Posts Tagged ‘Coronavirus Pandemic’

The economic consequences of the pandemic

October 14, 2021

SHUTDOWN: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy by Adam Tooze (2021)

Adam Tooze is possibly the world’s foremost economic historian.  He wrote thick, comprehensive books on the Nazi economy (Wages of Destruction), the war debts crisis of the 1920s (The Deluge) and the 2008 financial crisis (Crashed!).  

His strengths are his international perspective (he is a British subject, educated in Germany who now teaches at Columbia University) and his deep understanding of high finance and how it affects society, politics and the overall economy.

Shutdown is not like his other books. It’s slim, and it is being published while the pandemic is still going on, not from the perspective of history.  This is because he thinks his message is too urgent to wait.

What is his message?

It is that we the public are on the brink of a new era, an era when our worst crises will not be the result of tyranny, corruption and human folly, but blowbacks from our natural environment.

And we are woefully unprepared for this. The coronavirus pandemic had taken 3.2 million lives, including half a million American dead, as of April, when Tooze completed his book.  The number is up to 4.5 million now.

The pandemic resulted in tens of trillions of dollars in economic loss. Yet only tens of billions has been spent on vaccine development, and much less than that on getting the vaccine to the public.

COVID-19 was not a black swan, a completely unpredictable event. It was a grey rhino, an event that many predicted, but were ignored. The climate crisis has bred other grey rhinos—devastating fires, floods, droughts and superstorms.

Tooze wrote that the reason we are unprepared is that the neoliberal policies of the past 50 years have stripped the governments of the USA, UK and much of the Western world of the capacity to respond to emergencies.

The neoliberal philosophy is that, in order to maximize efficiency, institutions should spend no more than they absolutely need in order to function. This means that there is no reserve capacity in case of emergencies, and hospital emergency rooms in the USA are overflowing with Covid patients.

What’s needed, he wrote, is something like the Green New Deal supported by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others.  Governments must spend whatever is necessary to be prepared for the predictable crises that lie ahead, and do it in a way that creates full employment and puts money in the pockets of working people.

The International Monetary Fund has estimated that a successful global vaccination program would add $7 trillion annually to the world economy by 2014.  Tooze said others estimate that such a vaccination program would cost $50 billion to $100 billion. Yet governments of rich countries, which have spent trillions of dollars on economic stimulus programs, say this is unaffordable.

Tooze quoted the great economist John Maynard Keynes: “Anything we can actually do, we can afford.”  

That is, if the human and physical resources to accomplish a goal exist, and the political will to accomplish the goal exists, the problem of finance can be solved.  People generally understand this in wartime.  Why not in peacetime?

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Matt Taibbi on the cult of the vaccine neurotic

October 8, 2021

I’ve been vaccinated for Covid, I think vaccination is a good idea for most people, but I think it very strange that the Biden administration, the mainstream press and the public health establishment say you shouldn’t consider treatments for the disease.

Why not explore anything and everything that might work?  Why limit yourself to just one thing?

The idea is that the general public is so stupid that if they think there is anything other than vaccination that is helpful in fighting the disease, they won’t get vaccinated.  The problem with this is that if you blatantly treat people as if they are stupid, they will stop listening to you.  Matt Taibbi had a good article about this on his Substack blog.

LINK

The Cult of the Vaccine Neurotic by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

To stop the spread, require tests, not jabs

October 1, 2021

School children in Austria are tested for Covid

I think most people would benefit from being vaccinated against the coronavirus, because you’ll be much less likely to wind up in the hospital or morgue if you catch it.

But this will do little to stop the spread of the virus because you can catch it from a vaccinated person just as you can from an unvaccinated person.

If I was the parent of a small schoolchild, I wouldn’t care if the school staff was vaccinated.

What I’d want is for everyone who goes through the door of the school to have a temperature check, and for everyone who registered a fever to get a Covid test, and for everyone who tested positive for Covid to stay home for a week.

Ideally, people infected with the coronavirus should go into quarantine, but we in the USA don’t have the capability for that.

I’d apply the same policies to high schools and colleges, and to hospitals (except, of course, I wouldn’t send the patients home).

I think vaccine skeptics underrate the harm done by the coronavirus. It’s true the virus kills a relatively small percentage of those infected, but that small percentage adds up to hundreds of thousands (in the USA) and millions (worldwide).

And this is not something where that which does not kill you does not make you stronger. I had a friend who was vaccinated, but nevertheless suffered what I am convinced was a “breakthrough” infection. She was in such severe pain, along with chills and fever, for a couple of days, that she was not able to function.

I know of a family—husband, wife, three children—who got it. The husband went to the hospital. The wife somehow was able to function at home. They’re all well now, but they don’t know what long-term organ damage the virus may have caused.

But I admit that we also don’t know the long-term effects of the vaccines, especially with pregnant women and small children. If I was the husband of a pregnant woman or the father of small children, I’m not sure what I would advise.

Just as some of us are at greater risk for the virus, so others of us are at greater risk for the vaccines.

I do think that if businesses and other institutions require vaccinations, they should give the employee a day off with pay to get the vaccination, and also days off with pay to recover from side effects.

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The reasonable case for considering ivermectin

September 26, 2021

Some physicians think invermectin is useful as a treatment for Covid; others don’t.  I don’t have the medical or scientific knowledge to judge who is right.  

My view of invermectin is a form of Pascal’s Wager.  It is cheap and, if used as prescribed by a physician, it is safe.   If vaccines have failed or are not available, a person infected with Covid has everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying it.

I am vaccinated.  I think everybody who has access to vaccines should get vaccinated, unless they already have had Covid or have a good medical reason not to.  

But the vaccines now in use do not prevent infection or the spread of the disease.  You can catch Covid from a vaccinated person.  

Vaccines may not prevent breakthrough Covid.  A friend of mine who was vaccinated spent a weekend suffering intense pain, fever and chills, which I think was probably breakthrough Covid.

This doesn’t mean the current vaccines are useless.  They rally the body’s immune system to fight the virus.

What it does show, in my opinion, is the need for a treatment, or a sterilizing vaccine, that will actually kill the virus.

If ivermectin is such a treatment, this would be great for everyone. 

The small-scale clinical trials showing the benefits of ivermectin have sometimes been flawed.  All or almost all have been too limited to bring about conclusive results.  

That is why there should be large-scale clinical trials to settle the question one way or other other.  If ivermectin is not what it’s cracked up to be, then there should be an intense program, equivalent to Operation Warp Speed, to develop one.

It is established medical practice in the USA and other countries to allow government-approved drugs to be used for treatments of diseases other than the ones they’ve been approved for.  

I don’t believe in self-medication for serious conditions, but I believe physicians should be able to use their own judgment about legal treatments.

I  also believe physicians and scientists should be able to post discuss medical treatments on the Internet without being censored.

If I were dying of Covid, I wouldn’t want to be put on a ventilator, I would want my physician to try ivermectin.  If I were the president of an African country that couldn’t get vaccines because majority-white countries such as the USA and Canada want to give their citizens third doses, I would certainly  distribute ivermectin.

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Vaccines and COVID-19 death rates

September 22, 2021

Click to enlarge

Hat tip to David Zweig.

I’ll be 85 years old in December.  This chart from England makes me very, very glad that I was able to get vaccinated.  

I wasn’t able to find the original link to the chart, but the links below have the basic information.

LINKS

COVID-19 confirmed deaths in England (to 31 January 2021) by Public Health England.

Risk for COVID-19 Infection, Hospitalization and Death by Age Group in the USA by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 and the war on populism

September 13, 2021

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Thomas Frank had a good interview last week on the Breaking Points TV show.  It’s worth watching.

He talked about how failure to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, instead of being blamed on the failed health care system, is instead blamed on people who are skeptical of established authority.

The problem is that there are good reasons to be skeptical of authority.  It was Anthony Fauci, who is nowadays considered to the voice of science, who in the early days of the pandemic said that it was not to be taken seriously, it was just like the ‘flu, and that masks were useless.

It was the Centers for DIsease Control that, in the early days, advised the U.S. government not to screen air travelers coming in from China. 

Established authority nowadays tells us that vaccination will prevent the spread of the disease, when, so far as is known, it merely suppresses the symptoms and does little or nothing to stop the spread.

Nobody is being called to account for this.  The bulk of the press, the political establishment and the medical establishment say that everything that has gone wrong, and everything that is predictably going to go wrong, is the fault of right-wingers who refuse to get vaccinated.

There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t get vaccinated.  There are medical reasons.  There are economic reasons.  There are religious reasons.

And of course there are conspiracy theorists who think the pandemic is a Democratic hoax.  I don’t share their views, of course, but conspiracy theories flourish in times like these, when established authority can’t be trusted.

Whatever the reasons people have for not getting vaccinated, ridicule and scapegoating are not good methods for bringing them around.  They are, however, good tactics for diverting blame for failure from the people in charge.

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The plan is for all Americans to get COVID

September 10, 2021

The Biden administration’s plan for fighting COVID-19 is for all Americans to get vaccinated. But that won’t stop the spread of the disease.  Being vaccinated just means you’re less likely to die or need hospital care if you get it.

But there is nothing in place to stamp out the disease and very little to stop the spread of the disease.  This means that all of us Americans are bound to get it, sooner or later.

I’m in favor of vaccination.  I’ve received two shots myself.  I would like as many people as possible to get vaccinated.   Mandatory vaccinations are nothing new.  Schools and other institutions have every right to require masking and vaccinations.

The thing of it is—the vaccines now available are not sterilizing vaccines, at least not as far we know.  They do not kill the virus, just rally the body’s defenses to resist it.  Other things being equal, a vaccinated person is just as potentially infectious as an unvaccinated person.

The way to stop the spread of the virus would be to require everyone entering an indoor public space to be tested, whether vaccinated or not.  As in China, there would be a temperature check, and everybody running a temperature would get a test.

Those infected would be isolated and treated until the infection goes away.  Do this long enough and the virus dies out.

Why isn’t this being done?  Probably because the U.S. pubic health system and medical care system don’t have the capacity to carry it out.

Of course, there are other ways to slow the spread.  Indoor ventilation would be a big help.  Indoor masking also would be a big help. 

But the disease won’t be stopped until there are treatments that kill the virus, as penicillin kills bacterial infections.  There is no national effort to develop one.

The Biden administration is content to push vaccination alone, vaccination and nothing else, and it blames people who don’t get vaccinated for the spread of the disease

The unvaccinated are conflated with deplorables who believe in crazy conspiracy theories, and both groups are conflated with Trump voters.  They will be the scapegoats for the comeback of COVID-19 this winter.

I’ve even heard people say that the unvaccinated do not deserve to be treated for the coronavius. 

Would such people say that cigarette smokers do not deserve medical care lung cancer? that sexually active gay men do not deserve medical care for AIDS? that people who’ve attempted suicide, and failed, deserve no medical care at all?

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Pushback against the war on ivermectin

September 8, 2021

The American Medical Association has joined the campaign to discourage people from using invermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.  But not all physicians are willing to accept the AMA’s judgment.

The following is a letter from Jane M. Orient, M.D., executive director of Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, to Gerald E. Harmon, M.D., president of the American Medical Association.

The AMA has taken the startling and unprecedented position that American physicians should immediately stop prescribing, and pharmacists should stop honoring their prescriptions for ivermectin for COVID-19 patients.  The AMA is thus contradicting the professional judgment of a very large number of physicians, who are writing about 88,000 prescriptions per week.  It also contradicts the Chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, Haruo Ozaki, who recommended that all doctors in Japan immediately begin using Ivermectin to treat COVID.

AMA claims that ivermectin is dangerous and ineffective despite the safe prescription of billions of doses since 1981, and the mostly favorable results of 63 controlled studies in COVID-19.

AMA does not specify any recommended early treatments, but simply urges face masks, distancing, and vaccination.

Our members would appreciate clarification of the AMA’s stand on the following questions:

  • What are the criteria for advocating that pharmacists override the judgment of fully qualified physicians who are responsible for individual patients?
  • What are the criteria for forbidding off-label use of long-approved drugs, which constitute at least 20 percent of all prescriptions?
  • On what basis does AMA demand use only within a clinical trial for ivermectin, but call for virtually universal vaccination outside of controlled trials, despite FDA warnings of potential cardiac damage in healthy young patients, and no information about long-term effects?

We believe that these questions get to the heart of issues of physician and patient autonomy, as well as scientific principles such as the need for a control group in experiments.

We look forward to your response.

Ivermectin is a drug originally developed as a cure for parasitic disease, and has come to be used as an off-label treatment for bacterial and virus diseases.  Many reputable physicians prescribe it for COVID-19—not as a substitute for vaccination, but as a supplement for vaccines or as an alternative when vaccines are not available or not medically recommended.

Vaccines do not cure COVID-19.  They protect infected people against the worst symptoms of the disease.  We need for a treatment or a “sterilizing vaccine” that will kill the disease.

Everything I know about ivermectin leads to me think that it might be such a treatment, but I’m not a physician or an epidemiologist and I could be wrong.  If not there should be a search for a treatment—a search as intense as last year’s search for a vaccine.

The chief disadvantage of ivermectin from the standpoint of the pharmaceutical industry is that it is cheap, safe and not patented, which means that it is relatively unprofitable.  Using Occam’s Razor, this is the simplest explanation for the industry’s behavior.

LINKS

AAPS Letter to AMA Re: Ivermectin and COVID.

As US Prepares to Ban Ivermectin for Covid-19, More Countries in Asia Begin Using It by Nick Corbishley for Naked Capitalism.

US as Failed State: Covid Booster Shot Mess by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

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Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus

August 25, 2021

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Carter Mecher was head of a White House task force charged with making a plan to prevent pandemics.  He was contacted by Robert Glass, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, who’d been running computer simulations of pandemics.

Glass’s models indicated that kindergartens and schools were potential petri dishes for the spread of contagious disease.  I don’t think this would have been surprising to most parents and teachers.

At that time, there were more than 100,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., with 50 million children in them.  There were 500,000 school buses in operation, compared to 70,000 in the regular U.S. transportation system.  On an average day, school buses carried twice as many passengers as the entire public transportation system.

Michael Lewis, author of The Premonition, told what happened next.  Becher decided to visit schools. He found school classrooms were more crowded than any other public space.  Chlldren sat, on average, three and a half feet apart; they could touch each other.

In hallways and at bus stops, young children crowded together.  They lacked the adult idea of personal space.  School bus seats were on average 40 inches wide, just wide enough for three children close packed together.

School bus aisles were narrower than aisles of regular buses. Paramedics used special stretchers for school buses because regular stretchers wouldn’t fit.

Becher made videos of homes where the ratio of children to floor space was the same as in public schools.  They looked like refugee prisons, Lewis wrote.

Glass had concluded that closing schools and reducing contacts among children were the key to controlling pandemics.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the present situation, because teachers and children over 12 can get vaccinated.  Many schools try to practice social distancing, although this doesn’t protect from an airborne virus in an enclosed space.  Glass’s model assumed no vaccines and no treatments.

But vaccines don’t eliminate the danger.  They suppress the symptoms of the disease, but they don’t necessarily kill the virus.  Vaccinated people can still be spreaders of the disease.  And vaccines may not be 100 percent effective.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were a parent, except listen to the teachers rather than the politicians or the CDC.

Children in families with a lot of books in the home, who watch educational programs on TV and talk about current events and books around the supper table—the education of these children would not suffer all that much from school lockdowns.

But children in families without books in the home, children with parents who work multiple jobs and don’t have time for suppertime conversations, children who depend on school lunches for their main nourishing meal of the day—these children would be hurt a lot by long-term school closing.

Wearing masks can help some.  Good ventilation can help a lot.  Vaccine mandates for teachers and staff might help, but regular tests for the virus would help more.

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Ivermectin study retracted

July 23, 2021
A report of a clinical study on the benefits of ivermectin as an anti-Covid treatment has been withdrawn.
 
The resport reportedly gave results that were mathematically impossible and differed from the raw data.
 
The retraction does not, in itself, discredit ivermectin as a possible treatment.  There are other studies that support the benefits of invermectin. 
 
But the fact that the Frontline Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) and the British Invermectin Recommendation Development (BIRD) Group cited it is not a good look.
 
My own opinion remains the same.  I believe the sale of drugs should be regulated.  I don’t think somebody should be able to sell Dr. Quack’s Covid Cure over-the-counter.  But prescribing approved drugs for non-approved purposes is a legal and common practice.
 
Ivermectin is a drug that has long been approved for treatment of parasitic disease and seems to hold promise for treatment of virus disease.  It has been proven safe, and is cheap because no longer protected by patents. 
 
There is no reason physicians should not prescribe ivermectin if in their judgment there is a benefit, especially when vaccines are not available or have failed.  Studies of invermectin should continue, and discussion of ivermectin should not be suppressed.
 
LINKS
 
Why Was a Major Study on Invermectin for COVID-19 Just Retracted? by Jack Lawrence for GRFTR.
 
Huge study supporting ivermectin as Covid treatment withdraw over ethical concerns by Melissa Davey for The Guardian.
 
Joint Statement of the FLCCC Alliance and British Ivermectin Research Development Group on Retraction of Early Research on Invermectin.

A vaccination-only anti-virus strategy

July 22, 2021

It seems as if the Biden administration intends to rely on vaccines alone to fight the COVID-19 virus.

The official advice is that once you get vaccinated, it’s safe to do anything you want, including spending time unmasked in poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.

That’s wrong.  Even if you’re vaccinated, you can be infected and you can infect others.  Masking, ventilation and other safety measures are still needed.

It’s true that availability of vaccines has dramatically reduced the death rate from COVID.  The chart above, showing waves of COVID infection before and after vaccines were available, indicates this.

Vaccination, however, does not confer 100 percent immunity.  The vaccines stimulate the immune system, so that, if you are infected, you are unlikely to experience symptoms of the disease and even less likely to be hospitalized. 

But they often fail to kill the virus.  You can be vaccinated and symptom-free and still be a spreader of the disease.

I’m in favor of vaccination. I got two shots of the Moderna vaccine as soon as I could, one in March and one in April.  I don’t take that as guaranteeing perfect safety.

It’s going to be a while before I eat a restaurant  meal indoors or watch a movie in a theater.  I may never take an airplane trip again.  I intend to wear a mask any time I am indoors with people I don’t know.

That’s not because I like masks.  I get short of breath when I wear one for a long time.  Everybody looks like they’re either terrorists, robbers or assisting in surgery.  But I can put up with this minor annoyance in order to reduce my own risk and the risk I create for others.

I understand that not everybody is willing to live as I do, or in a position to do so.  I am 84 years old, retired, unmarried, an introvert and a recluse. 

I don’t have to venture out into the world to earn my daily bread, and my temperament makes it easier for me than for most people to do without hugs and kisses.

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Lab leak or animal transmission?

July 22, 2021

It’s very possible that SARS-CoV-2 originated in an animal and was transmitted to a human being, because that’s how so many virus diseases originated.

But we don’t as yet have any example of an animal in the wild carrying the disease, let alone a specific person getting the disease from an animal.

It’s possible that the virus spread as the result of a laboratory accident, because lab accidents have been known to happen.

But we don’t have any proof that a laboratory accident actually occurred, let alone a specific person being infected.

It’s argued that it is more than coincidence that the virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, a center for research in coronaviruses. I agree.

A center for the study of a virus in the lab would be a place where people would be most alert to detect the virus. But that’s not proof that the virus originated there. Diseases frequently are first discovered in places distant from where they originate.

It’s argued that the virus must be an artificial creation because it is so tailored to exploit human weaknesses. I don’t have the knowledge to make a scientific judgement one way or the other.

But it seems to me that this argument underestimates the malignant ingenuity of Mother Nature, operating through Darwinian random variation and natural selection.

None of this disproves the lab leak hypothesis, of course.

The lab leak hypothesis is more comforting than the animal transmission hypothesis because it is easier to fix human error that it is to cope with the forces of nature.

China haters tend to like the lab leak hypothesis. Trump haters tend to dislike it.

As for myself, I don’t have an opinion either way.

Why the U.S. failed to avert the pandemic (2)

July 21, 2021

Like Michael Lewis’s The Premonition, Andy Slavitt’s Preventable is a story of how people in authority disregarded warnings and allowed the COVID-19 virus to gain a foothold in the United States.

But while Lewis described the efforts of a number of far-sighted prophets, Slavitt concentrates on just one—himself.

Slavitt is an interesting figure—a political operator and member of the professional-managerial class, who influences policy, moves back and forth between government and the private sector, but would be unknown to the public except for this book.

He was an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, a consultant for McKinsey & Co., and founder of a company called HealthAllies, and then worked for United Health Group after it acquired HealthAllies. 

He served the Obama administration as head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2014, and was a medical adviser to the Biden administration during its first few months.

His power comes from being embedded in a network of politicians, corporate CEOs, wealthy philanthropists and academics, who all answer his phone calls and listen to what he has to say.

Preventable is about how he tried to alert the public to the danger, while also trying, from behind the scenes, to influence the Trump administration to take action before it was too late.

His book is a good overview of the Trump administration’s pandemic response and of the inadequacies of the American medical care system generally.

Much of the criticism of Trump is based on a knee-jerk response to his vulgar and offensive comments on Twitter and elsewhere, which don’t matter, and on a gullible acceptance of charges of collusion with Russian and Ukrainian leaders, which were either bogus or trivial.

Slavitt did a good job of showing the real problem with Trump, which was his inadequacy as an administrator and leader.  Trump refused to face unpleasant facts.  He thought of policy only in terms of public relations, not in terms of consequences, and he failed to think ahead even about public relations.

He calculated that closings are unpopular and openings are popular, so he shifted responsibilities for closings onto governors of states while positioning himself as the champion of openings.

As damning as Slavitt’s portrait of Trump is, it will not change the minds of Trump’s admirers because of Slavitt’s obvious bias and partisanship. 

The only named persons he holds accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic are Trump supporters, members of Trump’s administration and Donald Trump himself.  Democrats get a free pass.

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How the virus took hold in the U.S.

July 21, 2021

The following timeline is from Andy Slavitt’s Preventable.  It shows when there was a window of opportunity to prevent the COVID-19 virus from establishing itself in the United States, and when that window closed.

Nov. 17, 2019.  First COVID-19 case in Wuhan, China.

U.S. total cases: 0.

U.S. total deaths: 0.

U.S. daily cases: 0.

Jan. 20, 2020.  First COVID-19 case in the United States

U.S. total cases: 1

U.S. total deaths: 0.

U.S. daily cases: 1.

Jan. 29, 2020.  White House task force created.

U.S. total cases: 6.

U.S. total deaths: 0.

U.S. daily cases:  1.

Jan. 31, 2020.  First COVID-19 case in Italy.

U.S. total cases:  9.

U.S. total deaths:  0.

U.S. daily cases:  1.

Feb. 26, 2020.  First COVID-19 death in the United States

U.S. total cases: 16.

U.S. total deaths: 1.

U.S. daily cases: 1.

March 3, 2020.  100th U.S. case.

U.S. total cases: 100.

U.S. total deaths: 14.

U.S. daily cases: 50.

March 9, 2020.  1,000th U.S. case.

U.S. total cases: 1,000.

U.S. total deaths: 35.

U.S. daily cases: 292.

March 17, 2020.  10,000th U.S. case

U.S. total cases:  10,000.

U.S. total deaths: 123.

U.S. daily cases: 2,570.

March 20, 2020.  100th COVID-19 death in South Korea.

U.S. total cases:  24,100.

U.S. total deaths: 273.

U.S. daily cases: 6,090.

Why the U.S. failed to avert the pandemic (1)

July 20, 2021

Michael Lewis’s The Premonition tells stories of Americans who foresaw the danger of a pandemic and created workable plans and technologies to fight it, but in the end were brushed aside.

He throws light on U.S. unpreparedness to deal with pandemic disease and how COVID-19 was allowed to take hold when it could have been eradicated.

The stories of his heroes are oddly inspirational, even though they mostly failed in the end.  Their plans and inventions were usually not tried, or tried too late.  They were like Winston Churchill’s in a world in which he was never called to power and World War Two ended in stalemate.

Lewis’s book leaves off in the spring of 2020 when it became plain that a pandemic was not going to be averted.  Andy Slavitt’s Preventable takes up the story at that point. 

Slavitt’s provided a good overview of the Trump administration’s failures, but I learned little that was new to me.  Lewis’s book is more fragmentary, but his insights are deeper and his writing is much more readable.

The back stories of Lewis’s heroes are as illuminating as their responses to the pandemic.  I’ll just give the highlights of one of them.

Charity Dean was public health officer for Santa Barbara County, California.  In 2013. she was alerted that a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara had symptoms of meningitis B, a rare infectious disease that attacked healthy young people and could kill them in hours.  The test for the disease was inconclusive.

She asked the Centers for Disease Control what to do.  The CDC advised her to do nothing.  She didn’t have enough data.  She ordered the university medical authorities to test any student with a low-grade fever four the disease.  Three tested positive.  The CDC still advised her to do nothing.

Instead she ordered lockdowns of the fraternities and sororities and to gave the 1,200 students a prophylactic (preventive medicine).  Over the objections of the CDC, she thinned out the dormitories by sending some students into hotel rooms, shut down intramural sports and administered a vaccine that had been approved in Europe, but not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

There were no more cases.  Two years later, the CDC drew up a plan for best practices for an outbreak of meningitis B, which included most of the things Dr. Dean had done.

Another time she was faced with the decision as to what to do about a home for the elderly, which was within the path of a possible mudslide that would kill them all. 

Meteorologists said there was a 20 percent chance of such a mudslide.  The medical director of the home said that maybe 5 percent of the 100 residents were so frail to they would die if they were moved.

Based on those figures, she ordered the evacuation.  Seven of the old people died.  There was no mudslide.

A short time later, Karen Smith, public health director for the state of California, asked Dean to become deputy state public health director. 

Dean asked, Why me?  Smith answered, Because you make decisions.

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Follow the science, or follow the money

June 23, 2021

I had forgotten this until recently, but there was an earlier version of Covid, which the U.S. and other countries eliminated without vaccines and without lockdowns.

The technical name of the current virus is SARS-CoV-2, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus-version 2.

The earlier version, SARS-CoV-1, emerged in 2002-2004.  It was contained by means of testing people with symptoms, isolating and quarantining infected people and restricting travel to and from infected regions.

Only about 8,000 people worldwide were ever infected, and about 10 percent of them died.

SARS-Cov-2 would have been more difficult to control.  It is less deadly, but more infectious, and it is infectious before symptoms appear.

Even so, governments such as Taiwan and New Zealand acted immediately to trace contacts and isolate and quarantine the sick.  They succeeded in stamping it out with relatively few deaths.

The USA, UK and European Union nations did not follow suit.

Here in the USA, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the President’s chief adviser on the coronavirus, said the coronavirus was just like the ‘flu.  Back in February, 2020, he said the danger was “miniscule” and wearing of masks unnecessary.

By the time the U.S. government and state governments decided to take the virus seriously, it was already well established.  More than 600,000 Americans have died. 

The conventional wisdom now is that Covid may never completely go away.

What explains governmental failure, and apparent refusal to learn from failure?  I don’t know. 

The policy of the U.S. and many other Western nations is to rely exclusively on patented vaccines to control Covid. 

I’m all for vaccines.  I got vaccinated myself as soon as I could.  But the vaccine-only policy harms people in poor countries who won’t get vaccines anytime soon.  The policy only helps the big pharmaceutical companies.

I strongly recommend reading Thomas Neuburger’s good article on this topic.

LINK

The Politics of ‘Follow the Science’ by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.  “Ivermectin is cheap and exists.  Undeveloped vaccines, with governments desperate to finance and promote them, are money in the bank for years.”

Who shall decide, when doctors disagree?

June 22, 2021

Brett Weinstein’s Dark Horse interviews with medical experts about COVID-19 have been taken down from YouTube, and there is a strong possibility that his whole Dark Horse podcast may be banned from YouTube for good.

One of Bertrand Russell’s rules for skeptics is that, when experts disagree, no non-expert opinion can be regarded as certain.

I don’t have any expertise of my own that would qualify me to judge which is the best treatment for COVID-19.  But what qualifies a social media company to judge?

Although experts disagree, the experts on opposing sides are not given equal voices.

There is pressure to focus on vaccines that are patented by big drug companies, and to suppress discussion of possible low-cost treatments that would not be profitable to the big companies.

The Catch-22 case against ivermectin, for example, is that, despite its apparent successes, (1) there have been no clinical trials by rich-country institutions meeting FDA standards and (2) there aren’t going to be any such trials, because there is no financial incentive to conduct them.

Maybe ivermectin is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Why not find out for sure?

LINKS

Why Has ‘Ivermectin’ Become a Dirty Word? by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

Meet the Censored: Brett Weinstein, an interview on TK News.

The mechanisms of action of Ivermectin against SARS-CoV-2: an evidence-based clinical review article by Asiya Delhani-Mobarki and Puya Delhani-Mobarki for the Journal of Antibiotics.

Global trends in clinical studies of ivermectin for COVID-19 by Morimasa Yagisawa, Patrick J. Foster, Hideaki Hanaki and Satoshi Omura for the Japanese Journal of Antibiotics.

Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19 by Drs. Paul Marik, Pierre Kory, Joseph Varon, Gianfranco Umberto Meduri, Jose Iglesias and five others for the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.

Testimony of Pierre Kory, M.D., on Dec. 8, 2020, before the Homeland Security Committee on early treatment of COVID-19.

Delta Force: Notes on Our Newest Variant of Concern by Lambert Strether for Naked Capitalism.   The disease is evolving and adapting.  Are we?

The shortages of catastrophe

June 22, 2021

Many people have noted how a tiny group of billionaires have increased their share of the world’s wealth during the coronavirus pademic.

A blogger named Umair Haque pointed out that this is no coincidence. There are shortages of all kinds of thing across the economy, driven by the pandemic.  This has driven up prices, mainly to the benefit of corporate monopolies and other big businesses, and of the multi-billionaires who control them.

The shortages ripping across the economy are forcing up prices dramatically — and weirdly. The prices, for example, of used cars are skyrocketing. Clothes and food have gotten dramatically more expensive, from what I can see. And of course electronics — well, good luck getting them.

But this isn’t inflation. Sorry, armchair economists. I know that American pundits love to spout seriously on this issue — but they’re wrong. Inflation is a “wage price spiral.” This is something very, very different. Your income isn’t going up, at least not nearly as much as prices are. And prices are going up because of what economists call an “exogenous shock” — an act of God, or in this case, at least, an act of humankind.

These are shortages of catastrophe. They’re caused by what Covid did to global supply chains. It happened something like this — I’ll oversimplify to make the point easy to grasp. For a year or so, the world plunged into lockdown. Demand ground to a halt for many, many things. Retail stores closed in a tidal wave.

And then as lockdown was lifted, demand began to rise. But by this point, global supply chains — which operate on a “just in time” principle — were wrecked, shut down for too long, unable to cope again with normal levels of wants and needs. 

[snip]

Covid’s ripped the global economy apart — but the next wave of shocks coming our way are going to be much, much bigger. Think about climate change. Electronics were already expensive due to microchip shortages as Covid increased demand, but then there was a fire at one of the main suppliers of microchips in the world.

What is climate change going to do? Cause megafires, megafloods, megatyphoons. And yet increasingly, our civilization’s production of stuff is centralized. Your iPhones come from a few megafactories, and so do all those big TVs, cars, even medicines, food, and clothes. That reflects the mega corporations who make megaprofits from all these products — centralization in production reflects centralisation in profits.

One fire took out the factory which supplies much of the world’s microchips. Now imagine what happens as climate change intensifies, and megafires, megafloods, and megatyphoons become the norm. All that centralised production is at severe risk. Maybe this year the iPhone factory burns down, maybe next year, the Tesla factory does. And so on.

But that — massive risk to production — is just one effect. There’s also a massive and heightened risk to distribution. Think how fast Covid shut down distribution — it’s one reason things are more expensive now. Sending things by boats and planes and trucks is harder in an age of lockdowns and checks and so forth. But now imagine what happens if a megatyphoon takes out this shipping lane, or that fleet of super carriers. Or what happens if a mega flood makes that entire region — which products have to travel through — impassable. Or what happens as ports begin to drown.

Disease, drought, floods and storms would disrupt international trade no matter what the trading system.  But global supply chains are much more fragile than they need to be because of the neoliberal drive to prioritize cost-cutting and short-term profits over stability and sustainability. 

In fact, there would probably be breakdowns in that delicate system even without climate- or disease-related crises.

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They say Covid-19 is here to stay

June 11, 2021

The economic incentive of the drug companies is to reduce Covid-19 to a continuing low level threat, both in the USA and abroad, and to have a monopoly on the means of controlling it.

The model is the Great Influenza of 1918.  The ‘flu never went away, it just became something we learned to live with, and people like me get a ‘flu shot every year.

The drug companies seem to be getting their wish.  But their problem is that they do not have a monopoly on Covid-19 treatments.

There is ivermectin. There are other treatments.  There are the vaccines developed by Russia and China.

The U.S. government claims the Russian and Chinese vaccines are ineffective.  Maybe they are, I can’t judge, but an imperfect cure that is available and affordable is better than a perfect cure that you can’t get or can’t afford.

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The pushback against ivermectin for covid

June 9, 2021

Ivermectin is a well-known anti-parasite drug, cheap to make and proven to be safe, that a lot of physicians think is effective against Covid-19.

Several states in India tried it out.  New Covid-19 cases dropped dramatically.

Ivermectin results in three Indian states, vs. one where it was banned

The reaction of India’s public health agency?  Astonishingly, following the guidance of the World Health Organization, they dropped invermectin from a list of recommended treatments.

Physicians in India are still free to prescribe invermectin, but the only treatments with the official seal of approval are the expensive vaccines made by major drug companies, all still in short supply in India. 

I don’t see how this decision benefits anyone except the drug companies themselves.

Nick Corbishley, posting on the Naked Capitalism blog, tells the story:

India’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has executed a policy reversal that could have massive implications for the battle against covid-19, not only in India but around the world. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, are at providing stake.

Providing no explanation whatsoever, the DGHS has overhauled its COVID-19 treatment guidelines and removed almost all of the repurposed medicines it had previously recommended for treating asymptomatic and mild cases.

They include the antibiotic doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine zinc, ivermectin and even multivitamins. The only medicines that are still recommended for early treatment are cold medicines, antipyretics such as paracetamol and inhaled budesonide.

“No other covid-specific medication [is] required,” say the new guidelines, which also discourage practitioners from prescribing unnecessary tests such as CT scans.  [snip]

The decision to remove ivermectin, multivitamins and zinc from the treatment guidelines is hard to comprehend given the current state of play in India — unless one assumes foul play.

After suffering one of the worst covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, India is not just flattening the curve, it is crushing it.

And the widespread use of ivermectin, a potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory with an excellent safety profile, appears to have played an instrumental role.  [snip]

Other countries in the region have already taken notice. Indonesia just approved the use of ivermectin in Kudus, a local contagion hotspot.

This is the last thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical companies whose interests it broadly represents want.

As such, it was no surprise that WHO was delighted with the DGHS’ policy reversal. “Evidence based guidelines from @mohfw DGHS – simple, rational and clear guidance for physicians,” tweeted WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, of Indian descent. “Should be translated and disseminated in all Indian languages.”  [snip]

It’s worth noting that while India’s DGHS has dumped most cheap off-patent treatment options against Covid, including even multivitamins, more expensive patented medicines continue to get the green light.

They include Gilead’s prohibitively expensive antiviral Remdesivir, which DGHS continues to recommend for “select moderate/ severe hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” even though “it is only an experimental drug with potential to harm.” It has also authoriszed the use of the anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, which costs hundreds of dollars a dose.

Source: Naked Capitalism.

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