned contagion control. To save lives, we have to have both. To save our economies, we have to save lives first.
(1) Finding the number of total deaths in the first wave [for Italy] was surprisingly hard, or perhaps I didn’t search for the right terms. In the end, I had to calculate the number of death [for Italy] from a graph put out by the WHO:
If you go to that graph and hover your mouse over each column, you can see the total deaths for that period. I copied the raw numbers into the spreadsheet below so I could get a total just for the first wave in Italy:
(2) The data I used for the comparison between Asian and Western Covid-19 results is detailed below:
Just watched the latest podcast by Dr John in which he explains new research out of South Africa:
This is not a three-second-sound-byte type podcast. It is nuanced and looks at the science behind the news, but it is well worth watching from start to finish because it explains the trends that we have been seeing, both in South Africa and more recently in the UK.
By trends I mean, of course, Omicron’s extremely high infection rates coupled with relatively low rates of severe disease and death. According to the research in Dr John’s podcast, these trends are not a fluke. And that spells good news for 2022.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Delta is still around, and it is still causing severe disease and death, so going out and going nuts in the hope of catching Omicron could still see a lot of people ending up with Delta instead. Dying of Delta when the end is literally in sight would be a terrible irony so the Offspring and I are going to stay safely at home until Omicron finishes defeating Delta.
What a bloody nerve! I’ve come to expect all sorts of misinformation from social media, but this really takes the cake. Apparently, we Australians are ‘hunting’ down Indigenous people from remote communities and forcibly vaccinating them. Or locking them up in our own home-grown concentration camp at Howard Springs….
It’s a long article, but well worth the read, if only to counter the insidious and potentially lethal disinformation being spread by unscrupulous media personalities overseas. The Australian government deserves utter condemnation for its inaction on Climate Change, for blatant pork barrelling and a host of other issues, but this is not one of them.
Why? Because there are deeply committed Aboriginal groups who are doing everything possible to keep remote communities safe. The conspiracy theorists demean and insult the vital work they do.
Please pass the Quillette article on to everyone you know because the lies are literally killing all of us.