Tag Archives: vaccine

Vaccination And Evolution

Okay–today I’m going to make an unkind and snarky point. (That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.) Bear with me.

Natural selection occurs when individuals with certain characteristics/genotypes are more likely than individuals with different genotypes to survive and reproduce. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin argued that if the following conditions are met, natural selection must occur:

(1) There is variation among individuals within a population in some trait; (2) The variation is heritable (i.e., there is a genetic basis to the variation, such that offspring tend to resemble their parents in this trait); and (3) Variation in this trait is associated with variation in fitness to survive.

Then consider reports about the current status of the COVID pandemic, specifically the following item from the Associated Press:

Non-vaccinated people account for nearly all new COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the United States, The Associated Press reported Thursday after analyzing government data from May. About 150 of the more than 18,000 people who died of COVID-19 in the month, and fewer than 1,200 of the more than 853,000 of those hospitalized for “breakthrough” infections, had been vaccinated. The report was based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, although the CDC has not estimated the coronavirus toll among fully-vaccinated people. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday that vaccines work so well that “nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable.” 

There are a number of observations one might make about people who are rejecting the vaccine for non-medical reasons. The refusal has clearly become part of a political stance, and what is most irritating about the grandstanders who insist on their “freedom” to control their own bodies (and infect their neighbors) is the large number of them who are unwilling to extend a similar freedom to others, especially pregnant women.

When a self-identified “pro-life” activist insists on his constitutional right to bodily integrity, hypocrisy is too nice a word…

A number of Facebook memes address other excuses for refusing to be vaccinated. I particularly like the one showing a guy eating McNuggets while proclaiming that he doesn’t want to put “unknowns” in his body. Very few of those memes–or the comments they inspire–have suggested that we look at vaccine rejection in the context of evolution and natural selection, probably because doing so–as I am about to– isn’t very nice.

So–if nice matters to you, don’t read any further.

Let’s look at those three conditions under which natural selection must occur:

The first was variation among individuals within a population in some trait. The trait we are looking at here, I would submit, is the ability to reason. For an individual to recognize a logical argument and differentiate it from an illogical one, that individual needs both a certain minimal level of intellect and–more importantly–a certain degree of mental/emotional health. 

The second condition identified by Darwin was that the variation be heritable–that is,  that there be a genetic basis to the variation, which can be passed along to that individual’s offspring. Both IQ and a number of mental health issues appear to be genetically based, although to be fair, both display an interaction of nature and nurture, so heritability is admittedly less certain.

Darwin’s final condition was that variation in the trait be associated with variation in fitness to survive. The fact that virtually all deaths from COVID are now occurring in the unvaccinated population would seem to be dispositive. (Among the very few cases where vaccinated individuals contract COVID, the disease is much milder and almost never leads to hospitalization, let alone death.)

I would be interested to know what percentage of the people refusing to be vaccinated also believe that Joe Biden “stole” the election, and that the country is being run by cannibalistic pedophiles or Jews with space lasers. I would guess there’s significant overlap.

In any event, assuming Darwin was right, a combination of COVID and natural selection may improve the gene pool….

 

Vaccines??

One lesson Americans should have learned from the past four years is that competent governance matters.

I understand that most Americans don’t follow the “inside baseball” of agency regulations, don’t realize the ways in which EPA rules, for example, affect the air they breathe and the water they drink, or how the disaster named Betsy DeVos has undermined their children’s education.But every sentient American should be able to appreciate the consequences of federal ineptitude in the face of COVID-19.

Perhaps it’s true that America was always going to bungle the vaccine rollout, as Ryan Cooper recently wrote in The Week, but if there was any doubt, the last couple of weeks should have dispelled it. Throughout the last, ghastly year, we’ve been treated to a do-nothing federal government–an administration unwilling and unable to provide coherent leadership or even accurate information. The effort to develop a vaccine was successful thanks to international cooperation and the allocation of a lot of money (although I should point out that the first vaccine “past the gate” didn’t even participate in Operation Warp Speed.)

The rollout has been equally unfocused, with the federal government shipping vaccine to the states and telling them to figure out how to distribute it. According to Bloomberg, as of January 2d, something like 12.5 million doses had been sent out, but just over 3 million shots had actually been administered. If efforts continued at this rate, it would take  seven years to inoculate the whole country

President Trump, of course, has completely failed to organize anything at the federal level. For all his manic shattering of political norms, his most characteristic behavior is simply not doing anything in a moment of crisis. Since early November, over a thousand people a day have died of COVID, steadily increasing to nearly 4,000 on some recent days, but Trump has done virtually nothing except try to overturn the election with tweets, play golf, watch television, and pardon his criminal friends…

That of course is making things exponentially more difficult for those lower levels of government. The federal government has always played a central role in previous mass vaccination efforts, because it is the only entity that can coordinate the whole country. States and cities have already endured brutal austerity, laying off millions of employees and cutting back services. Now they are trying to organize a massive logistical operation during a murderous pandemic by the seat of their pants.

It isn’t simply a lack of experience with this level of responsibility. As public health officials have repeatedly pointed out, the state-level public health departments that suddenly find themselves responsible for distribution of the vaccine have been starved of resources for decades.

Here in Indiana, that lack of experience and resources has sent the 80-and-up cohort who have finally been told they can now get vaccinated to a website that wouldn’t be considered “user friendly” even by tech-savvy youngsters. Their alternative is a telephone number that takes callers to an automated phone tree and an interminable wait. (As an aside, whoever designed that website should be tarred and feathered…)

Cooper notes that the utter incompetence that has characterized America’s response to the pandemic means that the task facing the incoming Biden Administration will be enormous.

Frankly I do not believe [Biden] will get very close to the standard of other wealthy countries, but on the other hand he could not possibly do any worse than Trump. Let’s hope when the void at the center of the American state is filled by something, the pace of vaccination can be drastically accelerated, and 2021 isn’t the nightmare that 2020 was.

Meanwhile, as Americans continue to die in horrific numbers, our insane President has taken up full-time residence in la la land, entirely absorbed in his delusional effort to overturn the election and hang onto a job he has shown absolutely no interest in doing.

As the old saying goes, this is no way to run a railroad–or a country.