The search for normalcy: can a vaccine block Covid transmission?

With the number of vaccinated people in Britain growing, let’s talk about whether those of us who’ve had that magic needle stuck in our arms still need to be careful, and if so, who we’re being careful of. 

Answer number one is yes, damn it all, and answer number two is other people. Which you probably already know, so let’s take half a step to the side and talk about why.

The primary job of a vaccine is to keep people from getting sick, and the Covid vaccines do a better job than most. But very few vaccines get the infecting agent out of people’s systems completely. What they do is keep the infection at a level the body can deal with it. 

The rare vaccines that completely block an infection give us sterilizing immunity. The measles vaccine does that, and there may be others but I haven’t found a list and I’ve started to suspect that’s because the measles vaccine is the only one that would be on it. So no one–or no one who understood the situation–really expected sterilizing immunity from the Covid vaccines.

Irrelevant photo: hellebore.

What makes sterilizing immunity so hard to achieve? For Covid, the vaccine goes into the muscle but the virus goes into all those snotty places where our bodies create mucus. To expect sterilizing immunity from that combination is asking a lot. That’s not my interpretation. You don’t want my interpretation on this. I stole it from an article by someone who knew what they were talking about, but it does make an intuitive kind of sense. 

No, I don’t trust intuitive kind of sense any more than I trust my interpretation on this kind of thing. It can lead us so far into the dense fog.

An early trial involving rhesus macaques and the AstraZeneca vaccine suggested that sterilizing immunity was possible, but they were using a nasal spray. Why the nasal spray was abandoned I don’t know, but researchers are once again (or maybe that’s still) playing with the possibilities of nasal sprays. As usual, there’s no guarantee that they’ll work, but if they do they may prevent transmission. 

Or they may not. If you don’t hear about them again, they didn’t.

The current theory is that the vaccines we’re using can slow transmission but can’t stop it completely. They lower the amount of virus an infected person is carrying around, and that lowers the amount of virus the infected person spews out in the course of a day. 

But that’s a theory. Why don’t we know that for sure? 

Because the vaccine trials were set up to look for two things: bad reactions to the vaccine and symptomatic Covid cases. They didn’t look for asymptomatic infections. Finding asymptomatic infections would’ve meant testing tens of thousands of participants every time they walked through a doorway or found lint in their pockets. .

Some of the trials that are still running do test occasionally, and they’ll pick up some asymptomatic infections, and with them some useful information. The Johnson & Johnson trial suggests that the vaccine’s causing a significant drop in transmission. That’s still only a suggestion, though, not rock solid proof. It tells us whether the virus is present in people’s noses but not how infectious it is. For all we know, the virus could be sitting in there with its feet up, drinking tea, and having no plans at all for world conquest. 

The only way to be sure about transmissibility is through a challenge trial–one of those things where you deliberately infect people, or at least risk infecting them. With a disease that kills people and that we don’t have reliable treatments for, that’s hard to justify.

 

Challenge trials

Did I just make it sound like challenge trials have been ruled out? They haven’t been.

Challenge trials–and I’m quoting someone or other here, although I’ve lost track of who it is–are an ethical minefield and only justifiable if the benefits absolutely outweigh the risks. But Britain’s approved a Covid challenge trial involving 90 young, healthy volunteers.

The point of the trial is to figure out the smallest amount of virus needed to cause an infection. That–for reasons that haven’t filtered down to me (and yes, my feelings are hurt, but I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually)–will help doctors understand Covid better and also boost vaccine and treatment research. 

But again, with new variants imitating popcorn kernels in a hot kettle, any information we get from the trial is likely to be out of date by the time it’s published. Or even gathered. 

Add to that the knowledge that young, healthy people aren’t guaranteed to come through a bout of Covid untouched and you do have to wonder what the point here is. They can come away with long-term lung damage. They can be landed with lifelong problems that range from the annoying to the crippling. I won’t reprint the full menu of long Covid symptoms. Let’s just say that it’s one scary fucking menu, that not a lot is known about long Covid yet, and that you absolutely don’t want it. If people are going to roll those dice, it should be for something worthwhile.

 

Have I failed in my duty to complain about the government?

I get tired of complaining about Britain’s current government–its incompetence, its corruption, its sheer inexcusable existence, and I skip a lot of things that really are worth covering because I don’t want to do the blog equivalent of pounding a single note on the piano with a hammer. 

But with England’s schools set to reopen next week, it’s time to take a peek at the government’s plan to help kids catch up with lost schooling. The most disadvantaged kids, who’ve on average fallen behind more affluent kids during lockdown, will get tutored in small groups. 

Glorious. 

Only to get their hands on the funding, schools have to use an organization on the approved list of the “tuition partners.” 

Tuition partners? Yes, and someone got paid to come up with that phrase. It’s so bad that I went ahead and splurged on a set of quotation marks to keep it from leaking out into the rest of the post. 

Most of our friendly tuition partners are for-profit companies. One will charge £84 an hour to teach a group of three kids. And its pay for teachers–

Is it okay if we’ll call them teachers, not tuition partner self-employed contractors? 

Its pay scale starts at £15 an hour. I’m not sure what the top rate is, but you could take what the company collects for one hour’s tutoring and pay five starting-rate teachers (or tuition partner self-employed contractors if you insist) and still have enough left over for ice cream.

Another company is charging £72 an hour and paying a teacher with 16 years’ experience £31 an hour–43% of what the company’s getting paid. I don’t know what the starting rate is.

I seem to remember that the argument for privatizing absolutely everything was that private companies would be more efficient than government and save the taxpayer money. Tell me I’m not the only person who remembers that.

*

As long as  I’m grousing about the general nastiness of the government we happen to have on hand, I just read that after announcing that it would extend the eviction ban–that thing that keeps tenants who’ve fallen behind on their rent because of the pandemic in their homes–they wrote in a big honkin’ loophole so that the ban doesn’t cover you if you’ve fallen more than six months behind.

Did they notice that there’s a difference between six months and a year-long pandemic? Probably. These are the numbers people.  

So, fanfare about no one getting evicted because of Covid, and people will get evicted because of Covid anyway.

In January, 750,000 families were behind on their housing payments (that category sounds like a combination of mortgage payments and rent), and pandemic rent debts added up £375 million. 

The National Residential Landlords Association wants the government to give tenants interest-free loans, which oddly enough will help the landlords but tenants who’ve been out of work for the past year to figure out how they’ll repay the loan.

Some sort of thought does need to be given to the debt that’s piling up on all sides. Maybe what we need is an approved list of companies that will help tenants file loan applications. The companies can take 57% of the money in payment for their services and the tenants can pay back 100%. 

We can call them loan application partners. And everyone will be happy.

37 thoughts on “The search for normalcy: can a vaccine block Covid transmission?

    • I know. As a society, we really haven’t handled this well. I do think it’s possible to pull (most–never quite all) people together with a message about taking care of each other, but it would have to come from a sane and honest source that people trust.

      I’ll go see if I still have one at the back of the closet. It may be too small by now, but let me look anyway.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I seem to remember that the argument for privatizing absolutely everything was that private companies would be more efficient than government and save the taxpayer money. Tell me I’m not the only person who remembers that.

    ahem You’re not the only person who remembers that.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There’s still so much we don’t know about covid. I keep thinking about the issue you raise. I’ve had my vaccination but I don’t feel free, only relieved that I am now likely to have lesser symptoms if I get it. A good number of people I know who have been vaccinated think they can go anywhere and that they can’t transmit. I think that when younger people get the vaccine they will think they can instantly resume pre-covid behaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • From the start of this, public health communications have been so bad that it’s not wonder people are running off in every direction. I’ll confess to being a little looser than I was pre-vaccine. I’m braving the supermarket instead of using the click-and-collect service. (What a joy to choose my own fruit!) I’ll probably go into the drugstore instead of ordering things. I haven’t invited 600 of our closest friends over for an illegal rave, though, and the idea of traveling sends me into shock, but we have had a friend over to visit with windows open. It’s not strictly legal right now, but it’s as safe as anything gets these days. And it was wonderful to be able to do that.

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      • 😅 We’re like you. Back to doing supermarket shopping (those click and collect substitutions were getting beyond a joke). Also seeing the odd friend in the garden for a chat and a glass of wine. So, not 100% compliment but using common sense.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not, by nature, a compliant sort of person, but I do feel guilty bending the Covid rules. It’s the first time in my life when, in spite of my contempt for the people making these particular rules I do see the point of everyone pulling together and following them.

          However…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Privatize, in this country means contracting with a company that will pay employees less, give them fewer benefits and no pension, pocket 95% of the savings and need to renegotiate in two years. As for measuring transmission rates – we’ve never been very good at that. I don’t expect we’ll get any better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That description of privatization sounds about the same as here, only here you have to add in that it’s someone with strong ties to the Conservative Party. You know, the party that (for reasons that escape me at the moment) is considered the more fiscally responsible one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ll see your British government’s mismanagement/corruption/ignorance of Covid and raise our American government’s criminal treatment of asylum seekers on the Texas borders for the past 20 years.
    12,000 unaccompanied minors now in custody in camps around Brownsville. Unfuckingbelievable.
    Good news since I don’t want to be a bad news bear 100%: new administration actually trying to find 500 parents of children separated at border and offering them reparations which will never be enough to restore those families – but at least is an indication of our wrongdoings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is unbelievable. I’m glad at least some progress is being made, although 500 out of 12,000 –it’s going to be a long time, isn’t it? I haven’t covered the British deportation scandals, but they include people being deported to countries they’re not from, being warehoused in horrible conditions–. It’s endless and it’s awful. As I remind myself from time to time, I’m not a newspaper. I can’t cover everything. But it’s pretty grim here too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The quick answer is that I don’t know. I asked Lord G. and everything I found either immediately dumped me into discussions about Covid and sterilizing immunity or was way over my head. Clearly, any lay person who asks about sterilizing immunity these days wants to know about Covid.

      I have now officially ruined my reputation. It’ll probably be good for me.

      Like

  5. Your research as presented here, Ellen, is similar to what I have learned about the vaccines. At least you have vaccines, we don’t have any for the public yet. There are a very limited number available for healthcare workers (500 000). Our population is nearly 60 million people. Your comments about the economic impacts are interesting. Very few comments have been made about that by bloggers I follow. I was starting to wonder if South Africa is the only country which has been hammered so badly economically.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure about who’s been hammered worst economically. Here–it’s so odd. Some people’s lives carry on with no change and other people’s fall apart, like two parallel roads and if you’re on one you can’t really see the people on the other. In the same way that the vaccines are being distributed so unevenly. And until they are distributed everyone, no one can consider themselves safe, so the rich countries would be wise to rethink their approach.

      They haven’t demonstrated a lot of wisdom up to now, but maybe, maybe, maybe they can be pushed in the direction of some.

      Like

  6. The Big News today (and it could effect the Noted World, not just the US of A) is that Merck and Johnson & Johnson (the pharmaceutical company, not your Prime Minister)are going to work TOGETHER to increase the production of doses of vaccine. The two companies are serious competitors, so this is a Big Deal worthy of being on a Wartime Footing.
    So our President announced this and asked that people hold on a bit longer and continue to be cautious and careful (as you pointed out above.) So what did the (Republican) Governor of Texas do – fresh off his tour-de-force in last month’s blizzard ? He said that Texas was going to FULLY OPEN EVERYTHING and CANCELED THE MASK MANDATE. All in the spirit of unity and bipartisanship. That’ll show that damned virus !
    You may not find the polio vaccine under “sterilizing immunity” because some cases have turned up in the last couple decades of “post polio syndrome” which may have been a long term side effect of the vaccine. But those of us who got the vaccine – after all those summers of avoiding swimming, the community drinking fountain on the square, panicking if we had a twinge of stiff neck and seeing pictures of those kids in iron lungs would go back and try to stop it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My understanding of post-polio syndrome (and this is from someone I worked with, who had polio as a kid, not from anything like research) is that the people who get it had polio and recovered. If she was right, it was unconnected to the vaccine. But even if it was/is, I’m with you: That’s far better than the disease itself.

      I was just reading about Texas. Lunatics.

      Like

      • You (and your friend who should know !) are correct – I had the other idea firmly in my head,(which is why I didn’t google it before I stated it) but I was clearly wrong.
        Add the guvnor of MissHippy to the list of loonies too. Their capital city, Jackson, lost their water supply during the blizzard and many there still do not have drinkable water. (I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting you guess which neighborhoods were hardest hit by this little inconvenience.)

        Liked by 1 person

  7. A jab in the arm will not sop snotty stuff from coming out of our bodies and spreading covid, covid variants, or any other nasties, from spreading to others. The only way to kill these nasties when they leave our bodies is with disinfectants like far UVC lamps. Why is this no being discussed and promoted by our governments? Some have, like the Netherlands Sunshine program, which is placing far UVC lamps in public spaces.

    Liked by 1 person

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