07 August 2020

Defeating the pandemic

As I've noted before, even if the US had competent leadership right now, we still would not be doing nearly as well as other developed countries in fighting covid-19 because of the "stupid one-third" of our population, which refuses to cooperate with public health measures.  The anti-maskers, the spring-breakers, the churches that put their medieval rituals and taboos above science and secular law -- they would, and will, keep the pandemic raging regardless of the occupant of the White House.  Those who grasp this point increasingly pin their hopes on a vaccine, which would cut through the problem by making people immune to the virus rather than needing to follow all these onerous precautions to avoid it.

Vaccines are humanity's most powerful weapon against infectious disease.  But in this case, there are a number of caveats to keep in mind.

First, it's not inevitable that a vaccine will be developed in a reasonable time.  HIV has been around for four decades and we still don't have a vaccine against it.  Viruses are extremely difficult to deal with (and no, viruses and bacteria are not just two vaguely similar categories of "germs", they're totally different things).  The effort and money being spent toward a covid-19 vaccine is vast, and it will be developed as soon as is humanly possible -- but "as soon as is humanly possible" might not be within a year or two as we all hope.

Second, a big part of the reason why vaccines take so long to develop is safety testing, which is critically important.  A drug to cure people of a deadly disease they already have can be useful even if it's dangerous -- if you have a 70% chance of dying of the disease, it's still worth trying the drug to cure it even if the drug itself has a 5% chance of killing you.  But vaccines only work if they're given to whole populations, because they work by building up resistance before people are exposed to the disease.  If we vaccinate 300 million people and then it turns out the vaccine kills 5% of the people who get it, we'll kill 15 million.  So safety testing is essential.

A corollary of this is that assurances from politicized government agencies cannot be trusted.  Trump is desperate for any news that would persuade people that the pandemic is being beaten, since he believes this would help him get re-elected.  I have no doubt that his toadies in charge of whatever agencies would have to approve a vaccine as safe are fully capable of fudging and rushing the process to get such a panacea out there as quickly as possible.  If a vaccine is announced before the election -- or, really, while Trump is still in office at all -- do not trust assurances of its safety until the identical vaccine is approved by the appropriate regulatory agencies in other advanced nations.  If France or the UK or South Korea declare it safe, you can rely on that.

Third, even if a vaccine is developed and shown to be safe, the usual anti-vaxers, the crackpots who think it's being used to inject Satanic microchips into people, and much of the rest of the "stupid one-third" will refuse it.  At least in this case the harm they do will be mostly limited to themselves, unlike with their rejection of masks and social distancing -- as long as you get the vaccine, you will be protected despite their virus-friendly behavior.  But they will prevent the "herd immunity" that normally protects the small minority of people who for whatever reason cannot be vaccinated.  And other countries, which now bar or strictly limit visitors from the plague-infested US, will be reluctant to start letting Americans in again, since there's no obvious way to distinguish the stupid ones from the non-stupid.

(Darwinfish 2 blog recently suggested issuing photo ID cards to people who get the covid-19 vaccine so they can prove they are safe, which might help with that last issue.  But there would be a lot of resistance to a system which would be portrayed as distinguishing the "unclean" religious nuts and Trumpanzees from the "clean" normal people -- even though that would be the actual reality.)

Finally, even without a vaccine, there's the possibility of developing drugs to cure covid-19 in infected people or at least mitigate the symptoms, similar to the drugs which now allow people with HIV to lead fairly normal lives.  But I'm guessing that this, too, will be very difficult.  Covid-19 has a lot of different effects -- we're still learning all the ways it harms the body.  Developing those drugs for HIV took a long time, though it would probably be somewhat faster today due to more advanced technology.  And the scale of the problem is far different.  HIV is one of the hardest-to-transmit infectious pathogens ever discovered, while the covid-19 virus is among the easiest.  After decades, the number of HIV-positive people in the US is holding steady at around one million, while in just a few months we've racked up almost five million known covid-19 infections.

Competent national leadership will help.  Once we actually get it.  (January 20 is still more than five months away.)  But don't assume the pandemic will be defeated easily or quickly, even then.  There will still be a lot of hard work to do.


Blogger Jack said...

What percentage of the population would need to be vaccinated in order for vaccination to be effective, and can we get there? I think we might get there eventually, but I'm less optimistic about our chances in the short-term. What happens if a third of Americans refuse the vaccine?

07 August, 2020 02:41  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

I don't think we will be back to 'normal' for a long time.
Like you said, people have had to make adjustments in what concerns sexual practices because there's not a vaccine or cure for HIV.
Cheeto is desperate for a vaccine because he fucked up the country out of ineptitude and vanity, and he'll do anything (lie, of course, but also push for some serious snake oil) to find a way to trick the unwashed masses.
I would not trust a vaccine touted by the IMPOTUS administration. Nope. Like you say, it would have to be a world-wide approved vaccine for me to do anything.
Also, this:
"Third, even if a vaccine is developed and shown to be safe, the usual anti-vaxers, the crackpots who think it's being used to inject Satanic microchips into people, and much of the rest of the "stupid one-third" will refuse it."
Idiots! Oh, Darwin.


07 August, 2020 03:46  
Blogger Mary said...

So glad I’m getting your excellent posts again. I agree 100%. This one third of stupid religious racist ignorant people, in some combination, is going to forever be a thorn in our society and getting reasonable anything done. Their combination of hatred, greed and stupidity is a dangerous thing Indeed.

07 August, 2020 04:24  
Blogger One Fly said...

trumper says he has a vaccine before the election - run like the wind.

07 August, 2020 05:29  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Good points that you make. I don't know how we can get the stupid folks to change their attitude without some strict enforcement, and that will lead to more battle, concerning more lawsuits against folks trying to make progress, claims of rights violatons, constitutionality, etc. I still see folks, especially in the poorer areas of Dallas, that don't wear masks. I was going to stop at a corner store last weekend in Pleasant Grove (low income community with largest population of black and latino), some folks walking into the store with no masks ... yet, Dallas County said it's "mandatory", and the city. No, I would not go in the store ... because even at safe distancing, and wearing my mask, the fact is that the virus could be just hanging in the air, circulating through the AC system, it's a small mom and pop joint. My buddy Tyrone that lives over there and works retail/ commercial security for 6- 7 years or so on his job over there ... quit his job, all of the sudden ... I asked him why? ... he told me the business owner was too laxed on enforcing mask wearing, telling Tyrone, to just overlook it or something, I guess because these neighbourhood businesses need any business they can get. Whether Tyrone can get unemployment for quitting on them grounds, I don't know?, but I encouraged him to try ... I mean like, T quit on his own choice, because he refused to go along with the business owners, who asked T, to ignore customers who were not wearing masks, when T asked a couple to leave the store and don't come back in without a mask ... T never drew unemployment in his life, he's mid 40s.

That is another problem I see ...folks have to make a living or go homeless in this country ... for me, and I'm sure many would disagree with me ... I think we need to give much more of this bailout money, not to cruise line joints, or offshore businesses, etc ... but to small businesses, and workers, who go spend it, not rathole it in offshore accounts ... and directly ... not to these f'n mega banks to redistribute through f'n loans or other crap deals they design ... we don't need "middle- men" ... we need direct assistance, from government. In Texas, I think close to million or more folks (can't remember the number) lost insurance like instantly, when they lost their jobs. You can't keep real economy strong and working by feeding billions only to multinational corporations, banks, and the financial economy sector, especially having them managing the distribution and flow of funds. And asking them "to be nice and compassionate ...please don't do all stock buybacks ... or boost CEO payouts, etc". I mean like, we're asking a bunch of well educated thugs with MBAs and wearing Giorgio Armani suits to "PLEASE don't f*ck us" ... which is also STUPID, as well. We also need more testing and healthcare ... this crap about letting laid off workers go to COBRA is shit, man ... how do you pay for the shit if you ain't got a job? We're not doing most right or efficiently, and it's not just Trump, although he's the biggest f*ck up ... our Congress don't even have their shit together ... I'll shut the Hell up, because I could go on and on ... Thanx for the read, guy

07 August, 2020 07:38  
Blogger Mary said...

Oh Jack Vance, I agree. A third will probably refuse and there might be some justification if it’s well tested and rushed. But also if it’s not a company trump has financial interest in or some big trump donor, he will downplay the company or outright say it’s no good.

07 August, 2020 09:02  
Blogger Mike said...

Unfortunately, COVID-19 could be an ongoing problem since it attacks the ACE2 protein and the ACE2 is associated with many of the body's systems.

07 August, 2020 11:27  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Absolutely; this is a marathon, not a sprint, as they say.

07 August, 2020 15:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Religion is the worst conspiracy theory ever.

08 August, 2020 20:51  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I predict over a million deaths and 5 years before we get everyone vaccinated and that's after they actually get one.. Russia says they have one, but yeah, not going to buy that shit.

11 August, 2020 14:27  

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