Posts Tagged ‘Covid’

And here come the Myanmar generals…

February 1, 2021

You could not make it up.

Xi Jinping. Vladimir Putin. Myanmar generals.

Covid is now providing cover for every villain on the planet to do his worst (they do all seem to be men).

The generals in Myanmar, having been crushed in a free election, and then saying they wouldn’t do a coup, have done one.

What a mess. The key observations in the linked article come from the venerable Thant Myint-U:

<The author and historian Thant Myint-U wrote on on Twitter: “The doors just opened to a very different future. I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next. And remember Myanmar’s a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic & religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves.”>

I should say that I am not a big fan of Aung San Suu Kyi. She seems to me to be a hippy and hippies don’t make good leaders if you want economic development and an end to poverty (remember Ghandi?).

About three years ago I was asked by a foundation that works on land reform to go to Myanmar and I met some of Ms Aung’s advisers and ministers. I was appalled by the non-quality and intellectual laziness of much of what I saw. (It was like I imagine having dinner with George Osborne or Boris Johnson would be.)

Still, none of this justifies putting the lunatics back in charge of the asylum.

I should also say that, although I have twice been in the same room as her, I have never actually spoken to the little lady, so there is some room for doubt about my opinion of her.

I also wonder if the Communist Party of China is meddling in this coup. It wouldn’t be a big surprise.

Intelligentsia fake news

January 21, 2021

We’ve had four years of hearing about idiots spreading fake news on social media and media generally. This isn’t a great example, but it nicely illustrates the depths that the educated have observed and laughed at:

What, though, I suspect is more insidious and dangerous is the ‘educated’ classes using social media to spread fake news. Of course, they are no more aware it is fake news than what Keynes called the ‘boorish proletariat’. The difference is that the educated, if indeed they are educated, should know better.

If you haven’t seen this viral video about the Pfizer/Moderna Covid vaccine, take a look:

Frightening, isn’t it? It concerned me enough to ask someone who actually knows a lot about DNA whether there is anything to it. Here is what he said:

Introduction:

One aspect I find interesting is that certain types of fake news are actually preferentially spread by more formally educated people. Some of the anti-vaccine stuff may fall into that category. Or a lot of pseudoscience about childcare, for example the disproportionate attention to breast-feeding from mothers of higher socioeconomic status. It seems that spreading pseudoscience can be a reflection of privilege, or almost a status symbol. The other curious aspect is that many people who distribute similar beliefs (e.g. covid / lockdown sceptics) actually pride themselves on their “independent thinking” – based on things they picked up on social media…

 Summary:

In the video, a gentleman sitting at a desk recaps (mostly correctly) the basics of molecular biology and how DNA is translated into proteins using mRNA as a blueprint, and how RNA vaccines use this mechanism to induce an immune response to proteins that have been generated by the cell’s own machinery. Along the way, the presenter seems to have an interest in semantic debates and attempts to redefine the meaning of commonly used technical terms. For instance, he invents his own definition of the term “vaccine” and, somewhat curiously, deduces that RNA vaccines are not vaccines at all. In the end, he concludes with a non sequitur about vaccine risks, which allegedly may arise from RNA vaccines in particular, as opposed to vaccines in general, somehow generating long-term auto-immune reactions – how exactly is not explained.

In short: the video looks like regular social media disinformation.

Explication:

Cells contain a lot of RNA. In fact, there have been major international research efforts to characterise all the many different types of RNA encountered in human cells. The types of RNA found in a cell can be very diverse. Whether all of them serve any specific purpose, or are simply a side product of molecular machinery accidentally producing junk, is often not clear. RNA does not enter the nucleus, where our genetic information is stored. RNA is not DNA, and it does not self-reproduce. RNA molecules are very unstable. (This is the reason the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine needs to be shipped at -70 degrees.) In human cells, the half-life of RNA is estimated to be of the order of minutes, not hours or days or years. It is not obvious how this is meant to induce long term auto-immune reactions against RNA. (Like many vaccines, RNA vaccines can of course induce short-term immediate immune reactions following the vaccination.)

In fact, RNA vaccines are probably just as likely to be safer than traditional vaccines. (Traditional vaccines often contain modified pathogens, where strict quality controls for purity are required to make sure that no live pathogens are introduced into the vaccine. Or they may be using functional but harmless viruses as a carrier vehicle.) RNA vaccines are based on injecting a naturally abundant, incredibly short-lived molecule, which we know will be naturally purged from our body in a very short amount of time.

But ultimately this discussion is academic. Vaccines go through large-scale trials to assess safety and efficacy in practice, as opposed to theory. Covid vaccines have been tested in trials of 10s of thousands of people, which are supervised by regulators and widely published in openly accessible peer reviewed journals [1]. Serious adverse events are rare. They are fully described in the publications, and are typically similar in vaccine and control groups, so likely not related to the vaccine itself. And even if we assumed the extremely unlikely case that all serious adverse events were due to the vaccine, the likelihood of these is clearly an order of magnitude less than the likelihood of the very well characterised real effects of Covid-19, at least for a middle aged male like myself, and much less severe.

If I personally had a choice between RNA vaccines and traditional vaccines, I’d go for the RNA vaccine. They are likely to be as safe or safer, and they may also be more effective in the case of Covid-19 vaccines. In fact, I’d be prepared to pay some money if it meant I could get the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine tomorrow.

Disclaimer: I am not an immunologist, nor involved in vaccine research. However, I am professionally active in the area of genetics and involved in Coronavirus testing and research.

[1] Pifzer vaccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2034577 ; Moderna vaccine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2035389

Lessons?

It doesn’t matter how educated you are. If you are off-subject, keep your mouth shut unless you have checked your facts and believe there is a demonstrable case that you know what you are talking about.

Otherwise, you are going to get found out, just like Donald J. Trump.

The author of the anti-Pfizer/Moderna vaccine would do well to reflect on the new Sleaford Mods album. In particular, I recommend the tracks Shortcummings and The New Brick.

More, later:

Turns out the Pfizer/Moderna vaccine is just better than the regular vaccine from AstraZeneca (FT, sub required). Coz it is progress n science n stuff. Sorry, hippies, sorry, bourgeois cretins.


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