Can a vaccine protect against all Covid variants?

A vaccine designed to fight off all the current and future Covid variants has gotten through a small early trial and is ready to test on a larger group. 

Instead of targeting only Covid’s spike protein, which has been mutating madly, it backs that attack up with–um, yeah, something else. 

You want details? Fine: It drives “broad CD8+ T cell immunity.” I drive a little Toyota Aygo and the mileage isn’t bad but I bet the vaccine’s is better, because it also “enables inclusion of a wide array of highly conserved viral epitopes.”

Never mind. I didn’t understand it either. That’s why it’s in quotation marks: to keep it safe from sticky little editorial hands.

The vaccine’s designed as a booster shot, and it works at a much lower dose than the current ones. 

Irrelevant photo: A neighbor’s camellias just came into bloom. In January.

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The U.S. Army is also working on a vaccine that could be effective against all Covid variants, although I don’t think it’s progressed as far. A press release quotes Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad as saying, “Our strategy has been to develop a ‘pan-coronavirus’ vaccine technology that could potentially offer safe, effective and durable protection against multiple coronavirus strains and species.”

Notice that they’re talking about not just Covid but coronaviruses in general. And also that they’re talking about long-lasting protection, so we wouldn’t need repeated boosters. But the key word in the quote is potentially. Don’t bet a large sum of money on this one yet, or even on the first one I mentioned, but do allow yourself a nice jolt of hope. And maybe a little ice cream to wash it down. 

This may or may not be the universal vaccine that gets to the finish line, either first or at all, but like the one above, it’s a reminder: These aren’t the only efforts to find a vaccine that puts us ahead of a mutating virus instead of always running to keep up. The article I stole this from is oriented to the U.S. and mentions that major figures in the National Institutes of Health are behind the effort, indicating the government’s willingness to fork out some cash.

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Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Hong Kong are working on a vaccine that will–assuming everything works out as planned (and as the saying goes, the crick don’t rise)–keep Covid from setting up a home in people’s noses. 

That would close a gap left by the current vaccines: They’re good at reducing serious disease, hospitalization, and death, but they’re not as good at keeping Covid from spreading. This one, if it works out, could stop the spread, because in spite of what people who wear masks under their noses think, the nose has an active role in both catching and spreading Covid.

The vaccine’s at the human-trials stage of development.

You remember humans. A two-legged, furless species, and a problematic one.  

Professor Chen Zhiwei, who co-leads the research, said, “The biggest challenge for our COVID-19 vaccine development is that we do not have a vaccine manufacturing plant in Hong Kong, which has delayed the translation of scientific discovery into clinical use.”

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This next item isn’t about a vaccine, but since we’re talking about Covid and noses, let’s slip it in here: Researchers in Australia are playing with a nasal spray that they hope will stop the progression and spread of Covid. It involves heparin, which is used widely to treat and prevent blood clots and which can be kept at room temperature.

I never knew how friendly the phrase room temperature would come to sound.

Professor Gary Anderson explained how it works: “Covid-19 first infects cells in the nose, and to do that the virus must bind to Heparan Sulfate on the surface of nasal cells lining the nose.

“Heparin—the active ingredient in our spray—has a structure that is very similar to Heparan Sulfate, so it behaves as a ‘decoy’ and can rapidly wrap around the virus’s spike protein like a python, preventing it from infecting you or spreading the virus to others.

“Importantly, this nasal spray should prove effective for all Coivd-19 variants because the Heparan Sulfate binding site is essential for infection, and is likely to be preserved in new variants. Heparin binds avidly to the Omicron variant currently sweeping through the country.”

They expect to start clinical trials in the first quarter of this year. If it works out and promises to bring back what we so nostalgically call normality, some troll farm will unearth that python image and convince 24% of the population that they’d be spraying python eggs up their noses.

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In 2020, Amazon’s charitable arm, Amazon Smile, donated more than $40,000 to anti-vax groups. That’s a small proportion of Amazon Smile’s donations, but it can be a hefty amount for a small organization. 

Smile, everyone. The python eggs you ordered will be at your door tomorrow.

 

Antiviral pills

Meanwhile, Covid cases are still climbing, and even though the Omicron variant seems to be less fierce than the earlier ones, a hell of a lot of people are hospitalized with it. 

But “hospitalized with it” doesn’t mean that Omicron, or any other Covid variant, drove all of them to the hospital. Some of them were hospitalized for other reasons but also turned out to have Covid. So the good news is that not everyone included in that statistic is so sick from Covid that it’s driving them to the hospital, but the bad news is that since they have it coincidentally, the hospital has to turn itself inside out to keep them from spreading the damn thing. 

Okay, I admit, “a hell of a lot of people” isn’t, strictly speaking, a statistic.

But never mind that. How helpful are the new antiviral pills?

It turns out that they’re not a magic wand. And they won’t be given to everyone. They’re for people with mild to moderate Covid who have risk factors of one sort or another–people with chronic illnesses, compromised immune systems, a history of having celebrated too many birthdays. That sort of person. The sort of people Covid’s most likely to hospitalize. 

And the pills come with a list of thou-shalt-nots. One of them isn’t okay for kids under twelve or pregnant women. (It hasn’t been tested on pregnant men yet.) The other isn’t safe for people with kidney or liver problems. Both interact with other medications, which will rule them out for some people. 

According to William Schaffner of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, “It’s not like going to a machine, putting in a quarter and getting out a candy bar. It’s a serious prescription of a medication, and the health care professionals need to do some screening and education.” 

That’s me you hear out in the hallway, pounding on the vending machine and yelling that I want my candy bar. You know how much good it does.

The pills have other limitations: If they’re going to work, they have to be taken within five days of the first symptoms, so people in high-risk categories will need to get tested quickly. The Covid symptoms that the article lists (again, this is a U.S.-oriented article) are: fever or chills, cough, headache, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, fatigue, runny nose, and muscle or body aches.

But Britain, in its wisdom, is still listing only the original Covid symptoms: a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or changes in your sense of smell or taste. In other words, they’re not listing the new variant’s symptoms, and last time I looked if you’re  in Britain and want to book a PCR test–the slower, more accurate Covid test–you have to swear that you have one of the three symptoms or have been exposed to someone who et cetera. So if you have the newer symptoms and want to do the responsible thing and get tested, your best course of action is to lie through your teeth and claim the old ones.

You’re dealing with an algorithm. There’s no point in arguing. 

 

Shortages

So we’ve established that you need to get tested as soon as possible, right? Well, guess what both Britain and the U.S. are short of: No, it’s not irony, it’s Covid tests

They’re not the only countries where they’re running short, but I can barely keep up with two. Let’s focus on Britain, since that’s where I live.

In Britain, pharmacies–those things that Americans call drug stores–sent out a warning in December that they were going to run short of home test kits. Guess what the government did: zilch. It didn’t even answer the letter. So pharmacies are running out, and you can’t necessarily get home tests from the government website either. 

But the Department of Good Planning did offer to shorten the quarantine period for anyone with two negative tests on day whatever and whatever plus something, and it also urged people to test themselves before going to a New Year’s Eve Germ Exchange, thus increasing the demand for tests. And now that the schools have reopened, students are urged to test themselves more often. Somehow.

And to complete the picture, the country’s lone distributor of the home test kits received 2.5 million of the things, then shut for Christmas. It reopened on the 29th. 

Pharmacies can order 55 packs per day. Each pack has seven tests. 

It reminds me of an old rhyme: As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven bags, each bag had seven cats, each cat had seven kits. How many were going to St. Ives?

One. No doubt someone high up in the government who thought it was a good time for a vacation.

In the meantime, health care workers haven’t been able to get tests, many hospitals are short-staffed, and the government’s talking about building temporary hospitals in parking lots to deal with any overflow.

If they’re talking about how to staff them, the word hasn’t filtered down to me.

It may be a coincidence that international travelers no longer have to isolate or take a PCR test after–or before–they arrive in Britain. (Those are the slower, more expensive tests. They’re in short supply too.) Instead, they can take the cheaper, faster test no later than two days after they arrive.

If they can find one. 

To quote PoliticsHome, on January 4, “the UK recorded 218,724 new Covid cases, the first time a daily rate has exceeded 200,000. The Omicron variant now accounts for the majority of infections and it is no longer believed that the travel restrictions will curb the spread of infection.” 

I believe that translates to, “This thing’s so far out of control that, what the fuck, we give up.”

The Foreign Office said it would get back to me about joining the diplomatic corps.

 

So how serious is Covid?

In 2020, Covid decreased in life expectancy in 29 countries. For a number of Western European countries, it was the biggest decrease since World War II. 

Why 29 countries? They had statistics available in a form the study could use, so the study covers the U.S., Chile, and most of Europe. That leaves out a fair number of countries that had severe outbreaks, so can we agree that the study underestimates the decrease?

Thanks. I thought we could.

The largest loss was among males in the U.S., whose life expectancy at birth decreased 2.2 years compared to 2019 levels.

One of the study’s lead authors, Dr. José Manuel Aburto,, said, “To contextualize, it took on average 5.6 years for these countries to achieve a one-year increase in life expectancy recently: progress wiped out over the course of 2020 by Covid-19.”

It might be tempting to think, hell, if we’re talking about one year at the end of a long life, how much difference does it make? But it takes a lot of deaths to lower the average–deaths of real people, with real lives. With real friends and real families, who feel real grief at their loss and whose lives may well have been torn apart by it, emotionally, economically, or both. 

And those deaths don’t necessarily come only to the elderly. 

That’s worth thinking about the next time someone implies that learning to live with Covid means we should all tear off our masks, unvaccinate ourselves, enter into germ exchanges, and go out and play in traffic.

What we know about the Omicron variant

With so many things about the Omicron variant still uncertain, I’m happy to find a bit of (apparently) solid news about it: five key symptoms. 

They’re not the same as the earlier variants’ symptoms. They’re extreme tiredness, night sweats, a scratchy (as opposed to sore) throat, a dry cough, and mild muscle aches. Officially, though, UK government websites are sticking to the old three: a high fever, a new continuous cough, and changes to your sense of taste or smell. 

So is Omicron milder? Possibly. Hopefully. The World Health Organization–a.k.a. WHO–thinks it is. Probably.

But what the hell, we don’t know yet, and Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr Paul Burton, said it “poses a real threat.” He’s not convinced that it’s milder. With Covid, severe disease waddles in a couple of weeks behind infection, and South African reports that it’s mild may have to do with specific conditions there.

Burton says Omicron and Delta are likely to circulate together for some time. So if you’re reaching for your seatbelt buckle, thinking you could unsnap the beast because you won’t be needing it, you might want to wait a while. Nothing’s certain yet.

 

Irrelevant photo: Flowers from last summer’s village produce stall.

Could somebody give us a bit of good news, please?

Well, yes, although it’s not ready for use yet. Scientists at Aarhus University (that’s in Denmark, and I had to look it up too) have discovered a molecule that covers the nasty little spikes on the Covid virus, which then keeps it from entering human cells, spreading infection, and throwing those loud and drunken parties that have made the last couple of years so difficult for us all.

It’s not a vaccine but it uses some of the same building blocks that the mRNA vaccines do. No, don’t ask me. Just nod and look wise and someone will think you know what that means. 

One of the implications of this is that it’ll be cheaper and easier to make than the antibody treatments that are now used to fight the most serious Covid cases. 

It can also be used to detect the virus. And make coffee.

No idea. Just nod and look wise.

It’s done well on detecting the Delta variant, but it’s too early to have data on how it does with the Omicron.

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It sounds like a new antiviral drug is in the pipeline, although it also sounds like it’s in the early stages. The article I got this from–let’s say the language could stand to be more considerate to your average blogging idiot. I think we’re talking about a pill–the article says it’s “orally available,” but then, so’s my tongue–and (unlike my tongue) it would only need to be taken once a day. 

Other information? It works against Covid and other respiratory RNA viruses–at least in animal models. It’s not coming off the assembly line yet, but it’s something to keep our eye on.

If it comes through, it will join the Pfizer and Merck antivirals that are a few steps ahead, approved in some places, and seeking approval in others. They can be used to treat mild to moderate Covid and keep it from progressing–or, basically, from killing you. Or landing you in the hospital. 

 

Spotting Omicron

Different countries use different tests for Covid, and one of them happens to be good at spotting the Omicron variant. Among other things, that means that information about the variant will be coming in at different rates from different countries.

 

Going beyond neutralizing antibodies

Early studies of the new variant have reported on how well prepared our neutralizing antibodies are to win a debate with it, and neutralizing antibodies are the focus because they’re easy to measure, but they’re not the only tool our immune systems have on hand. When it loses a debate, it can always fall back on a different, time-tested tactic: throwing chairs.

Okay, very small, metaphorical chairs. 

The body’s second line of defense is made up of binding antibodies, T cells, and memory B cells. They’ve got short tempers and long memories, and when they’re not actively fighting Covid they lift weights and make threatening noises. 

When they’re working, though, they target a different part of the virus than the neutralizing antibodies do–and in the Omicron variant it’s not as heavily mutated a part. 

So if you’ve had a booster shot, you’re not totally unprepared to fight this thing. This is, admittedly, early news, and more studies are needed before we’ll know how well they aim those chairs. 

 

Spreading Covid in the House of Commons

As Britain’s Conservative Party shakes itself apart over how to respond to the new variant, we’re being treated to scenes that make the House of Commons look like a Rubens painting. 

In case you’re lucky enough to have missed Rubens, he liked to paint his people in piles, sometimes adding an unexplained cow to the mob. (Apologies: The link won’t take you to the painting with the cow. I swear I saw it one–it’s not something my imagination’s capable of coming up with–but I reached my limit before I found it.)

Why is that a good parallel to the House of Commons? Earlier in the pandemic, MPs were allowed to basically phone in, working from home and voting safely from a distance. I don’t know if they were able to debate from home, but then no one listens to anyone else anyway, so what did it matter?

Cynical? Not me.

That ended, in spite of protests, and MPs now have to gather in absurdly small rooms to vote. As an MP from the Scottish National Party put it, “The only way to pass regulations to try and get Omicron Covid back under control will be for about 400 people to pack into a room big enough for 100 to record their votes.

“They’ll do this up to four times in succession. In between, they won’t be able to go too far so will pack out the lobbies at either end of the chamber waiting for the next vote to be called.

“Several MPs have tested positive for Covid in the last few days so there’s a very high probability that others are carrying the virus but have not yet shown symptoms or given a positive test. What could possibly go wrong?”

A Minnesotan admits, belatedly, that it does actually snow in Britain

Having survived 40 Minnesota winters, I can get snobbish about the British weather, but recently 61 people got trapped in at a pub by a 9-foot-high snow drift and downed power lines, so I’m now prepared to admit that British weather can, very occasionally, be extreme.

That happened during Storm Arwen (Britain names its storms these days). Even in Minnesota, we would have classed it as more than a nuisance snow. Most of the people were stuck there for three nights and they spent the time playing board games, singing karaoke, and doing pub quizzes. Two stayed an extra night, working up the courage to leave. 

Pub quizzes? They’re a big thing in British pubs and people love them. Don’t ask me to explain that. I’m a foreigner. I was glad to be done with quizzes when I left school. A single day of quizzes, board games, and karaoke would’ve sent me out into the snow drift. If I could’ve gotten the door open.  

The pub fed everyone for free but–wisely–charged for booze.

Irrelevant photo: Li’l Red cat in a basket.

Elsewhere, Storm Arwen was less fun. Thousands of people lost power, and with it heat, for, as I write this, more than a week. Why it’s taking the power companies so long to patch the network back together is anyone’s guess. There’ll be an investigation eventually, but in the meantime we’ve got some people who are too damn cold to think that far ahead.

The army and navy were finally called out to help. That would’ve happened sooner, but it took a while for anyone to remind the government that people up north do actually vote. 

Storm Arwen was followed closely by Storm Barra, and Storm Barra was preceded by wind and snow  warnings. Since storm news uses a traffic light system and warnings are yellow, we’ve been treated to yellow snow warnings.

Maybe you have to have lived in the US to find that funny–or disgusting–but Minnesotans consider it the height of humor to advise each other not to eat yellow snow, and here we are with warnings about the stuff falling out the sky. How the dogs managed to get near it before it hit the ground is anyone’s guess.

You have no idea how many things will change when you drop yourself in a new country.

 

Reviving a cat story

This happened it 2015, but it resurfaced recently and since I missed it last time around, I’m willing to bet someone else out there did too: A man in Yorkshire called 999–Britain’s police, fire, and ambulance  emergency number–because his girlfriend let the cat eat his bacon

Yes, and what, the operator asked, did he want done about it?

Well, he wanted to press charges, of course.

Against the girlfriend or the cat?

Against both of them.

“Right, sir,” the operator said. “it’s not a criminal offense to let a cat eat your bacon. And we don’t arrest cats. I’m very sorry.”

No word on what happened to the relationship, but I wouldn’t bet on him living happily ever after. With either the girlfriend or the cat.

My gratitude to CatLadyMac for pushing me in the direction of this story.

 

Neolithic mince pies

Archeologists at Stonehenge have been derailed by enough Christmas cheer that they’re claiming the monument’s builders invented the mince pie. Or at least that they ate something very much like mince pies, involving meat fat, nuts, and fruit. And possibly grain for a crust.

Or possibly not. They’re making a huge leap from what was available to what they might’ve done with it., and I’ve made enough questionable pies to tell you that you can’t draw a straight line from having the right ingredients to turning out a pie. Especially if you’ve never seen a pie before. 

In the interest of accuracy, let’s say that it’s probably not the archeologists making that leap from they had the ingredients to they made mince pies. That comes from English Heritage, which funnels visitors through Stonehenge, and sells them stuff–including, at this time of year no doubt, mince pies, since they’re a hazard of every British Christmas. English Heritage has made a “neolithic mince pie recipe” available. 

Those people you see standing on the sidelines rolling their eyes and silently mouthing, “Don’t blame me”? Those are the archeologists.

 

Covid news

In Italy, a man tried to get his vaccination certificate while still avoiding vaccination by presenting a fake arm. Because who’d notice, right? 

Colorwise, the arm was a pretty good match for the rest of him, but it was made of silicon and the rest of him was made of muscle, bone, and all those other things that are found in animate creatures. So yes, someone noticed, probably well before jabbing a needle into the arm.

I can’t help wondering whether he just handed the arm over or attached it in more or less the area where a real arm would normally grow. Either way, he didn’t get his proof of vaccination and he did get some attention from the local police.

And the press.

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From the start of the Covid pandemic, a substantial number of people have told us that viruses inevitably get milder as time goes on. Didn’t that happen with the 1917 flu epidemic? Didn’t the Black Death eventually disappear? The conversation around that has gained in intensity with the arrival of the Omicron variant, which on early and incomplete reports appears to be more transmissible and maybe, possibly, hopefully milder. 

With the emphasis on maybe. The experts, though–spoilsports that they are–are holding out for actual evidence before they commit themselves.

But do viruses inevitably become milder? Not according to Alan McNally, the director of the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham. 

I know. Another spoilsport. The world’s full of them. He calls it “one of the most baffling misinformation myths peddled during the pandemic.” 

He’s joined by spoilsport Brian Ferguson, an immunologist at the University of Cambridge. “It’s really unpredictable what will happen to the evolution of the host or the virus. You can pick out examples of things going one way or the other depending on what point you want to make.”

One argument trotted out to defend the belief that viruses evolve toward being kinder is that indisputable fact that dead people don’t walk around much. This, the argument goes, limits their ability to spread any disease that may have killed them. 

I’ll confess to having trotted out that argument myself. Oops. I did mention that I’m not an expert, right?

The problems with it include Covid’s ability to spread before people know they have it, including people who never become sick and never know they were carrying the disease to spread it anyway.

And if that isn’t enough, a disease can be serious, both to individuals and to the society they live in, even if the people who get it don’t die. 

We have no way of predicting what direction this mess will go in. 

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How’s the vaccination campaign going? Well, the Sicilian village of Monte delle Rosse (population 2,100) has a vaccination rate of 104%. And they accomplished that without vaccinating either the dead or any silicon arms. Here’s how it happened:

Italy calculates the vaccination rate by comparing the number of residents and the number of people vaccinated. So when people came in from the surrounding villages for their vaccines, they put little Monte delle Rosse on the map. 

The take-up there was particularly good because before the vaccines were available, the area had a bad Covid outbreak, started by a nun and a priest who came to town not knowing they were Covid positive. 

That sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it? Although they usually walk into a bar, not a Sicillian town. Sorry I can’t supply a punchline, but-you’re welcome to leave one in the Comments section. In the meantime, the outbreak really did start that way, and when a vaccination team arrived, word of mouth brought people flooding in.

The village mayor said, “There was almost an air of celebration at the vaccination hubs. It was like being at a popular town festival. People understood that, with vaccines, they were creating a shield that would protect their community, safeguarding the very survival of the village.”

It also helped that someone set up a What’s App group that responded “to fake news and reassured people about vaccine safety. I am convinced that, if we had spread the wrong information about the dangers of jabs, today we would be here to tell you another story–that of dozens of deaths from Covid that would have risked halving the inhabitants of this village.”

 

A follow-up on what makes a British city a city

In November, I wrote about how a British town becomes a city. It’s time for a follow-up, because the Cornish town of Marazion, with a population of 1,440, is making a bid to become a city.

How do they justify that? The boosters cite things like its wonderful people, its community spirit,  its history, and its beauty. Not to mention its clock tower and the possibility that it’s the oldest chartered town in Britain. Or that, if it isn’t, it’s among the oldest.

“Size is not important,” said a town councillor, who may or may not have understood what he was saying.

I’m working on a proposal to make my living room a city. It has a human population of two and a remarkable number of resident animals, along with stunning drifts of dog and cat fur. .

 

Fireflies and Covid vaccines meet conspiracy theories

If you’re vaccinated, you’ll be glad to know that the Covid vaccines will not make you glow in the dark. Or else you’ll be disappointed. How you feel about it is up to you, but the reality remains unchanged.

I mention this because Newsmax’s White House correspondent tweeted that “the vaccines contain a bioluminescent marker called LUCIFERASE so that you can be tracked. Read the last book of the New Testament to see how this ends.”

The last book of the New Testament? When’s it due out? I’ll pre-order it and get back to you with a spoiler as soon as I have it in my non-glowing paws. 

In the meantime, though, let’s talk about luciferase, which does exist, isn’t scary, and doesn’t need capital letters. It’s the stuff that makes fireflies glow at night. And (because we can’t take anything for granted anymore) they glowed well before Covid vaccines were created.

Irrelevant photo: Bindweed, also known as a morning glory

Is luciferase in any of the Covid vaccines? No, but it is used in labs–and again, and was well before any of us put the letters C, O, V, I, and D together in that order. 

Let’s turn to Axandra Becker for an explanation of what scientists at the Texas Medical Center did with the stuff earlier in the pandemic–and let’s switch to the past tense to do it: It was used to “develop faster and more accurate diagnostic tests for Covid-19 as well as to analyze potential therapies and gain a clearer understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself.” 

They inserted luciferase into the genomes of the Covid, Zika, and West Nile viruses. That produced light, which made it easier to track where they (I believe that’s the viruses we’re talking about) went in a cell culture, along with what they’re reading and what they do on social media.

Okay, I’m filling in a bit where the explanation of the tracking went wavery. All it said was that they could track what was happening in them.

Admit it, my version’s more fun.

What’s any of this got to do with Lucifer? Because we can’t take anything for granted, we’ll start on the ground up and work our way up. Lucifer’s the antagonist who makes sure that there’s a market for that forthcoming book of New Testament, because without tension, no one can keep a plot rolling for that many pages and through two testaments, and antagonists are a cheap and easy way to create tension. If you open with “And God created the world and everything was nice from there on,” you have a short book.

Lucifer’s name comes from the Latin for bringer or light, or morning star, so when scientists isolated the stuff that makes fireflies (and a few other lucky creatures) glow, some clever devil named it luciferase.

Okay, we’re done with the name, now let’s go back to the vaccines: There’s no luciferase in them. None. Zero. It was used in research only. I’m multiply vaccinated and even in this post-truth era of ours I still can’t see my arm after I turn off the light. No matter what religion you do or don’t adhere to, you can get your vaccine safe in the knowledge that Lucifer–whether you believe in him or not–is not in it.

And you’ll still need a light source other than your own lovely self if you want to read in bed.

 

“A disease of the unvaccinated”

A doctor who writes as the Secret Consultant (consultant is British for a senior hospital-based doctor) says that although some vaccinated people are hospitalized with Covid, they tend to be elderly or frail or have underlying health problems. In Britain, an unlucky few otherwise healthy people will be hospitalized briefly on the general wards, but in the intensive care unit, “The patient population consists of a few vulnerable people with severe underlying health problems and a majority of fit, healthy, younger people unvaccinated by choice.”

None of them glow in the dark. Do you have any idea how helpful it would be if they did?

 

An update on needleless vaccination

Assorted groups of scientists are working on ways to deliver vaccines without using needles. One group’s working on a Covid vaccine in pill form. A trial has been approved in South Africa and will start enrolling people any day now–if it hasn’t started already.

A second approach uses a patch with spikes so tiny you can’t actually see them. These deliver the vaccine into the skin, not the muscle, which turns out to be an advantage. Muscle tissue is–well, think of it as a semi-arid zone as far as immune cells are concerned. You won’t find many of them there. Skin, on the other hand, goes into high alert when you bother it with a bunch of teeny tiny needles. The immune system wakes up, asks, “Did you need something from me?” and sends out messengers, who quickly learn to fight what looks like an invading army.

But patches have other advantages as well: 

  • They use less vaccine than a needle.
  • Babies don’t scream when they’re vaccinated–or if they do it’s for some other reason. 
  • The vaccine in patches is stable at room temperature and keeps for longer than the stuff used for needles. 
  • Anyone who can find one arm with the other one could use them. That means you could stick the patches in the mail for people to use at home.

One version of the patch has been tried on mice. Other versions–well, I don’t know what stage they’re at. The problem at the moment seems to be how to produce them in large enough quantities. 

 

Antiviral news

Scientists working at assorted universities and institutes in India have found an antibiotic that also works as an antiviral by messing with Covid’s ability to replicate.

But let’s not pretend that I can explain how it works. The best I can do is try to scare you with phrases like “amino acids . . . present in the ‘finger’ subdomain of the nsp12 protein” and  “the viral protein’s ‘palm’ subdomain cavity and the linear form of Kannurin.”

What matters is that “this approach could help us address the pandemic threat when yet another novel coronavirus emerges and medicine needs new pharmaceutical treatments ahead of the development of a suitable and widely available vaccine.” 

It’s good to know that, however screwed up humanity is, we have people among us who can figure this stuff out. 

 

Why you should take candy from strangers

A test group of 3,000 people will be sent a piece of colorless hard candy every day for 90 days. They’ll sniff it and eat it and then log onto an app to report what flavor it is and how sweet or sour it is. If the app notices any drop in drop-off in their sense of smell or taste, it will tell them to quarantine and get a Covid test.

The goal is to see if this is a way to spot Covid in otherwise asymptomatic people. 

 

How does Britain fight Covid?

Why, by pissing money out the window, that’s how. 

Okay, that’s not entirely fair. It got a vaccination program rolling early and that’s been reasonably successful, although the government followed that up by encouraging us all to run out and infect each other, since, what the hell, we’re mostly vaccinated. 

Except for the people who aren’t. Or are too frail for the vaccines to spark a good immune response. But that’s okay, because compassion’s not a big thing lately so we don’ thave to care.

But let’s go back to the money: We’re in the midst of a sleaze-valanche, and every few days we get more news about conflicts of interest and politicians giving lucrative favors to friends and donors. 

Now comes the news that we’re spending roughly £1 million a day on consultants for the test and trace system.

Those aren’t consultants as in very senior doctors. Those are consultants as in the outsiders who fly into an organization, look important, and charge a lot of money for it. They may perform priceless services. They play Tetris all day. I wouldn’t know. Either way, they do charge lots of money. On average, test and trace is paying £1,000 a day (and in a pinch a person could probably live on that), but some are making as much as £6,000 a day. In September, test and trace had one consultant wandering the halls (or working from home–again, I wouldn’t know) for every civil servant doing the same.

A year ago, it was going to reduce the ratio to 60%, although I’m not sure which side of the balance was 60 and which was 40. It doesn’t matter, though, since it didn’t happen. 

What’s the country gotten for its money? Let’s fall back on the House of Commons spending watchdog, which said test and trace hadn’t achieved its main objective, which was to cut infection levels and help the country return to normal. 

So as of earlier this fall, it had spent £37 billion in the process of failing to meet its objective. I wouldn’t mention that–I mean, what’s a few billion pounds between friends?–except that I mention the government’s incompetence so much that I thought I’d give you a quick sample of what I’m talking about.  

Fighting climate change, one misplaced city at a time

COP26–the meeting to save humanity from itself, and the planet along with it–was held in Scotland earlier this month. That presented a problem for US broadcasters, who discovered that Scotland’s geography is–well, it’s specific to Scotland is what it is. In other words, it demands a level of knowledge about a foreign country that no American can be expected to possess. 

CNN’s news presenter Wolf Blitzer opened by announcing that world leaders had gathered in Edinburgh to discuss the climate crisis. Behind him was the magnificent backdrop of Edinburgh Castle. “I’m now reporting from Edinburgh in Scotland where 20,000 world leaders and delegates have gathered for the COP26 Climate Summit,” he tweeted.

The meeting, unfortunately, was in Glasgow–a whole ‘nother city that’s rude enough to be 42 miles west of Edinburgh. 

[Late addition: I’d originally written that it’s east of Edinburgh. My thanks to John Russell for noticing that. I hope the Glasburgians had  their flotation devices close at hand until I came back and relocated them.)

The absence of punctuation is his. It may have gotten lost somewhere between the two cities.

Irrelevant photo: Flowers (some sort of geranium, I’d guess) trying to escape a neighbor’s garden.

In an effort to restore the balance, Reuters’ Jeff Mason tweeted a picture of Joe Biden walking out of his plane “in Glasgow,” although in fact he’d landed in Edinburgh. Reuters is a British-based news agency, so you might expect them to get this right, but Mason is based in the US.

I’m grateful to both reporters, because when you’re staring down the barrel of planetwide destruction you just  naturally want something to laugh about, even if the laughter does slide over into hysteria now and then. 

Before we move on, a few notes about those cities: Having landed in (check your map, please, everyone) Edinburgh, and in the spirit of climate-saving irony, Biden and his whole damn motorcade drove from Edinburgh to Glasgow.  But let’s not go too hard on Biden, the bad-optics sweepstakes were won by Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, who made an appearance at COP26, then flew back to London in a private jet so he could have dinner with a climate-change skeptic at a men-only private club.

Then he announced at a press conference that COP26 had been held in Glasgow. Which he may or may not know is located in Scotland. And he may or may not be wondering why so many people in Scotland–wherever that may or may not be–want to leave the United Kingdom. 

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After listening to entirely too many US reporters, a British reporter, Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy–who knows his Edinburgh from his Glasgow and (I’m making assumptions here) his ass from a hole in the ground–tweeted to American reporters that the city’s pronounced glas-go, not glas-gow. English spelling being what it is, I’m sure they’re grateful to have instructions. No one can assemble the damn language without them.

 

The crime and canned food report 

If crime’s what puts a country on the map, Britain can claim its spot with pride. We’re suffering from beaning attacks and the police have asked shops not to sell multiple cans of baked beans to kids. They’ve also asked parents to check their cupboards to make sure no baked beans have wandered off unsupervised.

What’s going on? Kids are dumping baked beans on people’s driveways, doors, cars, and whatever else doesn’t run away, bite, or throw a decent punch. Then they post a video. It started on TikTok, andi it has its own hashtag, as any good crime wave should.

The article where I found this included a warning that baked beans are bad for dogs, which is what makes this is so dangerous. 

For the sake of clarity, I’ve made an assumption there that you’re human. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Lord G. also led me to a source that said the tomatoes in most baked beans aren’t healthy for dogs and to another that said they’re okay for an occasional treat. If you turn out to be a dog, I guess the best thing to do is eat them in moderation .

But back to the baked beans: A beaning attack doesn’t involve a whole drivewayful of the slop. The kids spill a can or two. I’d be annoyed about it, but I couldn’t see myself calling the cops. Of course, I haven’t been beaned. Maybe I’ll change my mind if I am.

 

And in other canned food news

The holiday season’s almost upon us and Heinz–the company that makes canned soups and other prefabricated edibles–has come up with a canful of British Christmas dinner. Yes, folks, this can (or tin in British) has everything you need for the holiday–turkey, pigs-in-blankets, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, stuffing balls, gravy, and cranberry sauce, all in the form of a soup. 

They left out the mince pies and the Christmas pudding, which is probably wise but I don’t think they can call the dinner complete without them. 

 

The possible British crisis report

You may or may not have heard that Britain’s in a semi-permanent state of possible crisis. 

Possible crisis? Yup. We keep reading about it, but from where I sit not a whole lot seems to have changed, so although I don’t think it’s fabricated, I haven’t managed to get into a full-blown crisis mood.  

What’s happening is that we’re short of truck (or if you’re British, lorry) drivers, so things that should be getting delivered aren’t–although again, most of what I look for when I do the grocery shopping is on the shelves, and what isn’t I can work around.. Still, the shortage is real, and you can blame: 1, Brexit, 2, Covid, 3, anti-immigrant politicians limiting who can come into the country and for how long, 4, government incompetence (that’s my default setting but too complicated to explain in the list format I got myself stuck with), or 5, people’s unwillingness to work for poor pay and in lousy conditions. Pick one or more, as your mood and politics dictate. As far as I can tell, all or most of them have an influence. 

What are we short of and is it really a crisis? To answer the second question first, in spite of what I said above, you’re damn right it is because (we’re back to the first question now) we could run short of fake tan any day. You know fake tan: It’s the stuff that if you’re white you slather on yourself so you’ll look like you risked cancer to get a skin color you like better than the one you came in.

Or maybe you don’t slather it on yourself. I’ll confess to never having used it, but isn’t it fascinating that a culture which still–with apologies for the generalization–looks down its nose at people with darker skin is addicted to slatherable skin goop because people with lighter skin want to be darker? 

The reason for the shortage is that manufacturers are having trouble getting ethoxydiglycol, dihydroxyacetone, and erythrulose. Possibly because of how hard they are to spell. 

If this plays out as predicted, yes, we’re in serious trouble over here. If you live elsewhere and have friends or relatives in Britain, send fake tan! 

Before I leave the topic, though, we need two truth-in-reporting moments: 

1) Although we genuinely are short of delivery drivers, and the government genuinely is incompetent and also at the moment gloriously mired in sleaze reports (we’re in the midst of a sleaze-valanche and I’m having a wonderful time, thanks; it more than makes up for the fake tan crisis), neither of these seems to be the source of this particular shortage. I can’t rule out Covid, though. 

2) We have a crisis that’s getting less press than the driver shortage, and that’s an overwhelmed health system. This is only partially a Covid problem. The National Health System has been underfunded for years, all in the name of efficiency, and also partially privatized (also in the name of efficiency, and setting the NHS up to fail can be used to justify that). It’s also been disastrously reorganized,. And not enough doctors and nurses have been trained. Many are getting ready to retire, and already hospitals are reporting that they’re dangerously understaffed. I’d ask you to send trained medical people as well as fake tan–as a nation, we’ve relied on raiding the world for their trained medical people–but since we hate foreigners these days, not many of them would be eligible to work here. 

 

What’s the best way to honor veterans?

In Cheshire, two politicians (okay, one of them’s a former politician) who are both veterans decided that the best way was to hire a 7.8 ton tank and drive it through town to the local Remembrance Day event, where they forgot to set the handbrake–the thing Americans call an emergency brake. That allowed the tank to roll into the remembrance garden’s gates and smash hell out of them, thereby ensuring that even if other veterans are forgotten, the two of them will be remembered.

The tank rents for £950 a day, in case you want one. 

 

And finally a sensible story

As vaccine mandates push the reluctant to let themselves be vaccinated, a new idea’s entered the lune-a-sphere: getting that vaccine out of your body once it’s been put in. People are being advised that they can give into the mandate and keep their jobs but in the privacy of their homes make sure their bodies stay virginal and unsullied.

How do they do that? Well, according to one anti-vaxxer, who’s gotten enough views on TikTok to draw attention from the mainstream media, they take a detox bath of water, baking soda, epsom salts, and bentonite clay. Then they add a cup of Borax.

That soaks out radiation, poisons, and nanotechnologies.

What nanotechnologies? The liquidized computers in the vaccine that are turning us all into transhumans. 

How do the vaccine makers do that? They disassemble one of those old room-sized computers, put it in a blender, and add it to the Covid vaccine vats. 

Or–okay, I might possibly have made up the method, but we live in a post-truth world. Who’s going to challenge me? 

According to the experts, unvaccinating yourself is right up there with unringing a bell. Between the time the needle goes into your arm and the time you reach your car (assuming you have a car, and that you came in it) the vaccine will have started to work. 

It’s hard to pick a single element out of this and crown it the most controversial, but let’s try. We’ve got the claim that people can soak out a vaccine out of their bodies. We’ve got the claim that the vaccine (which one? does it matter?) activates radiation (no, don’t ask me), and we’ve got the claim that it contains a liquified computing system that will turn us into transhumans. But on an immediate damage-to-the-body level, the most controversial element surely is soaking in Borax. 

Now, Borax has its uses, and if you want to kill ants and cockroaches, it’s good stuff, but but soaking yourself in it isn’t recommended. It can irritate your skin and eyes. I’m not sure what it does to ants and cockroaches, but I’m sure it’s nothing nice. They haven’t offered any testimonials for the stuff. 

My advice? Dress warm, friends, and carry an umbrella, because it’s crazy out there.

Kids, Covid, and the Delta Variant

An article from the U.S. reports a sharp rise in the number of children hospitalized with Covid, especially in states with low vaccination rates. The article’s from September, although it’s still relevant. The U.S.–just to be clear–continues to exist even though September’s come and gone.  

The danger isn’t just that they’re at risk of dying, but that they’re also at risk of long Covid–the sometimes serious symptoms that drag on for no one knows how long after a percentage of people recover from Covid.. 

“These are children whose development and futures may be compromised,” said Dr. James Versalovic of Texas Children’s Hospital. “The collective impact when we look ahead is significant.”

In case anyone missed the point, he also said, “Children are our future adults.”

I’ve suspected that for a long time but I’m glad to have it confirmed by a medical professional. 

Irrelevant photo: Cut flowers at the village produce stall.

Are the numbers up because the Delta variant’s more dangerous to children? That’s not clear yet. Children are still less likely than adults to get severe Covid, even with Delta. But whatever we eventually learn about the percentages, the Delta variant is more contagious, so we’re dealing with a larger number of infections and from that a larger number of kids who draw the short straw in the great Covid lottery.  The doctors interviewed for the article called for more people to get vaccinated and for people to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

“What really protects children are the interventions directed at the rest of society,” said Dr. Thomas Tsai of the health policy department at Harvard University. 

If asked, I’m sure he would have confirmed that children are society’s future adults, but no one did him the courtesy of asking.

 

Long Covid and vaccination

The latest news on vaccination and long Covid–or at least the latest I’ve found–is that being doubly vaccinated slashes hell out of your odds of developing long Covid. 

First, vaccination makes you less likely to get infected. In a study of 2 million vaccinated people, 0.2% tested positive. What’s the comparison number for unvaccinated people? Um, yeah, I should have that, but the article I’m working from was making a different point, so it didn’t hand me a comparison group. But in a different study of a different group, vaccinated people were three times less likely to get infected than the unvaccinated. 

To point out the obvious, that means only that they test positive, not necessarily that they get sick. 

Second, if you take that first group of infected vaccinated people and compare it with a group of infected unvaccinated people, the vaccinated group are only half as likely to develop long Covid.

The vaccinated group is also 31% less likely to get acute Covid symptoms, 73% to end up in the hospital, and 16% less likely to have had liver for supper. 

Sorry. I wanted to see if anyone was still awake. That won’t be on the test.

The bad news is that older people and people from poorer areas (also known as poor people, but the study didn’t have income data for individuals so it extrapolated from where they lived)– 

Should we start that over? Those two groups aren’t as well protected by the vaccines, which argues that they should be priorities for booster shots. It also argues that raising people’s incomes would be a great public health measure. I’d recommend lowering peoples ages as well, but no one’s worked out the mechanics of that. 

If I hear that anyone’s making progress on that, I’ll let you know. Right after I inform my knees, which will be very excited about it. 

 

Scientists are being threatened

A poll of 321 scientists found that 15% had gotten death threats after speaking publicly about Covid, and 22% had been threatened with physical or sexual violence. 

Not that sexual violence isn’t physical, mind you, but I guess it’s best to be specific about how ugly things are getting.

The most common issues that triggered the threats were vaccination, masks, and the effectiveness of specific treatments.

It’s heartening that we’re handling a worldwide crisis like adults.

 

And speaking of specific treatments…

The Thai government gave an herb, green chiretta, known as the king of bitters, to 11,800 inmates with mild and asymptomatic Covid and claims that 99% of them recovered. 

Which sounds great, but the problem is that it doesn’t seem to have been a controlled study–you know, the kind with a control group that doesn’t get the treatment, so you can compare them.. 

If they reported how many of them were asymptomatic, I haven’t seen it. An asymptomatic person making a full recovery is hardly headline news.

The herb’s widely used in Thailand to treat colds and flu, 

Just to complicate the picture, it’s hard to calculate Covid recovery rates. Don’t ask–the article I’m working from just tossed that in and moved on, so let’s do the same. 

By way of comparison,” the article says, “the recovery rates announced by Thai officials are somewhat higher than overall Covid recovery rates in India (32%-83%) or Australia (96% recovered after 120 days).”

That doesn’t explain why they’re hard to calculate, but if we’re looking at a range from 32% to 83%, we might want to agree that it’s not an easy number to come up with.

Two controlled studies of green chiretta are underway, one in Thailand and the other in Georgia. That’s Georgia as in the country where you’ll find Tbilisi, not as in the state where you’ll find Atlanta. 

 

And a quick glance at Britain…

…since that’s what I allegedly write about here. Sorry. The pandemic’s taken me on a long side trip.

It’s done that to all of us, hasn’t it?

Covid infections in Britain went up by 60% in a month. Or to come at the numbers in a different way, we had almost 50,000 new cases in one recent day. That’s some 19,000 short of our all-time peak. 

Britain’s infection rates are higher than those of other European nations. Yay us! We’re winning!

No, wait. I got carried away. We don’t want to win this race. 

Why are we ahead? It’s not clear yet. The puzzle has a lot of pieces and it’ll take a while before anyone figures out where they go. How does testing compare to other countries? What about mask wearing, ventilation, vaccination, school rooms, work, transportation? But we can give a few of the pieces a good hard stare: Some of these bullet points will apply to Britain as a whole and some only to England. Apologies for putting them in the same bag and shaking them together before baking. It’s been that kind of week. 

  • The kids are back in school and not wearing masks.
  • Lots of people who were working from home are going back into–well, wherever it is they once worked. Whether they want to or not.
  • Not unrelated to that, the government has reopened everything it could get its hands on. 
  • Mask mandates have ended, although they’re recommended in public indoor spaces.
  • Kids between 12 and 15 are eligible for vaccination but it’s not happening quickly.
  • Booster shots for vulnerable adults aren’t happening quickly either.
  • Immunity from vaccines may be waning. Because Britain started its vaccination program earlier than most countries, waning immunity would show up earlier.
  • A new sub-variant of Delta has been spotted. That may well not be significant, but I thought I’d mention it. 

On top of that, one article I’ve seen brings the news that the unvaccinated could get reinfected an average of every 16 months, although reinfection doesn’t necessarily wait that long. It can happen soon after the first bout. So it’s not just the vaccines that (apparently) wane, so does natural immunity. Reports are coming in of people getting reinfected not just once but twice. 

People who’ve been vaccinated are also reporting reinfections. How often? I haven’t seen a number, and I’d be surprised if decisive numbers are in yet. What we can say is that the vaccinated will, at least, have some protection against the severest forms of the disease.

“We still don’t know much about the risk factors for reinfection,” Nisreen Alwan, associate professor of public health, said, “but the theoretical assumption that once all the young get it the pandemic will be over is becoming increasingly unlikely.” 

So much for herd immunity. 

Widespread vaccination has meant hospitalizations aren’t going up as quickly as infection rates, but even so we’ve got something like 869 admissions to hospital every day and some 8,000 people in hospital with Covid–around 10% of them on ventilators. So this increase in cases isn’t cost free. Leaders in the National Health Service are calling for mask mandates, working from home, and other restrictions to be brought back before we all find ourselves neck-deep in unpleasant brown stuff. And the health secretary, while refusing to do anything that useful, is at least asking Members of Parliament to set an example by wearing masks in crowded public places.

Should Christmas parties be canceled? Oh, hell no. Just take a lateral flow test first. 

The UK’s fairly highly vaccinated, and that’s keeping deaths and hospitalization rates from rising as quickly as they did in the early days of the pandemic, but they are rising and an already underfunded health care system is struggling. 

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To underline how complicated the picture is, Japan’s had an unexpected downturn in the number of cases, and it’s not clear why that’s happened either. No one’s complaining, but understanding it would be useful.

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A joint report from the House of Commons’ science and health committees rips into the British government’s early response to Covid, which amounted to, “Let’s all get sick, then we’ll have herd immunity. Yeah, som people will die, but doesn’t everyone die sooner or later?” 

The government caused thousands of deaths by delaying a lockdown, the report says.

“Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic–and the advice that led to them–rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced,” it says. 

Britain has had more than 137,000 recorded coronavirus deaths. That’s the second highest number in Europe. Only Russia has more–and it’s a hell of a lot bigger. 

We won’t get into how many unrecorded Covid deaths there were and are, or the varying ways a Covid death is defined, but let’s acknowledge that it’s not a number anyone can be accurate about. Still, the numbers we have give us a rough sketch of where things stand. 

 

The smoker’s paradox

Early in the pandemic, a small handful of studies reported that smokers seemed to be protected against Covid’s worst effects. Since that ran counter to everything we’d expect, it was reported widely as a man-bites-dog story.

You know about man-bites-dog stories? If a dog bites a man, it’s not news. If a man bites a dog, it is. This bit of wisdom came from the time before women were invented, hence their absence. 

I might as well admit that I don’t remember seeing articles about smokers being protected from Covid, but my memory’s more decorative than functional, so I may have known about it at the time.

Never mind. What was behind the stories? Less than meets the eye. A larger study has now shown more or less what we’d expect: that smokers are 80% more likely to be hospitalized with Covid than nonsmokers. 

If you’d like an interesting lesson on probability, do click through and read the article. It’s a great explanation of why science continually updates its conclusions. But I’m going to skip all that and tell you this instead: 

First, the initial studies were small and the more recent one is large, meaning it has a better chance of being accurate.

Second, some of the initial studies were funded by tobacco companies, which–oops–are still trying to sell cigarettes. So we might want to look for an element of bias. Which lead us to the next paragraph.

Third, the studies asked the wrong question. They looked at the number of people hospitalized with Covid and asked how many of them smoked.

It’d be more useful–if you want a scientifically useful answer, that is–to compare smokers and nonsmokers and ask how many in each group are hospitalized with Covid. 

If you approach the question the first way, you don’t take account of the people who die before being admitted or who are transferred to a hospice. 

My math’s terrible, but I suspect that if you have one category of people who die quickly and one of people who linger, the lingerers pile up, so there will be more of them when you count heads, making it look like the dead are protected. 

The larger, later study included a fuller range of the population, asked a better question, and got a more predictable result.

if COVID teaches us nothing else,” the article says, “it should teach us to hold extraordinary claims–about smoking, vitamin D, zinc, bleach, gargling iodine, or nebulising hydrogen peroxide–to high standards.”

The future of Covid, and some updates on the fight against it

A while back, I summarized a theory that the Covid virus is unlikely to pick up the number of mutations it would need if it’s going to evade the vaccines. I felt a lot better after reading that, but let’s look at an opposing theory so we can all get depressed together.

This theory raises the possibility that in addition to the virus picking up small mutations over time (that’s called antigenic drift), there’s the possibility of antigenic shift, which involves more dramatic changes caused by the virus recombining with other human coronaviruses. Viruses do that. Basically, they hold a swap meet. Or a bring and buy sale if you’re more used to them. They don’t actually use money–their evolution hasn’t brought them to that exalted stage–but they do trade strategies for making money-using creatures sick.

If they swap the right bits of knowledge, the current crop of vaccines will need to be re-engineered. We’ll all move back to Go and start the game over again.

It’s also possible that Covid will infect animals we share space with and then cross back to humans in some more powerful form. That’s reverse zoonosis.

Irrelevant photo: Japanese anemone, with a bite out of it. That’s to prove the beauty of imperfection and all that deep philosophical stuff.

As a general rule, long-term evolution favors viruses that don’t make their hosts too sick. The very sick tend to crawl away somewhere and keep their germs to themselves, which (seeing this from the germs’ point of view) isn’t an efficient use of a host. And the dead die, which also limits their opportunities to share. That’s even more inefficient. 

From that base, any number of people argue that (after a trail of death and destruction) epidemic diseases get milder over time. Everyone who doesn’t die lives happily ever after. They point to the 1918 flu epidemic (or the Black Death, or some other cheery moment in human history) and assure us that this is the natural order of things. 

According to this theory, that is indeed one possibility but it’s not the only one. 

The British government’s group of scientific advisors, SAGE, thinks the virus isn’t likely to become less virulent in the short term. (Virulence isn’t about a disease’s ability to spread–that’s transmissibility. It’s about how sick it makes a person.) SAGE considers that a long-term possibility, but it also considers it a realistic possibility that a more virulent strain will emerge. 

Sorry. I don’t create the possibilities, I just write about them.

So what direction will it evolve in? Basically, no one’s sure.  

However, all isn’t lost. A lot of work’s being done on how to cope with Covid.

 

The Covid-killing mask 

A group of researchers have created a surgical mask that deactivates not just the Covid virus but any enveloped virus (that includes the flu), plus some antibiotic-resistant bacteria like a couple of the staphylococci. 

What’s an enveloped virus? I’m so glad you asked, because I have an answer right here in my pocket. It’s “any virus in which a nucleoprotein core is surrounded by a lipoprotein envelope consisting of a closed bilayer of lipid derived from that of the host cell’s membrane(s), with glycoprotein.”

You’re welcome. I didn’t understand it either, but I’m glad to get it out of my pocket.

The masks are the first ones that don’t just protect both the rest of the world from the wearer but also protect the wearer from the rest of the world. 

Okay, not completely, but virus- and staphylococcuses-wise, it will. If someone’s trying to hit you on the head with a hammer, the masks are no help at all.

I’ve seen masks promoted as antiviral. Advertising copy for masks with a copper layer, for example, talks about copper’s antiviral properties without actually claiming that the masks will kill Covid. From what I’ve read, they don’t have enough copper to do more than provide carefully worded hype.

The new masks are called FFP Covid masks, they come in adult and child sizes, and according to the article I read they’re very affordable.

How affordable is very affordable? After bumping around the internet for a while, I found some on sale for one euro. That’s not bad, but whether it’s affordable depends on how much you have in your wallet, and how long it takes to renew itself once you pull some of it out to buy masks.

Not to mention how many other calls you have on it.

Are the masks reusable? That’ll affect people’s opinion of their affordability, and the definitive answer is, I’m not sure. They look disposable, but that’s strictly a guess. 

Another limiting factor for most of us–since this is an English-language site–is that the only place I could find them for sale is in Spain, which is where they were developed. Presumably they’ll make their way into the rest of the world at some point. 

Still, whatever the mask’s immediate impact, it’s an important step.

 

Quick updates

Multiple new Covid treatments and vaccines are in the works. Here’s a sampling:

An inhalable powder works against Covid, MERS, and one version of the flu. In animals. It has yet to be tried in  humans–at least in this form. As a pill, it’s used against leukemia, but when you turn it into a powder and inhale it, it becomes a whole ‘nother thing. In addition to landing in a different part of the body and possibly needing a different dose, it opens up the possibility of Covid treatment taking on some bad-boy chic: You roll up a hundred-dollar bill and snort your meds.  

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Repurposing a drug that’s already in use to treat a new disease isn’t, it turns out, as simple as it sounds. You may have to shift from a pill to a powder. You may need a dose so high that it turns toxic, at which point you may need to rethink the whole idea.

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Another drug that’s already in use, this one to treat fatty substances in the blood (no, don’t ask me), could reduce Covid infection by 70%. Could. So far, it’s worked only in human cells in the lab. Two clinical trials are underway, though.

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An antiviral called molnupiravir halves the chances of an infected, high-risk person needing hospitalization or dying from Covid, and Merck will be asking for emergency approval in the U.S. Molnupiravir doesn’t seem to be as effective as monoclonal antibodies, but because it’s a pill it can be used outside of hospital settings, so it’s much easier to use.. 

Down sides? It costs $700 for a five-day course of treatment, which makes it cheaper than and easier to type than monoclonal antibodies, but it’s still expensive. And some experts are warning about potential side effects. Plus it doesn’t seem to help patients who are already sick enough to be hospitalized. So although it’s gotten a lot of press coverage and is, without question, important, it’s not the answer to all problems.

Other antiviral pills are also in the works. 

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Vaccines? Why yes. A new vaccine in development uses only a single shot and can be stored at room temperature for up to a month. In trials with primates, it gave near-complete immunity that stayed at its peak level for eleven months.

It’s called an AAVCOVID vaccine, AAV being the vector the vaccine uses. 

What am I talking about? The vector’s the horse the vaccine rides in on. Or if you want to sound marginally more sensible, it’s the  strategy the developers use. I’m not going to try to explain this one, because I’m pretty sure I’ll get it wrong. Let’s just say that if this strategy works, it’ll help get the vaccine out to places where refrigeration’s a barrier. 

The team that’s developing it is also exploring needle-less delivery systems.

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Another vaccine in the works is using a new model that I’d love to explain but I’m not even close to understanding it, so let me quote: It combines “the advantages of the two types of traditional vaccines—virus-based vaccines and protein-based vaccines—by preparing a bacterial protein that self-assembles into a virus-like particle. By displaying a COVID-19 protein on the surface of this virus-like particle, researchers produced a novel vaccine that is well recognized by the mammalian immune system, but yet does not have any viral infectivity.”

If I understand that correctly, it behaves like one of those transformers kids used to play with, and for all I know still do. You introduce it into a body as a motorcycle, it clicks a few of its own pieces, turns green, and suddenly it’s the Hulk, chasing down unsuspecting Covid viruses.

Early tests show it being effective against the Covid variants and setting up a strong immune response.

Come to me anytime you need a high-grade scientific explanation.

 

Long Covid numbers

I’ve found some numbers on long Covid, finally: About a third of the people who come down with Covid get at least one long Covid  symptom. 

First question, who are we talking about when we say people who get Covid? As far as I can tell, it’s people who actually got sick, because the article talks about them recovering. So I think we can rule out anyone who gets infected but stays asymptomatic. 

We need all the good news we can get, so let’s play nice and say thanks for that.

Second question, how are they defining long Covid? You get to pick from nine core symptoms, and they have (or it has, if you only get one) to last at least 90 days. The most common ones are breathing problems, abdominal symptoms, fatigue, pain, and anxiety and depression.They’re more common in people who’ve been hospitalized and slightly more common in women than in men. The same symptoms occur after the flu, but they’re 1.5 times more common after Covid.

Next shred of good news? If long Covid symptoms are more common in people who’ve been hospitalized, less than a third of people with milder symptoms are likely to come down with it. 

What will it mean if Covid stops being a pandemic?

The talk these days is that Covid will eventually lose its pandemic status and turn into an ordinary, house-trained endemic disease–the kind of disease that circulates in a population and gets us sick but doesn’t give us nightmares, overwhelm hospitals, or kill huge numbers of people. And (they say) this will happen because of two factors: vaccination and the natural immunity that people who’ve been exposed and survived gain. 

What are the odds, though, that Covid will pull a fast one and evade our immunities

Not that high, according to a study that tried to replicate Covid’s mutation pattern using a harmless virus. To completely outrun the immunity we gain from either exposure or vaccination, the virus would have to draw twenty of the right cards out of the mutation deck. 

How many cards are we playing with? I’m not sure. As far as I can figure out, the rules of the game keep shifting. But the scientists–the people who study this stuff, as opposed to the people who read one lone article and call themselves experts–say it would be one hell of a trick for it to pick all twenty.

Irrelevant photo: The north Cornish coast.

On top of that, the virus isn’t the only thing that evolves. So does the human immune system. After it’s met the virus, either in the form of an infection or a vaccine, it sits down and plays with its antibodies. Think of it as a kid with a Lego set. It spends months working out shapes that bind ever more tightly to Covid’s spike proteins. 

People who’ve gotten an mRNA vaccine and also have naturally occurring immunity to Covid have the strongest defense. It’s possible that booster shots will create the same flexible immunity, although that hasn’t been demonstrated yet.

So as surely as the virus doesn’t keep one single form, neither does the human immune system. We will, eventually, get through this mess, although the question is at what cost. 

 

How can we measure Covid’s impact?

In the US, Covid has now killed as many people as the 1918-19 flu epidemic. I’d love to give you comparisons for other countries, but that’s all I’ve found.

To put that into perspective, in 1918 the population of the US was a third of what it is now, so it killed a larger percentage of people. On the other hand, if we’re comparing the inherent danger of the two diseases, massive advances in medicine have kept the death toll lower than it would otherwise have been. 

There must be a dozen ways to measure Covid’s impact, but one of them is cold, hard cash. Again in the US, it’s cost almost $6 billion to hospitalize the unvaccianted in just three months, from June through August 2021

The study’s authors say that’s probably an underestimate.

Yet another study says that by March of 2021, Covid had taken 9 million years of life from the U.S. population. Instead of measuring excess deaths, it looked at the mortality burden of the pandemic. 

What the hell does that mean? You would have to ask, wouldn’t you? The study looked at QALYs, or quality adjusted life years, using them to measure the length of time people would have lived if they hadn’t, um, died. It says that people between 25 and 64 lost 4.67 million years of life, and Black and Hispanic communities were hit hardest, especially men in those groups who were 65 and older.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be writing about Britain. What can I tell you? Bloggers are irresponsible cheats.

 

Question: If you’re not vaccinated against Covid, will gargling with iodine help? 

Answer: In a test tube, povidone-iodine kills the Covid virus. 

Further information about that answer: Humans aren’t test tubes. 

What happens in a human, then? There haven’t been many studies, but what few there are hint that iodine can inactivate Covid in the mouth for a time, but not for a long one. What happens after that? The same thing that was happening before. If you breathe in the virus, there’ll be nothing there to stop it. If you’re incubating the virus, it’ll move back into your throat and ditto–there’ll be nothing there to stop it. It’s like wiping your kitchen counters with antiseptic wipes. You kill 99 point something percent of the germs that are present in that moment. Then you and your antiseptic wipes go away and wherever the germs came from, they come back. 

In other words, unless you’re going to spend your days and nights gargling with whatsidone-iodine, this isn’t going to work. 

And have I mentioned that the stuff tastes disgusting and smells just as bad?

Other than that, is there any reason not to use it? Well, it can cause skin irritation–sometimes severe, although not necessarily. It can (rarely) cause your thyroid gland to become inactive, especially if you’re pregnant. And especially if you’re both pregnant and a woman.

The most likely side effect, though, is that it will make you think you’re done something to protect either yourself or the people around you when you haven’t. 

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On Fridays I usually post something about English or British history or culture. This week I’m doing well to do post anything at all. I hope to be back to full speed eventually. In the meantime, bear with me.

How MI5 keeps Britain’s secrets safe-ish, and other news from Britain

MI5 has warned LinkedIn users that they’re at risk of spilling the nation’s secrets. 

Let’s take that apart, okay? What’s MI5? 

It’s the British domestic security service. MI6 does the overseas spookery. To quote its own website, “MI5’s mission is to keep the country safe. For more than a century we have worked to protect our people from danger whether it be from terrorism or damaging espionage by hostile states.” 

Some other agency gets to deal with non-damaging espionage. 

MI5 is also dedicated to keeping the nation safe from commas, both the necessary kind and, the, unnecessary, sort. 

Irrelevant photo: It’s red berry season. I have no idea what these are. They’re not edible, though, at least as far as I know.

Linguistic problems aside, though, they’re spies. Or counter-spies, but countering spies can involve doing a bit of spying, because otherwise how do you know what your presumed spies are up to? Every country has some, although it’s bad manners to say so. When Lord Google directed me to MI5’s website, I got a brief message saying the site wasn’t available and thought, Ooh, that really is secretive. Then, disappointingly, it loaded. 

Maybe they used the pause to snip out the commas.

Next question: What kind of secret is the great British public at risk of spilling? 

The sad truth is that not many of us hold secrets anyone cares about. The people MI5’s worried about work in government and key industries, and MI5 says some10,000 UK nationals have been approached by hostile states on LinkedIn (which they don’t mention by name–they’re good at keeping secrets) over the past five years.

How does that work? Your average hostile state sets up a non-hostile fake profile, connects with likely users, and offers them speaking gigs, travel, business deals, lollipops, whatever sounds enticing. It all looks legit, not to mention flattering and lucrative. Presumably, these lure the targets into flapping their gums about whatever they’re supposed to be keeping secret. 

People who’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic are said to be more vulnerable to these approaches, possibly because they’re working on less secure home computers, but possibly because they’re bored out of their skulls and lonely. 

Or possibly not. Maybe MI5 just threw the pandemic into the explanation to make it newsworthy.

 

Meanwhile, in other countries

In the US–you may well know this–Texas passed a law making abortions illegal if you’ve been pregnant for more than six weeks. Even if the preganancy’s the result of rape or incest. Even if you didn’t know you were pregnant until you were 6.1 weeks along. It’s also now illegal to help anyone get an outlawed abortion, and the law creates an odd, and potentially threatening, situation where individuals, not the state, are supposed to enforce it. So an antiabortion group set up a whistleblower website, and TikTokers promptly flooded it with Shrek memes, pornography,, and fake reports. 

My favorite report is an accusation against the State of Texas for maintaining the highways people use to reach abortion centers, although the 742 accusations against Texas’s governor run a close second.All 742 were all sent by one woman. Anyone who was even vaguely interested could find information online about how to convince a computer to submit mass reports.

Shortly after that started, the site’s host, the ironically named GoDaddy, kicked the site off its platform. It’s not considered nice to collect private information about third parties. The site moved to another platform, Epik, which (I’ve read but not confirmed) hosts assorted ultra-right and outright fascist sites. Then Epik kicked them off for pretty much the same reason. 

It was kicked off a couple of other platforms and last I heard had dropped out of sight..

The law, however, has not.

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A Spanish bishop, Xavier Novell, resigned after falling in love not just with another human being but with a divorced one who writes erotic fiction with satanic themes, Silvia Caballol. The blurb on one of her books describes it as a journey into sadism, madness, and lust. The plot, it says, will shake the reader’s values and religious beliefs.

Well, either the plot or something else seems to have shaken the ex-bishop’s. He was known for for carrying out exorcisms, as well as for backing “conversion therapy” for gay people.

I can’t help hoping that he falls in love with a man next, although I probably should wish this gem on anyone.

 

An important report from a non-existent department 

The Department of Reasonable Caution isn’t concerned with LinkedIn. Instead it urges us to be more careful than the Mid-Kent Planning Support Team was when it tested an online system.

The team took five real planning applications from the town of Swale, inserted assorted wise-assery where bland responses normally land, and then–oops–put them online. After that, Swale discovered that not only was the incident embarrassing, it was legally binding. They can’t just say, “Sorry. Now we’ll publish the real response.” Instead the phony ones have to be overturned in the courts, which will take two or three months at an expected cost of £8,000.

And that’s only if the process isn’t challenged.

The blame’s landing on the head of some junior officer. I’m not sure what junior officer means in this context, but I can’t help feeling for him or her. This is some ill-advised soul who was trying to stay awake (not to mention amused) at work one day. And, briefly, succeeded.

In fairness, a bit of blame may land on the heads of the people who made the test documents public.

What did the docs that shouldn’t have gone live say? One application was turned down because “your proposal is whack.” Another was approved with the comment, “The incy, wincy spider.” A third was approved with the comment, “Why am I doing this, am I the chosen one?”

Yes, dear, you are: the one chosen to catch 96.3% of the flak.

Some of the place names sound like they were made up by the incy, wincy spider author, but they’re real: Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, home to the Happy Pants animal sanctuary. 

Pants, in British, are underwear. What kind of animal sanctuary does that make it? Sorry, you’re on your own there. *

 

And a yet another caution warning

This past week, Britain’s education secretary, Gavin Williamson, demonstrated that he couldn’t tell one Black public figure from another by confusing Marcus Rashford and Maro Itoje. He told an interviewer he’d had a pleasant Zoom meeting with Rashford. He’d been talking to Itoje.

When it all blew up in his face, he explained that he’d made “a genuine mistake.”

And here we’d thought he was faking the mistake to fool us into thinking he’s the kind of clueless racist who can’t tell one Black person for another and doesn’t think that’s a problem. And I say that as someone who can’t tell most people apart–Black, White, or Anyone Else. But my problem is with faces. The difference between the names Rashford and Itoje might give me a clue that they’re different people. And if I had to invest enough time in one of them to hold a meeting, I might take the time to find out who he actually is. 

Williamson also got Itoje’s first name wrong. It’s Maro, not Mario.

 

 

How smart does a prime minister have to be?

One of the non-burning questions in British politics is whether the prime minister is, contrary to all appearances, intelligent or whether he’s the kind of dope whose overpriced education taught him to say dumb things in Latin. 

Why isn’t that a burning question? Because if he is smart, it’s his dumb act that’s leading the country, so the impact is pretty much the same.

Still, it’s something people talk about, and the only argument I’ve heard in favor of him being smarter than he acts is that he wrote a biography of Churchill. No one mentions his novels. Presumably any idiot can write one, although as a novelist I’d like to think that  depends on how low your standards are.

If the Churchill biography is our key evidence, then it matters, in a non-burning sort of way, that a few months ago an eminent (and unnamed) Shakespeare scholar was asked to help Johnson write a biography of Shakespeare

Why is a prime minister messing around with a project that’s even less burning than establishing whether he’s clever enough to be allowed out alone? Because in 2015 Johnson signed a £500,000 deal with the publisher Hodder & Staughton. How much of the advance has been paid is anyone’s guess. I’d assume not all, and the publisher will be glad of that because he hasn’t finished it. Possibly hasn’t started it–he’s been distracted by this silly country he’s supposed to be running–although for all I know all the ands and thes are in place and only the connecting words are missing. 

The scholar was contacted by an agent and asked if he or she would “supply Mr Johnson (and a dictaphone) with answers to questions about Shakespeare. . . . The originality and brilliance, his agent assured me, would lie in Mr Johnson’s choice of questions to ask and in the inimitable way in which he would write up the expert answers he received,” 

The expert was told Johnson wrote his Churchill biography using the same method. S/he told the agent to take a hike. And then, apparently, called the press.

That leaves the nation still debating the prime minister’s intelligence. I’m not sure anyone’s arguing about his character.

 

Talking ducks

A musk duck in Australia has been recorded saying, “You bloody fool.” It’s the first documented instance of a duck imitating human speech. You have to watch the video a few times before you catch the words, but once you do, yes, it really does sound like the duck’s saying, “You bloody fool.” Maybe it’s talking about the ways we waste our time on this planet.

I found it disconcerting to hear a creature talk when its lips aren’t moving. And disconcerting that something that talks doesn’t have lips.

The duck was–or so the article I read told me–hatched from an egg, which I would’ve thought was common enough not to need mentioning, but since we’re talking about a talking duck I don’t suppose we should take anything for granted. The duck was also hand reared. 

Whether any of that is relevant to its ability to insult the world at large is up for grabs, but I’m thinking the duck–he’s called Ripper–wouldn’t make a bad prime minister. I don’t know what Britain’s unwritten constitution has to say about non-citizens becoming prime ministers, but ducks aren’t specifically ruled out.

Even with an unwritten constitution, I’m sure of that.

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  • My thanks to Bear Humphries for the tip about Swale. I’d have missed it without him. The link is to his photo blog, which is well worth a look.

What British swear word is going out of style? 

Britain’s internationally famous swear word, bloody, has dropped by 80% in the popularity rankings, landing in third place, behind fuck and shit.

Or as the Independent so delicately puts it, behind “the f-word” and “s***.”

No, I don’t know why they can’t use the same form to mask both words  They did spell out bloody, though, which helps those of us who aren’t British sort out how high it ranks on the forbiddenness list: Far enough down that all of its letters were left in plain view.

Having said that, the survey says that both bloody and fuck are being used less in casual conversation. 

How would you measure that? Do you ask people, “How many times in the past week did you use the following words?” Do you tap their phones or install a nanochip in the Covid vaccines that notifies Bill Gates every time you swear? 

Does Bill Gates care?

None of the above. Dr. Robbie Love trawled through twenty years of transcripts in the British National Corpus of Conversation, looking at how usage changed over time. That meant looking through 15 million words for mentions of 16 swear words.

It’s amazing what humans will do. 

Irrelevant photo: hydrangea with butterfly

What’s the British National Corpus of Conversation? It’s 100 million words of written and spoken language from the “later part of the 20th century”–90% of them written (“newspapers, academic books, essays, etc.”) and 10% informal conversations and radio shows.

Which surely means it underestimates people’s swearing. I used to host a radio show, all by my foul-mouthed self, and I didn’t swear once when I was on the air. Still, if he found a decline over twenty years, at least he’s comparing twenty-year-old apples to more modern apples.

Love thinks the word shit gets a boost from the handy way it can be tacked onto other words, like -head and -eating. And fuck? It gets a boost from the number of places it can be dropped into a sentence: 

I fuckin’ hate work days.

I hate fuckin’ work days.

I hate work fuckin’ days. 

I’m stretching it with that last one, but it’s not completely out of the question. If I’d given myself some longer words to work with, I could also have dropped it in mid-fuckin’-word. Count that as an opportunity lost.

Linguists (I’ve read) call this the fucking insertion. I asked Lord Google if he’d confirm that for me, but he thought I was interested in porn. I’ll pay for my intellectual curiosity by wading through an assortment of gross-out ads. In the meantime, you’ll have to take my unsupported word on the subject unless one of the linguists hidden hereabouts cares to wade in. 

I know you’re out there. 

Men still swear more than women, the survey reports, but the gap is narrowing, striking another blow for equality.

 

And since we’re in polite company

The Cerne Giant–one of Britain’s best-known chalk figures–has at long last been reliably dated

And when I say dated, I don’t mean romantically. I mention that because he’s clearly available. He’s naked, he’s anatomically correct (in an exaggerated way that I guess makes him overcorrect), and he’s visibly interested. But no, that’s not what we’re talking about. Cernie’s still single. We’re talking about dating the era when he was carved into the hillside. Experts have spent years debating that. He was Roman. He was Celtic. He was Cromwellian. 

Sorry, everyone, but none of those are right. The National Trust has brought in some high-tech equipment and pronounced him Anglo-Saxon, probably from the tenth century. That’s based on microscopic snails in the sediment.

No, I didn’t know microscopic snails existed either.

For whatever reasons, local documents have been no help in figuring out his origins. He’s not mentioned in the tenth century, in the sixteenth century, or in the seventeenth century. There he is, dominating the hillside, and no one mentioned him.

The best explanation for the figure belongs to Gordon Bishop, of the Cerne Historical Society. Asked if he had a theory, he said, “I don’t have one. . . . You can make up all sorts of stories. I don’t know why he is on the hill, . . . I can’t work it out. “

 

 

Who’s best at spotting fake news?

According to a US survey, people who are the most certain that they can spot fake news are the most likely to be taken in by it.

I’m still trying to figure out if that’s sobering or hysterically funny. You would think anything could hit both notes at once.

Nine out of ten people in the survey ranked themselves above average in their ability to tell the difference, which reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s line about Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, where all the children are above average. 

Two out of ten put themselves fifty or more percentiles higher than their actual scores. 

Americans do agree, for the most part, that fake news is everywhere. It’s the one thing uniting the country just now. Take that away and it all gets even worse.

The study’s author, Ben Lyons, said, “No matter what domain [I think he’s talking about countries and cultures here], people on average are overconfident. . . . But over 70% of people displaying overconfidence is just such a huge number.” 

Men–both in this study and in general–are more overconfident than women, and more vulnerable to false news. Another blow struck for feminism. The minute men stop undermining us and we stop undermining ourselves, we can be as vulnerable to fake news as they are.

Can I hear a few cheers for human progress, please?

 

And speaking of misinformation . . .

Somebody out there (including the Republican senator Rand Paul) is promoting ivermectin, an animal dewormer, as a treatment for Covid. In fact, a judge in Cincinnati ordered a hospital to treat a patient with it because his doctor ordered it.

Why doesn’t the hospital want to? Because the drug’s approved for humans only in limited ways–to treat head lice, scabies, river blindness, and assorted other problems caused by parasites. It has nothing to do with treating a virus. Clinical trials haven’t turned up enough evidence to use it against Covid. 

The patient’s doctor, though, says federal authorities and the media are in a conspiracy to cover up the drug’s effectiveness. He calls it genocride. Or he says we’d call it that if another country did it, which allows him to call it genocide without actually calling it genocide.

What does the US Food and Drug Administration say? 

I don’t think it’s commented on the specific case, but on the subject of ivermectin in general it tweeted, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” 

In a more sober mood, it also said, “Even the levels of ivermectin for approved uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.”

Seriously, y’all. Stop it.

 

An orchid comes back from extinction

An orchid that was thought to be extinct since 2009, the serapias parviflora, has turned up in (or should that be on?) a roof garden in London. And not just one orchid: fifteen of them, blooming away as happily as if the roof of an investment bank was its natural habitat.

Can I interrupt myself for a moment? I’ve just been handed a note from the Department of Small Print. It says the flower turns out to be extinct in the UK, not on the entire planet. It’s just that–well,  you know how countries are. They have a habit of thinking they are the entire planet. Or at least ones that have or used to have power do. 

How’d the flower get onto a bank’s roof? According to one theory, seedlings could’ve blown there with dust from the Sahara. The seedlings do travel that way. According to another, the seeds could’ve been in the soil when it was brought there, ten years ago, and have just now germinated.

The garden also has London’s biggest colony of green-winged orchids.