Periodically, someone announces, as if it ends the discussion, that we’ll just have to live with Covid. But that doesn’t end the discussion, it only begins it. What does living with Covid mean?
To some people, it means, end the lockdowns, burn the masks, and get together in an unventilated space with a few thousand of our closest friends so we can all get shitfaced and dance. Because that’s what normal looked like, at least in retrospect, and we need to get back to normal.
To others, it means that we keep wearing our masks and hoping to hell other people do the same, because someone out there is contagious and someone else is vulnerable. It means staying out of closed, crowded spaces. It means admitting that we only liked six of those few thousand closest friends anyway and haven’t missed them this past year and a half.
But forget what we think. I’m making it up anyway. Let’s turn to the experts.
An article in the Medical Xpress says that we may never reach full herd immunity–that point where so many people are immune to a disease that those who aren’t immune are protected by not being exposed to it, ever.
Why aren’t we likely to reach that point? Because Covid immunity seems to wane over time. Because the disease continues to evolve, especially where unvaccinated groups of people create pools that the virus can spread through and evolve in. And because animals can harbor the virus and pass it back to humans.
There may be conflicting arguments that say we will reach herd immunity, but I haven’t found them. Let’s go with what we’ve got.
The article’s authors say that even if we don’t reach full herd immunity, we could still reach practical herd immunity, allowing us to go back to near-normal levels of activity. Their measure of near normality seems to be how far a country can open up without overwhelming the health-care system. It depresses the hell out of me that we measure safety not by the deaths and disabilities the disease would cause but by how many cases of it a health system can sustain, but–well, there it is, written in black and white. That’s what happens, I guess, when you enter the land of policy making.
How many people need to be immune to reach practical herd immunity? It depends on the level of restrictions–or adaptations, if you want a more user-friendly word–we’re willing to live with. Masks? Contact tracing? Mass testing of asymptomatic people? Measures to stamp out outbreaks?
It’s interesting that although this is a consideration, how many deaths and disabilities we’re willing to live with isn’t.
Practical herd immunity also depends on vaccination levels: “Some estimates,” the article says, “suggest that we may need two-thirds of the population to be protected either by successful vaccination or natural infection. If 90 percent of the population is eligible for vaccination, and vaccines are 85 percent effective against infection, we can obtain this two thirds with about 90 percent of the eligible population being vaccinated or infected naturally.”
Don’t let those numbers scare you. They’re safely contained within quotation marks.
There’s still a possibility that new variants will escape our immunity, but the fewer outbreaks we have, the fewer chances we’ll give the disease to reach escape velocity.
And we’ll all live happily–if cautiously–ever after.
The cost of herd immunity in cold, hard cash
But if you’re in love with the idea of restricting nothing and either pursuing herd immunity or in letting Covid circulate freely because it’s no worse than the flu–or if you want to argue with someone who is–academics have calculated the cost to Western Australia if it had pursued a herd immunity strategy: They say the state saved $4.9 billion and avoided 1,700 deaths in a year by locking down hard. It also prevented 4,500 hospitalizations.
In Britain, it was the cost of a hard lockdown that made the government hesitate, repeatedly, to either stamp out or contain the virus. It sounds like it was an expensive savings.
In Britain 52% of the people who said they’d never get vaccinated have now gotten vaccinated, along with 84% of the people who said they weren’t likely to. The percentages shift when you break the population down into religious and ethnic subgroups, but in all of them the trend is in the direction of vaccination.
Part of the change, I’m sure, comes from work that’s being done with community leaders and work to counter misinformation campaigns, but I can’t help wondering if a kind of herd immunity isn’t at work here too: People around us have been vaccinated. We see that keys don’t stick to their faces and that axe heads don’t pursue them down the street, so we figure they probably haven’t been magnetized after all–or at least not heavily. There probably hasn’t been enough time for them to demonstrate that they can still get pregnant–at least those of them who could’ve gotten pregnant in the first place. That–allow me to remind you–excludes all males of the species and enough categories of females that I won’t list them. Even the real but very rare serious side effects of some vaccines–well, they’re very rare. Have they happened to anyone we know? Um, no.
It’s an odd thing, but a 1 in 100,000 chance looks more likely to happen if it happens to someone you know and less likely to if it doesn’t. Even if the numbers don’t care who your friends and acquaintances are.
Humans do seem to be herd animals. We see people around us getting vaccinated and going on with their lives, not visibly marked by the vaccine, and it starts to look like a safe thing to do. Even a smart one.
The Netherlands is offering pickled herring to people who get vaccinated. Traditionally, the year’s first barrel of Hollandse nieuwe is auctioned off to raise money for a good cause, but since that couldn’t happen this year it was given, “on behalf of the Dutch people” to the head of the health services. Other barrels were sent to vaccination sites and people are being offered herring when they show up.
Counterfeit and Covid
Counterfeit Covid vaccines, tests, and vaccination passports are becoming big businesses. Vaccines and test kits are sold through online pharmacies. Amazon, Etsy, and I’m sure other places sell vaccine passports, with no proof of vaccination required.
Why not? Everything’s available online. This Christmas, I bought my partner a certificate making her a minister in the Church of the 400 Rabbits. All I had to do was make a donation (it went to a food bank) and print it myself.
Although the article I found talked about the danger of counterfeits infiltrating the supply chain that countries use for genuine vaccines and tests, it didn’t say it had happened. So we’re talking about individuals–people made desperate enough by the world’s uneven rollout that they’re willing to roll the dice and hope that luck will lead them to the real thing.
Odd ways to fight Covid
Okay, just one odd way, but the plural made a better subhead. Scientists have developed a sticky wall surface that uses ingredients in hair conditioners to trap the aerosolized droplets that contribute so heavily to the spread of Covid.
The theory works like this: Droplets bounce off indoor surfaces all the time. Add sticky stuff to your plexiglass divider, though, and their bouncing days are done.
The developers coated a barrier and it captured almost all the aerosolized microdroplets and 80% of plain old droplet-size droplets. (The comparison point for those numbers is an uncoated barrier. I have no idea how you compare them.) The coated barrier didn’t need cleaning any more often than the uncoated one did, and once it was wiped down with water the coating could be reapplied.
It also works on fabric, concrete, and metal, turning low-touch surfaces into Covid fighters.
This won’t eliminate the need for ventilation, though. We’ll still need air filtration systems and open windows. But it does give us another tool.
The bad news? A lot more work needs to be done to confirm its usefulness and get it authorized.
“We understood that the current pandemic may end before this concept is implemented,” said engineering professor Jiaxing Huang. “It may or may not be used now. But next time, when an outbreak like this happens, I think we will be better equipped.”