China’s is losing its grip on COVID, which should worry the entire world

Columbia University history professor Adam Tooze has an excellent column up at Substack addressing China and COVID:

Amongst Xi’s regime’s proudest boasts is the fact that China has registered only slightly more than 5000 COVID deaths compared to more than 1 million suffered by the US. From 15 May 2020 to 15 February 2022, whilst many thousands around the world were dying from COVID every day, there were only two COVID-19 deaths in mainland China. Even allowing for propagandistic understatement of the Chinese numbers, Xi’s China has clearly been far more successful in protecting its population from the worst effects of virus than any country in the West. As a result, it cannot be stated too often, China’s life expectancy overtook that in the United States in 2021, a truly historic marker.

But now, only weeks after Xi’s triumphant party Congress, the zero covid policy is in crisis. The disease is spreading and China’s population is no longer willing to put up with it.

Desperate locked-in workers and indignant students have taken to the streets. Bottle-throwing residents have waged pitched battles with riot police. Chinese diaspora communities have braved the ominous presence of embassy security officials to stage protest meetings.

This is clearly a test of Xi’s authority, the most profound since he has taken power. One must profoundly admire the courage of the protestors and sympathize with the outrage and desperation triggered by successive waves of capricious lockdowns. In large parts of China, ordinary life has become hard to sustain. At the same time it is hard to resist Schadenfreude at the expense of Xi. Xi Jinping’s ‘myth of infallibility’ is being tested.

But as attractive as it may seem to side with the protests against Zero Covid this begs the question. What is the policy alternative? The fact that abandoning zero COVID would be a blow to Xi does not make that the right policy. The dilemma facing Beijing goes beyond the question of Xi’s legitimacy. As ludicrous as zero COVID has come to seem, as oppressive and capricious as its intrusions are in the everyday lives of Chinese people, it has saved huge numbers of lives. And if Beijing were to follow the demand to abandon the policy, this would likely result in a public health disaster not just for the CCP but for China.

Omicron is less dangerous than Delta but its infectiousness is extremely high. If the pandemic is allowed to run unchecked, hundreds of millions of people will become infected. Even with a low rate of severe cases, China’s medical system will be placed under impossible strain, not just in a handful of cities as in 2020, but across the country. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, if not more, will likely die.

Tooze notes also that there may be a way out, if China is willing to do thus far it has resisted:

There is a way out of Beijing horrendous impasse: mass vaccination and an ample supply of anti virals to help patients fight the disease. But that begs the question.

China was the first country to vaccinate. It has vaccines which when used in a triple dose are highly effective against hospitalization and death. The lack of mRNA vaccines is not the issue. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of China’s huge population have completed the basic two-course regime. Where Beijing has failed is in rapidly delivering the third and fourth round of boosters and in ensuring that the most vulnerable population, those over 60, are properly covered. As of the latest figures cited by Bloomberg, “only 69% of those aged 60 and above and just 40% of over 80-year-olds have had booster shots.” That leaves tens of millions of elderly with no protection at all. They are the people who died in Hong Kong.

As far as I am aware there is no fully convincing explanation for this failure to provide comprehensive coverage particularly of the elderly.

There are a lot of good studies in the specialist literature in medical sociology and psychology that help to explain some of the vaccine resistance.

China became a victim of its own haste in rolling out vaccines on a rough and ready basis to those under the age of 60. This created the perception that the vaccines were not properly tested or safe for use amongst more fragile elderly people.

China has an unfortunate track record of vaccine scandals and the lack of good data on the safety and efficacy of China’s shots among the elderly in homegrown vaccine’s clinical trials does not build confidence.

Health workers have been cautious about recommending vaccines for those with high blood pressure or autoimmune disorders and given the negligible chance of COVID infection, there seemed little reason to take the risk. In most of China, COVID has never been more than a news report. Thanks to the success of the 2020 measures, many cities have never logged a single case and elderly people regard the threat as very remote.

The Chinese population and the regime also suffered from “other people’s problem”-syndrome. Not unreasonably they convinced themselves that COVID was an issue for the failed and degenerate West. Rather than joining a broad global front to endorse precautionary vaccination and boosting with whatever vaccinations were too hand, Beijing allowed the media to spread questions about the efficacy and safety of vaccines in general.

Vaccines are the way out. Vaccines have always been the way out since they were introduced. Not lockdowns. Not masks. Not testing. Vaccines.

And yet, in my cohort of over-60 friends and family, I am still the only one who has gotten the bivalent booster. Many of these people are not vaccine-resistant. I really don’t know what the explanation is for how many older Americans who know better are not keeping their vaccines up-to-date. It’s puzzling why the simple act of protecting oneself from illness and death is not a default behavior.

This morning’s roommate search strangeness

I ask everyone to fill out a Google Forms questionnaire before I will even talk to them about my room for rent.

It weeds out many, many people. Saves everyone time, but some people don’t see it that way.

In this part of the country there are lots of “sovereign citizen” types who don’t like being asked to fill anything out. Of course, we used to say these people simply suffer from some form of oppositional defiance disorder. This makes them see any request that they follow procedures or rules as a trampling of their rights.

My family has been full of these people. Angry loners who see expressing defiance and unfiltered anger as the ultimate expressions of individuality. They all work dead-end jobs because they’ve never learned how to get along in a world that requires compromises for society and the workplace to function properly.

Anyway, the refusal of people like this to fill out the questionnaire is its own way to weed someone out. So that saves me having to waste any time at all on them. The last thing I want is to live with some version of my angry right-wing mother. (RIP.)

I have a guy responding to the roommate ad currently who was completely resistant to the questionnaire. When he finally did complete it, no shock that he answered the vaccine question as shown below.

The mountain of evidence we now have that vaccines save lives and this person has still had not a single shot.

Crazy. There’s a lot of that here in red state America.

California legislator who championed vaccine laws in the face of death threats has been term-limited out of office

You wanna talk about heroes? This guy is a hero.

A California lawmaker who rose to national prominence by muscling through some of the country’s strongest vaccination laws is leaving the state legislature later this year after a momentous tenure that made him a top target of the boisterous and burgeoning movement against vaccination mandates.

State Sen. Richard Pan, a bespectacled and unassuming pediatrician who continued treating low-income children during his 12 years in the state Senate and Assembly, has been physically assaulted and verbally attacked for working to tighten childhood vaccine requirements — even as Time magazine hailed him as a “hero.” Threats against him intensified in 2019, becoming so violent that he needed a restraining order and personal security detail.

“It got really vicious, and the tenor of these protests inside the Capitol building didn’t make you feel safe, yet he stood his ground,” said Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health from 2015 to 2019. “Dr. Pan is unusual because he has the knowledge and belief in science, but also the conviction to act on it.”

“That takes courage,” she added. “He’s had a tremendous impact in California, and there’s going to be a hole in the legislature when he’s gone.”

The Democrat from Sacramento is leaving the Capitol because of legislative term limits that restrict state lawmakers to 12 years of service. He has overseen state budget decisions on health care and since 2018 has chaired the Senate Health Committee, a powerful position that has allowed him to shape health care coverage for millions of Californians.

Pan, 56, helped lead the charge to restore vision, dental, and other benefits to California’s Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal, after they were slashed during the Great Recession. Since then, he has pushed to expand social services to some of the most vulnerable enrollees.

You can read the rest at this link

Calif. State Sen. Richard Pan and his family.

Now that the FDA approved new COVID booster shots, when should you get one?

Now that the FDA has given the go-ahead for the “new and improved” Moderna and Pfizer booster shots, questions arise.

This article in The Atlantic covers the bases quite well.

In less than two weeks, you could walk out of a pharmacy with a next-generation COVID booster in your arm. Just a few days ago, the Biden administration indicated that the first updated COVID-19 vaccines would be available shortly after Labor Day to Americans 12 and older who have already had their primary series. Unlike the shots the U.S. has now, the new doses from Pfizer and Moderna will be bivalent, which means they’ll contain genetic material based both on the ancestral strain of the coronavirus and on two newer Omicron subvariants that are circulating in the U.S.

These shots’ new formulation promises some level of protection that simply hasn’t been possible with the original vaccines. “A bivalent vaccine will have some benefit for almost everybody who gets it,” Rishi Goel, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told me. “How much benefit that is, we’re still not exactly sure.” People who aren’t at high risk could end up only marginally more protected against severe outcomes, and no one thinks the shots will banish COVID infections for good. There is, however, a simple rule of thumb that nearly everyone can follow to maximize the uncertain gains from a shot: Wait three to six months from your last COVID infection or vaccination.

Put that rule into action, and it plays out a little differently, depending on your circumstances.

You can read the rest of the article at this link.

How much less are people dying from COVID based on their vaccination status?

Paul Campos over at Lawyers, Guns and Money, always a reliable source, offers some interesting stats:

I’ve crunched some CDC numbers on the question of how much protection the COVID vaccines are currently offering against dying from COVID.

A couple of caveats:

(1) These are mortality stats, so they don’t say anything about about what sort of protection the vaccines offer against serious and/or long-term illness from the disease. The most reasonable assumption would be that the rates of risk reduction would be similar, but that’s a guesstimate.

(2) The stats are two months old, but since the rolling daily average of COVID deaths in the USA has been pretty much stuck between 300 and 400 a day since mid-April they probably represent the current situation pretty closely.

OK, the numbers:

Annual mortality rate from COVID among the unvaccinated, all ages:

285 per 100,000

  • Vaccinated no booster: 48 per 100,000
  • Vaccinated single booster: 37 per 100,000
  • Vaccinated double booster: 12 per 100,000
  • Annual all-cause mortality rate in the USA pre-COVID pandemic, all ages: 867 per 100,000

Mortality rate from COVID by age group:

Among 65+ years old

  • Unvaccinated: 569 per 100,000
  • Vaccinated no booster: 90 per 100,000
  • Vaccinated single booster: 76 per 100,000
  • Vaccinated double booster: 26 per 100,000
  • Baseline annual all-cause mortality rate in this cohort pre-COVID was about 5,000 per 100,000

Those are remarkable differences.

Campos goes on to note about a stray zero number of cases in the 50-64 age group:

You might be curious about the zero figure. I’m extrapolating here from weekly reports, and it so happens that in the last week of May 2022, which represents the most recent data, not a single double boosted person in the United States between the ages of 50-64 died of COVID. This is pretty remarkable given that there are about 40 million people in that age group in the population. Looking back over the previous several weeks, this was also the case in most of them: zero deaths from COVID among the double boosted in this age group.

That’s right.

Zero reported deaths in the double-boosted 50-64 age group.

If you’re over 50 and not double boosted, you’re plainly and simply playing Russian Roulette with your life.

You can read his entire post at this link.

If you are at increased or high risk for COVID, should you want until the expected “bivalent” vaccine boosters become available?

I’m at that age where I know and love a lot of people in the 50-and-older age group, which is also the primary population that is approved for the full round of COVID booster shots.

Yet, according to the good folks at AARP, “[T]allies from the CDC show the vast majority of the 50-plus population is lagging behind on boosters. As of July 20, less than 30 percent of adults 50 and older who were eligible for a second boost had received one.”

Those numbers are not good, and clearly include more than just people who are ignorant or mis-informed about vaccines.

There has been much in the news lately about the fact that the government is in the process of likely approving “bivalent” vaccines, which would provide two-prong protection against not only the original strains of COVID, but also the latest variations like Omicron.

So the question remains: if you have not gotten boosted, should you wait until these new vaccines are approved and widely available?

The consensus view of qualified experts is that you should not wait.

Another reason not to fall behind on your booster schedule: It’s still unclear when, exactly, the next generation of shots will be available. The Health and Human Services Department on July 29 announced that the new vaccines could be here by early fall, but Jha said in previous press conferences that it could be a bit longer before their distribution is more widespread.

Clinical trial data still needs to be submitted. And federal agencies and independent experts need to review and recommend the shots — a process that, even under urgent circumstances, can still take some time. Among those recommendations would be the wait time, if any, to receive a new bivalent booster after receiving one of the currently available COVID vaccines.

There’s also the possibility that we’re dealing with another dominant variant this fall, different from the ones the new vaccines are designed to target.

“Given the unknowns that still exist, when it comes to my parents, my advice is still get that second booster. It’s a couple of months [until the new shots are potentially available], we don’t know what’s going to happen in the meantime, and we do know that getting a booster now is going to help,” Closser says.

The AARP article is good. I’ve already shared it with my over-50 friends whom I think might find it useful.

You can read the rest at this link.

When returning to the office also means dealing with co-workers’ annoying habits

Sarah Needleman’s newly posted article up at the Wall Street Journal is a reminder that returning to office work means returning to life around co-workers who smack their lips when they eat and hum loudly at their desk.

It didn’t take long for Gary Bush to become reacquainted with the harsh realities of office life after two years of working out of his home in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Within a matter of days, the sales manager for an auto dealership found himself having to break up a spat between two employees over a large container of apple juice. One said she brought it in and left it in the office refrigerator to drink later that day. The other conceded to consuming most of it, but argued that he wasn’t at fault because it wasn’t labeled as hers.

“Any little thing that happens they come to me,” said Mr. Bush, 36 years old. “It’s like I’m a babysitter.”

When Andrew Hashem resumed working in an office for a Chicago-area software company, he figured that stepping into a glass office and closing the door to make a phone call would be enough to discourage colleagues from interrupting him. “They would knock, I’d point to my headset and they would still come in,” he said.

A new makeshift bar set up near Mr. Hashem’s desk for Wednesday afternoon social gatherings added to his discomfort. The fun would often start while he was still on the clock, but many of his peers weren’t.

“I could hear them having loud conversations and playing music,” said the 35-year-old, who recently changed to a fully remote job with a healthcare company. “It made it really hard to concentrate.”

Throughout the COVID pandemic I have worked full-time and not worked from home once.

I am definitely a person who is more productive around other people.

But if you’re more productive without Bob from accounting stopping by your desk to regale you with stories about his fascination with whiskey and cigars, I feel for you.

You can read the rest of the article here.

There may be 4 million people or more out of work with long COVID

From NPR’s Andrea Hsu:

As the number of people with post-COVID symptoms soars, researchers and the government are trying to get a handle on how big an impact long COVID is having on the U.S. workforce. It’s a pressing question, given the fragile state of the economy. For more than a year, employers have faced staffing problems, with jobs going unfilled month after month.

Now, millions of people may be sidelined from their jobs due to long COVID. Katie Bach, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, drew on survey data from the Census Bureau, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the Lancet to come up with what she says is a conservative estimate: 4 million full-time equivalent workers out of work because of long COVID.

“That is just a shocking number,” says Bach. “That’s 2.4% of the U.S. working population.”

The Biden administration has already taken some steps to try to protect workers and keep them on the job, issuing guidance that makes clear that long COVID can be a disability and relevant laws would apply. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, employers must offer accommodations to workers with disabilities unless doing so presents an undue burden.

You can read the entire article here.

Scary stuff. It’s why I’ve started wearing masks again at work.

Newest Omicron subvariant is acting different than the others, worrying scientists

My local county health department gives residents one of three different threat levels for covid cases in the area: green (best), yellow (worse) and red (worst).

For the first time in a long while our threat level moved to yellow from green.

This article in the New York Times gives one possible reason:

The most transmissible variant yet of the coronavirus is threatening a fresh wave of infections in the United States, even among those who have recovered from the virus fairly recently.

The subvariant of Omicron known as BA.5 is now dominant, according to federal estimates released Tuesday, and together with BA.4, another subvariant, it is fueling an outbreak of cases and hospitalizations.

Though the popularity of home testing means reported cases are a significant undercount of the true infection rate, the share of tests that come back positive is shooting upward and is now higher than during most other waves of the pandemic. According to the C.D.C., the risk from Covid-19 is increasing in much of the country.

“I think there’s an underappreciation of what it’s going to do to the country, and it already is exerting its effect,” said Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, who has written about the subvariant.

I work at a university. The students are gone until the second week in August. So I’m not too worried about work until that time. But I’ve started wearing a mask again for indoor spaces like supermarkets, coffee shops and convenience stores.

Might be overkill for right now, but if you wait until the threat level is high, it will be too late for many people.

My nightmare is still Long Covid. I know someone who has it.

My friend was never hospitalized. But for 1.5 years his life has been a succession of symptoms that make normal enjoyment of everyday life impossible. Symptoms that never go away completely.

If I have a choice between masking up now and again, and possibly living the rest of my life with symptoms that make me feel tired and run down every day, I’m choosing the mask every time.

There are even organizations popping up (such as this one) to support all the people with Long Covid.

In Japan, covid control has been easy in a country where the greater good is paramount

Japan has been extraordinarily successful (among nations with the largest economies) in controlling covid.

This New York Times articles explore some of the reasons:

To understand how Japan has fared better than most of the world in containing the dire consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, consider Mika Yanagihara, who went shopping for flowers this past week in central Tokyo. Even when walking outside in temperatures in the mid-90s, she kept the lower half of her face fully covered.

“People will stare at you,” Ms. Yanagihara, 33, said, explaining why she didn’t dare take off her mask. “There is that pressure.”

Japan’s Covid death rate, just one-twelfth of that in the United States, is the lowest among the world’s wealthiest nations. With the world’s third-largest economy and 11th-largest populace, Japan also tops global rankings in vaccination and has consistently had one of the globe’s lowest infection rates.

Although no government authority has ever mandated masks or vaccinations or instituted lockdowns or mass surveillance, Japan’s residents have largely evaded the worst ravages of the virus. Instead, in many ways, Japan let peer pressure do a lot of the work.

Even now, as average daily cases have fallen to just 12 per 100,000 residents — about a third of the average in the United States — a government survey in May found that close to 80 percent of people working in offices or enrolled in school wear masks and about 90 percent do so when using public transit. Movie theaters, sports stadiums and shopping malls continue to request that visitors wear masks, and for the most part, people comply. The term “face pants” has become a buzzword, implying that dropping a mask would be as embarrassing as taking off one’s underwear in public.

I like the quote from the guy who basically says that extreme social conformity cuts both ways, but it happened to be a godsend for covid control.

You can read the rest here.