Thursday, January 11, 2024

Vaccines are Still Part of the Solution

 The XBB booster can help keep you out of the hospital! Why don't we understand that?

From Prof Raywat Deonandan, Epidemiologist & Research Chair at the University of Ottawa:

"There are many cognitive barriers preventing many people from understanding Covid and vaccine science. There are three I want to highlight today.

1) Inability to Appreciate Exponential Growth:  By the time you see it, it's already here. The magic of compound interest can make you rich, bury you in debt, or overwhelm your hospitals. Accept that no one has a "feel" for it and instead trust the objective math. Do you get exponential growth? If I invest a single dollar into investment fund that doubles my money every three days, how long until I'm a millionaire? The answer is 60 days. If this surprises you, you're not alone. It underlines how we all suffer from this cognitive deficiency. [For a great exponential growth explanation, check out David Suzuki comparing bacteria in a test tube to the number of people on the planet.]

2) Separating Individual from Population Risk: A 1% fatality rate sounds minuscule for the individual. But for a population, it can be crippling. If one million people commuting to work today had a 1% chance of dying, that's 10,000 people suddenly dead. It's a big deal.

3) Inability to Accept Uncertainty:  Current Covid booster jab has 60% efficacy against hospitalization. 'But my uncle was jabbed and he got Covid and is in the ICU!' Yeah, 60% is not 100%. It won't keep everyone out of the hospital. But it will keep *most* people out."

I often wonder why I typically understand these three when so many really struggle to understand them. I think it's from being raised by two physics/math profs who would randomly explain this stuff and correct any errors in thinking at the dinner table. 

What's most curious to me is that we all know that no birth control is 100%, but we still use it, trusting the odds, or, if we're really smart, using two kinds at once (condoms and the pill). But many refuse to use the vaccine unless it's 100% effective. A vaccine that prevents hospitalization 60% (or 76% from this study) of the time is a vaccine that works to help reduce severity of symptoms. And getting vaccinated means you have a much better chance of not ending up in the hospital. Who doesn't want to reduce their chance of breathing through a tube shoved down their throat??

I've often been in the tiny percentage that has that rare thing happen - enough not to trust the odds. My third kid happened after I got my tubes tied! And when they looked for cancer before doing a preventative double mastectomy (because I have the genes for cancer), both the MRI and mammogram missed THREE tumours! They had me do both tests because each one detects about 80% of tumours, so together, they get to about 99% accuracy. But someone ends up in that 1%. 

But thinking that I could be in that smaller group of people that ends up hospitalized from an infection doesn't lead me to avoid the vaccine because it's not 100%. It makes me more likely to get the vaccine and wear an N95 to keep this brutal virus out of my system. 

If you're thinking, "But nobody would use a birth control pill that's only 60% effective," then consider a car safety analogy instead. 

Airbags and seatbelts, together, reduce the risk of fatality from a head-on collision by 61%. I bet you thought that was higher. I think people's misunderstanding of relative risk is what leads them to text while driving. But most of us still use airbags and seatbelts and then also try to drive carefully to avoid a collision in the first place. Few of us dismantle the airbags once we find out they won't "work" 100% by reducing the chance of a fatality to zero, right? Vaccines don't prevent 100% of fatalities, but they do significantly reduce the chance of severe symptoms and deaths. 

And the rare few have problems with vaccines (about 5 in a million have allergic reactions) and birth control (blood clot fatalities) and airbags (cause fatalities in short people).

Nothing is going to keep anyone 100% safe from anything! Shit happens. But there are things we can do to reduce our chance of dying. Don't lean over the edge of a cliff or tall building. Don't eat random mushrooms on a walk in the woods. Don't play in traffic. Always wear your seatbelt. There are tons of things we do and that we teach our kids to do to try to help extend our lives and theirs. 

And there are specific things we can do to reduce our chances of getting really sick or disabled or dying from Covid. We should do all those things!! Vaccines help at least 60%. Well-fitting N95s help about 95%. Cleaning the air in schools has been shown to reduce transmission by about 30%. Put together, we could all be at 99.999% protected.

Covid is nasty. We need to do everything possible to stop it. Covid plays for keeps. It gets into our system and can attack all major organs including the brain. Check out this recent reddit post, and imagine watching this happen to your favourite person: 

Consider getting vaccinated and wearing an N95 and trying to convince your local school to allow CR boxes in class to help filter the air. Yup, we're all going to die of something, but is this how you want to go out?

Here are the top three killers and ways to prevent them from Kashif Pirzada:

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