Conspiracy or Serendipity: Covid in an Age of Ignorance
“Let’s say we get 75 percent, 80 percent of the population vaccinated,” Fauci said. “If we do that, if we do it efficiently enough over the second quarter of 2021, by the time we get to the end of the summer, i.e., the third quarter, we may actually have enough herd immunity protecting our society that as we get to the end of 2021, we can approach very much some degree of normality that is close to where we were before.”
— Harvard Gazette, December 10, 2020
“The concept of classical herd immunity may not apply to Covid-19,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with CNN. And that “means we’re not going to be without SARS-CoV-2 in the population for a considerable period of time,” said Fauci, who recently co-authored a paper on herd immunity for the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
— CNN Health, April 15, 2022
We are now 872 days from the day WHO declared SARS-CoV-2 to be a pandemic. We can look back in search of some lessons learned over those days, months and years, but first, as should be evident from the two Fauci quotes above, we need to acknowledge we are all still learning. Let’s examine a few fascinating tidbits learned in just the past few months.
- A comprehensive study concluded the CoV-2 strain that started the pandemic originated in a “wet” market selling wild animals, the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, and not in a Chinese virus laboratory.
- The coronavirus is likely to reduce GDP by $7.9 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Nominal GDP is expected to be $15.7 trillion.
- The illness produced by the Omicron variants is not “mild.” It is no less severe than that of earlier variants such as Delta. There has been no diminution in the strength of Covid over time. Dr. Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, called BA.5 “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.” The R(0) of BA.5 is 10 to 12, compared to the original strain with an R(0) of 1.2 to 1.4. R(0) signifies how many persons each infected person will infect, on average.
- The notion popularized in the mass media of “breakthrough” infections was based on the fallacy of thinking that vaccines prevent infection. Vaccines do not prevent infection, or re-infection, although some (measles, smallpox, diptheria, oral polio vaccine) kill the virus on contact. Others, by targeting how a virus enters cells and replicates, merely reduce an infected person’s viral load enough to dampen the effects of the disease. As for Covid vaccines or acquired immunity, unvaccinated persons infected with the pre-variant SARS-CoV-2, Delta or Omicron BA.1 shed marginally less viral load than vaccinated persons but for Omicron BA.1 reduced shedding only applies if the persons have also been boosted. No conclusions can yet be drawn as to viral load reductions in Omicron BA.1.1., BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5, or BA.2.7.5, which await further study.
- The combination of vaccination plus natural immunity acquired by having had Covid does not confer any more immunization than either vaccination or natural immunity.
- Reinfection after as little as 4 weeks is possible with any of the Omicron variants.
- The most recent variants are more transmissible than the earlier ones. A recent study out of Columbia University found that the recent BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants were at least four times as resistant to protection against the virus compared with previous variants in the Omicron lineage.
- People who contracted Covid-19 were 72% more likely to suffer from coronary artery disease, 63% more likely to have a heart attack, and 52% more likely to experience a stroke. Overall, those infected with the virus were 55% more likely than those without Covid-19 to suffer a major adverse cardiovascular event, which includes heart attack, stroke and death. Covid-19 infections have, thus far, contributed to 15 million new cases of heart disease worldwide.
- Pregnant women contracting Covid in the third trimester have 3 to 7 times increased risk of premature delivery.
- Babies born to women who caught Covid-19 while pregnant had a 6 percent chance of a developmental delay by 1 year of age.
- A study in Pediatrics of 40,000 children hospitalized with acute Covid found 27% had persistent symptoms or activity impairment after 2 months.
- Approximately one-quarter of mild-Covid-19 individuals experience a neuroinflammatory burden, seen by changes in molecular and structural brain imaging, correlated with cognitive deficit. This deficit is already being observed in a large and growing fraction of the world population.
- Covid-19 shrinks the brain grey matter by 2%. Infected participants in a UK study showed cognitive decline even after excluding subjects in the study group who had been hospitalized. It found shrinkage and tissue damage primarily in brain areas related to the sense of smell.
- COVID-19 has been associated with a threefold increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and a doubling of risk of Parkinson’s disease.
- Long Covid affected 31% of health care workers with SARS-CoV-2 infections not requiring hospitalization. Vaccination status did not predict the presence or absence of a long Covid outcome.
- Compared to the first infection you are twice as likely to die if reinfected. Chances of hospitalization are 3x. Pulmonary issues 2.5x, Cardio issues 2.4x. Neurological issues, fatigue, kidney, etc. are all of elevated risk with each infection.
Last week I posted:
By hoarding vaccines for the first year and then failing to mask, distance and contact trace consistently, the world created every virus’s Xanadu. Countries could have chosen a zero-tolerance stance like China, or a border quarantine like New Zealand. Instead, in an optimal incubator environment — 8 billion human hosts and billions more potential animal hosts like horses, cows, dogs, cats, mice, and bats — SARS-CoV-2 was allowed — even encouraged — to reach a heightened stage of contagion rarely attained in history. Now one variant finds itself infecting a host, or a cell, already infected by another variant, and able to expose its RNA codes to a smorgasbord of nucleotide transcription possibilities. From this felicitous interaction cascade nucleic acid variations upon variations, not just novel coronaviruses or coronavirus variants but variants within strains of variant — Omicron B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.1.1., BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, BA.5, BA.2.7.5. Some new variants find they achieve selection advantage and better propagation if they are more transmissible or evade immunization conferred by previous strains or by vaccines. We are now in a cycle of generating more variants that are generating more variants in a target-rich environment, be it humans or their pets. Any talk of “herd immunity” or a “universal vaccine” is just science fantasy — wishful thinking. This is how a wildfire escapes containment — by slow responders who fail to assess the danger and act.
Frankly, it bothers me when public health authorities and others say, “Well Covid is endemic now,” so “sooner or later everyone will get it.” I do not think those statements are logical or warranted by the facts. I always ask myself whether the speaker is someone who has had Covid themselves and is trying to rationalize their carelessness or bad luck. There are, moreover, more nefarious forces at work.
“In the end, taxpayers paid for about 99% of the development of the NIH/Moderna vaccine and paid Moderna about 10 billion dollars in public money to bring that vaccine across the line… (it’s) really been a public project through and through, even though we are privatizing the profits and not retaining for the public nearly enough say in how those vaccines are ultimately used and shared within the world to stamp out the pandemic.”
— Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program
In case anyone has forgotten, federal scientists at NIH collaborated with Moderna and six other vaccine candidate developers to create what became Operation Warp Speed. US taxpayers paid for about 99 percent of the development of the Moderna vaccine — about 10 billion dollars in public money — to get that vaccine approved and into manufacture and distribution by the Department of Defense. Another 8 billion went into other parts of the program.
Today Moderna has about 35 billion dollars in supply deals lined up through the end of 2022. Pfizer, the second beneficiary of Operation Warp Speed, will earn a similar amount. That global market is only just starting for them, as they are working on new vaccines and booster shots that target more variants. They have a huge incentive to only gradually redress the Apartheid system. The costs of development and deployment were socialized but the profits were privatized. The US government did not reserve patents or retain any say in how the Warp Speed vaccines were ultimately to be used or shared with the world in order to stamp out the pandemic, or what price the companies could charge per dose. Indeed, Donald Trump specifically called, in May 2020, for the manufacture of 300 million doses of vaccine — the size of the US population.
Moderna charged the United States and other countries from 20 to 30 dollars per dose. The US currently gives the shots to all citizens for free although that will be ending because the Manchin Senate blocked the Build Back Better Bill which would have continued underwriting free vaccination programs. In a country like Botswana where Pfizer and Moderna shots were sold to the public health agencies for $29 per shot and local governments may mark that up to pay nurses and doctors and/or pad bank accounts of government procurement officials, most people cannot afford to get the vaccine and it is no accident that Botswana was where Omicron originated.
Now one variant finds itself infecting a host, or a cell, already infected by another variant, and able to expose its RNA codes to a smorgasbord of nucleotide transcription possibilities. From this felicitous interaction cascade nucleic acid variations upon variations, not just novel coronaviruses or coronavirus variants but variants within strains of variant.
It is also no accident that Pfizer has seen its revenues quadruple. When you think about the fact that the public paid for the vaccine development in the first place and has been subsidizing distribution with the Army Medical Corps, anything over the cost of manufacturing is essentially a gift to Big Pharma.
The US government is, like, searching the couch cushions for money to pay for its continuing pandemic response [but] diverting five billion dollars from other pandemic response activities in order to pay Pfizer for its Covid treatment drugs … it comes at a cost of our government’s ability to provide other services.
Six Million Dead
We are still in the middle of a pandemic that has cost 6.4 million people their lives (1.4 million USAnians), afflicted 578 million, and the response is being dictated by corporations who claim patent rights for exclusive manufacturing and wholesale distribution.
Vaccine apartheid is entirely an artificial problem. Nations like the US have legislative powers to insist that corporations share their vaccine recipes and technologies with the world or to launch a continuing Warp Speed program to ensure preparedness in future pandemics. We could diversify supply. We could train more manufacturers to produce. We could avert shortages in the future, not only of vaccines but of masks, ventilators, and critical care facilities. We are doing none of that. Instead, we are declaring a truce. Endemicity. Response over.
Oxford AstraZeneca was expected to be the vaccine that powered the global response through the WHO COVAX program, but it was made in India, and when India had its Delta wave, there was a perceived need to keep more doses for itself.
Moderna and Pfizer only selling to high-income clientele left many countries nowhere to go other than Cuba, China or Russia. That was what I experienced in Mexico and doubtless many others in similar situations in other 2/3-World countries experienced the same. We watched helplessly for months as USAnians lined up to get their shots. Finally, we were offered either Sputnik V or Sinovac. Sputnik was the world’s first vaccine against coronavirus and Russia provided it for free to the 70 countries where it was approved. We now know Sputnik V, an adenoviral vector vaccine, is 2.6 times more effective than Pfizer against the new Omicron variants.
In my rural town, we had to leave the safety of our homes and travel an hour by crowded bus to reach a city large enough to warrant an airlift of Sinovac, for one age group, for one day each month. So we stood outdoors in long lines. The same was seen all across Latin America. Meanwhile, back in the USA, millions of withheld doses expired for lack of interest and were simply discarded.
The Affluenza Epidemic
There were two levels of vaccine apartheid. One was just absolute scarcity — rich countries were getting vaccines and poor countries were not. The other was that rich countries were getting the best vaccines and giving shit vaccines to poor people globally. Either way, Pfizer and Moderna were raking in billions.
After two-plus years of erupting into distinguishable peaks, the American coronavirus-case curve has a new topography now: a long, never-ending plateau. Waves are coming so frequently that they’re colliding.
We’ve known from the start — I published it in Plagued: Surviving a Modern Pandemic (2020) — that vaccination of any type provides no immunity from infection. Moreover, it does not immunize against greed. Much of the world still cannot get or afford vaccines. In China, the poor versatility of Sinovac is coming home with the spread of the Omicron waves. In contrast, Sputnik V has proven itself extraordinarily effective but is not available in NATO countries, and not because Russian manufacturers are unwilling to share.
David Brooks, writing a July 21 opinion for The New York Times, “I Was Wrong About Capitalism” said:
By the time I came to this job, in 2003, I was having qualms about the free-market education I’d received — but not fast enough. It took me a while to see that the postindustrial capitalism machine — while innovative, dynamic and wonderful in many respects — had some fundamental flaws. The most educated Americans were amassing more and more wealth, dominating the best living areas, pouring advantages into their kids. A highly unequal caste system was forming.
I saw but didn’t see. By the time the financial crisis hit, the flaws in modern capitalism were blindingly obvious, but my mental frames still didn’t shift fast enough.
Vaccine apartheid may have been intentional or it may have been just damn good luck for Big Pharma but what is bad for humanity could be the best thing that has happened to the planet in 200,000 years. It adds to the converging vectors auguring near-term human extinction. Not from zoonotic viruses so much — that is just the weapon of choice this time — more from our innate greed and avarice as a species.
This week James Lovelock passed at the age of 103. The co-originator of the Gaia Hypothesis went against prevailing convention to predict:
“[T]he cull during this century is going to be huge, up to 90 percent. The number of people remaining at the end of the century will probably be a billion or less. It has happened before. Between the ice ages there were bottlenecks when there were only 2,000 people left. It’s happening again.”
Gaia is running a fever and the present pandemic is only one of the many symptoms. Either you are part of the viral attack or you are an antibody. You decide.
Towns, villages and cities in the Ukraine are being bombed every day. As refugees pour out into the countryside, they must rest by day so they can travel by night. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. So far there are 62 sites in Ukraine and 265 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”
The Green Road also wants to address the ongoing food crisis at the local level by helping people grow their own food, and they are raising money to acquire farm machinery, seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.
As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.
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