Saturday, August 21, 2021

Pfizer effectiveness declines faster than AZ, new study suggests

The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 declines faster than that of the AstraZeneca jab, according to a new study published on Thursday.

“Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech have greater initial effectiveness against new Covid-19 infections, but this declines faster compared with two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca,” researchers at Oxford University said.

The study, which has not been peer reviewed, is based on the results of a survey by Britain’s Office for National Statistics that carried out PCR tests from December last year to this month on randomly selected households.

It found that “the dynamics of immunity following second doses differed significantly” between Pfizer and AstraZeneca, according to the university’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.

Pfizer had “greater initial effectiveness” but saw “faster declines in protection against high viral burden and symptomatic infection”, when looking at a period of several months after full vaccination, although rates remained low for both jabs.

“Results suggest that after four to five months effectiveness of these two vaccines would be similar,” the scientists added, while stressing that long-term effects need to be studied.

The study’s findings come as Israel is administering booster shots, after giving 58 per cent of the population two shots of the Pfizer jab.

The United States is also set to offer booster vaccines to boost antibody levels following concerns over declining effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The Oxford research also found that protection was higher among those who had already been infected with the virus.

The study examined two groups of more than 300,000 people over 18, first during the period dominated by the Alpha variant, which emerged in Kent, southeast England, and secondly from May 2021 onwards, when the Delta variant has been dominant.

It confirmed that vaccines are less effective against Delta, which was first seen in India.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is the most widely offered in the UK, while those under 40 are offered Pfizer or Moderna due to blood clotting concerns.


Evidence mounts that people with breakthrough infections can spread Delta easily

A preliminary study has shown that in the case of a breakthrough infection, the Delta variant is able to grow in the noses of vaccinated people to the same degree as if they were not vaccinated at all. The virus that grows is just as infectious as that in unvaccinated people, meaning vaccinated people can transmit the virus and infect others.

Previous studies in hospitals in India; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and Finland have also shown that after vaccine breakthrough infections with Delta, there can be high levels of virus in people’s nose whether they are vaccinated or not. The next logical step was to determine whether vaccinated people could shed infectious virus. Many experts suspected they did, but until this study it hadn’t been proven in the lab.

“We're the first to demonstrate, as far as I'm aware, that infectious virus can be cultured from the fully vaccinated infections,” says Kasen Riemersma, a virologist at University of Wisconsin who is one of the authors of the study.

“Delta is breaking through more preferentially after vaccines as compared to the non-Delta variants” because it’s extremely infectious and evades the immune response, says Ravindra Gupta, a microbiologist at University of Cambridge. Gupta’s lab was one of the first to document that fully vaccinated healthcare workers could get infected with Delta and had high levels of virus in their noses.

If the Wisconsin study finding holds up, then people with breakthrough infections—many of whom do not develop COVID symptoms—can unknowingly spread the virus. “It [is] an alarming finding,” explains Katarina Grande, a public health supervisor and the COVID-19 Data Team Lead of Madison & Dane County, who led the study.

What concerns Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, is that fully vaccinated individuals who are infected with the Delta variant can transmit the virus and this can happen at a higher rate than previous strains in the days before symptoms, or in the absence of symptoms. “Which is why masks and mitigation measures are important, even for people [who are] vaccinated,” he says.

Studies like these highlight that transmission of the Delta variant can be much higher that currently estimated, according to Ethan Berke, chief public health officer of the UnitedHealth Group. Berke’s research has shown that frequent testing with rapid results, even if preliminary, can be very effective in curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic. Berke was not involved in the Wisconsin study.

“Even though the study was based on one region, it offers important insight into how people can spread the virus to others whether they’re fully vaccinated or not. This sort of insight, especially as it’s tested and refined, is incredibly helpful as organizations develop policies around testing, social distancing, and vaccinations,” Berke says.

How do we know the virus in the sample is infectious?
To test for SARS-CoV-2, the scientists employed a measurement called threshold cycle (Ct) that uses glowing dyes to reveal the quantity of viral RNA in the nose.

“SARS-CoV-2 virus infects nose and upper airway. It is very difficult to get a very high level of antibodies for long periods of time in that area. The immune system is not really designed to put high levels of antibodies at those sites,” Gupta says.

Ct values correlate with the viral load, which is the number of viral particles present in the body. When the quantity of virus passes a certain threshold, researchers expect an infected person to shed SARS-CoV-2 and potentially infect others. The Wisconsin study analyzed the nasal swabs from 719 cases of unvaccinated and fully vaccinated people who had all tested positive and found that 68 percent of the studied breakthrough patients had very high viral loads. High viral load is a sign that the virus is replicating, Gupta says.

To discover whether the nasal swabs had infectious virus, the Wisconsin researchers grew virus from 55 patient samples (from both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who tested positive) in special cells prone to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Grande’s team detected infectious virus in nearly everyone: from 88 percent of unvaccinated individuals and 95 percent of vaccinated people.

“We put the samples onto cells, and the cells died when they got infected. And so that clearly demonstrates that there is virus there, and that it's infectious,” Riemersma explains.

If vaccinated people can still produce a lot of infectious viruses, it means they can spread the virus as easily as those who are not vaccinated.


July inflation report is bad news for consumers — again

And it's even worse for savers. Inflation can reduce your savings to worthlessness. And the main cause is excessive government spending

Since President Joe Biden entered the Oval Office, inflation in America has become a persistent problem. In fact, inflation has steadily risen from 1.7% in January to 5.4% in both June and July.

Sadly, this is bad news for consumers, who are more than aware that their money isn’t going as far as it did just a few months ago.

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics , “The all items index rose 5.4 percent for the 12 months ending July, the same increase as the period ending June. The index for all items less food and energy rose 4.3 percent over the last 12 months, while the energy index rose 23.8 percent. The food index increased 3.4 percent for the 12 months ending July, compared to a 2.4-percent rise for the period ending June.”

Yet, most significantly, “The energy index increased 1.6 percent in July after rising 1.5 percent in June. All the major energy component indexes increased over the month. … The energy index rose 23.8 percent over the past 12 months. The gasoline index rose 41.8 percent since July 2020. The index for natural gas rose 19.0 percent over the last 12 months, while the index for electricity increased 4.0 percent.”

Those are some startling statistics, especially if you are on a fixed income (like most seniors) or a family in the working class just trying to make ends meet.

As the data show, the cost of almost everything is increasing rapidly. Yet, wages remain basically stagnant. In June , hourly wages increased by a microscopic 0.3%.

Inflation, by and large, is much more of a problem for those in the working class because a high proportion of their income is spent on the basics, such as gasoline, food, and home energy costs.

When the prices of these staple items increase substantially (as they have over the past seven months) and wages remain relatively stagnant (as they have for many months), those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder pay the highest price — no pun intended.

Yet, this seems lost on the Biden administration, which seems oblivious to the fact that its reckless spending bills (and COVID-19 policies) are the primary reasons for the spike in inflation.

Since Biden took office, his administration has passed the American Rescue Plan ($1.9 trillion), has supported the bipartisan “infrastructure” plan ($1.2 trillion and pending in the House), and is on the brink of passing a behemoth budget reconciliation package that would cost a whopping $3.5 trillion.

This amount of reckless spending over such a short period is absolutely unprecedented in U.S. history. And lest we forget, this comes on top of the $2.6 trillion the government allocated in COVID-19 relief funds.

As any economist, or anyone with common sense, knows, when the government showers the economy with trillions of dollars over a short window of time, the value of the dollar declines.

And when this colossal spending comes after an 18-month economic shutdown, in which the production of goods and availability of services declined due to government decree, you now have more dollars chasing fewer goods and services.

No wonder inflation is out of control.

Over the past few months, the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress (with the help of some Republicans) have embraced modern monetary theory, which basically says that debt and deficits don’t matter. According to MMT, the government can spend and print as much money as it deems necessary, without any repercussions.

However, we are witnessing the abject failure of MMT in real-time. Hopefully, some semblance of fiscal sanity will prevail sooner rather than later.




Thursday, August 19, 2021

What Biden threw away

"The events we're seeing now," President Biden said Monday afternoon, amid what he called the "gut-wrenching" horror of Kabul's fall, "are, sadly, proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan."

Five weeks ago, he said the opposite.

In July, Biden described the Afghan military as "better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting war." He scorned the idea that the Taliban could seize the country, and denied that his military and intelligence advisers were warning that a precipitous US withdrawal would be disastrous. "The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."

Not for the first time, Joe Biden was wrong on a key foreign policy and national security issue.

Yet despite abruptly reversing his message on the threat posed by the Taliban, he was as inflexible as ever on getting US troops out of Afghanistan. "We will end America's longest war after 20 long years of bloodshed," Biden repeated, as he had ever since launching his presidential bid two years ago. That had been Donald Trump's position, too; at one point, Trump even signed an order ordering US forces out by Jan. 15, 2021. Until it was removed a few days ago, a page on the Republican National Committee website was still praising Trump for cutting a deal with the Taliban "to end America's longest war."

It is strange, this talking point about Afghanistan being the "longest war" or a "forever war." Yes, the United States has been involved in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, but the last time American forces suffered any combat casualties was Feb. 8, 2020, when Sgt. Javier Gutierrez and Sgt. Antonio Rodriguez were ambushed and killed. Their sacrifice was heroic and selfless. But it makes little sense to speak of a "forever war" in which there are no fatalities for a year and a half.

Nor does it make sense to apply that label to a mission involving just 2,500 troops, which was the tiny size to which the US footprint in Afghanistan had shrunk by the time Biden took office. There are more American military personnel than that assigned to the East African nation of Djibouti (3,000), to the Rota Naval Station in Spain (3,000), to the Persian Gulf monarchy of Bahrain (5,000), and to Kuwait (13,000).

In terms of battlefield risk to Americans, Afghanistan has not been a hot war zone for years. Compared to the peak US presence a decade ago, when 110,000 troops were deployed, 98 percent of America's personnel in Afghanistan have long since come home. "An endless American presence in the middle of another country's civil conflict was not acceptable," Biden insisted, but the US military presence in Afghanistan was nowhere near as "endless" as some other deployments. American soldiers entered Germany in 1944 and 35,000 American soldiers are there today. In April, just before the White House confirmed Biden's plan to remove all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the huge US military presence in Germany would be expanding by another 500. Should we call that a forever war, too?

What about Korea? More than 70 years after the United States arrived in Korea to defend the South, nearly 30,000 US troops remain there on high alert, a military tripwire in one of the world's most dangerous environments. But not even Biden would walk away from the defense of South Korea's people. Why does he care so much less about Afghanistan's people?

The United States currently deploys nearly 30,000 active-duty military personnel in Korea, a military tripwire in one of the world's most dangerous environments. US forces have been in Korea since 1950 — half a century longer than they have been in Afghanistan.

Hoover Institution scholar Timothy Kane, an economist and former Air Force intelligence officer, decries the "lazy assumption that Afghanistan is eternally undeveloped" and that US boots on the ground have not accomplished great good. "Unlike most conquering armies," he said in an interview, "American troops provide security and investment in the local populace."

Literacy among Afghans has doubled since the Americans arrived in 2001. Infant mortality rates fell by half. Access to electricity, once denied to more than 3 in 4 Afghans, is now nearly universal. When US forces entered Afghanistan, there were just 900,000 children attending school, and all of them were boys. Earlier this year, that number had reached more than 9.5 million, and 39 percent of them were girls.

All this was being sustained in recent years, and the Taliban was being held at bay, with just a relative handful of US troops to provide intelligence, logistics, and air support. "Once American credibility had been established," observed Kane, "the marginal cost of staying the course was minimal." The cost of throwing it away will be far, far higher.


The New Normal in the Permanent Emergency

Just when the authorities allow us to take off our masks, they demand that we put them back on. Americans might reasonably wonder if there will ever be a return to “normal.” But obey we must, lest we be in gross violation of the mandates created for us by our betters, who know, better than we do, what’s best for us.

From the onset of the lockdowns, one of their loudest critics has been Fox News host Laura Ingraham. Miss Laura has repeatedly expressed her disdain for the term "the new normal.” Even so, the regular old “old normal” had its problems, one of which was how we handled “congregant settings.” We weren’t very prudent about how we mingled, massed, rubbed shoulders, and got together, i.e. congregated.

Efforts to practice “social distancing” in packed congregant settings are sorely tested in many of the activities that we Americans take for granted, such as attending sports events, movies, concerts, bars, restaurants, demonstrations, insurrections, riots, and so on. People like to cram themselves into arenas and work themselves up into an ecstatic quasi-religious frenzy when their tribe’s team carries a ball across a goal line. And all the while they’re breathing on each other and spraying spittle. Young people, especially, have a need to be with each other, and in cramped quarters, as when they queue up to get into exclusive nightclubs, like Studio 54 back in the old days. How many cases of the coronavirus have been passed to the immuno-compromised by young people who’ve attended all-night raves or today’s equivalent of Studio 54?

One of the features of the old normal that we need to leave behind is how we dealt with congregant settings. This kid thinks that attending certain gatherings, like rock concerts, is a version of Hell. But there’s one type of congregant setting that I do go in for, but it involves a more sophisticated group of congregants than rock fans, and that’s opera.

During a 1975 performance of Tristan und Isolde in Dallas, several audience members were having major coughing fits. Finally, in Act 3, their Tristan, the late great Canadian tenor Jon Vickers, had had enough, and from the stage yelled this at the audience: “Shut up with your damned coughing!

Compared to the devastating virus dreamt up for 12 Monkeys, the Wuhan virus is more like the coronavirus that causes the common cold, it’s even rather benign compared to the Spanish flu of a century ago. Despite that, the Democrats are using the pandemic for their own ends. The mandates and lockdowns are the means by which the Dems hope to lock in their political power permanently.

The lockdowns only make sense when protecting the immuno-compromised and the elderly; in other words, those who should already have been locked down, sheltering in place. Rather than a quarantine of just those folks, the authorities quarantined everybody, and in doing so killed off countless small businesses and livelihoods.

If the vulnerable had isolated and hunkered down to wait for a cure, the rest of America could have stayed open for business with just a few safety measures, which was exactly what essential workers did. The lockdowns are one of the more unnecessary and harmful things government has ever inflicted upon the People.

The Democrats have made COVID-19 into “the worst thing ever” to justify their shotgun approach to lockdown. Paradoxically, the more arbitrary and unreasonable the strictures of their lockdowns, the more they seem to lock in their authority.

The Democrats’ New Normal is an authoritarianism that they want to last forever. And the Dems don’t seem to worry about resistance from the People. After all, you aren’t gonna violate the “Permanent Emergency Code,” are you, Mr. Cole?


Tennessee Governor Bill Lee Makes Masks Optional in Schools

On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed an executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of any Wuhan coronavirus mask mandates imposed by school districts in the state.

“No one cares more about the health and well-being of a child than a parent,” Lee wrote in his Twitter announcement of the order. “I am signing an EO today that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district.”

Lee’s order states that parents of K-12 students in any Tennessee public school have the right, via a written notice, to exempt their child from wearing a mask at school, on a school bus, or at any school-related functions.

With the beginning of the school year looming, Tennessee Republicans had encouraged Lee to call a special session of the state legislature to settle the mask issue. House Speaker Cameron Sexton praised Lee’s order in a series of tweets on Monday evening.

“Gov. Lee’s executive order issued today is good news in affirming a parent’s right to make healthcare decisions for their children,” Sexton wrote. "I feel confident the immediate need for a special session has been averted in the interim by using executive orders. However, the House still stands ready to act if the call comes.”

Unlike the executive orders signed by other GOP governors, such as Texas’ Greg Abbott and Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Lee’s order does not explicitly prohibit school districts from enacting mask mandates. In fact, two of Tennessee’s largest school districts, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools, have left their mask mandates in place.

Lee’s order comes as the mask debate is heating up at school board meetings in Williamson County, Tenn. Last week, a group of parents attending the Williamson County Schools meeting confronted pro-mask mandate board members and doctors as they tried to leave. And on Tuesday evening, a pro-mandate father invoked the Bible as he railed against “careless” anti-maskers in a now-viral speech.




Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Does the explosion of the delta variant mean we need a new COVID-19 vaccine?

The rapid spread of the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has put more patients in hospital beds and led to reinstatements of mask mandates in some cities and states. The variant, which is more transmissible than previous variants, also seems more able to cause breakthrough infections in vaccinated people.

Fortunately, vaccines are forming a bulwark against severe disease, hospitalization and death. But with the specter of delta and the potential for new variants to emerge, is it time for booster shots — or even a new COVID vaccine?

For now, public health experts say the far bigger emergency is getting first and second doses into people who haven't had a single shot. Most people don't need boosters to prevent severe illness, and it's not clear when or if they will. But companies are already looking into updating their vaccines for coronavirus mutations, and there is a good chance that third shots are coming soon for some people. Already, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have greenlighted booster shots for immunocompromised individuals.

"I think we're looking at an inevitable move toward boosters, at least in higher-risk people like those of advanced age and obviously the immunocompromised," said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in California.

Vaccine developers are working on the question of whether future COVID-19 shots will need to be tweaked for the delta variant, or other new variants. For now though, initial evidence hints that boosters of the original vaccine should add protection against delta.

While all the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. are doing a fabulous job of preventing severe disease and death, it's clear that breakthrough infections are more common with this variant. Data on efficacy is still emerging, and efficacy is a moving target depending on a lot of factors. It's hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons between countries or hospital systems, said Jordi Ochando, an immunologist and cancer biologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Different countries have different levels of vaccination, have used different vaccine mixes with different dose scheduling, and have different populations with different age stratification, comorbidities and levels of previous infection.

Still, synthesizing data from different countries suggests the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are probably up to 60% or as low as 50% protective against infection with delta, Topol wrote on Twitter. That's right on the border of efficacy at which the Food and Drug Administration would approve a new COVID-19 vaccine. The J&J vaccine is probably less protective against symptomatic illness than a two-dose mRNA vaccine, based on studies finding that it elicits lower levels of neutralizing antibodies (which block the virus from entering cells).

Data is now emerging that the J&J vaccine likely prevents severe disease from delta as well. Though people with symptomatic breakthrough infections can spread the delta variant, the vaccines do still seem to reduce the likelihood of transmission by making any infection that does occur shorter. A study conducted in Singapore found that viral load started at similar levels in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals who were infected with delta, but it dropped much faster in vaccinated individuals, beginning a steeper decline around day 5 or 6 of illness. This could mean that vaccination shortens the infectious period. However, more confirmation is necessary to show whether the Singapore results will hold up. The discovery that vaccinated people can have viable virus in their noses if infected is what made the CDC reverse its recommendation that vaccinated people did not need to wear masks.

It's not clear exactly why delta can break through vaccine-induced protection more frequently, but there may be multiple factors at play. One is that the antibodies that the vaccine elicits may not bind to the virus variant as well. Delta appears to have spike mutation proteins that make original coronavirus antibodies a worse fit, according to research published in Nature in July. This means that previously infected and vaccinated people have antibodies that aren't quite as protective against delta as they were against the original or alpha variants, said Yiska Weisblum, a postdoctoral researcher in retrovirology at The Rockefeller University in New York.

Another possible reason for waning efficacy is that the immune system starts letting down its guard over time. This happens with the pertussis vaccine, which is why expectant parents and other adults who are going to be around unvaccinated newborns should get booster shots.

"Right now, the U.S. is the driver of the world delta wave, and we are the leading force of nurturing new variants, because it's out of control here."

Whether waning immunity is likely to be a problem for COVID-19 vaccines is currently a hot topic among researchers. Israeli health authorities say they've seen an increase in breakthrough infections in people immunized in January versus March and are concerned about an uptick in more severe breakthrough cases in those 60 and older, according to Haaretz.

Data from an Israeli HMO published on the preprint server medRxiv before peer review found that 2% of people who requested a PCR test for any reason post-vaccination received a positive result. People vaccinated more than 146 days before being tested were twice as likely to experience a breakthrough infection. The vast majority of the cases in the study were delta. It's difficult to track waning immunity because you need to revisit the same group of people over time, tracking their infection status, Scripps' Topol told Live Science. That kind of data hasn't really emerged yet. But Topol said he's transitioned from skepticism over waning immunity to belief that it is occurring.

"It does look like there is a substantial interaction with delta finding people who are several months out from when they got fully vaccinated," Topol said. "It's a double hit. If you were six months out, and there is no delta, you're probably fine. The problem is this interaction."


COVID: 90% of patients treated with new Israeli drug discharged in 5 days

Some 93% of 90 coronavirus serious patients treated in several Greek hospitals with a new drug developed by a team at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center as part of the Phase II trial of the treatment were discharged in five days or fewer.

The Phase II trial confirmed the results of Phase I, which was conducted in Israel last winter and saw 29 out of 30 patients in moderate to serious condition recover within days.

“The main goal of this study was to verify that the drug is safe,” Prof. Nadir Arber said. “To this day we have not registered any significant side effect in any patient from both groups.”

The trial was conducted in Athens because Israel did not have enough relevant patients. The principal investigator was Greece’s coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Sotiris Tsiodras.

Arber and his team, including Dr. Shiran Shapira, developed the drug based on a molecule that the professor has been studying for 25 years called CD24, which is naturally present in the body.
“It is important to remember that 19 out of 20 COVID-19 patients do not need any therapy,” Arber said. “After a window of five to
12 days, some 5% of the patients start to deteriorate.”

The main cause of the clinical deterioration is an over activation of the immune system, also known as a cytokine storm. In case of COVID-19 patients, the system starts attacking healthy cells in the lungs.

“This is exactly the problem that our drug targets,” he said.
CD24 is a small protein that is anchored to the membrane of the cells and it serves many functions including regulating the mechanism responsible for the cytokine storm.

Arber stressed that their treatment, EXO-CD24, does not affect the immune system as a whole, but only targets this specific mechanism, helping find again its correct balance.

“This is precision medicine,” he said. “We are very happy that we have found a tool to tackle the physiology of the disease.”
“Steroids for example shut down the entire immune system,” he further explained. “We are balancing the part responsible for the cytokine storms using the endogenous mechanism of the body, meaning tools offered by the body itself.”

Arber noted that another breakthrough element of this treatment is its delivery. “We are employing exosomes, very small vesicles derived from the membrane of the cells which are responsible for the exchange of information between them,” he said. “By managing to deliver them exactly where they are needed, we avoid many side effects,” he added.

The team is now ready to launch the last phase of the study.
“As promising as the findings of the first phases of a treatment can be, no one can be sure of anything until results are compared to the ones of patients who receive a placebo,” he said.

Some 155 coronavirus patients will take part in the study. Two-thirds of them will be administered the drug, and one-third a placebo.

The study will be conducted in Israel and it might be also carried out in other places if the number of patients in the country will not suffice.

“We hope to complete it by the end of the year,” Arber said.
If the results are confirmed, he vowed that the treatment can be made available relatively quickly and at a low cost.

“In addition, a success could pave the wave to treat many other diseases,” he concluded.




Tuesday, August 17, 2021

About COVID-19 breakthrough infections

The COVID-19 vaccines that are used in the U.S. are highly effective. But sometimes, the coronavirus can still infect people who are vaccinated, causing so-called breakthrough infections. So what are breakthrough infections, what are the symptoms and how common are they?

If a person tests positive for COVID-19 at least two weeks after receiving all recommended doses of vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers them to have a breakthrough infection.

That means that anyone who tests positive at least two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the Moderna vaccine or two weeks after receiving a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is considered a breakthrough infection case. Vaccine breakthrough cases "are expected," because no vaccine is 100% effective, according to the CDC.


Fact-Checking 4 Claims About COVID-19 in Florida

Last year, the press fixated on the state’s rising case and hospitalization rates, blaming them on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decisions to eschew government mask mandates and allow businesses to reopen, children to attend school, and residents to recreate without excessive restraints.

DeSantis was often unfavorably compared with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose iron-fisted restrictions were considered the epitome of enlightened governance.

Enthusiasm for Cuomo has waned, but heaping scorn on DeSantis is still in vogue. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has dubbed DeSantis “public enemy number one,” first in line among “cynical and irresponsible Republican politicians [who] have created an environment that is killing Americans.”

So what’s really going on in Florida? Is DeSantis a cynical and irresponsible killer? Here are the facts.

1. Florida Is Experiencing a Spike in Cases: True.

Florida is experiencing a surge in new confirmed cases. The seven-day rolling average of new infections topped 18,000 on Aug. 5, more than the state logged in January.

Florida accounts for roughly 6% of the U.S. population but 18% of the seven-day moving average of daily new cases nationwide.

Those are concerning figures, but they should be understood in context. Most states are experiencing increases in cases, although Florida is unique in exceeding previous highs.

Florida’s increase resembles the U.K.’s, which only recently has begun to subside. The country’s mask mandates and other restrictions didn’t prevent a spike in cases, any more than such restrictions prevented recent or ongoing surges in Spain, Israel, France, Ireland, and the Netherlands

Florida’s spike in cases is consistent with a broader global pattern and isn’t easily attributable to the state’s refusal to implement mask mandates or adopt vaccine passports. Nor does a spike in cases necessarily produce a surge of severe illness or death, but more on that below.

2. Florida’s Increase in New Cases Is Due to Low Vaccination Rates: False.

“Seven states with the lowest vaccination rates represent just about 8.5% of the U.S. population, but account for more than 17% of cases,” Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said earlier this week. “And 1 in 3 cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas.”

Florida is not one of the seven states with the lowest vaccination rates. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data available on Aug. 5, 49.8% of Americans were fully vaccinated. That compares with 49.2% of Floridians. The vaccination rates among the elderly also are comparable—80.3% of Floridians over age 65 are fully vaccinated, compared with 80.2% of all Americans in that age group.

And while Florida’s vaccination rates vary by county, those rates don’t correlate with newly confirmed cases per 100,000 residents.

The data come from the most recent weekly report prepared by the Florida Department of Health. They show that even counties with high vaccination rates reported high new case rates for the week ending July 29.

Nearly 80% of the residents over the age of 12 living in Dade County (home to Miami), the state’s most populous, were fully vaccinated. But the county reported 532 new cases per 100,000 residents, exceeding the state’s elevated average of 503 new cases per 100,000.

Ten of the 17 counties that reported vaccination rates of 40% or less had lower rates of new infections than did Dade County. A similar pattern held in other populous counties with high vaccination rates, including St. Johns County (Jacksonville/St. Augustine) and Orange County (Orlando).

It is, of course, possible that most or all these new cases are occurring among the unvaccinated, but there may be a significant number of breakthrough cases. Unfortunately, neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Florida Department of Health provides that information.

3. Florida Hospitals Are Overwhelmed: Mostly False.

President Joe Biden’s chief spokesperson, Jen Psaki, recently tweeted: “23% of new COVID hospitalizations in the U.S are in Florida, and their hospitals are being overwhelmed again.”

Let’s start with the word “again.” Among the media’s favorite stories to report last summer was that a run-up in COVID-19 cases had pushed Florida hospitals beyond their limits. As I’ve written (here, here, here, and here), that was not the case then.

And it isn’t the case now. It is true that Florida hospitals are treating a more significant share of COVID-19 patients than most other states and that hospitals are facing staffing challenges. Here is the breakdown, updated Aug. 6, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Those figures are at once disturbing and reassuring—disturbing because nearly 13,000 Floridians are hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, but reassuring because the state’s hospital systems still have plenty of unused capacity (roughly 9,400 empty beds). More than 11% of the state’s adult ICU beds are vacant.

Psaki’s allegation that Florida hospitals are “overwhelmed” is thus false, although the situation certainly bears watching.

More encouraging is that deaths associated with COVID-19 remain far below levels reached last summer and during January. The seven-day moving average of COVID-19-related deaths stood at 72 on Aug. 5, compared with 184 on Aug. 5, 2020, and 185 in late January.

While not conclusive—deaths generally lag new cases by a few weeks, and reporting is sometimes delayed—this resembles the pattern in the U.K., where a spike in infections did not result in a comparable rise in deaths.

4. Florida’s Spike in Cases Is DeSantis’ Fault: False.

Critics of DeSantis hold him responsible for the state’s spike in cases. Biden, for example, called on DeSantis to “get out of the way,” arguing that rising case counts were the direct result of the Florida governor’s policies.

A recent news analysis piece in The Hill is among the many publications touting this theme. “Conservative Republicans—notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott—have adopted a permissive approach,” the article asserted. “The result of their purported dedication to ‘freedom’ has been an explosion of coronavirus cases in their states.”

The article goes on to quote Georgetown law professor Lawrence Gostin as saying, “If you are against masks and vaccines, you might have a short-term win with people who don’t want to mask and vaccinate, but overall the population in your state doesn’t have the freedom to safely and securely go to do the things they love.”

The argument that Florida’s case rate has risen because its governor embraces freedom and opposes masks and vaccines doesn’t hold up.

First, DeSantis isn’t “against masks and vaccines.” Although he has shunned mask mandates, his state’s health department promotes mask-wearing and social distancing. His administration lets individuals and businesses respond to this advice instead of subjecting them to government mandates.

Similarly, although opposed to vaccine passports and mandates, the DeSantis administration promotes immunizations. Florida’s immunization rate is quite close to the national average. Its rise in cases is not due to low vaccination rates.

Second, despite the current uptick in cases, Florida has done an exceptional job preserving freedom and advancing public health throughout the pandemic. Florida’s COVID-19-related deaths per 100,000 population remain below the national average.

That is more remarkable considering that more than 1 in 5 residents is over age 65, the nation’s second-highest proportion of elderly. That demographic accounts for nearly 80% of COVID-related mortality nationally. Yet, Florida has outperformed numerous states with smaller proportions of elderly people that have adopted less “permissive” policies, including New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and Delaware.

Florida’s increase in COVID-19 cases is troubling and not easily explained. Its vaccination rate is nearly identical to the national rate, and counties with very high vaccination rates are among those reporting big increases in cases. Allegations that the state’s hospitals are overwhelmed are exaggerated, although future capacity strains can’t yet be ruled out. That’s also true of COVID-19-related deaths, which have so far remained far below previous highs.

The president and his allies can’t resist politicizing the Florida case increases. Demonizing a governor of a rival party deflects from the national surge in cases, the administration’s frustration with lagging demand for vaccines (particularly among young adults and racial minorities), and the CDC’s confusing and conflicting advice on whether vaccinated people should wear masks.

The administration should undertake a serious effort to learn what’s behind Florida’s surge and prepare for the potential of similar spikes elsewhere in the country.




Monday, August 16, 2021

Health Update

Thanks to immunotherapy, my cancer is in complete remission. There is now no trace of it in me.

It has however knocked me around a lot -- in part because I spent about 4 months largely bedbound.  So my big problem is a lack of energy and vigor generally

So for the immediate future I will be postingto two blogs on each day -- two from a selection of four.  See list below. So if you click all four of my sites, you will will find new content from me each day


Dr. Nicole Saphier Blasts 'Myopic' CDC For Ignoring Natural Immunity: 'Not Following The Science'

Dr. Nicole Saphier, an author and radiologist who frequently provides analysis on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Fox News and Fox Business, blasted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for being "myopic" on the topic of natural immunity from the virus.

Saphier's analysis, provided on Wednesday night's edition of Fox News' "Hannity," came after host Sean Hannity brought up a Cleveland Clinic study suggesting that individuals who have already had COVID-19 would not additionally benefit from obtaining a vaccine.

"Sean, it’s not even just the Cleveland clinic at this point," she said. "We have ample data showing that natural immunity provides effectiveness against severe disease from SARS-CoV-2. In fact, Israel showed that reinfection following prior infection is about seven times less likely than if you are fully vaccinated. So I find it to be very myopic that the CDC continues to discount the protection of natural immunity. They only do it for SARS-CoV-2. They acknowledge natural immunity for measles, chickenpox, and many other viruses, but they are so myopic right now in trying to encourage vaccination that they are truly actually not following the science."

Saphier was referring to a recent Israeli study suggesting that those with natural immunity were less likely to contract the virus' latest wave than those who were fully vaccinated (via Israel National News).

Health Ministry data on the wave of COVID outbreaks which began this May show that Israelis with immunity from natural infection were far less likely to become infected again in comparison to Israelis who only had immunity via vaccination.

More than 7,700 new cases of the virus have been detected during the most recent wave starting in May, but just 72 of the confirmed cases were reported in people who were known to have been infected previously – that is, less than 1% of the new cases.

Roughly 40% of new cases – or more than 3,000 patients – involved people who had been infected despite being vaccinated.

The Fox News contributor went on to argue that, given the rare but known side effects of vaccines, the decision to vaccinate should be "between that person and their physician," not "because a restaurant or a business or somewhere told them they have to get the vaccine to be employed there or go there."

This is a medical decision. Again, if someone has antibodies, protective natural immunity, to say that they need a vaccine to protect themselves and to others around them is not following the science and, unfortunately, I blame the CDC for being so narrow-minded right now and not actually seeing and acknowledging what many other countries are doing. That if you have proof of natural immunity, that is probably as good if not better than the vaccines.


We Have Yet Another Data Point That Eviscerates Liberal Media's Narrative on the Unvaccinated

At the start of the Delta variant, the media, the Democrats, and snobby liberal America knew who to blame. It was the unvaccinated. Yes, they make up virtually all the recent hospitalizations and new deaths. The goal should have been to convince these people to get the shot, not denigrate them, and certainly not mock their deaths. Liberal America took the latter route. The moral superiority complex kicked in and now those who were on the fence are firmly entrenched in their position to not get vaccinated.

To make matters worse, the experts and the Biden White House continue to fail at messaging. The cherry on top of this government fail sundae is that they think bribing people $100 will boost vaccination rates. Some people are skeptical of government, some have questions about long-term risks, and others simply don’t want it. It’s their choice. It should always be a choice. Only a liberal would view the unvaccinated as a sub-human species. Yet, more and more stories have shredded this narrative.

For starters, they’re not all Trump lovers or Republicans. It’s not religion either. By May 11, Data Progress noted that 60+ percent of Jews, Catholics, and other non-denominational Christians have had at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Now, are a good chunk of COVID vaccine hesitators GOP supporters, sure—but some 40 percent of New York City’s workers remain unvaccinated. One-quarter of health care workers are unvaccinated. In fact, the most hesitant group have higher education degrees, doctorates to be exact. I doubt these folks are hard-core MAGA or readers of conservative media.

It’s a very complicated and very nuanced debate, one that has been raging for years. And now, The New York Times has a story about how young black New Yorkers are simply saying “no” to the COVID vaccine (via NYT):

"A construction site safety manager in Queens said that as a Black man, he was more worried about the prospect of being stopped by the police than he was about getting Covid-19.

A graduate student in the Bronx who had not gotten vaccinated said her worst fears seemed confirmed when a vaccine that the government was directing to Black and poorer neighborhoods was briefly suspended over a small number of dangerous blood clots.

And a civil rights activist in the Bronx said he grew suspicious when he heard last year that politicians were prioritizing minority neighborhoods for coronavirus vaccinations.


All three situations reflect a trend that has become a major concern to public health experts: Young Black New Yorkers are especially reluctant to get vaccinated, even as the Delta variant is rapidly spreading among their ranks. City data shows that only 28 percent of Black New Yorkers ages 18 to 44 years are fully vaccinated, compared with 48 percent of Latino residents and 52 percent of white residents in that age group."

This vaccination gap is emerging as the latest stark racial disparity in an epidemic full of them. Epidemiologists say they expect this third wave will hit Black New Yorkers especially hard.

“This is a major public health failure,” said Dr. Dustin Duncan, an epidemiologist and Columbia University professor.

Yeah, well maybe you experts should have thought about the consequences of going on television and telling people that the vaccine doesn’t work.

‘Get the shot but keep wearing a mask.’ You all heard it for weeks from these clowns. Why? People will question whether the vaccine works.

That’s what comes from these sentiments. They didn’t care and now tens of millions are simply refusing to get vaccinated. You can’t blame Trump. You can’t blame Ron DeSantis.

Young black NYC residents don’t trust the government, but it’s not just them. After this fiasco, EVERYONE should be skeptical of the medical experts, and many have tuned out these clowns who say one thing only to say something else that contradicts what was taken as gospel hours later. And now, with cities and localities passing soft vaccine passport mandates, it looks like young blacks will be barred from certain public settings. But I thought the country bumpkins were the reason why vaccination levels stagnated, right? It’s a mess that only liberal America could make.