Trust me. You don’t need to wear a mask.
(We don’t have any masks.)
Trust me. You need to wear a mask.
(Now we have masks.)
Covid is not subject to aerosol transmission.
(We have absolutely no basis in fact for saying this.)
Covid is subject to aerosol transmission.
(The science has evolved.) [Huh?]
Politician: The vaccine will eliminate the virus.
(Scientist: That’s not what I said, sir.)
You need to wait 12 weeks between vaccinations.
(We don’t have enough doses.)
Surprise! You should accelerate your second dose.
(New shipment just arrived.)
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are interchangeable.
(We’re low on Pfizer.)
People between 18 and 24 should not take Moderna because of risks to the heart.
(Oops! Our bad… but you should trust us.)
[I don’t trust you.]
Is it any wonder that people don’t trust what policymakers say? Let’s fully acknowledge that Covid has been a moving target and that, speaking honestly, nobody knew what was coming. Here’s the thing, though. If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know. The need for appearance of certainty does not outweigh the need to be honest. Don’t make decisions that cannot be supported by facts… or at least admit that you’re making imperfect decisions based on imperfect information. People (well most of us) are not stupid. We can tell when you’re lying. Caught once in a lie, your trust currency is seriously depleted if not entirely lost.
Almost as bad as dishonesty in messaging is the drawing of conclusions not supported by facts. In April of 2020, the World Health Organization reported that there was, “currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”
At the time, hence the word “currently,” this was true. It was also an important fact to consider in the implementation of vaccination programs. In the absence of evidence (a.k.a.: imperfect information) we are regularly forced to make imperfect decisions. Science was not yet in possession of a basis for concluding that natural immunity played a reliable role in protecting us from repeat infection. At the same time, absence of evidence does not mean absence of existence. Yet, for policymakers, “currently no evidence” was translated to “previous infection offers no protection”.
Time after time, I listened to the talking heads of government policy either outright lying or avoiding the question when asked about protection from natural immunity. When challenged as to whether natural immunity from previous infection conferred comparable protection to vaccination, I repeatedly heard the answer, “a person who has recovered from Covid and has been double vaccinated is better protected than the person who has recovered from Covid and has not been double vaccinated.” Listening carefully, the question was clearly not answered. What about the person who has recovered from Covid and not been vaccinated compared to someone who did not contract the virus but has been vaccinated? Repeatedly, policymakers refuse to answer that question. You’ve got to get the vaccine. You’ve got to get the vaccine. You’ve got to get the vaccine.
I should point out here that I got the vaccine, twice. I’m a believer in vaccines. My first shot was in late April. The very next day, I was exposed to the virus… before the vaccine could take effect. Two weeks later, I was in an ambulance with Covid and a blood-oxygen level of 84% on my way to the hospital. For the record, 84% oxygen saturation is dangerously low. I’m relatively fit, am able to play hockey for 90 minutes every week, have no underlying conditions, and have a normal blood-oxygen reading of 99%.
Was the proximity of my virus exposure to the time of my first vaccine shot a ‘springboard’ on my immune system? We’ll never know. A devotee of the flu vaccine (14 years with no flu, after 50 years of annual crashes), I dutifully got the second shot in July and will soon have the booster.
Am I, as double vaccinated and recovered-from-Covid, super-protected? That’s what they’re saying, but who knows? Is more better? Not when we’re talking about lawn fertilizer, it’s not. Maybe there’s a diminishing or even negative return involved here. How much greater protection do I have from the vaccination in addition to my natural immunity? The governments of Canada and the United States are in unison… and almost in isolation… with the broad-sweeping message that previous infection does not protect from future infection. This is not the policy across Europe, as just one example, where proof of recovery from the virus affords equal status to full vaccination.
From Politico, November 12, 2021:
“The [European] pass demonstrates that its holder is fully vaccinated, has recovered from infection or has recently tested negative for COVID-19.” (Link)
Over the past 12 months, study after study has supported the conclusion that previous infection confers at least the same level of protection against breakthrough infection as offered by double vaccination.
As reported regularly by those at the podium, science evolves. For certain, it does. Why, in the face of evolving science, then, do policymakers not adapt to new evidence? Adaptability, in my view, will prove to be the most critical of 21st century skills, for all of us, including our children, ourselves, and our policymakers.
An article in The Washington Post (linked below) suggests that the government is afraid that, if people understand that contracting the virus offers more protection against the virus than vaccination, they will opt to contract the virus instead. In short, the government has concluded that people are stupid enough to purposefully risk death as a means to reduce the risk of death. Huh?
None of the reports I’ve read, and I’ve read many… in The Lancet, the British Medical Journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, and elsewhere… none suggest that purposeful infection is a recommended mitigation strategy for Covid. This said, if you happen to have contracted the virus (do we need to say, accidentally?), the rapidly growing mass of scientific evidence says strongly that you are at least as protected as someone not previously infected, but double-vaccinated. Moreover, since the vaccines were designed to combat the original (Alpha) variant of Covid in a rather pinpoint fashion, they may not possess the advantage of being infected as a more broad, diverse learning experience for the body in preparation against the threat of future variants.
It appears to me that too much talk these days focuses on the presence of antibodies. Yes, antibodies wane, after both infection and vaccination, but this is a bit of a red herring. Antibodies are not the lynchpin of protection.
From the European Commission website:
“… the detection and quantification of antibodies cannot be used as a direct indication of protective immunity” (Link)
From the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
Antibodies are produced by the body to fight off infection. In the absence of infection, antibodies are not needed. Rather, what’s needed is the ‘memory’ of the infection in the body through the B cells and T cells that trigger the production of antibodies (Link).
Studies continue to accumulate, supporting the notion that natural immunity provides lasting memory of the virus.
From News Medical:
“Protection from reinfection decreases with time since previous infection, but is, nevertheless, higher than that conferred by vaccination with two doses at a similar time since the last immunity-conferring event.” (Link)
From the New England Journal of Medicine, November 24, 2021:
“Reinfections had 90% lower odds of resulting in hospitalization or death than primary infections” and “… for a person who has already had a primary infection, the risk of having a severe reinfection is only approximately 1% of the risk of a previously uninfected person having a severe primary infection.” (Link)
From the British Medical Journal, September 13, 2021:
The US CDC estimates that SARS-CoV-2 has infected more than 100 million Americans, and evidence is mounting that natural immunity is at least as protective as vaccination. (Link)
From The Lancet, November 8, 2021:
“Although longer follow-up studies are needed, clinicians should remain optimistic regarding the protective effect of recovery from previous infection. Community immunity to control the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic can be reached with the acquired immunity due to either previous infection or vaccination. Acquired immunity from vaccination is certainly much safer and preferred. Given the evidence of immunity from previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, however, policy makers should consider recovery from previous SARS-CoV-2 infection equal to immunity from vaccination for purposes related to entry to public events, businesses, and the workplace, or travel requirements.” (Link)
From medRxiv, August 24, 2021:
“This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hospitalization caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, compared to the BNT162b2 [Pfizer] two-dose vaccine-induced immunity.” (Link)
From The Washington Post, September 15, 2021:
“More than 15 studies have demonstrated the power of immunity acquired by previously having the virus. A 700,000-person study from Israel two weeks ago found that those who had experienced prior infections were 27 times less likely to get a second symptomatic covid infection than those who were vaccinated. This affirmed a June Cleveland Clinic study of [52,238] health-care workers (who are often exposed to the virus), in which none who had previously tested positive for the coronavirus got reinfected. The study authors concluded that “individuals who have had SARS-CoV-2 infection are unlikely to benefit from covid-19 vaccination.” And in May, a Washington University study found that even a mild covid infection resulted in long-lasting immunity.” (Link)
I watch a lot of Canadian and American news. For the past year (since vaccination became a reality), the message has been clear: Everyone should be vaccinated, whether you’ve been previously infected or not. No nuance to policy or messaging. For the past six months, my wife (also VP, Research for our business) has been dropping new scientific studies on my lap, pointing to the inconsistencies between policy and science. I’ve resisted and resisted, but in the end, must accept that she is correct. While policy is informed by science, policy does not equal science.
When the talking heads claim that they follow the science, they fail too often to cite the source so we can verify their claim. Or… they do refer to a small study or flawed piece of research that supports their case. That’s called confirmation bias. Make a statement, then find anything that supports the statement. Unfortunately, that’s not how proper science works.
So… what’s my point today? I’m fascinated by what I’ve been hearing on both American and Canadian news over the last week. Over and over, these same talking heads are injecting a new phrase into the message: It used to be “those people who are not vaccinated.” Now, it’s “those people who are not vaccinated or previously infected”. This is entirely new as part of the narrative. In the past two days, I’ve heard this particular phrase at least four times on national news in both countries. Does this set the stage for a coming change in policy?
Are Canada and the United States buckling to pressure from elsewhere in the world, or from the scientific community, to finally recognize equal status for the previously infected to the double vaccinated? There is not sufficient evidence yet to draw that conclusion, but my Spidey sense is tingling that something’s changing.
I live in Knowledge Quadrant #2 – I don’t know, but I know that I don’t know – it’s a safe place to work from. Watching and listening very carefully now… where did I put my wellies?