New vaccines, the vaccine wars, schadenfreude, and a feel-good story

Across the world, the pandemic has slowed for the past two weeks. If anyone has an explanation for that, I haven’t found it. It could just be a statistical glitch, but let’s take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.


The new vaccines

Two new vaccines have been announced. One, from Johnson & Johnson (and, just to confuse things, Janssen) needs only a single injection. It’s 66% effective against symptomatic disease and 85% effective against the severe forms. And 100% effective against the forms that are so bad that you end up hospitalized or dead.

Only 66%? you ask. That’s pretty damn good by vaccine standards. But the earliest Covid vaccines came back with such high levels of effectiveness that we’ve started to turn up our noses at a measly 66%. Back before the first vaccine trials uncorked their sparking test results, though, 50% was considered good. And 85% and 100% against the severe forms of the disease, when you think about it? Not bad.

The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is easy to transport and doesn’t have to be kept at a zillion degrees below freezing, making it a handy addition to the vaccine armory. And it only needs one dose. That’s a major advantage.

Irrelevant photo: The daffodils are just starting to blossom. Really. In January.

A new British vaccine, Novavax, is 89% effective but needs two doses. On the positive side, it can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator and has no objections to being wedged in at the back between the peanut butter and that can of cat food you thought you’d lost.

Both are effective against the South African variant, although the numbers aren’t as high. The new Brazilian variant, I believe, came along too late to be included in any of the trials. That’s the one to keep your eye on right now.


A post or three back, I included a news snippet involving Germany, the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the elderly. I now officially wish I’d waited, because we were only halfway through the story. 

In our last episode, some anonymous source in Germany said (publicly, or we wouldn’t know about it) that the AZ vaccine wasn’t effective on the elderly, and some known source said, “Of course it is. You mixed up your numbers,” but refrained from adding, “You idiot.”

And now, in our next episode, a German official body of one sort or another said the vaccine hadn’t been shown to be effective on the elderly, and several other sources jumped into the discussion and I crawled under the bed and sulked for several days. 

Then Emmanuel Macron said something but I hadn’t included him in my post so I didn’t care.

I do take my responsibilities here seriously.

When I emerged, I was covered in dust but felt a little better because the floorboards under my bed were now spotless.

But you wanted to know about the vaccine, didn’t you? 

Is it effective on people over 65? AZ added older people to its vaccine trials later than younger people, so it has less data on them. And it turned out–predictably–that they were more likely to stay away from other people, so both the group that got the vaccine and the group that got the placebo were relatively well protected. That meant fewer deaths (good) and therefore less data (bad).

The trial did include some checks on people’s antibody levels, though, so they have every indication that the vaccine was working.


The vaccine wars replace the Brexit wars

Britain and the European Union agree on only one thing lately, and that’s that with a Brexit agreement in place they needed something new to fight about so it was time to toss vaccines into the mix.

AstraZeneca signed a contract to supply the EU with 80 million doses of its vaccine for the first quarter of 2021. Before that, it had signed a different contract to supply Britain with 2 million doses a week. Then it had production problems at its plants in Europe and said it could only supply the EU with 30 million doses. That would be for the first quarter of 2021. 

Pfizer is also producing less of its vaccine than it expected, and in a rare and impressive display of cooperation a second company, Sanofi, whose own vaccine development has been delayed, said it will use its plants to produce Pfizer’s. 

The EU wanted AZ’s plants in Britain to make up the shortfall its plants in Europe were leaving. AZ said that wasn’t not part of the contract. The EU has been slow in starting its vaccination program and is feeling ever so slightly frantic about this.

Britain said it wasn’t interested in getting less than its contracted share of the vaccine, and Boris Johnson tousled his hair and poured a lit match onto oily waters, saying, “I am very pleased at the moment that we have the fastest rollout of vaccines in Europe by some way.”

He refrained from blowing a raspberry until the press conference was over and the doors had closed behind him.

The EU said, fine, it would deal with the shortfall by refusing to allow vaccines to be exported. That would mean no Pfizer vaccine getting into Britain, although there’s a contract there too.

Then the EU said it would use a clause in the Brexit agreement and institute checks at the Irish/Northern Irish border to make double sure to keep vaccines in the EU. Then it said it wouldn’t.

Then everyone involved arched their backs, fluffed their fur, and made the kind of spitting sounds that eight-week-old kittens make when they want to look scary.

Then the EU published the text of its contract with AZ, minus a few clauses that may or may not be relevant.  

Legal experts working their way through the AZ/EU contract say it’s likely to end up either in arbitration or in court. One of them used a (translated) German phrase that means clear as mud, saying it’s clear as noodle soup. 


Department of schadenfreude

A multimillionaire couple flew into an isolated, largely indigenous community in the Yukon Territory and claimed to be local motel workers so they could get in on a vaccination program meant primarily for elders and the vulnerable. 

They also didn’t bother observing the fourteen days of quarantine that were required for incomers.

They’ve been fined C$2,300 , but given their economic status that’s not likely to hold their attention, so they also face six months in jail.

The C in C$2,300 stands for Canadian. And schadenfreude stands for a German word meaning enjoying other people’s bad fortune.

Admit it: You’ve done it at least once in your life.


Speaking of schadenfreude, Oklahoma spent $2 million buying itself a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine when Donald Trump was touting it as a miracle cure for Covid. Now it’s trying to unload the stuff. Studies show it has no effect on Covid but it could cause heart problems. It’s an accepted treatment for malaria, but you’d be hard put to catch that in Oklahoma. 

The state’s been trying to sell it for months now. If you’re interested, contact the state’s attorney general. You could probably get a bargain.


And finally, a feel-good Covid story

A group of health workers in Oregon got stranded on a highway in a snowstorm with six doses of vaccine that would become unusable if they didn’t get into six people’s arms in one hell of a hurry. They’d just finished a clinic and the shots were all committed to specific people, but they weren’t going to reach them in time.

Rather than see them go to waste, they went from up and down the road offering them to people stranded in nearby cars. An ambulance was stuck in the snow with them, so if anyone had a bad reaction, they were covered.

The county health director said it was one of the coolest operations he’d ever been part of.

77 thoughts on “New vaccines, the vaccine wars, schadenfreude, and a feel-good story

  1. My understanding, warped though it may be, is that we’re seeing post-holiday numbers now. Things went up because of the two months of holidays and are now just returning to what should be normal (even with the stupidity of how it’s being handled in the US, and in my state (Pa) in particular).

    The J&J vaccine, one dose, even at 66% is a godsend for those of us who are phobic with regards to needles. My wife, an RN, says the needles don’t need to be fully inserted, but that’s how our emergency needle people are being taught. Trust me, that’s a scary proposition to me than the virus.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I had a look at the Guardian article and I’m not sure why the contract would be under Belgian law. Sellers of things usually contract under their own law, but I can see why the EU might not want a contract under English law, unless it’s a local contract with one of the AZ plants in Europe. Anyway, ‘best reasonable efforts’ isn’t something I’ve come across before. Efforts are either best (to be avoided by the seller because it could ruin a company) or reasonable (not too big a burden). Pharmaceutical companies don’t usually have legal departments that are bad at contracts, so the whole argument is very odd.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I just hope there was enough vaccine left for the truly indigenous people to get the vaccine..

    The Oregon snowstorm virus clinic was a wonderful story over here too.

    Hydroxychloroquin is also effective in the treatment of lupus and all the stockpiling of it was causing shortages for the people who really could make good use of it. Hopefully the Lupus Foundation is moving in to take advantage of the bargains.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Oregon story is great. Oklamhoma got trumped – oops.

    Eu and AZ. And now blocking vaccines to UK.
    AZ vaccine over 65, … well my mum took it yesterday she late 70’s it was the only one on offer. I was stressed. Mum has some allergies so I was like the pzfier one may not be good for her, anyways it wasn’t on offer, which I was fine about. I just PRAY 🙏 🙏 🙏 🙏 that that mum will be safe.

    I found the whole process?? The volunteers are great. The people injecting are or seemed qualified. Leaflet says you have to sit for 15 minutes to see if there any side effects, . We were out in less than May be 2 mins.

    Before booking they if you have question speak to your gp. So one speaks to gp. Clueless. Meaning doesn’t know more than us. It is just a different experience to the leaflet and all the talk . Compared to actual.

    Anyway dose one done for mum.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m a little pleased that the couple who flew into the Yukon will be fined, but I’d be happier if they served a few days enjoying striped sunlight. I also like that Oklahoma got stuck with a $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine. Of course that might come in handy if the Sooners invade the Philippines.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Yes, that queue-jumping couple gave all us Canadians the opportunity to reassure ourselves that at least we’re not THAT bad. A shot of schadenfreude is better than no shot at all. On the minus side, Canada won’t be getting our orders for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines filled as soon as we hoped. The Oregon story is a feel-good, though.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Thank you for the feel good vaccine story at the end…vaccine wars are pretty depressing, surely they can all come to some agreement with all this silly shouting and posturing. The EU have screwed up but the UK should help out (in the name of good diplomatic relations etc).

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Corporate cooperation in producing vaccine, more options in effective vaccines, common sense in administering doses that would have been wasted, slowing of caseload. I haven’t been counting, but this may be the most good news you’ve ever given us at one time.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I know we’ve been living in a patriarchy for 10,000 or 5,000 years depending you your source material, but up until now the blokes at the top of the heap at least pretended to be grown-ups.

    … the billionaire couple here are a wonderful example of how an older gentleman will go out of his way to financially support, with no thought of any payment of any sort, of course, a struggling actress who has since deleted her assorted social media bio’s … which, when reading a snippet that one person on a comment thread gravely and with due pomp and circumstance reproduced for us, was suspiciously akin to a port star publicity blurb.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My memory of the photo is that he wasn’t all that much older, although I admit I didn’t give it much thought and am fully capable of looking at a face and not seeing what’s obvious to everyone else, including age as long as it’s less than extreme. Yeah, it’s a gift. But if you’re right, it supports my theory that although the rich have rigged the world so that they get a wildly disproportionate share of the goodies, they haven’t rigged it so that they enjoy life particularly. Because if you set the presumed sexiness aside (and we can only assume, we don’t know) it’s not likely to be much of a relationship. It so seldom is when you pick someone for their looks alone.


  10. Pingback: New vaccines, the vaccine wars, schadenfreude, and a feel-good story – donshafi911

  11. Dear Ellen

    I did not know that schadenfreude was a particular German word. However, it makes sense as the Nazis were into that sort of thing. Various Germans invented lots of nasty things like drugs (heroin for example) and poison chemicals which they then used in the first world war. They have been selling them as useful chemicals ever since.

    And poisoning the planet and us as a consequence.

    I like the photo, but I disagree; it’s not irr-elephant it is beautiful! Sorry, bad joke I know. But then it it is like a trumpet and elephants do that, so perhaps not so far from the truth after all.

    And the photo shows the exquisite beauty of one flower – and to think that is one small part of the beauty in the world.

    Kind regards

    Baldmichael Theresoluteprotector’sson

    Liked by 1 person

    • Schadenfreude predates the Nazis by many years, and although the Germans have a word for it other cultures have the same feeling–so much so that English speakers have borrowed their word and understand it to the core.

      I’d have to argue that other countries have contributed horrible things to the world’s culture. If any country’s exempt, I’m not aware of it. That’s not to give anyone a pass on the horrors that the Nazis, just to say that they’re not the only horror that have been unleashed on the world. I’m sure you can list them as well as I can, so I won’t drag us through them. We all a lot of work to undo that, beginning by looking it in the eye and acknowledging it.


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