I didn’t want to write about this subject but several of my students have asked me about my view. Austria (where I hope to teach in September next year) is now in the grip of the fourth wave and has introduced new lockdowns and vaccine mandates. The German health minister Jens Spahn a few days ago said, “by the end of [northern hemisphere] winter everybody will be either vaccinated, recovered or dead”. What Spahn meant is that Delta is so infectious that by the end of winter it will have gotten to everybody. There is no place to hide from this extremely infectious virus. It has a reproductive rate of up to 9, that means every infected person will infect nine others on average.
So, let’s look at the option of recovery. I have heard many people say that 99% of infected people will recover from COVID and therefore it was not necessary to take the vaccine. Let’s take that statement apart. The 1% lethality takes into account that you have an excellent health care system at your fingertips. Only one percent die in countries where enough ventilators or ICU beds are available. Depending on study and country, if you get infected you may have a 2-3% chance to be in need of a ventilator. Not a nice thing. You will have to get intubated. Then there is a 4-5% chance to be in need of an intensive care unit place. ICU’s are excellent and they really increase your chance of survival. But the light is on all night long, there are nurses going in and out all night long and machines are beeping. You are unlikely to sleep at all in your ICU time. It is now accepted that patients may leave ICU with post-traumatic stress disorder. How many things in your life do you do in other areas where you take 4-5% chance to end up in such an environment? Even if you don’t need an ICU you may have around an 8-10% chance to require hospitalisation (fluids, monitoring, etc.). Okay, you may say I’m happy to take that chance over vaccination any day.
But the next hurdle then is long COVID. In this Medscape article you will see that 40% of all survivors end up with long-COVID of varying intensity (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/963268?spon=17&uac=118403PN&impID=3810496&sso=true&faf=1&src=WNL_mdpls_211119_mscpedit_wir). You may end up with chronic fatigue, you could be bed-ridden or end up demented. Dementia in long-COVID can come, for example, from micro-strokes due to blood clots. Remember the blood clots, because of which many didn’t want to take Astra Zeneca? Well blood clots due to COVID are 600 times more likely than due to vaccination. The Medscape article above states that 100 Million people worldwide had or have long-COVID. An unknown percentage of those will have to go on invalid pensions because they don’t get better. These are some numbers hiding behind the statement, “99% recover”.
The reason why we have a fourth wave in many European countries is because not enough people are vaccinated. Consider Delta’s reproductive rate of 9, if only 62% of the total population are vaccinated (as is the case in Austria), that’s still 38% to infect. Delta will rip through those like wildfire. Many of them will end up in overflowing hospitals. Worldwide already 160,000 health care workers died during the pandemic. They died due to viral overload (having been exposed to too many infected patients) or due to exhaustion and suicide (the industry has a work ethos that does not allow you to rest if you can still help your patients). We can avoid most of that if enough people are vaccinated so that we can avoid or curtail a fourth wave.
In this article (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/23/covid-patients-in-icu-now-almost-all-unvaccinated-says-oxford-scientist) Oxford scientist Prof Sir Andrew Pollard says that most patients in ICU today are unvaccinated and that those fully vaccinated, with a few exceptions, will only experience mild symptoms. Pollard calls it “little more than an unpleasant inconvenience”. However, he says, booster shots, mask wearing, will be necessary to avoid an increase in cases in the UK.
I’ll certainly have my booster shot as soon as the recommendation comes out. I’m not keen on vaccines nor on booster shots. But I’m much less keen on being in ICU or being the one that tips one of our comrade healthcare workers into viral overload or suicide. I’m an extremely healthy person with a hyperactive immune system. The great thing about that apart from the occasional allergy (overreacting immune system) is that I have not been sick in decades. This type of immune system, however, does not help with COVID. People like me regularly die in the second week of infection from a so-called cytokine storm. That beautiful term means that your immune system overreacts and turns against itself until it self-destructs.
Now, coming to the chart at the top of this article, I took this screenshot from the Instagram page of the European Commission. It shows the percentage of adult population vaccinated against the 14-day rolling average death rate per 1 Million population. As you can see there is a clear correlation. Second on the list Portugal has 92% of the adult population fully vaccinated and 10 deaths per Million population. Bulgaria has only 29% of the adult population fully vaccinated and 325 deaths per Million. These numbers speak a powerful language.
Finally to my home country Australia. After a shaky start we have gone to over 80% of the population above 16 year of age vaccinated. In this article (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-11-23/fourth-covid-wave-in-europe-will-australia-follow/100640728) Raina MacIntyre, professor of bio security at UNSW, writes about what Australia has to do to avoid the fourth wave that currently has part of Europe in its grip. I’m a great fan of MacIntyre’s work. Not many scientists have the talent, or they don’t bother, to explain complex problems to the general populace. And politicians often don’t engender the trust that we may want to understand them. MacIntyre writes that a high vaccination rate, booster shots, vaccinating children (which are increasingly the drivers of new outbreaks), continued mask wearing and contract-tracing are all necessary. A vaccination rate of 70% of the population would have been enough to get the original COVID strain under control. But Delta has raised the stakes and makes the vaccination of 5-11 year old children essential. Some vaccines, like the Pfizer, which I had, have a waning immunity that makes a booster after 6 months necessary. Still much better than contributing to a fourth wave.
A few months ago our shire, which had previously been spared from the worst of the pandemic, was plunged into a five-week lockdown by a gentleman who ‘didn’t believe in COVID’. Due to the advances of medicine and public policy we didn’t have a major pandemic in 100 years and pandemics have gone a bit off the radar. But they have played a major role in history. Emperor Vespasian sent several Roman legions down the silk road to enforce taxes. They brought small pox back home. Vespasian himself and about half of the Roman military personnel died. This was half the cause of the fall of the Roman empire. The Black Death, a bubonic plague pandemic in the 14th century, caused up to 200 Million dead https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death with half of Europe’s population wiped out.
When the first fleet of colonialists arrived in Botany Bay (today Sydney), they infected the local Aborigines with small pox. Because they didn’t have antibodies up to 80% of them died. The conquistadores used infectious diseases in the Americas with great lethality. A Spanish military expedition through Florida in the 16th century was met with stiff resistance and had to depart without achieving their aims. The conquistadores reported of 30 fortified cities, which they could not invade. 30 years later a second campaign was mounted, which was met with no resistance at all. The first expedition imported the small pox. The local population had no antibodies whatsoever. 90% of the population died.
When we look back at the last 100 years, they may, with their lack of pandemics, appear as a historical aberration. The problem with enjoying such an aberration is that when the first pandemic came around, many of us simply saw it as an inconvenience to their lives imposed through public health measures, as an invasion into privacy and personal freedom, and as a reduction of personal choices.
It’s not about freedom and choice. It’s a pandemic. If we all work together we can get this thing under control. If only two thirds of us work together it can go on for years as every unvaccinated population remains a breeding ground for new variants.
The whole of yoga is built onto the foundation of dharma. That’s a complex term that means somewhere in between ‘doing what is right’ and ‘doing one’s duty’. In the Yoga Yajnavalkya, sage Yajnavalkya says ‘yoga cannot succeed without doing one’s duty towards society’. Dharma in yoga consists of yoga’s first two components yama and niyama, which are duty towards society and duty towards oneself. The first and foremost yama is ahimsa, often translated as non-violence but it means more. It means to do no harm. That’s again a complex concept as sometimes we have to accept a bit of harm now to avoid much harm later on. For example we may have to lock up a perpetrator to avoid more harm to victims later on. That’s a dangerous thing, as the perpetrator may defend themselves and could come to harm. Police officers could easily come to harm in that process.
In case of the pandemic the situation luckily is more clear-cut. By getting vaccinated we are reducing harm to ourselves in the case of infection, and we are reducing the likelihood of infecting others. We are also reducing the likelihood of being a burden to our highly overloaded healthcare system and infecting frontline workers in the process. Finally we are reducing the probability of becoming a breeding ground for new variants. Getting vaccinated is the dharmic thing to do.