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.
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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.
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.
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.
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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.
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....
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
I posted previously some of the reasoning behind our decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here's how it played out.
Initially I was not impressed by the system for administering the vaccines. Porter spent a week or so on the computer (and once on the phone) trying to get an appointment, only to run into all sorts of website problems and be locked out until all available appointments were gone. Again and again. He had signed up with at least three venues for notification of available vaccine. Finally, Orange County came through.
The website was definitely a problem, and from what I heard the websites of the other vaccine providers were no better. (And still aren't.) After navigating some glitches and laboriously entering pages of personal data, we finally came to a page where we could choose a (supposedly) available date and time. At that point the system would fail. Most times, fortunately, it would send us back to the "pick a time" screen to try again. But sometimes it would crash more seriously, and send us further back. More than once Porter had to re-enter all the personal data. I didn't get ejected that far; most of the time it was just a matter of click-fail, click-fail, click-fail ... for 40 minutes. Then suddenly, Porter's machine came back with "appointment confirmed"! Five minutes or so later, so did mine. It felt like winning the lottery! (Not that either of us has ever experienced winning the lottery. But we can imagine.)
Porter and I have each been paid to make computer systems work, so I will allow myself I little frustration at the poor IT work done these days. I blame decades of relentless cost-cutting, lowest-bid contracts, and consequent poor morale—though I admit prejudice in the matter, having lived through it ourselves. In any case, the website design left much to be desired—a situation which, incidentally, we have found at several other governmental websites, including those of the U. S. Mint and the Affordable Care Act.
We know much less about the medical and logistical side of administering the vaccines themselves, but from a personal point of view, we were much impressed.
For the first dose of the vaccine, we drove down to the Orange County Convention Center, where the bottom floor of a parking garage was set up for very efficient work. We never had to leave our car. It helps that the OCCC was designed to handle crowds, and the wait was not too long as we wended our way toward the entrance. We had filled out most of the paperwork online, and had just a few brief medical questions and maybe a signature or two to deal with at this point. The biggest surprise was discovering that we were getting the Pfizer vaccine, since the online paperwork had specified Moderna. We didn't care which we got as long as the second dose was the same brand.
Bar codes kept track of who we were and what we were getting. The one question that arose was quickly answered by a doctor who was zooming from car to car, as needed, on a skateboard! After a quick jab we were shunted to an outside parking lot for 15 minutes of waiting to be sure we didn't pass out, go into shock, or grow horns. One more scan of our bar codes and we were off home. A smooth-as-silk process, expertly handled. For us, the whole affair took about two hours, the majority of which was travel time.
Four weeks later, we reprised the event. The lines of cars and the vaccination process were faster, but the traffic getting to the Convention Center was worse, so elapsed time remained about the same. Nothing to complain about.
"What about the after effects?" you ask. For the first vaccine, nothing at all but a slight soreness at the vaccination site, just as with any shot. For the second, it appeared to be the same until almost exactly 72 hours later, when Porter developed mild flu-like symptoms: muscle aches, tiredness, slight headache, and feeling as if he might be getting a fever (though we didn't confirm that). They lasted about six hours, after which he was fine.
Did I have that reaction, too? We'll never know. You see, that was the day I had chosen to have a troublesome tooth extracted, and when Porter started showing symptoms I was so doped up on fever-reducing and pain-killing medications (one extra-strength Tylenol and three Advil every six hours, as needed) that anything would have been completely masked. Vaccine reactions were far from my thoughts at that time.
Contrary to the way some folks read my previous post, I am most definitely not in favor of mandatory vaccinations. :) Voluntary vaccination is a different matter, however, and we are happy to have this under our belts. Here's a shout-out to all those who made the process go so smoothly. (But can you look into getting the website fixed, please?)
Note to those urging everyone to get vaccinated: If you don't soon ease up on the restrictions placed on those who have chosen to be vaccinated, you'll be giving a huge negative incentive to those who have not.
Yesterday I had a tooth extracted. I was sent home with a bewildering list of do's and don'ts, but the one I remember best is this:
Go home. Eat ice cream. Watch movies.
Compliance has not been an issue.
For the record, I decided to stop using my Fitbit at least a week before they announced the sell-out to Google.
First, it started acting erratically. Twice I thought I had lost it forever, which happened because I grew tired of wearing it on my wrist, and began keeping it in my pocket or purse. But each time, I managed to find it again, and what's more it started working better. However, the die was cast. Having had to face the prospect of no longer having my Fitbit, I decided that after two and a half years I'd already gained about as much as I was going to, in the form of new habits and awareness. Continued use had become more annoying than helpful.
Thus last Thursday, when I received an e-mail from them with the subject line, "Fitbit Joins Google," I knew I had made the right decision. See my recent post, "Big Tech, Big Brother."
It's only one small step. Google, Facebook, and Microsoft still own far too much of my life. As always, the goal is to minimize the damage without totally cutting off the benefits. How long can I ride the wave without drowning?
After about 40 minutes each Thursday morning (and much earlier work by Porter), we're signed up to get the Moderna vaccine next week.
Aren't I worried about getting a new type of vaccine that was rushed into production and has had no long-term testing?
Of course I am. I'd be a fool not to be. I look at the people who treat getting vaccinated as some sort of essential religious rite and wonder how they can be so naïve. These are people who otherwise seem sensible and rational. But vaccines are not safe. That's "not safe" as in "some people are going to have adverse reactions, some of them horrific, and some people are going to die." "Not safe" as in "it's not safe to drive your car to work." As in "it's not safe to jog past a tree because a branch might fall down and kill you." (That one happened here in Central Florida not that long ago.)
We don't get vaccines because they're safe. We get them because we have determined that they are better than the alternative, and we hope they are safe enough. "Better" may be defined as "safer"—or it may involve other criteria as well, such as "I don't need this pertussis vaccine for myself, but I'm planning to visit my newborn grandson, so I'll get it for his sake." In any case, we decide to continue jogging, and hope that we will not be the unlucky one passing under the wrong tree at the wrong time.
However, no one should make that decision for you. Pressure—let along compulsion—either way is wrong. I'm not out-and-out pro-vaccine, and I'm not out-and-out anti-vaccine. I'm pro-common sense.
I'm fully aware that this vaccine may later be pulled from the market because of some adverse effect or another. I've seen that happen enough times in my lifetime to think otherwise. So why am I taking it? Because I have looked at the risk/benefit analysis and concluded it's worth it. I've participated in a vaccine trial before (Haemophilus influenzae b) with no problems. As a medical center employee, I took the swine flu vaccine back in 1976—the last time the U.S. government felt pressured to prevent "the worst epidemic since 1918"—despite its apparent link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome. I've subjected my body to numerous travel-related vaccines (such as typhoid and yellow fever). I've had the old-style pertussis vaccine and also the new one. I've had both the Salk and the Sabin polio vaccines. I've even been vaccinated for smallpox. In all this, I've never had an adverse vaccine reaction. (I don't count getting miserably sick for a day after each of my first two typhoid vaccines; that was considered par for the course and left no lasting damage.)
I'm not reckless in grabbing any new vaccine that comes around. For years I skipped the hepatitis b vaccine because, as my doctor said, my risk factors were so low it wasn't worth it. (But when we started travelling to more countries with less robust medical infrastructure, he and I both agreed it was then time to take that one.) Our kids never got the smallpox vaccine that was essential in my early days, because the risks from the vaccine are currently greater than the possibility of getting exposed to the disease. I never had nor ever intend to get the measles, rubella, or chicken pox vaccines—for the very good reason that I already have a better immunity than vaccines can give, having had those diseases in my childhood. But since my body seems to be pretty good at handling vaccines, I'm willing to give this new one a chance.
So much for the risks. I figure I'm probably in more danger driving to and from the vaccination site than from the vaccine itself.
And the benefits? Partly they're for me, and partly for others. I figure the quicker we develop herd immunity as a society, the sooner we can shed our masks and go back to hugging and travelling and living. I trust that if I develop an immunity to COVID-19, I won't pass the virus on to someone else. I hope I'll also be pushing us forward along the path to re-opening state and international borders. Whether you believe all the shutdowns and quarantines were necessary actions or foolish, I think we can agree that keeping grandparents away from their grandchildren, and letting people die shut away and alone, are very bad ideas. Inhumane ideas. If I can contribute to ending this oppression, I want to do my part.
I'd rather not have worked so hard to get our appointments. Maybe there's someone who needs this vaccine more. But Florida seems to be doing a good job of making the vaccines available—I know other states that haven't even begun to offer them—so we might as well get the thing done while we're still considered high priority (over 65).
At least we didn't have to make the decision about which vaccine to get; we "chose" the Moderna vaccine simply because that's what was first available to us. Personally, I leaned toward the Oxford, simply because of this meme:
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both effective, protective and safe.
But the Oxford one seems to be effective, protective, and safe.
Stay tuned for more of our vaccine experiences as they happen.