Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Advice from an Anarchist Epidemiologist

A good friend of mine in England is an epidemiologist.  Like many of my friends, she's also a very insightful member of what is sometimes called the far left.  I recently asked her for her opinion on whether I should get my young children vaccinated for Covid.  Her response covered a bit more ground than that, and I thought it well worth editing slightly and sharing in a post, in case it's of interest to others.

As you know, both [my partner] and I are double vaccinated.  However, neither of us have yet had a booster vaccine.  My reasoning is as follows.  The omicron variant is now the dominant strain here, as in the US.  According to 'our world in data' it accounts for 100% of the sequences analysed in the 2 weeks to February 2nd.  While omicron seems to be fairly contagious, in most people it is a relatively mild illness in those without pre-disposing conditions.  These include other diseases like diabetes, anything that means your immune system is compromised, a list of rare genetic disorders and obesity, among others.  I have none of these conditions and am reasonably healthy despite my advancing years.  I don't have a problem with having a mild illness, having to quarantine for a few days and acquiring some 'natural' antibodies that way.

My understanding is that infection rates with omicron are highest in the 2-6 age group but that the disease is very mild in almost all children of this age.  In many cases it may be symptomless so your 5-year-old may have antibodies already, but I guess you've tested for that.  In terms of their own risk, it seems very, very unlikely from what is known that s/he would become more than mildly ill were they to catch omicron.  Children seem to transmit the virus at lower rates than adults.  Nonetheless they can transmit it so could infect other people even if they themselves are symptomless.  So, the main plus of vaccination in children seems to be the potential reduction in transmission to older compromised groups of people.

All the vaccines available to date still only have emergency licences.  The data on long-term protection and safety won't be available until 2023.  This is why it usually takes 4-5 years for a vaccine to get approval.  To date the safety in terms of short-term side effects looks good, but clearly clinical trials of the current vaccines wouldn't be ongoing if projections could be made from the existing data.  In terms of protection, it seems that omicron is quite good at causing breakthrough infections i.e. infections in fully vaccinated people.  It has 37 mutations in the spike protein so is better at evading the protection conferred by the vaccine.  In terms of long-term safety, we will have to wait for the data. Probably they will be safe.

The omicron wave is passing here in the UK.  In London it is past its peak, here in Cumbria the infection rate is still quite high but should pass soon. If I had a child of 5, would I get her or him vaccinated?  Probably, if the wave continued to pass, I would not.  I think the long-term safety record will be good, but I don't actually know.

Of course, at one level, like so many decisions, it is also a moral question.  As any infection is likely to be mild, I would be having my child vaccinated largely to protect other older people.  This is laudable and may be a good reason to go ahead, but I am not sure about using the young to protect the old.  I don't think the young owe us that.  We haven't done well for many of them them on our watch in my opinion.

Countries like Austria, Italy, and Germany are implementing mandatory vaccination, but I think not for children.  As you know I am 101% against mandatory vaccination.  WHO also do not support mandatory vaccination.  Their line is that the rich countries should be ensuring that people in poorer countries have access to the vaccines not keeping it all for multiple vaccinations of their own populations.  They say that the problem will never be solved when such a large proportion of the people in the world have no access to vaccines and can act as a reservoir for future mutations.  Should we be sharing with them? I think we should.  Will that be facilitated by us vaccinating against potentially low-level risks, probably not.

I am very worried about the reduction in civil liberties that have accompanied the pandemic.  In the UK these have been draconian.  I have also been worried by people in the anarchist camp who seem to think anything can be justified in the name of public health.  We need to be careful of where such opinions can lead.

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