The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Immune And Vaccine Escape Covid Variants

It’s tedious to have to keep writing about Covid, but since we are absolutely determined not to use policies which will stop Covid, it’s necessary.

A new preprint study, published ahead of peer review, is pointing to why BA.4 and BA.5 are gaining ground: They can escape antibodies generated by previous infections caused by the first Omicron virus, BA.1, the variant responsible for the huge wave of infections that hit many countries in December and January. They can also escape antibodies in people who’ve been vaccinated and had breakthrough BA.1 infections, though this happened to a lesser degree than seen in people who’ve only been infected.

This is exactly as predicted here. Viruses adapt to challenges. To wipe it out we had to reduce it to nearly zero (as they mostly have in China, among a few other countries), so that it doesn’t have a lot of hosts. We chose not to do so (or our leaders did, as it’s making them fantastically rich), and so here we are.

Moderna has an Omicron booster coming out in autumn, which is to say at least four months from now, but because it was designed for the Omicron variant and not these new ones, it’ll likely be less effective than we’d like, though more effective than vaccines designed for the original (now essentially extinct) strain.

Given reports that Long Covid is far more prevalent than previously believed, it seems wise for those who can to keep taking precautions. There’s still a chance of death, but the chance of getting some sort of longer term health damage is not insignificant.

This mess could go on for years. We’re just gambling on a variant that does less damage becoming dominant, but given that Omicron Covid is already in the race for the most virulent disease known to mankind, and that it could keep mutating, that doesn’t seem like much of a hope, especially as viruses in general cause the sort of problems we see after Covid, just usually not quite as bad or widespread.

Long Covid research will be helpful, and perhaps we’ll come up with some sort of cure, and the best thing we can hope for is that that research and cure will be useful for effects from most or all viruses. If so, something good may come out of this mess.

As I, perhaps tediously, keep pointing out, this is a choice which has been made by our leaders — to let it spread, to make people go back to work, and to do nearly nothing to stop Covid’s ravages. Unless you’re actually in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, or a few other places, it remains your own leaders who are the greatest threat to your well being. People who are constantly doing things to make you sick or poor, or homeless or dead are conventionally known as “enemies.”

Worth a little meditation.



Civilization Ending Long Covid Levels?


Open Thread


  1. different clue

    Most of the people reading this and commenting here already know all this. Given that the only way to stop it would be a successful mass-movement achieving the mass slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands ( perhaps several million ) of the deliberate covidizers in command, and I don’t see how a few lonely blog-readers can achieve such a successful mass movement which can successfully mass-exterminate the people who will prevent us from applying sensible covid containment policies as long as those people remain alive and in physical existence, the only thing we here can do is to share information about how to raise our own and eachothers’ chances of surviving the very deliberately encouraged and facilitated pandemic.

    Now, maybe the tens of millions of Trump supporter type people could conduct the kind of mass slaughter needed to remove the engineers-of-covid-spread from existence in order to stop them from driving the ongoing spread of covid. But if the tens of millions of Trump supporters were to start a mass slaughter movement, they would probably try to mass-slaughter the people who write and read and comment on blogs like this. And I am not sure how to reach those tens of millions of Trump supporters with the outlooks and information expressed here. It would certainly be worth a try if someone here can figure out how to do it.

  2. Trinity

    “As I, perhaps tediously, keep pointing out, this is a choice which has been made by our leaders: ”

    You are not being tedious, Ian, please don’t stop keeping this front and center. Although I can see how it makes your work tedious.

    It’s all related, along with the lack of response to climate change. It’s hysterically funny (in a dark way) that the Omicron vaccine will be available in the Fall of ’22. This is more evidence they cannot (or will not) innovate, and each iteration is less effective and more problematic than the last. This is also evident in software “updates”, which are more likely to resemble downgrades. They run in circles fixing the bugs from the previous version, and then pat themselves on the back for their “innovation”. Their “income streams” are also becoming less profitable, but it’s going to take time to be noticeable. Entropy.

    Inside the article you referenced, this has to be the dumbest headline and separate article I’ve seen yet:

    “Is herd immunity for Covid-19 still possible?”

    It never was, but they keep trotting it out as if it were ever possible, for all the reasons you stated.

  3. Willy

    I think of two 50-something couples I know.

    The first were born, raised and educated in small town Kansas. Both have masters degrees, are atheistic, and would never go back to Kansas for all of the Thomas Frank reasons.

    The second were born, raised, and educated with 2 year degrees in Seattle. The wife is a loud and proud conservative evangelical Trumper, her husband is a go-along to get-along big teddy bear who may have liberal values behind his highly diplomatic demeanor but just wants to stay married.

    I don’t think either of those couples should be targets for covid information. Preaching to the choir, the Dunning Krugers, or the silently suffering seems counterproductive. For them, simply saying “But one million Americans dead…” is probably enough.

    The under and misinformed apathetics seem to be the best targets for scientific information.

  4. Carborundum

    This is not exclusively due to the choices of our leaders. From long experience, I can tell you that – at least in North America – the governmental, quasi-governmental, and nonprofit agencies required to implement a zero-COVID strategy are not capable of doing so. They do not have that capacity.

    Federal and state level governments are good at writing cheques and regulation; municipal governments are better at implementation, but they are commonly creatures of higher levels of government (particularly when it comes to revenue). Quasi- and non-governmental agencies have either been so starved for resources for so long they have trouble just maintaining the status quo, or serve limited constituencies that would have relatively minor roles in a zero-COVID campaign.

  5. bruce wilder

    I am afraid I am in the “can’t do” camp for some of reasons Carborundum points to. I was never impressed with the heavy-handed authoritarian measures — it is not clear to me that puritanical grimacing and shaming was ever necessary or helpful, but effective public health measures begin with insightful competence and if we gaze back with open eyes, I think we see clearly (if we look, really look) that the expert professionals were not in any way, shape or form even passably competence. Meanwhile, we the laity to their preisthood were terrible at holding them accountable.

    Ian’s point, as I understand it (which I may not), is that if the really rich and powerful wanted effective competence they would have done something to conjure it into existence. I think there is something to that — when the earliest cases were concentrated among globe-trotting professionals, it was viewed a bit more urgently than when it became a disease of “essential” workers butchering hogs in meatpacking plants and abandoned elderly in nursing homes.

    But, I also think we witnessed some absolutely bonkers inability to process and apply knowledge as it emerges. What is that pretentitious faker, Anthony Fauci, doing at 80 in a position of public authority? Is he J Edgar Hoover with a file on everyone?

    But even on more basic levels of routine practice and knowledge of public health, with the cadres, the record is not a happy one. The CDC early on screwed the pooch with its failure to create and distribute a test in a timely way. The best opportunity for zero covid was extinguished then.

    I would not endorse Lambert Strether’s crusade on aerosols entirely, but he has a point. From early experience with the previous versions of SARS and from the famous cruise ship cases, experts should have grokked airborne transmission. A few quick experiments with hepa filters in motels would have clued in the observant.

    The very basic insight that this type of virus was never going to afford us any kind of “herd immunity” should have been a cornerstone of scientific insight, not the opposite a trope of fatuous journalism.

    The policy of protect the hospitals, not the common people was a deliberate policy choice of public health authorities who were not scientifically or professionally competent.

    Effective measures to zero out COVID would have been very difficult once it was endemic, which in my opinion was very early in Europe and the U.S. But impossible without the expertise to correctly translate scientific insight into carefully tailored effective measures carried out by bureaucracies.

    Even political skills in the politicians and the Media were lacking — Biden and his epidemic of the unvaccinated, blame it all on the Trumpers! campaign to end testing and discredit the vaccines with so many people was criminal incompetence politically.

  6. Ian Welsh

    Oh, I don’t disagree on lack of capacity. I’ve even mentioned it before (though perhaps not in a post.)

    That said, what I saw was repeated unwillingness to even try and develop it. We have had more than two years now. Where I live no effort, for all intents and purposes, was ever made to build track and trace, for example: and the money was available, given to the province. They decided to keep it and do tax cuts instead.

    This is fairly low hanging fruit, and they wouldn’t even bother to bend over and pick it up.

    It’s like looking at what Democratic presidents do with their executive power. If they won’t even do what they can do unilaterally that they promised, then “I can’t get it thru Congress” doesn’t fly for the rest. They aren’t trying because they don’t want to do it.

    And there were other bits that were fairly easy. The simplest and most effective policy is actually travel bans, and those are dead simple: you already have the infrastructure.

    No, they didn’t want to. If they had genuinely wanted to it would have been hard to do some parts of it for sure (no way we could shut down entire cities and have gov. employees deliver food the way they often have done in China (successfully, Shanghai is an exception), but we don’t even see signs of sincere attempts to control Covid beyond a bit in the first wave (when they were scared for themselves.)

    Back in the day I did some “what Obama could have done” posts, explaining he wasn’t powerless. Perhaps I should do one for Covid. (Another thing is that restrictions were always too late. Rather than doing them when R went over zero, they always waited (and wait) for a few weeks till the wave is out of control. While we can’t do full lockdowns, doing restrictions early rather than late would have been easy and smart and actually lead to shorter lockdowns, so not even unpopular.)

    I think there’s some weird psychology in the West where people want to make excuses for their leaders. I guess it’s probably that facing the fact that they not only don’t care if we die or wind up sick or disabled or on the street, but that they actively help that happen pretty often is something most people don’t want to admit because it’s genuinely frightening.

    And, of course, in those cases where government capacity was/is genuinely lacking and can’t be built easily, ask yourself why. The answer generally isn’t on the side of “oh, our leaders aren’t onside with hurting us.”

  7. anon y'mouse

    never attribute to incompetence what can rightly be down to malice. the reverse common saying is just a cover story. incompetence is built in so that they don’t have to do anything except what the Donors/Owners want them to do.

    this link that was up on NC the other day is highly enlightening:

    have you ever encountered someone who pretended to be flighty and a bubblehead, but managed to create such a vortex of chaos in their wake that they always managed to triumph over everyone else within and get nearly everything on their wishlist? that’s more like what we’re dealing with here. people adept at channeling chaos and looking blameless. even if you source the cause of the dysfunction to them, they “can’t help themselves for being what they are (a dummy)” so you can’t legitimately get angry.

    and that’s always the last resort answer our Managers dish out to absolve themselves and persist in their managerial roles over us.

  8. marku52

    (Apologies to William Gibson)
    “The Jackpot is here…..It’s just not evenly distributed…..”

  9. Willy

    What sucks is that the single most competent group or organization in all of this looks like it’ll be big pharma. Both with their just-good-enough vaccines (which most people say do work), and possibly their covert role in the business model of “confusion creates cash”.

    Maybe authoritarian China presents some ideas. But those videos of starving Shanghai high rise dwellers howling out into the night dampens that somewhat.

    It seems these things were better dealt with in previous times, even in the USA. Maybe our historians can provide some answers.

  10. Ché Pasa

    They were dealt with better in previous times, Willy, because the overclass wanted them dealt with better — they were afraid for their own health and safety. And they knew there were means to deal with chronic communicable diseases. (“Take away the pump handle, goddamit!”)

    And Bruce, the way public health issues were dealt with better in the past was through draconian authoritarian means and methods. Not through molly-coddling whingers and dropping restrictions and public health measures at the first hint of resistance.

    No, in the Old Days, public health measures were fierce, and authorities doubled down when they were challenged.

    I got caught in one form of it a number of years ago when I had pneumonia that had progressed to the point I was coughing up blood and worse. As I was being triaged at the ER, I said I’d recently visited New Mexico. I learned that “Mexico” was flagged on the flow chart as a source of tuberculosis and given my symptoms, that required that I be isolated in a positive ventilated room, be tested and held in hospital for ten days (?), and that staff adhere to hazmat protocols. I didn’t know any of this till after the ordeal was over because nobody bothered to explain what was going on or why. But it was an example of a rigorous public health practice that is basically unknown/unheard of these days.

    I didn’t have tuberculosis and I knew it. The flow chart was the problem for flagging “Mexico” but I found that out only later.

  11. Carborundum

    It’s quite different from “they didn’t want to”. I spent the first six months of this little circus dealing with PMO and they really did want this thing gone. I was back and forth with them probably half a dozen times grinding data on a constellation of related issues.

    The challenge was that they had a very incomplete understanding how to manage this thing and were prone to wishful thinking about how it might be accomplished. What I saw was a repeated pattern of incomplete understanding of the issues at hand, embracing convenient measures they thought would work, arbitrarily taking options off the table because they were beyond what they thought they could do / had the authority to do, and failing to surface and consider all the options in a serious evidence-based way. Combine all this with a laser like focus on clarity of messaging and feeding the communications beast and it’s easy to see how we end up with this mess.

    Basically a bunch of bright but not brilliant generalists who are used to working slowly, as a small group of deciders at the top of a pretty sprawling apparatus, got streamrolled because the situation needed exactly the opposite – rapid distributed decision-making, pushed down as close to a well-resourced coal face as possible.

  12. anon y'mouse

    Carborundum—the very fact that those dull little people were in the positions of authority to deal with such a problem that needed sharp and quick response, and the description you gave of the limits of their thinking (who set those limits over a long time of conditioning?) is just more evidence that this thing is designed in by the Owners for their benefit.

    after all, you don’t want people who feel capable and ARE capable of responding to something that you don’t want a response to, do you?

    it’s kind of like the thinking that keeps everyone saying “we just need to vote these guys out and get better guys!” like politics is a sports team that got bad picks, instead of the end product of a system designed to force nothing BUT bad picks.

    i stand by my guns. the fact that those people you discuss felt so small and hopeless and constantly turned aside anything helpful is a symptom of the disease. the very first thing that they could have done was BE HONEST with the public, if nothing else. be honest that there is no “herd immunity” to a rapidly mutating cold-type virus. that it is airborne, and all of the rest of it. yet lies and hedging are all anyone in authority did. because the only thing this system is designed to do is massage the messaging into the public’s brain until it won’t be overwritten by anything sensible. 2 years later, people are still thinking they are ok with no masks in restaurants.

    if you can do nothing, at least don’t lie or lie by omission, or allow your message to be so muddled that it may as well be a lie. those lies are what cause people to persist in doing stupid things and putting themselves and others at risk.

  13. bruce wilder

    . . . a bunch of bright but not brilliant generalists who are used to working slowly, as a small group of deciders at the top of a pretty sprawling apparatus, got streamrolled because the situation needed exactly the opposite . . .

    Not just generalists, but Lambert’s “symbol manipulators” whose primary skill set is controlling the narrative and the flow of propaganda. I think the group of professionals at the top really did think first, foremost and last only about how to get the “story” to play out in their desired direction, rather than about how to control an epidemic and what social and policy mechanisms would work to actually . . . control the processes of disease transmission. The Biden Administration quite flagrantly disregarded “the science” to force a narrative-driven progression to “normal”. The only decision-making they wanted to push down to the street was “personal risk assessment” on wearing masks and going to parties.

    I am guessing “the wishful thinking”, “embracing convenient measures” and “arbitrarily taking options off the table” all had to do with a pre-occupation with sending signals and telling stories.

    Look for a similar pattern of elite behavior as the Ukraine crisis unfolds or the struggle to control monetary policy gets serious.

  14. GlassHammer

    I think the way most Americans view any crisis is “If it’s bad then some may suffer, including me. But I will not be compelled to change how I live.”

    With that mentality in place it’s not possible to get buy-in for long term solutions and its trivially easy for the elite to sell half baked solutions.

  15. Carborundum

    There’s a couple of root causes driving what I’ve seen over the current crisis (and the prior two decades), at least with Canadian government:

    1) Decision making is increasingly centralized; as information flows have become higher bandwidth and less latent, the natural tendency has been to concentrate decision-making power at higher echelons. The end result is they end up swimming in mountains of irrelevant data without good intellectual frameworks for quickly winnowing the mass down to useful signal. Decisions that were previously made within departments of line ministries are now being made at above the level of the ministry (typically PMO / PCO).

    2) With disintermediation and network effects, the perceived dangers of communications have gone massively up. This has led to an obsession with messaging – a huge, bushy comms tail is wagging a very tiny policy dog. Usually the most powerful person in any given shop is the chief of staff and the second is someone with some sort of senior advisor title who does strategic comms at the behest of the CoS. Both are obsessed with message over all else. Substantially none come from STEM or hard observational behavioural science (i.e., making sense of what people actually do – as opposed to what theory *says* they do) backgrounds. Most of the political staff (some exceptions) are cut from the same cloth and their power vis-à-vis the civil service has tracked steadily upwards over past decades.

    3) The best and the brightest do not go into government work. Contrary to common perception, it’s actually pretty difficult for people from elite educational (particularly technical) backgrounds to get into government proper (i.e., not political positions that change with the party in power), unless they do it right out of school when the system can shape [I’d say neuter] them. Try to get in with a top tier education and enough industry experience to know your ass from your elbow, you need someone with enough juice to do an end run around the hiring process – left to its own devices, the system filters you out as a threat. Once you’re in government, you’d better be prepared to work in a system where power is extremely diffuse and there’s three or more layers of generalist managers between you and anyone who can actually make a meaningful decision (and then they’re hamstrung by factors 1 and 2 above). The smart players (in our humble opinions) work to be government adjacent, not government proper…

    All in all, I wish this was something that was designed by the powers that be to further their agenda – that’d be much easier to deal with. Instead, this is what happens when mediocrity gets embedded and becomes a self-licking ice cream cone.

  16. different clue

    @Bruce Wilder,

    You say . . . ” Meanwhile, we the laity to their preisthood were terrible at holding them accountable. ”

    How were we supposed to hold them accountable? Car bombs? Letter bombs? Sniper shootings?

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