Intelligence Analysis Is Not Scientific Investigation

Several developments this week in stories I’ve been following. I finally have some time to post about them.

Questions about how SARS-CoV-2 jumped from animals to humans and the so-called Havana Syndrome have both been subjects of recent intelligence assessments. Intelligence assessments are different beasts from scientific conclusions. I wrote about that for Scientific American.

Intelligence analysis privileges the credibility of sources; science privileges the analysis of data. Intelligence keeps much of its analysis secret; science publishes and argues in public.

Intelligence analysis is a poor way to investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. Several good scientific studies, linked in my op-ed, point strongly toward the animal market in Wuhan as being the source. Those advocating an origin in a laboratory have put forth a number of scenarios, and very little data. The overall intelligence assessment ranges from “not enough data,” through most agencies’ “low confidence,” to the FBI’s slightly more confidence in a lab leak.

The FBI botched a somewhat similar investigation into the anthrax letters sent after 9/11. There is no reason to believe their assessment, offered without explanation.

The Biden administration used intelligence powerfully in the runup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The intelligence agencies would do well to learn from that experience.

Photo: Wuhan Institute of Virology, from their website.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

How Can They Do That?

Moderna has announced an increase in the price of their m-RNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 from the $26 per dose that the government has been paying to something like $130 per dose. This will affect insured people only indirectly, increasing their insurance companies’ costs, but the uninsured will pay the whole price.

Much of the research the m-RNA vaccines are based on was done under government grants or contracts, in government laboratories. The government guaranteed an initial market. So why is Moderna setting the price?

Read More

The Pandemic Is Not Over

Alongside one of the January 6 hearings, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Representative James Clyburn, released a report, “The Atlas Dogma: The Trump Administration’s Embrace of a Dangerous and Discredited Herd Immunity Via Mass Infection Strategy.” It is based on interviews with Deborah Birx, Brett Giroir, and Robert Redfield, all of whom served in public health during the Donald Trump administration, and none of whom distinguished themselves as a public servant during that time. The report tells us that Scott Atlas, who was worse, began influencing the adminstration earlier than has been publicly known. He was brought in by Jared Kushner.

No surprise, but worth knowing one more disgusting action of the Trump administration. If not Atlas, Trump would have found some other charlatan to tell him that he could ignore the pandemic. But Atlas is the one he found, and Atlas bears responsibility for pushing the “herd immunity” strategy along with the Great Barrington crowd. Atlas estimated that a maximum of 10,000 would die in the pandemic. The total is over a million now, and probably a lot more.

Read More

Placing Blame

I made a sorta New Year’s resolution to post about stuff other than covid, but covid takes up a lot of everyone’s mental space, and I am particularly angry about this latest surge. Maybe the next post will be about Russia.

This morning, one of my go-to virologists, Dr. Angie Rasmussen, tweeted a rage-thread. She gave a nice definition of endemicity, which I plan to use going forward because it works with my emphasis on prevalence.

In the rest of the thread, she enumerates policy mistakes. She doesn’t explicitly blame Joe Biden, but she mentions the White House, and others do explicitly blame Biden and “the Democrats.” It’s easy to blame the party in power and easy to believe the President can do anything with a snap of his fingers or by signing a piece of paper, but it’s not true. I agree that I would have preferred some of her policies, but let’s focus on what we actually have to change, not just yell at the easy targets.

Read More

Living With Covid: Continuing the Conversation

Kevin Drum offers some suggestions as a conversation starter on “living with covid.”

Far too many people using that phrase actually mean “Shut up and sit down because I’m tired of dealing with this and want things back to where they were before the pandemic so I will act that way.” That’s not going to happen, and Kevin recognizes it in his post, but I need to say it again.

At the moment, with something like 600,000+ new infections a day, we must get prevalence down before we can start to think about a more stable situation. The good news is we may see a decline in infections fairly quickly, say by the end of January, as more people become immune via infection or vaccination. At that point, we need to look hard at what we need to do to keep it that way, because immunity via infection seems to wane fairly quickly. Vaccination, obviously, needs to continue and expand.

Read More

Pandemic Update

Over the last few days, I have thought of at least six posts I might write on the pandemic and started three of them, now trashed by events. I am going to write this one straight through and get it posted before something else happens.

The rapid spread of Omicron and its different characteristics from Delta have changed the game, not to mention that we have viruses in circulation with different characteristics. There is a lot we don’t know yet about Omicron and probably won’t for some weeks.

There is also far too much misinformation, disinformation, and wishful thinking circulating on social media. Please don’t retweet people you don’t know or add your non-expert takes to the din. Please.

The CDC released guidance on recovery and going back to work. Every official decision right now is the result of combining not enough data with public health guidelines with expected political and emotional pushback and professional best judgment. I have given up second-guessing. This thread and the one embedded in it indicate why.

It can’t be said enough times that back in June 2021, things were looking up because of the vaccines, and that was when the Republican Party ramped up its hardline push in favor of death and disease. Yes, Delta showed up too, but in a country where public health was uniformly valued, it would have had less of an effect.

I’ve come to look at the pandemic in terms of getting transmission down, and I think that’s still a good frame. The only way we will get back to anything resembling “normal” is to get the transmission down. That’s going to take a while, although what we see of Omicron’s characteristics, it’s possible we could have a peak through January and then be in a much better position by March.

We don’t have enough tests.

We’re not thinking enough about long Covid. More about this later.

Nor are we thinking enough about vaccinating the world. More about this too.

The good thing is that we know what we need to do: Get vaccinated and boosted, mask up around other people, distance as much as possible, avoid large numbers of people indoors.

Stay safe, y’all, and keep the noise down.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

PSA – How To Find N95 Masks

If you, like me, are puzzled by the wide variety of mask manufacturers you’ve never heard of and have also heard that not all masks being sold as N95s actually are of that quality, here’s some reliable help.

The CDC has a list of approved mask manufacturers.

Project N95 has evaluated a large number of manufacturers and masks and has aids to find the mask that’s best for you. You can order masks through them.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns and Money

How Much Longer?

With so many people still contracting covid, filling up the hospitals, the fourth wave now, and vaccinations too, we must be getting to a point where there will be no more people to get sick, right?

I’ve had that intuition, but I know it’s mixed with my desire for the pandemic to be over, so I ran some numbers.

From my latest spreadsheet calculations on November 29, I get a figure of about 133 million Americans susceptible to the virus. This is going to be a very approximate calculation, so don’t worry about those three weeks.

There are other inaccuracies in that number, including that I assumed a that 20% of vaccinations have gone to people who have already had the virus. I recently saw a more reliable estimate of 25%. There are also imponderables, like how many have become susceptible because of waning immunity from infection or vaccine and how many, idiosyncratically, haven’t mounted an immune reaction to the vaccine. Then there’s the degree to which Omicron can escape previous immunity. All that makes the 133 million figure larger and the times longer.

Read More

Get Vaccinated!

Back in September, I developed a simple model to predict how many more Americans would die from COVID-19. Over this long weekend, I updated the model with numbers from the New York Times on Friday, November 26.

As I entered the numbers and watched the changes, I had questions about some of my assumptions, so I won’t post the whole spreadsheet the way I did in September. I think the bottom lines are no worse than any other projection. Across the US, 133,859,829 people remain susceptible. That’s 40% of the population. We need that to be closer to 10%. In September, the number was 147,194,141.

Although unvaccinated people have been filling hospitals, their numbers are not enough to make a big difference in those remaining susceptible to the disease. Additionally, evidence is mounting that having been infected with the virus produces less, shorter-lasting immunity than vaccination does.

I did not do a formal sensitivity analysis, but watching the numbers in the spreadsheet change made it clear that vaccination is the biggest factor in decreasing the numbers of susceptible people. Over the next few weeks, we will see large numbers of children vaccinated, which will help, but children in the age group newly opened for vaccination number about 33 million.

South Africa has one of the best surveillance programs for the virus, and they have found a new variant, which the WHO has called Omicron. None of the things that we want to know – NOW! – are available, and they won’t be available for weeks. Omicron has many more mutations than previous variants, which means it’s been hiding out somewhere as those mutations piled up.

Which means that the earlier variants weren’t as transmissible as Delta. One of the things I am watching for is Omicron’s transmissibility relative to Delta. If it’s much less, it won’t replace Delta, no matter what its other characteristics.

Here’s a good summary of what is known about Omicron. And here’s WHO’s update. What you need to do is the same as before – get vaccinated, mask up, use testing before getting together with people. And tell your legislative representatives we need to vaccinate the world.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Trevor Bedford’s Covid Endgame

I was surprised last week to see one of the epidemiologists I follow admonishing those who think that covid’s “becoming endemic” is a good thing for humans. It is a good thing for SARS-CoV-2, because endemicity means it persists in the human population, although at a mostly steady state. I didn’t realize that some thought it was a good thing for the rest of us.

SARS-CoV-2 is pretty much everywhere that humans go now, and maybe further than that. Covid has even reached Antarctica. There have been several narrative descriptions of what we can expect in the mid-term future, but I am wary of those.

Read More