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Corona Diaries: vaccines – in the absence of facts, feelings take control

January 14, 2021

As I sat this morning draining my second cup of coffee, I came across an article on the front page of The London Times. It was about how if you’ve had COVID, you have an 85% chance of being immune to reinfection – for the time being at least. That, apparently, gives you a better chance of staying well, (assuming of course that you are well) than the AstraZeneca vaccine, two doses of which give you 62% immunity.

The article also refers to the Pfizer vaccine:

“Although the Pfizer Vaccine has a headline efficacy rate of 95 per cent, that figure is based on symptomatic infections alone, so the mildest cases were ignored.”

Good news then, that after gasping for breath in hospital, or suffering from various agonies at home, you’re unlikely to have to go through the same thing again.

But what about the rest of us, quivering with fear at the prospect that every letter or parcel we receive at home might be impregnated by those nasty little bugs that are just waiting for the chance to infect us? Or that the bananas we buy at the supermarket might also be lethal?

It seems that we must put up with uncertainty that arises out of the fact that we simply don’t know as much about the effect of the vaccines as we do, for example, about the flu and polio jabs. That’s because these vaccines are new, and we haven’t had time to study their effect outside clinical trials. In the real world, so to speak.

Not that I’m an anti-vaxxer. I would drive fifty miles wearing a Boris Johnson gorilla suit at 3am if offered a jab.

But it does bother me that well-regarded media outlets such as The Times assume so much knowledge among their readers.

Take the AstraZeneca vaccine, for example. When the trial results came through, there was a conclusion reported that a half-dose followed by a full dose would give you 90% immunity. What happened to that claim? And why are we not following that protocol? Also, and this applies to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as well, what happens if you don’t get the second dose within the time specified by the manufacturers? “You’ll probably be fine” seems to be the best answer that our medics can come up with.

Another concern is that that if the information in The Times is correct, even after getting the AstraZeneca jab, you still have two chances in five of catching the virus. Not exactly a licence to let your grandchildren slobber over you, or to hug the postman. Still, better than having no immunity. And as experts point out, a better immunity than you get from the flu jab. As someone who has been having the flu jab for years and hasn’t succumbed to a dose for as long as I remember (he says, tightly grabbing the wooden table at which he sits), I find that quite comforting.

But if I was a betting man, I would find 9-1 against getting COVID after the Pfizer jab a good deal more comforting than the 3-2 odds offered by AstraZeneca. The question then arises whether, if one had the choice, one would be better off waiting longer for the Pfizer jab, which is more expensive and difficult to store for any length of time, than for the AstraZeneca jab, which is cheaper, of which we have more doses ordered and can be kept in the fridge. A trade-off between availability and efficacy, it seems, with the little matter of cost thrown in.

Anyway, that decision is being made for us by our all-knowing government.

But turning to the Pfizer vaccine, Tom Whipple’s article in The Times raises more questions. What does “headline efficacy” mean? And if the 95% figure excludes asymptomatic infections, what is the efficacy rate for ALL infections? Which then leads us to ask whether the same trial protocols were followed for the AstraZeneca jab. Does their result also exclude mild infections? And how do we define “mild” as opposed to “severe”?

At which point, it seems, one has three choices. Become an expert in immunology and clinical trials, which takes a while. Succumb to derangement and start burrowing down into conspiracy theories. Or simply stop asking questions and trust Dr Fauci and Sir Chris Whitty.

None of these options feel particularly attractive, but feeling has nothing to do with it. It’s facts that matter, though when facts are absent or hard to determine, the space they leave is rapidly filled by emotions. Especially when you sometimes get the impression, no doubt unfairly, that our experts appear to be only one step ahead of the rest of us.

The reality would seem to be “give me the bloody vaccine”, and, as the government recommends, behave as though we haven’t had the jab.

Or to put it another way: “Praise the Lord, and Pass the Ammunition”.

From → Politics, Social, UK

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