Tag Archives: Covid-19

A possible end to Covid-19

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.

cheers,
Meeks


A Negative RAT!

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. 😀

cheers,
Meeks


post-Covid cognitive impairment

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.’

https://newatlas.com/health-wellbeing/cognitive-impact-severe-covid-equal-20-years-brain-aging/?utm_source=New+Atlas+Subscribers&utm_campaign=1643987275-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_05_05_12_42&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_65b67362bd-1643987275-92416841

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:

A study published earlier this year from researchers at the University of Oxford found minor cognitive deficits in subjects experiencing mild COVID-19 up to six months after an acute infection.

You can find the complete article here.

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. 😦

Meeks


The truth about vaccines and their boosters

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:

Comparison of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines at 2 doses

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:

https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa2119451

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:

The data from Table 3 showing the results for the Omicron variant only

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.

AstraZeneca

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%.

Pfizer

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.

Moderna

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:

  1. Get a booster as soon as you hit the 3 month mark [after your second dose of whatever].
  2. If at all possible, get the Moderna booster, especially if you received AstraZeneca as your base vaccine.
  3. Any booster is better than none.
  4. 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.

Meeks


BA.2 may be worse than BA.1

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.’

https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/17/health/ba-2-covid-severity/index.html

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:

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.02.14.480335v1.full.pdf

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.

In NSW :

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-17/nsw-eases-covid-19-restrictions-face-masks-to-be-scaled-back/100839260

In Victoria, some restrictions on density and QR codes will be eased but ‘… mask requirements are to remain in place for the time being.’ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-17/victorian-government-covid-restrictions-new-deaths-cases/100838490

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.

https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/17/health/ba-2-covid-severity/index.html

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:

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/denmark/#graph-cases-daily

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.

Meeks


Myth busting Omicron – or no, we didn’t have to live with the virus.

A lot of conservative governments justify their policies during this pandemic with the mantra that we all have to ‘live with Covid’.

Why? Apparently because we’re all going to get it eventually.

Even a relatively trusted source like Dr John Campbell maintains that ‘everyone will get Omicron’ – supposedly because it’s so contagious. Yet the actual numbers don’t add up, even in the UK.

This is a screenshot I took this morning which shows the total number of people infected with Covid-19 in the UK…since the pandemic began:

https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases?areaType=overview&areaName=United%20Kingdom

The comments in red and green are mine. I wanted to see how many people in the UK had not had any of the Covid-19 variants. The number ended up being 50 million.

Now I know that the official figures don’t include those who were infected but had only very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so I’m going to double the official figure from 18 million to 36 million.

Revised estimate of people infected with Covid-19 variants = 36 million

When you subtract 36M from 68M you get 32M who have never been infected with any of the Covid-19 variants, and that’s after two years and multiple variants, including Omicron B1. Curiously, data from the UK seems to show that 68% of those infected with Omicron have been re-infected. In other words, previous exposure did not give them immunity against the variant.

Why am I banging on about stats and who has or hasn’t been infected in the UK? The answer is simple:

  • I hate grand sweeping generalisations that are not based on actual data and,
  • much of what we do here in Australia seems to reflect the trends happening in the UK… and the conservative government there wants to open up completely, based on the narrative that everyone will get the virus anyway, so they may as well make the best of it.

The truth is a little more nuanced. According to everything I understand about herd immunity, you need to have at least 70% of the total population immune to a virus for the herd immunity effect to kick in. Not just recovered from the infection but actually immune to it.

Why 70%? because that’s roughly the number of immune people you need to stop the virus from being able to replicate – i.e. spread through the community:

Herd immunity ‘ring fences’ the virus

Essentially, people who have already had the infection – and are immune to it – crowd out the new infections, so even if someone is sick and shedding the virus all over the place, that virus is falling on people who are already immune so it can’t replicate. It’s been ring-fenced.

So let’s have a look at the UK. Are they at 70% yet?

No, they’re not. More importantly, immunity gained from earlier variants of the virus doesn’t seem to provide immunity against the current variants.

In other words, having had the virus once does not guarantee you won’t get the virus again, and that means there can be no herd immunity.

The lack of herd immunity means that those who have never had the virus are not protected. Therefore, learning to ‘live with the virus’ has nothing to do with protecting the vulnerable. It is ALL about protecting the economy.

Let me be more specific. The policy of living with the virus is essentially throwing all the vulnerable members of the population under the bus. Some will live, some won’t.

So who are these vulnerable people?

They include all the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers for sure, but they also include those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons – i.e. because the vaccine would have a negative reaction with their particular medication or treatment – or those with compromised immune systems for whom the vaccines are much less effective. But the list also includes those who have been fully vaccinated.

The current crop of vaccines were developed for the earlier variants and are much less effective against Omicron, so in a way, we’re right back at the start of the pandemic when we didn’t have any vaccines at all. Until a vaccine specifically designed to target Omicron and its siblings comes along, even being fully vaccinated is no guarantee of protection.

Yes, Omicron et al., may be milder than Delta, but it’s not mild. Calling it ‘mild’ instead of ‘milder’ was a neat bit of spin to justify opening up completely. Only now are we seeing how deadly this ‘mild’ virus actually is.

So why are our governments getting away with this? The answer is rather brutal: right from the start, they told people that “…only the elderly, the disabled or those with ‘co-morbidities’ will die so…don’t panic”.

The nett effect of this messaging has been to make the age groups most likely to spread the virus resent those most likely to die from it.

Why should young, healthy people have to suffer lockdowns and restrictions to save a bunch of people who are probably ‘going to die anyway’?

I believe that question, and the resentment that goes with it, is why conspiracy theories have gained such traction. People don’t want to admit how they feel so they latch onto mad stories about legitimate targets – i.e. governments and large corporations.

To be honest, my trust in governments and large corporations is pretty damn low, but the bottom line is that the people in these age groups want to live with Covid…because they don’t think it will affect them. They believe they are immortal so they don’t consider the possibility that they might have a ‘co-morbidity’ without knowing it. They don’t think about long Covid, and what it could do to the rest of their lives. They just resent having those lives interrupted for the sake of a bunch of people they don’t care about anyway.

Which brings me to a rather painful question: if a majority of people in a democracy want to let people die, is a government justified in giving them what they want?

I believe the answer is no. Once elected, the representatives of any democratic government are bound to protect everyone in that democracy, even those who voted against them or those who may have become a ‘liability’.

Protecting all members of society is the cornerstone of the social contract our parents accepted on our behalf when we were born: we give a select group of people a certain amount of power over us in exchange for the protection of the group. Why else obey laws or pay taxes?

Once that core promise of society is broken, trust dies and society falls apart.

We don’t talk about trust much, but everything in society depends on it. Trust allows us to use bits of paper as ‘money’. Trust allows us to walk around without being in fear of our lives. At its most basic, trust allows us to trust others.

Trust in government and ‘the capitalist system’ has been falling for decades now. I truly fear for the future of Western democracies.

Meeks


WHY Omicron is displacing Delta

Just watched the latest podcast by Dr John in which he explains new research out of South Africa:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYLbJ0H8zdc

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.

Stay well,
Meeks


Omicron – data from South Africa

Important!

Dr John Campbell goes through the latest scientific data about the effect Omicron is having in South Africa:

There is too much information to reduce it to a few dot points so I strongly recommend that you watch the whole video.

cheers
Meeks


January 2021…and beyond

I think we all know by now that 2021 is not going to become a good year any time soon. Despite the rollout of vaccines in most countries, it will take a long time before enough people are vaccinated to provide herd immunity* to those who aren’t. For most diseases, that means at least 70% of a population have to be vaccinated before herd immunity can kick in. With Covid-19, no one’s sure how much of the population has to be immune. There’s also a great big question mark around what the current vaccines will actually accomplish. Will they simply stop the disease? Or will they also stop infected people from passing it on?

So…. 2021 is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. For the Offspring and I, that means we’ll be in self-isolation for a long time yet. Because of that, I thought there was no point setting any goals for the coming year. I was wrong. There are things I can do, both for myself and for others; it just took a while for me to see it.

One thing I’ve always been bad at is marketing, but marketing these days is mostly digital, so I’ve decided that my goal for 2021 is to get one more review for Miira and Vokhtah. Both are sitting on 19 reviews, and I’d love to see that number change to 20. Not a big goal, I know, but it’s an achievable goal if I pull my finger out and actually do some marketing!

“But I hate marketing!”

I’m probably the world’s worst salesperson, but I discovered a long time ago that when I believe in a product, my enthusiasm accomplishes what my lack of skill cannot – I can make others want to see what has me so excited.

“But I hate marketing my own stuff!”

Sadly, women of my vintage were brought up to believe that ‘showing off’ was the worst thing a woman could do short of flashing her boobs in public. I recognize the conditioning. I acknowledge that it’s incredibly unfair – why should men be able to blow their own trumpet while we have to be demure and self-effacing? But this fear of being seen as a show-off is so deeply ingrained that I cannot shift it.

But I can trick it into shutting up. 🙂 And this is where my light bulb moment kicked in. If I give my books away for free, I’ll be getting eyes on my work AND I’ll be providing some escapism for those who are still in limbo. And that is exactly what I plan to do.

The first step of this grand plan is to drop the price of all my books to 0.99 cents. Then, once every two weeks, I’ll put one of the books up for free on Amazon. The book will remain free for 5 consecutive days before returning to the 0.99 cent price point. When the last book has had its turn at free, I’ll put all the books back to their original price points.

This is what my books cost now:

Prices shown are for Amazon.com as at January 15, 2021

I’m not sure how long it will take for the price change to register on Amazon, but I’ll post an update when the new prices are available.

So that’s my grand plan. If I achieve the two extra reviews I’ll be happy. If I don’t, I can still hope that my stories ease the strain of this weird point in time, at least a little, and…I’ve got a plan for the next twelve weeks.

much love,
Meeks

…*… herd immunity works by surrounding infectious people with people who are already immune. To survive, the bacterium or virus needs new hosts to infect. With no new hosts available, the bacterium or virus runs its course and dies. Eventually, every infected person recovers and bingo, no more virus. To get to that point though, an awful lot of people have to be immunised at the same time, otherwise the virus just keeps ticking along.


Retail therapy at last!

Yes! I went shopping today. For the first time in over eight months. And yes, it was exhilarating. 😀

My little shopping expedition was also hot and sweaty because I decided to be daring and go for a walk first. Bad move. I parked at Bunnings and walked to Autobarn, a short hop…by car. What I’d forgotten was that most of the way to Autobarn was uphill, and guess who’s a wee bit out of shape?

By the time I’d walked back to Bunnings [wearing my surgical mask and one glove], I was literally dripping with sweat, and the inside of the mask felt like a wet towel. That said, the outside of the mask was quite dry, proving that it really does catch all those potentially toxic exhalations.

Anyway…one of the first things I saw inside Bunnings was a customer with his mask down under his chin, mooching around with a takeaway cup of coffee in his hand. After all the fear and stress of the last eight months, I totally lost it and told him off. He came back with ‘oh but you’re allowed to not wear a mask if your eating or drinking’. I politely suggested that he ‘eat or drink’ outside.

I know the restrictions have been eased, but this prick was deliberately abusing the privileges we’ve been given. I am so sick of selfish morons trying to find loop holes in rules designed to protect everyone. We’re virus free for the moment, but as South Australia discovered, all it takes is ONE idiot. Ahem…

Smarmy piece of shit aside, the whole setup at Bunnings was brilliant. One door to go in, a different door to go out, physical distancing lines painted on the floor leading to the checkouts. Staff all wearing masks and directing ‘traffic’. I felt quite safe, which is saying something. And I loved being able to select things for myself again. Online shopping is okay, but unless and until they make online shopping a virtual experience, it’s just not the same as being there.

Oh, and in case you’re all wondering what I actually bought? Well…I bought a trickle charger for the batteries that drive my fire-fighting pumps, a new 30 metre garden hose, a timer-tap so I can’t forget to turn off the tap, and a small sprinkler head to water the new veggie box.

Nothing exciting, I know, but I feel great anyway, and in a day or two I’m going to go out again to buy…bread. A beautiful Vienna with a crisp crust and a fluffy white interior:

The vienna has to be unsliced, of course, so we can pop it into a hot oven for a minute [to decontaminate] before slicing and smothering with fresh, cold butter….

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make us happy. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


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