By Horatio Kemeny|2022-04-14T20:16:28-07:00April 14th, 2022|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Science of COVID-19, Humour, Coastal Living|Tags: Vaccine, Quebec, Canada, Ontario, News, Island Life, Pandemic, Vancouver, Russia, Numbers, Coronavirus, Graphs, Statistics, BC Ferries, COVID19, C19, BritishColumbia, Ukraine|3 Comments
Let’s do some good news bad news…
The good news is that numbers all across the country are down. The bad news is that here in B.C., we don’t actually know… until Monday.
The good news is that today was spectacularly beautiful. I hope you took advantage of it. The bad news is I did… and went for a wonderful, long bike-ride… and right at the end of it, managed to gash my leg open. I’m now looking at it wondering if I should be headed to the ER for stiches instead of sitting here writing this. Ask me in a few hours…
The good news is that you’re exceedingly unlikely, given everything that’s happened and is now going on…. to die from Covid-19. The bad news is that, unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a little too late.
How many people? We’ve talked about it before, but let’s distill it down to the inarguable number: Excess deaths. Neither the concept nor the numbers are hard to grasp; if every year, x% of people typically die, and in one particular year it’s (x+y)%, you need to be able to assign a cause to y. A tsunami that kills 250,000 people is a good example. So is a war. And, of course, if there’s a global pandemic going on and you can’t find any other reasons, it’s a reasonable logical leap to assign y to the pandemic, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated.
How are global deaths looking with respect to excess deaths?
The official death toll of C19 is 3.4 million… but the vast majority of those explicitly documented stats come from first-world countries. We know that unfortunately, 4,000+ people a day are dying in India. But without a doubt, that’s an undercount. Russia’s C19 death count is officially less than 100,000… but for some reason, over 500,000 people have “inexplicably” died. With few exceptions, every country is in a “deficit” – and when you add it all up, the world needs to find a reason to explain somewhere between 7.1 and 12.7 million excess deaths.
That’s bad news, no matter how you look at it.
The good news is, as we can all hope and expect… is that that’s in the past… and that the future looks a lot better.
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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If, off the top of your head, you had to guess which three countries in the world had the most cases per 1M of population, you would think about it, come up with three countries, and be completely wrong. It wouldn’t make sense not to include places like U.S, India, Russia, Brazil, U.K, Spain, Italy… etc… on that list of guesses… but again, with exception of the U.S. (which lands in 8th place), none of the others even make the top 10. In fact, with only Spain at number 18, none of the others make the top 20.
The list of the top three countries with the highest case counts on a per-capita basis are: Andorra, Gibraltar and Montenegro.
Wait, you say, those places are barely populated and that skews the numbers. That is correct. Andorra, top of the list, scores 128,000 per million of population who’ve tested positive. Close to 13% of the population. That’d be like Canada having close to 5 million cases (we’re at less than a million). But, of course, Andorra only has a population of 77,000. Only 100 people there have died of C19. Gibraltar has a population of 34,000. Same idea… and, for what it’s worth, both of them share a border with Spain, where, no doubt, all of their cases came from.
So what, you may be asking….
If you look at Europe as a sort of big country, and each individual country as a province, then some issues relevant to Canada come to light.
Like, with respect to vaccinations, guess where in this country we have the highest per-capita vaccination rates. Now you know it’s a bit of a trick question, so perhaps it’s harder to fool you… so if your guesses included places like the three northern territories, you’re correct. By far.
Vaccination rates for a few key provinces…
Vaccination rates for the territories:
Some say that’s fair. Some say they should be distributing it more evenly. Some say more should be directed to the hotspots. And everyone is a little perturbed with last week’s news… at the start of the week, we heard how we were not getting what we were expecting from Pfizer… and at the end of the week, we heard how we were not getting what we were expecting from Moderna. Too bad. C’est dommage.
At what point could we conceivably start counting on ourselves for some vaccine? Some homegrown, domestically produced vaccine where we would be first in line?
The only viable possibility would indeed be home-“grown”, and that is Quebec-based Medicago’s tobacco-plant-based vaccine which recently wrapped up phase-2 clinical trials and is about to enter phase 3, involving 30,000 people in 11 countries. For what it’s worth, it’s off to a great start… 100% of people who received the vaccine developed significant antibody responses with no severe side effects. Like Moderna and Pfizer, this one also targets the spike protein, so there’s no real actual virus involved and therefore zero chance on getting sick with C19 from the vaccine. Side-effects – nothing bad so far, and we shall see what phase 3 reveals.
Unfortunately, the earliest we could hope to see this vaccine available to the public would be the second half of the year… but, certainly the government’s order of 76 million doses (and all the money that came with it) is helping push things along. But also, unfortunately, although they’ve been trying to get funding for years, we still don’t have the manufacturing capabilities in place. Medicago reps met with government officials no less than 24 times from 2017 to 2020 trying to find a way to fund the construction of just such a facility. The funding finally came through… in March of last year, when the “Oh shit” moment arrived. At least we’ll be all set for the next pandemic.
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Like a petulant child that’s lost his TikTok and Instagram privileges, Donald Trump sits alone, unable to share his thoughts, dank memes or pictures of cute cats… with his friends. In his case, it’s Twitter and Facebook, but same idea. And for him, emptying the dishwasher or doing his homework… isn’t going to get it back.
As the presidency draws to a close, there are calls to remove him before the 20th… and there are very good reasons to have that happen. As we’ve learned, there is no bottom to this psycho, and one thing about psychotic narcissists that’s worth keeping in mind is that if, after everything, they’re going down, they’ll often take down as many people with them as they can. Recall, their usual M.O. is to elevate themselves at the expense of everyone else. Accordingly, when there’s no way to elevate, the only way to get the same effect is to bash everyone else down. It’s the whole “It’s not enough that I win; everyone else has to lose” thing. Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours brighter, but some people don’t get it. They’d rather stick a firehose in your mouth if you’re drowning.
The Pandora’s Box unleashed by Trump will take a lot longer than 10 days to sort out, so does it matter if he’s in power during that time? Absolutely and emphatically, yes.
First of all, it’s important that he leave this presidency like he deserves; dishonourably. The stamp of disgrace needs to be all over it, if for no other reason than it boots him out of politics forever. Impeached or 25th’d out of there; it doesn’t matter. If it happens, he’s gone for good, though I assure you, no matter what, he’ll continue to insist he might run in 2024. Because that’s what’ll keep the grift afloat. The millions will roll in from his brainwashed cult followers. If he’s not booted before the 20th, the process still needs to continue to that conclusion. At least Trump can have something unique; not only the only president to ever lose two popular votes, but also the only one impeached twice.
What’s the worst thing that can happen if he’s left to stay for another 10 days? That’s an uneasy question because the far-fetched answer is as truly frightening as it gets. The age-old question of just how much power does a president have with respect to launching a nuclear strike is easily answered: All of it. And quickly.
By design, there’s very little in the way of him deciding launch nukes. At the heart of The Cold War, it was understood that if the U.S.S.R. launched nukes at America, there’d be 4 minutes before they hit. Four minutes to assess the situation and react. Conventionally, deciding who and what and when and where to strike would involve the president consulting top advisers, strategic command, military command, the secretary of defense, etc. In fact, the suggestion to do so usually originates from one of those; not the president himself. But there’s no time for any of that if a retaliatory strike is called for. When the order is given by the president, it goes direct; the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House Chief of Staff, the secretary of defense, the vice-president… none of them are in that decision chain and none of them can legally stop it. The president flips open the nuclear football, that fancy briefcase that’s always nearby… he pulls out the authenticator (conventionally known as “the biscuit”), and he uses that to validate who he is to the duty officer at the National Military Command Center. Then he says something like “Launch Strike Package Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, and the duty officer, having received a valid order from the validated president, passes that order straight to the missile bases, submarines, bombers… whatever is called for. And the duty officer has to make a decision… launch the nukes, or be charged with mutiny or treason. Not a great position to be in for some kid from Nebraska who only joined the army to get his college paid for.
It’s understood that this is an archaic system and it needs to change; nowhere else in the world is this the case. Not even Russia. Even Putin doesn’t have this power; it has to be approved by his second.
All that being said, what would actually happen if Trump attempted it? There is a lot of history, on both sides, of almost launching the nukes. In all cases, an individual did their own sanity check and averted catastrophe. After the fact, it was found to have been a false alarm, due to mechanical error, technical error, human error, sunlight, miscommunication, lack of communication. There’s a long list of people who could arguably be charged with treason, but in reality, they’re all heroes.
There won’t be a pre-emptive strike on Russia, nor anyone else who could retaliate… but a limited attack on Iran? That’s far from impossible. In his present aggressive state of mind, angered and confused by what he considers to be betrayal… how about one final exclamation point for this presidency. Let’s show them all who’s really the boss.
He could do it, and it’d be hard to prevent him from attempting it. But it might not be so hard to deflect it. I sincerely hope the call has gone out to all of the relevant people; as unconstitutional as it might sound, ignore anything from Trump from now on when it comes to military decisions. Or, beyond that, I would sincerely hope there’s at least one free-thinking individual in the small chain between Trump’s insane brain and the big red button that would be willing to take the hit… possibly charged with treason or mutiny, but, more likely, called a hero and be pardoned by President Biden.
Or, here’s the best idea… get Trump the hell out of there. Now.
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We keep hearing about *the* vaccine, but of course, there’s more than one. Besides Pfizer, there’s Moderna… and we’ve all heard of some Chinese one and the Russian one which Putin gave his daughter but refuses to take himself.
Any others? Yes… plenty of others. This petal-to-the-metal race (locally) was won by Pfizer, if that’s how you want to look at it, and Moderna is set to come in second and Oxford-AstraZeneca will likely be third.
But really, there are multiple winners in this race… to win, you just have to cross the finish line. How many horses are in this race? Surprisingly… more than you might imagine. There were originally 90. Not all will finish the race, and while crossing the finish line counts, it’s probably a bit hollow if it happens in 5 years. However… the more, the merrier.
At present, Pfizer is approved and Moderna is approved for emergency use only (for the moment), but Canada is looking at it as we speak and it’s likely to get the green light within weeks. Beyond that, there are a few approved within China and Russia, but we’ll never see them here.
Beyond that, there are actually 18 different vaccines in phase-3 trials… most of them in the U.S and China, but other countries thrown into the mix and approaching the finish line are Japan, India and Australia. And Canada.
We don’t hear a lot about it, but we sure will if this gets beyond phase 3… Quebec-based Medicago, a private company, began their phase 2/3 trial on Nov 12th. In a somewhat eyebrow-raising arrangement, they’re being partially funded by cigarette maker Philip Morris. Medicago literally grows vaccines in plants – specifically, the Nicotiana Benthamiana plant, which is a wild species related to tobacco. The Canadian government has 76 million doses on order in case it all works out.
The fact you can grow vaccine inside tobacco raises some interesting possibilities, not the least of which is slanting the marketing towards “all natural” and “organic”. For all the anti-vaxxers with their “I don’t know what’s in it so I’m not putting it in my body!!!” crowd… notwithstanding I can assure you, you have no idea what’s in a McNugget but you’ll happily ingest that… but all that nonsense aside, hey… this vaccine grows out of the earth, in a plant that billions of people happily inhale into their lungs every day. The irony of that, given that this virus attacks your lungs…
You know, all of that is just one step away of creating a very unique vaccine delivery device… forget injections or suppositories or sublingual sugar cubes… how about…
“Hey dude, smoke up! This is some good shit!”
“Yeah man… whoah… where’d you get this?”
“Who’s he? Never heard of him!”
“It’s a she… and don’t worry about it.”
“Awesome dude, can you hook me up with some more?”
“I can hook you up with one more; that’s all you need.”
“Whatever dude. Awesome.”
Vaccination rate… at least, in B.C….? 99.44%
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When I was in high school, we had a coach who employed a very unique form of punishment. When you screwed up, everyone had to run a lap around the field. And when I say field, it was actually four rugby fields… roughly a 600-metre jog for everyone. Well, almost everyone… you, the perpetrator, did not run. Just everyone else.
In fact, the first time that happened to me, I wanted to run too. I didn’t want everyone else even angrier at me. But no, that was the point.
“Sir, I’d like to run the lap as well.”
“No, Kemeny… you stand here with me and enjoy the consequences of your actions.”
The only thing missing was him providing some hot chocolate while I got to watch my friends and teammates being punished for my transgression. Just to really hammer home the point.
I mention this, because it’s interesting to note that collective punishment of this sort, where the said collective (friends, family, acquaintances, teammates, etc) is targeted, is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It is literally a war crime.
If wearing the wrong jersey to rugby practice is so serious a crime that it warrants a punishment so severe that it’d require an international court to sort out, what do you do with a significant number of Republicans trying to overthrow the U.S. government?
The end-game of this election is starting to look like a horror-version of whack-a-mole… where there’s no cheap prize at the end, but that’s irrelevant… because the game never seems to end. You could argue it’s been going on for four years, but it’s certainly been going on since the election. After 46 days, those are some pretty tired arms. With still 32 days to go.
Every day, some nonsensical mole makes an appearance, and it’s swiftly whacked back into the hole by evidence, lack of evidence, a court ruling… or just plain common sense. And yet, the moles persist. The most recent mole to get whacked was Mitch McConnell, but that wasn’t enough. Now come some Republicans who literally want to overthrow democracy. Martial Law, and the whole thing.
Far beyond just cutting through the bullshit of Trump trying to pre-emptively pardon himself and his family, maybe it’s time for Joe Biden to make a much stronger statement. Number one, anyone who gets pardoned with some sort of cobbled-together Frankenpardon shouldn’t feel too safe. Those pardons will be rescinded within hours of the new administration, chopped up into little bits, just like the parts that came together to form this attempted monstrosity of legality.
And number two, anyone from this point forward trying to actively mess with the very foundation upon which American Democracy is based… will be charged. I don’t know if “attempted treason” is “a thing”, but it should be. Even if Biden gets tossed after four years, there needs to be something in place to prevent this derailing nonsense in the future… that those who instigate this sort of thing have some real consequences to face, not just running some laps in the dark, pouring rain.
But this is what the president is focusing on. This is what he’s re-Tweeting… while every single day, the new cases and deaths pile up. While some rogue nation, still not sure if it’s China or Russia, digitally broke in and stole everything. While a Covid relief bill still hasn’t wound its way through the process.
Allow me to quote Joe Biden: “C’mon, man.”
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