Hope raises its reckless head above the Covid parapet

Britain has approved two Covid vaccines and hope is raising its reckless head above the parapet. So what does the government do? It hustles us back to its comfort zone, which is chaos. 

 

Vaccine dosage and the mathematics of gambling

A few days ago, someone in or near the government realized that if people need two doses of vaccine, that means the country needs (pay attention here, because this is complicated) two doses for every person who gets vaccinated. Not to mention enough people and places to vaccinate them twice. And we need to vaccinate almost everyone, which is, in technical terms, a shitload of people.

But, look! If we divide two by two, we get one. 

Who knew?

So let’s give everyone a single dose and tell them to wait a while for the second. That way we’ll get the vaccine to more people. 

This is very clever. 

Irrelevant photo: Daffodils. I saw the first ones in bloom last week. Not these–these are from last year–but you get the basic idea.

Doctors made loud and unhappy sounds. People who already got one injection were given appointments for the second, they said. Who’s going to unschedule them? We (this is the doctors speaking, remember, in unison) and our staff are already at the breaking point and don’t have time to unschedule. What do you want us to do with these people when they show up?

And by the way, does anyone have access to a study indicating that postponing the second vaccination is safe?

Oh, that, the government said. We’ve done some modeling. Short term, it’ll be fine. This will save more lives than the original plan.

The government didn’t hear that noise about appointments. Appointments are Someone Else’s Problem, and as that great philosopher and scientist Douglas Adams pointed out, that means it falls into an SEP field, where becomes invisible.

So let’s stick with the question of studies showing that this is a good idea. Pfizer, the maker of one of the vaccines, said, “There are no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.” And the US’s Dr. Fauci said something along the lines of, Do what you like over there, be we’re not crazy enough to try it here. 

I’m not putting that in quotes because it’s not a quote. He was considerably more diplomatic.

Scientists–at least in Britain–seem to be split. 

And the public? By now, most of us will take any gamble that’s offered. Remember that business about hope’s reckless head? It’s a beautiful sight. We’re in love.

How much protection will a single shot give us for how long? Who the fuck knows? Some. For a while. That’s better than none for eternity. 

They’re talking about delivering the second dose three months after the first, but I don’t recommend betting anything you’re attached to on it working out that way.

 

The mix-and-match experiment

But why create chaos in one way when the world offers us so many possibilities? 

As far as I can reconstruct this–and it’s not that far, so don’t put too much weight on the sequence of events here–Public Health England published some advice saying it was reasonable to give people one dose of one vaccine and one of another. If necessary.

Why would it be necessary? If, say, the first vaccine isn’t available when the second dose is due. (Whenever, that is, it does turn out to be due.) Or if the person doesn’t know which vaccine they got for a first does and their paperwork’s disappeared into an SEP field. 

“This option is preferred if the individual is likely to be at immediate high risk or is considered unlikely to attend again,” Public Health England wrote.

Cue criticism from assorted experts. 

The New York Times quoted virologist Prof John Moore, who said, “There are no data on this idea whatsoever,” and added that British officials “seem to have abandoned science completely now and are just trying to guess their way out of a mess.”

Which does sound familiar.

Public Health England shot back that they only meant that it would be okay in a crisis. They weren’t recommending it. 

A study of mixed dosing is underway. It might even be better that way. Who the hell knows?

 

The great vaccine roll-out

What, then, stands in the way of getting the vaccine to as many people as possible as quickly as possible? Among other things, a shortage of people capable of sticking needles into other people safely. So of course the government as made it as difficult as possible to recruit people.

A working dentist thought he’d pitch in, since he’s experienced at giving injections. 

Explaining the documentation he was asked for, he said, “Some of the things are really quite sensible, like resuscitation, and recognising and managing anaphylaxis, but then you get things like preventing radicalisation, level 1 certificate required, [or] safeguarding children level 2.

“Children aren’t a priority for vaccination, [so] I really don’t think we’re going to be seeing children.

“I must admit, I gave up at the second hurdle, because I’m very busy as a dentist and I do get home quite tired at night. I thought ‘good grief, If I have to go through all this, I’m not [doing it].’ “

Would that they took this much care when they were handing out contracts for Covid testing and tracing.

 

Are schools open or closed?

Yes. But for a while there we weren’t sure which.

A few days before they were due to open, head teachers–if you’re American, that means principals–weren’t sure which they were preparing for. But as I type this on Sunday the prime minister has finally announced that primary schools will open. Except in London and southeastern England, where they’ll stay closed for two weeks  because of the new Covid variant, which is believed to be more infectious. Even though the variant sneaked out of London and the southeast before the holidays and enjoyed a lovely Christmas and New Year’s break in other parts of the country. 

But why not wait till it gets a good hold elsewhere and react then?

Meanwhile, teachers unions are calling for primary schools to stay closed and head teachers have started legal action, hoping they’ll force the government to cough up the data behind its decision to reopen the schools. It’s a good idea, but the government’s beyond the reach of public embarrassment. 

In the meantime, secondary schools are due to reopen on a staggered basis, which is easy since we’re all staggered by now. Universities will open late and their students–some of them–are on rent strike. And Covid testing of students will be carried out by extras from the Dr. Who New Year’s Day special.

Do we know how to throw a party over here or what?

Covid, kids, and rumors

In spite of rumors to the contrary, the new variant doesn’t seem to be hitting children any harder than the old one. A nurse told the BBC that children’s wards were filling up with Covid cases, and the story spread. Hospitals and pediatricians report that they’re not.

Breathe. We have enough trouble without borrowing any.

Covid, Brexit, and a nice cup of tea

Silver Lining Department: Pain researchers have noticed that Covid can block pain receptors, fooling people into thinking they’re not sick. I’d explain that in more detail, but between the first few paragraphs of the article and the last ones all I managed to scrape off the page was an impressive-sounding buzz. 

What I can tell you is that understanding this (as I so clearly don’t) opens up two possibilities: 1, By blocking something called neuropilin-1, doctors could limit Covid’s entry into the body. 2, By blocking neuropilin-1, they could limit the body’s experience of pain. 

In other words, a new approach to pain control may come out of this mess, as well as another possible way to tackle Covid. Take heart, my friends. Every silver lining hides a cloud.

Or vice versa. I keep forgetting.

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Tragically, that line about silver linings isn’t my own. I stole it from a song by Brian Bedford, “I Hear the Sky Is Falling,” sung by Artisan. It’s a lovely little paranoia song. I recommend it, because we all need a paranoia song to fall back on from time to time. 

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Irrelevant photo: pears on our tree.

Early research says that Covid doesn’t spread easily among kids under ten. They don’t catch the bug as easily as adults, and when they do they don’t get symptoms as often, which means they don’t cough and sneeze it into other people’s breathing spaces.

That was the silver lining. The (small) cloud is that infected kids do spread it, but at a lower rate. 

After kids turn ten, though, every cell their bodies wakes up, showers, and puts on big-boy pants and a bad attitude, and from then on kids spread it more easily–possibly as easily as adults.

But again, that’s all based on early and limited research. Like so much about this mess, it’s not certain.

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On Tuesday, when he was announcing a new, improved, world-beating set of Covid restrictions in England, Boris Johnson called for togetherness. Or, to be completely accurate, “a spirit of togetherness.” 

I don’t want to misquote a man whose public statements mean so little.

So what does this one mean? We’re all going to virtually join our sanitized hands, keep two meters apart, and sing “Kumbaya” as we beat the virus by not doing half the things he told us–told us? hell, begged us; harassed us– to do just six weeks ago. 

I support a lot of the changes–the country opened up too quickly, with minimal planning and a screwed-up testing system–but I don’t know how seriously people are going to take them. The government’s blown whatever credibility it back when lockdown started. So even though some of their own scientists (that means the ones they’re willing to listen to, sort of) say the restrictions are late and not enough, getting people to follow them may be like rolling a dead horse uphill in an ice storm. 

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About a 20% of people in Britain say they’d be likely to refuse a Covid vaccine and 78% said they’d be likely to get it. The missing 2% may be covered by the about at the beginning of the paragraph. Or they may be on break, having a nice cup of tea. It’s a British thing–not drinking the tea but attaching a nice cup of to it. It makes such a difference when you raise it to your lips. Your blood pressure falls. You expect–well, if not exactly wonders, at least niceness. And as a rule, you get it. 

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A post or three ago, I wrote about younger women forming a larger part of hospitalized Covid patients, and I’ve found a bit more detail: The study was based on hospital admissions and it noticed a rise in serious cases among women between twenty and forty. Between January and September, 44% of hospitalized cases were women. Since August (yes, you noticed: they overlap), it’s been 48%, driven by a rise in the twenty-to-forty age group, with no matching rise in admissions of men in that group. 

So it’s not a huge rise, but it is an increase. The best guess is that it’s because the work women in that age group do leaves them more exposed to the virus than the work men do. It should remind us, though, that no age group is invulnerable.

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Hospitalized Covid patients who also had the flu were more than twice as likely to die as those who didn’t (43% as opposed to 26.9%). 

Those numbers don’t actually look like one’s more than twice the other, do they? I’m trusting an article in the Medical Express. Maybe they were in too much of a hurry to check their figures. 

Either way, it was a small study but the findings line up neatly with preliminary findings from another study that’s in progress. To be on the safe side, get your flu shot, okay?

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The Helsinki airport has started to use sniffer dogs to detect travelers with Covid, and they’re close to 100% accurate. Plus they have lovely soft fur and it only takes then ten seconds to make their judgements, although the process itself somehow takes a minute, probably because humans are slower on the uptake than dogs are.

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Meanwhile, with the Brexit transition period ending on January 1, we’re told that a reasonable worst-case scenario would involve lines of 7,000 trucks waiting to use the Channel Tunnel. They count on delays of two days and 30% to 60% of the trucks not having the right paperwork. 

And then there’s the possibility that a Covid spike could mean a shortage of port staff and border officials slowing things down a bit more.

And then we have to talk about disruptions to imports. Only we won’t. I’ve exceeded my dire warning limit for the day.

And did I mention that truck drivers will need a Kent access permit if they plan to use the tunnel or ferry to France? 

“We want to make sure that people use a relatively simple process,” Michael Gove said. 

Gove? He’s the minister for the cabinet office, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the only human being I’ve ever seen who looks like a balloon wearing a bow tie. Even when he’s not wearing a bow tie. 

When Johnson’s government tell you the process is going to be simple, you’ll want to sit down and make sure you’re comfortable.

The head of the Road Haulage Association said, “How on earth can [trucking firms] prepare when there is still no clarity as to what they need us to do?” 

We’re looking forward to another interesting year.