A few quick observations on epidemic developments

By Kevin Roche

Let me add one more general comment on what this country is becoming. A lot of others have made this point more articulately than I can, but if you try to suppress the speech of certain people or suppress the expression of certain views, you are just indicating that you know your own position is weak and/or wrong and you are afraid that if the viewpoint you are trying to suppress is heard, the public might agree with it, or at least question the truth of your own position. Limits on free speech are always pushed by those who know they are wrong, but can’t admit it to themselves.

photo created by freepik

I get a number of questions on the effect of vaccination. The entire coronavirus briefing in Minnesota on Tuesday was taken up by vaccine questions. People have hopes that the vaccination program means the end of the epidemic, and that program, coupled with the very high percent of the population already infected, does likely mean that. But the virus isn’t going away and there will still be infections. I think I have tried to explain this repeatedly.  Adaptive immunity is the ability of a person’s immune system to recognize that a pathogen to which the person has been exposed is the same pathogen which previously infected the person. That adaptive immunity can occur either from a prior infection or from a vaccination. What is key is that the pathogen, in this case CV-19, hasn’t changed its chemical sequence much from the original infection or from the sequences used in a vaccine. Assuming that is true, upon exposure, the person’s immune system will recognize the pathogen, largely through the work of memory B cells and memory T cells, and will mount a rapid and robust response designed to disable the virus, prevent it from entering cells, and/or kill cells that have been infected.

If we want to stop the panic, we can best do that by immediately vaccinating those who are most at risk of serious illness.

In most cases, a person with adaptive immunity should avoid infection. There may be cases where some limited infection occurs, but it should result in very mild symptoms and should be cleared rapidly. Could a person with adaptive immunity test positive in this process? Given the goofy way we do PCR testing, the answer is probably yes. A person could have virus or virus fragments in their saliva or nasal passages. That could be true even if they aren’t “infected”. Could a person with adaptive immunity be infectious? Possibly. Theoretically if you inhaled virus in your upper respiratory tract you can obviously exhale it and might be passed on to another person. Equally theoretically you might have a very limited infection of a few cells before the adaptive immune response clears the virus and you might exhale some virus. I think that these would be extremely rare occurrences. Now the big question, should we all freak out and act like it is the end of the world because our “experts” and politicians either don’t understand or did a very poor job of explaining exactly how adaptive immunity works, and because the virus is not going to disappear. The answer to that is no, but given the current state of our media, I wouldn’t count on it.

Next, as predicted, now that we have a change in administration, we are seeing certain political leaders and experts take a totally different perspective on the epidemic. Governor Cuomo, truly a despicable person, has suddenly decided that the economy has to be opened up all most no matter what. Certain public health experts have decided that we don’t need to vaccinate everyone to believe that there is significant population immunity and that we can probably open things up pretty fast. Just tells you that a lot of the posturing over the last year was designed to inflict political damage on the current administration.

A lot of the Minnesota press briefing Monday and Tuesday focused on vaccine rollout and on the new variants of the virus. In regard to the latter, I will again point out that if you are over-aggressive in your suppression efforts, you are encouraging the development and spread of more transmissible and infectious variants. Just another failure to think through all the consequences of responses to an epidemic.

As cases have continued to grow rapidly even in places with extremely high mask use, instead of acknowledging that masks probably don’t make any difference in community transmission, experts have begun saying that public isn’t wearing them right or even that people need to wear two masks. It is just absurd the extent that experts and politicians will go to to avoid the obvious truth that widespread masking is making no difference in case growth.

The CDC director in a press conference today acknowledged that most transmission takes place in the home. So why do you support stay-at-home orders? And he claimed that many areas of the country are on the verge of “exponential” growth. Again, do you know what an exponent is? And stop the fear-mongering.

Finally, as my friend who tweets as Covid Clarity has pointed out, vaccination in Minnesota is embarrassing, particularly in regard to the very low percent of doses being used on seniors and nursing home residents.  As a reminder, the median age of deaths in Minnesota is over 80.  If we want to stop the panic, we can best do that by immediately vaccinating those who are most at risk of serious illness.  That should have been the sole initial priority.