My constant prayer since the start of the development of the COVID-19 vaccines has been that the knowledge gained would lead to an effective vaccine against malaria.

When I last checked the Johns Hopkins site, the total estimate of COVID-19 cases since we started keeping track have been a little less than 237 million. (Just how accurate that guess is, is another issue.)

In that time period, there have been approximately 382 million cases of malaria, a debilitating disease that cripples economies, and preferentially kills young children.

But there is good news. While there is still much room for new vaccine-development techniques to improve the situation, there is now a vaccine for malaria. It was developed by GlaxoSmithKline* and proven effective six years ago. Finally, after futher testing, has been given the green light for mass vaccinations in sub-Saharan Africa.

"Effective," in this case, is only 40%—I said there was room for improvement—and requires a series of four shots, given at five, six, seven, and 18 months of age. In a part of the world where health care is often less than stellar, I imagine this will be a challenge to implement. But malaria is a much trickier disease than, say, COVID ("comparing them is like comparing a person and a cabbage") and this is a huge milestone.

 


*Which I knew growing up by its building in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania—back when it was Smith, Kline, and French.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 8, 2021 at 10:16 am | Edit
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It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. — Revelation 13:16-17

College is a time for wide-ranging, speculative discussions, and among my fellow students in the early 1970's this Bible verse was a popular topic. We were hard-pressed to imagine a world in which people would consent to having marks imposed on their bodies: tattoos were so rare that most of us had never seen one, and the now-common practice of implanting informative microchips in pets was 15 years in the future. The microchip itself had barely made any impression on our lives—my choice when doing my physics homework was between long, laborious hand calculations and a long trek through the snow to a small room where half a dozen chunky, very basic calculators had been made available to students.

Even more puzzling was how having or not having this "mark of the beast" could be the gateway to commerce. The marketplace still ran on cash and checks.

How much can change in 50 years.

Suddenly, in Canada, in Australia, in Switzerland, and in parts of the United States, the marketplace and much more are now gated by vaccination status. Society has been divided as by a sharp sword between the haves and the have-nots; the clean and the unclean; the ones who are free to travel, attend school, eat at restaurants, and even hold their jobs, and those who are not.

I am not saying that the COVID-19 vaccine is the Mark of the Beast. It seems clear that the Mark will involve some form of blasphemy and idolatrous worship, and this does not—although, frankly, the efforts to invalidate religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have me wondering a bit about that.

However, it is now crystal clear is that what seemed impossibly fanciful back in my college days is not only possible, but can sweep over even a free and democratic country with little effective opposition.  Whatever that Mark may be, we have opened the door.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 3, 2021 at 9:28 am | Edit
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Our doctor's office has yet another set of forms for us to fill out, and this one just has me wanting to throw up my hands and scream, "NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!" Plus, some of the questions make no sense, in some cases giving far more options than reasonable, and in some cases too few.

For "Ethnic Background" I am given these options:

  • Ashkenazi
  • No
  • Other
  • Unknown

I understand that there are certain diseases that are more prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews, so maybe that's an important question. But there are also diseases that are especially prevalent among other populations, e.g. the Amish, and there's no opportunity to indicate that, other than the non-informative "Other." And just who are the No people—an obscure tribe of Papua New Guinea, perhaps? And is my own diverse ancestry, which took up some dozen slots on the 2020 census form, of no medical interest at all?

One ethnicity gets its very own question:

  • Hispanic or Latino/a
  • Not Hispanic or Latino/a
  • Unknown or Not Given

I find that a curious question for a doctor to ask. Just how many diseases divide themselves by this criterion? If my lungs are congested, how much does it matter whether my ancestors came from Spain versus France? "Not Given" is beginning to look like the best answer for most of these questions.

There's a good deal more choice when it comes to Sexual Orientation:

  • Bisexual
  • Choose not to disclose
  • Don't know
  • Lesbian or Gay
  • Something else
  • Straight (not lesbian or gay)
  • (You can hold the CTRL key while clicking to select multiple options)

Frankly, unless I'm indicating problems of a sexual nature, I don't think even my doctor needs to know this information, though she's welcome to guess based on the fact that I'll admit to being female and having a husband. "Something else" sounds attractively bear-poking, however.

But even Sexual Orientation has nothing on Religion!

  • African Methodist Episcopal
  • Agnostic
  • Amish
  • Anglican
  • Assemblies of God
  • Atheist/Humanist
  • Baptist
  • Buddhist
  • Catholic
  • Christian
  • Christian Scientist
  • Church of Christ
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Decline to Answer
  • Disciples of Christ
  • Episcopalian
  • Greek Orthodox
  • Haitian Vodou
  • Hindu
  • Indian Orthodox
  • Islam
  • Jain
  • Jehovah's Witness
  • Jewish
  • Lutheran
  • Mennonite
  • Messianic Judiasm [that's how they spelled it]
  • Methodist
  • Multi-Faith
  • Nazarene
  • Non-Denominational
  • None
  • Orthodox
  • Other
  • Pentecostal
  • Presbyterian
  • Protestant
  • Quaker
  • Rastafarian
  • Russian Orthodox
  • Scientologist
  • Seventh Day Adventist
  • Shinto
  • Sikh
  • Taoist
  • Unitarian Universalist
  • United Church of Christ
  • Unknown
  • Wiccan
  • Zoroastrian

There are so many things wrong with this list I won't even try to ennumerate them, other than to mention that my Seventh-Day Baptist ancestors would be feeling left out. And to note that it's just plain weird to have so many choices yet list "Islam" as one-size-fits-all. For myself, being unable to choose among Anglican, Christian, Episcopalian, Multi-Faith, Non-Denominational, Protestant, and Other—and not having the ctrl/click option for this one—I might have to go with that fascinating new religion, Decline to Answer.

But really, of what possible importance could the answer to this question be for normal medical care, other than the above-mentioned correlation between being Amish and certain diseases? Even that is an ethnic difference, not a religious one. Do Wiccans require different cancer treatments from Zoroastrians? True, Jehovah's Witnesses don't want blood transfusions, so that's important to know, but I think it would be safer and more efficient to ask that question directly, rather than make the assumption. I suspect not all JW's reject them totally, and for all I know, some other religion frowns on them as well.

Maybe these questions are required by Medicare. I have had more patience with my medical caregivers (though less with the government) ever since I learned that the very annoying questions they started asking at every visit were government-imposed: Have you fallen at all in the last year? "I have grandchildren. Falls are the natural consequence of fun." Have you been depressed during the last year? "I'm here for a physical, not a mental."

It's a good thing we like our doctors. The bureaucracy is rapidly eroding my confidence in the system.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 27, 2021 at 11:30 am | Edit
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Finally, someone—someone whose work I respect—has said what I have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic lockdowns. I'm tired of being laughed at, and much worse, when I point out that it is inconsistent to excoriate people who resist some of the anti-pandemic measures, while at the same time themselves not thinking twice about driving a car. Both are actions that can endanger others, but most of us have decided to give automobile dangers a pass. We think so little about them that we tolerate, even joke about, impaired driving, speeding, road rage, poorly-maintained cars, and driving without a license or insurance coverage. Cracking down in these areas would no doubt make a huge difference in automobile injuries and fatalities. But even then there would be dangers from weather, from carelessness, and from that wasp that flew in the window and is crawling into your ear. (The last really happened to a friend of ours, who managed to get off the road safely—I'm not sure I could have.)

You want to protect yourself and others? If you can't walk to where you are going, stay home.

But of course we don't do that. The consequences would be too great.

I want people to understand that the various measures we are taking against this pandemic also have great consequences, ones that are not as immediately obvious as ending up in a COVID hospital ward.

George Friedman says it well in his article (from which I took my own post title), COVID and Cars. Unfortunately, it is behind a pay wall, but I've extracted a few quotes.

Every year in the United States, about 40,000 people die in car accidents. Some 1.35 million die in car accidents globally. In fact, they are the eighth-largest cause of death in the world. In the United States, about 3 million people are injured in automobile-related accidents.

These numbers exist despite all the efforts made to make cars safer. The reason cars aren’t banned is because the economic and social consequences of doing so would be devastating. The supply of food and other essentials requires trucking. Maintaining friends and seeing family require cars. In the United States, our ability to use land efficiently depends on cars to sustain a dispersed population. Yet this dependency carries a risk. In the back of your mind, you are aware as the ignition is turned on that you may die. You dismiss this possibility, of course, and proceed with your life.

What has happened is that a known risk of death and injury has been measured against the necessities of life, and a calculated risk has shown that tolerating the chance of death and enjoying the benefits of the car is preferable to seeking to eliminate car deaths by eliminating the car. The principle that death must be fought by all means is not practiced in the case of car deaths because a more subtle calculation takes place.

It’s a reminder that in most actions of human life there is a possibility of death or injury, but a life without those things would be impoverished. You can live without many things for a short and predictable period. Living without them indefinitely creates pressures on individuals and society. The trade-off between death and life is the human condition.

The idea that we can go on indefinitely with each new chapter forcing us to shelter in place is a superficial view of what will happen. As with automobiles, where we risk death on every ride and where many find it, the risk of COVID-19 will be integrated into our thinking, and we will make choices.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 11, 2021 at 9:26 am | Edit
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Part 1 of the visit of our Swiss family is here, part 2 here.

At last, Christmas drew near, and we focussed our activities nearer home. Christmas Eve saw us in church, of course, with some of our guests pressed into service in our hand chime choir. Hand chimes are not nearly as beautiful as handbells, but they are what we had. We didn't even have a handbell choir until it emerged as a desperation move to give our choir a way to make music when rehearsing and singing were forbidden. In this we were oppressed, not by the state, but by our very own bishop, whose rules were far more draconian than the governments'. I had so looked forward to being able to share with our family the absolute beauty of our high church worship, especially on such a special day, but it was not allowed to be. Nonetheless, we were grateful to be permitted in-person services at all. We were there; God was there. And some of us went back later for the midnight mass.

   
Credit for the above three photos Anke Cirillo of Three Point Photography

And then it was Christmas! Happiness is a house full of family.

After Christmas we boldly got together with our long-time friend and former choir director for one of our spontaneous music-making sessions. It's impossible to describe what a glorious outpouring of joy there is in these events. I do have a few recordings I treasure, but out of respect for the true musicians who don't always appreciate having their impromptu experimentations broadcast to the world, I'll leave it to your imagination. We had singing, piano, harmonica, viola, recorder, hand chimes, and all manner of percussion. If I could do this every night I know my mental state would take a drastic turn for the better. And the interaction between me on the tambourine and our granddaughter on the maracas was pretty good physical exercise, too.

We visited several playgrounds and natural parks, including taking the Black Point Wildlife Drive on the east coast. It's a favorite of ours, and a lovely place to see birds. On this trip, however, the more exciting views were of another sort:

And what's a trip to that part of the state without a stop at the Dixie Crossroads restaurant?

We continued to enjoy our final days of this visit, trying not to think too much about the upcoming long trip to Miami and the even longer trip across the Atlantic. And the 10-day quarantine awaiting them back in Switzerland. But they survived all that without catching COVID-19, and so did we. We are so grateful to Florida for welcoming our overseas family, to Switzerland for letting them come (and return), and to all whose efforts made this visit possible. I hadn't fully realized the toll these pandemic restrictions had taken on our mental health until we were reminded of what we were missing. I believe this visit came just in time, and I'm so glad we made the joyful choice.

This December visit seems more than six months distant, given that January and February brought us vaccines and the beginning of more freedom, at least in Florida. It would be April before the Northeast opened up enough for another healing family visit ... and that's a story for another post.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 17, 2021 at 9:03 pm | Edit
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Being a Floridian, and one who has enjoyed several cruises, I was naturally intrigued by the following Viva Frei episode in which attorneys David Freiheit and Robert Barnes discuss Florida's lawsuit against the CDC's shutdown of the cruise industry. The video is just under 14 minutes long.

As I said, the story was of mild interest to me from the beginning. It was already on my "blog about this, maybe" list. However, it turns out to have a personal angle that makes it even more compelling. Unfortunately, I can't talk about it for privacy reasons, but it serves as a clear though pleasant reminder that no matter how nameless and faceless the machinations of government and business seem, there are real, everyday people behind them all. We forget that to our peril.

Last Sunday, Viva & Barnes revisited the story, reporting that the judge, instead of ruling on the case, sent both parties to mediation. (The relevant part of the video is 26:18 - 28:29.)

Here is another example of what a difference "spin" makes in news reporting. Barnes clearly sees the mediation order as an indication that the judge would rule in favor of Florida if he had to, and as a way for the him to let the CDC save face while keeping himself from being accused of "killing granny." However, most news articles I read have reported it as a setback for Governor DeSantis, and pointedly place the blame for cruise ships fleeing Florida, not on the CDC's restrictions, but on both DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for forbidding discrimination against people who have not been vaccinated.

I certainly hope that Barnes is right, and more accurate in his analysis of the judge's inclinations than he was of the judge's gender—though these days I'll admit the latter is a trickier call than it ought to be.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 28, 2021 at 10:02 am | Edit
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Part 1 is here. Now for more of our adventures during our December attempt at choosing joy and life amidst a pandemic-inspired focus on fear and death.

The eight of us did most of our venturing-outside-the-home together (being blessed with a car that seats that exact number), but occasionally we split up, as when two of us spent a day at EPCOT and the rest of us sought our entertainment at a classic American mini-golf course. Both groups had great fun. Credit goes to Disney for keeping their parks open and at the same time uncrowded so that the experience felt safe as well as fun. Remember that back then we knew much less about outdoor transmission (or lack thereof) of the virus, and people were nearly as scared outdoors as inside. The golf course was similarly comfortable.

 
Left: Congo River Golf; Right: EPCOT at night. Click to enlarge.

We also separated to give Janet and Stephan a chance to celebrate their anniversary on their own. They chose a hotel on Daytona Beach, and we joined them the next day for the chance to swim in the Atlantic Ocean on the first day of winter. Porter and I declined the swim, as it was 66 degrees, cloudy, and windy. That didn't stop the hardy Swiss, however! I didn't realize until we arrived that they had chosen a hotel on the same section of beach where I spent so many happy hours as a child—a five-minute walk from my grandparents' house. The coquina-built bandshell is much the same, and so is the ocean, but almost nothing else.

 

Closer to home, we visited the Orange County History Center, which thoughtfully made it possible to see the good stuff while avoiding the decidedly-child-inappropriate special exhibit of history's darker side. We picked out and decorated our Christmas tree, made cookies, and generally prepared for the holiday, which is not surprisingly much more fun with children around. We visited playgrounds, worked on various projects at home, swam some more, and sang and played music together.

Only twice in our entire month together did I feel the least bit uncomfortable with regard to COVID-19. The worst was at our local pizza party arcade, since we arrived at a time when a large party of people without masks crowded the place. Fortunately it was easy to return later.

The second time was at Sea World. I mean no particular criticism of the park, which clearly took precautions very seriously: taking temperatures, requiring masks, keeping even the outdoor stadiums at low, well-distanced capacity. But overall the park was more crowded than allowed for comfortable distancing, unlike our experience at EPCOT. However, this was on December 23, one of the busiest days of the year, one we'd normally have avoided like the plague. (Perhaps that analogy isn't the best one to use at this time.) The experience was overall delightful and certainly much more pleasant than it would have been in a normal year.

 

More to come.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at 8:04 am | Edit
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According to this article

During an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," [CDC director Rochelle] Walensky was asked about vaccinated Americans who have contracted the virus—and whether anyone has died from an infection, despite being inoculated. Walensky said the CDC is aware of 223 so-called "break-through" infections in vaccinated Americans, but clarified that many of those individuals died due to other causes. "Not all of those 223 cases who had COVID actually died of COVID," she said. "They may have had mild disease but died, for example, of a heart attack."

This makes perfect sense to me. From the beginning of this pandemic, I have been frustrated by seeing a clear tendency to report all deaths in anyway associated with COVID-19 as caused by the virus. Witness the testimony of a friend of ours, a nurse, who (in another state) was ordered to count as new, active COVID-19 cases anyone who tested positive for the COVID-19 antibodies—which meant that many cases were counted multiple times. And that of an Emergency Medical Technician I know who only partially joked, "If someone with COVID-19 is run over by a truck, his death is counted as a COVID-19 death." Then there's the death I know about that was put down as due to COVID-19 but should have been "nursing home neglect." Of course these are isolated examples, but good luck trying to convince me that they aren't representative of widespread mis-information.

What it comes down to is this: What are you trying to prove?

When the powers-that-be were trying to justify elaborate and invasive regulations in reaction to the pandemic, it was to their advantage that the numbers be as large as possible. But when the object is to reassure the public of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, the advantage lies in giving the virus no more blame than is absolutely undeniable.

I happen to believe that the CDC is closer to the truth in the case of the vaccine, but that's not the point. What's important is that with every report, every news story, every rumor,

Always, always, always ask, Cui bono?

Who benefits? What are they trying to prove? Follow the money.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 22, 2021 at 7:54 am | Edit
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This is the post I started to write five months ago, but postponed to make sure everyone involved got through their quarantines and other impedimenta successfully.


I like to think that we've been more careful than most during this pandemic, though more due to the concern of our children (who apparently think we are "old") than our own. But when you're retired, and introverted, and not easily bored, staying home is a pretty easy option. We wore masks before our county made them mandatory, shopped only for what we deemed necessities, and used the stores' "senior hours" when we could. I'm also the only person I know who consistently washed (or quarantined) whatever we brought home.

But all that isolation, particularly the lack of physical touch, is hard even on introverts.

Hardest of all was cancelling our big family reunion scheduled for April 2020—coinciding with what was supposed to be the first visit home in six years of our Swiss family. Following close behind were missing our nephew's wedding, our normal summertime visit to the Northeast, and our long tradition of a huge family-and-friends Thanksgiving week of feasting and fun, all of which would have involved being with most of our American-based family. Plus the breaking my fourteen-year streak of travelling overseas to visit our expat daughter and her family (one year to Japan, thirteen to Switzerland).`

I know that doesn't begin to compare with the hardship endured by those who were forceably separated from loved ones who were sick or dying. But when the "temporary measures to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed" turned into unending months of restrictions—with our hospitals so far from overcrowded as to be financially strapped due to underutilization—even normally compliant people like us began to chafe.

Even as we relaxed and let go of much of our fear, we remained vigilant in our precautions, for a very good reason: a light, not at the end of the tunnel, but a much-needed illumination in the middle of the tunnel. We needed to stay healthy, because...

The reunion remained off the table, due to onerous quarantine requirements imposed by the states the rest of our family live in. But thanks to much work on their part, and a state government more enlightened than most, our European family was able to visit us in December. Rarely have I been so happy to be living in Florida, which welcomed them with open arms. So of course did we! Mind you, I think the CDC was still recommending we wear masks all the time with visitors and stay six feet apart, but naturally that didn't last six seconds! A year apart from family is far too long, and that goes tenfold for grandchildren. Sometimes you just do what you have to do.

We did the risk/benefit analysis—and made the joyful choice.

Porter had to drive to Miami to pick them up, because so many flights had been cancelled. But he would have driven farther than that to bring them home!

We had been prepared to stay mostly around the house, just enjoying each other's presence. And at first we did a lot of that, since merely being in America was adventure enough for the grandkids. But they were here for a month, and most of the tourist attractions had reopened, albeit at reduced capacity, so we took full advantage.

Kennedy Space Center was amazing. We were not the only visitors in the park, but at times it seemed like it. Sadly, some of the attractions were still COVID-closed, but there was certainly plenty to see. The following photo is for the lefties in our family:

One of the trips I enjoyed the most was to Blue Spring State Park, which was visited by more manatees than we've ever seen naturally in one place. The weather was perfect—that is, cold. Cold weather drives the manatees from the ocean and the rivers into the relatively warm water (about 72 degrees) of the springs. The air temperature made most of us keep our masks on even though that was not required except inside the buildings, since we discovered them to be very effective nose-warmers.

Another favorite activity was swimming. (Not with the manatees; that's no longer allowed.) The intent was for most of it to be in our own pool, and indeed it was, but there had been a glitch: We purchased a pool heater, knowing that our pool temperatures in December can dip into the 50's (Fahrenheit). However, the unit that was supposed to have been installed before our guests arrived was delayed again and again. Whether it was actually the fault of the pandemic is anyone's guess, but that's what took the blame. It finally arrived just a few days before they had to return to Switzerland. Until then, the children swam bravely, if not at length, in the cold water, and all of us enjoyed the (somewhat) heated pool at our local recreation center. And then they really appreciated our own heated pool for those last few days.

To be continued.... 

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 19, 2021 at 8:10 am | Edit
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I realize that for very few of my readers is the question of whether or not a pregnant woman should get a COVID-19 vaccine of any importance. Nonetheless this is worth a post just because it is one of those laugh-or-cry articles.

The source is the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, which I generally respect. Here's a link to the whole article for those of you who seriously want the information. It's a serious business and an important decision to make.

For everyone else, however, here are a few snippets that caught my eye and inspired me to write. The bolded emphasis is my own.

Globally, over 200 million people are pregnant each year. Whether they should be offered the new COVID vaccines as they become available is an important public health policy decision. Whether pregnant people should seek vaccination is a deeply personal decision.

Note the term "pregnant people." The article goes out of its way, to the point of being very annoying, to avoid the term, "pregnant women." Exactly how many pregnant men have there been in the history of the world? I do, however, appreciate the acknowledgement that it's a personal decision, although later on the article seems to find a problem with that.

Evidence to date suggests that people who are pregnant face a higher risk of severe disease and death from COVID compared to people who are not pregnant. For instance, pregnant people are three times more likely to require admission to intensive care and to need invasive ventilation. The overall risk of death among pregnant people is low, but it is elevated compared to similar people who are not pregnant. Some studies suggest that COVID in pregnancy might be associated with increased rates of preterm birth.

There are still significant unknowns: How do risks vary by trimester? What are the risks of asymptomatic infection? Further, most current information about COVID and pregnancy comes from high-income countries, limiting its global generalizability.

Although there is not yet pregnancy-specific data about COVID vaccines from clinical trials, the vaccines have been studied in pregnant laboratory animals. Called developmental and reproductive toxicity (DART) studies, research with pregnant animals can provide reassurance about moving forward with vaccine research in pregnant people. 

All three of these vaccines offer a very high level of protection against severe COVID. There is little reason to believe these vaccines will be less effective in pregnant people than they are in people of comparable age who are not pregnant.

The next sentence is the one that made me sure I had to write about this. It's the kind of thing I would have shared on Facebook, except that I'm trying to reduce my Facebook presence, so it goes here instead. With more words, naturally.

Professional societies, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal-Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, all support COVID vaccination in pregnancy when the benefits outweigh the risks.

What, pray tell, does that say that has any usefulness? Who in his right mind would support something when the risks outweigh the benefits? So how is this a meaningful statement at all?

The absence of pregnancy-specific data around COVID vaccines continues an unfair pattern in which evidence about safety of new vaccines for pregnant people lags behind. This unfairness is ethically problematic in at least two important ways.

So, it's unfair because we don't have enough data on the effects of the vaccines in pregnancy? Would they have held back the vaccines until sufficient data had been gathered so that the information was "equal" for everyone? That would truly have been unfair to pregnant women, because letting the rest of the population get vaccinated helps them whether or not they feel safe getting the vaccine for themselves.

First, people may be denied vaccine, or may face barriers in accessing vaccine, because they are pregnant.

I agree that's a problem. Because the data is insufficient, in absence of a clear danger to mother and/or child in getting the vaccine, it should not be withheld from a woman who feels comfortable with it.

Second, even when pregnant people are eligible for vaccination, because public health authorities have not explicitly recommended COVID vaccines in pregnancy, the burden of making decisions about vaccination has shifted to pregnant people. 

And where else should it be? Medical advice should not be handed down like commandments from heaven. People need the best information available, and the freedom to make their own decisions—even wrong ones.

Come to think of it, even commandments from heaven come with the free will to ignore them.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 25, 2021 at 5:12 pm | Edit
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Porter received the following in an e-mail from George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures. At the end Friedman writes, "A referral is the best compliment. Feel free to forward this email to friends and colleagues," so I trust he will not mind if I quote substantially from it. You could read the entire article here, but it is behind a pay wall. As he often is, Friedman is spot-on. (Bolded emphasis mine.)

On Thursday, my wife and I got our second COVID-19 vaccination. ... The vaccine is incredibly successful, we’re told, which I would expect given the amount of money spent by my government in developing it. But my government is telling me that in spite of the vaccine nothing will change. I must maintain social distance, wear a face mask and so on. The vaccine’s creators say it’s unclear if the virus can still infect someone. ... [But] the continuous usage of masks can have unintended consequences. 

It is often said that wearing a mask and maintaining distance is a trivial burden to pay for safety. But I take issue with that argument. ... Talking is far more complex than merely hearing words. Humans communicate much with facial expressions....

Humans use the face to identify threats; criminals wear masks as much to hide their intentions as they do to conceal their identities. Someone enraged at you or planning to harm you looks a certain way, someone delighted to see you another. It is not only the mouth that speaks to you. The muscles in the face can reveal tension or pleasure. The nose moves. The eyes reveal much. Facial expressions are much harder to interpret behind a mask. If you are very bored, ask your spouse to put on a mask and interpret their true feelings by the eyes alone. It can be done, but without context the probability of being wrong soars. The mouth, nose and lower half of the face are the checksums on what is said, and the mask impedes that greatly.

You can text or phone, but the ability to see those you speak to, or stand close to a stranger you just met, is indispensable to being human. So by definition, masks and distancing disrupt the process of being human. Ironically, if someone is speaking with a well-made mask, they are frequently incomprehensible unless you are a lot closer than six feet apart. The mask and social distancing tend to be mutually destructive.

Now, if these measures are the only ways to avoid mass death, then obviously they are necessary. But the assertion that these measures protect without cost is untrue. On multiple levels they impose costs that we may not yet understand. Learning how to play as a child, exploring the limits of tactile interaction, is essential to adulthood. My argument is not against these measures, if they are truly vital, but the cost-benefit must be addressed, and if the measures involve real costs, they should be imposed cautiously. Finding out if the vaccine makes me not infectious must be figured out quickly, as I fear the costs of a year of massive social and economic disruption are mounting. If the mask is essential to prevent another surge, so be it. But do not treat social distancing and masking as a trivial matter.

I worry most of all for the children. There are already many people, e.g. those on the autism spectrum and those we casually referred to as nerds in the days before everything had to have a diagnosis, who have difficulty reading social cues. Thanks to the pandemic restrictions, we now have a large cohort of children who have spent a critical formative year without broad access to facial cues, and with limited in-person social interaction. There is no way this will not have a detrimental affect on their socialization.

Long-time readers will know that I am not, absolutely not, worried that children are not going to school. For decades I have been convinced that education is essential but school is not; in fact, school is often out-and-out harmful. I laugh when people express concern that home-educated children are missing out on socialization, because their opportunities for social interactions with people of all ages and backgrounds are generally much richer than those of children who spend most of their time in school classrooms. But the "homeschooling" of children who normally go to school is a very different thing, and they do not likely have the rich networks those who homeschool have already developed. Plus, during the pandemic homeschools have also been shut off from their usual experiences. Whether public-, private-, or home-educated, a generation of children is being marked, and not for the better, by masks and anti-social distancing.

As if this weren't concern enough, apparently re-opening schools is also dangerous. There's this news from Quebec, Canada, where in at least three separate incidents the government has had to recall face masks that had been widely distributed, including to schools and day care centers, and were later feared to be causing lung damage.

It is one thing to wear a mask for short periods of time—though I wouldn't ever be thrilled at the prospect of inhaling toxic materials—but quite another for children—children!—to be endangering their lungs for hours on end, and months on end, while in school. We're so concerned, and rightly, about second-hand smoke in homes where children live, but for all we know this could be as bad or worse.

I've been told many times that we shouldn't fuss about wearing masks, because doctors and nurses and others wear masks professionally for long periods of time. Actually, I worry about them, too—but at least they are adults, whose lungs and social skills have long passed their most sensitive formative years. They are wearing them much more now than they used to—my eye doctor couldn't get his insurance renewed unless he had a policy of wearing a mask at all times in his office. In fact, I'm wondering if the habit of medical workers wearing masks, as important as it may be for reasons quite apart from COVID-19, might be playing a significant role in the depersonalization of medical care. I know, there are many factors involved. But when one's doctor or nurse looks more like a normal human being and less like a faceless alien, the medical care feels better. Especially, I daresay, to children.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 10, 2021 at 6:18 am | Edit
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It looks as if my Pfizer vaccine worked.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 20, 2021 at 6:38 am | Edit
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I've just discovered another reason I'm keeping my masks when all this brouhaha is over.

Two nights ago I woke up in the middle of the night with post-nasal drip and a persistent cough. I was too tired to recognize the symptoms at the time, but the morning's "snowfall" made the cause clear: it's oak pollen season again. The last thing I had done before going to bed had been to take some mild exercise on the back porch, in the cool of the night. It usually helps me sleep—but not when it sends oak pollen deep into my lungs.

Last night I had an inspiration, and did my bedtime exercises while wearing my mask. Porter can't wear a mask while exercising because it immediately gets drenched with sweat. But did I mention that these are mild exercises? Not a problem. A little weird, but okay. And of great benefit: I slept very well. (I would have said, "like a baby," but in my experience babies wake up every two hours or so at night and want to eat. Who made up that simile, anyway?)

Two data points aren't enough for correlation, let alone causation. But they are enough for hope.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at 8:32 am | Edit
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What current generations think of as ancient history is as alive as yesterday to those of us who lived through it.

A long time ago (1970's) in a galaxy far, far, away (the state of New York), a new mother innocently asked if it was normal to experience orgasm while breastfeeding. (It's not common, but it happens. Just as orgasm during childbirth sometimes happens. Not to anyone I know, though.)

These were days when natural childbirth was just beginning to gain popularity, and breastfeeding was still considered to be a bit weird, especially by doctors. The woman was reported to the authorities (some version of Child Protective Services) who decided she must be a sexual deviant. They forceably separated her from her baby. My memory of it is a bit hazy, but I believe it was after La Leche League got involved that the situation was resolved in the mother's favor—but by then she and her nursing infant had been separated for several days. The justification given by the authorities for their behavior, not to say their ignorance, was that it is better to falsely traumatize 100 innocent families than to let one potential evildoer slip through their hands. Sadly, this family was far from the only one similarly torn apart in those days. Maybe it's still going on; I don't know. I'm not as close to those issues as I was back then.

These memories came back in strength as I listened to this Viva Frei report. Freiheit isn't any happier than I am that COVID-19 is pre-empting so much of his law vlog, but needs must when the devil drives. Who indeed but the devil can be driving Canada to force apart law-abiding, healthy Canadian families—including very young children?

The Regional Municipality of Peel is near Toronto, Ontario. There the recommendations for what to do if someone in your child's class or daycare tests positive for COVID-19 include the following:

The child must self isolate, which means:

  • Stay in a separate bedroom
  • Eat in a separate room apart from others
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible
  • If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others

Remember that this includes elementary school children, and even those in day care. Very young children are to be isolated from their families—from their mothers!—for two weeks. Two weeks is a very long time in child-years.

And this is for children with no symptoms at all. What about those who are sick, whether or not with COVID-19? Is a child with an upset stomach to be left in his own vomit? What are these people thinking?

What child, even a healthy one, can endure 14 days of isolation without mental and emotional scars? In prisons, solitary confinement is a serious punishment. Freiheit makes the legitimate point that people who have been arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime have more protections than those who are suspected of possibly harboring the COVID-19 virus.

Another question comes to mind: Do all Canadians have big houses and small families? Or does the government plan to take away the children of people who don't happen to have a bedroom to spare for isolation? Apparently the fear that such official interference will take their children is driving some parents to comply with these horrendous rules. That and the $5,000 fine for non-compliance. If parents did these acts on their own they would be accused of child abuse.

I apologize if some of you think I'm being too alarmist, and maybe listening to too many YouTube videos. And yet I don't apologize—someone has to broadcast what's happening. Someone has to tell the victims' stories. Freiheit himself thought at first this had to be false news, but couldn't avoid the conclusion that it is all too real.

There is a little good news: apparently there has been enough outrage over these regulations that some politicians are now distancing themselves from them. It's an ongoing story. But one thing is for sure: If people don't speak up, the road from bad to worse is a swift one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 1, 2021 at 9:40 am | Edit
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I like the Viva Frei video law blog, in part because although David Freiheit pulls no punches he is also generally happy, positive, and willing to see more than one side of a situation. But this pandemic—or more precisely, governmental reaction to the pandemic—is taking its toll on his optimism.

I haven't said much here about the horrendous rules now in place for anyone who dares try to enter Canada—Canadian citizens included—but I'm posting the following because, as Freiheit says, people need to know.

I've set the video to start part way through. The first story, about employees at a Canadian Tire store going vigilante on a man who was not wearing a mask, is definitely concerning. Here in Florida we had someone in a convenience store check-out line actually pull a gun on a woman who was standing too close for his comfort. But in the Canadian Tire event there is stupidity on both sides, and I think its inclusion distracts and detracts from the main story, in which the Canadian government is the problem. 

In short, in the name of safety, the Canadian government has taken the authority to compel people, including Canadian citizens, to be taken off to undisclosed locations and detained for an indeterminate time without due process. Heinous enough, but more harrowing is that these people are not told where they are going, and their families are not told where they are going. What's more, once they arrive at their "quarantine hotels," they are not allowed to use social media, and not allowed to disclose their locations.

So there you go. Innocent people with every right to be in Canada, whisked off to detention facilities, and no one knows where they have gone, other than that government officials have taken them. They can't leave, and they can't tell the world what's happening to them. Presumably all this is done in the name of public health, in fear of COVID-19. (I can't, however, imagine how the communications blackout is contributing to anyone's well-being.) This means that in addition to being "disappeared" and alone, these people are likely sick and alone. Even in the best of times we all know how closely their families must watch out for people in hospitals and nursing homes, because if they don't, bad things happen. They just do. I've lost track of the number of such incidents I know about personally. What are the odds these people are getting good medical care? As you can tell from the news story, they're not even getting decent security.

I'm aware that some people reading this will find Freiheit a bit too excitable. As I said, he's always enthusiastic about what he says, but as the situation in Canada gets more and more oppressive, he's getting more and more upset.

Perhaps rightly so.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 28, 2021 at 7:45 am | Edit
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