With Omicron now the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in the United States, the time has come to accept defeat in the country’s medical Vietnam.
We were never going to win this thing no matter how much Anthony Fauci insisted that vaccines would vanquish the pathogen that causes the disease known as Covid-19.
“Let’s say we get 75 percent, 80 percent of the population vaccinated,” he declared in December 2020. “If we do that, if we do it efficiently enough over the second quarter of 2021, by the time we get to the end of the summer, i.e., the third quarter, we may actually have enough herd immunity protecting our society that as we get to the end of 2021, we can approach very much some degree of normality that is close to where we were before.”
At least 75 percent of the country has now had at least one shot and infections are at record levels. Vermont, which never saw more than 180 cases per day (peak weekly average) during the first two years of the pandemic, according to the Worldometer tracker, had 79.4 percent of its population vaxxed by the end of the year, according to the Mayo Clinic vaccine tracker.
Vermont cases peaked at 1,800 per day (weekly average) in the middle of January. That’s more than 10 times higher than the peak number of cases at any time in the previous 30 months
Sadly, even though the Omicron variant is not as deadly as the Delta or Alpha variants before it, the huge number of cases led to a peak death rate, too. It hit four per day (weekly average) on Jan. 24. This was a 33 percent increase over the previous peak in December 2020 despite the strong evidence that vaccines help hold down serious cases of Covid-19 and deaths from the disease.
That SARS-CoV-2 outmaneuvered vaccines came as no surprise to anyone who had followed the development of the pathogen from the beginning. It was always a rapidly evolving virus.
There was no reason – no reason whatsoever – to believe it would prove any less capable of vaccine avoidance than the influenza virus, which has proven pretty good at vaccine avoidance, and plenty of reasons to believe that SARS-CoV-2 would be even better at vaccine avoidance.
The vaccines did cut down on deaths. But we only won a battle on our way to losing a war that nature won.
Thankfully, this isn’t an inherently bad thing because in the process nature changed the dynamics of the disease and put everyone in position to kill the horrible and corruptive, sociopolitical divisiveness spawned by SARS-CoV-2.
If they want.
Because it’s clear with Omicron that masks and vaccines aren’t doing much to protect anybody from infection anymore. The variant is making its way through both barriers. The idea that people should wear masks and get vaxxed to protect their neighbors is dead.
“Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody” as Fauci has now conceded an interview with J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It is clear now the pandemic is an individual issue, not a group issue.
If you are old – or over 40, overweight and out-of-shape – you’re going to want to get vaxxed and later boosted because the evidence is good that doing so protects you from serious disease.
But if you want to take your risks with Covid-19, it’s your life. You’re not going to be killing your neighbors by going unvaxxed.
Same with masking. An N-95 worn and handled correctly (this being as important as wearing it) appears to offer some self-protection, but the idea of some sort of community protection powered by maks has been shown wrong by the Omicron data.
The new normal
Some countries have already recognized and accepted the shift. England this week revoked the requirement National Health Service employees get vaxxed.
“…Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said that the balance of opportunities and risks of the policy had shifted with the dominance of the Omicron variant, with the population being as a whole better protected against the need for hospital admission, and with omicron being ‘intrinsically less severe’ than Delta,” the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) reported.
“Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said, ‘We continue to strongly encourage all our members to take up the offer of Covid-19 and flu vaccinations as the benefits to both them and their patients are clear, but we also believe it is important that this remains a free choice.'”
The Danes made a broader decision.
“Denmark returns to ‘life as we knew it’ despite Omicron,” France24 headlined above an Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporting the end of requirements for facemasks, Covid passes and limited hours for bars and restaurants.
This is the late U.S. President Richard Nixon recognizing the U.S. couldn’t win the Vietnam War and declaring “peace with honor,” knowing full well that there would be no real peace until events set in motion far, far earlier had run their course.
This is the acceptance that SARS-CoV-2 is a new pathogen the human race is going to have to live with as it has learned to live with so many other pathogens. And there are a lot of them out there.
A team of scientists who used computers to comb through 5.7 billion old genetic samples reported on Wednesday that they had managed to identify more than 130,000 previously unknown viruses. Nine new coronaviruses were among them.
Their peer-reviewed results were published in the journal Nature wherein they observed that “there are an estimated 300,000 mammalian virus species from which infectious diseases in humans may arise of which only a fraction are known at present.”
Nature is always trying to find new ways to kill us because nature is driven by life and by death. The Danes seem to have accepted this.
AFP reported restrictions are being lifted in Denmark even as it registers around 40,000 to 50,000 new Covid-19 cases per day, a number equal to almost 1 percent of the country’s 5.8 million inhabitants.
The Danes are counting on vaccinations and natural immunity to limit the severity of the disease despite the high number of infections. More than 60 percents of Danes are now fully vaxed and given the people with immunity from having been previously infected with SARS-CoV-2, Danish authorities are of the belief that 80 percent of the population is protected from serious Covid.
Omicron’s less deadly nature – in the unvaccinated as well as the vaccinated – appears the result of natural selection, the process that determines whether evolution’s mutants survive or fade away.
Natural selection tends to moderate the deadliest mutants nature produces. This is especially true of respiratory pathogens. They are unlikely to flourish if they kill quickly because that makes it very difficult to move from host to host.
The most successful viruses in the world are arguably those involved with the “common cold” which is always infecting someone but kills at a very low rate. Several of these viruses are coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2.
Some evolutionary biologists believe that over the course of human history they might have gone through the same process of rapid mutation and natural selection that is now underway with the new coronavirus.
Some of them, in a paper published in Nature in July of last year, predicted that the best-case scenario and most likely path for the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 “is the transition to an epidemic seasonal disease such as influenza. Effective therapies that prevent the progression of COVID-19 disease (for example, monoclonal antibodies that reduce hospitalization and death by 70–85 percent) may bring the burden of SARS-CoV-2 infection to levels that are equivalent or even lower than influenza.
“However, we should remember that the annual mortality burden of influenza, in non-pandemic years, is estimated to be between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths, with up to 650,000 all-cause deaths globally, comprising around 2 percent of all annual respiratory deaths (two thirds among people who are 65 years and older). This is an extremely important health burden and equates to a relatively ‘optimistic’ view of the future of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Health burdens are an interesting topic.
For decades now much of the Western world has been willing to turn a blind eye to some of these burdens even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated one of the most obvious among them – obesity – was responsible for “medical care costs in the United States, in 2008 dollars…(of) an estimated $147 billion. Annual nationwide productivity costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.38 billion ($79 per obese individual) and $6.38 billion ($132 per individual with obesity).”
That is a total of nearly $157 billion in 2008 dollars, which a national inflation calculator puts at $203 billion in 2008 dollars, and that’s without calculating the obesity-related costs of the pandemic.
The National Institutes of Health in March reported “that nearly two-thirds of Covid-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. could be attributed to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure.” And a huge number of studies have tied obesity to higher rates of diabetes, hypertension and heart failure.
Though these sorts of healthcare costs have long been accepted, some now appear to want to blame the unvaccinated for pushing up Covid-19 costs.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit health lobby, in December, calculated that costs of treating the unvaccinated during the June to November 202`1 surge of the Delta variant was $13.8 billion.
The study was essentially an argument for mandatory vaccination of all Americans conducted at a time when the vaccinated majority of Americans were increasingly angry at the minority of unvaccinated Americas because of the widespread belief of the majority – a belief driven by old statements by Fauci and others – that a high vaccination rate would end the pandemic once and for all.
For someone interested in the numbers here, P.J. Campbell, a math whizz, has an interesting take at Handwaving Freakoutery where he argues “that it makes seven times more mathematical sense to tax the fat than tax the unvaccinated.”
Be that as it may, given that the obese are now the country’s largest minority and might soon constitute a majority, nobody is going to be taxing the fat folk or, it seems, putting much effort into turning the tide on obesity in this country.
Fitness is far less an American priority than vaccination, though even in the midst of the pandemic more deaths are linked to the lack of fitness than to the lack of vaccination. and that reality will only, once again, become more so as the pandemic fades as pandemics always do.
The Bubonic Plague or “Black Death” raged for more than five years in Europe in the 1300s and left half the people on the continent dead, but it eventually faded, though the World Health Organization (WHO) reports the bacteria that sparks the disease still causes about 500 cases per year. It is now easily treatable with anti-biotics as SARS-CoV-2 might one day be easily treatable with anti-virals
Omicron has made it clear vaccinations are not going to eliminate the virus though they could significantly lower the number of deaths among the old and medically compromised.
Still, SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay.
It is too adaptable to kill. It has jumped to mink and white-tailed deer and hamsters in Hong Kong where officials just executed 2,200 of the animals and banned the import of anymore after tracing a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak to a worker in a shop where 11 hamsters tested positive, according to a Reuters report.
White-tail deer to human infections have yet to be identified, but the Danes in 2020 found a mink variant spreading in that country and ordered the deaths of 17 million mink.
The kill did not eliminate the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Denmark, though the country did an excellent job of controlling its spread from the February 2020 arrival of the disease there until November of last year.
The Worldometer tracker indicates infections never topped 3,500 per day (weekly moving average) in that period. They started ticking up in November even before Omicron officially arrived and passed the 3,500 mark on November 18 as the count rocketed toward 42,000 infections per day (weekly moving average) – a 12-fold increase.
As the infection rate started up, masks were required. Danes were encouraged to work from home. Primary schools were shut down and children educated virtually. Nightclubs were closed. People were required to show Covid vax passes to get into bars, restaurants and other businesses.
None of those things made a difference. The infection rate continued skyrocketing.
“The rapid spread of omicron in Denmark, where 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, is an ominous sign for the U.S., where just 61 percent of the population is fully vaccinated and tens of millions of people still have not received a single shot,” CNBC reported on Dec. 16.
The Worldometer tracker put the infection rate at 7,583 cases (weekly moving average) on that date. It had more than doubled by the end of the month and nearly tripled by Jan. 16 and was still rising.
But the Danes said to hell with it anyway and went back to living their lives.
England is about to do the same though an even more infectious variant of Omicron – BA.2 – has appeared on the scene. There appears a consensus that it is even more infectious than the original BA.1, but the jury is still out on whether it is less serious; it does not, however, appear more serious.