November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Time for another essay length post about life, the universe and everything. I haven’t the vaguest idea what I’m actually going to cover today – sometimes my best creations fashion themselves by my turning my conscious mind off and just letting the fingers fly across the keyboard. It is turkey day. No turkey here. I was hardly going to cook a turkey for one for dinner. I do have a few goodies in the fridge for later along with a bottle of wine for our family zoom hour coming up later this evening. Family stretched across four time zones and alcohol will either end up in hilarity or disaster. Knowing my people the way I do, it will almost certainly be the former.
As much as I kvetch while writing these missives, I really do have a good deal to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head. I don’t need to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I remain gainfully employed with a regular paycheck. My needs are all met. I can satisfy most of my wants. The two that I cannot, theater and travel, are denied to pretty much everyone at the moment so I can’t whine about it too much. Covid will continue to run our lives for a while longer but eventually we will adapt to a world wherein it exists and we will all figure out how to do those sorts of things in manners which allow us to be safe.

There’s a couple of new wrinkles on the vaccine front that I’ve learned about in the four days since writing the last one of these diaries (which shows just how quickly things are moving). The first is that there is another vaccine that has emerged with a successful track record. This one, from Astra-Zeneca and the Jenner Vaccine Institute at Oxford University, is very different from the two mRNA vaccines I discussed previously. It is a live virus vaccine and, because of this, it does not have to be kept at super cold temperatures for shipment and storage. It is stable at room temperatures for some time making it easier to distribute, especially to parts of the world that have less developed infrastructure. It is also, due to funding promises from various sources, likely to be a good deal cheaper than the mRNA vaccines.

This vaccine has its roots in the Ebola and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks of the last decade. Knowing that there would eventually be a world wide pandemic of something, scientists at the Jenner Vaccine Institute decided that what was needed was a vaccine that could be easily modified for any particular disease that came down the pike. They took a cold virus (an adenovirus to be specific) from chimpanzees, modified it slightly to make in uninfectious to humans, and then started to work out ways that it could be a messenger and drop any particular engineered payload to human cells, allowing the immune system to activate against it. They were quite far along with their ideas when Covid hit and were able to pivot to using the spike proteins of the coronavirus as the target, more or less completing ten years worth of work in less than ten months. The original trials of dosing of this vaccine weren’t especially promising, 50% protection rather than the 95% of the mRNA vaccines until there was a happy accident and, by error, one of the test cohorts got only a half dose in their initial shot of a two shot series. Those individuals showed 90% protection. No one’s quite sure why but the studies are being hurriedly looked at and replicated.

So there now appears to be a bit of a three way horse race to see who can first get an FDA emergency use authorization and then get their product out. I’m thinking Moderna is likely to be the winner here. It comes down to money. The Pfizer vaccine is backed primarily by Germany and the Astra-Zeneca is backed primarily by England while the Moderna is American. It doesn’t hurt that Moncef Slaoui, the vaccine guru behind ‘Operation Warp Speed’ was on the board of Moderna and was reaping benefits from the company until Elizabeth Warren pointed it out and pushed for him to divest. I have a feeling that a number of individuals well connected to Moderna are going to make a killing over the next six months and there will be a lot of mutual back scratching along with the congratulations. Societal upheaval and disaster has always created new wealth – like Procter and Gamble moving from local Cincinnati company to international powerhouse on the strength of contracts to supply the Union Army with soap and candles. Perhaps Honore de Balzac had it best with his quote ‘Behind every great fortune is a crime’.

Numbers are continuing to skyrocket everywhere and will continue to do so while we have rules and regulations governed more by politics and judicial fiat than by sound public health principles. We’re just lucky that the mortality is as low as it is. If this were SARS (and technically Covid is SARS-2) with its 15% mortality rate, we’d have nearly two million dead at this point in the pandemic and our social and health institutions might be close to a state of collapse. Y’all know what to do. Wash your hands, wear your mask, social distance, stay out of crowded buildings if you don’t have to be there. I hate to think what the numbers are going to look like at Christmas given the widespread flouting of these simple rules that continues to go on. I’m tired of hearing about people I know and love falling ill or losing loved ones.

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