I managed to get out to the racetrack last night, for the first time in ages. It was wonderful to see many familiar faces, many of whom are reading this (Hi again!)
My horses didn’t win (a second and two thirds), but, regardless, just being there was a win. A huge win.
On a similar note, I look at the graph on the bottom left… the inter-provincial vaccination rates, which is some ways has turned into a two-horse race; Quebec out in front and B.C. trying to catch up… and never quite getting there. But again, there are no losers in this race… only different rates of winning.
And… on that note… in the global vaccine horse race, check out the next two graphs. As of this moment, when it comes to “at least one vaccination”, Canada is number one in the world. And if this were a music chart, we’d be number one with a bullet.
Just a month ago, we were behind the U.S, Israel, the U.K. and Chile. And… we are now ahead of all of them. The steepness of the angle with which that thick red line cuts through all of them is impressive. Let’s hope we don’t chart like a one-hit wonder that starts tailing off, never to be heard from again.
That being said, the graph on the right tells an important story; the darker colour means fully vaccinated. Above that is the single-dose crowd. By that measure, we’re still far behind… but…
… as per below, you can see the rate at which we caught up and continue to run. It’s impressive, and there is, from everything I can tell, no letting up. Recent numbers in Canada have implied that the anti-vax crowd has shrunk… and that the sum of “hesitant to no way” is now below 10%. All of this while we’re vaccinating 450,000 arms a day, whether it’s first or second dose. More than one out of 100 people is getting one shot or another… every single day.
The staggeringly impressive drop-offs in case numbers is indicative of a strategy that seems to be paying off… what’s better, give a single dose to 100 people, or fully vaccinate 50 and leave the other 50 un-jabbed. Clearly, from what we’re seeing – and as much as some might disagree with messing with the science – it would appear the former strategy, the one Canada adopted a while back… was the way to go. “Lots of people who may get a little sick” is a lot better than “some people who won’t get sick, coupled with others who definitely will.”
I think the analysis, in hindsight, will show that single-vaccine people infect far less people than those with no vaccination… so illness (serious or not aside), the more people are jabbed, partially or not, the quicker this all goes away. We’re in the home stretch.
Do you remember learning about convex vs. concave? Which is which? If you have trouble remembering, and are frustrated, go punch a piece of sheet metal… see that indentation? How the sheet is now “CAVEd” in? There you go… conCAVE when it goes in, conVEX when it comes out… like the VEXed expression on the face of the guy on the other side of that sheet, wondering why you did that.
Now that we’re clear on that, let’s look at this new colourful graph I’ve thrown in today… the one on the bottomright. You’ll notice it has three convex lines, a thicker blue one that’s a bit of both, and only one concave one – the thick red Canada line.
Much like the Canada line that runs from downtown to the airport, this one also took a while… and was expensive in its own way… but well worth it in the long run.
This particular Canada line tells a few interesting stories. The first thing that pops out is how ridiculously steep it is in recent months, compared to the others. That’s what happens with a lot of pent-up demand; in fact, you have to wonder if the fact it took so long to hit 5th-gear with our rollout is now contributing to its continuing momentum. Would we have wanted it so badly if it were so easy to get…? Brilliant psychological trick, if that’s what they pulled on us. Either way, it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
The best thing it indicates – exactly what the others don’t – is that we’ve not yet reached the end of the “low-hanging fruit”. We’re still injecting as much of the stuff as is made available, but let’s not fool ourselves; we’re going to plateau at some point, and we will start to look like that thick blue American line… concave to start as demand outweighed supply… followed by that flattening… which is also evident in the three other countries I threw in there; Israel, the UK and Chile. Those three were the world leaders in vaccinations… but once the fanfare wore off and the low-hanging fruit was picked… now it gets more difficult. In the last two months, we’ve gone from 14% to 59%. Israel has gone from 61% to 63%. It’s not difficult to see where the momentum is. Those three countries have entered the post-low-hanging-fruit phase and are entering the vaccine-hesitant phase.
To be clear, nobody is getting to 100%… even here. There’s a solid 10% to 15% of ardent anti-vaxxers in Canada who’d rather get Covid-19 than admit they’re wrong, and nothing will change their mind… so forget about them. That number is higher in other places, and inter-mingles with the vaccine hesitant crowd. Looking at that graph, you’d have to assume a global number of around 65% “yes for sure” vs a sliding scale of 35% that ranges from “yeah, soon, eventually, I will probably…” to “never”.
While it’s impossible to know exactly who any of these lines will eventually shape out, there’s no doubt that Canada will go crashing into first place if current trends continue. Assuming the vast majority of people who get that first does eventually get the second one as well, while it took us a while to get there, we may end up in better shape than anyone else. Doesn’t matter through which sort of lens you use to look at that – convex/concave… whatever… it’s looking good.
Yogi Berra was hall-of-fame baseball player with numerous World Series wins and All-Star honours… but he’s just as well-known for some great sayings. One of his most famous Yogisms: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Indeed, there seem to be a repeating cycle around the world; different places and at different times, but it’s the same pattern:
1. Things get bad
2. Restrictions are imposed
3. Things get better
4. Restrictions are lifted too soon
5. Go back to 1
But now there are entries that fit in-between all of those lines…
What effect do they have? Well… there’s some good/bad déjà vu there too. Chile and Israel are among two of the better vaccinated places on earth, but headed in diametrically opposite directions. In both cases, feeling the invincibility of vaccines, they opened things up and things got careless. One of those countries has figured it out; the other, not so much.
Add to this whole thing… the Seychelle Islands… where, per capita, it’s the most vaccinated nation on earth. But they’re seeing a surge in cases, and are now having to impose restrictions… again. Two weeks of no school and cancelled sporting events.
The Seychelles have a population close to 100,000. More than 60% are fully vaccinated. The problem is that they rely almost entirely on tourism, and, rest assured, 60% of those incoming tourists are not vaccinated.
Here’s a rule that needs to be remembered with respect to herd immunity: Even if you achieve it, it needs to be maintained. You don’t just reach it and throw the doors open and forget everything it took to get there… or you will quickly find yourself back to square one.
Closer to home, our provincial neighbours to the east are in lockdown mode. Better late than never, but guess what would’ve helped avoid this in the first place… yeah, a little more patience would’ve helped.
All of that being said… vaccines. At the end of the of the day, vaccines work… and they work very well. In places where a little patience has helped them take hold properly, the numbers are very encouraging. In the U.K., where 52% of people have had at least one dose, cases are down 96% from the recent high in January. In Israel, where 60% of people have had at least one dose, new cases are down 99% and things are, indeed… relatively back to normal.
There’s a lot to learn from how these success stories did it… as Yogi once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”
But, of course, there’s the most famous thing Yogi Berra ever said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
The “Presidency” of Augusto Pinochet in Chile lasted until early 1990. But you can’t really call him a President, because the Republic of Chile never actually democratically elected him into power.
So… in other words, when I was living there in 1987/1988, life under a military dictatorship was in full swing. It meant that a lot of the civil liberties we take for granted here in Canada simply didn’t exist. But other things, that we do take for granted *not* to exist… did. Such as… checkpoints.
Whenever you run into a checkpoint here… 99.9% of the time it’s to sniff out DUIs. The checkpoints are strategically placed so that if you find yourself heading into one, there’s no escape. Just over the hill on the Granville St. bridge, southbound – heading out of downtown on a Saturday night – is a good example.
And as you approach it, you will feel one of two things. If you’ve been drinking, dread. Fear. A complete freakout. And now you get to pay the steep price for making the poor decisions that put you in this situation.
Or, you haven’t been drinking, and you feel a mix of relief and indignation. Relief that you get to have a brief and friendly chat with the cop before you’re on your merry way… and a bit of indignation. How *dare* they stomp on my civil rights. Who do they think they are. I should be free to drive wherever I want. This is a free country. I should be able to do whatever I want.
We’ve been hearing a lot of those sentences recently, in a very different context… but these two different contexts will be merging a bit on the near future, much to the horror of civil libertarians.
Living under a military dictatorship kept you on edge. Every single time I went through one of those checkpoints… and, might I add, they not only popped-up unexpectedly, but many were semi-permanent. Imagine a checkpoint in the middle of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. In both directions… License and registration and insurance, please. Why isn’t this car in your name. Why are you going downtown. Who do you know on the north shore. How often do you travel this route.
That would be a permanent checkpoint… a little hut in the middle of the bridge, manned by a solider 24/7. Except it wasn’t 24/7… just to mess with you, sometimes the hut was empty and you could just go through. Just to mess you with and keep you on edge.
But usually, it was manned… so, you’d jump through the hoops; you let them execute their little power trip, you acquiesce to their bullshit. And unless you’re actually up to no good, you’re unlikely to have a problem. I was asked a lot of stupid questions… “Where’d you get that car radio?” “Canada? Is that one of those little states way up north?” but it was never more than a few questions before “Have a nice day”.
I’ve been back to Chile many times post-1990, and all of those checkpoints are gone… but the little huts are still there. And I drive by them now and think… what was the point of that. Seriously, what was the point.
Well, the point was that they wanted to keep you in fear. They wanted to constantly remind you… don’t forget who’s in charge. We control you. Don’t, for a minute, think you’re free.
It took a radical change in government to get rid of that but, rest assured, the right-wing military junta of Augusto Pinochet had zero in common with today’s NDP government of John Horgan… something to remember when people start screaming about today’s announcements… that for several weeks, travel restrictions… where you simply shouldn’t leave your local area. And you may run into a checkpoint. It’s temporary and it makes sense, but, oh boy… here comes the screaming and yelling from the freedom/liberty crowd.
I don’t expect to get pulled over at any checkpoint because I don’t expect to be transiting from home any time soon… but in a warped way, I’d look forward to it… because I wouldn’t be able to not compare it to my experiences from 30 years ago… the difference between slowly pulling up to a young, potentially itchy-trigger-fingered solider armed with a loaded semi-automatic weapon… and some VPD or RCMP cop whose only job in this context is to try to keep people safe. I’d look at today’s checkpoint and realize that the cop is on my side, that this is temporary, that this is necessary… and resign myself to the fact that we put ourselves in this situation.
It’s more serious than many people realize, but that’s counteracted by the measures already in place which *are* having a positive effect… and warmer weather, and vaccines. The outcome of this collision course is approaching… do we go the Israel route or the Ontario route in the near future?
Well, let’s look at the Chile route. Way ahead on vaccinations, and fully locked up… because they took that freedom and abused the hell out of it and things went from being under control to totally messed up. That’s what can happen. That’s what might happen here if strict and sudden measures weren’t put in place. So ironic that checkpoints in Chile might have prevented their full-on lockdown.
Around here… may I say… temporary. Can I repeat… temporary. As in – what we need to do today, so that we don’t all have to be doing this forever. I’m pretty sure we can do this for just a few short weeks.
I sure hope so. Otherwise, it won’t be short and it won’t be weeks.
The discussion of how medicine and politics got so wrapped up will carry on for decades. For the moment, though, it raises practical issues. Like, 49% of Republican men refuse to get vaccinated. What’s the implication for society when large demographics think similarly? It’s going to create some significant problems for those cultures. On the flipside, societies where vaccinations are welcomed are facing different issues.
Israel, who’s led the charge with vaccinations, no doubt had been thinking ahead to what a post-vaccine pre-end-of-pandemic future might look like, and their answer, with which I completely agree, is a vaccine passport. They have what’s called a Green Pass, basically a QR code you can carry around, printed out or on your phone. The pass is valid for 6 months after your second shot has kicked in, and it gives you all the freedom you’d expect to have when you yourself are not a danger to those around you. Pubs, restaurants, concert venues, sporting events, whatever… they’ll scan your code and in you go. Some restaurants will only allow valid pass holders inside, but everyone else is welcome to sit outside. This makes sense on every level.
We are still unfortunately far from this… close to 60% of Israelis have had at least one dose. Our number is a little under 12%. But I would urge our powers that be to think ahead a bit, and not get caught with our pants down as we have with this vaccine rollout.
Start planning NOW for this infrastructure; it’s not complicated… just a robust, secure back-end that connects to a subset of people’s medical records (specifically, only vaccination info) and plugs it into a user-friendly front end. I have this all so clearly designed in my head… I could whiteboard the whole thing for you in 20 minutes and if you say go, I promise you… it’ll be done in 4 months. If someone had given me that “Go!” 4 months ago, it’d be done already. And it’s not like I’m some genius; this isn’t complicated. I know development teams, both here and in Israel, that would make short work of it. I know some fantastic development teams who’d love to sink their teeth into this. I’d be happy to make the introductions and get this thing rolling on every level.
That being said, I’d be very surprised if this isn’t already well on its way to rollout. It should be. It’d better be. At the beginning of this pandemic, there were plenty of unknowns, and tough decisions were made, mitigating risk/reward with people’s livelihoods and/or a virus that could kill them. I am not envious of the people who had to make those touch choices, and I’ve been impressed that they’ve been more right that wrong.
But all that being said, I will unleash a lot of anger if suddenly one day, when 49% of us are vaccinated and itching to get back to the real world… we’re told that a vaccine passport is in the works and should be ready in a few months. I will seriously lose it. Unknowns are one thing, but this is all known. Every single little aspect of it can be predicted, planned and developed. There is NO excuse. ZERO… for not having a fully-functioning system in place the moment we need it. In fact, there’s no reason it couldn’t already be starting a slow rollout… getting the back-end to businesses who can start planning around it, and getting the App into all our hands so that 2 minutes after we’re jabbed, the entire infrastructure knows all about it. We are all carrying around devices that serve both as the passport and the scanner. This is not complicated… and I don’t really care who does it; I’m happy to help if it’s needed… but, seriously, I hope someone is laughing at the thought… because they’ve already been at it since November.
There’s a lot to learn from looking at the list of countries who managed to secure significant doses of vaccine early in the game, because it begs a lot of questions. Why are they doing so well? Where did they get it from? Why did they get it and not us?
Starting at the top of the list and sorting by Doses… either by “population percentage with at least one dose” or simply “doses per 100 people” – the results are pretty much the same. There, it makes sense to remove the “big” names because the answer is obvious… those that are making the vaccines are using it for themselves as much as they can. The U.S., the U.K, China, Russia. Also remove from there places whose numbers are skewed because of low populations. The Maldives, the Seychelles… tiny populations, mostly vaccinated.
The top of the list now is of course Israel, who was on top of the list before anyone else was removed. They have a population of 9,000,000. They’ve administered 9,000,000 doses. They’re not all first doses, but most are. I saw a picture of a café in Tel Aviv yesterday… and outdoor patio, crowded, no masks, people having a blast. We’ll be there one day… but they’re there now.
How did Israel do it? A pretty sweet deal with Pfizer – one that worked out well for everyone. Lots of data, lots of healthy people. There are plenty of articles to read about how it all came about.
But who’s next on the list now? A terrific outlier to study, as far as I’m concerned.
Chile… and I’m interested because I was born there. Because I have friends and family there. Because I used to travel down there on an almost annual basis, and I know how things work; I know more about doing business with Chile than anyone would ever want to know… which led me to ask the relevant question… who’d they hustle and how’d they do it? Their population is about half of Canada. 22% of those people have had at least one dose. We’re at 5%.
May of 2020 was a bad month down there… 100,000 new infections and almost 1,000 deaths. That’s when they began taking their vaccine plan seriously. Their ministry of health set up meetings with 11 labs around the world, a number that went down to 5 as talks progressed. Internally, it was agreed that when the health regulators of those jurisdictions approved those vaccines, they’d be auto-approved in Chile. To lock in those supplies, meetings were scheduled *in person*. The Chileans flew out to numerous places, including Abu Dabi and the UAE, principal operational hubs for Pfizer and BioNTech. And this is where the Chilean way of business kicked in. I wasn’t in those rooms, but what I know is that those Chileans did not leave without firm deals to receive vaccine; letters of intent, confidentiality agreements… and, probably, agreements not so different from Israel – yes, for sure, we’ll give you the data… we’ll red-line vaccinations… whatever you need… just get us the stuff, AND, if *you* don’t comply with your end of it, there will be hell to pay, as enforced by whatever international laws apply.
I’m speculating a bit and drawing on my knowledge on how things work, and what sort of leverage (the only sort that could possibly be applied) might have worked… because it ultimately worked, and worked well. Very early in the game, Chile was already ahead. By September of last year, Chile was setting up clinical trials for Sinovac and Janssen. Some 3,000 Chileans happily volunteered between October and November. And, for doing so, Chile locked in a $14/dose cost of vaccine and top of the delivery schedule. Chile stuck to their end of it, and the manufacturers have stuck to theirs. Win-win.
Around here, we’re paying $35/dose, when we can get it. Yes, I know – we’ve all read the same news – we will get it all in due course, and just because we keep getting dropped down the list it doesn’t mean anything. Patience, etc. By the time our anger and head-shaking subsides, the pandemic will be over and we’ll have moved on and nobody will care. But allow me to put it in writing; our government let us down. Good intentions are not good enough. Intention to have enough vaccine in a timely manner. Intention to have an infrastructure for booking appointments. Getting up in front a podium and TV cameras isn’t worth anything if you don’t deliver. Nobody is interested in finger pointing and lame excuses, especially how it’s “out of our control”. Your job as our leaders is to find a way to put it into *your* control. Our control. Many governments around the world, with far less resources at their disposal, managed to navigate this process far better.
Ultimately, I’m familiar with the Canadian way of doing business too. The 300,000,000 doses we’ve procured – in the same way Seinfeld “procured” a car reservation in that famous episode – was done with lots of emails, phone calls, Zoom meetings. Whiteboards and PowerPoints. Lawyers and contracts and back-and-forth mark-ups, with nothing in there that could incur any liability. And with nothing to offer in return, very little teeth in those agreements. How can we be sure they’ll hold up their end? It doesn’t matter… and don’t worry about it because with all the “best efforts” language in there, we have zero recourse anyway. Let’s just hope for the best.
Chile started at the finish line. They simply asked, “What is the fastest way to get vaccines into the arms of our population?”… and assigned a group of intelligent resourceful people to just get it done. And they did. Pisco Sours all around. Salúd.
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Given the prevalence of anti-vaxx insanity and the fact that this virus continues to mutate, chances are it’ll be around for a long time. Perhaps forever. But that’s not the end of the world, because measles is also around, and nobody worries too much about it. The vast majority of people are vaccinated against it, and even if you get it, there’s a well-known treatment plan that’ll lessen the symptoms and help you get through it.
Similarly, for all the talk we have about C19 vaccines, let’s not forget that a lot has been learned about treatment, and a lot of drugs have been (and continue to be) developed specifically for that.
Initially, some already-existing drugs were found to have some positive effects. Dexamethasone, Remdesivir and Baricitnib among them, with varying degrees of success. Therapies involving convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies have been found to be very effective. “Potshots” with other existing drugs, such as Interferon and Tamiflu, have not been so successful. Antibiotics, drugs used to combat gout, other anti-virals… the list goes on and grows daily, as more data is collected and analyzed.
Two recent additions to the list are interesting.
First is news from Israel, who have been leading the charge with vaccinations — over 70% (!) of their population have received at least one dose — they’ve developed a drug for use in moderate or worse cases, and the early results couldn’t be more encouraging. Thirty people entered the hospital in relatively serious condition, and thirty people emerged cured… twenty-nine of them within three to five days. The drug, EXO-CD24, specifically fights the cytokine storm, the likeliest C19 complication that leads to death. Good numbers for a Phase-1 study. Onward.
Second is the locally-developed and hard-to-pronounce Bamlanivimab, which is beginning clinical trials locally… though it’s already been used on more than 125,000 patients in the U.S.
The one-two punch of vaccines and effective treatment is what will eventually return the world to normal… when everyone is convinced enough that they’re unlikely to get it, but even if they do, it’ll be no big deal. Given where our minds are these days, that seems like a big leap… but such was the case before antibiotics showed up. We take antibiotics for granted… oh, a little infection, no big deal… take these little pills a few times a day for a week and you’ll be fine. A hundred years ago, that little infection may well have killed you.
One day, catching some variant of C19 may be viewed with the same sort of novelty as catching Bubonic Plague… it’s rare, it’s out there, but… most importantly… it’s treatable and it’s curable. Interestingly, we’re probably at that point today, at least from a scientific point of view. Further tests will either confirm or disqualify that statement… but, either way, today’s issue isn’t the science as much as it is logistics and distribution.
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A kind of funny story… back in 1968, parts of Chile were pretty disconnected from the rest of the world, and, more to the point, so were the people who were born, grew up, and worked there. For a lot of the workers there, they were born in small towns, and they remained in those small towns their entire lives. Some towns were only 40km from the coast, yet some of them, guys in their 20s, had never even been to the ocean. Accordingly, they weren’t too clued-in as to what exactly was going on in the world.
On June 6th, 1968, my uncle was in his office, sitting at his desk… also there was my dad… both of them discussing whatever. Then the phone rang, and my uncle picked it up… and it was a group of miners expressing their condolences… “We’re so sorry to hear the news”, they said, “It’s so sad, it’s so awful, him with his pregnant wife and everything…”
“What the hell are you talking about?”, asked my uncle.
“Your brother, of course.”
“What about him?”, asked my uncle, staring at my dad sitting across from him.
“Well, we heard he got shot and killed in Los Angeles yesterday.”
“That was Robert KENNEDY, you idiots! KENNEDY… not KEMENY!”.
Perhaps an innocent but somewhat amusing misunderstanding for some people who weren’t granted the benefit of the big picture.
But here’s something that’s not so funny… and it has to do with Robert Kennedy Jr… the aforementioned’s son… someone who certainly should have a good grip on reality.
He just got banned from Instagram, for promoting a whole bunch of anti-vax bullshit. But this guy is especially awful… because he lobbies Congress to give parents exemptions from state requirements that mandate vaccinations for children. He has an anti-vax Facebook page with over 300,000 followers… and yet… all of his children have been vaccinated. This is the worst kind of hypocrite on the planet… pandering to the masses; “elevating” themselves to the crowd they feel they need to reach. Vegans who secretly eat meat when no one’s looking. Environmentalists who throw all of their garbage and cardboard and food scraps into the same, landfilled-destined plastic garbage bags. Green Party members who drive 12-cylinder mega-fuel-injected super-turbo-charged Italian sports cars that get 2 miles to the gallon. Robert Kennedy Jr. They can all go to hell, pontificating their holier-than-though ideas while brazenly doing the exact opposite.
Speaking of vaccines, if you’ve been watching the bolded, inverse vaccination-percentage numbers near the top of the attached data, you’ll be disappointed to see that most of them went down. It’s because I adjusted the data… and because, for a while, all doses being dished out were first doses, and that’s what I was tracking. But now that the second doses are kicking in, it throws things off. The idea is to represent how many people have had at least one shot… not just simply shots divided by population… a number that doesn’t really mean much. Accordingly, the numbers have all gone down, and the more second doses that have already been injected, the bigger the change.
Well… not all. It was most interesting to see Quebec, the huge outlier… who have given out a total of… zero second shots. They’re really going all-in with their policy: Get as many first shots done as possible, and stretch that window for the second shot as far as possible and… hope fervently that enough doses show up in time when they’re needed.
Anyway, going forward, that’s what those bold inverted numbers mean; the percentage of the population that’s had at least one shot. B.C. is at 2.8%. Canada is at 2.5%. The U.S. is at 14.5%. For a bit of comparison… Israel is at 68%, the U.K. is at 21%, and Chile… even though they may not know the difference between the U.S. Attorney General and a local mining executive… is at over 7%, which puts them in the Top-10 in the world. Canada used to be in that Top-10, but we’re now we’re barely hanging on to our Top-40 position… sliding down the charts like a one-hit-wonder whose moment has come and gone.
We’re told that’ll change in the coming weeks. Let’s hope so.
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