Vaccines, boosters, masks, mandates, madness.
How do we go forward? How do we sort things out?
This piece is a little longer than my usuals. That’s because there’s a lot to be discussed. Would love to hear from you. Comments are appreciated, just keep them respectful and smart.
I will discuss:
… And some extras along the way…
Let me start by saying that I got vaccinated in early March 2021, with J&J by choice. Earlier in the pandemic, I stayed socially distant and wore a mask while scientists went to work to find a way out of this nightmare. Enter the government, media, the naysayers and conspiracy theorists, and politicians, and things got more complicated than they should be. So complicated, that between the fear-mongering on the left about safety, the fear-mongering on the right about rights, the political ambitions of many, the race for ratings among the media, the noise-making by anti-vaxxers disguised as scientists, and the sweet gravy train these vaccines have become for the manufacturers, it's now almost impossible to sort things out as to what we need and what we should do for our individual health and collective well being.
Everyone's got an opinion, including me. This is my opinion. Unlike most out there, I've spent countless hours researching various studies, listening to as many voices of reason as I can positively ID as educated, independent thinkers and experts, trying to sort out the details into something I can live and work with.
Like many, I was nervous about the new mRNA technology for vaccines, as promising and as revolutionary as it was. I trust science. But science takes a while to really know something, and we didn't have that much time. I wanted to see more long-term data on what these things do. However, if an mRNA vaccine was the only option, I would have taken it. From my perspective, the immediate danger of COVID, the spread, and the suffering it causes, the cost to people, businesses, and society, infinitely outweighs the risk that may or may not exist from getting an mRNA vaccine.
Lucky for me, J&J came out with the adenovirus type of vaccine, which is something I knew works as a technology that has saved the world of other plagues. I got it. Had no side effects. Then the bad press started rolling out, and the only vaccine that was cheap enough and easy to transport and reach people all over the globe got a bad reputation. Unjustified, in my opinion.
The media picked up the blood clot stories and ran with them before anyone had a chance to check the data and do some math. Meanwhile, they ignored the issues with the spike protein of the mRNA vaccines, which seemed to be seriously implicated in causing an inflammatory condition of the heart in young people, primarily men, and athletes.
Some numbers, just for kicks. By May 12, 9 million doses of J&J were administered in the USA. 28 cases of blood clots surfaced. That's a chance of 0.0003111111% of getting this condition. Meaning it's statistically insignificant. Even more insignificant if you consider other factors that were not adequately accounted for contributed to the situation. (Read this article by YaleMedicine.)
In comparison, 5228 people died from choking in 2019 when the population of the US was 328.2 million, producing a 0.0015929311% chance that one could die from choking. For those not into math, an easier way to look at it is that 28 in 9 million is like 3.1 persons per 1 million could get a blood clot. While 5228 chokers per 328.2 million are like 15.9 people per 1 million. Your odds of choking are more than five times higher than your odds of getting a blood clot. I'd say, with the odds of choking this high, we should all stop eating solid food and start slurping.
In further comparison, the spike protein issue boils down to this. Israel's Ministry of Health reported, according to this article from June 1, 2021, that between 1 in 3000 and 1 in 6000 men (that's like between 333 – 167 people per 1 million) ages 16 to 24 who received the Pfizer vaccine developed the rare condition called myocarditis (heart inflammation). "But most cases were mild and resolved within a few weeks, which is typical for myocarditis." Fortunately, as of the time of the above article, only 2 people had died from the condition in Israel out of more than 13 million shots administered. The connection between the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and myocarditis is currently investigated in the US, but how many people know about it?
Now compare the vaccine risks to your risk of dying from Covid-19. So far, in the US, we've clocked about 640,000 deaths (according to Reuters at the time of writing this). Meaning your odds of dying are 1,951 per 1 million (640,00/328 since we have 328 million people). It's worse than choking. It's worse than car accidents, at about 110 per million.
Here are some reasons people don't get vaccinated.
People don't trust the government. But if you trust the government to build the roads you drive on, or pay you benefits (disability, social security, unemployment, food stamps, etc), or protect your money in the bank through the FDIC insurance, or approve and regulate all the medications you are on for blood pressure, diabetes, allergies, etc., you can extend that trust just a little further to include the vaccines.
People don't trust vaccine science because they don't understand it. You don't understand what makes a smartphone work, but you use it all day long. A few understand what makes a plane fly and provide wi-fi, but we all travel and complain when the wi-fi doesn't work. You don't know the composition of the medication doctors will use to save you from COVID, but you are willing to take that and an expensive, extended stay in the hospital instead of a free and quick vaccine. It doesn't make sense! I am sorry.
People think the vaccines will change their DNA. Well, hopefully, they will turn you into a healthy supermodel and not an elephant. Seriously? How's that even a thing? But OK, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA, so it does kind of sound like DNA, except it's a messenger RNA meant to trigger your immune system to produce antibodies to combat the virus when it sees it. It's not a modification of human DNA. That's like saying that COIVD-19 is the 19th coronavirus instead of the coronavirus identified in 2019. I forgot. Some people are still asking what happened to the other 18 coronaviruses… I can't help these people. I can't help those who also think that the vaccines will kill you in 5 to 7 years, by some sinister plot to greatly reduce the population of the Earth by people who rely on the economy to keep getting richer. To those I say, if you reduce the population of the Earth by billions, the economies will tank because all these consumers will be dead. Therefore, the people who want to get richer will be getting poorer. Also, Earth will be really stinky with dead bodies going down everywhere.
Not all vaccines are mRNA either, so consider J&J instead. That's the same as the vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, HVI, and TB. J&J uses an adenovirus to trigger an immune system response the old fashion way. None of the other vaccines you received as a kid killed you, and this one probably won't either. This is the vaccine I got.
Some people believe that the vaccines will place a chip in their arm. For what purpose? To track you? Your phone is already providing your data, where you've been, what you watch, read, and listen to, and a lot more to anyone who's able to pay for the data. If you want to be free of tracking, dump your phone. Go back to messenger pigeons. And dump your activity tracker, fancy watch. That's already officially called a tracker, and you paid to wear it. The vaccine is free. If you think the chip will be used later to make you do stuff, they already have apps for that now. You already do all the things they want you to do. You spend hours watching news and TV, on social media, buying products they advertise to you, and spewing whatever ideological nonsense they pipe into you. Sooo…
Others argue the freedom to chose what goes in their bodies. People forget that individuals can only enjoy the freedom to make mistakes if they are alive. I rank freedom right at the top of my rights and priorities and a notch below staying alive. Give me liberty or give me death, they say. I'd rather take life and figure out the rest later. Call me selfish. I call myself pragmatic, logical, and resourceful. I am sure I can figure out anything if I am still alive, including pondering the necessity for balance between life and freedom, rights and obligations, the person and the collective. At least I am willing to do try.
Now we need them, they say. The virus is mutating. Gotta stay ahead of it, or at least just behind it. Pfizer is pushing them. Others are still evaluating. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if everyone, or almost everyone, got vaccinated already. Would we worry about variants as much? Would boosters be on the table? We'll never know because we can't get enough people to agree to get vaccinated.
I have other questions too. Will boosters be a thing we do every eight months, forever and ever? I am not sure how I feel about that. I don't want to feel tied down to a shot, nor do I feel convinced that we need them en masse. I had the flu once in my life, in 1996 and never again. Never had a cold since then either. I am not lucky. I work hard at staying healthy. I am not in a risk category, don't live with children or the elderly, and wash my hands. Could I roll without a booster?
Will boosters be required for someone to be considered "vaccinated" for travel and employment purposes? I already laminated my vaccine card, so recording a booster or boosters will be funny. But, if we are boosting all the time, will we need something different than a raggedy, old card. Like an app or something? I can see the opposition for that already mounting before we've even gotten there. Will boosters be forever free? Who's paying for that?
Since I have J&J, I keep up on booster developments there. In an article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago, I found out that J&J said that researchers observed in two new studies (not peer-reviewed yet) "significant increases in antibody responses in participants between ages 18 and 55 and in those 65 and older who received a lower booster dose." A booster may be needed after eight months from the original vaccination and elicited a 9-fold increase in the immune response of recipients, researchers said. I'd consider myself impermeable with that. I am willing to give that a try since the virus is still raging all over the place. It's not likely that I would do more than that. I'll probably elect to take my chances after that, knowing how adenovirus vaccination works to train the innate and adaptive immune systems. I'd rather eat kale and play in the sun.
After being lied to at the beginning of the pandemic that they are not helpful, we were told later that it was just a strategy to keep our hands off of the limited supply to prioritize healthcare workers. Then we were told that they save lives, then to wear them everywhere. Some cities went as far as imposing fines if they saw you out in the open without one. Most of us now know that masks, together with other hygiene measures, protect us from all sorts of infections. The winter of 2020 saw the least flu cases and colds ever on record. Go figure. Masks and washing your hands can continue to help. Now that we know how to use them and hopefully have cleaner hands, we should consider not spreading germs around when we don't feel well. Co-workers, friends, students, and family members will be grateful.
But should we wear them when we feel fine and are vaccinated? Should we wear them out of an abundance of caution? Should we wear them everywhere? Should masks be mandated?
Here's what I've found out. You can make up your mind what to do with this information.
The CDC came out with a strong recommendation that all vaccinated people wear masks in public and that children should wear them too in school. That's after they said that vaccinated people don't have to wear masks, which came after they said that vaccinated people might have to wear a mask—getting confused? It's a mask déjà vu.
The CDC based its recommendation on this study out of Massachusetts, where in July of 2021, they identified 469 cases of COVID-19 associated with multiple summer events and large public gatherings. 274 vaccinated patients were symptomatic, 72 were not symptomatic, 4 were hospitalized, zero deaths. On July 27, the CDC came out with their recommendation. When I read this data, all I see is proof that vaccines work. It shows that if you are vaccinated and attend multiple large public events, you will be exposed to COVID-19 and likely test positive. However, you are not likely to die, unlike unvaccinated people. Nearly all Covid-19 deaths (98-99%) around the country are unvaccinated people, points out in this AP article. You also have a low likelihood of getting hospitalized. So, let's get vaccinated.
But what about the masks? According to the same CDC study, vaccinated people carry a similar viral load to non-vaccinated people, so they must be similarly contagious. A viral load (Ct value) of 25 or lower is considered bad news. So, therefore, "Jurisdictions might consider expanded prevention strategies, including universal masking in indoor public settings, particularly for large public gatherings that include travelers from many areas with differing levels of SARS-CoV-2 transmission."
The first thing that bugs me about this study is how small it is. Secondly, it states that it is early release. It means that the science is not conclusive yet. In this case, this is just one data point – one jurisdiction report, a snapshot, a moment in time.
Another study from Wisconsin, from July 2021, looked at the shedding of the virus among vaccinated people with breakthrough infections when the Delta variant is prevalent and concluded, "Our data substantiate the idea that vaccinated individuals who become infected with the Delta variant may have the potential to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others." This study was also very small and everyone was tested in the same lab. According to them, 68% of individuals who were fully vaccinated had low Ct values (<25). They go on to say that "While a given Ct value cannot be used to infer infectiousness, previous studies suggested that infectious SARS-CoV-2 can frequently be recovered from specimens with Ct values of 25-30 or lower."
This study was also funded by the CDC. It carries a warning at the very top that it is a pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed and that it reports new medical research that is yet to be evaluated.
Both of these studies rely on the Ct value (cycle threshold) to determine the amount of virus present and to draw conclusions about infectivity. Except that the Ct value's reliability has been disputed by many.
"But the same sample can give different CT values on different testing machines, and different swabs from the same person can give different results. "The CT value isn't an absolute scale," says Marta Gaglia, a virologist at Tufts University. That makes many clinicians wary, Mina says. "Clinicians are cautious by nature," Mina says. "They say, 'If we can't rely on it, it's not reliable.'" In an August letter in Clinical Infectious Diseases, members of the College of American Pathologists urged caution in interpreting CT values." (Science)
So, now you have it. An inconclusive science used to issue a strong recommendation for universal masking. Is the next step a mask mandate? How about telling people instead, "we don't know what this all means just yet, but if you feel vulnerable, wear a mask to protect yourself and possibly others."
Out of an abundance of caution, you may choose to do so. Individually. We assume that "an abundance of caution" carries no cost, which should make it a no-brainer. Just do it. It cost nothing but may help you or someone else. That's the logic. It may be how it is for you and for many. But I can think of at least one group of people who possibly bear enormous psychological and developmental costs. Children.
Children need faces to learn to socialize, read emotions, mirror, and generally develop within the normal bandwidth. Yet, no one has investigated the effect of masks on the development of children of various ages. I am surprised that no one is curious enough to try to figure it out. Meanwhile, suicide rates rise among children. This meta-analysis of depressive and anxiety symptoms among adolescents and children during COVID found that "The prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms during COVID-19 have doubled, compared with prepandemic estimates, and moderator analyses revealed that prevalence rates were higher when collected later in the pandemic, in older adolescents, and in girls." So, is there a connection with mask-wearing? I don't know, but I'd like to.
Another hidden effect of masks is that they inadvertently separate people into categories and raise social anxiety in general. Anti-vaxxers and virus deniers usually don't wear masks. Usually, the vaccinated are nervous enough about COVID to wear masks too. While the previous group tends to think about individual rights and freedom of choice, the latter thinks collectively and is willing to put aside individuality for the sake of the common good. We identify each other by the choice to mask or not. As a result, we feel resentful, angry, upset, and at least a general dislike towards strangers we identify as the opposite of who we are.
Masks start endless debates, and each side points to the same experts as proof of their arguments. Yes, this is possible because of the flip-flopping in the expert world, especially the CDC and the WHO. In March of 2020, every major health official asserted that masks are not necessary for healthy people. The US Surgeon General twitted:
"Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!" Adams tweeted on Feb. 29, 2020.
"They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!"
He later deleted the tweet and changed his mind, as did others. The CDC director at the time, Dr. Redfield, told Congress that healthy people should not wear masks. By April, the tune had changed across the board, followed by excuses of why they said what they said. To this day, experts and people debate the effectiveness of masks and who should wear them. Even though the consensus mostly leans in the direction of masks being helpful, the debate continues and social anxiety rises. The cost of social anxiety is individual well-being. To add to the confusion and division, many state and local jurisdictions lean clear in the opposite direction from each other. Sometimes, the divisions follow city borders within the same county.
Then there is also the pollution we all cause by using disposable face masks. They are everywhere, worse than plastic bottles. I don't know how long it takes for a mask to disintegrate, but I am sure we'll be seeing them everywhere for years to come. So will the birds and animals.
I hate them. I come from a communist country. We had mandated uniforms, red or blue scarves, silly little hats, and things we could and couldn't say. It sucked. Progressive liberals think that it's OK to force people to do something for their own good. I disagree, but with some exceptions. We were forced to get TB shots back in Bulgaria. No one had TB. Same with measles, mumps, and rubella. Disease cause suffering. Eliminating the disease eliminates the suffering.
Regardless of the system of government, there are times when the government needs to make a serious move to protect people. It pretty much only applies to public health emergencies, though. Like when George Washington mandated his army to be vaccinated against smallpox which gave him an advantage in the American Revolution and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. That was back in 1777. Fast forward to 1905. You will find a landmark Supreme Court decision which states that the government has the power to mandate vaccination in public health emergencies. Smallpox was the public health emergency then. The fine for not compliance was $5. Don't believe me? Read this Library of Congress piece and this History Channel story.
However, for people to follow and not complain too much, the government has to enjoy trust from the people. Unfortunately, most Americans don't trust the government. We've been lied to a million times. Our politicians keep getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar or up someplace worse. But also, Americans champion freedom and individuality. They believe they are capable of making decisions for themselves. But with 328 million people trying to do just that, it can get complicated, especially when most of them don't want to read and can't think critically. Even herding cats is easier.
A mask mandate is probably not helpful given the current state of affairs. It cannot be universally enforced. It will add to the frustration, animosity, and division among people. We want people to work together, not to kill each other over a mask.
Vaccine mandates, at least the initial one or two shots, can be mandated by the government, should they decide to do so. It could be imposed and controlled through employment and for people receiving government benefits. People get all defensive about it, pulling the freedom of choice card and saying that no one has the right to know their medical history. Except that to get a job in the public sector, as a teacher, bus driver, medical professional, emergency responder, or working anywhere in the health care and elderly care field, dentists, hygienists, even hospital administrators you are already required to show proof of vaccinations. State immunization laws vary, but in general, people in these professions need to have Hep B, flu shots, MMR vaccination, chickenpox, Tdap, and TB vaccinations or show a negative test. So, how is it that a number of other vaccines pass the privacy test, but a COVID vaccine does not? How is it that people already accept the existing vaccine requirements in place for decades without protest, but not Covid? The inconsistency baffles me. If you have a good answer, please share it.
At the same time, we are not carrying vaccination passports to eat at a restaurant or go to the movies, despite the current, long-standing vaccination requirements. Pushing for COVID vaccination passports goes a little too far in the direction of pissing people off and making them nervous about intentions and consequences. It begets more resistance when all need is cooperation.
When it comes to lockdowns, what started as a plea from healthcare workers to slow the spread to handle the number of patients with existing infrastructure and turned into a prolonged attempt to end the pandemic promoted by the CDC. By May, of 2020 the same experts pushing for lockdowns were now warning against prolonged lockdowns, stating it may cause irreparable damage and unintended consequence. Politicians across the country choose either to continue the extended lockdowns or end them depending on their political affiliation, further dividing public opinion and causing more confusion.
By now, we've seen how it works. A lockdown brings the number of COVID cases down, but they spike up as soon as people are allowed to roam freer. New Zealand appeared to have kicked COVID's ass until they opened up again. Once people could fly in and out of the country, the numbers started ticking up. So, unless we are all willing to live in isolation for all of eternity, we can't rely on this measure to end the pandemic. There are countries out there with three, four, and even five waves of this. Clearly, this is not a long-term solution. Meanwhile, the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna, Dr. Fauci, and many others have said that this virus is here to stay. So why do we believe that locking people down for extended periods will make it go away? Are we expecting periodic lockdowns? Chronic disruptions of society?
At the same time, epidemiologists tell us that being outside is the best thing ever. Sunlight, turns out, is truly the best disinfectant. Suplementing with Vit. D helps as a preventative measure. Healthy people suffer and die less from COVID. Only 5% of all COVID-19 deaths are people with no other existing conditions. This data released by the CDC on Aug. 22, 2021, shows that, on average, there were 4.0 additional conditions per COVID death. Those are the usuals – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure. All of these are preventable. Locking people down does not prevent them. It exacerbates them. Doing outdoor, healthy activities does.
Psychologists tell us that lockdowns contributed to a huge spike in substance abuse, domestic abuse, suicides, and all sorts of other crazy in people. That kind of stuff takes years to resolve, and a lot more people are afflicted than those with "long COVID."
I spent the earlier lockdown playing with my dog on the beach and the mountains with no one around, walking the streets, enjoying the green grass in the empty schoolyards, and driving around the country to National Parks. We had nature all to ourselves, away from news channels, arguments, and confusion. Slowly, friends started coming out too. Best time ever. I am going on record here by saying that if anyone tries to impose a lockdown again, I will follow it as much as I did the first one. The authorities can come looking for me up the mountain if they like.
The only mandate I am willing to support is a vaccine mandate. That's because I see vaccines as the fastest way to get the upper hand over the virus, any virus. We've done it before with many other viruses. We know it works. But we need to address the situation in other countries too. Like we did with previous viruses. This planet is too small to pretend that what happens in one neighborhood stays there. This virus proved it. It went from China to the rest of the world in less time it takes a Chinese cargo ship to cross the Pacific Ocean. While we are working on vaccines, improving them, and producing enough to go around to every corner of the world, we can make available other drugs that seem to work as preventatives. Studies out of India, South Africa, Mexico, and other countries with little access to vaccines show that Ivermectin helps prevent COVID. Here in the US, the medical establishment has largely disputed this claim. However, the American Journal of Therapeutics just published "Ivermectin for Prevention and Treatment of COVID-19 Infection: A Systematic Review, Meta-analysis, and Trial Sequential Analysis to Inform Clinical Guidelines." The study claims that the drug reduces instances of death, and it also reduces infection if used as prophylaxis by 86%. The drug is still being evaluated. I guess we wait and see which way this controversy goes. But if it works, then perhaps people who do not want to get vaccinated can at least commit to taking a pill. Not the animal version of it, please.
We can also beef up the health message. Clearly, healthy people have an easier time with this disease. By "healthy," I don't mean people who think they are healthy while simultaneously on five different medications. The media and medical experts could spread a unified health message to help people take care of themselves. It's not difficult to be healthy. It's also cheaper than depending on doctors and staying in the ICU. At the end of the day, there are only good side effects to health. Even if it turns out that it plays a tiny part in preventing or surviving COVID, what can the downside be of being healthy? It's an investment you will always get good returns on.
Uncertainty is part of life. Yet, we seem to pick what uncertainty we want to tolerate selectively. We demand certainty from vaccines while comfortable with the greater uncertainty of driving cars in traffic or walking and chewing gum. We want answers, but we don't want to spend time researching and wait for others to tell us what to think. We gravitate towards situations that confirm our biases to avoid the discomfort of not knowing. We are conflicted about our priorities. We blame others for infringing on our freedom while infringing on their rights to live free of diseases such as COVID. As a nation, we grow fatter, angrier, and stupider.
That's no way out of a pandemic. It's madness.
For my part, I go about my business daily, see clients, shop, hike with friends, go to the gym, eat out, and enjoy various events pretty much as usual. I wear a mask in crowded situations with strangers. I am not sure I should or that it makes a difference, but it does not represent a considerable burden on me, so I begrudgingly error on the side of caution. I do it for the possibility of bringing something to my friends and clients who are older, even though all of them are vaccinated. After all, the vaccines are not 100% effective. I wear a mask at the drug store because that's where sick people go to pick up their prescriptions and get tested for Covid. I don't wear a mask at the gym when a few other people and I have more than an ample amount of space to be socially distant and mind our own business. I put it on when the treadmills are all taken, and the person next to me is 3 feet away. Hell, I don't want their germs, no matter what they are. I will get the J&J booster when it comes out. Just once! I will not comply with a mask mandate (beyond what I already want to do on my own). I will not comply with another lockdown. I will support a vaccine mandate.
I practice situational awareness. Consider odds. Most importantly, I continue living.
Hoping for better days. Staying healthy. Keeping it together. If you liked this article, please subscribe and spread the word :)