It’s too early to celebrate this, but from Japan comes the news that an extract made from natto–a sticky food involving fermented soybeans–inactivates Covid’s spike protein by digesting the receptor binding domain.
What’s a receptor binding domain? No idea, but Covid’s spike protein needs it, so anything that digests it has got to be good–at least from our point of view.
The extract of natto works on all the existing variants.
The reason it’s not time to celebrate is that so far it’s only worked in a lab. No one’s gotten the natto and the virus together inside the body. Eating natto won’t help. Neither will sending the virus invitations to a party and serving natto hor d’oeuvres. No matter how much it mutates, the virus will continue to be illiterate, so it won’t show up.
The next stage is to isolate the molecular mechanism that’s destroying the–what was that called?–the receptor binding domain. Figure that out and you could well have a treatment for Covid.
Possibly. At some time in the indistinct future. But c’mon, we need all the hope we can find.
England’s world-beating experiment in irresponsible government
On July 19, England took what little common sense it had forgotten in the drawers of 10 Downing Street’s desks and set it on fire. It’s been dry lately, but there wasn’t enough common sense to burn for long, so we didn’t get the second Great Fire of London, just another round of Covid stupidity.
To be clearer about this, nightclubs are now open. So are bars, restaurants, and pretty much everything else you can think of. It’s up to you whether to throw your mask away and sit nose to nose, indoors, and sing loudly with six of your favorite strangers and no ventilation. Or with thirty of them if you can get your noses close enough. Crowd limits are out of fashion, along with distancing.
The first day of that was called Freedom Day. Those of us currently cowering under the covers are free to cower under the covers. Unless of course we have to go to work or in other ways mix with the rest of humanity.
The official justification for this is that vaccination has severed the link between infection and hospitalization. Or weakened it, depending on when you listen to the explanations and who gives it. We have to return to normal life. We have to live with Covid. The economy needs us. And if not now, when?
Maybe when it’s safe, that’s when. Because the link between infection and hospitalization hasn’t been severed, it’s only been weakened, and that’s not enough. The number of infections is going up, and so is the number of deaths. Not as sharply as it once would have, but more than it would if we kept to a marginally sensible policy.
And the thing about deaths is that once people are dead, they’re gone. It’s kind of irreversible.
The government’s Scientific Advisory Group warns that the combination of a large number of vaccinated people and a high number of infections creates the perfect conditions to create a variant that will escape the vaccines. No one can know whether that will happen–vaccines mutate randomly–but the likelihood increases as the number of infections increases.
And while all this is shoving us in one direction, Boris Johnson says vaccine passports will be required for nightclubs etc.–but not until the end of September. Between now and then, let Covid rip.
What are they thinking? One of the government’s scientific advisors, Robert West, says it’s “a decision by the government to get as many people infected as possible as quickly as possible, while using rhetoric about caution as a way of putting the blame on the public for the consequences.”
That wave of infections would combine with the number of vaccinated people to push the country toward herd immunity and the virus would no longer spread.
What are the problems with the strategy? Well, in addition to opening the doors to a variant that evades the vaccines, no one knows what level of immunity is needed for herd immunity to Covid. The best guess is 85%. And then there’s long Covid–the long-term damage that some people live with for no one knows how long, after even asymptomatic infections.
The government says that’s not its strategy. You’re welcome to believe it if you like.
And a unicorn just pranced down the street outside my window. You’re welcome to believe that as well. It was wearing a tutu and singing a Mozart aria.
Not long ago, the Netherlands opened everything up and Covid infections rose sevenfold. They’ve since closed bars, restaurants, and nightclubs.
England’s reopening has caused the Covid tracing app to warn an annoying number of people that they’ve been exposed to Covid and should self-isolate–more than 600,000 last week–and that in turn has led to a lot of people being off work.
So what’s a responsible government to do about that?
We don’t have one of those, so who cares? Instead of deciding that too many people are being exposed to Covid because we took all our restrictions out and burned them, the government’s decided that too many people are being notified, so it’s created a list of crucial occupations whose employees can ignore the app if they’re double vaccinated–although they will at least have to test themselves.
Can people who are doubly vaccinated spread Covid? Why look! It must be time to talk about breakthrough infections! Because buried in that segment somewhere is the news that we don’t have a clear answer to that question yet.
First we need a definition of a breakthrough infection, even if you already know it: A breakthrough infection happens when a vaccinated person gets Covid–or (it can happen with any matched pair of disease and vaccination) whatever else they were vaccinated against. When that happens, it doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t effective. It means the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, much as we wish the Covid ones were.
That leaves us–or me anyway–wondering why one person will get a breakthrough infection and another won’t. The definitive answer is that it’s hard to say.
Thanks, Ellen. That was really helpful.
Sorry, but I can only pass on what I find. The direct quote is, “It’s difficult to determine why any particular breakthrough case happens.”
How large a dose of the virus you’re exposed to might make a difference–with the emphasis on might. Our individual immune systems will make a difference. They can be affected by health problems and by medications that make an immune system respond to the vaccine less enthusiastically.
And new variants can make a difference. The vaccines were developed for the Covid 1.0, or 2.0. We’re now onto–
Hang on a minute. I have to go look up the Greek alphabet and figure out where Delta comes.
We’re now at Covid 4.0.
It’s also possible for a person to have gotten a vaccine dose that wasn’t administered correctly, although that’s a lot less likely. And no, I’m not sure how you administer a vaccine the wrong way either. Maybe you let the stuff get too warm. Maybe you let it expire. Maybe you miss the arm entirely and inject it into the hat. That last one is the reason they don’t let me do vaccinations anymore.
People who are (fortunately) better than I am at figuring this stuff out are tracking the number of breakthrough infections, looking for evidence that the vaccines’ are wearing thin and booster shots are needed. So far, they haven’t seen it.
We can break breakthrough infections into a few categories, and in order of decreasing likelihood they are: 1, testing positive, 2, having a mild infection, 3, having a serious infection, and 4, dying.
Patients are strongly advised to keep themselves out of category 4.
If you’ve absorbed that advice–and it is important–we’ll move on to the question of whether fully vaccinated people who’ve been exposed to the virus should have to go into isolation. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (citing “limited evidence” according to the article I found) says they not only don’t need to go into isolation, they don’t need to get tested unless they develop symptoms. The theory is that they’re less likely to infect other people than unvaccinated people with asymptomatic infections.
Other countries are making different rules.The evidence is limited, the lights are off, and we’re all bumping into the furniture.
What percentage of fully vaccinated people test positive after being exposed to Covid? If anyone has numbers on that, I haven’t found them.
What does seem to be well established is that breakthrough infections are rare, and we do have statistics (sort of) for categories 3 and 4–the one you want to stay out of and the other one you want to stay out of. In the US, 5,492 vaccinated people were either hospitalized or died and also tested positive for coronavirus. That doesn’t exactly say they were hospitalized for or died of Covid, but it’s as close as we’re going to get. That’s 5,492 out of the 159 million people who’ve been fully vaccinated. I’ll leave someone else to figure out what percent that is and just say it’s small.
Most breakthrough infections are mild, and the number of mild or asymptomatic infections will be larger, but again if numbers are available for that I haven’t found them.
A different way to live with Covid
Is it possible to return to normal life in some sane and safe way? A study from Barcelona points us toward a possibility. It followed the 5,000 people who attended a carefully controlled indoor concert.
People were screened on the way into the concert, using an antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic test (it’s called an Ag-RDT if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about), and the test was done by nurses. At least with other rapid Covid tests, that makes it more reliable than when people do it themselves, probably because they maneuver those nasty swabs into the right spots.
Everyone wore masks–specifically, filtering facepiece 2 masks–the whole time. Presumably over their noses and mouths, not their chins or back pockets. They look like this. (I’m conducting a one-person boycott of Amazon, but I’m not above using them as a link if I don’t have to give them money.) They’re a kind of mask that offers more protection than your average cloth mask, but they’re disposable, which if everyone used them everywhere would create its own set of problems. Especially since a few of us out there hate throwing things away when they still look usable.
But enough of that. Let’s move on.
The event’s described as a concert but people danced. People sang (presumably along with the music but it shouldn’t really matter from a medical point of view.) No one was asked to keep 6 feet away from anyone, at least by the organizers, although some predictable number of individuals will have told some predictable other number of individuals to back off.
I don’t have details on the ventilation except for a passing mention of improved ventilation. Ventilation’s probably the most overlooked way to make work and public spaces safe.
The event was held in an area that at the time had a moderate rate of Covid and a low number of vaccinated people.
What happened? The followup found 6 cases of Covid two weeks after the event. Three of those were traced to sources other than the concert. Another person may have been in the incubation stage when she attended the event and could’ve been missed by the test. No one’s figured out where the other two cases came from.
Which isn’t bad for 5,000 people. So it can be done if we have the will to do it.
. . . and in the schools
In the US, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for all students, teachers, and staff to wear masks in school, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. That runs counter to Centers for Disease Control advice, which exempts the vaccinated and says the unvaccinated should wear masks in school to protect themselves.
Even though–apologies, CDC–your average mask is better at protecting people around the wearer than at protecting the person sporting one.
The article I got this from has the first statistics I’ve seen on how many kids get multi-system inflammatory condition (called MIS-C, in case you have any need to address it directly): It’s 1 out of every 600 infected children and teenagers. That’s not the same as 1 out of every 600 kids, only out of the ones who get infected.
MIS-C is seriously serious and more often than not will land a kid in intensive care. It comes several weeks after the primary infection.