Author Archives: admin

vaccinated

Well, friends, you’ll be happy to know I got vaccinated.  I learned that there were extra doses up north, so I hopped in the car, and drove up to a vaccine site in rural northern Washington and got my shot.  It was a two-and-a-half hour round trip, but totally worth it.   Then, a few hours later, Washington stated that everyone would have access to the vaccine in mid-April instead of May.  Ha.

The whole experience was a bit surreal.  A quarter mile from the site, I was starting to think I had the wrong address.  Then I noticed a sign saying “vaccines” pointing to a dirt road going into the woods.  I headed in behind a couple other cars, and soon we were driving overland – not a road at all.  I was glad I took the AWD!  After a bit of slow off-roading, we were back on the road, and queued in various lines filling out information, until I got the vaccine.  I didn’t even get out of the car.  I just opened my window, and they leaned in and gave me the shot.  They wrote the time on my windscreen, and you were allowed to leave once an attendant verified that 15 minutes had elapsed since your shot.

I’m extremely glad to be done with it, and I’m also glad that they’ve moved up the date, since H is still unvaccinated.  (He was not willing to drop everything to drive up there.)

Honestly, I think the vaccine priority process here in most of the US is nuts.  Connecticut, who has chosen to prioritize by age, has been tremendously successful.  In Ireland, they just declared they would switch to a solely age-based priority system, having already vaccinated medical personnel.   The furious response from various unions is telling.  Similarly, in Washington, it seems that the strength of the union determines when you get the vaccine.  For example, grocery workers got the vaccine weeks before restaurant workers, despite data suggesting restaurant workers are at greater work.  And you’re out of luck if, for example, you are an un-unionized Amazon warehouse worker.  Washington JUST made 60-year-olds eligible to be vaccinated this week!  Meanwhile, the death vs. age statistics are incontrovertible.  If everyone over 50 was vaccinated, deaths would virtually disappear.

Check out this list of % of people who are fully vaccinated over 65:

  • Connecticut: 65%
  • Indiana: 61%
  • Washington: 59%
  • North Carolina: 57%
  • New York: 42%
  • Pennsylvania: 41%

Will / are states like New York and Pennsylvania that failed to focus on vaccinating the vulnerable going to pay the price with an increase in deaths and hospitalizations?  I’ll have to come back and look at that data at some point.

But I’m going to try to stop worrying about that and just enjoy my vaccinated status.

Where did Covid come from?

I found the reaction of the mainstream media to Redfield’s comments . . . troubling.  To say the least.  Yes, Redfield was appointed by HeWhoShallNotBeNamed as CDC director.  But in addition to being a former CDC director, here are his qualifications:

  • BS Georgetown University
  • MD Georgetown University School of Medicine
  • Clinical and Research fellowships at Walter Reed Army Medical Center  in infectious diseases and Tropical Medicine
  • US Army physician and medical researcher in virology, immunology and clinical research at WRAMC  for ten years, HIV/AIDS focus for at least part of that time
  • Founded Institute of Human Virology at University of Maryland School of Medicine, a multidisciplinary research center focused on developing research and treatment programs for chronic human viral infection and disease
  • Tenured professor of medicine and microbiology, chief of infectious disease and vice chair of medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine.  Known for virology research, HIV/AIDS focus
  • Led research that demonstrated HIV could be heterosexually transmitted

How did he do as head of the CDC?  I personally have been very critical of the CDC, and particularly their public communications, and also their massive screwup in delays getting Covid tests out.  However, I’d trust the CDC over anyone else, especially the WHO.  They’re still the best we’ve got.

  • On February 13, 2020, Redfield said that the “virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission”
  • The test debacle: “During February 2020, the CDC’s early coronavirus test malfunctioned nationwide. Redfield reassured his fellow task force officials that the problem would be quickly solved, according to White House officials.[23] It took about three weeks to sort out the failed test kits, which may have been contaminated during their processing in a CDC lab. Widespread COVID-19 testing in the United States was effectively stalled until February 28, when the faulty test was revised, and the days afterward, when the Food and Drug Administration began loosening rules that had restricted other labs from developing tests.[24] Later investigations by the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services found that the CDC had violated its own protocols in developing the faulty test.”
  • “On July 14, 2020, Redfield warned that the winter of 2020–2021 would probably be “one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health”.[28] He also said, “If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think over the next four, six, eight weeks, we could bring this epidemic under control.””
  • Got it right on schools: “On July 23, the CDC called for reopening American schools, in a statement written by a working group at the White House that included Redfield but had minimal representation from other CDC officials.”
  • On vaccines: “Redfield told a Senate panel that a limited supply of a COVID-19 vaccine might be available in November or December, but that the general public would not be inoculated until the summer or fall of 2021.”

There are controversies, like support for abstinence over condoms for AIDS prevention, which in 2021 seems pretty stupid, but I think the guy is as qualified to comment on the origins of Covid-19 as anyone who hasn’t actually been to China – which is almost everyone.

Here’s what Redfield said:

I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, you know, escaped.  Other people don’t believe that. That’s fine.  Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.

Here’s how it was reported:

New York Times: Ex-CDC Director Favors Debunked Covid-19 Origin Theory

New York Times: The C.D.C.’s ex-director offers no evidence in favoring speculation that the coronavirus originated in a lab.

USA Today: Former CDC director Robert Redfield believes the coronavirus escaped a lab in China. Scientists are dubious.

And so on.  Basically, major papers discredited Redfield in the headline.  Why?  The NY Times headline is especially telling.  Debunked?  Really?  I’ve read extensively on this topic, and I haven’t seen anything that “debunks” the lab origin possibility.

A quote from the Washington Post, “Former CDC chief Redfield urged to step aside as Hogan adviser after Wuhan lab comments”

Redfield’s endorsement of the so-called “lab-leak” theory of the virus’s origin on CNN outraged several state lawmakers, who saw his comments as exacerbating
anti-Asian sentiment that has been on the rise since the United States saw its first cases.

Here’s the thing, we HAVE to separate China, the communist country which is a clear and present threat to the US and democracies worldwide, from “Asians” living in the US.  I realize that the distinction may be too fine for many Americans, liberal and conservative alike, to comprehend, but most Asians and Asian-Americans are not, in fact, in any way related to China.  Only 21% of Asian-Americans are of Chinese origin.  Also, newsflash, people living here who came from China, either recently or generations ago, came to the US because they preferred it to China.  Many fled China’s oppressive regime and its poverty.  Yes, SOME Chinese-Americans, particularly those living here temporarily for study or work, may support China over the US.  However, they are a tiny minority of the overall US “Asian” population.  It is critical and necessary for the US to maintain a suspicious and defensive attitude towards China, and for people, including the media, to recognize this has little to do with Chinese-Americans, never mind other Asian-Americans.   The fact that political-correctness over AAPI hate now extends to firing highly qualified people who speak ill of China is very scary and foolhardy.

The response from the New York Times and others has focused on the fact that there is “no evidence” supporting the lab theory.  They are completely right.  Unfortunately, there is limited or no evidence supporting any other theory of origins either.  The problem is that China will not release raw data from the beginning of the epidemic.  So we are left without evidence supporting any theory of origin.  Redfield seems confident that we’ll find out where it came from one way or another.  I hope he’s right.  We did eventually discover the origin of AIDS, which is incredible – I recommend reading about that – but it took a while.

From the WSJ:

A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic found that data examined during a recent mission to China was insufficient to answer critical questions as to when, where and how the virus began spreading.

The final report declared that the virus very likely spread from bats and then to humans via another small mammal species such as mink, raccoon dogs or ferret badgers, either on a farm or in the wild.

It stopped short of ruling out altogether the hypothesis that the virus could have escaped as the result of a lab accident, but said it would be “extremely unlikely” because there is no record that any laboratory, in China or elsewhere, had been working with either the new coronavirus, or another, closely related virus.

Most of the research for the report was conducted by Chinese scientists, almost all of whom work for the state. Under the terms of that study, China conducted the bulk of the research, which was presented to the team of international scientists recruited by the WHO, during their visit in January and February.

China claims the virus came from abroad via frozen food, which the report declares “extraordinarily unlikely,” unlike the lab theory, which is merely “extremely unlikely.”

Honestly, I don’t think we have any idea where this came from.  I hope we find out at some point.

 

CFR

I’ve been enjoying browsing Covid plots on ourworldindata.org.  It’s a really convenient interface that allows you to plot data from various countries simultaneously.  I wish you could plot by state, but sadly, that’s not possible.

First, CFR.  When our former president said, we have more Covid cases because we’ve been testing more, I was extremely skeptical.  But it turns out he may have been right.  We can see that the CFR for the US dropped below that of the EU on March 9, 2020.  (I would guess that CFR is a pretty good proxy for how much you’re testing.  An alternative guess is that we had just as much Covid as Europe, but we have better medical care in the US, or that our hospitals had greater capacity.  I think it’s more likely we did a better job testing.)  You can see, however, how badly the US bungled testing during the critical early days.  What a debacle.

Zooming in, you can see our CFR continues to be substantially lower than most countries in Europe.  The US is sitting at 1.8% and the EU at 2.3%; that’s more than 25% higher.  The UK is 60% higher at 2.9%.  Let’s hope that’s not because the UK variant is more dangerous.

Looking at a log view of the CFR over time, a few things jump out at me.  First, we know Israel and the UAE have done a bang up job testing their citizens.  The CFR in the UAE is only 0.33%.  That suggests they’re catching most cases.  (Last I read, the fatality rate for Covid is thought to be somewhere south of 0.5%, though it depends on the health of the population.)   But a number of things are odd.  Australia’s CFR is up with the UK.  Why?  With so few cases, one would think they would have an extremely low CFR – that they would catch all cases, and that the CFR would reflect the actual fatality rate of the disease.  Are 3% of people who infected with Covid dying in Australia??? Or are they missing two thirds or more of the cases?  Either one seems concerning and unlikely.  What is going on?  What’s up with Mexico?  Why were things so bad in the UK early on?  The fact that the CFR for the UK has been so consistently high for a very long time, relative to other countries, suggests that perhaps, and hopefully, the UK variant is not worse than other variants in terms of fatality, and they just do a really poor job testing.  But a great job vaccinating.  Give credit where credit is due.

Currently, the US is sandwiched between South Korea and Japan, which is a good place to be.  But it probably means something very different, given how much higher our caseload is.  Unfortunately, I am very familiar with the Covid testing process at this point, as we’ve had several Covid tests in the family, and will have more still, guaranteed.  For example, when my parents visit, we’ll have to do a Covid test before the kids can return to school – despite a 7-day quarantine after their arrival.  This kind of nonsensical over-testing of people who we don’t have any reason to believe they have Covid probably skews our CFR artificially downwards.  I mean, if you test people who are fully vaccinated just because they had the temerity to cross a state border, you’re going to get a negative that nicely decreases your CFR.

defund the police?

What do you think about the movement to “defund the police”?  Do you support it?

Interesting article today in the New York Times on how things are going in Minneapolis.

The sacred intersection where George Floyd died beneath the knee of a police officer has seen such an increase in violence that food delivery drivers are afraid to venture there. There have been gun battles, with bloodied shooting victims dragged to ambulances because of barricades keeping the police and emergency vehicles away.

But home in on the four neighborhoods surrounding George Floyd Square, the name given to the corner where Mr. Floyd died, and the story is far bleaker and deadlier. In those areas — Powderhorn Park, Central, Bryant and Bancroft — violent crime shot up by 66 percent last year, according to statistics from the Police Department. And this year, so far, little has changed.

The area has become something of an autonomous zone, with barriers and signs calling it “the free state of George Floyd.” The police have stayed away for almost a year to avoid inflaming tensions.

For what it’s worth, I oppose “defunding the police.”  Seattle came under federal Justice Department oversight under the Obama administration for excessive use of force, which disproportionately affects minority populations.  According to the (liberal paper) the Seattle Times, they were making great progress dealing more fairly with the population.  How was this accomplished?  Well, I’m sure it won’t surprise you that it required significant INCREASES to the police budget.  When the Seattle city council in its infinite wisdom cut the police budget, our African American female police chief, who was doing a good job in extremely difficult circumstances as far as I could tell, stepped down rather than fire the young minority officers she’d managed to hire during her tenure.  (The union won’t let you lay off who you want to – last in, first out, and obviously, the older officers are whiter.  Nothtatheresanythingwrongwiththat, but it seems intuitively obvious that having a diverse police force is a worthy goal.)

So what DO I think should be done?  Most of the problems, as far as I can tell, come down to the police unions.  It’s been really interesting to see the Democrats desert the police, since traditionally, they’ve been closely linked (like ALL organizations with a strong union are closely linked to the Dems.)  I think this is a very good thing.  While we’ve seen rising support for police among Republicans, Republicans are unlikely to support the union in the same way the Dems have.

Steps to take:

  • Change state laws so that if a police officer in fact kills someone unjustly, they can be held accountable for their actions.
  • Keep a NATIONAL registry of police officers let go with cause – Do.Not.Hire so that screwups from one force don’t just relocate to another.
  • When an officer screws up and is let go, make sure the cause of termination is on his record.  Again, this comes back to weakening the union and in general, the ridiculousness of try to fire government employees.  An officer can do pretty much anything short of murder without getting a black mark on his record when he’s let go.  This is unacceptable.
  • Hire more young, minority officers.

It really comes down, in my mind, to letting go the bag eggs.  They did an analysis, and something like 10% of SPD officers were responsible for the vast majority of violent encounters with civilians.  While some of that is no doubt reasonable (ie some officers probably work in more dangerous areas), it suggests that there are bad eggs.   It’s critical to figure out how to get rid of those guys and replace them with better officers.  A government job should not be a job for life if you suck.

Equally important, though, the long term solution is to get guns off the street.  We keep hearing about people killed by police because they are brandishing a ball point pen, or reaching in their pocket or something similar, when they were in fact unarmed.  I’m sure I’d be a terrible police officer, but no matter who you are, it’s a really hard job to be working with a criminal population armed to the teeth.  So the long-term solution?  Get rid of the guns.  I’m an extremist when it comes to gun control.  I’d like them gone.  I’d take us back to the 1700s if I could, Last of the Mohicans style.  Load one bullet at a time, baby, in a giant, impossible to conceal weapons.  Once the populace is disarmed, there’s no reason for 95% of police officers to carry a firearm or even mace or a taser.

When you have no-go zones, like CHAZ in Seattle or what’s apparently going on in Minneapolis, it’s the women and children who suffer.  Obviously women suffer when their husbands and sons are murdered by police, but they also suffer when criminals are allowed free reign.  It honestly reminds of Belfast, where the Catholic population (justly) distrusted the police and established massive no-go zones throughout the city.  These zones were controlled by the IRA, aka gangs.  You had all manner of idealist talk, but again, the women and children suffered living under unelected rule with mob justice.  Kids deserve a safe place to go to school and shop and so on, and that’s not what’s happening right now.

Washington

I am jealous of people living in the 34 states allowing adults to be vaccinated in April.  That is all.

Here in Washington, we are waiting until at least May.

dribs and drabs

If you’ve been a running fan for a long time, or subscribed to Runner’s World a decade or two ago, you’re probably familiar with Team Hoyt.  Dick Hoyt pushed his profoundly physically disabled son in hundreds of races.  If you click the link, you can read their inspirational and moving story.  Sadly, Dick Hoyt passed has just passed away.

The WSJ had an article about how the Covid vaccine may be protecting the old.  I thought a couple of the plots were encouraging.  This plot showing the decline in nursing home deaths as a share of overall deaths since the beginning of the year, even while overall deaths have declined precipitously, is extremely encouraging.

The progress isn’t as obvious on this age chart, but I think it’s still encouraging.

Deaths 85+ have dropped dramatically, while deaths 75+ have remained steady by percentage, but because 85+ deaths have dropped, I believe that really shows an improvement (since you are seeing a constant percentage of a smaller pie).  The share of deaths 55-64 is increasing, which is what you’d expect to see, since that group is more vulnerable to Covid due to age and not protected by the vaccine.  Seattle only opened it’s mass vaccination sites to 65 year olds on March 1st; previously they were open to 70+, and not longer before that, only to 75+.  I’m sure there are other cities doing similarly poorly, and in some other states, vaccine distribution seems rather haphazard, to put it nicely.  In any case, a huge percentage of 65-74 year olds only got the shot in the last month.  I hope that the curve will look even better in another month.

On the negative side, the CFR is roughly the same now as it was last September, so we haven’t made any measurable progress in either detecting minor cases or healing more serious cases in the last six months.

the ongoing incompetence of Astra-Zeneca

Wow, Astra-Zeneca just cannot get it right.  Everyone, take a minute to recall that Thalidomide disaster of the past which happened in Europe, not the US, thanks to the FDA.

In a statement released shortly after midnight, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that an independent panel of medical experts that has been helping to oversee AstraZeneca’s U.S. trial had “expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.”

I am obviously extremely anxious to get a vaccine, but at this point, can anyone really want the AZ vaccine?  The UK has done a fantastic job of getting its citizens vaccinated, but I can’t help but wonder if they will achieve the desired results given their heavy reliance on AZ.  Time will tell.  We’ll probably know eventually if this vaccine is effective or not.

I had been thinking that despite the very checkered history AZ has thus far, if the US signed off on it based on the results from the *new trial* that it was clearly safe and effective.  The original trial seemed like it was totally screwed up and hard to draw firm conclusions from.  However, based on a new trial, we should get clear results.  However, they are now announcing results based on “outdated information”, etc.?  Wow.  Just wow.

Companies sponsoring drug or vaccine trials typically wait for the monitoring board to review analyses and conclude that the study has yielded an answer before they announce trial results.

I guess we’ll have to see how this plays out.

The fresh data may have arrived too late to make much difference in the United States, where the vaccine is not yet authorized and is unlikely to become available before May. By then, federal officials predict, there will be enough vaccine doses for all of the nation’s adults from the three vaccines that have already been authorized: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Good news for us, I guess.