“What could possibly go wrong?” – famous quote, and not words that should be spoken out loud. It’s a rhetorical question, best left to your inner thoughts; when you speak it out loud, you’re daring the universe to answer: “Well… let me show you…”
In the midst of the optimism of re-opening and getting back to normal comes a curveball being thrown at the world… the Delta (formerly “Indian”) variant of C19.
To begin with, it’s undoubtedly more contagious than any predecessor. The original UK variant (now known as Alpha) is 50-100% more contagious than the original strain that dominated 2020. And Delta is 50% more contagious than Alpha. Let’s hope this frat-house-inspired naming convention never gets to Omega.
One positive is that, generally, the more contagious it is, the less harmful it is. That’s not for sure, yet… but quite likely, this strain isn’t going to cause disease any worse than the previous strains. It’s just that it’s much easier to catch. Indeed, all the little spikes we’re seeing in different places – little spikes for now, but we all know what that can grow into – are caused by upticks predominantly of the Delta variant.
So… vaccines… how much protection do they have against it?
To begin with… the vast majority of people who’ve become infected with Delta have had zero vaccinations.
With one dose – you’re not there yet; the one-shot effectiveness of Pfizer/Moderna/AstraZeneneca on Delta is only about 33%, compared to north of 60% for other variants. It’s the second dose that makes a huge difference in this case.
But, beyond that… in the U.K., only three people who’ve been fully vaccinated have been hospitalized as a result of Delta. Three people out of 40% fully-vaccinated people out of a population 66 million people equals one in 9 million.
So, there’s no guarantee you won’t catch it. You may well catch it and never know it. You may be exposed to it and never know it… or catch some mild symptoms. But the big takeaway: If you’re fully vaccinated, you have a one in 9 million chance of being hospitalized due to the Delta variant. Sure, those numbers will get worse… bit it’s a good starting point. The equivalent of throwing 9 dice onto the floor. As long as they don’t all land on the same number, you’re good.
While two doses of any vaccine will do the trick, we’re talking about the U.K. here… and when we talk about the U.K., we’re talking almost exclusively about AstraZeneca. Over there… whether it’s one or two doses, almost all are AZ.
Which leads me (and anyone who’s had the AstraZeneca vaccine) to one again ponder the dilemma of AZ or Pfizer for the second dose, especially factoring in timing. I had my AZ dose April 22nd. I think I’d be able to get AZ relatively soon; Pfizer, I’m not sure. And so… while I’ve been waiting patiently for Pfizer, now I’m wondering about the alternative. Maybe go right back to that little mom-and-pop pharmacy a few blocks away and get the AZ… and then, that’s it.
My decision will be based on what happens around here in the next week or two. I was always a proponent of “get whatever is offered to you”. I changed my mind, watching the data from the European studies (Spain/UK/Germany) implying mixing AZ with Pfizer yields better results. But I’m not against changing it back if the situation calls for it.
And that’s more than ok. There’s another famous quote… from the father of lateral thinking, Edward de Bono: “If you never change your mind, why have one?”
Leap years… leap seconds… even, with some calendars, leap months… these tiny (or not-so-tiny) course corrections are necessary because, unfortunately, the earth doesn’t rotate exactly every 24-hours, nor does it orbit the sun exactly every 365 days. At the moment, one rotation is 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.09053 seconds. One year is 365.2422 of those rotations. These are not nice, round numbers to work with… and even if they were, the earth is slowing down, so it’d all have to change eventually. In fact, they change continually.
The people who manage all this keep careful track of it, and often fiddle with it without us even knowing. If you weren’t aware of it, you certainly would’ve missed the extra second that was tagged on to New Year’s Eve in 2016. Approaching midnight, the time went from 11:59:58… to 11:59:59… to 11:59:60 (!) before continuing on to 12:00:00am, January 1st, 2017.
If those little adjustments didn’t take place, the errors would accumulate. The sun would start rising and setting at weird times. It would snow in Spring and get super-hot in late Autumn. And, once in a while, having not kept up with the corrections, some abrupt fixes would need to be implemented.
The calendar we’re all familiar with is the Gregorian calendar, which was preceded by the less-accurate Julian calendar… and not everyone switched over at the same time. While the Gregorian calendar was adopted in places line France, Italy and Spain back in 1582, it wasn’t until 1752 that the U.S. and Canada switched over… and since the Julian calendar is less accurate with respect to leap-anythings, it was falling further and further behind. In 1582, it required a 10-day adjustment. When Canada and the U.S. did it, it required 11 days… and when Turkey and Greece finally made the change, less than 100 years ago, they had to drop 13 days from existence. History is full of stories of landlords who tried to charge a full month’s rent during those half-month switches; you can imagine how popular that was…
Indeed, that’s what happens when you keep letting errors pile up; they become more difficult to correct down the road.
All of this is relevant because of the data and charts you see attached to this little blurb… and it has to do with the inconsistency of the data with respect to testing and cases and deaths and vaccinations. Like I wrote about recently, if you have one watch, you know what time it is. If you have more than one, you’re not so sure.
I have managed, I think, to consolidate and normalize all the data so that going forward, it’s not quite so apples-to-oranges. But to get things to align, there’s a bit of a Julian/Gregorian leap-year adjusting to do. In some calendar switchovers, a February 30th was added just to make it work; think of it like that.
Actually, it’s not so bad… but here’s what’s changed, if you’ve been following closely:
The U.S vaccination number has gone down. I’d previously been getting a number that was confusing with respect to its allocation of first and second doses. The number now is up-to-date, and certainly only first doses. It’s also dropped the vaccinated population percentage from 20% down to less than 14%.
While it’s important to know how many doses have been dished out, it’s more important to know how many individuals have had at least one. Now, for all the data, … U.S., Canada and all the provinces, those numbers should be accurate and far-more up-to-date than before for “at least one dose” – as well as the vaccinated population percentages that go along with it. Note how Quebec seems to be way ahead of other provinces; in a way, they are… that’s an accurate representation of first doses they’ve injected. Along with that goes the not-so-irrelevant-fact that they still have yet to dish out a single second dose.
The other number that changed radically is Ontario. They had 1,138 new cases today, and that’s what I wrote down… even though the case counts grew by 5,000. Why? Because the new data source is a bit more ahead of the game; they tap into the individual health departments instead of reporting the single province-wide number that’s relayed daily. Ahead or behind the curve isn’t as important as it being the correct curve, and that representation hasn’t changed. Now that everything is newly-aligned, it should work just fine going forward… but looking at today’s data feels a bit like those lost 10 or 11 days… like things don’t add up. But they do.
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Several years ago, I visited the U.S. for about 30 minutes with a process that’s called “Flag poling” – where you in essence cross the border, touch the American flagpole, and hop back into Canada. The reason was to take my nephew who had to re-enter Canada to validate his student visa… which requires entering through some specific port of entry. You can’t do it from within Canada.
The idea was to just drive down, do a U-turn, and come back and do the paperwork. It’s all on the Canadian side; the U.S. doesn’t care at all. Or, shouldn’t.
When we got to Peace Arch, there was a long lineup (this was a Saturday morning) – more than a 90-minute wait… backed up well-past the Duty Free on the right. Which got me to thinking… let’s just walk. Walk into the U.S. enough that we can turn around and walk back into Canada with a little piece of paper proving where we were.
We parked the car in the Duty Free parking lot and set off on foot. It’s not a long walk… and, it’s kinda cool. We did the “haha you’re in Canada and I’m in the States” nonsense and took some pictures. Then, we kept walking, and, as we approached the U.S. border control from the “wrong” side, there was border guard, with a big gun, standing with his back to us. He was staring to the south and couldn’t hear us coming, but the last thing I wanted to do was “surprise” this guy, so… while still walking towards him, when we were about 20 meters away, I coughed loudly. He spun around quickly, both hands on his automatic weapon… which, fortunately, he didn’t point right in our face.
“What are you doing!!”, he screamed at us. I explained.
“You’re doing it wrong!!”, he screamed. Yikes. Welcome to America. OK, noted for future reference… there’s a right way — and a wrong way — to walk into the U.S…
Our wrong way took us not just past the actual Peace Arch but, of course… if you’re there already, you walk through it.
The Peace Arch itself is exactly that, a monument to peace between these two great nations, celebrating the longest unprotected border in the world. Attached to the Peace Arch are some iron gates, and several inscriptions:
“Children of a common mother”
“Brethren dwelling together in unity”
And, of course, the famous “May these gates never be closed”.
Technically, those gates will indeed never be closed; they can’t be, because they’re not hinged… and, they’re solidly bolted onto The Peace Arch. It’s purely symbolic. But the spirit of it is well-understood… and, of course, since last March, they’ve been very-much closed. For how long? Every month, that closure gets extended… currently, till at least Feb 21st… but it’ll be a lot longer than that. On that note, there’s an interesting anniversary coming up in September… when The Peace Arch will turn 100 years old; it was in September of 1921 that it was dedicated. There should be a good party on that lawn that day… weather-permitting. And pandemic-permitting. But for now, it’s as closed as it’s ever been… including, as of today, even more-so to travellers from Mexico and the Caribbean.
As exciting as walking into another country can be, there’s one better… on my to-do list one day is to cross from Spain into Portugal via… zip-line! Yes… from a little hill in Portugal, you can zip-line over the Guadiana river, straight into Spain… a 720-meter ride that takes less than a minute, at speeds up to 80km/h. You even get to cross a time zone. Maybe not for everyone, but it’s better than being yelled at by an American border guard.
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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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Today’s brief update will simply be about some simple numbers and some simple math.
Let’s say 100 people catch Covid-19… and struggle through it, till they’re either cured or dead… if 93 survived and 7 died, let’s write it down as 93/7. Looking around the world, here’s a brief sample of how that looks in different places:
United States: 95/5
It’s annoying that some places have stopped publishing their recovery numbers. I’d be interested in throwing Sweden, U.K. and Spain into that mix to see how they compare.
The best ratios out there seem to come out, at best, 97/3.
If we just add up the entire planet — there have been almost exactly 30,000,000 cases – and the global ratio is 96/4.
The implication of that is that the true potential extent of this virus, should everyone on the planet get it, would mean a little over 300,000,000 deaths; simply 4% of the world’s 7.8 billion people.
Fortunately, there’s every reason to believe… through social practices and herd immunity (one way or the other), that nothing close to that will end up transpiring. But it’s always worthwhile to look at all the scenarios, and as far as the worst-case goes – there you have it.