The successive approval of both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines by the FDA has lifted some of the coronavirus gloom, with Singapore having already also approved the former, with the local State's Times further presenting Sinovac alongside the duo, despite its efficacy being unknown - on which more later. Both Pfizer and Moderna are claiming around 95% efficacy, though if one reads the fine print, it was closer to 75% in Asians, if 100% in Native Americans/Pacific Islanders... and about 10% in multiracial persons - which strongly suggests a relatively small and thus less-reliable test sample, for these categories. Before continuing, I would just like to state that I've given consent for the jabs when they become available.
Having said that, I think it's entirely understandable that some are less trusting, with a CDC survey revealing that nearly 40% of healthcare workers were not eager to receive the vaccine, despite being amongst the highest-risk groups. This reticence is probably not entirely unfounded, given the unseemly haste with which approval was granted, particularly in the case of the United Kingdom - a concern raised by no less than their American counterparts (if later retracted) - and before considering the Big Pharma dissimulation factor. AstraZeneca's offering appears hanging under a cloud, after they "serendipitously" botched the dosages, resulting in 90% efficacy from a half-dose as compared to 70% from the intended full dose. To this, it could be slightly mean to recall the HCQ dosing controversy from some months back - but maybe not really.
Also, to the best of my knowledge, it is unclear whether these vaccines actually produce transmission-blocking immunity, which seems to imply that the coronavirus would still be merrily going around, and has thus led some to complain that the vaccines would more correctly be termed as simply short-term preventative symptom blockers. Of course, all these concerns - and known side effects besides - hasn't stopped a certain set from disparaging the reluctant as anti-science anti-vaxxers, but put it this way: it these vaccines are so surely safe, why are none of the pharma firms accepting liability? And if it's because the firms are supplying the goods at cost or similar, why aren't the various governments stepping in with pledges to handle any potential long-term effects?
Well, what various governments have been willing to do, is to have their leaders (or spare relatives) publicly volunteer for vaccination, with one of Putin's daughters for instance having stepped forward, and Mike Pence taking a Pfizer jab on live television. To this, the more-cynical have tended to grouse that it's impossible to know whether these worthies have merely received saline solution or the like, and from recent experience on other vaccines, they might again have a point.
Anything suspicious about this photo?
As it stands, while Singapore's not making vaccinations mandatory, our chief health scientist has projected an 80% vaccination rate for herd immunity (which would seem to support the view that the vaccines don't actually stop transmission?), and being free of charge should help to drive take-up somewhat. In contrast, while PCR diagnostic tests have been made available to the public at the beginning of the month, one gathers that the price of about S$200 would have discouraged the vast majority from having a go, which has put paid to predictions of a sudden jump in local cases for now.
PCR would however play a role in a cruise ship scare from about a fortnight back, in which an 83 year-old guy was determined to be positive for the coronavirus on a Royal Caribbean cruise to nowhere. Traumatic flashbacks to February's Diamond Princess saga were to be had, but a confirmatory test would turn up negative. The National Public Health Laboratory then went for best of three (or four), and determined that it was a false alarm after all successive tests - including a retest of the original sample - wound up to be negative.
This then appears to indicate that the very same sample can produce different positive/negative results, as warned in our October report on PCR, and the concerns about the proper number of amplification cycles to administer has finally been thrust into the open, what with the political implications apparently over following the U.S. elections. A Portuguese court, for instance, has supposedly ruled that the proportion of false positives from PCR tests is unacceptably high at the common 35-cycle setting, citing a 97% false positive rate at that threshold from a recent Clinical Infectious Diseases paper.
This appears corroborated by a statement from Dr. Fauci in a July interview, with a group of researchers having also submitted a request to retract the original paper on PCR that had been used by the WHO as its guideline for testing. Coincidentally, the WHO has just released a memo last week on how high cycle numbers of 35 and above are meaningless and produce large numbers of false positives, with a U.S. state (Florida) finally requiring labs to report the cycle threshold (CT) used in their PCR tests. About this, one has to gape - isn't the CT (analogous to dosages, for medications) one of the first things that should be properly determined and standardized? What rubbish is this?
Well, if the WHO's belatest advice to dial down the CT is adopted, one supposes that the number of detected cases would mysteriously plunge, conveniently concurrently with the vaccine rollout. I'd be willing to wager that the corporate mainstream media won't be connecting the dots on this angle, but proper investigative journalism is mostly dead and buried anyhow. Let's see if any brave biostatistician is willing to dig out the necessary data on CT applied, excess mortality, etc. for analysis...
Connections & The New Cold War
Returning to vaccines for now, it is getting increasingly difficult not to glimpse the shadows of superpower structure, in our choice of cure. Agreements have been signed with both American and Chinese firms for their vaccines - the latter notably despite lack of proof of efficacy - and observers might read entirely too much into our apparent giving Pfizer's vaccine primacy, in conjunction with being the first Asian country to approve and receive it (though Malaysia and China aren't far behind). This implicit flexing of diplomatic muscle is hardly restricted to the Big Two, with India hawking its Bharat Biotech wares, and Russia could hardly have made the allusion any more overt, by naming their version after the Sputnik satellite, perhaps the zenith of their prestige during Cold War I. The timing of and hoo-hah over the Chang'e-5 mission and ramped-up flaunting of other scientific chops might not be entirely incidental either, and one supposes the jostling for influence and control is beginning to spill out into the open. John le Carré might have just passed, but there'll be no lack of new material.
It should be recognized here that mixing geopolitics/commerce and public health is less than ideal, with some commentators observing that firms might have been one-upping each other on reported efficacies, with the Swiss remaining cautious as usual. While we've snagged the World Economic Forum from our spiritual role models, transport links in the post-coronavirus world seemingly remain tenuous, with Malaysia reportedly cutting us out of the High Speed Rail project, and a potential through-train to China and beyond. And I was looking forward to the second CBD at Jurong East too; here's to hoping the Malaysians are simply trying to get more money, but if it was indeed due to our objections over having a station at the Kuala Lumpur airport, I can well understand why.
But before that, more social isolation!
Next: Machine Fairness
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