Tag: Covid-19

Wonder Why so many Americans are wary of Vaccines

 
In the past, US Anti-vaxxer protests have not gone unnoticed by the world. And while it was surprising then, anyone who was curious enough to dig a bit deeper, also saw that the US had at least a few more vaccinations prescribed to newborns-through-18 than many other countries. So, at least to me, questioning the need for all the vaccines by some groups seemed understandable (though not justified, especially when one’s personal choice could put others’ health at risk too). But thanks to Covid-19, a good part of the world became keen to get vaccinated, so they could go back to a normal, pre-Covid kind of life.
 
Early on with the Covid-19 vaccines, it seemed a bit concerning that educated populations from developed countries, were trusting of the Covid vaccines. Especially considering that in the past, vaccines took years to develop, even for less rapidly mutating diseases. And yet, in a record time, a few pharma companies had created vaccines for a dangerous variant of the flu that the world had not seen before. And one that continued to mutate into concern-causing variants through the vaccination drives. So while a considerable population of the developed and developing world scrambled for vaccines, it was not surprising how part of the population in the US continued to resist getting vaccinated.
 
The media and propaganda played a big part no less. Readiness or resistance toward the vaccine getting influenced by one’s political stance or religious beliefs. It gave us a glimpse of what the combination of human bias, politics, religion and media, are capable of.
 
While most of us have lost at least a few friends or family to Covid, and seeing how the vaccines have been safe so far, it was surprising to see some people in the US stay put on their decision not to get vaccinated.
 
As per a BBC article from a few days ago, US President Joe Biden was insistent that employers ensure their staff gets vaccinated. And a number of US citizens across professions remained adamant about not taking the shot, even if it cost them their job. Many seemed to be from the healthcare sector.
 
I wondered if those from the healthcare sector, being closer to the problem and solution, knew something about the vaccines that the rest of us did not. Especially since the virus continues to kill about 1500 Americans daily.
 

A few months ago, I was reading the exceptional book, ‘The Signal and the Noise‘ by Nate Silver [get a copy of it, it is priceless!]. An incident detailed in the book from American history made me wonder if that could be one of the causes that sowed the seed of doubt about vaccines or strong government interventions among Americans, making them continue to resist it. Especially since the country is among the top in innovation, so we are talking about an intelligent people, not some isolated, small town population in an underdeveloped country, cut-off from world perspective.

In the 1970’s, there was a common belief at that a major flu epidemic struck roughly once in a decade, and by 1976, the world expected one to hit.

In January, 1976 at Fort Dix, David Lewis, a nineteen year old private who had returned from holiday, had the flu – a common occurrence at army bases, thanks to soldiers returning from holiday bringing back some variant of the flu from their hometowns, and into cramped up bases, where it would spread. However, it was almost always the common variants, causing no concern. However, private Lewis, while on a march, collapsed and was later declared dead. The cause was pneumonia.

Hundreds of soldiers suffered from the common A/Victoria flu that year. Blood samples sent to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) showed that some had the more disturbing H1N1, or swine flu; the one responsible for the 1918-20 Spanish flu. Around 200 soldiers at Fort Dix tested positive for swine flu, with private Lewis being the only casualty. While flu season had passed by then, scientists feared that by the next winter, there could be a severe outbreak of a more mutant strain of swine flu.

US President Gerald Ford’s secretary of health, F. David Mathews, estimated a potential death rate of a million. Fighting to repair his public image, President Ford thought that preparing his country for the epidemic would be the perfect way to do it. He rallied Congress to allow a USD 180 million plan to manufacture 200 million doses of vaccine, and ordered a mass vaccination program.

It was winter in the southern hemisphere, but to everyone’s surprise, there were no instances of H1N1. Criticism started to build. No other western country had called for such drastic measures.

Instead of admitting their mistake, the Ford administration went rogue. It created panic-causing public service announcements and telecast them at regular intervals. One TV message showed a healthy fifty-five year old mocking the vaccine, only to shown on his deathbed moments later.

The result was an American public that was fear-struck, by the disease and the vaccine. Under pressure from drug manufacturers, Congress indemnified them from legal liabilities that could arise from manufacturing defects. Vaccine production was rushed, without adequate testing. Compared to government estimates of 80%, polls found that only about 50% Americans intended to get vaccinated.

The vaccination program began in October. Three Pittsburgh citizens died shortly after receiving their shots. Similar news poured in from other cities, causing concern among those who had taken the shot.

By late fall, a bigger problem emerged. 500 of the 50 million vaccinated, began exhibiting symptoms of a rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis. This occurrence among the vaccinated, was ten times its usual incidence in general population (one case per million). Manufacturing defects due to the rushed production seemed a possible cause. The vaccine program ended on December 16th.

Long story short, the outbreak at Fort Dix was an isolated one, with no other H1N1 cases across the country. The government faced USD 2.6 billion in pharma liability claims. Cities and towns saw upright citizens who had contracted Guillain-Barré. Within a couple of years, the number of Americans willing to take flu shots dwindled to about one million.

One cannot say for sure if a horrific experience like this is what might have left Americans so wary of Covid-19 related government assurances and the vaccinations themselves. But it did make me wonder.

 

 

CoHid

Two days ago, I was reminded of a Medium post I had read in the early days of the pandemic. One of the interesting things about it, was that the author attempted to understand and explain how the Covid-19 virus might be acting; and therefore, what might be working as a line of treatment, and what might not. Whether the details were right or wrong, there was a sincerity in the author’s approach and intention in trying to explain the virus in more detail than most governments, world bodies and news platforms have in all the months since.

You would agree that since early last year, most of us across countries have been subjected to copious amounts of fake or unverified news – be it from country leaders, news outlets, world bodies or the garbage dump that is social media. And some of them have caused plenty of death and damage – from people trying to drink sanitizers to procuring or injecting medicines without it being prescribed to them; or worse, an overwhelmed medical fraternity trying to cope while perhaps governments and world bodies were not being as transparent about what they knew.

What is really surprising (more like concerning), was that in the days after I read this particular article, when I tried to look for it to share with someone, I could not find it. The post was not there, and the particular account on Medium had been suspended. A bit premature, considering nobody had the faintest clue about the virus anyway?

On the upside, two days ago, I realized I had saved a copy of it on an app. Using the post and author details, I even found a ‘True or Fake’ post about it that broadly rubbished it. And I found another article written a few days after the post was published that debunks it too. However, the fact that it was posted on April 05, 2020, and was taken off in 12 hours of being posted, seemed odd, since it was not exactly suggesting witchcraft.

Here are a few highlights from the post itself, that I believe could have been useful in the world’s attempt at dealing with the virus, and could have saved many lives since last year. Now I am not from the biology field, so pardon my attempt to explain this. You’ll also find the full Medium article in the link below.

Here’s what I understood from the Medium article:

Source: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/how-your-lungs-work/oxygen-and-blood
  1. How oxygen and blood works -oxygen enters the lungs, which has millions of alveoli (air sacs) which are surrounded by blood capillaries. The hemoglobin (iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein in the red blood cells) in blood helps with the exchange – it absorbs the oxygen from the alveoli and carries it in the blood, circulating it across the body. The blood also collects Carbon Dioxide from the body and transfers it via the same process back into the lungs that exhale it.
  2. According to the author, the Covid-19 virus enters the lungs and binds with the heme groups (a metal complex, with iron as its central metal atom that binds and releases molecular oxygen) in hemoglobin, making it unable to absorb oxygen from the lungs and supply it to the various organs. This in turn, leads to multi-organ failure as the organs are deprived of oxygen.
  3. One of the key points of the 8-ish minute read, was that a large problem with Covid, is not that the lungs are incapable of pumping, But rather, that the oxygen going into the lungs is unable to be carried to the organs. 
  4. The picture I got from the description, was that the virus that damaged the hemp groups, created a sort of layer on the alveoli/blood vessel interface.
  5. As the hemoglobin is permanently damaged, the kidneys release Erythropoietin, a hormone that instructs the bone marrow to create new red blood cells with functioning hemoglobin (elevated hemoglobin apparently being one of the indicators of the storm to come).
  6. It got into some more details around how the free iron from the infected hemoglobin is floating around the body, becoming increasingly difficult for the liver to deal with. The liver then secretes the aminotransferase (ALT) enzyme, another important sign to watch for as the patient’s condition grows critical.
  7. He then proceeds to say that the only solution left, is not a ventilator, but maxing out on oxygen given to the patient, even suggesting a hyperbaric chamber if one is available. A hyperbaric chamber is a pressurized chamber where air pressure is two to three times higher than normal air pressure. Used to treat conditions like decompression sickness, gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc., the chamber helps the lungs can gather much more oxygen than would be possible breathing even pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
  8. He highlights the importance of Hydroxychloroquine – In Malaria, the parasite targets hemoglobin as a food source, and hydroxychloroquine (or chloroquine) are used to treat the condition. Since hemoglobin is affected in Covid-19 too, the author believes chloroquine would similarly help guard the hemoglobin from being affected by the virus.

This article is important and it being taken down last year is concerning for 3 reasons:

  1. Even though there is some debate around exactly what happens to the lungs with Covid-19, this author’s theory is comparatively similar to the ongoing one about how the cytokine storm caused by the virus and the treatment (steroids) can cause multi-organ failure.
  2. It states that ventilators don’t help at all. Since it isn’t about the lungs not being able to pump (for which you’d need a ventilator), but rather the body not receiving oxygen. Yet countries like India scrambled to manufacture tens of thousands of them when perhaps they should have been looking for something that actually addresses the problem.
  3. It clearly highlights the need for oxygen, which is not a solution in itself, but seems like the last straw that patients need while the main treatment takes effect. Yet countries like India were caught grossly short of medical oxygen during the second wave.

Simply put, the medical community is overwhelmed with just saving lives. So it was up to world bodies, research labs, world governments and their medical advisors and others, to get information, study it, trawl the web looking for potentials and possibilities in the flimsiest of notions, and helping find solutions.

And yet, where we as a world were suggested the most absurd of solutions, from banging utensils, to lighting lamps and chanting absurdities like ‘Go Corona Go’, to having a bright or UV light inside the body to kill the virus, or injecting the body with disinfectants; I think it was criminal on the part of Medium and whoever else involved, to have taken down that post on 5th April, 2020, even though it has gaping holes in the theory or solutions.

Here’s the link to download the article: Covid-19 had us all fooled – Mycahya Eggleston
(I’m sorry there are lines missing on the top and bottom of each page, was quite a challenge to convert it to PDF)

Here are two videos you should check out:

  1. Managing COVID 19 Through Timelines I Dr. Mathew Varghese – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffqYYWY06rs
  2. Top scientists shaken by revelations that Covid isn’t natural but a lab-made virus that ‘escaped’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlO8sKRynBY

Don’t Worry, Nothing’ll Happen

What was missing before and during the 2007-08 global financial meltdown, and during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Or during the Spanish Flu? Or in Nazi Germany? Something that perhaps could have prevented the resulting tragedies?

 

In 2002, somewhere on the outskirts of Mangalore, I was part of the way through third-year engineering. One day, we had classes in an adjoining campus building, one we thought was exclusively for junior college which was also on campus.

After class on the first floor, a few of us close buddies were talking about random topic by a large open window. It was the first time we were in that building which seemed empty on that day. One of my buddies, this giant we call ‘Bear’, was suspiciously quiet through the conversation between the rest of us. Known for the occasional prank, it was almost as though he was concocting something sinister while the rest of us spoke. Then, and without warning, he picked me up, and held me outside the large window. It was a sunny afternoon, and I could feel myself slowly slipping out of the Bear’s hands. As I said, ‘WTF’ and asked him to pull me back in, he very calmly goes, ‘nothing’ll happen, man’. Horrified, my head was doing a ‘time-to-eventuality’ countdown, as I struggled without much success to get a grip on his arm. Finally, after the prank probably got boring, he got me back in. And while I was still breathing a sigh of relief, he seemed really calm, almost like he was confident of his estimates on the safety margin he had for that prank. And yet, I knew that I had little grip, and that I was mere seconds away from slipping to the tipping point from where there was nothing Bear could have done to stop the fall.

(Mis)calculations, and (over)confidence is a cocktail we humans seem addicted to. And sometimes we get the proportions right, and sometimes, terribly wrong. And the worst times are where we are overly confident of the proportions despite glaring evidence to the contrary.

This excerpt from the book ‘The Signal and the Noise’ by Nate Silver mentions one such instance. The global financial meltdown of 2007-08, triggered by the collapse of suspicious mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). [Excerpt at the bottom of the post]

As per this excerpt, apart from overlooking the obvious risks of these precariously balanced investment instruments, even as late as 2005, S&P conducted a simulation to assess housing prices. It found a potential 20% drop over the next 2 years. But S&P perhaps was content in knowing that their simulation successfully captured the risk. And that was it.

Cut to more recent times. There are far lower chances of a developed or developing nation getting into a full-scale war, than there is of a virus outbreak.

And yet, most countries across the world, many of whom probably have dozens upon dozens of battle possibilities and multiple theatre scenarios, most were caught with their pants around their ankles when Covid-19 hit. From delaying shutting down international borders, to shutting state-borders and trying to contain the spread.

Covid-19 was of course, a virus more dangerous than most the world has seen in recent times. But yet, the countries that did manage to contain it in the months that followed, were not the most confident or the ones most capable or equipped in containing it. It was almost in all cases, those countries whose leaders accepted (either publicly or in private), that they were dealing with something beyond their abilities and experience; so they followed a more basic, first principles approach to tackle the challenge. And emerged largely successful.

As is common knowledge now, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld). The quicker we accept the situation when something is outside the realm of our understanding, and resist the urge to apply our standard actions and reactions to it, the faster we can begin to deal with it.

The problem is, these instances keep repeating and will continue to repeat. In our personal lives, and also in more far-reaching world events. We are wired in such a manner, that each time a crisis is approaching or presents itself, we tend to react in the same manner. By wasting time in applying what we know, without attempting to first understand.

 

Answer: Humility

 

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the face of humble leadership the world yearns for.