Wednesday, February 3, 2021

If This is True, Then I'm Out

CNN has a massively depressing piece online. My only hope is it is over-reaction bullshit. The New York Times, a few days ago, called this fear mongering out.

First let's start with the CNN piece. 

It purports to say what you CAN do once you've had the vaccine. Their answer is, nothing. Not one fucking thing.

You cannot stop wearing your mask. You cannot travel. You cannot visit relatives. You cannot go to an indoor sporting event. You cannot go to an outdoor event if it runs at capacity. You can still spread the virus (maybe - per the article).

If that is true, then why the fuck take the vaccine? Seriously. Do I want to live in a world where I never see anyone but Ed without a mask? Where I cannot go and visit friends? Where I can never travel to visit Lynn, or my mom, or Gavin, or my friends in England?

Now a few days (a week?) ago the New York Times had an article that basically tore this opinion apart. It said that the underselling of the vaccine was causing people to wonder if they should bother to take it.  

The "real" reason to wear a mask after vaccination is that we need people wearing masks until everyone is vaccinated, and we need to keep the habit up. But someone feels they need to lie to us to get us to wear a mask. Today's news that the AstraZenica vaccine measurably cuts transmissions very effectively just reinforces this opinion (link).

There are call backs in the CNN article that the vaccine is only 95% effective. To show what this means, they compared it to birth control to say that 91% - 96% effect means that for every 100 women who take birth control, nine get pregnant. Which is not true. A woman's odds of pregnancy are reduced (greatly) when a woman is menstruating. A woman's odds of getting pregnant are greatly reduced the week AFTER menstruation. 

The flu vaccine yearly hovers between 45% and 65% effective, yet we tout the benefits of those vaccines in ways we undersell this one.

The Covid Vaccines are, in fact, wonderfully effective at preventing a person from getting, or spreading covid. The Covid Vaccines, to date, are nearly 100% effective in preventing death, and nearly 99% effective in preventing hospitalizations.

But if we are forever suppose to live indoors, without sports, museums, Broadway, visiting friends and family and no traveling ever again, I'm not up for it.

INSTEAD - let me reproduce the entire newsletter from the New York Times on this. nd let me say, this is the only thing keeping me moving forward.

Early in the pandemic, many health experts — in the U.S. and around the world — decided that the public could not be trusted to hear the truth about masks. Instead, the experts spread a misleading message, discouraging the use of masks.

Their motivation was mostly good. It sprung from a concern that people would rush to buy high-grade medical masks, leaving too few for doctors and nurses. The experts were also unsure how much ordinary masks would help.

But the message was still a mistake.

It confused people. (If masks weren’t effective, why did doctors and nurses need them?) It delayed the widespread use of masks (even though there was good reason to believe they could help). And it damaged the credibility of public health experts.

“When people feel as though they may not be getting the full truth from the authorities, snake-oil sellers and price gougers have an easier time,” the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci wrote early last year.

Now a version of the mask story is repeating itself — this time involving the vaccines. Once again, the experts don’t seem to trust the public to hear the full truth.

This issue is important and complex enough that I’m going to make today’s newsletter a bit longer than usual. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at

Right now, public discussion of the vaccines is full of warnings about their limitations: They’re not 100 percent effective. Even vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus. And people shouldn’t change their behavior once they get their shots.

These warnings have a basis in truth, just as it’s true that masks are imperfect. But the sum total of the warnings is misleading, as I heard from multiple doctors and epidemiologists last week.

“It’s driving me a little bit crazy,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, told me.

“We’re underselling the vaccine,” Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

“It’s going to save your life — that’s where the emphasis has to be right now,” Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine said.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “essentially 100 percent effective against serious disease,” Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said. “It’s ridiculously encouraging.”

Here’s my best attempt at summarizing what we know:

  • The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — the only two approved in the U.S. — are among the best vaccines ever created, with effectiveness rates of about 95 percent after two doses. That’s on par with the vaccines for chickenpox and measles. And a vaccine doesn’t even need to be so effective to reduce cases sharply and crush a pandemic.

  • If anything, the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One.

  • Although no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did. “If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one!” Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine. (And, no, exclamation points are not common in medical journals.) On Twitter, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California, San Francisco, argued: “Please be assured that YOU ARE SAFE after vaccine from what matters — disease and spreading.”

  • The risks for vaccinated people are still not zero, because almost nothing in the real world is zero risk. A tiny percentage of people may have allergic reactions. And I’ll be eager to see what the studies on post-vaccination spread eventually show. But the evidence so far suggests that the vaccines are akin to a cure.

Offit told me we should be greeting them with the same enthusiasm that greeted the polio vaccine: “It should be this rallying cry.”

Why are many experts conveying a more negative message?

Again, their motivations are mostly good. As academic researchers, they are instinctively cautious, prone to emphasizing any uncertainty. Many may also be nervous that vaccinated people will stop wearing masks and social distancing, which in turn could cause unvaccinated people to stop as well. If that happens, deaths would soar even higher.

But the best way to persuade people to behave safely usually involves telling them the truth. “Not being completely open because you want to achieve some sort of behavioral public health goal — people will see through that eventually,” Richterman said. The current approach also feeds anti-vaccine skepticism and conspiracy theories.

After asking Richterman and others what a better public message might sound like, I was left thinking about something like this:

We should immediately be more aggressive about mask-wearing and social distancing because of the new virus variants. We should vaccinate people as rapidly as possible — which will require approving other Covid vaccines when the data justifies it.

People who have received both of their vaccine shots, and have waited until they take effect, will be able to do things that unvaccinated people cannot — like having meals together and hugging their grandchildren. But until the pandemic is defeated, all Americans should wear masks in public, help unvaccinated people stay safe and contribute to a shared national project of saving every possible life.

1 comment:

  1. I've had the vaccinations and I will continue to wear a mask in public places (grocery etc.) because I think it sets a good example. But I will visit with friends and family. I'm done being afraid.