by James A. Bacon
The debate over COVID-19 policy rages relentlessly. Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares today announced their intention to challenge the Biden administration’s vaccination mandates through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, OSHA and Head Start.
âWhile we believe the vaccine is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19, we firmly believe that the federal government cannot impose its will and restrict Americans’ freedoms, and that Virginia is at its best when his people are allowed to do so. make the best decisions for their family or their business, âthey said in a press release.
While Youngkin and Miyares were pushing in one direction, the University of Virginia was pushing in the opposite direction.
In a communication to the UVa community, President Jim Ryan announced that the global spike in COVID-19 cases attributable to the Omicron variant had prompted him to take additional measures to prevent the spread. UVa is advancing the deadline for students, faculty and staff to get a COVID reminder. The deadline – probably no coincidence – is January 14, a day before Youngkin and Miyares take office.
Ryan said advancing the recall deadline will ease the spike in severe COVID-19 cases that could strain healthcare resources as well as academic isolation and quarantine space. âWe will ensure that as many members of the UVA community as possible are as protected as possible from COVID-19 infection, serious illness and hospitalization as the in-person semester begins. “
I share Youngkin-Miyares’ point of view. I would urge most people to take the needle, but I wouldn’t make them. The COVID-19 virus is continually evolving, science lags behind, data is imperfect, and the interpretation (on all sides) of science and data is largely driven by the political sympathies of the people. In view of these realities, citizens should be free to make their own choices based on their own risk assessments.
Many do not share this point of view. Many believe that letting Virginians do what is best for themselves individually will not optimize the public good. Of course, such people believe they or they know the best, others are mired in ignorance and their views should prevail.
I just finished listening to former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s book, âUncontroled Spreadâ. Although he highlights political interference as a factor in America’s poor response to the epidemic, the inability to compile and communicate accurate and useful information in a timely manner was an underlying systemic failure. For example, he cites the initial belief, based on modeling influenza in the absence of hard data, that COVID-19 could be spread by touching surfaces where the virus resided. But the virus was an airborne disease. Americans have spent countless time and resources wiping down surfaces to no avail. (Well, there was a positive effect – all that wiping stopped the transmission of the flu.) Another example was guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control that insisted that people stay six feet away from each other. another, forcing many schools to close because they had no room to provide. so much separation. It turned out that there was no scientific basis for this orientation.
Despite huge volumes of data collected, there is so much we don’t know.
For example, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is monitoring so-called âbreakthrough infectionsâ – a recognition of the reality that COVID vaccines, while widely effective, are not perfectly so. The VDH dashboard tells us about these facts:
Among fully vaccinated Virginians, 1.6% developed COVID-19, o.o45% were hospitalized and o.o172% died. It seems pretty weak. Indeed, VDH also tells us that unvaccinated people are three times more likely to be infected than fully vaccinated people, even more likely to be hospitalized and even more likely to die.
It sounds pretty convincing. Indeed, I cited this data in an article yesterday.
But, on second thought, the data doesn’t help us much. We went through three phases of COVID-19 – the original strain of the virus, the Delta variant and now the Omicron variant. Each successive strain was more transmissible than the previous wave. But Omicron appears to be significantly less deadly. Reports of cases, hospitalizations and deaths overall for the three strains obscure what is currently happening with Omicron.
Another example: once upon a time, we thought that two injections of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would be enough to protect us. Then it turned out that their protection wore off. The Masters of the Universe then told us that we needed a booster to maintain their effectiveness. UVa (like many others) insisted that everyone get vaccinatedâ¦ then get the boosterâ¦ whether or not they have developed natural immunities. Some say that natural immunities wear off faster than vaccines, so vaccination mandates are justified. Some say that natural immunities last longer. What does the data say?
The data says nothing because no one in Virginia has collected and reported it in a way that would answer the question. (It seems neither does the CDC.) Not only do we not know the relative effectiveness of vaccines (compared to natural immunity) in reducing serious consequences, we don’t know their relative effectiveness in reducing transmission. The knowledge we lack is fundamental to making smart decisions. It is astonishing that such a lack of information persists two years after the start of the epidemic.
The VDH and UVa datasets have another huge hole – they don’t tell us how many Virginians are responding badly to vaccines. Anti-vaccines refer to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), in which individuals can report adverse events to health and social services. Currently, VAERS is reporting 17,142 adverse incidents in Virginia. Knowing that not all adverse events are reported, a big question is which multiplier to use to get the actual number. Is the real number 35,000 million? Or 70,000? These data are certainly relevant for any decision on whether or not to impose a vaccine.
Finally, I have seen that it is widely reported (and rarely contradicted) that the severity of the disease varies depending on specific medical conditions such as obesity and vitamin D deficiency. If so, why not? don’t we collect and report this data so that individuals can make reasonable assessments of their vulnerability to disease based on their personal risk profiles?
If a UVa student is young, has acquired natural immunities, is not obese, and does not have vitamin deficiencies, he or she appears to be at negligible risk of contracting and spreading COVID. UVa’s own data demonstrates that the spread of Omicron is increasing among faculty and staff, not among students.
The compulsory vaccination for professors and staff, while morally troubling, is at least understandable from a public health perspective. For students, this is not even understandable.
I fear too much COVID policy stems from group thinking based on imperfect knowledge derived from incomplete data. Like Youngkin and Miyares, I would lean towards personal freedom.