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Jun
30

The long haul

This isn’t going to be “over” for at least a year. Probably longer. Long enough that all of us must focus not on preparing for the end of the pandemic, but adapting to it and accepting that tomorrow will look just like today.

Allow me to make the case.

The only thing that will bring back “normal” life is “vaccinating” all of us. Period. That will happen – either by herd immunity (at least 2/3rds of us get infected and survive, so the virus can’t find enough carriers to keep the pandemic going) or by development, production, and use of a vaccine.

But…”Immunity” isn’t binary – think of it as a continuum rather than an on/off switch. Many vaccines reduce the severity of an illness rather than preventing it entirely. This means that COVID19 may well be with us for a long time, although its impact will be reduced.

Here are the issues. (caveat – there’s much we don’t know for certain, the following is culled from the most credible sources I could locate)

Stopping COVID19’s spread requires enough of us to have immunity that the virus can’t find hosts.  That immunity can come from antibodies created by our immune system reacting to an infection, or a vaccine. Antibodies are blood proteins produced in response to and counteracting a specific antigen – in this case COVID19.

Herd immunity

For myriad reasons, few countries have been able to stop COVID19’s spread. (New Zealand is an outlier, Taiwan and Vietnam have had notable success).  At the other end of the spectrum are Russia, the US and Brazil where the disease continues to spread rapidly.

There’s some research that suggests people who have had relatively mild cases of COVID19 don’t produce a lot of antibodies, thus may be vulnerable to future infections. Other research suggests antibodies may be pretty effective.

Another study found COVID19 patients’ antibody levels remained stable two months post-infection (that was when they were tested, it is possible levels remain high over a longer period).

Eventually, herd immunity will reduce the ability of COVID19 to spread, and likely reduce the severity of the illness – or prevent it entirely – among those who’ve been previously infected

Vaccines

There’s been much wildly optimistic and wholly unrealistic happy talk about a vaccine this fall. Is this possible?

Sure – about as possible that my beloved Chicago White Sox go undefeated and win the World Series.

  • The average development time for vaccines is about ten years. Lots of vaccines take even longer.
  • The fastest vaccine development  – for mumps – took four years (but that was way back in 1967, and we’ve got a lot smarter since then and technology is a gazillion times better) But, humans are still humans, and biology moves at its own pace, so there are inherent limits in the testing process
  • Despite 17 years of effort, we’ve never successfully developed a vaccine for a coronavirus.
  • If we don’t have a vaccine by this time next year, it won’t make much difference as COVID19’s spread will push us closer to herd immunity.
  • Once a vaccine is developed, hundreds of millions of doses and needles must be manufactured and an entire delivery infrastructure implemented. Good news here, the Feds are investing hundreds of millions in manufacturing potential vaccines, the idea being they will be ready to go IF they are found to be effective and safe.

If you want to track vaccine development, this link is pretty useful.

Takeaway

One of my favorite movie quotes is from Shawshank Redemption;  just after he learns his release from prison is not going to happen, Andy tells Red “I guess it comes down to a simple choice…get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Some will rail against the unfairness of it all, accuse others of all manner of sins, pine for the “old days”, and otherwise waste precious time and energy uselessly bemoaning our fate.

Which will keep them imprisoned behind walls of their own making. Others will accept the new reality, not resigning themselves to it but rather adapting, creating, building and eventually thriving.

 


13 thoughts on “The long haul”

  1. I agree Joe. I think the focus needs to shift to living with the virus instead of waiting for the cure. Another great quote “I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London

    1. Thyanks Bryan – Jack London – a person who got more living out of a very short life than most of us ever will

    2. I do not know you Bryan, but thanks for reminding me about one of the great quotes of all time. Late 60’s poster, a B&W photo of JL was relatively popular with that quote at the bottom. Had it in up in my room for years and the thought has stuck with me long after the poster disintegrated.

  2. Joe, From day one I’ve used this site to track Bay Area and counties in California. It isn’t sponsored by advocates or news outlets. Their study on New York State is interesting and probably depicts the most accurate results you’ll find. You can click on the State specific. If you go all the way past the numbers on the bottom there is narrative
    https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

    1. Hello Vince – thanks for the note.

      I’ve looked at the site several times, and frankly find it to be opaque at best about how it sources data, how it evaluates and assesses it, and the credibility of same. Some of their findings are puzzling at best.

      https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/05/world/worldometer-coronavirus-mystery/
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worldometer
      https://www.snopes.com/news/2019/01/03/abortion-leading-cause-of-death/
      https://towardsdatascience.com/a-short-review-of-covid-19-data-sources-ba7f7aa1c342

      I use JHU and Covid tracking project – they are completely transparent about data sources and sourcing.

      thanks Joe

  3. Excellent article Joe! As with the loss of anything, in this case our “normal” life, there are 5 stages of grieving around loss. We all are at different stages in that process, which really highlights the quote you shared “Some will rail against the unfairness of it all, accuse others of all manner of sins, pine for the “old days”, and otherwise waste precious time and energy uselessly bemoaning our fate.” People are mourning and trying to deal with loss in so many different areas of their lives, whether loss of life, a lifestyle, finances, etc. It will take time to get through the 5 stages to reach that pivotal “…simple choice…get busy living, or get busy dying.”
    I do wish the media would take the message from your article and start educating and promoting acceptance into society on how we can all move past this “fear/limbo” and start learning to live again in a “new normal”.

    1. Hello Lisa – glad the post is useful. Agree that it does take time, my sense is the first step is to realize this is the new reality.

  4. Excellent perspective today, Joe. In AZ, our numbers are spiking and we now have an Executive Order for through July 27th, restaurants closed except for take out and other social distancing measures. The ‘herding’ concept you presented makes sense. Thank you.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates

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