1/14/21 Covid-19 Update: Please don't hate me
The girl who cried variant
"We're losing the race with coronavirus. Now there’s this variant that will make that race even harder.” - expert in emerging pathogens, January 11,2021
“I’m very, very concerned that we’ve now gone from a virus that we could control to a virus that we really can’t, unless we do something very dramatic,” said Kristian Andersen, an infectious diseases expert at Scripps Research Institute, January 14, 2021
Tl;dr: Encourage everyone you know who is eligible to get vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible; get vaccinated yourself as soon as you are able; err on the side of caution until we know more about the covid variants.
I've resisted sending this email for a few days. I kept meaning to end this listserv at the end of 2020 and wish you all well on your remaining/limited months in the pandemic. I thought I knew what 2021 was going to look like -- white knuckling it to inauguration, collapsing into a ball of relief as Pres.Biden is sworn in and adults take charge of our government/covid response and the US stops abdicating every single responsibility it has to both its citizens and the world, rejoice as the people I love get vaccinated, get vaccinated myself sometime in the summer, hopefully be back in the office and traveling again by the end of 2021. Nice and orderly and predictable after a year that felt anything but.
What's the saying? If you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans? I think maybe God and covid have the same sense of humor, which I'm finding hard to share today.
What do you do when you think a bad thing might be coming but you're not sure? Scream? Hide? Wait? Write an email?
The last thing I want to do is add any additional anxiety or stress into a system already boiling over with them. But the reason I started this newsletter last year was to try to get information about covid to people I care about in the hopes it would help somehow, and so I'm hoping you receive this email in that spirit.
Smart people I trust seem concerned about the developments with the covid variant that's been found in the UK and South Africa, as well as now the US. As we've learned too well, viruses are smart. Like the velociraptor opening the door in Jurassic Park... clever girl. This virus is learning how to mutate itself to become more infectious - to find more hosts and become more deadly - and we're still learning in real time what that means. But experts seem to be quickly revising their models and projections for the trajectory of where the pandemic could go now. Even if the variant isn't more deadly -- the more infection circulating in the population, the more people will die. What was true a year ago is still true now --- this is a serious, sometimes fatal virus without a cure.
What should have been the focus of the US Government for the last ten months -- how to vaccinate its population and the world as quickly as possible; treating this disease like the global threat that it is to personal safety and local/national/intl economies and life and livelihood --- is now just starting to get figured out. The vaccine rollout has been a joke.
And now here we are - racing a clock and racing a virus and rapidly losing time and ammo. The Pfizer/Moderna vaccines are still 95% effective. The more people who are vaccinated, the less virus there is circulating in people, and the less of a chance it has to mutate/infect others. Herd immunity. It was supposed to work basically like polio - achieve global herd immunity and fight small outbreaks where they occurred.
But as the virus mutates, treatments like monoclonal antibodies and serum become less effective. And we have to learn again in real time again what is different about the newest/next variant. Does it affect children differently? Is it transmitted through more than aerosolization? Which vaccines work against it? How well?
So my plea to you all today is just to err on the side of caution. We've all had moments where we've lapsed and done things that perhaps were riskier than we would have liked. I definitely have. We're desperate for the pandemic to be over and we need tastes of "normal" and the idea that this virus could somehow be "worse" is just psychologically intolerable.
But I think it might behoove us all to start allowing for the possibility that this year might not look the way we were hoping it would, and to recognize that now maybe isn't the best time to make those riskier choices. Slowly and gently give ourselves the little pep talks that we'll need to survive whatever bad news may (or may not!) be coming. At the very beginning of the pandemic Bill Gates wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that we should hope for the best and prepare for the worst. That still seems like the right approach.
So I'll give you the same unsolicited advice I gave my family: wear N95 or double layer masks if you have them (especially if you're in an at risk group); dial back activities until we know more; tell everyone you know to get vaccinated.
So much research shows that friends/family play a huge role in influencing the vaccine decisions of their networks. Push people back toward real science. Point to the experts who have been right, consistently, over time (are we still calling this a China Hoax on Fox News)? Speak love loudly where and when you can: friends don't let friends not get vaccinated.
Stay safe, be well, and holler if you have any questions!