The Numbers Don’t Lie

People are the ones who lie. With or without numbers. People also ignore the numbers or fail to understand what they mean. I was trained as an economist and worked for a short time as an industrial economist, and I have a pretty good idea of all the ways the numbers can be manipulated.

As far as COVID numbers go, they’re not lying. People are misrepresenting them or arguing against them on non-scientific grounds. The initial testing of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed an initial effectiveness of 93-95%. The researchers also noted that the vaccines did not provoke as strong an immune response in older individuals or those who were immuno-compromised. The numbers also showed a minuscule risk of severe side-effects from any of the major vaccines. Those numbers and facts remain accurate so far, even considering the greater infectiousness and severity of the Delta variant.

Statistics also show, historically and practically, that a high degree of vaccination/infection-and-recovery is necessary [roughly in the 70% range] to stop an epidemic.

What are we seeing? That the cases in hospitals are overwhelmingly of the unvaccinated with a small percentage of older vaccinated or immuno-compromised individuals, just as the trials predicted. The statistics also show that well over 10% of individuals hospitalized for COVID who survive suffer long-term and possibly permanent health damage, and in some studies that number approaches 40%.

Until a greater percentage of unvaccinated individuals get vaccinated, or catch COVID, those numbers will continue, and they will include unvaccinated children.

All the political crap about “it’s my right” not to get vaccinated isn’t going to change the numbers.

I live in an area where only 36% of those able to be vaccinated are, and the death toll hit the highest number ever last week. I’m not exactly a spring chicken, as the saying goes, and even after being fully vaccinated, I’m likely still at risk. So is my wife, who is also vaccinated and slightly immuno-comprised, but still teaching. Her students have been understanding, and all of them are either vaccinated or wear masks in class.

This is not so for the rest of the community, which is why we don’t go to restaurants or any crowded venues… and shop with care. Our life – and that of millions of others – is restricted because of the baseless fears of the ignorant and their unwillingness to follow time-tested and working procedures for dealing with an epidemic.

Just why do so many people ignore all the obvious – and verified – facts? Except that’s not really the question. In a public health crisis the question is what the government should do. Getting out the facts isn’t sufficient. Too many people are either too ignorant, too distrusting, too lazy, or too invested in self-centered “personal freedom” to get vaccinated.

So the choice is pretty basic – either require vaccinations or see a lot more people die and become permanently disabled. And if you don’t get vaccinated, you’re saying through your inaction that your “freedom” is worth more than the lives of other people.

23 thoughts on “The Numbers Don’t Lie”

  1. Joe says:

    Another article I simultaneously agree and disagree with.

    On the agreement side: Long COVID is very important and we’re not tracking it properly. Most of the research articles I have read only focus on mild, severe disease and death. Even the most recent Lancet publication against boosters ignores it. Also, it would be preferable if you didn’t die soon. Vitamin D deficiency is strongly correlated with bad COVID outcomes. It’s worth taking daily. And, like you, I’m sick and tired of being a hermit. I have not been able to see my parents in 2 years. That sucks.

    On the disagreement side: numbers state what a mechanism did. They do not explain how the mechanism works. Thus they cannot be used to make predictions. Thus for instance, even if in most cases, attaining 70% of vaccination/infection-recovery stops epidemics, that does not mean that the same thing will happen with this epidemic.

    Most of the planet is not vaccinated. Pets and wildlife now have caught COVID (dogs, cats, deer): It is now endemic. There will be many new variants each year, just like the flu. But COVID is worse. Viruses that become endemic usually lose lethality. However that is because most viruses can only spread once you are symptomatic. Variants that do not kill their host are thus able to spread more effectively than variants that kill their host. This is why less lethal variants tend to take over from lethal ones.

    COVID is different. It spreads first. Then your immune system’s overreaction kills you. So transmission occurs whether or not you die, meaning there is no evolutionary selection to reduce lethality. However, with vaccines, even lethal variants to the non-vaccinated are less lethal to the rest of the population, and more people are completely asymptomatic. A 40% reduction in transmission is peanuts in comparison to the 1000 times increased viral transmission by Delta. That means certain lethal variants will have a greater chance of evolving than they would otherwise.

    Paradoxically, given that transmission numbers are so high, it might be better to vaccinate only those who are likely to die from COVID, and not those who are likely to recover by themselves. This would ensure that the virus is less likely to adapt to breaking through the vaccine induced immunity.

    Even more paradoxically, if vaccines stopped transmission significantly but did not reduced lethality at all, that might have led to better a outcome. For self-preservation, people would not have given up on social distancing or masks, and further evolution of the virus would have been curtailed. Thus I find the argument “either require vaccinations or see a lot more people die and become permanently disabled” too simplistic. Even if we were to require vaccinations we may well see a lot more people die and become permanently disabled. Putting all our emphasis on vaccines is the wrong choice. A lot more emphasis needs to be placed on treatment. By the way, even the CEO of Pfizer has said the vaccines alone will not get us out of this pandemic.

    I know this post will be unpopular. When around people, I get strange looks (or worse) for wearing masks. Over 70% of people are vaccinated where I live, and many assume that if I wear a mask, it must be because I’m an evil anti-vaxxer. (I freely chose to be vaccinated.) It’s similar to the beginning of the epidemic. I wore masks then too, and people thought I had COVID and avoided me. I learned that following actual science, not tribal rituals, makes you into a pariah. Nevertheless I do not believe people, particularly the young, should be forced to be vaccinated with these so-called vaccines. (They don’t work the same way as old fashioned vaccines do, and thus the safety profile of old fashioned vaccines does not transfer over). That slippery slope is too dangerous. This is a grey opinion on a topic that due to fear and exhaustion has become either black or white.

    1. MRE says:

      I’m also a big believer in numbers, but I wonder if you’re overthinking this. All the doctors I’ve talked to, from family members who are doctors to personal physicians, say everybody should get vaccinated. All the major organizations whose job it is to give public health advice say that everyone should get vaccinated. That everybody should get vaccinated because it is the easiest way to prevent the spread of the disease.

      You suggest that COVID is extra special and that you’ve done lots of research into it, showing that it has spread into dogs and cats and the rest of the world, so vaccination might not be enough to prevent its re-occurrence. Yet, polio and small pox were extra special too. They spread through water in one case (stool in the water) and through physical items in the other. Yet, somehow, vaccines eventually did the trick there as well – even as people worried they would never go away.

      I absolutely agree that making predictions without enough data is difficult. But vaccines and even mRNA vaccines are well studied (also keep in mind Salk gave his wife and kids the polio vaccine in 1953, the same year he announced its successful test — no ten year study involved). Maybe it’ll be different and COVID will be around forever despite the availability of vaccines. But how does that in any way make it smart not to get vaccinated? How does that make it anything but selfish not to encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated even if we can’t know with a 100% certainty that it will solve the problem?

      I wish we were all smart enough to research this topic on our own and evaluate the evidence. But absent a Phd in the appropriate field, we have to rely on experts, and all the experts say to take the vaccine and wear masks in order to stop COVID and slow its spread respectively.

      As for personal freedom, I’m not sure there is much of an argument for claiming to avoid being vaccinated as an exercise of such freedom. If you can spread it to others, it impinges on *their* freedoms. Plenty of other vaccines are required to participate in all walks of life. It strikes me that it is the government’s job to recognize this public good over private self-interest, and overcome any coordination problems that might get in the way. I’m not a fan of mandating behavior or having to carry around vaccination and health documentation — it’s a huge pain in the ass and I hate doing it. But when otherwise sensible people are evading or avoiding fairly straightforward healthcare precautions based on their own parochial, or idiosyncratic, interests, I’m not sure what else can be done.

      1. Joe says:

        Thanks for your answer, MRE.

        Speaking metaphorically, the polio vaccine was a God-send. However the initial version used the same inactivated virus mechanism that has been used since Smallpox. Thus it was a bet for Salk to try it on his close family, but arguably less so than mRNA/DNA vaccines would have been. The only human reservoir of Polio is humans (oral-oral or fecal-oral transmission). I believe there were only 3 variants of Polio, of which two have been eradicated. Clearly there are more COVID variants.

        A number of experts (including some who actually developed the technology behind these vaccines) are concerned by the use of vaccines, particularly during a pandemic. Many of them find themselves censored on social media by much less expert “fact-checkers”, and do not seem to be covered by mainstream media. Scientific journal articles have also not been published, despite positive peer-review, because the proposed thesis went against the editors’ opinions. I’m afraid our sense-making apparatus is somewhat broken, making determining what might be true even harder than it needs to be.

        With regards to specialization, it’s complicated, and actually might be counterproductive. I’m not surprised doctors recommend the vaccine. Good doctors’ life mission is to help people, and these vaccines seem to help people. However that does not mean MDs understand the precise implications of the mechanisms involved because this is a complex problem beyond medicine requiring understanding of microbiology, DNA/RNA, and evolutionary biology. Don’t forget that one of the key steps used to make these vaccines was only discovered 5 years ago, and most MDs got their degree a lot longer ago. They only get to update their education during their not-very-copious free-time by reading papers. Even vaccine developers at other companies may not be able to evaluate a vaccine properly because of trade-secrets. It’s precisely because this is a complex problem that requires many different forms of expertise that I’d like to see a freer discussion about it.

        I don’t think that not encouraging people to take these COVID vaccinations is selfish. Personally, I’ve told people the risks involved in either case and what the unknowns are. It is up to them to decide the risk they wish to choose. Masking on the other hand so far seems to me to be a no-brainer: reducing transmission reduces probability this virus can evolve further. (However, this might turn out to be a mistake: if a variant arises to which I would have had better immunity if I had caught Delta immediately after my vaccination. Complex systems are very difficult to predict…) I’m currently using the washable sports LivingGuard mask when hiking past people outside. In enclosed public spaces I also use N95 masks. But mandating vaccinations given what we actually know, seems to me a bridge too far. It would be rather ironic if the vaccine had a side-effect that killed us off by mistake. (Again mRNA/DNA vaccines work differently, so the rule of thumb that most vaccines’ side-effects emerge within a couple of months might not apply).

        1. RRCRrea says:

          Since you are repeatedly presenting yourself as an expert and what you are stating you allege to be facts, please provide citations and your bona fides. A CV and a list of relevant publications in juried journals will suffice. Otherwise, you are a novice dabbling in information you think you understand then presenting yourself as an expert and your conjecture and what you understand of what you are reading as facts. Which is blatantly disingenuous. I’m betting the truth of the situation bends towards the latter more than the former, but, in the spirit of informed decision-making based on facts from verifiable sources and experts, I’m willing to entertain that you may actually know more than the other people who have established their bona fides. I doubt it, but I acknowledge it is possible. What is probable is that you are exactly the kind of person that the original post is about (Not addressing, no point in that really) and genuinely, not a part of the problem but ACTUALLY the problem proper.

        2. Lourain says:

          “Speaking metaphorically, the polio vaccine was a God-send. However the initial version used the same inactivated virus mechanism that has been used since Smallpox.” The Salk polio vaccine is a killed-virus vaccine. The ‘cowpox vaccine was a live-virus vaccine. A big difference.
          “A number of experts (including some who actually developed the technology behind these vaccines) are concerned by the use of vaccines, particularly during a pandemic. Many of them find themselves censored on social media by much less expert “fact-checkers”, and do not seem to be covered by mainstream media. Scientific journal articles have also not been published, despite positive peer-review, because the proposed thesis went against the editors’ opinions.” Sources or citations, please. Otherwise, it is too easy to quote nut case conspiracy theorists, instead of scientists.
          “However that does not mean MDs understand the precise implications of the mechanisms involved because this is a complex problem beyond medicine requiring understanding of microbiology, DNA/RNA, and evolutionary biology.” Yes? I am a retired high school science teacher, and even though I do not have a PhD, I was quite capable of explaining this material to my advanced students.
          Please cut out the magical thinking.

          1. Joe says:

            > I am a retired high school science teacher, and even though I do not have a PhD, I was quite capable of explaining this material to my advanced students.

            This is an unfalsifiable claim. I’m sure you explained what you thought was the truth. That doesn’t mean you covered the full complexity of the problem, just a simplification thereof. My point stands.

            The cowpox vaccine was indeed active. Viruses aren’t “alive” or “dead”, but active or inactive because viruses are not alive. They contain no mechanism for self-replication.

            With regard to sources, I agree with your point, but I don’t have the time to go dredge them up, so you’ll have to find them for yourself. Not an ideal response, I know.

          2. Joe —

            The U.S. is a large enough country with a wide enough spread of doctors and medical researchers that anyone who wants to dig can likely find “research” that supports their theory or theories that support their beliefs.

            What matters in the end are the results. Cold hard statistics show that the vaccine and masking work. All the theories/research to the contrary are outliers, and sensible public policies aren’t based on exceptions or outliers.

          3. Lourain says:

            The discovery that made mRNA vaccines possible was a solution to getting the cells to take up the mRNA without breaking it down. Once inside the cell, the biochemical processes in the cell treat the vaccine like they do cellular mRNA
            I could add lots of other fun details, but they are not necessary.
            No great mysteries, no genetic modifications of the cells.
            As for the sources, I am not interested in dredging up the sources, because the sources that I have found to be reliable over the years seemed to have missed these conspiracies. I would have to find your sources, then check their reliability.

          4. Lourain says:

            Oh, and on whether viruses are alive, while the majority of biologists do not consider them to qualify as living, a subset disagrees. The problem, of course, is where do you draw the line between “living” and “nonliving”.
            If we encounter potential non-terrestrial life, this question will become even more important.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      Quercetin and C and D along with the zinc might also help…if you’re sick with it. Some also add bromelain to that list. No idea if they help preventively, but in recommended amounts when there’s no specific reason not to take them (check interactions on e.g. WebMD or some such site), they probably wouldn’t hurt.

      There are studies suggesting improved outcomes with that combination, or most of it; but I have yet to see one that’s both large and robust, so feel free to google and make up your own mind.

      I try to remember to take the stuff; certainly I will before putting myself in a crowded airplane. Along with N95, disposable gloves, individually wrapped disinfectant wipes, sanitizer as well as all the usual gadgetry.

      But if someone wants to be stupid, that’s their problem; dead stupid people (and those unfortunate enough to be exposed to them) are the answer, not mandates.

      1. As I said earlier, you’re measuring your “freedom” by the deaths of other people, sort of a bizarre “freedom body count,” which I personally find despicable, since many of those bodies and those seriously ill are young children, who don’t yet have the option of vaccination.

        1. Joe says:

          The number of deaths so far among children is very low. 412 children died “with confirmed or presumed COVID-19, coded to ICD–10 code U07.1.”.

          This is clearly an upper limit to the number of children whose death was actually caused by COVID, since the table states those children also may have had other ailments such as influenza.

          https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm

          Children do seem to get Long COVID:

          https://www.timesofisrael.com/more-than-10-of-israeli-kids-who-got-virus-now-suffer-from-long-covid-study/

      2. Lourain says:

        ” But if someone wants to be stupid, that’s their problem; dead stupid people (and those unfortunate enough to be exposed to them) are the answer, not mandates.”
        Let’s repeal the laws about impaired driving, building codes, food and drug adulterants…since only the stupid people (and those unfortunate enough to be exposed to them) are affected.

  2. Tom says:

    I realize the import of this Blog but for the sake of my depression please tell me why my copy of Isolate is now delayed to the distant future of November?

    Medscape reported a poll where something like 18% of male doctors and 30% of female doctors do not wish to be vaccinated. Seems to me this confirms that the larger the group of experts the higher the percentage of the opponents to the majority.

    1. The shortage of trained workers at the printing plant is why the publishing date of Isolate — as well as a number of other books from Tor and other publishers — has been delayed until November 2nd.

    2. John says:

      I am afraid you will have to show your work on the Medscape poll. A quick search found no such poll. What it did find was a poll that showed some disagreement on the necessity for a BOOSTER 3rd dose. Someone may have willfully misconstrued that to objecting to the vaccine itself. As it is, Medscape reports that 96% of US physicians are vaccinated against Covid. Which I think is an underestimation. The other possibility could be that someone took a poll from the beginning of the pandemic and implied that it was recent. I can assure you that currently almost all US physicians have no objection to most people (and themselves) getting the Covid vaccine.
      I too am saddened by the postponement of the publication of “Isolate”. However if it is any consolation, they postponed it from L E Modesitt’s birthday to mine.

    3. Hanneke says:

      “Medscape reported a poll where something like 18% of male doctors and 30% of female doctors do not wish to be vaccinated.”
      Is this the poll of “health care workers” that included anybody who works in some form of health care among their respondents, including janitorial and secretarial staff, administrators and managers and finance departments etcetera?
      I read about how polls like that get reported as “doctors and nurses say”, while a lot of the respondents were not medically trained personnel.

      I’ve also read that some kinds of online training to become a nurse does not require a microbiology course or any such rigorous medical in-depth courses needed to understand how virusses and vaccines work – the courses are more practically oriented towards patient care and good recordskeeping and such things. That is what these nurses need to know on a daily basis, but it does mean they too can still be misled by plausible misinformation on this subject, even though they work in the medical field.

  3. M Kilian says:

    It is difficult to gauge what numbers are actually relevant looking at the overall situation. Here in Australia, quarantines and lockdowns of an increasingly draconian nature have been far more effective for our Island nation in keeping covid impact low- along with lower population density than most other western countries.

    Yet we still get covid spikes, not because our local populace did the wrong thing persae, but because we failed at a border security level. And we’re carefully watching countries that have and haven’t pushed hard for vaccination or lockdowns, and the picture simply isn’t clear.

    Israel has the highest or one of the highest covid vaccination rates in the world, and yet once the delta variant or whatever came along it was if no one was vaccinated in terms of hospitalizations, the delta peak surpassing the previously worst wave of covid.

    We’re not seeing enough analogues with the battle against smallpox, wherein vaccination made a person completely immune for 5 years- provided they survived inoculation, and resistant for a while after that as well.

  4. Joe says:

    A vaccine on its own will not end the pandemic.

    WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghubreyesus.

    https://nitter.eu/CallMeJustOli/status/1439260358334615556#m

    1. Of course, it won’t. Too many people either won’t take it or can’t get access to it.

      1. Joe says:

        I’m glad we agree on that. I’d add in the fact that 40-60% transmission reduction is insufficient to control it. But I’m glad we agree.

        Also, you were right about boosters being authorized for 65+ and immunocompromised (something I actually agree with). What stood out in my mind wass that Pfizer expected full authorization for everyone over 16. Instead it got Emergency Authorization only for 65+. This difference is very significant (it means boosters should not be mandated at this time.) I did not refer to the 65+ year old category because I didn’t think of it early this morning, not because I wanted to lie by omission. In fact, I was only awake because I had insomnia.

        I truly did not intend to annoy you. One of the things that upsets me about social media is that we all seem to assume the other person has ill intent, when in normal conversation one could just ask, and all would be well. Anyway, apologies for my lack of precision.

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