No Vaccine For Me, Please

So now we wait for the unintended consequences. Now that the US CDC has removed the requirement for masking in most situations for those who are fully vaccinated (or vacciminatedified as my elder son says), what can we expect to see going forward? First off, those governors including our own in West Virginia will be under extreme pressure to remove any masking mandates. This has already taken place in West Virginia as of May 15. Second, we can expect non-governmental groups like my church bureaucracy to relinquish their limits on in-person services (and perhaps on singing in church as well).

But the primary consequence is that there will be a low level of severe coronavirus continuing to circulate through the population since the virus will still have plenty of unvaccinated people to attack as we go through the months and years to come. If you look at the Venn diagram of those who will not get vaccinated, and those who have resisted masking, you will see a very good overlap. So those who have not been vaccinated will not follow any guidelines from the government. As those of us who have taken the jabs celebrate our freedom from the limitations imposed by the response to the virus, we must be aware that there is no visible sign to mark the vaccinated from those who are not. Since the vaccine was supposed to be the mark of the beast, I figured there would be some visible means to distinguish those who are protected from those who are not. Alas, that is not the case.

We must all be aware that even though we in the US are fortunate enough to see falling case rates, our health system will continue to see a large number of virus patients filling our hospitals. The stressed health professionals will not be able to totally abandon pandemic status, but the reduced levels we will see will likely mean our health care system won’t be overwhelmed.

That is obviously not the case across the globe. One needs only to look at the severe effects of the virus surge in India in order to understand this is a global fight, and no one is really safe until all people have the chance for immunization. Eventually the uncontrolled spread in many countries will result in a viral mutation that will evade the existing immune response from vaccination. So we have a selfish interest in preventing the scenes of suffering we see as images from India are seen on our media.

But I fear it will be nigh unto impossible to disabuse those who insist that this vaccine is evil, and a part of the New World Order mission to depopulate the earth, and we are only waiting until the 5G signal comes that activates the self-destruct mechanism we’ve had injected into ourselves. As has been said, you can’t fix stupid. And what’s worse is that so many folks are willingly adopting these ludicrous beliefs because they’ve been persuaded by the constant drumbeat of the media of the right.

Look, the right loves to bewail the perceived intolerance of the left. Well, this partisan of the left is open, and has gone so far as to read an extensive link about gain of function research conducted at the Wuhan virology lab and sponsored by that paragon of evil, Anthony Fauci. This was a link provided by my younger son, who has been vaccinated but is also deeply suspicious of China.

I will say we do need to find the animal reservoir for this virus, else the description in the link will be more likely to describe the actual origin of the virus. Regardless of the actual source of the virus, it is apparent that the initial tendency of the Chinese government was to minimize the severity of the initial outbreak. That does not justify the ethnic sniggering conducted by US government officials who were only too willing to blame an entire ethnic group for this viral dissemination. It is the words of these government officials which emboldened so many US citizens to attack their brethren for appearing Asian. What those on the right do not want to admit is that their followers take their words literally and view actions they take in support of ill-advised words as justified both legally and morally. Cancel culture from the left can result in the loss of a job, and that loss is sometimes not justified. Cancel culture from the right can result in the loss of a limb, or a life. After all, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And when one side defines what liberty is, extremism is often the result.

So we will emerge from the pandemic haphazardly. Some countries will see greatly decreased frequency and severity of infections. Others who may have escaped the ravages of the disease to date will find themselves overrun by later surges induced by more infectious variants. Meanwhile, the host country for the Olympics is questioning the worth of holding this event in the midst of an ongoing surge in cases. Given the expenses involved in hosting an Olympic game, it seems that there will be great reluctance for future cities to vie for the right to spend themselves into oblivion. Especially if this year’s games are canceled. Maybe that’s symbolic of how the world, which once was unified by athletic competition, is now unraveling due to the overwhelming trend towards provincialism sweeping over the nations of the earth. Much like the virus has swept over the earth, totally ignorant of the imaginary lines dividing the countries on the ground. Some realities just cannot be ignored.

Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine, Vaccine!

So we now in the US have more doses of vaccines available than we have people wanting to take said vaccines. In some states, available vaccination appointment times are being wasted as we run up against the recalcitrants who believe one or all of the following:

  • The virus is not a real threat, and is nothing to be concerned about
  • The vaccine was developed too quickly and horrible side effects will emerge over time
  • The vaccine contains tracking devices from Bill Gates equivalent to the Mark of the Beast
  • The Chinese are just waiting for enough vaccinations to occur before they unleash part 2 of this pandemic, resulting in depopulation. Only vaccine virgins will remain.
  • Doctors and hospitals are overstating the coronavirus toll since they have a financial incentive to call as many deaths as Covid-related as possible.

I have seen these mentioned on the internet as reasons for not taking the vaccine. It is amazing this degree of stupidity is prevalent but given the electoral history in the US in 2016, stupidity is capable of leading this nation.

Many of the issues I have seen involve the rapidity of vaccine development. Those who refuse inoculation do not understand that we have built the scientific understanding of mRNA, and we can now control its construction so it can be used instead of a killed virus particle aimed at generating immune system response. Instead of having to rely upon a vaccine that can sometimes actually cause the disease, they are scared of the latest advances in science where only the target system on the virus is attacked. People have expressed concerns about use of fetal derived cells in the culturing of the vaccine. Well, the mRNA vaccines do not use any living material at all so this cultural concern is now moot. But if folks really want a more conventional vaccine, the Johnson and Johnson version, and the Astra-Zeneca versions have a killed virus at their core. Just not the COVID virus. I’m not as familiar with the Russian and Chinese vaccines, so I cannot speak about them.

It is incredible how fast our knowledge has grown about genetics and manipulation of genetic components. Just 20 years ago I hung a poster up in my office showing the human genome. It’s only been 20 years ago since the human genome was sequenced, and that effort took over a year to complete. Now, the sequence for this virus was done and sent out to the world in a few days. This enabled scientists to design the genetic response attacking the virus, which resulted in an effective vaccine being developed in record time. The rest of the time was taken up with the clinical trials, which are a necessary step in the release of a vaccine. And indeed, the trials were held, although we do not know essential things like how long does the immune system stay protected. That’s because this virus only came about in the last year, and we’ve not had time to get long-term data on immunity.

There are those who proclaim their belief in God is all they need to protect themselves from germs. These folks would have fared well back in the middle ages with the bubonic plagues. I’d wager most of the folks who succumbed to the plague in bygone days were religious, and that did not save them at all. I just wish these folks would understand that we as humans were given the ability to understand nature, and it is a gift from God to have the knowledge to design new treatments for disease. It is not a refutation of your religious beliefs to accept this wondrous new gift enabled by our abilities provided by God. But then, I cannot comprehend how many believers in this nation were taken in by a charlatan who laughed at their religious devotion.

As I’ve said before, we have an opportunity to see evolution in action. Especially now, since it is the younger people who still can spread their genes to the world who are preferentially refusing to take the vaccines. If those who refuse to take the vaccine end up dying in larger numbers, then fewer of the next generation will have science denial as part of their genetic and cultural inheritance. It is a shame that we must take part in this experiment, because the fewer people who get immunity through vaccines, the more likely it is new variants will develop requiring a tweak to the vaccine, and subsequent booster shots. If we cannot convince folks to get a basic inoculation, then I expect much poorer compliance with subsequent boosters. But maybe it is part of the evolution of the human species causing preferential survival by those who believe in science, and those who are willing to accept the gifts coming from scientific progress.

What Happens Next?

Despair creeps in when hope is exhausted. For so many during this long pandemic season, despair has been a constant companion after the shock of the first few weeks passed. But now, along with the seasonal change, hope is returning. For some, the financial boost coming from the COVID relief package will enable them to hang on until the economy fully recovers, and they can go back to a service economy job that pays just enough to squeak by. For many others, the opportunity to abandon the prison of their home with the onslaught of vaccination, will bring back essential socialization and family interactions. Still, it is hope that is omnipresent in this time of rebirth in nature.

As a nation, we begin to crawl out of our foxholes and survey the landscape around us. Some things should come into focus, even if they were visible prior to the pandemic. Though visible, they did not register as urgent problems in the before times. Will we have the collective will to address these problems now? We will see. The COVID relief bill has taken a first step towards solving some of these problems. But it is time-limited relief, and its provisions are for only one or two years. The problems, like child poverty, have existed for far longer. It was only during the nadir of the pandemic that we realized how interconnected we all are, and how we need to solve the problems of our brothers and sisters in need, or we will be swept under the tide of humanity crying out for aid.

We had a foretaste of what can happen when we ignore these problems for too long. Demonstrations aimed at protesting excessive use of force by law enforcement, were coopted at night by those who favored direct action and anarchy. It is important to recognize that the demonstrations were instigated by acts of violence, but the economy was also a significant factor. When people do not see hope in their lives, despair can overwhelm them and it is a small step to violence. Of course, those who saw only the violence in the streets were convinced that the source of that violence was organized, and financed by an evil cabal. Then we saw what could happen when those who decried violence, decided to perpetrate violence themselves on January 6. Certainly we all were living in a state of despair at that time.

Will we learn our lessons? Will we let the siren song of substance abuse wrap its embrace of slithering tentacles around us? Will we continue to insist upon punitive actions only as the sole treatment method available to those who succumb to its fatal attraction? Will we realize that the costs of maintaining our prison complex are vastly greater than the costs of providing real treatment? That’s just one of the problems that existed long before the pandemic, yet shows up now in greater relief.

Will we be willing to invest in improved facilities for schools? In some states, the disparity between school facilities and achievement is immoral. The zip code you live in should not be the primary determinant of your educational outcome. Yet it is in far too many states. But of course it is the greedy teachers’ unions that are seen as the source of poor student performance.

Will we continue to accept that in the service economy we now have, it is not moral to allow those who look after the most vulnerable in our population to work full time for wages that do not provide enough money to live in dignity? We’ve lost many of the jobs we had in small towns, where a manufacturer could take those who did not pursue advanced education and provide them jobs where they could support a family. We may decry the global shift of labor and capital, but it will not reverse and provide those jobs in the future. Any manufacturing that returns, will use smaller amounts of labor, and require advanced education in order to control and maintain the machines that actually perform the manufacturing. We can wail and moan about this change, or we can accept it and try to fashion our real world into one where we’d like to live.

We’ve just gone through a period where we tried to squeeze out testosterone as a grease for our economy. Witness the frantic push to grab the last bit of fossil fuels out of the public lands. Because, you see, drilling for oil is manly. And we need that image of the roughneck out there in his domestic pickup, living his life out in the frontier towns of the Dakota’s, or among the tumbleweeds of Texas, showing the best of what America has to offer. Yes, doesn’t require much education to be a roughneck. Just what we need to Make America Great Again. But the investment required to keep the oil and gas flowing through the fracking fields won’t just keep coming, since it is nigh unto impossible to make money when the output from the wells declines so precipitously. So will we turn from the allure of fossil fuel towards a cleaner future?

The Texas freeze has shown us just how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. Will we have the will to require investment in upgrading facilities and making it possible to integrate periodic sources of energy generation (i.e., renewables) into our delivery systems? The next failure may not just be in Texas, but can be global in nature, especially if we get smacked by a coronal mass ejection from the sun. Are we willing to spend money now to protect against something that may not happen for 100 years?

All of these problems (and many more) have existed for decades if not longer. The virus has shown us that we are all living on borrowed time if we expect life to continue blissfully ignorant of the risks we run. Somehow we need to change our mindset from a heedless rush for maximum profits by corporations, to a model where some of the excess profits are recycled into system improvements that ensure continuity of service. Can such a change in mindset happen without government mandates? Texas may be our canary in that a completely deregulated environment did not ensure continuity of service to cover a once in a hundred-year weather event.

Since the 1980’s in the US, we have seen government put down as being the worst enemy of true Americans. It is past time to put that phrase into our history books, as we see what that philosophy does to a society after over 40 years of implementation. You end up with massive inequality in the economy, a bulging underclass that does not share in the overall prosperity of the nation, and facilities that all depend upon that have grown increasingly frail. It is time to change our perspective and look at what can be, and work to create that future for all of us.

Halfway There!

Photo by author

The crocus have bloomed in our lawn and garden slopes. The first signs of spring, these most hopeful of flowers often will bloom through the snow as they let us know that warmer temperatures are coming. We look for the first signs of spring and cherish them.

I just received my first dose of the coronavirus vaccine today. Like the crocus, the increased spread of the vaccines offers hope that the world may emerge from the doldrums of winter into the bright sunlight of summer. Perhaps we can look forward to those things we once took for granted, like enjoying a meal at a restaurant, or singing in our various choirs without fear of contagion.

Being the science nerd that I am, I am glad that I received a dose of the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. There is no better example of technology to demonstrate how far we have come to understanding the genome and how to influence the biology of life. To think that we can now introduce fat particles in a vaccine that are designed to penetrate cell walls. There they will deliver their dosage of mRNA that causes the immune system to recognize, and attack, invaders that have the distinctive type of latching mechanism of COVID. No longer do we need to rely upon killed versions of the whole virus (although the Johnson and Johnson vaccine does rely upon a killed virus other than the COVID to produce immunity). Most of the arguments against vaccines, like they rely upon cells from aborted fetuses, or contain aluminum or mercury, are rendered moot by the nature of the mRNA vaccines. They contain no items that were ever alive, and thus avoid most of the qualms that the anti-vaccination crowd should have.

But never doubt the ability of those who do not understand the underlying science to sow doubt even with this brand-new mode of vaccine delivery. No, since the scary boogeyman of DNA is invoked, those who must protest medical advances to justify their own superiority have declared that these new vaccines will hijack your DNA, and cause unspeakable mutations that will show up in later years to enable the goal of population reduction to be achieved. Whose goal? Why, Bill Gates of course. It is he who has taken the place of George Soros in many regards as the face of evil for those who refuse any scientific advance. Bill has mandated the insertion of microchips into the vaccine, so that the vaccination status of all may be determined by a simple scan, and your access to travel, recreation, and money can be held hostage to your vaccination status. I’ve even seen discussion about ingesting a horse de-wormer (Ivermectin) as a treatment regimen rather than subject people to the vaccine.

Since I was trained as a chemical engineer, and have studied biochemistry and other related fields, I have much less fear of products developed through adherence to the scientific method. I wish there were a way I could convey the knowledge I have gained to those who are insistent upon believing the pure BS that is spread through on-line media. But I should not be surprised. Those who believed in the past president as being a great businessman have proven to be remarkably recalcitrant in abandoning their adherence to worshiping the great one. You need look no further than to see the adulation given to the golden statue of their chosen leader this past weekend at CPAC. Those who have been taken in by a scam artist, are loathe to admit their own folly. It has been said the mankind goes mad in herds, but come to their senses one by one. We who believe we are the rational ones, will never go and win an argument with those who are still in the throes of their delusions.

Anyway, I’ve now had the first dose of the vaccine. I anticipate that when I receive the second dose in about four weeks, that my immune system will already recognize the new dose as an interloper that must be attacked, and I expect to feel like crap for a day or so. That is one small price to pay compared to the price that can be exacted from full-fledged infection with the virus. I’ve been following the progress of a friend who was severely infected, with pneumonia from the virus. Just the stories of his near brush with death, and the tenacity he’s had to use to battle back, let me know that I don’t wish to share his experience.

In some ways this pandemic has served as a wake-up call for the world. Imagine if this airborne virus had the lethality of Ebola? I think that’s what some deniers are maintaining, that if people aren’t dropping dead on the streets, then this is not a disease worth fearing. I really am hoping that those in charge of political power decide it is worthwhile to pay for insurance policies for the future. What does that look like? It looks like scientists from multiple nations working at facilities across the globe, ready to sound the warning when they detect a disease of concern. It looks like adequate stocks of protective equipment kept on hand. It looks like an analysis of supply chains, and investment to harden those supply chains, so that we are not subject to interruption of those supply chains for vital supplies when the world shuts down for the next pandemic. Because one thing we know. As long as mankind keeps impinging upon virgin territory, we will come into contact with new and more deadly diseases in the future. May we have the wisdom to actually learn from this episode, instead of adopting amnesia as a coping mechanism.

One Problem Ending? Another Yet To Be Faced

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

We may be finally nearing a solution for the current version of the pandemic facing this nation. A vaccine is being distributed across this nation, and if there are enough doses, and enough people are convinced it is safe to take, then it may be possible to begin relaxing the constraints felt by many across this nation. Felt by many, but by no means felt by all people. For there are still significant numbers who remain convinced that all of the past year represented a mere distraction orchestrated by shadowy forces intent on bringing in a new world order under the pretext of a global pandemic.

Such a view was represented in Washington this past Saturday when the newly elected representative for Virginia’s 5th Congressional delegate spoke before people who were holding yet another demonstration in favor of Trump’s claim of winning the election. He said, “It’s a serious virus, but it’s a virus. It’s not a pandemic,” said Good (R). Now one may quibble about semantics, but the degree of ignorance in his comments remains incomprehensible to me and to many who have recognized the dangers of viral spread since the beginning of this epidemic. Congressman-elect Good mentioned how good it was to see so many people rejecting the tyranny of the mask and showing their faces in public. I swear that far too many people in this nation will not recognize the seriousness of this medical situation unless we have someone going through our streets with a cart, calling “Bring out your dead”.

The voters in the 5th Congressional District had a choice in the general election, but also had a choice in the Republican primary. For in that election, the incumbent Denver Riggleman was defeated. Congressman Riggleman had the audacity to conduct a same-sex wedding while in office, and for that sin, he was expelled from his job. Bob Good, who was the athletic director at Liberty University, then faced Dr. Cameron Webb, who serves as a hospitalist at the UVA hospital in Charlottesville, and teaches at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. And, horror of horrors, Dr. Webb happens to be African-American. Can’t have that. So in a district that stretches along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge parkway, from the Potomac to the North Carolina border, the voters rejected someone who has personal knowledge and experience in dealing with health matters, and selected a Republican instead who would follow the current President over the precipice.

But then, this is the conundrum that we face in this country. We are seemingly a nation that refuses to acknowledge the value of knowledge, and instead insists upon fealty to a single person as head of a party that is increasingly intellectually bankrupt. Though we have now seen the risk of turning over the reins of government to someone who disdains competence, still we have a significant percentage of this nation that refuses to give any credence to any statement coming from the government. Well, we do not live in a world where we can pull up our drawbridge and retreat to our island stronghold. Britain is trying that and in a couple of weeks, when the reality of Brexit hits them, they will soon wish they had never cast a vote to leave the EU. Maybe we can learn from their mistake, and from the mistakes we’ve lived through over the past four years.

We know that the world is now interconnected in ways inconceivable a few short decades ago. Supply chains for international corporations require seamless transfer of materials and funds across national borders. Any disruption of those flows increases the overall costs. In essence, we’ve traded lower-skilled jobs, for lower inflation for the nation. That has resulted in economic losers in many rural and ex-urban regions, where the current strength of the Republican/Trump party now resides. But the discussion about whether we are willing to pay higher prices in order to move manufacturing back to the US has not happened. And on the Progressive side, we’ve not discussed how consumers will respond to paying higher prices for fast food, and pizza, and child /elder care if we institute a higher, livable minimum wage. Face it, part of the bargain we have made over the last several decades is we’ve traded lower prices for the loss of economic security for the lower class of workers. Whether it is the displacement of main street retail for the low prices of big box retailers, or whether it is an assembly operation that can be done for $0.25 less by an overseas supplier, this nation has willingly chosen the lower price.

Maybe we have gained a slight awareness of the value of local enterprise through the course of this pandemic. Personally, we have made the choice to forego any chain restaurant during this time, and spending our dollars on takeout or outdoor dining at truly local restaurants. But we are only one small bit in the economy even of the small town we live in. We are long overdue on having a discussion about acceptance of higher prices in exchange for better economic conditions at the domestic level. Until I see a political party willing to discuss this, I won’t take any efforts they make as being serious efforts to improve the economy.