How dangerous is Covid to kids?

With Britain’s schools having only recently reopened, this is a disturbing time for me to mention a British Office for National Statistics report that says kids are getting long Covid. So I offer all the usual apologies for bringing it up, but ignorance of the real world is no protection against snake bites or traffic accidents. That means we might as well open the report and see what sort of snakes or car wrecks it mentions. 

It’s well established that kids are less likely than adults to get sick if they catch Covid, and that if they do catch it their symptoms are likely to be mild. Beyond that, an uneasy-making number of unknowns are running loose. If you follow the literature, you’ll find all sorts of contradictory studies on how likely kids are or aren’t to pass Covid on, either to each other or to adults. If you’re sitting on a couch in Britain and ask Lord Google “Are children at risk of getting sick with coronavirus?” he’ll take you to some withdrawn but still available government advice to schools: “Children are likely to become infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) at roughly the same rate as adults, but the infection is usually mild.” So, basically, it’s all fine, go back to sleep.

Irrelevant photo: Primroses. The yellow ones are wild and the pink are what happens when domesticated ones go out on their own and cross-pollinate. And many thanks to Cat9984 for finding me a way to size photos in spite of the WordPress’s dreaded new editing program.

The government may have posted updated advice, but Lord G. isn’t aware of it. They haven’t taken the old advice down.

The mantra that kids who show symptoms are likely to have mild ones has left a lot of us meditating serenely on the safety of children in these dangerous times. So England, at least, has reopened the schools without any real discussion of what it’ll take to make them safe, because, hey, kids are resilient little bugs, they need to get back to school, and they’ll be fine. 

Teachers? Toss a coin. Some have been vaccinated. The ones who haven’t are statistically likely to be fine. 

Probably.

But evidence is starting to form a more worrying picture. The Centers for Disease Control in the US estimate that in 13% to 15% of kids who do show Covid symptoms, at least one symptom hangs on for more than 5 weeks. That’s more or less the definition of long Covid. (The more or less is there because no fixed definition of long Covid exists yet. A quick check with Lord G. also brought me 12 weeks.)

An Italian study shows that more than half the kids who get symptomatic Covid still have at least one symptom 17 weeks after they were diagnosed. In 43% of them, the symptoms are enough to cause them problems in their daily lives. 

A separate study found long Covid symptoms that included tiredness; weakness; headaches; abdominal, muscle, and joint pain; gastrointestinal symptoms; and skin complaints such as rashes. 

If you’re not worried yet, they also list trouble concentrating, trouble remembering and processing information, and trouble finding the right word. Also unexplained irritability, although those symptoms would be enough to explain anyone’s irritability. 

The first two studies are preprints, meaning they haven’t been peer reviewed yet. A lot of papers have been released that way this past year. I’m reasonably sure preprint is one of the words tha pandemic’s given us. Thank you, Covid. The language was poorer before we had that.

 

Would you get vaccinated if someone offered you for free donuts?

How do you convince reluctant people to get vaccinated? You offer them donuts. Also beer and popcorn. Preferably not all in one meal. The British have an odd–at least to an American–habit of mixing alcohol and sweet stuff, but I’ve never seen anyone take it as far as mixing beer and donuts. And the offers were made in the US anyway.

To be fair, I think those offers were made less by way of inducement and more by way of thanks, or possibly marketing, but I’m not inside the minds that made those decisions, so I can’t know. 

For whatever reasons, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is offering one free donut a day to anyone who brings  proof that they’ve been vaccinated. Chagrin Cinemas (that’s not a typo; they’re in the oddly named Chagrin Falls, Ohio) are offering free popcorn, but only through April. Market Garden Brewery (no note on where that is) is offering ten-cent beers, but there’s fine print: You have to be an adult.  

I know. Someone always wants to spoil the fun.

In Walled Lake, Michigan, the Greenhouse is offering one pre-rolled joint. That’s called Pot for Shots. 

Employers are itchy to get their businesses back to what we so casually call normal, and in the U.S. a number of companies are offering workers cash, gift cards, store credit, and time off. 

Will any of that work? You’re damn right it will–not necessarily the donuts, but the money. According to one survey, almost a quarter of employed Americans who either probably or definitely wouldn’t get vaccinated would reconsider if they were offered money.

In Britain, Boris Johnson took another approach, floating the idea of allowing only people with vaccine certificates into the pub. 

Which pub is that? All pubs are the pub to someone. If they’re not, they go broke quickly. 

The pub and restaurant industry shot back that it would be unworkable, unnecessary, inappropriate, and a very bad idea. Johnson promptly backtracked. Which doesn’t mean the idea’s dead. Johnson does U-turns for a living.

 

Do women leaders kill Covid?

Any number of people argue that since countries led by women have done well during the pandemic, women’s leadership is responsible for those outcomes. But a worldwide survey argues that a nation’s culture matters more than its leader’s gender.

The study looked at 175 countries (hands up everyone who knew the planet had so many), 16 of which were led by women. They didn’t find a statistical difference in death rates based on the leaders’ gender. 

What they did find was that success in dealing with Covid depends on how egalitarian the country is and on how much it prioritizes the wellbeing of society in general. Or to put that another way, it depends on two cultural factors, individualism and power distance, which is a measure of the power differences among the country’s citizens. 

More egalitarian and less individualistic countries have done better in the pandemic.

I’m reading between the lines, but part of the study looks like it’s based on actual data and part of it looks like they’ve used that data for statistical modeling. I’ve been hesitant about statistical modeling, but its prediction that the British Covid variant spread more easily than earlier variants has been borne out by lab work, so maybe I should shut up and accept that statistical modeling might just be useful.

Anyway, it’s up to you. Take the study for whatever you think it’s worth: It says that when both individualism and power distance are high (as they are in, for example, the U.S.), the average death rate is predicted to be 28.79 per 100,000 people. 

Where both are extremely low (as they are, for example, in Trinidad and Tobago and in New Zealand), the predicted average is 1.89 per 100,000.

Countries that value collective action have been more open to wearing masks and enforcing lockdowns. And egalitarian societies tend to have universal healthcare systems in place, along with paid sick leave and policies that make it possible for people to stay at home. 

So why are women leading so many of the countries that have done well? Because egalitarian countries are more likely to elect women as leaders. That gives us a correlation between women in leadership and success in handling  the pandemic, but with only 16 women leaders there’s not enough evidence to say that women leaders are better at it.

Sorry.

If you want a triumphant feminist note, though, the study does note that the pandemic’s messed with the world’s usual way of dismissing women leaders. In normal times, they’re criticized either for being too masculine and aggressive or for being too feminine and weak, which doesn’t leave much of a zone where they’re not shredded. During the pandemic, though, they’ve been praised for their decisiveness.

The world will never stop surprising us.

 

Vaccine news

Brazil has developed a vaccine, ButanVac, that’s expected to be approved in April and to start trials in July. Plans are to produce it in both Brazil and Thailand and distribute it to poorer countries.

Brazil’s short on vaccines and has a record number of cases, not to mention a president, Jair Bolsonaro, who opposes masks and lockdowns, downplays the virus’s danger, and has been publicly skeptical about ButanVac’s effectiveness.

Sao Paulo state’s governor, Joao Doria, said the vaccine, “is the response to those that deny the science and life.” It may be entirely coincidental that Doria’s expected to run against Bolsonaro next year.

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A group in Germany are working on a Covid vaccine that would come in the form of a pill, making it easy to transport and store and relatively cheap to produce. This isn’t a new technology. Typhoid vaccine is already delivered that way.

The plan is for it to produce two antigens rather than one, giving it a bit of a jump on the virus’s mutations. But it’s still in the early stages, so don’t get excited about it yet.

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Cuba’s also working on its own vaccine–multiple versions, and one of them, Soberana 2, looks promising and is in stage 3 trials. If it makes it through the trials and is authorized, they expect to have enough doses for all Cubans by the end of summer. Plans are to export them initially to Mexico, Iran, and Venezuela, and after that to the world–and to offer them to tourists.

The island’s kept the number of Covid cases low for much of 2020–some days just one or two cases a day–but in November, needing the cash, it reopened to tourists, which sent numbers up.