Omicron
November 28, 2021 12:29 PM   Subscribe

The WHO has declared a new covid-19 variant of concern 'omicron'. Countries around the world are imposing stricter measures and travel bans even as the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa on Sunday urged countries to follow the science rather than imposing flight bans. Omicron contains many mutations that would appear to weaken the effectiveness of existing vaccines but many uncertainties exist as scientists and vaccine manufacturers scramble to learn more. The discovery of the new variant in South Africa raises concerns about global vaccine inequity.
posted by roolya_boolya (247 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been reading a lot of pushback on Twitter over this from various scientists and science communicators -- essentially, don't get swept up in anxiety-hype, keep doing what you're doing to stay safe. Also an interesting observation that one of the reasons it may have "shown up" in South Africa first is because of infectious disease centers that are pretty good at managing things like TB and HIV/AIDS, so it's more of "recorded there first" -- there's no telling where it originally grew.

Also, as just kind of like a general "state of things" check-in: there have been at least 1593 posts about COVID-19 on Ask MetaFilter since February 2020.
posted by curious nu at 12:42 PM on November 28, 2021 [69 favorites]


Viruses can only mutate while replicating. They can only replicate in one place, our cells. Give the virus more places to replicate and we'll get more mutations. Global vaccine distribution helps all of us get out of this pandemic faster, not just pretend we're out of the pandemic while mass death continues everywhere bar a few select places.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 12:44 PM on November 28, 2021 [73 favorites]


How wise an idea was this whole Greek alphabet naming system really? Twenty-four letters for a protean virus with a global spread? It also means there'll eventually be 'the omega variant' which doesn't sound good.
posted by misteraitch at 12:46 PM on November 28, 2021 [18 favorites]


What to know about the omicron variant of the coronavirus from the Washington Post. "There’s just a lot we don’t know at the moment.”
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2021


After Greek we go to Cyrillic, then Hebrew, and then we challenge western readers with kanji.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2021 [87 favorites]


I’m just sort of dreading what feels like an inevitable closing of immigration in Japan (again). They’ve literally just started allowing people back into the country (previously it was closed unless you had permanent residency, a work visa, or, I don’t know, you were famous and rich?), even at significant cost. People on student visas had been waiting since spring of 2020 to come back and now? I can easily see a moment where they shut the doors again, even while allowing Japanese citizens (who were the source of every single variant we’ve seen).

I had hoped to go home and see my family this summer. You would think I’d have learned my lesson about hoping for things during Covid by now.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:49 PM on November 28, 2021 [30 favorites]


Obviously it is very, very early days yet and it's important to remember that we know next to nothing about this variant as it stands. However, with that said, I've found some small hope in the news that so far, it seems as though this version of the virus has been showing as mild symptoms in vaccinated cases so far. This is with the caveat that COVID symptoms, as we know, take time to develop fully, and so far this is in younger vaccinated people who may be more resilient anyway.

We'll know more soon. But I'm certainly glad for these small shreds of hope that, if this does end up beating Delta (and who knew I'd be on Team Delta right now), it may not be a worst case scenario. Fingers and everything else crossed.
posted by fight or flight at 12:57 PM on November 28, 2021 [5 favorites]


posted by curious nu

epideminomisterical?
posted by lalochezia at 1:02 PM on November 28, 2021 [57 favorites]


If this variant has increased transmission, mild symptoms may be a curse since that might depress responses to it. That is, a presumed increase in the prevalence in the non-vaccinated population and a depressed response would increase the interface between vaccinated and nonvaccinated populations and create an ideal environment for vaccine-resistant mutations to be tested against the vaccines. In that case, the danger would lie in the *next* variant. Or at least that's my population biology analysis. Lotta mights and coulds there though.
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 1:11 PM on November 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


Viruses can only mutate while replicating. They can only replicate in one place, our cells.

I could not have predicted a decade ago that in my lifetime, a once-in-a-century worldwide pandemic would be encouraged and assisted in its spread by so many people volunteering to be Petri dishes.

Because freedom and also mainstream media, you know.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:20 PM on November 28, 2021 [27 favorites]


The Bloom lab at Fred Hutch posted a good review of the RBD or receptor binding-specific mutations in the omicron variant (described as "nu" in the tweet, as it was written before the WHO announcement).

The RBD is the part of the viral genome involved in binding to ACE2 or neutralizing antibodies, and the mutations discovered are in turn likely to reduce (but probably not inactivate) the effectiveness of the Regeneron monoclonal ab therapy and the antibodies that the vaccines help inoculated make.

Global vaccine distribution helps all of us get out of this pandemic faster

Vaccine and distancing/mask mandates would also help give fewer places for the virus to replicate and mutate. But we've decided to cede enough of our public health policy to antivaxxers and profiteers to make the situation we have today and what we will likely have for some decades.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:21 PM on November 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


Zeynep Tufekci's latest newsletter contains a heartening reminder that I am holding fast to in this time of uncertainty:

"Thanks to South African scientists, their public health infrastructure, their talent and dedication and the transparency of their government WE HAVE AN EARLY WARNING. A VERY EARLY WARNING.

I cannot overemphasize how valuable this is, and what a gift they have given us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, South African scientists, medical workers, public health employees."

posted by rogerroger at 1:25 PM on November 28, 2021 [135 favorites]


as far as naming schemes, i realize it's merely a Greek letter, but "omicron" sounds like some pretty darn bad-ass scifi apoc shit to me. 10/10. for me about the only way they could top this is if they more to like, a fallen angel/demonology naming scheme, which prompted me to plop out this nugget of speculative microfiction to explore the texture of what that would feel like:
[fake:]
The cDc said Friday, given the Glasyalabolas variant's "immune escape potential and potentially increased transmissibility advantage compared to Lix Tetrax," there is a "high to very high" risk it will spread to the Last Stand vault complex, despite the draconian measures implemented following the identification of the infamous Penemuel strain that was allegedly able to propagate through written text. Early toxicology reports suggest Glasyalabolas may be able to spread over SMS.
[:fake]
posted by glonous keming at 1:25 PM on November 28, 2021 [15 favorites]


TIL: o-mega is big 'o' and o-micron is little 'o'. Presumably omicron was choosen given the eschatological associations of omega?
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2021 [12 favorites]


Waiting for the unicron variant. "CDC, roll out!"
posted by SPrintF at 1:28 PM on November 28, 2021 [20 favorites]


It also means there'll eventually be 'the omega variant' which doesn't sound good.

They'll skip omega, for all the obvious reasons (its connotation of "being last" being as important as the eschatological), just like they skipped nu in favor of omicron so we aren't talking about the "new variant" for the next three months.

It's the same idea behind why the NYC subway will never have a P train.
posted by thecaddy at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2021 [61 favorites]


DeepSeaHaggis, they're just going through the Greek alphabet in order. They skipped nu and xi, because one is confusingly pronounced "new" and the other is a common surname that happens to be the surname of the current political leader of one of the major world powers, so here we are at omicron.

Agreed that they will likely skip omega because the implication of it is that we're all out of variants, which we presumably will not be.
posted by potrzebie at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]


We're never going to see the end of this, are we.
posted by tzikeh at 1:38 PM on November 28, 2021 [15 favorites]


> so it's more of "recorded there first" -- there's no telling where it originally grew.

Much like the so-called "Spanish" flu, which was discovered in Spain because it was neutral at the time and not involved in World War I:

The outbreak did not originate in Spain (see below),[52] but reporting did, due to wartime censorship in belligerent nations. Spain was a neutral country unconcerned with appearances of combat readiness, and without a wartime propaganda machine to prop up morale;[53][54] so its newspapers freely reported epidemic effects, including King Alfonso XIII's illness, making Spain the apparent locus of the epidemic.[55] The censorship was so effective that Spain's health officials were unaware its neighboring countries were similarly affected.[56]
posted by WCityMike2 at 1:40 PM on November 28, 2021 [18 favorites]


glonous: I think we should be naming it after My Little Pony characters:

Scientists today upgraded Princess Tiffany to a Pony of Concern.
posted by WCityMike2 at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2021 [91 favorites]


We're never going to see the end of this, are we.

Well, we might, but not like, for the reasons you'd hoped.
posted by pwnguin at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2021 [20 favorites]


Ah, of course, they're not doing it by the anglicized alphabetical order. Silly me
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 1:42 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


It's really interesting lay internet people have already reacted by saying that a milder variant could be a good sign; unfortunately (and nonintuitively), evolution is a nonlinear process and I doubt that scientists could predict with much confidence what any given variant means in the long run.
posted by polymodus at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2021


We not only have to concern ourselves with spread worldwide, leading to mutations that come back to us, but throughout the biosphere. 40% of Northeastern and Midwestern American deer have tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
posted by Schmucko at 1:50 PM on November 28, 2021 [15 favorites]


We're finding it in Ontario now.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:54 PM on November 28, 2021 [4 favorites]


I keep thinking about how 61 of the 500 people who flew into Amsterdam tested positive. The rest were forced in with them then just let loose.

61 of 500 is pretty freaky, Yknow?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]


After Greek we go to Cyrillic, then Hebrew, and then we challenge western readers with kanji.
Learn Japanese To Survive! Kanji Combat
posted by krisjohn at 2:00 PM on November 28, 2021 [7 favorites]


this version of the virus has been showing as mild symptoms in vaccinated cases so far.

What we see unfortunately is journalism failing and a game of telephone with Coetzee's quote. The doctor was speaking about her experience of a small group of patients, and not making general comments about how all patients will experience it. I don't see that the small group of patients were tested for the Omicron variant, or just assumed to have it because of the abnormal symptoms.

Contrast with another anecdote: “Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65% are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated” (edit: these are unvaccinated cases, yes, but many headlines aren't making the distinction)

I see even Reuters running with the "Omicron is mild" headline and it's just too early to say anything like that -- though let's hope for the best.
posted by credulous at 2:09 PM on November 28, 2021 [30 favorites]


We're never going to see the end of this, are we.
If you mean politicians failing to understand this is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed in a way that assumes you can't just wait for it to end, then no, no we're not. At least, not until we get rid of politicians that think like "What if we spend all that money building an quarantine-ready, emergency accomodation facility and it's not 100% occupied 100% of the time? How will we justify the waste?", or ones that put sporting grants in marginal electorates before improving hospitals.
posted by krisjohn at 2:10 PM on November 28, 2021 [15 favorites]


It's kinda weird that we're still using vaccines against the original form of the virus, which is now practically non-existent. First replaced by Alpha, and now by Delta.

One of the draws of mRNA vaccines was that they were faster to change and approve. We haven't done it yet and I wonder how many people will end up sick or dead before any change is made. We're still making and distributing known-worse vaccines like J&J and pretending that it's just as good.
posted by meowzilla at 2:11 PM on November 28, 2021 [3 favorites]


this version of the virus has been showing as mild symptoms in vaccinated cases so far. This is with the caveat that COVID symptoms, as we know, take time to develop fully, and so far this is in younger vaccinated people who may be more resilient anyway.

just to emphasize the caveat: "A widely-shared quote from a South African doctor, saying Omicron causes only mild symptoms, is being taken out of context. She was referring to a small group of young, healthy people and warned of severe disease in other groups"

If you pick a hundred random COVID-positive people you could easily get a hundred mild cases; it's impossible to know from a few cases how it really compares to Delta. So we really hardly know anything about the severity of Omicron compared to Delta.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:14 PM on November 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


The First Four Black Sabbath Albums Variant awaits, with Henry Rollins getting royalties on that.

As for this variant, I regretfully predict that it won't change anyone's behavior for some time. People worried about it are already taking appropriate precautions; people convinced that it's unimportant and/or a scam will ignore it even if the news states "This will kill YOU SPECIFICALLY, (your name here.)"
posted by delfin at 2:28 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]


One of the draws of mRNA vaccines was that they were faster to change and approve. We haven't done it yet and I wonder how many people will end up sick or dead before any change is made.

Actually, they are looking to change the vaccine now.

Pfizer and BioNTech are investigating the new, heavily mutated variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, the companies said Friday morning.
The companies said they can adapt their mRNA vaccine within six weeks and start shipping batches within 100 days if an escape variant is identified.
Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca on Friday said they also investigating and testing the new variant.


A doctor friend told me last summer that she had heard that adapting the vaccine to mutations was going to be the way forward, but I think that they found the existing vaccine was still effective against the Delta variant. I just got my booster last Monday though, and I was so pleased with myself; now it looks like I'll be getting another in a few months and I'm not so pleased.
posted by maggiemaggie at 2:33 PM on November 28, 2021 [12 favorites]


How wise an idea was this whole Greek alphabet naming system really? Twenty-four letters for a protean virus with a global spread?

Let's go multicharacter. No one's going to be disproportionately upset by iota-eta-pi
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:39 PM on November 28, 2021 [7 favorites]


Still wondering what it will take to get the world's rich countries behind a serious global vaccination push.

It's the same idea behind why the NYC subway will never have a P train.

Every NYC subway train is a P train.
posted by praemunire at 2:43 PM on November 28, 2021 [41 favorites]


According to this South African journalist, the vaccine issue in South Africa is primarily one of vaccine hesitancy (at least in part informed by Western misinformation), not supply. Another example.
posted by kickingtheground at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2021 [10 favorites]


What we see unfortunately is journalism failing and a game of telephone with Coetzee's quote

Also, didn't the spin that “Omicron is a mild variant” originate in Sputnik News, i.e., Russia Today's equivalent of the National Enquirer, which gets all the stories that don't fit in their sober 24-hour-news-channel format?
posted by acb at 2:52 PM on November 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


It's pretty obvious the vaccines have limited effectiveness at this point.

I get what you're saying but this is NOT the way to open the comment. As I hope everyone here knows, vaccines are hugely effective in reducing hospitalisation and death.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:53 PM on November 28, 2021 [88 favorites]


I've mentioned elsewhere that when I read Omicron I see Unicron. So much so that I ended up watching Transformers: The Movie again for the first time since it was in theaters. It ain't great, but with Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, and Orson Welles all doing voice work and some pretty banging 80s music (including a Weird Al track), it had at least some redeeming quality.

On the bright side, the new variant did compel me to get my ass over to the pharmacy and get a booster, which I've been putting off a few weeks, so that's good at least. I can only hope it also encourages people to wear masks again. Only like 75% of people at the store earlier were wearing them, and that includes the large number of dicknosers.

The data is pretty clear that Omicron is outcompeting Delta in South Africa, but beyond that little can be said. Only time will tell how the spike protein mutations will affect acquired or vaccine immunity. Anecdotally, it seems to spread more easily and replicate faster, but it's impossible to be sure yet. Definitely worth being cautious in one's personal life, though.

The thing that stuck out the most to me was the transmission between hotel rooms in a quarantine hotel in Hong Kong. If that kind of thing turns out to be common I'm going to need a HEPA filter for the and to be way more diligent about wearing a mask outdoors. Even with Delta transmission from merely walking past the occasional person on the sidewalk has been quite rare.

Unfortunate that Miami Art Week is this week, since Omicron is already widespread enough that it's almost certain to come to town as a result.
posted by wierdo at 2:59 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


The best we can possibly hope for is for it to be more contagious than Delta and also milder; in that case, it can displace the more virulent variants (including from animal reservoirs that would have guaranteed their endemic status), making Covid-19 into a manageable annoyance.
posted by acb at 3:02 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]


I get what you're saying but this is NOT the way to open the comment.

You understood my point but chose to quote me with no context anyways? What definitely isn't going to help with this latest variant is more anxiety and tone policing. Go get vaxed, probably the reason I'm not in a hospital right now... like I said.
posted by bradbane at 3:29 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]




A fellow super-cautious friend is calling it the omigod variant.
posted by mochapickle at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2021 [34 favorites]


making Covid-19 into a manageable annoyance

Unless Omicron does not cause long covid, which seems pretty unlikely, the long term consequences for a significant proportion of people are much worse than a manageable annoyance. Lots of people with mild covid have ended up suffering long term consequences. Much as we'd like to pretend this is just about the initial infection, we very clearly know it isn't — and we can't keep overlooking that fact because it is inconvenient.
posted by ssg at 3:57 PM on November 28, 2021 [54 favorites]


Does anyone understand why Covid is mutating so much? Were humans just unaware of mutations in the past or is there something special about Covid that makes it mutate more? Are we going to be announcing a new round of lockdowns over Variant X Æ A-12 in 50 years?
posted by vanitas at 4:10 PM on November 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


Common flu mutates somewhat every year, which is one reason we need to re-up annually.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 4:19 PM on November 28, 2021 [26 favorites]


It's pretty obvious the vaccines have limited effectiveness at this point. They are highly effective when you first get them, but amongst my young, very covid careful, healthy group of friends it's about 50/50 with break through infections and we're in an area with very high vax rates.

So I think this is based on a subtle misconception that needs to be corrected. The vaccines do not prevent infection; they do prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and mortality. The media did a lot of damage by suggesting that antibody levels when you first get vaccines act like forcefields. And there was some hope, ultimately misplaced by authorities, that everyone would collectively vaccinate, in order to meet the threshold for vaccine-induced herd immunity. But humans, specifically antivaxxers, did the stupid human thing and helped moved the goalpost, normalizing the idea that the vaccines aren't what scientists thought the vaccines were capable of.

The fact that your antibody levels wane after vaccination is not the fault of the vaccine, it's because your body naturally does not produce antibody levels at high levels forever (presumably because that would be biologically costly and/or have long term negative consequences): there's a natural half-life resulting in a consistent %drop of antibodies per month. Your body has other mechanisms to "learn" the vaccine but that's a long process that takes 8+ months (hence proper use of booster shots).
posted by polymodus at 4:20 PM on November 28, 2021 [47 favorites]


It's also a better long term strategy for one organism that's so dependent on another to not to kill it's host.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 4:22 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


Something to keep in mind when labeling variants by place names.
posted by hypnogogue at 4:24 PM on November 28, 2021 [4 favorites]


Does anyone understand why Covid is mutating so much

Not a virologist, but I suspect that it isn't an outlier on mutation rate so much as we care a lot more about the mutations. Flu mutates every year but because of seasonality we get some advanced notice from the southern hemisphere of what the probable bad ones look like. It's also a lot less deadly so when new variants are identified you don't read about it on metafilter.
posted by pwnguin at 4:24 PM on November 28, 2021 [3 favorites]


Also not a virologist but, if I correctly recall what little I learned of the subject many years ago, proteins on the surface of a virus act like little 'keys' designed to open what amounts to a port in the host cell membrane through which it can then inject/insert it's own genetic material and therefore reproduce. The virus is essentially 'tuned' to perform this little trick using one very specific port and while it can mutate somewhat to by-pass immune responses from the host, it can only change so much, before its 'keys' no longer work.

(If someone can give a better explanation---or if something I've written in egregiously wrong---please do provide correction/clarification. Thanks!)
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 4:44 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


Just accept it. This is how we live now. Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, get the boosters and the flu shots.
posted by interogative mood at 5:03 PM on November 28, 2021 [19 favorites]


amongst my young, very covid careful, healthy group of friends it's about 50/50 with break through infections

I don't think that's typical. Among my direct friends (middle aged, healthy, covid careful) I don't know of any breakthrough cases (and we're getting tested on a regular basis). I have a single work acquaintance who had one and a few people I know online only had them. I've been involved with several in-person conferences with a few hundred attendees with no known cases as a result.

And importantly, all of the people I do know who've had them were vaccinated and had at most a few days of suck but were otherwise fine.
posted by Candleman at 5:17 PM on November 28, 2021 [17 favorites]


Coronaviruses won’t go extinct with this pandemic. Eventually certain escape variants will emerge that cause mild disease and spread more easily. At that point, they will be part of the background number of common cold viruses. The deadlier coronavirus strains will either be outcompeted or be the focus of ongoing vaccine attention.

So Omicron might be something really ominous or it might be the natural sort of thing that happens as pandemics wind down. I haven’t read any scientific literature whatsoever on it (And I get this stuff unsolicited all the time as part of my profession) so everything in the press is conjecture and “this one person commented.” It’s impossible that is the only strain emerging out there, and I’m skeptical that it’s the only new one known to science. Someone somewhere sequenced it enough to see the mutations in the spike protein amino acid sequence. That is long way from saying current vaccines might be less effective. Are the mutations enough to affect protein folding? Is the protein folding different enough to affect antibody recognition? And to what degree, does it slow or hasten the immune response? And how do these protein spike mutations affect infectivity?

No reason to panic here whatsoever. Interesting story and worth following. It’s incredible how advanced epidemiology is getting. Not sure if closing borders makes sense right now, but hell yes continue to be cautious. Crowds are dangerous. Wear a mask, and make sure it’s an effective one, wash your hands you slobs, mostly stay home, and get your damn vaccine and boosters and flu shots and generally be as healthy as you can fucking be.

Total derail, but my in-laws were flying home from thanksgiving at our place. They were delayed for more than two hours sitting on the runway due to weather. Finally getting the all clear, they taxi into position and the plane comes to a stop and turns back towards the gate. After a two-plus hour delay, some lady refused to mask up (I guess she was wearing her mask up to that point?) and they had to go back to the gate, escort her and her children off, pull off their luggage and ultimately added another painful 90 minutes to their 2 hour delay. Can you imagine?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:23 PM on November 28, 2021 [41 favorites]


Welp this was definitely motivation for me to get my booster shot today. Thank the gods for walk-up sites in NYC.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:49 PM on November 28, 2021 [5 favorites]


I'm not assumimg that vaccines are effective against Omicron until we have evidence either way so my risk tolerance is way way down for the next couple of weeks.
posted by zymil at 5:53 PM on November 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


So I think this is based on a subtle misconception that needs to be corrected. The vaccines do not prevent infection; they do prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and mortality.

It's less that it is a misconception based on poor communication and/or understanding and more that circumstances changed and people have a hard time with that. The neutralizing antibodies the vaccine stimulates your body to produce are less effective against Delta than they were against the original strain. They have a lower chance of binding to the spike protein and inactivating the virus, so you need more of them to have the same protection. Combined with Delta's higher reproduction rate and viral load, breakthrough infections are more likely, but that risk can still be significantly reduced with a booster since it's a game of chance and more antibodies means more chances you win.

Even without the booster, though, there's still enough of an effect to slow the virus down enough to give your body's other mechanisms for eliminating infections time to get going, hence why the vaccines remain effective at preventing hospitalization and death.
posted by wierdo at 5:57 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]


Let's go multicharacter. No one's going to be disproportionately upset by iota-eta-pi

At that point, instead of saying we "contract" the virus, we "rush" it?
posted by MrGuilt at 5:57 PM on November 28, 2021 [27 favorites]


About the naming thing: maybe they'll go the way of cyclones and name the variants with human names, like Donald or George. Mentioned this to my boss and turns out she and I both have cyclonic names that did a fair amount of damage.
posted by b33j at 6:04 PM on November 28, 2021 [3 favorites]


Does anyone understand why Covid is mutating so much? Were humans just unaware of mutations in the past or is there something special about Covid that makes it mutate more?

SARS-CoV-2 has actually been mutating pretty slowly compared to other viruses. The virus has coding for an RNA polymerase enzyme which proof reads the copies. In a genome as large as SARS-CoV-2, mutations can often cause more harm than good because there's exponentially more interlocking parts where shit can go wrong. It's just been buoyed by its ridiculously high R0 and humanity's lax attitude to its reproduction.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:21 PM on November 28, 2021 [28 favorites]


name the variants with human names
They skipped over 'Xi' because that's a human name.
posted by Hatashran at 6:30 PM on November 28, 2021 [3 favorites]


name the variants with human names

Ooh! I'd love one to be Barry so I could refer to it as "The Barriant"

(see also: Cary, Gary, Harry, Larry, Mary, Perry, &Terry)
posted by thivaia at 6:36 PM on November 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


There's a waiting list with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for people who want their ex's name on the list, or their baby's name. If it's a common name, and not a world leader like China or France (I, Macron?), it shouldn't be offensive, unless we start with Karen or Chad.
posted by b33j at 6:45 PM on November 28, 2021


It's less that it is a misconception based on poor communication and/or understanding and more that circumstances changed and people have a hard time with that. The neutralizing antibodies the vaccine stimulates your body to produce are less effective against Delta than they were against the original strain.

One of the reasons that boosters with the same vaccine work so well at regaining efficacy with new strains is not just because they prime the immune system into a ready state, but because while you're exposed to an antigen the dendritic cells are constantly presenting said antigens to new B-cells inside your lymphatic system. Those B-cells all have random antibodies and even where those antibodies are effective against the same antigen they're going to have slightly different structures which are all going to have different levels of affinity even to altered antigens.

Our adaptive immune system is not a perfect surgical strike. It's a carpet bomb which basically tries to place bets on every number on the roulette wheel. The more time an antigen is presented, the higher the chance you have of generating an antibody which overwhelms the virus. Nobody takes "perfect is the enemy of the good" more seriously than our immune systems. The immune system will go for mass amounts of "good" every time. One antibody that's good for one antigen may also be perfect for a slightly different one which is why your body keeps a lot of them around.

Look at a live vaccine like MMR. It's a live attenuated vaccine and it does actually live inside our body for the duration of our lives although we're not sure where. You only need one working shot to confer lifelong immunity because the attenuated virus keeps reproducing and getting presented in the lymphatic system to your new B-cells your entire life. They keep creating new antibodies throughout your entire life and the sheer overwhelming number of antibodies your body has on file against a measles/mumps/rubella antigen keeps you basically invincible from them. The only reason we do two shots is just in case something was wrong with the first shot and so we don't have to mass test for follow-up immunity.

mRNA on the other hand is short lived inside the body. Its half-life is about 10 hours before it basically shatters back into its constituent bases inside our cells' cytoplasm. Once that mRNA is gone that's all your body is going to produce of the spike protein. Once all the spike proteins have been produced, taken up, and presented, your B-cells aren't going to get any more exposure or training. A booster kicks that all up into high gear all over again and your antibody selection gets even broader. With a broader selection of antibodies available, the chance that you harbor antibodies with a high enough affinity to the next SARS-CoV-2 antigen in the wild, whatever the variant, goes up.

All infection stuff is about probability and dice rolls which messes with our idiot monkey brains that crave certainty. Keeping yourself safe from infection you can basically reduce the number of dice rolls, you can increase the number of dice you roll in defense, and you can increase the amount of numbers that can cause you to win instead of lose. Boosters do the latter two in spades.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 6:47 PM on November 28, 2021 [74 favorites]


I hope everyone enjoyed seeing their families for Thanksgiving because we may all be on total lockdown again for Christmas if this goes as bad as well, life has been going. So yeah, living in fear again (she says, as she's off to play rehearsal in an hour double masked, one of them being KN95), yaaaaaay.

I don't know a whole lot of people yet who have come down with Covid after being boostered as yet, but one of my family friends did (disclaimer: works in medicine, went to Vegas) and I guess he had to get serious medical treatment for it. I was hoping being boostered would help, but now all I see daily are articles of "X got Covid after being fully vaccinated and boostered." And stories of people with at least 2 shots if not 3 ending up with serious medical treatment.

I don't get why we weren't already changing the boosters to be Delta-specific or anything-else specific. I assume the slow approval process but "just as good and still effective against hospitalization, so let's not do anything else" seems to be going on still and that's completely insane. And yeah, J&J literally came out "not as good," even though I asked my few friends who got J&J how they feel about it and got "I ain't dead" as a response, so I guess they're okay with it.

We're never going to see the end of this, are we.
Well, we might, but not like, for the reasons you'd hoped.

A lot of us will actually see the end of this... for them, anyway :(

I'm boggled at the "South Africa feels shamed for sounding the alarm at this because now travel is being shut down and now maybe other countries won't tattle if they see another variant." Um, (a) YOU NEEDED TO NOTIFY THE WORLD FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY, HELLO, and (b) OF COURSE TRAVEL IS BEING SHUT DOWN, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?! It's probably too late to shut down omicron already once it's found, but we shouldn't be compounding the problem with international travel spreading it even more. Which has been shut down a lot over the entire pandemic anyway.

Anyway, I'm just back to wigging out again.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:00 PM on November 28, 2021 [9 favorites]


my in-laws were flying home from thanksgiving [...] some lady refused to mask up (I guess she was wearing her mask up to that point?) and they had to go back to the gate, escort her and her children off, pull off their luggage and ultimately added another painful 90 minutes to their 2 hour delay. Can you imagine?

I can imagine but only wistfully. I recently had to fly and there were multiple people in the airports with no masks at all; a huge percentage of dicknosers; and a charming selection of both on the flights. (No one that I could see on my flights was outright refusing to at least pretend to wear a mask, but somehow a few people around me managed to be totally barefaced by arrival.)

Being trapped in a closed space with these people (I mean, their noses) is terrifying. Not once did anyone with authority tell people to mask up. (I tried asking people immediately next to me, but you can imagine how successful that was. Only one person got angry; the rest pulled up their masks for a few minutes and then nosed back out.) Not once did anyone with any authority mention any consequences. People I tell this to say "well, what can they do", but I think that's ridiculously fatalistic. There are so many things they could do. Anyone traveling should be subject to fines for being unmasked: they might not care about other people, but they usually care about their own pocketbook. (This is especially easy on planes: the airline knows who you are and what your credit card number is based on your seat number, no need to ask for ID or anything; agreement can be required when purchasing tickets.) And anyone repeatedly caught without a mask should be blacklisted from flying for however long. At minimum they should be blacklisted from that airline. Airlines and airports should pass out a selection of n95-level masks to people who still haven't bothered to find a mask that will stay up, and while they're at it they should be requiring n95-level masks for air travel in general. This isn't 2020 anymore, we have a lot more information about how effective different types of masks are.

I know, everyone's scared of confronting Trumpists, but everyone should be both scared and sick to death of these people spreading infection again and again.

I keep thinking about how 61 of the 500 people who flew into Amsterdam tested positive. The rest were forced in with them then just let loose.

Travel protocol in general (especially international travel) makes no sense in a lot of places. Even if you have to get tested X days before the flight - that's great, but you should also have to take a rapid (15-minute) test before getting in the airport. And then isolate for 4-5 days after the flight and get tested again, because that's how long it would take to test positive if you got infected on the flight. Nothing less than that makes any sense. I don't think there's any country in the world where herd immunity is high enough to make these things unnecessary (places like Portugal, maybe?), so failing to do it just feels like a big gamble where gambler's luck is inevitably going to run out. (Let's not even start with how the hands-off approach punishes people with higher risk profiles.)

Seriously, this thing is probably not going away any time soon and there are things we have to make peace with, but it would be a lot easier if there aren't also so much ignorant, cavalier, and maddeningly unnecessary bullshit in all directions.
posted by trig at 7:06 PM on November 28, 2021 [30 favorites]


I don't get why we weren't already changing the boosters to be Delta-specific or anything-else specific. I assume the slow approval process but "just as good and still effective against hospitalization, so let's not do anything else" seems to be going on still and that's completely insane. And yeah, J&J literally came out "not as good," even though I asked my few friends who got J&J how they feel about it and got "I ain't dead" as a response, so I guess they're okay with it.

Because Delta is similar enough to the initial spike protein that a third booster with the same shot is enough to restore efficacy to 90+%. Changing everything out and getting it into distribution takes 6 weeks and getting it out to the wider populace would take months along with cutting production in order to take the personnel and bioreactors we do have to bring them online with a whole new mRNA strand to add to the mix. We're focused on massive output of vaccines that work great, not the perfect vaccine that lets whoever is lucky enough to receive it be 100% immune.

With each of the variants Moderna/Pfizer have had multiple mRNA candidates pretty much ready to go shortly after the variant is sequenced. They've just been unnecessary with what we have. Most of the next two weeks is seeing what happens with test groups, how well the vaccinated group stand up to Omicron, then deciding whether to take the hit to put the mRNA of a new spike protein into production with a multivalent vaccine. If Omicron needs a second mRNA strand to deliver good efficacy, I'd probably expect to see a whole heap of news stories like "MODERNA TO PUT OMICRON VACCINE INTO PRODUCTION!"
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:11 PM on November 28, 2021 [30 favorites]


It's pretty obvious the vaccines have limited effectiveness at this point...

That's an obtuse leading statement. Vaccines are not always technically perfect (except for eliminating Polio & Smallpox). The limited effectiveness now is in human factors with vaccine implementation and how society deals with these effects. So far it's mostly been clogging up the medical system.
posted by ovvl at 7:12 PM on November 28, 2021 [9 favorites]


I don't get why we weren't already changing the boosters to be Delta-specific or anything-else specific.

There's also still a need to test the new versions, though I assume it's a shortened process, and the inevitable "we don't want to be guinea pigs for a new vaccine" public reaction.
posted by trig at 7:14 PM on November 28, 2021


Watch Belgium and Israel, who are heavily vaccinated and both have cases of the omicron variant. We won’t know for a few weeks, but there’s a reason the alarm was sounded (ie good scientists are keeping an eye out for variants we need to observe, which is a good thing) and more importantly, there are good reasons to be optimistic the vaccinations will hold.

I’d also ask people not to state stuff about us going on lockdown at Christmas or at any time in the near future. There is zero indication that would be needed at the moment. I know it’s unsettling to feel this topsy turvy, ever changing story play out in real life again and again, but for our own sake and the sake of others, it doesn’t help to jump to that conclusion when we simply aren’t seeing any evidence of that. It doesn’t feel good to be a part of this saga, but I try to remember there are really talented, good people working hard to make a difference and to help.
posted by glaucon at 7:31 PM on November 28, 2021 [28 favorites]


Let's go multicharacter. No one's going to be disproportionately upset by iota-eta-pi

I can already feel the side-eye from the Alpha Kappa Alpha ladies.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:31 PM on November 28, 2021 [5 favorites]


So I think this is based on a subtle misconception that needs to be corrected. The vaccines do not prevent infection; they do prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and mortality.

My take on this is sort of like what I used to say about Claritin for my allergies. The dampening effect it had on them generally felt fairly minor to me; I still had some symptoms. But I couldn't go back and replay the day without Claritin in my system to see how bad they would've been without it, so I presumed that I should remain thankful for it because I wasn't fully miserable like I could've been.

With my two shots and my booster (scheduled for Tuesday, wife gets her booster Friday), I may still get COVID. I may still feel symptoms that, while presumably reduced, are unpleasant. But if "go back and replay the virus without vaccination" could easily mean that I'm freaking dead, my choice is "get needled" eleven times out of ten.
posted by delfin at 7:49 PM on November 28, 2021 [7 favorites]


I'm assuming they'll eventually use the Ubuntu naming scheme.

Putrid Pi
Runny Rho
Sneezy Sigma
Torrid Tau (LTS)
posted by destrius at 7:55 PM on November 28, 2021 [26 favorites]


Watch Belgium and Israel, who are heavily vaccinated and both have cases of the omicron variant.

According to Our World in Data (click on "chart" under the map to see an actual graph with numbers) Belgium has 75.8% of the total population that have received at least one dose (not necessarily fully vaccinated). That's not very high compared to many other European countries and, more importantly, to the level that apparently is going to be necessary for herd immunity. However, it is much higher than Israel, which despite being way ahead of the pack both in starting vaccinations at all and in making boosters available, is only at 67.8% -- less than the US (68.8%).

Meanwhile, according to the summary at the top of that page, only 5.7% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose and only 54.1% of the world population has received at least one dose (of any vaccine, including the (relatively) less effective ones).
posted by trig at 8:21 PM on November 28, 2021 [10 favorites]


Does anyone understand why Covid is mutating so much? Were humans just unaware of mutations in the past or is there something special about Covid that makes it mutate more?

SARS-CoV-2 has actually been mutating pretty slowly compared to other viruses. The virus has coding for an RNA polymerase enzyme which proofreads the copies. In a genome as large as SARS-CoV-2, mutations can often cause more harm than good because there's exponentially more interlocking parts where shit can go wrong. It's just been buoyed by its ridiculously high R0 and humanity's lax attitude to its reproduction.


This - the ridiculously high R0 and humanity's shambolic response - is a lot most of the story. I'd argue that there are two other major factors. One is that the extended time people can spend severely sick with COVID-19 can give the virus a lot of chances to learn how to evade the immune system in a single host, and that's actually one of the hypotheses that Trevor Bedford's got re: where Omicron came from - here's twitter thread about it. Other scientists go into more detail on related hypotheses in a (surprisingly decent) NYTimes article by Carl Zimmer. The other reason that SARS-CoV-2 may seem to be mutating a lot is, of course, the fact that mutations are making the news, in a way that, say, the different flu strains that are predominant in a given year don't. It's not that there weren't flu mutations (let alone different mixes of dominant strains) any given flu season, it's just that the public didn't care about them.
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 8:24 PM on November 28, 2021 [10 favorites]


i favor the method of the alphabetical street sequence in washington, d.c., which proceeds, after the letters, to name streets with words beginning with those letters, first one-syllable, then two- and three-syllable. it would, of course, be perfectly acceptable if those words, as with the storm designations, were proper nouns.
posted by 20 year lurk at 8:35 PM on November 28, 2021


We don’t have enough people vaccinated yet to make any sweeping statements about the vaccines not working. That doesn’t stop people from saying it though.
posted by interogative mood at 8:37 PM on November 28, 2021 [5 favorites]


It's also a better long term strategy for one organism that's so dependent on another to not to kill it's host.

...while that can be a source of evolutionary pressure, it's not the only one, and it's easy to overstate how important that factor is. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, much of the transmission is likely happening shortly before or after the onset of symptoms. Severe disease can be a more effective way to spread for diseases that depend on exposure to bodily fluids (cholera, possibly Ebola), and for things like malaria or yellow fever which don't spread directly between people, virulence and transmissibility are somewhat decoupled. This easy-to-read Smithsonian article discusses the different evolutionary trajectories of various diseases, and does a decent job of highlighting why evolving towards less lethality isn't necessarily something that we can rely on for SARS-CoV-2. (And that's also why even if Omicron turns out to be milder - and it's wildly premature to state that it is, as previously noted by credulous - it'd also be premature to assume that that portends anything for the medium- and long-term development of SARS-CoV-2.)
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 8:38 PM on November 28, 2021 [15 favorites]


but "just as good and still effective against hospitalization, so let's not do anything else" seems to be going on still and that's completely insane.

What?? Not only is that not remotely what's going on (seriously, there are so many fucking vaccines being worked on and tested to this day), but it's also not remotely "insane," much less "completely." At ZERO NONE NO NONE WHATSOEVER TIME were these vaccines a preventative against 100% of infection. The goal was ALWAYS: prevent death, reduce severity, prevent the overloading of medical systems. Just as with the flu.

I dunno what more you want from a scientific community that is already working literal fucking miracles, but I don't think you're gonna get it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:42 PM on November 28, 2021 [53 favorites]


I recently had to fly and there were multiple people in the airports with no masks at all; a huge percentage of dicknosers; and a charming selection of both on the flights.

This is why I decided a couple of months ago that I wasn't flying home for Christmas. It was tough, because my parents are elderly and I don't see them in person otherwise, but it wasn't clear what the spread situation would be at Christmas, and spending most of a day locked up with antivax assholes as well as the just careless was not fun.

The new variant made me extra-glad I had made that choice.
posted by tavella at 9:09 PM on November 28, 2021 [9 favorites]


It’s impossible that is the only strain emerging out there, and I’m skeptical that it’s the only new one known to science. Someone somewhere sequenced it enough to see the mutations in the spike protein amino acid sequence. That is long way from saying current vaccines might be less effective. Are the mutations enough to affect protein folding? Is the protein folding different enough to affect antibody recognition? And to what degree, does it slow or hasten the immune response? And how do these protein spike mutations affect infectivity?

Of course it is neither the only emerging strain nor the only new one known to science; nextstrain has a never-ending flow of new viral genomes getting added, with varying levels of mutations. This one is just the most recent one that has enough worrisome characteristics (both genomic and epidemiological) to make it worth naming a Variant of Concern (and not all of the named variants have ended up being a big deal either - Eta and Iota and Epsilon haven't gone far). The existence of mutations in the abstract isn't really the issue either: not all the journalists covering Omicron are well-informed, to say the least, but the average virologist or molecular biologist isn't running around blindly going "oh no, it has mutations?!?!!?11?!". Rather, researchers are concerned about the fact that it has a bunch of specific mutations that show up in problematic variants (a mutation at P681 as in the transmissible Alpha and Delta strains, mutations at K417, E484, and N501 as seen in Beta and Gamma with their partial immune evasion, etc. - Wikipedia has a surprisingly detailed article that gets into variant-specific mutations). On top of Omicron sharing mutations with a bunch of the most troubling strains, it has additional mutations that are localized in specific areas of the spike protein where in vitro work suggests mutations might be problematic (the Bloom lab has a good Twitter thread on some of these locations and on some of the work that is done to validate what mutations are problematic). And given that many of the extant vaccine formulations target just the spike protein, unstudied variations in sequence in that protein are especially worrisome.

Is any of this a guarantee that it'll be better at evading existing antibodies, or at causing more severe disease, or of heightened transmission? Nope! The effects of mutations can be complicated to unravel, and even for mutations with known effects, those effects can sometimes be mitigated, altered, or reversed when specific sets of additional mutations co-occur. And Omicron really has quite a few mutations! At the same time, the ability of a variant to compete on an epidemiological level also depends a lot on the environment in which it emerges, including both the other strains present and the measures humans take to limit spread. But the mutations that we do have some understanding of from previous in vitro and in vivo are a very real source for concern - particularly given preliminary epidemiological evidence that it might be out-competing Delta on the ground in South Africa.

This isn't to say that people should panic! Again, there are any number of variants that have fizzled out, and more mutations doesn't automatically make Omicron worse for us by any specific metric. But beneath the media hype, there are some good reasons that scientists are concerned about this specific variant, and that labs all over the world will be looking into this variant to figure out whether it does, in fact, pose a bigger threat or not. In the interim, both it and the current Delta wave in Europe are a sobering reminder that the pandemic isn't over. In places like the US, where we're heading into winter with moderate vaccination levels and relaxed restrictions, we've got to do what we can to encourage people to mask up, minimize travel and exposure to (indoor) crowds, and above all, to get vaccinated and/or to get their booster.
posted by ASF Tod und Schwerkraft at 9:09 PM on November 28, 2021 [21 favorites]


We don’t have enough people vaccinated yet to make any sweeping statements about the vaccines not working

Mutation analyses (such as those noted in the Bloom lab tweet linked to at the top of the post) suggest it is likely the vaccines and monoclonal therapy will not be as effective. We just don't yet know by how much, however; that's a fair point, but a different one from what you are making.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:29 PM on November 28, 2021


Link
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 9:36 PM on November 28, 2021


Probably because I like to think in stories and narratives: This isn't that surprising? I keep coming back to the historical example of the 1890 Russian Flu, which was probably one of the four circulating human coronaviruses crossing over into the human population. The viruses that circulate amongst humans had to come from somewhere, right? Our entire viral population couldn't possibly have come with us as we evolved from apes.

It seems like it was inevitable that SARS-COVS 2 would evolve to evade the human immune response. Of course, it can't evade our immune response completely because our immune system is far more than just antibodies. To me, that means the new "variant" will cause mild infections, enough to transmit but not enough to cause the widespread severe illness that occurred when it ran through an immunologically naïve human population. So far that seems to be what we are seeing; although I am eagerly awaiting reports of infections amongst the elderly and those more at-risk. South Africa's population is fairly young, and its unclear how long the variant has been circulating, so we might see more severe cases as it spreads. Still, I must admit my hunch is that such an outcome is unlikely, particularly amongst populations with more widespread vaccination than South Africa.

Thankfully, it seems like vaccine manufactures will be able to roll out vaccines targeting the new variant within a matter of months. I've even seen suggestions that the existing boosters will generate antibodies that will provide protection from infection by the new variant, though that was in an interview on Face the Nation, and I can't find a link to cite.

Either way, I remain hopeful and unafraid. It really is a miracle of science that we are able to track viral evolution and quickly develop vaccines in response.
posted by eagles123 at 10:14 PM on November 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


Not as effective is very different from not working or not effective. The vaccines with boosters against previous variants have been 80-90% effective. That’s far above most vaccine. Event at 60% efficacy they would be incredibly useful. The problem is that we don’t have enough people vaccinated and we are not vaccinating people quickly enough.
posted by interogative mood at 10:26 PM on November 28, 2021 [5 favorites]


One question I haven't seen addressed very often is how bad the pandemic is, or rather, how bad it would have to be to change some people's minds. CoViD has killed between 1‰ and 2‰ of the population in the countries one could call "ravaged" (up to 5.9‰, in Peru). How many people know someone personally who died of CoViD? How many degrees of separation are there, on average, from any given (surviving) person to the next deceased? What bump in mortality are societies experiencing? (I think it's around 10% ?). And - how bad would it have to be for today's anti-vaxers to be screaming in the other direction? 1%? 10%? More?
posted by labberdasher at 11:28 PM on November 28, 2021 [6 favorites]


I'm boggled at the "South Africa feels shamed for sounding the alarm at this because now travel is being shut down and now maybe other countries won't tattle if they see another variant." Um, (a) YOU NEEDED TO NOTIFY THE WORLD FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY, HELLO, and (b) OF COURSE TRAVEL IS BEING SHUT DOWN, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?! It's probably too late to shut down omicron already once it's found, but we shouldn't be compounding the problem with international travel spreading it even more. Which has been shut down a lot over the entire pandemic anyway.

I think people in Africa are feeling discriminated against by how the travel bans are being applied. I think would make a certain kind of sense shut down all international travel (or at least require government-surveilled quarantine periods after travel), but just banning travel to/from southern African countries does feel like it's punishing them for sequencing and publicizing the new variant, which already has shown up around the world at this point.
posted by that girl at 11:32 PM on November 28, 2021 [32 favorites]


Clever uses of a familiar Boomer Humor political cartoon aside, this has been kind of a major source of stress in the Fedora household, especially given that Mrs. Fedora works in inbound travel in Japan. For basically a year, there's been kind of a desperate hope that travel will come back to Japan in spring, but it's starting to feel pretty iffy.

There's also the mounting frustration that it's been like two years since we were able to visit family in the US, but Mrs. Fedora's family has been trying to dissuade us from visiting, if only because of the way that the infection numbers remain so high in their state. (For reference, we live in Kyoto prefecture, where there were two days in the past week with zero new cases.) This whole pandemic thing, turns out it kind of sucks! Who knew?
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:45 PM on November 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


One question I haven't seen addressed very often is how bad the pandemic is, or rather, how bad it would have to be to change some people's minds.

If the Herman Cain awards are any indication, there seem to be quite a few people denying the pandemic on their own deathbed, or right after burying their spouses.
posted by meowzilla at 12:09 AM on November 29, 2021 [25 favorites]


just in time for christmas travel!

the long covid angle, mentioned above as well, has me particular scared. long covid is the part of covid that feels like the biggest question mark to me. the world has largely shown they're willing to just sort of...let a shitload of people die until it's over. but like, there is even worse handling of long-term chronic effects like long covid. if covid becomes endemic (seems likely), are we just going to accept that some percentage of population will have long covid? I guess the optimistic case is that near 100% vaccination reduces the risk significantly, but there can still be long covid among breakthrough cases, afaik.

it remains almost impossible to imagine what the new normal will look like, and when...
posted by wooh at 12:11 AM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


are we just going to accept that some percentage of population will have long covid?

Pretty much, yeah. Not even long covid, but death in general. Remember how a certain politician said that old people should be willing to die to get the economy running again?
posted by meowzilla at 12:24 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


There are two competing narratives on the overall arc of COVID:
  1. Virus mutations are terrifying new deathbringers.
  2. Viruses evolve toward benign forms to avoid killing their host
#1 is mostly about the selective pressure on the virus to circumvent our immunity to the virus. The mutations may spread quickly, but that may only mean that one variant is as good as the previously-dominant one and thus can get similar numbers.

#2 is a kind of a misunderstanding from our experience with Ebola. Yes, it's true that a disease that kills its host in a matter of hours can't spread very quickly. But beyond that, COVID is already plenty good at spreading even while killing lots of people. I could be wrong, but I don't think we're in the region where "you're killing too many hosts" is a significant selective pressure, for SARS-COV-2.

A friend pointed out that the bird flu with 40% fatality rate is doing just fine because its actual hosts are the birds, not the humans. If bird flu evolves to transmit human-to-human, its fatality rate would likely drop fairly quickly. But that could just be down to the sorts of levels we see now with COVID19.

Anyway, I get my booster on Wednesday, and I hope we find out more about this variant very soon. The uncertainty is leading to some absolutely bogus news cycles.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:18 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


If we accept that some significant population will have long covid, would that manifest itself with them being cut enough slack with shorter working hours, permanent disability pay and/or other accommodations (in an age when we're already talking about redistributing the gains of automation with a universal basic income and/or 4-day work week), or with a new impetus for involuntary euthanasia to cull the dead weight of “useless eaters” as happened in the decades after the 1918 flu?
posted by acb at 1:38 AM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


If we accept that some significant population will have long covid, would that manifest itself with them being cut enough slack with shorter working hours, permanent disability pay and/or other accommodations (in an age when we're already talking about redistributing the gains of automation with a universal basic income and/or 4-day work week), or with a new impetus for involuntary euthanasia to cull the dead weight of “useless eaters” as happened in the decades after the 1918 flu?

Heh, which do you think? At least in the US, look at how we already treat the chronically ill, the disabled, etc.
posted by wooh at 1:46 AM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


Mod note: As a gentle prompt, let's try to avoid the darkest / cruelest prophesying, conjecture, jokes, rhetoric, etc. I understand that much of this may be meant to be acerbic commentary on "society" or some subset thereof, or the powers that be, etc., but many members are living with very specific real and terrifying concerns on various axes related to Covid and (even ironic) references to them or their loved ones as useless eaters, etc. make these conversations torturous for those who want to get news and updates without having their very worst fears amplified. Please and thank you, everyone!
posted by taz (staff) at 2:10 AM on November 29, 2021 [40 favorites]


Six cases of Omicron found in Scotland. The key part here is that some of them have no travel history, suggesting the variant is now spreading through the community (or has been for some time, undetected).

Two cases confirmed in Ottawa.

It feels pretty obvious by now that the variant is already spreading and has been for a little while, which may indicate that (so far) it's no worse than Delta.
posted by fight or flight at 3:05 AM on November 29, 2021 [8 favorites]


Also here is the twitter thread of WHO's briefing this morning, which is well worth a read.

Some key points:
"We don’t yet know whether Omicron is associated with more:
-transmission
-severe #COVID19 disease
-risk of reinfections
-risk of evading vaccines.
Scientists at WHO & around the Earth globe europe-africa are working urgently to answer these questions"-
@DrTedros
#WHASpecial

"Even as some countries are now beginning to vaccinate groups at very low risk of severe disease, or to give boosters to healthy adults, just 1 in 4 #healthworkers in Africa has been vaccinated"-
@DrTedros
#WHASpecial #VaccinEquity

"We call on every Member State to support the targets to vaccinate 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year"-
@DrTedros
#WHASpecial #VaccinEquity
posted by fight or flight at 3:10 AM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


but now all I see daily are articles of "X got Covid after being fully vaccinated and boostered."

As the number of fully vaccinated people climbs and as no vaccine is 100% effective, yes, some people who are fully vaccinated will contract the virus. I think there is some combination of base rate error and recency effect and maybe post hoc ergo propter hoc at work here.

In my lifetime two members of my immediate family have died behind the wheels of their cars. Both were wearing seatbelts. My conclusion is not that seatbelts are useless.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:14 AM on November 29, 2021 [31 favorites]




Saffa here. We were finally seeing an uptick in foreign tourists after our travel and leisure industry was absolutely hammered in 2020. Anyway now they're gone. I expect the 3% of our GDP that tourism supported to shrink even further.

We can no longer afford to lockdown, the economic cost now outstrips any benefit. The ANC government took big losses in local elections last month and has no political capital left to enforce it either.
posted by PenDevil at 3:35 AM on November 29, 2021 [8 favorites]


I hope everyone enjoyed seeing their families for Thanksgiving because we may all be on total lockdown again for Christmas if this goes as bad as well, life has been going.

I don't know what country you're posting from but at least here in the US, there won't be any lockdowns even to the extent that we ever had them. The red state politicians have realized that people dying by the thousands doesn't hurt their popularity and the the blue state governors are too afraid to do anything now.
posted by octothorpe at 3:52 AM on November 29, 2021 [35 favorites]


As the number of fully vaccinated people climbs and as no vaccine is 100% effective, yes, some people who are fully vaccinated will contract the virus. I think there is some combination of base rate error and recency effect and maybe post hoc ergo propter hoc at work here.

I'd have an easier time accepting the capital-R Reality that there will always be some breakthrough cases if most everyone was fucking vaccinated, states weren't banning employers from requiring vaccinations (or even masks--what the hell?) and those whose policy decisions exacerbated the virus were being held accountable.

But because none of those things are happening at the moment, I find myself frustrated and angry that there's even the possibility--however slight it might be--that even after putting my life on hold for two years, wearing a mask everywhere, and getting three shots as soon as I could, that I might still get long covid or (much less probably) die.

To appropriate John Kerry's famous quote:

How do you ask a fully-vaccinated individual to be the last fully-vaccinated individual to get Covid?

There's always going to be breakthrough cases, and some (hopefully small) percentage of those breakthrough cases will be tragic. But as long as there are people actively helping the virus, I don't see how we can cope with those (hopefully rare) tragedies.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:07 AM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


just banning travel to/from southern African countries does feel like it's punishing them for sequencing and publicizing the new variant, which already has shown up around the world at this point

Not really. South Africa and Botswana did happen to be the first countries to sequence and publicise the new variants, but it almost certainly originated somewhere in southern Africa or nearby and it definitely seems to be a lot more widespread there than anywhere else in the world. In particular, it looks like the vast majority of cases in the province where most international flights are based have been Omicron in the last few days, and almost all the cases elsewhere in the world are recent travellers from South Africa or nearby. Now, part of that is that countries are more likely to look for Omicron in those travellers, and the amount of sequencing done on local cases varies a lot, but there's enough Covid sequencing in the developed world that if any country there had a major Omicron outbreak it'd have been detected by now. (Not necessarily by the country where it first originated - there's a lot of travel within the developed world and variation in the amount of Covid cases that are actually sequenced, plus a lot of countries still have extra testing requirements for anyone entering the country - but definitely by somewhere other than southern Africa, which is really badly covered by Covid sequencing in general.)
posted by makomk at 4:14 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


Being able to see the future isn't as impressive when the future is stupid, but yeah, Japan closed it's borders to foreign travelers again, meaning all of the students and others who'd been waiting for over a year, and just started the (unbelievably convoluted) process of trying to come back are shit out of luck (for at least another month).
posted by Ghidorah at 4:21 AM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


I'd have an easier time accepting the capital-R Reality that there will always be some breakthrough cases if most everyone was fucking vaccinated, states weren't banning employers from requiring vaccinations (or even masks--what the hell?) and those whose policy decisions exacerbated the virus were being held accountable.

Some people are pro-virus. To quote John Oliver, “I will never understand how or why ‘not spreading disease’ became a culture war issue.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:22 AM on November 29, 2021 [16 favorites]


"CoViD has killed between 1‰ and 2‰ of the population in the countries one could call 'ravaged' (up to 5.9‰, in Peru)" — Labberdasher

You've got the decimal in the wrong place. Peru has lost 0.59% of its population to COVID (actually, as of today it looks like it is 0.62%). The next highest 10 countries range from 0.40% (Bulgaria) to 0.26% (Croatia).

Source: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality
posted by mcduff at 6:09 AM on November 29, 2021 [18 favorites]


But as long as there are people actively helping the virus, I don't see how we can cope with those (hopefully rare) tragedies.

How do you cope with the four hundred thousand other completely unnecessary tragedies, aided and abetted by pure pigheaded shitbrainery and cruelty, that are forever and always going on? This one is just the latest on a long, awful, stupid, shitbrained list.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:14 AM on November 29, 2021 [8 favorites]


You've got the decimal in the wrong place

Not quite – they were using (which is absolutely confusing), and you are using %. (5.9‰ = 0.59%).
posted by oulipian at 6:16 AM on November 29, 2021 [18 favorites]


Not quite – they were using ‰ (which is absolutely confusing), and you are using %. (5.9‰ = 0.59%).

Thanks for that, oulipian!
posted by mcduff at 6:20 AM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


... using ‰ (which is absolutely confusing) ...

eh ... and I thought The Blue was the one place on the 'net I could use the correct and copacetic symbols, but noooo ...

/jk
posted by labberdasher at 6:33 AM on November 29, 2021 [9 favorites]


I-am-bad-at-math question: What are the odds that the current surge (e.g. in the US and Europe) is partly due to omicron circulating without getting caught at it? If that's a possibility -- and it may not be -- how much of the current surge may be omicronnish?
posted by humbug at 6:33 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


What are the odds that the current surge (e.g. in the US and Europe) is partly due to omicron circulating without getting caught at it? If that's a possibility -- and it may not be -- how much of the current surge may be omicronnish?

I've been wondering this as well. With the news above that there are at least 6 cases in Scotland not linked to travel, one wonders how many other such cases are out there. Here in Belgium the surge in cases last week was described as 'worse than the worse case scenario' and I have been wondering if that is because the modelling didn't factor in the transmissibility of this new variant.

A related question I have is how have countries being deciding what samples to test for omicron. Have they been looking at a random selection or only those linked to travel? Clearly in Scotland they have cast a wider net but I wonder about other countries. A lot seem to be reporting omicron cases linked to recent travel in Africa but I wonder if that is an artifact of the samples they chose to test.
posted by roolya_boolya at 6:45 AM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


I-am-bad-at-math question: What are the odds that the current surge (e.g. in the US and Europe) is partly due to omicron circulating without getting caught at it? If that's a possibility -- and it may not be -- how much of the current surge may be omicronnish?

Very unlikely / impossible. Many countries, including the US, and most of Europe do full sequencing of a random selection of positive samples and these sequences are uploaded into a global database. The UK does an absolutely crazy amount of this full sequencing, 10% of cases get sequenced.

Omircron has a likely ancestor sequence registered mid-last-year, then no recent sequenced ancestors, and then a sudden cluster in South Africa very recently. South Africa sequences a lot more virus than anywhere else in Africa which is why it was detected there, this pattern would indicate that this variant emerged from circulation somewhere other than South Africa where there is less or no full length sequencing. That's why it seems to jump from mid 2020 to now. From the spread of sequenced omicron variants and known mutation rates, it appears likely that omicron emerged in its current form from its ancestral strain sometime in October.

Like the Alpha ("UK") variant this time last year, the sequence that encodes the viral "S" gene is sufficiently different that one of the sequences used for PCR tests negative (aka S dropout) which is a very characteristic pattern which would have been spotted anywhere with substantial PCR testing capability. Again, SA has a lot of PCR testing (regrettably they have another viral pandemic to deal with and thus have a load of PCR capacity) and would have detected this had it been circulating earlier, a sudden rise in S dropout was in fact what alerted scientists that something strange was going on.

Given that pattern it is almost certainly the case that:

1) This is a strain descended from one that has been circulating elsewhere in Southern Africa for some time
2) The particular pattern of features that make this strain unusual came together in a stable way sometime in October, somewhere in Southern Africa.
3) That strain, omicron, entered South Africa possibly with a single introduction or a small number of closely related cases in late October / early November
4) Since then it has spread throughout SA and elsewhere from that introduction. Since SA has good sequencing infrastructure, this is where it enters our records and shows up.

(it is also like Alpha which was called the "UK" variant but very possibly didn't originally emerge there in that these things only get spotted in places that are able to look for them. Elsewhere people would just have been empirically diagnosed with Covid since PCR testing is both expensive and not terribly useful when you're pretty sure that someone has Covid and full length sequencing is even more expensive and basically of no clinical use at all.)
posted by atrazine at 7:14 AM on November 29, 2021 [39 favorites]


Look at a live vaccine like MMR. It's a live attenuated vaccine and it does actually live inside our body for the duration of our lives although we're not sure where. You only need one working shot to confer lifelong immunity because the attenuated virus keeps reproducing and getting presented in the lymphatic system to your new B-cells your entire life. They keep creating new antibodies throughout your entire life and the sheer overwhelming number of antibodies your body has on file against a measles/mumps/rubella antigen keeps you basically invincible from them. The only reason we do two shots is just in case something was wrong with the first shot and so we don't have to mass test for follow-up immunity.

Are you sure about this? I've not heard before that any of the three attenuated viruses from the MMR are actually persistent.
posted by atrazine at 7:16 AM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


I know it’s unsettling to feel this topsy turvy, ever changing story play out in real life again and again, but for our own sake and the sake of others, it doesn’t help to jump to that conclusion when we simply aren’t seeing any evidence of that.

I'm very unhappy about this variant, especially its delightful timing, and of course worried about the future. And more vulnerable people are of course right to be more worried, and--in some ways, due more to poor human management than actual need--the logistical consequences may well suck. (I feel glad I did a catch-up visit to my foreign country of choice even though it meant going twice in three months, which felt slightly silly.) But the more likely future in which humanity survives but a whole lot of people have taken themselves out through unmanaged anxiety isn't pleasant to think about, either. People, if you are catastrophizing this morning, before the data is in (especially at the level we lay people can understand), please use your tools and look after yourselves.
posted by praemunire at 7:17 AM on November 29, 2021 [14 favorites]


I was hoping being boostered would help, but now all I see daily are articles of "X got Covid after being fully vaccinated and boostered."

Stories like that do a good job of attracting eyeballs and the media have 330 million Americans to draw from. That's a large enough sample to generate all sorts of weird outcomes.

You can see what's actually going on in the US here (CDC data). There are sublinks there to hospitalization by vaccination status, age breakdowns, and more. tl;dr: the vaccines are working great.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:57 AM on November 29, 2021 [21 favorites]


Only like 75% of people at the store earlier were wearing them

I am visiting Stockholm and noticing that on crowded subway cars I may see one or two other mask wearers, no more. On the 3+ hour train ride here, I saw no other mask wearers. There may have been some but the point is that Swedes were never big mask fans (partly because the government never embraced mask-wearing as important for civilians) and they still aren’t.

Meanwhile, I may never stop wearing masks in public indoor spaces or contained areas. It’s a simple thing for me, personally, to do. If I have something without knowing it, I am protecting others. Potentially I am protecting myself as well. So anyway, this latest variation just made me renew my commitment to masking up. Maybe forever. I’m okay with that.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:22 AM on November 29, 2021 [8 favorites]


If I were queen of the world the worldwide message would be: New variant, mask up. (And vaccinate too.)

As I've said before, I work in a wellness-adjacent industry where there's a lot of thinking about immunity that is essentially witchcraft, plus it's truly not that pleasant to work hard kicking things in a mask.

But at my workplace, it's a 100% masked environment because we were mandated by law to mask and maintain 2m distancing right from the first reopening, with actual inspections (we've had 3) and fines for non-compliance (we've always been in compliance.) Right now, for classes where everyone is vaccinated (again, by law, anyone 18 and over has to be vaccinated to participate or be in the building longer than it takes to pick up their child) it's actually permitted under the law to not mask, but we kept our own rules in place and because you have to wear a mask to go to the store, the hairdresser, church, etc. etc., no one really questions it. (We lost about 5 students to it, out of 700+.)

I don't blame the front line attendants or workers for this, I blame governments and frankly the WHO's lack of mask mandate originally when everyone was sort of starting to work together. It would be so powerful if every announcement about transmissibility or variants came with a little PSA about masks and some surgical masks dropped at everyone's door.

I will share that in the late summer, we had a Delta Covid case in an unvaccinated younger staff person. We caught it on our workplace-required rapid testing (he had a stuffy nose for like, 3 hours as well, the morning before he was tested before his shift.) In the 48 hrs before we caught it, he taught 134 students and we also notified about 3x that number of our members.

The 134 students were required by public health to do PCR testing. I'm not sure every last one was compliant but I think most were. We had zero transmission - not a single further case. We have proper HEPA-filtered ventilation, 2m distancing, and most importantly, masks. We also were lucky. Lucky PLUS masks. We remind everyone to have their mask up over their nose when they come in, when the class starts, and when the class ends. ("Masks up!")

Do masks work all the time? Not at all. My kids eat lunch at school and I know the kids do the nose thing. And we just started vaccinating kids here last week (my child got his first shot yay!)

Even with proper mask use in an adult environment, it's not 100% and not everyone is wearing the best masks, sure. But I think it demonstrably makes a big difference, even with the lousy messaging. Are masks without social cost? No. I think there should be exceptions - speech therapy, maybe certain ages because it is actually really hard to learn certain things without seeing people shape sounds. But overall they're a relatively easy fix and it bugs me so much that they got politicized.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:22 AM on November 29, 2021 [23 favorites]


Just for more anecdotal detail, of the 134 students, about 80% were unvaccinated kids.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:26 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


Bob Wachter, UCSF Chair of Medicine has this tweet which pretty much sums up where we're at and what to do now with Omicron:
What to do now?
1) If not vaxxed, get vaxxed
2) If not boosted & >4-5 mths out, get boosted
3) Get prepared mentally to act more cautiously if Omicron proves to be more infectious, immune-evasive, or both
4) Follow the news & science – will be much clearer in 2-3 wks
5) That's it
There's really not much else to do at this point. Keep tabs on developments and be responsible.
posted by tclark at 9:24 AM on November 29, 2021 [39 favorites]


@atrazine: thank you for your answers! much appreciated.
posted by humbug at 9:29 AM on November 29, 2021


A question for the experts here: when will we have a sense of how bad this will/might be? I'm reading a lot of "too soon to know," which I appreciate, but it would be helpful to have a sense of when the clear picture might start to come into view. A week? Two weeks? Thanks.
posted by coffeecat at 9:30 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


I'm not an expert myself but I have been paying very close attention all along to folks like Bob Wacther, Zeynep Tufekci, and Ed Yong, who have been paying extremely close attention to everything, and the answer isn't a clear cutoff, but the "sense" of these folks is the data and information should provide us a much better picture in 2-3 weeks. I doubt it'll be less than a week and I doubt it'll be longer than a month before we know whether Omicron will be able to escape natural or vaccinated resistance, and if so, by how much.
posted by tclark at 9:41 AM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


Bob Wachter, UCSF Chair of Medicine has this tweet which pretty much sums up where we're at and what to do now with Omicron:
What to do now?
1) If not vaxxed, get vaxxed
2) If not boosted & >4-5 mths out, get boosted
3) Get prepared mentally to act more cautiously if Omicron proves to be more infectious, immune-evasive, or both
4) Follow the news & science – will be much clearer in 2-3 wks
5) That's it
There's really not much else to do at this point.
Keep tabs on developments and be responsible.


Might also want to throw on a mask when you're out and about.
posted by fairmettle at 9:48 AM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


I figured that mask wearing fell under the umbrella of "be responsible."
posted by tclark at 9:49 AM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


It seems like we should know more within the month:
“Probably in a few weeks, we’ll have a better sense of how much this variant is spreading and how necessary it might be to push forward with a variant vaccine,” Dr. Bloom said...

Within an hour of the first alarm, scientists in South Africa also rushed to test coronavirus vaccines against the new variant. Now, dozens of teams worldwide — including researchers at Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — have joined the chase.

They won’t know the results for two weeks, at the earliest. But the mutations that Omicron carries suggest that the vaccines most likely will be less effective, to some unknown degree, than they were against any previous variant...

Dr. Moore’s team is perhaps the furthest along in testing how well the vaccines hold up against Omicron. She and her colleagues are preparing to test blood from fully immunized people against a synthetic version of the Omicron variant.

Creating such a “pseudovirus” — a viral stand-in that contains all of the mutations — takes time, but results may be available in about 10 days.

To more closely mimic what people are likely to encounter, another team led by Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, is growing live Omicron, which will be tested against the blood of fully immunized people, as well as those who were previously infected.

Those results may take longer but should provide a fuller picture of the vaccines’ performance, Dr. Sigal said.
posted by BungaDunga at 9:54 AM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


(unrelated, but I've seen in this thread people saying that the vaccines never prevented Delta infection. This isn't true; two doses are about 50% effective against Delta infection five months after vaccination; boosters brought that up)
posted by BungaDunga at 9:57 AM on November 29, 2021 [17 favorites]


My spouse and I drove from St. Louis to central Georgia for a Thanksgiving weekend with my parents (rather than the larger gathering that had been planned, which was going to be attended by an unvaxxed and anti-vax brother in law).

The weird thing was that at truck stops on the trip down, probably 2/3 of people were masked... honestly not bad for the South. On the way back, after the omicron news broke? It was more like 1 in 5 masked. smh.
posted by Foosnark at 10:03 AM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


People care when they feel personally affected. My anecdata of the moment was a recent visit to central PA: some stores like Sheetz had "please wear a mask" or "masks strongly recommended" on the door, but only the staff and a small fraction of the customers wore one. Wal-Mart was even less. Restaurants just didn't bother; twice, I looked around and found that my wife and I were the only mask-wearers in the building.

And why was I in a restaurant in the first place? Because my father-in-law sees no harm in that any more. He's boosted, his wife is boosted, the restaurant no longer requires masks, the restaurant staff isn't wearing them any more, so why should he bother with one? It's Somebody Else's Problem.

I've tried planting the seed in his head (politely by my standards, i.e. not using the word 'asshole') that the virus is still out there, people (like his OWN DAUGHTER a few months back) can still get it even after vaccination, that it's no picnic even then, and that it's not that big a deal to just put a mask on, is it? But until he feels like he's personally at threat, or people in his immediate family are...

Sigh.
posted by delfin at 10:17 AM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


Are you sure about this? I've not heard before that any of the three attenuated viruses from the MMR are actually persistent.

I know measles and rubella do for sure. Quite a few of the viruses we encounter naturally do this. A good example of this is cold sores. HSV-1 , the virus that causes them, normally stays hidden in the body not generating any virion particles until a stress event which stops the downregulation of the virion production and triggers the virus to suddenly go into lytic mode and the sores pop up. Chicken pox? Stays with you and under immune stress can reemerge and develop into shingles.

Here is a good paper on the measles virus and viral autoregulation in particular.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


To be honest, wearing masks in a restaurant still feels like security covid theater to me.

Everyone dutifully wears a mask before they're seated, but then they're immediately going to take their masks off and talk excitedly to their friends.

I've never seen a proper respirator on any of the wait staff, and I know they're not getting paid sick time. People in back of house are sweating over hot stoves and constantly taking off their masks in poorly ventilated kitchens.
posted by meowzilla at 10:46 AM on November 29, 2021 [33 favorites]


(unrelated, but I've seen in this thread people saying that the vaccines never prevented Delta infection. This isn't true; two doses are about 50% effective against Delta infection five months after vaccination; boosters brought that up)

Infection is a hard thing to work with because the defense against the initial infection of the upper respiratory system involves places which are either immune privileged or mediate infection by mucosal immunity not humoral immunity that our internal cells use. Like COVID-19 can hang out on your cornea, which has virtually no access to the immune system, which incidentally is why you can have a cornea transplant and need no immunosuppressants, and can then get washed off the cornea by tears and come in through the lacrimal duct which then goes straight to your nasal passages which is WHY YOU DON'T TOUCH YOUR FACE IN OUR COVID WORLD.

The thing that mediates mucosal immunity is the secretion of IgA which doesn't really respond well to the humoral immune pathways. However, there has been a lot of interest into intranasal delivery of an adenovirus vector which basically puts the code for the spike protein to be created straight into the area where IgA is also going to be created which basically is the "holy shit we have an antigen here" for the mucosal immunity system to kick itself into gear with.

We already do something similar for some flu vaccines (FluMist Quadrivalent) although they use live attenuated not adenovirus vectors. So avoiding infection itself might come down to a nasal spray which generates mucosal immunity and stops an infection before cellular immunity gets involved and could offer superior protection to a lot of the more distressing "mild" symptoms like loss of taste/smell or long COVID.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:57 AM on November 29, 2021 [11 favorites]


Interesting. I knew about HSV-1 and other herpesviruses like chickenpox but not that measles did the same.

I assume then that the viruses to which one infection or vaccine nearly always give lifelong immunity are the ones that tend to have latent phases? In other words, the initial exposure doesn't really give lifelong immunity at all, it just prepares you for lifelong viral micro-dosing.
posted by atrazine at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


I live in Puerto Rico, and at least in the Southern part, mask compliance is near 100%. I seldom see an unmasked person in a social setting. To sit in restaurants we are expected to present our vaccination cards.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2021 [13 favorites]


My whole household (two vaccinated adults and one child under 5) is recovering from symptomatic COVID that I contracted on 11/16. I have no idea how I got it. We have been very cautious. My doc tells me I cannot get the booster for 90 days after infection. To not know how we got it, to have been doing “all the right stuff,” and to not be able to further protect myself and my family, all while knowing there’s a potential omicron could reinfect us…well, I feel sad, frightened, and mad. I also have a very narrow window to get pregnant again; something we have invested thousand and thousands of dollars in. I’m scared. I’m scared for myself (COVID can damage your cardiovascular system and both IVF and pregnancy increase one’s risk of DVT/clots) and scared for my family. I haven’t seen my brother and his family in three years. The idea that we may never see each other again is starting to feel real. Sad, mad, frightened. Thank you to everyone providing what little info we have.
posted by CMcG at 11:24 AM on November 29, 2021 [23 favorites]


The vaccines do not prevent infection

At ZERO NONE NO NONE WHATSOEVER TIME were these vaccines a preventative against 100% of infection. The goal was ALWAYS: prevent death, reduce severity, prevent the overloading of medical systems. Just as with the flu.

These statements are themselves kind of misleading oversimplifications, I think. No vaccine does anything 100 percent. That’s a given, but doesn’t mean vaccines can’t effectively quash transmission in a population - that’s herd immunity. The COVID vaccines do reduce the risk of infection and transmission. They have done so less in practice than hoped based on early results - which suggested that they would do so very effectively - but it has been unclear how much that was a result of replacement of the dominant strain by Delta versus waning of immunity after several months. The results on boosters so far are suggestive that the latter has played a significant role, but now we’ll have to see what happens with the next big strain and the next six months.
posted by atoxyl at 11:30 AM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


I was hoping being boostered would help, but now all I see daily are articles of "X got Covid after being fully vaccinated and boostered." And stories of people with at least 2 shots if not 3 ending up with serious medical treatment.

It has always been known, even from the beginning, that there will be breakthrough cases with the vaccine. It is like a seatbelt--you hear stories all the time of people who were wearing their seatbelt but died in a car accident anyway. That certainly is not an argument for the ineffectiveness of seatbelts, only that they are not 100% effective.

Instead of looking at 'stories', look at the overall statistics. For example, a recent study in Texas showed that:

Unvaccinated people were 20 times more likely to experience COVID-19-associated death than fully vaccinated people.
posted by eye of newt at 11:37 AM on November 29, 2021 [10 favorites]


In my area, cases per 100k are about 10 higher in unvaccinated people than in fully vaccinated people (mostly mRNA vaccines, but very few booster and many people now 6+ months since their second dose). So do vaccines completely prevent infection? No, but they do a pretty darn good job at reducing the probability of infection by something like a factor of 10 (not exactly, because you have to consider that perhaps unvaccinated people are taking more risks or unvaccinated people are more likely to have symptomatic infections and thus get tested, but close enough).

So vaccines don't prevent every infection, but they sure do prevent a lot of them. It's strange to suggest they don't when they clearly do.
posted by ssg at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


I assume then that the viruses to which one infection or vaccine nearly always give lifelong immunity are the ones that tend to have latent phases? In other words, the initial exposure doesn't really give lifelong immunity at all, it just prepares you for lifelong viral micro-dosing.

I’m not really sure why people have such a strong idea of one shot granting lifelong immunity given how many doses are actually given of the standard childhood vaccines. I mean, I don’t remember getting four doses of polio vaccine, either, seeing as I was a child at the time. But a lot of people have presumably seen their own children get them.
posted by atoxyl at 11:42 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


An interesting thread from Trevor Bedford on whether Omicron might be dominant in parts of South Africa because it is more transmissible or because it is better able to infect vaccinated or previously infected people (both possibilities could cause Omicron to overtake Delta). Neither is great in the short term, but the latter is much less worrisome as we can make a new vaccine that targets Omicron.
posted by ssg at 11:42 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


My whole household (two vaccinated adults and one child under 5) is recovering from symptomatic COVID that I contracted on 11/16. I have no idea how I got it. We have been very cautious.

It's not your fault. We are, all of us, almost constantly, exposing ourselves to very small risks of serious injury/illness or death. Not just COVID. Every damn thing. Driving. Eating chicken. Working in tall buildings. Do it long enough, and eventually your number comes up.

I want to go down on my knees and beg Mefi to accept that (a) no set of precautions can guarantee your safety and (b) since this is true, one has to figure out how to move through the world in a way that feels like living regardless. Take the reasonable precautions, but the quest for zero is not sustainable. I was vaccinated and boostered at my very first opportunity, I mask indoors, I have started going to indoor events but maybe only about 15% as much as I did before the pandemic. Probably at some point in the next decade, I'll get it. You can check in with me then, but, since I know I could never eradicate the risk, I suspect (especially as someone who lives alone) I'll be okay with having given a good effort as opposed to locking myself away all that time.

I hope your family recovers quickly and without long-term effects.
posted by praemunire at 11:44 AM on November 29, 2021 [51 favorites]


Might also want to throw on a mask when you're out and about.

I figured that mask wearing fell under the umbrella of "be responsible."


He doesn't mention handwashing either, but same same. I think... I like to think there is a base level of responsibility that we can begin to take for granted in the grownups after twenty months. Maybe I am a Pollyanna.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:49 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


No, this is very wrong. The position of TWiV has been that these vaccines do not and did not prevent infection.

I'll say it again: the vaccines don't prevent infection. Infection has a precise, literal scientific meaning. All it means is it gets in you and starts to do its natural thing. Your body then tries to fight it off, successfully or not. As the TWiV folks have said over and over, vaccines should not be understood using the forcefield theory, but are like fire suppression systems. Your house can catch fire, the extinguishers and/or fire retardant can stop it. Your body can get infected, your antibodies and/or cell-mediated responses can kill it successfully or not.

The 5 virologists on TWiV have consistently tried to educate people on this because the media keeps using subtly bad concepts which then becomes a foundation for bad analysis and narratives about "efficacy" and so forth.
posted by polymodus at 11:49 AM on November 29, 2021 [9 favorites]


paraphrasing twiv's racaniello: everybody vaccinated against polio gets infected with polio but do not suffer the disease polio. got not cite: it was some time ago.
posted by 20 year lurk at 11:57 AM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


It has always been known, even from the beginning, that there will be breakthrough cases with the vaccine. It is like a seatbelt--you hear stories all the time of people who were wearing their seatbelt but died in a car accident anyway. That certainly is not an argument for the ineffectiveness of seatbelts, only that they are not 100% effective.

Which does not stop trolls from going onto social media and declaring that one breakthrough case means THEY'VE BEEN LYING TO US ALL ALONG, VACCINES ARE JUST TRACKING MICROCHIPS AND GRAPHITE ALIENS, THROW OUT YOUR MASKS AND DEMAND NORMALITY AND AUUUGH BRAIN COBRAS. But they were going to do that anyway, because as with Monty Python's Argument Clinic, they must take up a contrary position to whatever The Communist Mainstream says.

As the TWiV folks have said over and over, vaccines should not be understood using the forcefield theory, but are like fire suppression systems. Your house can catch fire, the extinguishers and/or fire retardant can stop it. Your body can get infected, your antibodies and/or cell-mediated responses can kill it successfully or not.

Exactly. The seatbelt analogy holds; seatbelts do not provide 100% immunity from roadway death. They cannot prevent a runaway truck or a drunk driver from smashing into your car. They do, however, significantly reduce the chances of your face smashing against the windshield, your body being ejected from your car or different parts of your body flying in different directions, all of which used to be extremely perilous for car occupants but aren't as common any more because the public has become accustomed to simple risk reduction techniques.

We're used to the notion of "vaccine == forever" because many of us think of vaccines as something you get a shot of as a small child, like whooping cough and measles and polio, and then never think about again. A doctor might bring up the idea of a TDAP booster forty or fifty years later, and maybe recommend shingles at that point, and when was your last tetanus shot? But it's not a concept that most people revisit at short intervals.

"But we get flu shots yearly," you say. That's just it. That doesn't sound like a 'vaccine' to us because we have to keep getting new ones. It's just a preventative 'shot.'
posted by delfin at 11:59 AM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


Vaccine mandate for some health care workers blocked in 10 states
(CNN) A federal judge in Missouri issued an order Monday partially blocking the Biden administration from implementing a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers.

The judge's order, which covers the 10 states that brought the case, played down the effectiveness of the vaccines and said that the "public would suffer little, if any, harm from maintaining the 'status quo' through the litigation of this case."

The mandate came out of the US Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It covers certain health care staff at providers that participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and set a December 6 deadline for those workers to have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

[...]

US District Judge Matthew Schelp, an appointee of President Donald Trump
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:03 PM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


It sounds like we shouldn't even call them breakthrough infections anymore, because there was nothing for the virus to break through.

The real question seems to be if policies around 'case numbers' should be changed to 'hospitalization numbers'. Some countries have very high case numbers but not dramatically high death numbers. In others, the two seem to be still correlated.
posted by meowzilla at 12:13 PM on November 29, 2021


The position of TWiV has been that these vaccines do not and did not prevent infection.

They may be using a more expansive definition of infection than the study I linked. The vaccine appeared to reduce the chances of COVID detection via standard PCR tests by 50%. Infections that are too faint and transient for even regular PCR testing to pick up are probably not what people are talking about when they want to know whether vaccines prevent infection. Talking about PCR tests as a proxy for "infection" passed whatever peer review that's provided by The Lancet: "We aimed to evaluate overall and variant-specific effectiveness of BNT162b2 (tozinameran, Pfizer–BioNTech) against SARS-CoV-2 infections... Effectiveness against infections declined from 88%... during the first month after full vaccination to 47%... after 5 months."

I don't think it's knowable how good the vaccines are against infections that can't even be picked up by PCR.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:13 PM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


I'll say it again: the vaccines don't prevent infection. Infection has a precise, literal scientific meaning.

When people talk about covid infection, they mean the thing that covid tests detect (and that may cause symptoms, that you can pass on to other people, etc). You can argue that's not the precise scientific meaning, but that's pretty far away from what people are actually using the word to talk about.

Some people are arguing that vaccines don't prevent infection, only severe disease, hospitalization and death. That's clearly not true. Infection in the general sense that the word is used in the English language is what we care about as far as public health and that's what the vaccines are quite effective at preventing.
posted by ssg at 12:14 PM on November 29, 2021 [17 favorites]


It should be noted that if you are infected at such a low level that it can't be picked up by regular PCR testing, you're in all likelihood not contagious either. Undetectable by PCR + no symptoms + not contagious is as close to "not infected" as to matter as far as everyone who isn't a virologist is concerned. "Vaccines don't prevent infection" is unnecessarily confusing unless you explain that when you mean "infection" you mean "SARS-CoV-2 might replicate a couple times in your nose before your immune system notices and kills it" (which I do remember the TWiV folks saying!). But when it gets repeated, that nuance goes away, so people think that vaccinated people are just as liable to be contagious, which they almost certainly aren't.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:27 PM on November 29, 2021 [19 favorites]


CMcG, there's a silver lining to your infection.

What does appearance of Omicron variant mean for the double-vaccinated?
“If you’ve been double-jabbed and then infected with Delta and recovered, then you have got a very broad, very effective immune response, that probably covers pretty much any variant that you can think of,” said David Matthews, professor of virology at the University of Bristol.

This is because such individuals have been exposed to the virus (through infection with Delta) and the spike protein from the original Wuhan strain (through vaccination). “It means you’ve got an antibody response that covers both classic and modern strains and a very broad T cell response, not just against the spike protein, but against all the other proteins that Sars-CoV-2 makes – and that’s incredibly helpful,” Matthews said.
posted by joeyh at 12:34 PM on November 29, 2021 [10 favorites]


Thank you praemunire and joeyh. Both of your comments helped a lot. praemunire, I didn’t really realize how much I was holding onto “it’s my fault,” until your comment. Thank you
posted by CMcG at 12:44 PM on November 29, 2021 [23 favorites]


posted by curious nu

epideminomisterical?
Nay, alphabetumpulmentical
posted by y2karl at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


And not to belabor the point, but since the vaccines are actually pretty good at preventing delta from replicating to detectable- and potentially transmissible- levels, if it turns out they're much worse at that w/r/t omicron, that seems like it could be a problem.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


...if not alphabetumnumeralispulmentical.
posted by y2karl at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


I'm very unhappy about this variant, especially its delightful timing, and of course worried about the future. And more vulnerable people are of course right to be more worried, and--in some ways, due more to poor human management than actual need--the logistical consequences may well suck. (I feel glad I did a catch-up visit to my foreign country of choice even though it meant going twice in three months, which felt slightly silly.) But the more likely future in which humanity survives but a whole lot of people have taken themselves out through unmanaged anxiety isn't pleasant to think about, either. People, if you are catastrophizing this morning, before the data is in (especially at the level we lay people can understand), please use your tools and look after yourselves.
posted by praemunire at 7:17 AM on November 29


Thanks very much for this perspective, seriously.

Could you please do climate change next? Cause it feels like I've been catastrophizing for about ten years and my toolbox is inadequately supplied for the task at hand. (Sorry, tangent. FML.)
posted by viborg at 1:05 PM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


I hope everyone enjoyed seeing their families for Thanksgiving because we may all be on total lockdown again for Christmas if this goes as bad as well, life has been going.
I'm not sure this "hope you enjoyed seeing your family!" tone is especially helpful, and it's certainly not helpful for the mental health of people reading this stuff who may be missing their families. (Not "everyone" had Thanksgiving, or saw their families on Thanksgiving, for a start.)

The media isn't helping anyone. All the scientists have said is "there's a new variant, we don't know much about it yet but we're on the case". The media has turned that into "holy shitfuck a new monster variant with twelve eyes and teeth to eat your antibodies", because it gets people to click their shit. It's okay to opt out of that and just follow credible public health information from government and scientific bodies. But it's far too early to take what's known about the variant and turn it into "total lockdown again" dooming.

All we can do is mask up (and I'm constantly amazed at how few people bother where I live) and get vaxxed. I got my two vaccines back in the summer, and I've booked my third in the middle of December, six months after my second. If you live in a place where the little flow test things are free and easy to obtain, do one of those before a social event, or a couple of times a week if you have an in-person job. They're not foolproof, but they're better than going in completely blind. Other than that, I'm just keepin' on keepin' on, and not changing anything behaviour-wise right now.

I'm so tired, and don't think I can take another winter of "we're never seeing our mums again" doom doom doom.
posted by indemandgirl at 1:10 PM on November 29, 2021 [21 favorites]


From virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen:
So far we’re seeing omicron cases all over the world, including Canada, with no history of travel to banned countries. The conditions proposed here for lifting country-specific travel restrictions have already been met.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:20 PM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


More from Dr. Rasmussen:
Travel bans are comparatively easy. Putting up a no entry sign is a lot easier and cheaper in the short term than investing in comprehensive public health. However, they are more costly in the long run because they have not worked. And that cost is measured in lives.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:22 PM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


Tulio de Oliveira @Tuliodna Director of CERI: Centre for Epidemic Response & innovation, South Africa:
Such non-sense from the U.K. talking that the main problem is hesitancy in Africa. They had hoarded vaccines for 1 and 1/2 years and now want to blame in hesitancy? Why hesitancy in Africa? Because they do not trust the north and developed countries... Maybe a trust problem?

Such hypocrisy! Liz Truss, the foreign secretary as discovered omicron is transmitting in the UK 'it is important to make sure that we keep travel routes open, particularly to make sure that our economy remains strong.' Seriously? Your ban Africa and want to keep your open???
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:26 PM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


A joint statement from the Vaccine Alliance on Dose Donations of COVID-19 Vaccines to African Countries : "To date, over 90 million donated doses have been delivered to the continent via COVAX & AVAT and millions more via bilateral arrangements. However, the majority of the donations to-date have been ad hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives."

In other words,
"We have 1.5 million vaccines dumped on us in the last few weeks because high-income countries didn't want them to expire"

Dr. @yodifiji highlights to @beckycnn the logistical difficulties of vaccinations in #Africa. "they don't magically arrive at a vaccination site" she says.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:31 PM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


The concept of a "risk budget" is unsexy, but valuable.

Yes, we traveled over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend. Yes, we spent time in airports, surrounded by people baring their ugly-ass nostrils and mouths. People with kids too young to vaccinate often let those kids run around and cough on strangers. A guy even got kicked off one of our flights; no points for guessing why. We ate at restaurants. Took public transit. Stayed in a hotel where you could smell other guests' vaping through the walls. We did all this while still within 2 weeks of our boosters.

Singing at church with a bully of a choirmaster who worships Mercola? Driving across town to visit a BIL who's high on Q drops? Being expected to love those people, unlike the dicknose strangers at the airport? Not worth it to us. Not in the budget.

Who knows how long it'll be before another leisure trip is in the budget? If it turns out this one was a "last hurrah" before another long dreary spell, then I'll be all the more grateful we did it. If that hurts some feelings here in Red America, so be it.
posted by armeowda at 1:43 PM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


Talking about PCR tests as a proxy for "infection" passed whatever peer review that's provided by The Lancet: "We aimed to evaluate overall and variant-specific effectiveness of BNT162b2 (tozinameran, Pfizer–BioNTech) against SARS-CoV-2 infections... Effectiveness against infections declined from 88%... during the first month after full vaccination to 47%... after 5 months."

Yes and no - "effective against infection" doesn't read to me as equivalent to "prevents infection". Fire suppression systems are effective against fires, but they don't prevent them starting either. I read this the same way - an infection occurs (on whatever term-of-art small scale level) and is then effectively combated before it can meaningfully take hold.
posted by Dysk at 1:53 PM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


What to do now?
1) If not vaxxed, get vaxxed
2) If not boosted & >4-5 mths out, get boosted


That's nice if you have those options. I can't just go and get a booster. Many, many people in the world can't just go and get a vaccine.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:07 PM on November 29, 2021 [10 favorites]


I've found this is a pretty good overview of omicron from an epidemiology pov, translated for laymen.

Specifically:
New Concerning Variant: B.1.1.529
Omicron Update: Nov 27
Go get your vaccine, especially with Omicron
posted by goddess_eris at 2:11 PM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


I am old and out of touch, but this thread has introduced me to the neologism "dicknose", which I simply adore.

If I see you in the grocery store, with your nose hanging out of your mask, you are now a dicknose to me.

"Look at that dicknose, just hanging out, right there in public for anyone to see. Gross."

Dicknose.
posted by bigbigdog at 3:01 PM on November 29, 2021 [6 favorites]


bigbigdog – I think the person should be considered a nosedick, and the offending nose a dicknose.
posted by WCityMike2 at 3:03 PM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


See also: shirt cocking
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 3:07 PM on November 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


paraphrasing twiv's racaniello: everybody vaccinated against polio gets infected with polio but do not suffer the disease polio. got not cite: it was some time ago.

Isn’t that an attenuated virus vaccine? In which case, no shit you’re getting infected with polio. Or maybe that’s just the oral version, I forget.

Anyway this whole line of argument about “infections” seems basically semantic. Popular discussion of effectiveness in preventing “infection” is really about effectiveness in preventing a detectable viral load, viral shedding and transmission. And the history of answers to the question “do the vaccines prevent transmission?” is:

- “we don’t know”
- (somewhat prematurely) “yes”
- “oops, maybe less than we thought, in practice!”
- [trying to figure out whether the above is because of Delta or waning immunity or both or...]
- “don’t get the idea that vaccination has no effect on transmission though because that’s probably not true, either”
posted by atoxyl at 4:56 PM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


Anyway my practical question at this point is - should I get my booster right now like I was planning to, since it’s been six months and it’s available to everybody around here, or am I going to be offered one for Omicron in a month, anyway?
posted by atoxyl at 5:00 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


Why not two mints in one?
posted by y2karl at 5:08 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


Have it both ways in other words.
posted by y2karl at 5:09 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]


should I get my booster right now like I was planning to

hotfuzz_yarp.gif

or am I going to be offered one for Omicron in a month, anyway?

narp.gif

I expect that if there's a need for an omicron vaccine, they're not going to turn you away because you're vaxxed.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:12 PM on November 29, 2021 [7 favorites]


So whats the consensus on booster shots, for say, a hypothetical digital recluse who only leaves the apartment once every two weeks for grocery shopping? It seems like we're not getting out of this until the world is vaccinated, so is there any sense in which getting a booster shot deprives someone else of a first dose?
posted by pwnguin at 5:19 PM on November 29, 2021


So whats the consensus on booster shots, for say, a hypothetical digital recluse who only leaves the apartment once every two weeks for grocery shopping? It seems like we're not getting out of this until the world is vaccinated, so is there any sense in which getting a booster shot deprives someone else of a first dose?

Yes. Always get boosted because the doses aren't fungible. It's not like a dose you don't use gets shipped off to a low income country. Western nations are hoarding them no matter what you do as far as usage goes. Do everything you can to both possibly remove yourself from a chain of transmission and to stop yourself from dying/taking up a hospital bed/getting temporarily or permanently disabled from a bad case. Take every pair of dice away from this god forsaken virus.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:22 PM on November 29, 2021 [30 favorites]


Boosters have gone from "only the elderly and high-risk groups should get one" to "okay, other not-previously-so-high-risk groups can also get one" to "you can probably walk into your local grocery store's pharmacy section and get one without an appointment" pretty rapidly. By getting a booster in the United States, you are not taking a first dose away from anyone; those who are willing and not medically prohibited have already gotten theirs, and those who are unwilling and not medically prohibited will have plenty of doses waiting for them at any time that they decide to join the civilized masses.

As spamandkimchi noted above, there are parts of the world in which getting a vaccine dose isn't that easy. Here in the States, it's exponentially harder for most to use that excuse.
posted by delfin at 5:33 PM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


Moderna issued a press release to describe its strategy:

1. Try a 100 µg booster (i.e. the same "third dose" that higher-risk people have already been receiving)
2. Try multi-valent (multi-strain) boosters that it had already developed earlier this year that share some of the same mutations
3. Try an Omicron-specific booster, which will take months (They did this earlier for Delta and the results are still not available)
posted by credulous at 5:48 PM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


If I see you in the grocery store, with your nose hanging out of your mask, you are now a dicknose to me

If you’d like an image to go with this, then I give you Dan Aykroyd as Judge Alvin Valkenheiser from 1991’s Nothing But Trouble.
posted by Servo5678 at 6:00 PM on November 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


So whats the consensus on booster shots, for say, a hypothetical digital recluse who only leaves the apartment once every two weeks for grocery shopping? It seems like we're not getting out of this until the world is vaccinated, so is there any sense in which getting a booster shot deprives someone else of a first dose?

Some considerations:
a) Depends on where you live, but if you live in a place where boosters are available, you're almost definitely not depriving anyone of anything.
b) You never know when you might unexpectedly need to interact with people (need to have repairs done, get medical attention, have some bureaucratic errand that can only be done in person, have some emergency travel or meaningful social event, etc. This happened to me several times in a short span.) The booster takes around 2 weeks to really come into effect so you want to be past that when these things happen.
c) Are there any hypothetical travel plans or other interaction-heavy activities you're considering? It might (possibly, depending) make sense to leave the booster closer to the relevant dates for maximum effect.
d) It might make sense to get the booster as soon (or as late?) as possible, if newer vaccines that are better against newer variants come out and are distributed with restrictions like "only X months after most recent vaccination". Probably not really worth trying to optimize, considering how unpredictable everything is.
e) Grocery shopping is also exposure.
f) If you haven't gotten a flu shot you might be able to do it at the same time.
posted by trig at 6:16 PM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


I’ve managed to get all the vaccines Moderna, Pfizer, J&J, Sputnik, Sinovax and Astra Zenaca and yet even though I’ve turned into a purple giant when I snap my fingers the half the country that voted for Trump and Joe Rogan are still here. Fauci lied to me.
posted by interogative mood at 6:19 PM on November 29, 2021 [4 favorites]


" so is there any sense in which getting a booster shot deprives someone else of a first dose?"

This was also my husband's concern, and the answer is no, no you're not (if you live in the US or another highly-developed country). As YCPR said, the doses aren't fungible. The supply chain is complex (especially with the ultra-cooling!), and doses available in rural Indiana WILL NOT be available in rural India if nobody takes them! You can get a bit of a sense of this in the US in major city suburban areas, where commercial pharmacies are scheduling doses two weeks out BUT ALSO do walk-ins, BUT ONLY if they have extra unscheduled doses for THAT DAY that will not get into arms otherwise. If you're in an area where people are vaccine-resistant, you can walk in anywhere. If you're in an area where everyone wants shots, walk-ins are vanishingly rare. Covid shots are like cucumbers. They can hang out for a few days being cool, but then they're just gross and nobody should eat them.

The one shortage in the US was that boosters started becoming available at almost exactly the same moment that kids ages 5-12 became eligible for shots, and there was a significant shortage for about two weeks as parents rushed their kids into ALL THE SHOTS (ME SO MUCH INCLUDED, my kids were SO EXCITED). But the shortage wasn't a SHOTS shortage -- it was a "people allowed to give shots" shortage. There was a shortage of pharmacists and nurses and others who were allowed to give shots having enough spots available to give them, not a shortage of the actual shots like back in spring. And this was compounded by the flu shot for winter 2021-2022 becoming available at just about the same moment that Covid boosters and Covid shots for 5-12s became available! So many arms wanting shots, so few people licensed to give them! I think people in "vaccines good!" areas of the US are a little nervous because there was a shortage not of shots but of shot-givers throughout November, and it was really hard to get scheduled! But it's not a shortage of vaccines -- the doses are there, the doses are not fungible, and if you are eligible for a dose you should take it. The shortage is of medical professionals who can give shots, combined with a massive rush of elementary school kids, booster-seeking adults, and flu shots! It's kind-of a good shortage! All those people should get shots, and we should form orderly queues!

But yeah, if you're eligible for a booster, get your booster, and then wear your mask and follow your local health department rules! Which I assume you're doing if you're seeking a booster, so good on you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:49 PM on November 29, 2021 [13 favorites]


Oh also, I forgot! If you're an American concerned about vaccine availability in the rest of the world, the solution is not to skip your booster. GET YOUR BOOSTER. GET YOUR KIDS' SHOTS. GET EVERY SHOT ANYONE WANTS TO GIVE YOU. Do you have your Tdap booster? Because we don't want you to get tetanus from a random scratch, and your pertussis re-up every 10 years helps protect babies! Adults are just unhappy with pertussis, but INFANTS DIE, and pertussis is trying to become re-epidemic, and you can prevent it with a simple shot that also protects you from tetanus (which is a horrible way to die, so try not to)! Protect your friends' kids and get your Tdap booster at LITERALLY ANY LOCAL COMMERCIAL PHARMACY!

The solution to vaccine availability outside the US (and other first-world countries) is to call your fucking Congresspeople EVERY FUCKING DAY. EVERY DAMN DAY. EVERY SINGLE DAY. And call your state governor, and state reps, and push your state's vaccination program into areas where it's lacking, and urge your federal representatives to support international vaccination programs and to reject dumbass travel bans. EVERY. DAY.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:03 PM on November 29, 2021 [12 favorites]


It's not like a dose you don't use gets shipped off to a low income country.

Actually, that is one thing that does happen with unused doses. It's not a good thing - dumping unplanned-for quantities of incredibly short date vaccine on a country that may not have a stood-up-and-waiting distribution network is like treating a charity shop as a bin. So don't take it as a reason not to have your jab.
posted by Dysk at 10:08 PM on November 29, 2021 [5 favorites]


Vaccination protects against severe illness and death, but as far as I can tell has so far failed everywhere to protect against abrupt lockdowns and attendant harms, and in general has been much less effective as a containment strategy than hoped for/predicted. We'll see if that changes, in the meantime boosterism suits the US temperament I guess.
posted by dmh at 12:36 AM on November 30, 2021


Vaccination protects against severe illness and death, but as far as I can tell has so far failed everywhere to protect against abrupt lockdowns and attendant harms, and in general has been much less effective as a containment strategy than hoped for/predicted. We'll see if that changes, in the meantime boosterism suits the US temperament I guess.
Maybe I'm going to eat my words, but England hasn't been in anything approaching "lockdown" since July 19, when all remaining Covid restrictions were dumped. Personally, I think they could do more, I'd like to see a mask mandate for instance, but it's inaccurate to say that vaccinations don't prevent lockdowns.

Lockdowns are a thing that happens when the system fails, rather than an outcome in themselves. If vaccination wasn't protecting against severe illness and death at our current level of cases, the hospitals would have become overwhelmed and we would be back in lockdown for that reason. I don't get the logic that says "vaccinations don't prevent lockdowns".
posted by indemandgirl at 1:19 AM on November 30, 2021 [15 favorites]


Vaccination protects against severe illness and death, but as far as I can tell has so far failed everywhere to protect against abrupt lockdowns and attendant harms, and in general has been much less effective as a containment strategy than hoped for/predicted. We'll see if that changes, in the meantime boosterism suits the US temperament I guess.

I mean, that’s kind of enough to make it worth boosting right? Like I would have loved an effective protection against severe illnesses and death when I caught Covid, and I can tell you without exaggeration my quality of life would have been 1000% better over the year and three quarters if I had been protected against severe fucking illness. That includes dealing with all the effects of lock down. So I mean, yeah I’m going to encourage everyone I know to get vaccinated, because COVID sucks, and less illness and death is a good thing, even if it doesn’t solve every COVID related problem..
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:23 AM on November 30, 2021 [14 favorites]



Vaccination protects against severe illness and death, but as far as I can tell has so far failed everywhere to protect against abrupt lockdowns and attendant harms, and in general has been much less effective as a containment strategy than hoped for/predicted. We'll see if that changes, in the meantime boosterism suits the US temperament I guess.


My city had a 13-month run with zero covid cases which abruptly ended when Delta showed up in August. We immediately went into what counts for hard lockdown here- schools, gyms, cinemas and nonessential retail closed, restaurants and cafes takeaway only. At this point about 65% of adults had received the first dose of vaccine.

During the lockdown there was a concerted effort to lift the vaccination rate with a view to easing lockdown measures once 80% double-dosed was achieved. This took about eight weeks.

At this point everything is open, there's no mask mandate, and the 12+ population vaccination rate is 97.8%. We're still getting case numbers in the single digits per day in a city of 400k people- but very few people in hospital.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:34 AM on November 30, 2021 [12 favorites]


The 5 virologists on TWiV have consistently tried to educate people on this because the media keeps using subtly bad concepts which then becomes a foundation for bad analysis and narratives about "efficacy" and so forth.

That is true, but:

1) I think we are being a little too hard on the general public here. The communication around what vaccines can and cannot do has not been very good I think. I don't know that it could have been done better given the genuine lack of data (all the clinical trials tested hospitalisation / death as primary outcomes and some had either/or PCR positivity, seropositivity against N, or symptomatic infection as secondary outcomes so in many cases we simply did not know and certainly could not have known what the vaccines would do and for how long and need to keep public health messages simple.

2) I continue to be frustrated at the lack of media sophistication around these topics at this point in the pandemic. I'm not a snob who sniffily insists that any journalist writing about Covid should have known the difference between test specificity and sensitivity, the Baltimore virus classifications scheme, what an epi curve looks like, and basic immunology in December 2019 but we are pretty far in now guys. Come on, up your game. Imagine a political journalist covering Washington who didn't know the difference between a bill and a law after two years working that beat - you literally can't, expertise is assumed, and yet we don't expect that people covering the pandemic ever get these concepts.

3) There is quite a hierarchy of things that vaccines can do. At the basic cellular level, a single virion entering a single permissive cell is an infection even is there is IgA and trigger happy T-cells all around it which mop up the virus as soon as it comes out and kill the cell within an hour. That isn't how a doctor speaking to a patient or probably even a non-specialist doctor would communicate that though. Would an ID fellow tell another doctor, "this patient has an infection", unless it was rather a lot more than an undetectable and theoretical viral encounter? I think probably no. So it isn't that unreasonable for even relatively well informed members of the public to use protection against infection as a short-hand for an infection that causes no symptoms and sheds no detectable virus.

Also, it is important to keep emphasizing that durable protection against serious illness accompanied by shorter duration protection against mild illness and shedding of virus is very much expected and normal for an upper respiratory tract infection. Look at the work that John Burn-Murdoch did for a recent FT article (here for subscribers). You can see case rates declining in relative terms in the groups that the UK is boosting, it's like a textbook illustration. If the boosters are pumping the levels of antibodies back up (and maybe some of them are IgA - don't know if that's been measured) then you would expect exactly this.


Maybe I'm going to eat my words, but England hasn't been in anything approaching "lockdown" since July 19, when all remaining Covid restrictions were dumped. Personally, I think they could do more, I'd like to see a mask mandate for instance, but it's inaccurate to say that vaccinations don't prevent lockdowns.

Indeed. What does quite high vaccination coverage and almost no Covid related rules (but note: many people still working from home, reducing contacts, wearing masks voluntarily at least some of the time so this is *not* a pre-pandemic normal scenario) look like? A steady-ish state of 30k-40k cases a day which goes slowly up and down as contact precautions and interactions wane and wax and seems to be slowly climbing into winter. In the best available data, which is household secondary attack rate (people who get covid when a family member has a confirmed infection) vaccines have an effect of about 50%. That's enough to shift the relationship between restrictive measures and transmission in our favour but unfortunately not so far that transmission drops all the way off with no further restrictions.
posted by atrazine at 1:53 AM on November 30, 2021 [14 favorites]


England hasn't been in anything approaching "lockdown" since July 19, when all remaining Covid restrictions were dumped. Personally, I think they could do more, I'd like to see a mask mandate for instance, but it's inaccurate to say that vaccinations don't prevent lockdowns.

UK is an interesting case for sure with first-rate vaccination campaign and overall I think decent crisis management and communication after initial fumbles. Case numbers have been very high for a while now though and winter is coming. We'll see what happens.

To be clear I don't doubt that vaccines work and I don't doubt that vaccinating 97%+ of the population works. But I think that for a lot of places, for a lot of reasons, it is difficult (ie. more difficult than initially surmised) to achieve and maintain those kinds of rates, esp. against waning immunity and new variants.
posted by dmh at 2:01 AM on November 30, 2021


Well, I came here to say all sorts of things which others have already said better than I could, but I just wish to add that it's often useful to look at viral evolution (and immunity) from an information-theoretic perspective. Viral mutations are limited by rate of gain of information (by adaptive changes) vs loss of information (via anti-adaptive changes) in their genomes - bigger viruses must necessarily have more accurate polymerases because the higher-information state is relatively rarer. Most RNA viruses sit right on the boundary of the survivable region wrt mutation.
By the same overarching reasoning, true immunity-escape variants are unlikely simply because viruses encode a lot less information than the aggregate of the human immune system. The same argument holds (to our disadvantage) in the effort to develop low-molecular-weight antibiotics - we're probably going to lose that fight because bacteria (or even viruses) have a much large state-space to explore than we do with configuration of small molecules.
posted by memetoclast at 5:33 AM on November 30, 2021 [9 favorites]


I think we are being a little too hard on the general public here.

This right here generally. But I’m going to say this beyond vaccines; but generally. As awful as vaccine hesitancy and misinformation had been, the one thing that has kept me from wanting to throw in the towel on my fellow humans is that suddenly, the whole of humanity has gotten a crash course in microbiology, infectious disease, and public health, all in a short time, all during crisis, most ad hoc.

Some months prior to covid being on my radar, I recall lamenting to a doctor friend of mine how disappointed I was that people I knew in my life didn’t know how distinguish between bacteria and viruses. I had a recent conversation with a friend who was confusing the two, and she has kids! She is a smart woman, so how could she not know? Another friend previously had confused the two in a context related to our mutual love of aquarium fish, and I realized he had been confusing the two for years. To myself only a layperson but with an interest in science, that SEEMED as basic as reading and writing, and somehow I missed that not everyone shares that knowledge base.

Fast forward to late spring 2020 and I’m arguing with a hairdresser on a random Facebook group about the nature of viruses and the lipid envelope that contains them because she had been reading research papers and grossly misunderstood the meaning of what she read. She clearly didn’t have the background to understand what she was reading so made some pretty glaring mistakes trying to understand how viruses work. On the other hand, some random hairdresser was delving into research papers trying to understand microbiology. That was incredible.

I’ve observed this numerous times over the course of the pandemic, especially in the earlier days. And lots of mistakes. Lots of motivated reasoning, lots of research taken out of context. Before there were the number of “experts” trying to explain (and mislead) people. People trying to understand the world around them and groping in the dark. I had many years of understanding how to evaluate research papers because I started reading them as a child, went through my own biased and motivated reasoning phases, read places like Metafilter, became acquainted with researchers who produced papers, and became friends with people working through phD processes, thus seeing more of how the research sausage was made.

It’s really hard when lives and livelihoods are on the line, but those of us who do know more, we really do have to give the general public a break. Not a pass, but it’s easy to forget the majority of people had no reason to know this as well as us plate-of-beans, well read, self-selecting group on metafilter do.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:38 AM on November 30, 2021 [12 favorites]


Maybe I'm going to eat my words, but England hasn't been in anything approaching "lockdown" since July 19, when all remaining Covid restrictions were dumped. Personally, I think they could do more, I'd like to see a mask mandate for instance, but it's inaccurate to say that vaccinations don't prevent lockdowns.

There are, of course, cranks who will respond to even the tamest common-sense-precaution restrictions as LOCKDOWNS and TYRANNY and CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR and whatnot, and spout that all over social media so that everyone can sympathize with how badly they're being REPRESSED and TORTURED. Conservative media sources will run with those reports and hyperbolize further, because that's how they make their living. Like, say, a Fox News droid comparing Dr. Fauci to Josef Mengele on-air this morning.

Me? I got my booster an hour ago. Money where my mouth is.
posted by delfin at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2021 [1 favorite]


UK is an interesting case for sure with first-rate vaccination campaign and overall I think decent crisis management and communication after initial fumbles. Case numbers have been very high for a while now though and winter is coming. We'll see what happens.

Case numbers have been high but as far as I know deaths have remained quite a bit lower, relative to cases, than in the first couple waves? Although I also saw the other day an article about overall excess mortality not dropping - perhaps reflecting strain on medical resources or reluctance to seek care.
posted by atoxyl at 10:00 AM on November 30, 2021


From New York Times global health reporter Stephanie Nolen @snolen 5:31 AM · Nov 26, 2021
So I'm in my 3d hour on a tarmac at Schipol. While my flight from Jo'burg was somewhere over Chad, Europe went into variant panic; by the time we landed, we weren't allowed off the plane.
They won't even let a catering truck bring us water.

Hour five on the tarmac on Flight Variant.

Vigorous round of applause because there is a BUS that has come to take us .... somewhere. We do not know where but we are still giddy enough to think it has to be better than here.

Update: bus to a hall to a huge queue. I can see COVID testers in bright blue PPE far on the distance. Still no snacks for the sad babies. (And hangry adults. There was some SNARK coming off the plane)

Shame, man. A lovely Scottish person is explaining to an elderly Zimbabwean lady who was on the plane what has happened and why we are stuck here. She hadn’t understood any of it. They’re helping her call her daughter. Possibly the last person on flight 593 capable of kindness.

Two hours in a line and I’ve been tested. No word on when we get results or what comes next. Airport authorities have yet to sort the food/water issue and so there is some escalating hysteria among passengers.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:53 AM on November 30, 2021 [4 favorites]


More from Nolen on how travel bans are stupid when we have tests:

Now S'Africa + 6 other countries have flights banned by UK (and almost everywhere else) when a simple test requirement for UK inbound passengers would have kept us all safe(r) on the plane. The 1 person I saw test positive in lockup was British guy headed to UK. How many others?
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:55 AM on November 30, 2021 [1 favorite]


I'm one of the lucky ones who got the booster and a breakthrough case at more-or-less the same time, despite ample testing, vaccine mandate, and comprehensive precautions at the workplace (which is the only place I go).

I can assure you I'd rather be stuck isolating in the basement with slight fatigue than fucking intubated.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:59 AM on November 30, 2021 [7 favorites]


Fox News droid

to be fair, Lara Logan used to be a more or less reality-based reporter. To go from 60 Minutes to hosting a show on Fox Nation takes some real effort
posted by BungaDunga at 12:06 PM on November 30, 2021


Reports about those South Africa to Netherlands flights were that the passengers had to test negative 24 hours before flying. A 10% positive rate at landing after testing negative a day or two before was one reason people were freaking out. I wonder if the negative test requirement actually depended on final destination country.

In any case, it sounds like the entire thing was handled horribly. Reading about the cases in Taiwan, it sounds like they have a consistent system of tests and quarantine. Having a consistent system that can actually keep the disease out, even if it's a burden, is far better than this disorganized sudden shutdown of travel. It's like trying to hold your breath when you think somebody around you is sick instead of just wearing a mask. It makes western nations look a bit foolish.

The other reason people were freaking out was the sudden spike in case rates in SA, seemingly all Omicron. But it's coming from a very low level (like 3 cases per 100,000 per week, where the CDC "Low" level is 10 per week), so this spike in Omicron could be just a super spreader event plus the founder effect. There's also been some data reporting glitches. Things should be much clearer in a few weeks.
posted by netowl at 12:52 PM on November 30, 2021 [8 favorites]




Man, that thread.
The kind @superernie who's updating me says 110 results from my flight + the other from SA are in. 15 are positive for Covid (variant unknown) - a positivity rate of 13.6 percent. Works out to 85 total fr. 2 flights. (How many more now that we've been crammed together 24 hrs?)

And if you would like further evidence of why there is no hope for humans, now we know that stat and still probably 30% of ppl are wearing no mask or only over mouth. Dutch authorities not enforcing. We’re just all in this unventilated room at hour 12, breathing on each other.
posted by trig at 5:05 PM on November 30, 2021


Some good news out of Israel it looks like the vaccines remain effective and are performing better than expected agains this new variant.
posted by interogative mood at 6:41 PM on November 30, 2021 [5 favorites]


Some good news out of Israel

OJALA!
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:16 PM on November 30, 2021 [1 favorite]


That is good news, though it should be taken with a grain of salt since it's so early and the data sample so small.

Also this bit brings home how important post-travel isolation is:
One of the doctors, in his 50s, brought the variant into Israel upon returning from a medical conference in London. He tested negative when he boarded the airplane from the United Kingdom to Israel and on arrival, but a few days later began experiencing symptoms.
Emphasis mine. Israel's protocol before last week was a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before the flight, plus a test on arrival and self-isolation for 24 hours on the honor system unless you tested positive at the airport or were unvaccinated or vaccinated too long ago (I'm not clear on this). It's a stricter protocol than various other countries - for example, the US at the same time wasn't doing any kind of post-arrival testing or isolation for arrivals from most countries - but it completely ignores the (current known variants') 3-5 day incubation period. I can only assume the thinking behind it is that it's a "good enough" approach that filters out at least a fair proportion of cases - but that seems way too optimistic given local (and global) vaccination rates, and given that the honor system relies on way more people being willing to inconvenience themselves than there seem to be. And that article itself notes that measures like contact tracing only work when you've got a tiny infected population to trace, so it's all the more important to keep entering travelers from interacting with lots of people before they're known to be noncontagious.

tl;dr Do more serious isolation and testing that takes the incubation period into account if you want to keep borders open without new outbreaks every few fucking months.
posted by trig at 7:20 PM on November 30, 2021 [3 favorites]


(and enforce real mask wearing at airports and planes. ffs.)
posted by trig at 7:26 PM on November 30, 2021


Although I also saw the other day an article about overall excess mortality not dropping - perhaps reflecting strain on medical resources or reluctance to seek care.

The UK is running something like 2-3 excess deaths per million per day and 1.5-2 covid deaths per million per day over the last couple months. That doesn't sound like a lot, but that works out to about one in a thousand people dying per year in excess of normal.

And then there's long covid too, which some studies have shown is actually more significant in terms of its overall impact than the deaths from covid.

It seems pretty likely that the UK could reduce those numbers by a lot by taking some relatively easy measures (like actually enforcing mask wearing on public transit and so on), but they've declared "freedom" and that's it. To my mind, these are horrible trade offs: death and long-term illness for a significant number of people so that people don't need to bother to put on a mask. I don't think the UK is much of an example to look towards.
posted by ssg at 7:29 PM on November 30, 2021 [6 favorites]


Case numbers have been high but as far as I know deaths have remained quite a bit lower, relative to cases, than in the first couple waves? Although I also saw the other day an article about overall excess mortality not dropping - perhaps reflecting strain on medical resources or reluctance to seek care.

That FT article I linked earlier has some interesting comparative graphs over the past 6 months showing that for most of it, ICU occupancy was much higher in Austria and Germany than the UK despite them having lower case rates at the beginning (both now have higher case rates and the Austrian ICU occupancy is 6x higher than the UK which is why the Austrians have taken such strong measures). Notably though, UK death rates were higher until quite recently. I don't quite know what to make of that. The case/ICU ratio is clearly explainable by a higher UK vaccination coverage and is a consistent pattern with even more highly vaccinated countries like Spain and Portugal but I don't understand the ICU/death ratio.

It seems pretty likely that the UK could reduce those numbers by a lot by taking some relatively easy measures (like actually enforcing mask wearing on public transit and so on), but they've declared "freedom" and that's it. To my mind, these are horrible trade offs: death and long-term illness for a significant number of people so that people don't need to bother to put on a mask. I don't think the UK is much of an example to look towards.

There's a difference between an example to follow and a useful data point. I do think its strange that mask wearing on public transport was dropped as well as the other restrictions since the economic and social cost of mask wearing is basically nil (compared to closing all restaurants or shutting down schools). I'd be curious to see if anyone has done any modelling to see what that counterfactual would actually have looked like - it seems clear that cases would be lower but by how much?
posted by atrazine at 1:58 AM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


Earlier in the thread, someone quoted virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen on Twitter arguing that cases in Canada not linked to travel from banned countries was proof that community spread was already here in the West and this justified lifting country-specific travel bans. Those cases were in travellers from Nigeria. Well, it looks like the other shoe just dropped on that - Nigeria apparently just retrospectively identified a sample from October as being the Omicron variant, which I think is currently the earliest known case: https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/nigeria-confirms-first-cases-omicron-among-travellers-south-africa-2021-12-01/ They have very limited testing so it's likely an outbreak could go undetected for a long while there.

Unfortunately it's not on most countries' lists of travel bans - pretty much everywhere did include countries in southern Africa that hadn't officially reported any cases yet because it was obvious Omicron would be spreading undetected in areas with poor testing, but Nigeria was outside the region that was targetted.
posted by makomk at 3:53 AM on December 1, 2021


It seems pretty likely that the UK could reduce those numbers by a lot by taking some relatively easy measures (like actually enforcing mask wearing on public transit and so on), but they've declared "freedom" and that's it.

That's really just England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all kept up the requirements for masks indoors and on public transport. Taking the train from Edinburgh to Cardiff recently was a weird experience: people getting on in Scotland were about 95% masked, in England it was about 5%, in Wales back up to 95%. Enforcement could obviously be better, and in bars/restaurants mask requirements are always going to be theatre at best, but the smaller nations definitely haven't given up in the same way that England has.

I'd be curious to see if anyone has done any modelling to see what that counterfactual would actually have looked like - it seems clear that cases would be lower but by how much?
The different UK nations' masking laws struck me as being an interesting natural experiment along these lines, but my curosory searching a few weeks ago didn't bring up anything plausible-looking about it.
posted by metaBugs at 4:49 AM on December 1, 2021 [8 favorites]




It is pretty clear that we are not doing enough surveillance. We need to setup a much more comprehensive international variant detection and monitoring program lead by the G-7+China. Also instead of trying to get more doses into arms in the US and other rich counties where the willing are vaccinated we need to shift all our capacity to vaccinating people in the rest of the world. Ultimately it is just about getting as many people vaccinated globally as we can at this point. We should just have a global target of vaccines delivered per day.
posted by interogative mood at 8:44 AM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


The different UK nations' masking laws struck me as being an interesting natural experiment along these lines, but my curosory searching a few weeks ago didn't bring up anything plausible-looking about it.

This ONS data looks a little inconclusive.

The estimated percentage of people with Covid charts show:

-Rates declining to nearly zero in all four nations over the early summer.
-Rates rising in England *before* the so called freedom day on the 19th of July then staying steady at 1.5% for a few months before rising and then falling again (now seem stable? at 1.5% again)
-In Scotland, the same rise as in England but a fall after the 19th of July followed by a peak slightly before England (might be higher but error bars too big to say - probably about the same) followed by a decline to 1.5% or so. Timing difference due to school holidays?
-Wales a steady increase that peaked at around the same time as the English one, then a decline to 2%
-NI, hard to tell as error bars much larger, looks a lot like the English pattern.

Of course you'd want to do a proper analysis of this data, try and account for other policy differences and confounders, in particular Scottish summer school holidays start about a month before the English ones corresponding to what looks visually like an earlier peak in Scotland.

One hypothesis to test based on comparing English and Scottish data is this:
-The start of school holidays triggered a decrease in transmission in both England and Scotland
-In England, the simultaneous removal of many other measures counteracted this decrease which led to a plateau.
-In Scotland, some measures were removed around the same time but others were not. As a result, rates declined during school holidays.
-Both countries have subsequently seen increases in transmission when schools re-opened which then tailed off as children were either infected or vaccinated
-Current infection rates are about the same in England and Scotland

I'm sure that in time someone will do the real statistics to get the answer but it doesn't look like its a massive effect.

We should just have a global target of vaccines delivered per day.

CoVax has had all sorts of targets, none of which are possible if they don't get vaccines.
posted by atrazine at 9:00 AM on December 1, 2021 [1 favorite]


COVID-19: Most Omicron cases are 'mild' and there's no evidence to suggest vaccines may be less effective against the variant, says WHO official.
A top official in Botswana's health ministry said on Tuesday that 16 out of the 19 cases of the Omicron variant detected in the country were asymptomatic.

Giving evidence at the government's science and technology committee on Wednesday, Professor Neil Ferguson, said it could be towards "the end of the month" before there is a clearer picture of how worrying Omicron is.
posted by fight or flight at 10:28 AM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


So that'd be 85% asymptomatic for Omicron ... or is it *presymptomatic*? The latter would make more sense, since I think only about 35% of cases are asymptomatic with previous variants.

Also: Omicron is in the U.S. "The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021. The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving."
posted by credulous at 11:05 AM on December 1, 2021


That Reuters report of an October case in Nigeria got corrected: the October case was Delta, and the only Omicron cases were travelers from South Africa in the past week.

We should just have a global target of vaccines delivered per day.

There's been over 8 billion doses administered so far: currently 40 million a day. There are serious problems with equity and access, and the west should step up more (half of the doses were made in China), but they are getting into people's arms at a pretty decent rate.
posted by netowl at 11:15 AM on December 1, 2021


I had my 6-month checkup with my hematologist-oncologist today, and after getting some good news about my prognosis (yay!), I started asking questions about the new variant and how much more cautious we should be than we already are. He had previously said it was okay to do some limited air travel as long as we wore an N95, and we did travel by air last month right before Omicron was discovered based on me having had a booster and case/positivity numbers trending in the right direction, but today he advised us not to fly based on what he's reading about this new variant and the fact that it's been a while since my booster. It was a difficult decision, but we're taking his advice, and just canceled a trip to my brother-in-law's wedding this weekend. Getting on a plane just seems a lot more dangerous than it was a month or two ago, even with an outdoor wedding.

My doctor's point about the time since my last booster is something I think deserves more discussion than I see it getting in a lot of spaces. People seem to be realizing that the shots lose their effectiveness after a while, but how fast this happens and how it can push one's risk from acceptable to very unacceptable in such a short amount of time doesn't seem to get as much attention as the tracking of new variants does. We know that the vaccine isn't very effective in months 5 and 6 even in people with healthy immune systems, which means it's probably not doing much for my weakened immune system right now even after getting my booster in August, yet under current guidance I have to wait until February to get my 4th shot.

Obviously, there are concerns about diverting doses away from peoples' initial shots, and vaccine equity is still a significant problem, so I'm not saying that I should get my 4th shot before someone else gets their first. In fact, it's probably better for me personally if more people get their first and second just in terms of gaining an upper hand on the virus, but of course not everyone who can get a dose right now wants one, which is a problem we just don't have an answer for right now. (I mean, *I* have some answers for it, but I don't think they'd be very popular.)

It's really hard to even think about going back to the level of isolation we had before the vaccines, and I know we won't be getting any help from government mandates anymore, but on a day when I found out that my cancer is no longer my most pressing health concern, it would be terrible to squander that good fortune by taking unnecessary risks. Maybe Omicron turns out to be not as bad as some are suggesting, but for now, the right decision for us is to avoid travel, go back into our bubbles, and wait for more information, and I think that's probably the right decision even for a lot of healthy people who haven't gotten a shot recently.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:35 PM on December 1, 2021 [8 favorites]


I honestly can't imagine trying to do flight travel these days with THIS crazy level of uncertainty, testing, quarantines, surprise shut downs, etc. I have no desire to give it a go, given how unreliable the entire experience sounds now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:12 PM on December 1, 2021 [3 favorites]


I was hoping to go to London for the first time in some 2½ years in January, on occasion of a gig that people I know would be at. Now it looks extremely unlikely.

I've got tickets to another gig at the start of March, and am hoping against hope that travel will be possible then.
posted by acb at 3:34 AM on December 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


Being trapped in a closed space with these people (I mean, their noses) is terrifying. Not once did anyone with authority tell people to mask up. (I tried asking people immediately next to me, but you can imagine how successful that was. Only one person got angry; the rest pulled up their masks for a few minutes and then nosed back out.) Not once did anyone with any authority mention any consequences. People I tell this to say "well, what can they do", but I think that's ridiculously fatalistic. There are so many things they could do.

Now that is air travel. An optional behavior.

But I live in an apartment building in Chicago where only about 40% now wear masks despite it being a state and city mandated behavior for public spaces. I've complained to management with photos about 10 times. I've contacted every avenue of government that is supposed to handle this.

ZERO RESPONSE.

I'm basically trapped in an continuous state of inescapable low level bio-terrorism because nobody in American government even thinks about people in apartment buildings.
posted by srboisvert at 3:48 AM on December 2, 2021 [10 favorites]


I mean do the mandates actually have anything at all behind them in Illinois? Every few weeks you hear about a bar or a salon having to pay a fine for not having masks required but I have never heard of an individual being ticketed or anything.

And I wonder if apartments don't fall into a gray area of enforcement as they are "public" only to the residents of the building, and not to the GENERAL public.

(trying to remember the last time I saw an actual human neighbor in my apartment building. It honestly barely occurs to me to mask there because there's just...nobody there.)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2021 [4 favorites]


(When I specify "human neighbor" it is because sometimes I open my door and there's a smol doggo wiggling there. I think he belongs upstairs? But anyway he never bolts and is a sweetheart and a goodboi and he could give me COVID anyday)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:44 AM on December 2, 2021 [9 favorites]


I'm basically trapped in an continuous state of inescapable low level bio-terrorism because nobody in American government even thinks about people in apartment buildings.

That's the mess of enforcement in the US, right there. After all, if you call someone, who's going to show up? Someone with a gun, but who probably has some of the lowest rates of vaccination & mask compliance by industry.

So what do you do when the people who can do something don't care (at best)?
posted by CrystalDave at 9:24 AM on December 2, 2021 [3 favorites]


On the "watching what big tech companies are moving towards" front (since I've found that a reasonable floor of activity, such as that initial tumbling week of "guess we're WFH now", "Ok, let's push back re-opening the offices to next year", etc.), my workplace is now moving to, for anyone going into the office (or out-of-office events):

vax + masks + daily <24hr testing (test kits provided, of course). No booster requirement yet, but probably coming early next year.

So I'm guessing we're probably going to see that talked about more in the US, especially now that there's been time for the "We don't need to maintain rapid-test production, let's scrap these tests [...] Delta, what's that?" cycle to play through.
posted by CrystalDave at 12:38 PM on December 2, 2021 [1 favorite]


Right before omnicron was declared we had pushed return to office from January to February. Which was likely to be pushed back even further from post holiday work even before the new variant.

But the big tech angle has got me thinking about what it would be like if COVID were a tech company. Every year, new features are added, and there's a free sample under every seat in the launch announcement auditorium, and a couple of journalists are competing to see who can most quickly liveblog their hospitalization. Oh, and one more thing....
posted by pwnguin at 2:19 PM on December 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


So, we're starting to see the first evidence that reinfections are more common with Omicron. As noted in the article, it still seems that vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness, though. South Africa's vaccinated population is at most in the 30s. Here is a direct link to the study if anyone is interested: preprint of study.

It's still early data though. Also, hospitalizations are increasing, but excess death still lags the same point in previous waves: twitter thread from South African researcher with link to data.

Overall, cases and hospital admissions seem to be rising faster than previous waves, link to twitter thread showing cases, percent positivity, and hospital admissions, but proportionally there appear to be less hospital admissions per cases than in prior waves. This matches anecdotal reports from South African scientists and the excess death data. Still, as the thread points out, hospital admission data can be slow to update.

In a bit of good news, one of the monoclonal antibodies used to treat COVID retains its effectiveness against the variant. Hopefully that is a sign that vaccine induced antibodies will retain their efficacy as well, particularly in someone receives a booster.
posted by eagles123 at 9:00 PM on December 2, 2021 [2 favorites]


Bob Wachter, UCSF Chair of Medicine has this tweet which pretty much sums up where we're at and what to do now with Omicron:
What to do now?
1) If not vaxxed, get vaxxed
2) If not boosted & >4-5 mths out, get boosted
3) Get prepared mentally to act more cautiously if Omicron proves to be more infectious, immune-evasive, or both
4) Follow the news & science – will be much clearer in 2-3 wks
5) That's it
There's really not much else to do at this point. Keep tabs on developments and be responsible.


I figured that mask wearing fell under the umbrella of "be responsible."

I would love to live in a world where everyone chooses to "be responsible" and understands all that entails. However, based on observed behavior that appears to be a very questionable assumption. Given the simplicity and efficacy of masks, I believe it is still worth explicitly stating on any short list of what to do now.
posted by fairmettle at 11:03 PM on December 2, 2021


Omicron might be bad but what comes next never ends
posted by night_train at 3:53 AM on December 3, 2021




I'd respect an organization capable of time-traveling to ancient Greece to arrange their alphabet, and then time traveling to whenever they decided how to spell Omicron in the Latin alphabet
posted by BungaDunga at 12:39 PM on December 3, 2021 [4 favorites]


Virologist Muge Cevik on the immune response to omicron variant (part of a mega-tweet thread based on their co-authored paper in Cell on vaccines and variants).

Mutations in the omicron might mean the immune response generated by vaccination (or prior infection) may not target it as well. Important to remember that immune response provides multilayer protection – it is unlikely that all protection will be lost.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:33 PM on December 3, 2021


My wife and I got our boosters this week... but our work is not yet done.

A large number of American adults, like myself, first became eligible for COVID vaccination in April. So the first shot was in April if they were feeling conscientious then, their second shot was likely in May... which means that if they are roughly on that schedule, they are now in that six-months-plus-from-their-last-shot range where (a) they are booster-eligible and (b) no matter which type of vaccine they received, their antibodies may be beginning to wane a bit.

Just in time for holiday get-togethers and a new variant that might prove to be measles-level infectious.

So my job is now to push, shove, harass, whine, scream and/or beg people I know to get the damn booster shot SOON. Not only once they know that someone they know might have it. Not when they feel like it. Not when they're done with their Christmas shopping. Make the appointment and get the shot SOON if they haven't already, for some degree of protection when the virus crosses their path.

We could get lucky in the general sense, and its impact (upon vaccinated and vaccine-impaired alike) or its R0 may prove to be less severe than expected. But we have to act as if that won't happen. And even in blue counties, you are going to have some contact with people who are unvaccinated, unmasked and uncaring in one way or another. If this variant proves to hop around like crickets on meth, it will make contact with you and people you know... so, PREPARE as best you can. And be a pain in the ass until those others you know do that, too.
posted by delfin at 7:40 PM on December 3, 2021 [2 favorites]


The Minnesota man who contracted the omicron variant of the coronavirus met up with about 35 friends at a New York City anime convention and about half have tested positive for the coronavirus, a state health official said Friday.

At least 13 people in Oslo have been infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus following a corporate Christmas party described as a "super spreader event", and their numbers could rise to over 60 cases, authorities said on Friday.

I’m not attending conventions or indoor dining/drinking but I have no way of avoiding coworkers and other workplace contacts who take these kinds of risks routinely (and aren’t so into masking, or masking properly, at the workplace), and after getting through some very dark, isolated delta moments by moving the goalposts in my mind and assuming we were looking to finally catching a fucking break sometime in the first quarter of 2022….I don’t even have words for this anymore. It’s so true that it’s the hope that kills you.
posted by blue suede stockings at 5:11 AM on December 4, 2021 [8 favorites]


Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted this two days ago, and some felt the need to try to dunk on him for it:

Look, we have neither the tools nor, frankly, the collective societal/governmental will at this point to trace and contain Omicron. It's gonna go everywhere and we just gotta hope the vaccines hold up.

...whereas I find his statement to be 100% correct.

America does not have the will to crack down upon Omicron, because it would take dramatic and somewhat draconian actions to stop the spread of a more-infectious COVID variant. Millions and millions of Americans aren't willing to even consider the most basic precautions as options because FREEDOM and TYRANNY and COMMUNISM. Others are simply tired of anti-COVID measures and shoving it into the Somebody Else's Problem folder until they themselves get it. Most businesses are terrified of enacting "must mask to enter" mandates. "We recommend masks" is useless policy. State legislatures and Governors are working as hard as they can to prevent future mandates or lockdowns, wherever they can. And it only takes one careless person, one chance encounter, one uncaring friend or relative to turn even a conscientious person into a patient and a carrier and expose many others.

This is not doomism. Millions upon millions of Americans are doing what is best for both themselves and their fellow citizens; they are getting vaccinated, they are wearing masks, they are distancing, they are limiting unnecessary travel, they are limiting get-togethers, they are not sitting down in restaurants, they are living their lives while keeping their guard up. If Omicron proves to be measles-infectious, so to speak, many of these potential super-spreader events in the near future will go "well, screw THAT noise" and cancel. We're not all idiots around here.

But we do live amongst them at all times, and that is always good to remember.
posted by delfin at 10:39 AM on December 4, 2021 [12 favorites]


I'm freaking the hell out about that Oslo party because I found out one of our highest officials in the office got a religious exemption and she will be coming back from an in-person conference the day before and we're having a mandatory in person indoors hours long eating party on Friday. It would be work suicide for me to speak up about this and say I'm concerned or have a problem now. I feel like my only options are to fake sick that day (though note: mandatory in person) or just refuse to take off my mask and eat and then also call attention to myself for not eating at the eating party, and then be starving all day when I have to spend hours of quality time with the unvaccinated one.

God knows I've been eating indoors with masks off lately and I don't know the vax status of everyone in restaurants, but it feels different when I know for sure someone won't get vaxxed AND is happily traveling everywhere RIGHT before this, AND now omicron. They mask up in the office and we're all mandated to eat alone in the office anyway, but now this :( I would like to hope they keep theirs on and don't eat, but I really don't think I can say anything or ask.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2021 [5 favorites]


General comment, not directed at one person: if reading the Daily Doomnews is affecting your mental health, then the thing to do is to turn it off. It feels like some here are scrolling news sites, digging up Twitter posts, finding stuff to worry about. I gave up The News a while back and don't feel like I'm missing out - if there are genuine public health updates, I hear about them and I keep vaguely up-to-date, but I don't hear all the latest snippets of speculative anecdata out of Oslo or Novosibirsk or whatever, and I'm not on the rollercoaster of "this scientist says we're doomed!" "no, this other scientist says we're fine!" "no wait, this incomplete pre-print data out of Vanuatu that CovidGuy69 screenshotted and posted on TikTok says we're superfucked!" and so on.

Most of us reading this are really, really lucky. We live in places where the vaccines are freely available and we've either had two shots or could go start our course right now (and if you aren't vaxxed they will be really happy to see you at the vax centre today). Many of us are in places where we can get a booster right now, or in places (like here) where they're boosting down the age and vulnerability categories at a tremendous rate. I haven't been following the rollercoaster, but official government information here hasn't given me any reason to believe that a fully vaccinated and boosted person is at significant risk of severe health outcomes from the new variant. If an infection in a vaccinated person causes a sniffle and a headache, it's a pain, but it's not the end. The really scary outcomes of this are in countries where they haven't been able to obtain even a single dose of vaccination yet. If you're fully vaxxed and/or boosted and you're in a rich Western country and you're panicking about going back to full lockdown, I'd probably take a break.

The vaccines are brilliant. Life is so much better than twelve months ago. I'm not big on Christmas, but I spent last Christmas in a full-on stay-at-home lockdown, sitting at home on my own watching TV - university was closed, work was closed for the season, it was miserable. This year, I'm driving to see family and spending a low-key holiday with them. Yesterday, I was out for a meal with a few friends. The fact that I can do that is pretty much entirely down to the almost incomprehensible scientific miracles worked by the geniuses around the world who developed and made the vaccines.

The pandemic is far from over, but for vaxxed people in the US, UK, EU etc it's incredibly close to becoming a background annoyance rather than a life-changing thing despite the new variant. We just need to be careful - mask up, do a lateral test before social events, socialise in a low-key way with close friends and family, maybe skip that car key party. And then we need to get vaccines out to those who haven't got them in countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America right the fuck yesterday.
posted by indemandgirl at 2:01 AM on December 5, 2021 [6 favorites]


The pandemic is far from over, but for vaxxed people in the US, UK, EU etc it's incredibly close to becoming a background annoyance rather than a life-changing thing despite the new variant.

…if you’re privileged enough to not have the kind of unruly body and/or razor’s-edge life circumstances where you medically and/or financially need to worry about long COVID (which can result from mild or even asymptomatic cases) being a fate worse than death, and if we (continue to) pretend that the immunocompromised don’t exist/matter. And for those in those circumstances (and their doctors, even!) “doomscrolling” has often been how to best guess how to protect themselves weeks to months before the WHO/CDC come around (it’s why I was wearing masks while the messaging was still “masks don’t help,” taking airborne precautions in the months when the messaging was still “it’s just droplets, so 6 feet away or right behind the plexi with or without your bandana rolled up into a mask is fine,” re-masking long before the messaging finally reversed knee-deep into delta from “vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks anywhere anymore,” etc). Not everyone is able bodied, and you can’t always tell by looking.
posted by blue suede stockings at 2:35 AM on December 5, 2021 [12 favorites]


The pandemic is far from over, but for vaxxed people in the US, UK, EU etc it's incredibly close to becoming a background annoyance [...] And then we need to get vaccines out to those who haven't got them in countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America right the fuck yesterday.

This is just dripping with a sense of White/Western superiority that I think is wholly unwarranted. If you look at the number of Covid deaths per million, then the list of the worst affected countries is dominated by the West, with the US, the UK and Italy faring particularly bad.

Indeed the vaccines work well, but as it turns out (and as predicted by many) they're of limited use in stopping the virus from spreading. What's more, for the majority of people, the odds of dying from Covid have always been low (<0.5%). Thus the overarching purpose of masking and vaccination from an epidemiological perspective etc. isn't (and has never been) personal protection but limiting viral spread. Since the West has utterly failed at limiting spread, we now act as if that wasn't ever a goal in the first place — we pretend the ever looming threat of abrupt lockdowns and variants and long covid and immuno-compromised people never feeling safe is "a background annoyance" rather than the thing itself, ie. an unrelenting state of pandemic.
posted by dmh at 3:26 AM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]


...if you’re privileged enough to not have the kind of unruly body and/or razor’s-edge life circumstances where you medically and/or financially need to worry about long COVID

Also, one of the frustrating things about "we'll just learn to live with the virus" and "it's just going to be endemic, like the flu" is that even if you're young and hale today, you're going to not be that in the future. For the flu, since a lot people are presenting that as a copacetic outcome, the CDC currently estimates 12,000-60,000 deaths and 140,000-810,000 severe cases/hospitalizations each year, in the US alone. It's one of the top 10 causes of death, albeit much lower than heart disease and cancer. And that's just direct deaths - nothing about the damage it can do to your lungs or system that might weaken you for future illnesses, and nothing about potentially chronic and disabling aftereffects.

So even if someone's not too worried about dying of covid right now, and even if that person's chances of being infected this week/month/year are low... how do those odds look over a lifetime? Ideally we'll beat this thing back before too long, have good protection through vaccination, have access to great treatments, and so on. But given what we've seen so far it's hard to feel too confident about achieving ideal scenarios. And even if we do, and get to "just the flu" levels - that's potentially tens of thousands more deaths per year, every year for the foreseeable future, and all of us, if we live long enough, are going to wind up in the highest risk categories sooner or later.
posted by trig at 4:06 AM on December 5, 2021 [7 favorites]


Omicron outbreak at Norway Christmas party is biggest outside S. Africa
The first person in Oslo confirmed as infected had attended the party, where at least one employee had just returned from South Africa. All the attendees were fully vaccinated and had tested negative before the event.

"Health authorities have confirmed a further 12 cases of Omicron in Oslo after an outbreak," the city of Oslo said in a statement. "So far 13 Omicron cases have been confirmed after sequencing. More cases are expected."

Health authorities said the individuals infected were so far displaying mild symptoms, with none hospitalised.

"It is still too early to say whether the clinical picture of the disease is different in Omicron infections than in Delta infections," Aavitsland said.

"None of the patients has severe symptoms; none is hospitalised. However, this is not unexpected given the young age of the participants."
posted by dmh at 5:36 AM on December 5, 2021


if you’re privileged enough to not have the kind of unruly body and/or razor’s-edge life circumstances where you medically and/or financially need to worry about long COVID (which can result from mild or even asymptomatic cases) being a fate worse than death, and if we (continue to) pretend that the immunocompromised don’t exist/matter.

Man, not this again.

I have long haul COVID. It sucks. It really really sucks. I've spent a lot of time typing comments into this little white box surrounded by blue about how much it sucks. I know people who've had it way worse than me, and we all agree it sucks. But we're all waking up everyday and living our lives because our lives are still worth living. Saying the way we live every day is"worse than death" is horribly insulting. Please just stop saying it. Right now a person who is currently struggling is asking you to stop. I don't speak for everyone with Long Haul COVID, but you also don't. You don't get to decide for other people that what they're going through is "worse than death". You just don't. My life is not a horrible nightmare that you can use to scare people into behaving. It's my life, and it has fucking value. Long Haul is a bad enough condition that just describing it honestly and without hyperbole is more than enough.

Also, "if you're freaking out all the time take a break from the news" is actually pretty standard advice. I've heard it from my therapist. I've heard it from activists who were explaining that you're not contributing to the solution to any problem if you're in panic mode all the time. I'm pretty sure that during the bad old days of the MEGA threads it was standard issue advice for how to deal with everything. Obviously nobody should stick their head in the sand, but if your first reaction to someone else performing self care is to attack them, maybe take a moment.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:27 AM on December 5, 2021 [25 favorites]


Well, I’m not comfortable potentially doxing myself by putting the specifics of my own health status out there, but I will say I (pointedly) wasn’t commenting as an able-bodied person, or someone speaking about general fears instead of a person at higher risk whose reference point (for myself and the precautions I’m burdened with) is a very specific long COVID, organ damage scenario that would greatly impact how and whether my already disabling rare disorder (with only one or two available treatments) could continue to be managed/treated to a point of any quality of life in my own sober, “been there done that” estimation (as someone who’s already been living fully and with dignity with health constraints that equal or rival what’s being described in the literature on long COVID for decades before COVID was a thing.) Also from my comment: Not everybody is able bodied, and you can’t always tell by looking. Your first instinct was to make assumptions and attack, not mine, but I’m happy to take it to MeMail if you’d like to side bar privately.
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:50 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]


Also from my comment: Not everybody is able bodied, and you can’t always tell by looking. Your first instinct was to make assumptions and attack, not mine, but I’m happy to take it to MeMail if you’d like to side bar privately.


That's absolutely not what I did. I asked you not to use a specific phrase to describe something and explained why. I carefully only spoke of my own feelings and experience. I don't say anything about your circumstances or motivations, I actually didn't say anything about you at all. Only that you don't get to speak to the worth of other people's lives. Which is true for everyone. There was no attack, just a plea. That was on propose, we're all super raw about this and I am being extra careful with what I say.

Seriously, I'm still asking, even knowing what you chose to disclose, please don't describe Long Haul Covid as worse than death. Like, I don't know what more to say than that. I'm not asking you not to worry, or not to point out that the effects of COVID aren't more severe for some than others. I'm just asking you: please don't use a phrase that implies my life is not worth living anymore. And that is exactly what describing a condition I have as "worse than death" does.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:42 AM on December 5, 2021 [9 favorites]


I'm freaking the hell out about that Oslo party because I found out one of our highest officials in the office got a religious exemption and she will be coming back from an in-person conference the day before and we're having a mandatory in person indoors hours long eating party on Friday. It would be work suicide for me to speak up about this and say I'm concerned or have a problem now

We have a work-hours holiday party scheduled for the 20th, and I'm very lucky that I have the freedom at this job to tell them to sit on it with that nonsense. I've got a ton of unused PTO, so I'll probably just call in sick. They sent out a memo a few months ago telling everyone to get vaccinated or submit to weekly tests, but I'm 100% sure there are still a few unvaccinated individuals in the office who also aren't being tested (and certainly aren't masking; as if). It's a small company and nobody cares to enforce the policy.

It's already a miracle we haven't had an outbreak in the office, but I put it mostly down to the majority of people being vaccinated relatively recently. But it's not something I want to play with the week of Christmas, when I'll be bringing who-knows-what back to my family.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:41 AM on December 6, 2021


I think this thread has some misunderstanding rooted in the difference between "... worry about long covid, being a fate worse than death..." and "... being privileged enough not to have to worry about long covid being a fate worse than death". They read and mean two very different things to me - one is making a categorical statement about how bad long covid is generally, the second is making a statement about how bad it might be for the speaker specifically.
posted by Dysk at 8:47 PM on December 6, 2021


I had a dental cleaning scheduled this week, and given the spike I decided to email my dentist's office to confirm everyone there was vaccinated. Which reassurance I did not get because of "privacy laws". Privacy laws certainly don't cover "And I required all my employees to be vaccinated", so my translation is that one or more of the employees is anti-vaxx. So I cancelled my appointment.

I really can't do the same with my endodontist appointment next week, though, because there seems to be an lingering infection in the root of a tooth.
posted by tavella at 11:14 PM on December 6, 2021 [2 favorites]


If you're in the US, shit is about to get fucked again (where it isn't already). Lots of people have been traveling to Florida recently, and we're back up to almost 7,000 (reported) cases a day, there are lines at testing centers larger than we've seen in almost a year, and nearly 100% of the COVID samples detected in Orlando's sewer water this week are Omicron.

On the bright side, we will have a lot of certainty as to exactly how virulent Omicron is by the new year.
posted by wierdo at 8:58 PM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]


Lots of people have been traveling to Florida recently

That Disney World 50th Anniversary stuff was plastered EVERYWHERE. They even had a prime time TV special!
posted by rhizome at 4:44 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]


Here's one thing I've never seen talked about, though I haven't been looking that hard: What happens if you get Covid again, after you've contracted Covid originally, and it turned into Long Covid? I can't possibly imagine that it'd be good.

Until I find out? I'm treating Omicron as the massive danger that it is to me, despite being double vaxxed, boosted, and wearing a 3M N95 mask all over the place. I've already cancelled my Christmas plans, and I'll spend the holidays holed up at home with Chinese takeout and watching Twitch streams.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:51 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]


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