The politics of immunity: part 2
The politics of immunity: part 1
The biggest story of the past six months in the world of CV-19 science is the declining protective properties of the vaccine, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the evening news.
I will never forget listening to a lecture by a psychologist who was talking about the challenges of adjusting our attitudes to adapt to new realities. He compared it to how the Apollo missions got to the moon. Nobody actually knew how to get to the moon because no one had ever been there before. All the scientists could do was to set a course for the moon and then correct it when it went wrong. Course. Correct. Course. Correct. Over and over again. That’s how we got to the moon. It is somewhat terrifying. All that unknown, all that uncertainty. But that is how we succeed in things as difficult as flying to moons; by remaining open and alert to newly emerging data. If we didn’t continue to correct our course — if we had simply stubbornly headed towards where we imagined the moon to be — we would never have made it.
Our covid policies are in danger of becoming like the rocket that has no hope of lading on the moon, and instead goes spiraling off into the void because the course was never corrected. We are becoming mired in ideologically-based rather than evidence-based positions which have less to do with controlling the virus and more to do with controlling ideas. The media is largely monolithic and seemingly incapable of creating space for any serious exchange of views. And as history has taught, when something becomes unsayable, it soon becomes something unthinkable. But we need to think, and hard. Because the decisions we make collectively from now on are going to affect the future of pretty much everyone on earth for generations to come.
IT’S NOT A PANDEMIC OF THE UNVACCINATED. IT’S A PANDEMIC OF DELTA
Scientists don’t go around saying things like, ‘This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated’. Politicians do. All the way back in March of this year, experts were expressing skepticism that herd immunity against CV-19 could be achieved. This was not because of people not getting the vaccines, but because of the ability of the delta variant to outsmart the them. The vaccines cannot prevent transmission of the delta variant of SARS-Cov-2, nor can they stop vaccinated people becoming infected.
Since March, the highly transmissible delta variant has soared, from less than 5%, up 87% of US cases by the summer, up to almost 100%. The original Wuhan variant against which the vaccines were developed is no longer even detectable among the variants currently circulating in the United States. Whether you prefer to focus on the virility of the delta variant or the unreliability of the vaccines, it amounts to the same thing. The vaccines are less reliable because of delta, and delta is a problem because of its ability to bypass the vaccines.
The burden of the relative failure of the vaccines to protect vaccinated people from infection and others around them from getting infected by them has been almost magically transferred from the vaccine manufacturers to the unvaccinated. The fading dream of herd immunity is now the shame of those who didn’t get the vaccine, even though the primary reason is – as scientists continue to try to tell us — that vaccines have not been able to keep pace with the variants. A jab in every arm is a political goal, not a scientific one.
Most scientists seem to have no problem admitting when they are wrong. They don’t take it personally. They just go back to the drawing board and look for another approach. Politicians, on the other hand, prefer to move the goalposts rather than admit that the ball never actually made it into the back of the net. And so we saw the herd immunity threshold quietly go from 60-70% of the population functionally immune – either through the vaccine or through previous infection – to people losing their jobs, communities being torn apart, the bullying of concerned pregnant women, the immuno-compromised and complete disregard of the naturally immune, to achieve a shot in every arm. No questions asked.
When a population in crisis is offered a solution that doesn’t live up to expectations, people very soon look for someone to blame. And this is exactly what has happened with the CV-19 vaccines. Officials began targeting the unvaccinated rather than the inability of the vaccine technology to keep pace with viral mutations. For decades to come, social historians will be studying how the failures of a medical intervention was successfully blamed on those who didn’t take it.
THE DATA LAG PROBLEM
Perhaps the only dependable feature of the CV-19 pandemic is its continuously shifting nature. This creates an enormous challenge for the various organs of state to adjust systemic responses accordingly. In this environment of constant threat and constant change, new evidence struggles to find a foothold in the dominant narrative, which resists nuance or complexity for easy to digest one size fits all solutions.
Jet leg is when when our body clocks are operating on a former light/dark cycle than the one we find ourselves in after crossing several time zones. Data lag can be described as when our approach to a problem is based on information from a former scenario that has evolved, leaving us maladjusted to the new situation. This data lag has kept a great deal of the emerging science out of the mainstream news, even though much of it is hiding in plain sight — available on government agency websites.
THE HEADLINES WE SHOULD BE READING
The article published in Nature back in March has turned out to be prophetic in a number of ways. The general trends it pointed to have been gradually increasing over time. That herd immunity through vaccination is no longer possible is a view that is now widely held by scientists because of this single factor: the ability of the Delta variant to sidestep the vaccines so that the vaccinated can now become infected with the virus and transmit it to others. And yet our governments trudge on with draconian vaccine mandates that make little sense in light of what we now understand.
The most disturbing trend we are seeing is the declining efficacy of the vaccines against emerging variants and the increasing cases of covid among the vaccinated. This is happening particularly among the elderly – the very demographic prioritized for vaccination due to their significantly greater vulnerability to CV-19.
On the positive side, naturally acquired immunity from previous infection is proving to be far more robust and durable than previously thought. Another positive development is that we have improved our understanding of early-stage therapeutics for CV-19, even though there is woefully inadequate support for making these interventions available to patients.
We have to accept that things have not worked out the way we’d hoped and that 95% CV-19 vaccine efficacy is yesterday’s news. There is now a new reality. Drink a glass of wine, don’t answer the phone, go for a long hike, whatever it takes to get your head around the headlines that we should be reading.
THE VACCINES ARE LOSING THEIR EFFICACY. Data out of Israel and the UK reveals that the vaccines are losing ground against the virus at an alarming rate. Although the booster shots are being lauded as the answer to this, it is an open question whether either the medical technology or the vaccine supply chains can manage to keep even one step ahead of novel mutations.
THE VACCINATED CAN TRANSMIT THE VIRUS. We have now learned that vaccinated people who become infected with Delta SARS-CoV-2 can carry as much virus in their nose as do unvaccinated people, and can just as easily spread it to others.
ALMOST THREE-QUARTERS OF COVID CASES AMONG THE ELDERLY ARE AMONG THE FULLY VACCINATED according to a US Department of Defense (DoD) study called ‘Project Salus’ that looked at 5.6 million recipients of the RNA vaccines among the over 65s.
COVID DEATHS ARE MULTIPLYING IN THE VACCINATED. Since March, the percentage of CV-19 deaths among the fully vaccinated in the US has increased by over 10% in only 4 months according to a leaked CDC report. More recent evidence from Israel now shows that vaccine protection continues to decline in the months following the jab. This is the reason for the campaigns for ‘booster’ shots, but it is still unclear how protective they will be in the long term.
NATURALLY ACQUIRED IMMUNITY THROUGH PREVIOUS INFECTION IS ROBUST AND DURABLE. Herd immunity is gained in only two ways; either by catching the infection and surviving it, or through vaccination. Naturally acquired immunity has been practically ignored by the current US administration, even though there are to date 45 million covid-recovered Americans potentially immune to the virus who can play a crucial role in any CV-19 exit strategy.
Data lag is keeping us committed to strategies that were designed for a strain of the virus that is no longer among us. Statistics like 95% vaccine efficacy are yesterday’s news. Delta changed everything.
We have to accept that things have not worked out the way that many of us had hoped with the vaccines. Drink a glass of wine, go offline for a while, pack a tent for the mountains; whatever it takes to get your head and heart around this reality. Vaccines alone are not going to provide the solution. We have to think differently.
- We need to consider CV-19 vaccines as part of a larger strategy.
- We need to acknowledge the role of naturally acquired immunity and adjust public health policies accordingly.
- We need to invest in research and faster pathways for early-stage CV-19 treatments and preventions that include diet, lifestyle and therapeutics.
Broad scale public health policy affecting the lives of billions is being based on old data. The emerging evidence for waning vaccine immunity in light of delta requires us to update our thinking about both the problem and potential solutions and to go beyond the single solution scenario. Government officials and the media must allow this information to become part of the public discourse — so we can decide on our response measures accordingly.
If we can correct the course we are on, we might just stand a chance of reaching the moon. Maybe this moon is not a covid-free world, but it could well be a world where we are free to live our lives beyond the fear of covid. And that would be a world worth living in.