Election Day Priorities

There is a question going around social media asking people to list their top three priorities for this election, which inspired me to think about mine. I’m “politically homeless” at the moment and hoping that new movements with new platforms will emerge as more people become disenchanted with the two warring “tribes” of our nation.

1. Avoiding Nuclear War

The development of nuclear weapons was supposed to put an end to open warfare, with differences being resolved through diplomacy and economic leverage because the risk of nuclear escalation in any armed conflict would simply be too great. Somehow instead we have ended up with a strange set of nuclear protocols that allows the carnage of warfare to continue within some vaguely-defined limits beyond which nukes might be used.

I’m very much not OK with this situation, as especially with the refusal of the USA to engage in diplomatic relations with Russia in the current conflict. Any level of conflict between nuclear-armed adversaries raises the risk of a nuclear exchange (which could easily be triggered by accident or by false indications of an attack), which means that no level of conflict escalation between nuclear-armed powers should be politically acceptable.

I also feel that no US military intervention since World War II has been truly justified, and that our global military hegemony has imposed vast unnecessary suffering both abroad and among our own veterans. I will support any candidate who pledges to resolve all differences through diplomacy, to be willing to compromise even if it means a loss of autonomy or territory for our supposed allies, and to reserve military intervention as a very last resort to be used if our national homeland is under attack.

2. Irrational Belief vs. Body Autonomy: Vaccine Mandates

One year ago I felt seriously under attack for my decision to forego covid vaccination. People around me were losing jobs. I couldn’t travel to most countries or set foot in local theaters. Unvaccinated Canadians couldn’t travel by plane or train and it seemed like similar restrictions might be implemented here, or even some sort of fine or tax penalty based on vaccination status. Well respected people were publicly wishing death and suffering on “the unvaccinated” on TV and in print media.

It turned out that the “miracle shots” were no such thing: that following a brief period of partial efficacy vaccinated people contracted covid just as often as unvaccinated people, with maybe some residual protective effect against severe illness in the most at-risk groups. Consequently most of the vaccination-based restrictions have been removed, and prominent voices are now proposing an “amnesty.” Meanwhile thousands or perhaps millions of people who have suffered adverse reactions to these shots are still dealing with disabling health problems, and all-cause mortality rates are running suspiciously high in most countries with widespread usage of mRNA vaccines – which may or not be attributable to the shots but is certainly not a mark in their favor.

I’m not opposed to vaccination. I’m not even – at least in theory – opposed to mandatory vaccination if such an action can be rationally justified: the vaccines in question have been time-tested to be safe and effective, the target disease is smallpox- or ebola-level dangerous, and there is a realistic chance of driving the disease to extinction through universal vaccination. None of those criteria were met in this case, most importantly the first given that this was a vaccine using an entirely novel mRNA delivery method that had only been tested for safety and efficacy for around six months before it was deployed.

The irrational belief in this case can be stated as Vaccines Save Lives, and it is especially prevalent on the blue team of American politics. Vaccines are, of course, a medical intervention that can save lives. They can also, it turns out, take lives, or make their target diseases worse, or fail to do much of anything. I don’t take issue with the fact that vaccines can save lives. I take issue with the belief, predominant among folks who call themselves “progressive” and who have faith in modern technology to solve our problems, that anything that is given the name “vaccine” has untouchable savior status (to the point that they are uniquely exempt from liability in our litigious society) and anyone who questions the goodness or value of any vaccine is “anti-progress” or “anti-science” and generally a bad person.

I will support any candidate who pledges to approach vaccines as a potentially helpful treatment rather than a savior from evil, and who promises to remove all discrimination based on vaccination status and to enact no new restrictions along those lines.

3. Irrational Belief vs. Body Autonomy: Abortion

Any thought I might have had of “changing sides” to the red team has been stymied by their choice to use this moment to fight their own war on body autonomy following their own irrational belief.

As with vaccination, I understand that abortion is a nuanced issue: that a human life does not arbitrarily begin at the moment of birth, and that there are ethical concerns regarding termination of pregnancy particularly in later stages which require careful consideration, compromise, and respect for the physical and emotional well-being of both the pregnant woman and the developing fetus.

As with the mandatory vaccination debate, this issue is distorted by an irrational belief – this time predominantly on the red team – that Life Begins At Conception. The only justification for this belief is its presence in the sacred doctrines of particular religions, which of course cannot be proven and therefore should not be used to impose restrictions upon people who do not subscribe to those religions.

Just as irrational beliefs surrounding vaccination lead to tragic stories of fired nurses and people suffering real vaccine injuries being gaslit by doctors, irrational beliefs surrounding abortion lead to rape victims being forced to carry pregnancies to term and women suffering pregnancy complications being refused lifesaving treatment.


So, this is my first election feeling truly no allegiance to either of the major parties. I’m glad to cast my vote for Betsy Johnson as governor, who gets #2 and #3 right. I’m not sure where she stands on warmongering vs. diplomacy, but that’s not really a state-level issue. I’m also proud to cast my vote for Dan Pulju for US Senate, who gets all three of these issues right.

I recognize that these third-party votes might not accomplish much, or that I might be viewed as a “spoiler” for refusing to choose the “lesser evil” over the “greater evil”. But I’m done playing that game. And I hope that enough additional people will choose to be done playing that game in the years ahead that we might truly have some new and positive options to break the partisan gridlock.

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About Those Monkeypox Vaccines

I’ve written a fair bit here about the Covid-19 vaccines, starting with my initial concerns – based on the nature of the vaccine technology and the history of coronavirus vaccine attempts – that they would be neither safe nor effective. As it stands today, it’s clear to everyone that they aren’t particularly effective. The official narrative still claims that they are safe, although the VAERS database and thousands of seriously injured people would beg to differ, and I increasingly expect that they will be viewed as an unmitigated disaster through the lens of history.

Here we are two years later with another new virus spreading around the world, and another set of vaccines being rolled out to combat it. It’s still uncertain whether monkeypox spread will reach the point that mass vaccination is encouraged, but given that the rise in case counts shows no signs of stopping I decided that it was time for me to learn more about these vaccines to form an opinion about them. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to encounter very few red flags. If monkeypox spreads to the point that a personal encounter with it seems likely, I would personally be willing to get either of the two available vaccines – though ideally I would like to wait until we have more data with regard to real-world effectiveness against monkeypox which should be forthcoming in the months ahead.

The Vaccines

The available monkeypox vaccines were developed as smallpox vaccines after the eradication of smallpox – primarily as a precaution against potential bioterrorist smallpox release. There are two available in the US; other versions are available worldwide but all approved to date are of the same two general types.

The ACAM2000 vaccine is a live-Vaccinia-virus preparation injected through the skin, containing 250,000-1.2 million viral particles, that initiates a local Vaccinia infection which generates a pustule and an eventual scar. The immune response generated against the Vaccinia virus is also effective against smallpox and monkeypox. It is nearly identical to the previous smallpox vaccine received by many older adults, except that it has lower genetic diversity (being derived from a single clone of virus) and it is grown in culture in cells derived from monkey kidneys rather than on the skin of calves as in the older version. As it contains a replicating virus, it can potentially spread from the injection site to other people or other locations, it can cause severe illness in immunocompromised people, and it has a higher rate of acute adverse reactions than many other vaccines. The USA has a stockpile of around 100 million doses of this vaccine as a primary defense against a smallpox attack.

The Jynneos or Imvamune vaccine is a live-attenuated-Vaccinia virus preparation administered similarly in two doses each containing 50 million-400 million viral particles. These viruses are capable of infecting cells and hijacking them to produce viral proteins (so that cells know they are infected and send the appropriate immune signals), but they contain mutations rendering them unable to complete the process of forming complete new viruses and are therefore unable to replicate. The viruses are grown in cells derived from chicken embryos (in which they *can* replicate). It has a lower rate of adverse reactions and appears to generate a similar or even immune response, as measured by antibody titers. This vaccine was developed with the intent of offering it to immunocompromised and otherwise at-risk individuals in the event of a smallpox attack. The USA once had a stockpile of over 20 million doses but these have since expired, and it is currently in limited supply.

The Good

It’s old technology

While the Covid-19 vaccines represent the latest whiz-bang vaccine technology borne of modern molecular genetics, never before deployed on a wide scale, the monkeypox vaccines represent the oldest known vaccine technology – the work of Edward Jenner in the late 1790s – which has changed surprisingly little since that time.

Pardon my foray into history, as this is a most interesting story.

The oldest intervention to stimulate immunity was called variolation – dating back to the 15th century – which utilized old smallpox scabs to induce a milder case of smallpox than would typically be acquired naturally. The practice worked but carried a risk of death from smallpox in the range of 1-2%.

In the 1700s it was noticed that milkmaids – who occasionally got cowpox blisters on their hands – did not contract smallpox. Edward Jenner was certainly not the first to apply this principle, but he did prove it to the satisfaction of the scientific community and give it the name – from Latinvaccinae: “of the cow” – that persists to this day and that has been questionably applied to the genetic transfections employed against Covid-19.

Orthopox viruses are relatively large (~3x the diameter or ~30x the volume of SARS-CoV2) containing a comparably large DNA genome (190,000 nucleotides or 6x the size of SARS-CoV2) that mutates rather slowly. These viruses have coevolved with mammals, and there is one specialized to a great many species – cowpox, horsepox, monkeypox, camelpox, raccoonpox, volepox, etc. Smallpox was the human-specialized version. It so happens that some of the other orthopoxes can also infect humans but cause mild infections, rarely transmit between humans, and generate cross-reactive immunity against smallpox.

Although the initial smallpox vaccinations utilized cowpox, modern science revealed that the virus being cultured for vaccines in the 20th century was not actually the same virus as was infecting cattle and that it was most closely related to horsepox. Having been cultured for a couple of centuries it was no longer identical to any wild virus, and it was named Vaccinia.

Phylogeny of orthopox viruses, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317556528_Classification_of_Cowpox_Viruses_into_Several_Distinct_Clades_and_Identification_of_a_Novel_Lineage

From the tree above, it is apparent that monkeypox viruses (MPXV, dark blue) are more closely related to Vaccinia-group viruses (VACV, blue-green) than to Variola/smallpox viruses (VARV, red). Thus it is not surprising that if Vaccinia infection protects against smallpox, it also protects against monkeypox. And indeed this has been borne out by trials against monkeypox in monkeys. (There has never previously been enough monkeypox in humans to do a trial, creating some uncertainty which I will discuss below.)

In any case, these are not novel vaccines for a novel virus, as was the case with Covid-19. Widespread transmission of monkeypox among humans is novel and quite concerning, but it happens to be a virus against which our oldest and most time-tested vaccine is likely to be effective.

We have been poking people with Vaccinia-virus vaccines on a large scale since the early 1800s – in many times and places approaching 100% of the population. This has known risks, as I will discuss below, but at this point it has very few unknown risks. The minor differences between the current-generation vaccines and the original versions seem unlikely to introduce any new risks – although sometimes there are indeed devils in details and there is always some nonzero possibility that a small mutation in the virus might increase the odds of autoimmunity or create a toxic protein.

They are fully tested and approved

Both of the available vaccines were developed over decades and safety tested in humans in multiple clinical trials over a period of 10+ years. There was no pandemic rush or “Operation Warp Speed” to cut corners and ignore worrying safety signals. ACAM2000 was FDA approved in 2007 for anyone over one year of age. Imvamune was FDA approved in in 2019 (2013 in Europe) for anyone over 18 years of age. The current Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Imvamune is not for the vaccine itself but for use in children and for intradermal injection which is supposed to allow for smaller doses to make the existing supply stretch further. Intradermal injection should not be a safety concern but it could impact efficacy as the practice is based on limited research.

Monkeypox should respond to vaccination

During the development and rollout of Covid-19 vaccines it was often noted – at least outside the mainstream narrative bubble – that no one had yet produced a viable vaccine against a coronavirus. The small RNA viruses in this family mutate rapidly, rendering vaccine antibodies less useful, and they even have a tendency to exploit antibodies to infect new tissues in a phenomenon known as Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE). In contrast, vaccination against orthopox-family viruses has a long history of success, and given that the Vaccinia vaccines are effective against monkeypox in monkeys, it is reasonable to assume they will also be effective in humans. Not 100% guaranteed, but a reasonable assumption. Based on our experience with the closely-related smallpox, it is also unlikely that immunity will wane rapidly or that the virus will rapidly mutate to evade vaccination.

The Not-So-Good

Mass vaccination will cause some illness and some death

That’s not a statement of speculation. Based on the known adverse effect profiles of older smallpox vaccines when they were in widespread use, myocarditis occurred in 1 out of 175 people and death in 1 out of 2 million. The attenuated-virus versions appear to be safer, but they haven’t been injected into enough people yet to identify the rate of very rare complications.

That’s a known risk I can live with, and preferable to getting monkeypox, but it does mean that the preferred outcome of the next few years is not that everyone gets vaccinated but rather that monkeypox gets contained before that becomes necessary.

Compared to the initial covid response and quarantine, I’ve been a bit surprised by the rather laissez-faire approach of public health authorities to controlling the spread of monkeypox. To the extent that quarantine, contact tracing, and isolation might actually be useful at this point, it seems worth trying to a greater degree than is currently happening.

If it reaches a point at which community transmission is widespread, I most certainly do not support imposition of the sort of lockdown and life-disrupting measures that were put in place for Covid-19. I would much prefer to receive one of these vaccines than to change my behavior and put my life on hold in an attempt to avoid infection.

Effectiveness against monkeypox in humans remains unknown

Smallpox vaccines are crudely estimated to be 85% effective against monkeypox infection. The absence of a solid number here is due to the fact that prior to 2022 no human monkeypox outbreak led to more than 1,000 infections. So this number is effectively a guess based on immunogenicity, trials in monkeys, and a limited observational study of humans during small monkeypox outbreaks in the 1980s.

The good news is that at current rates of infection and vaccination we should soon have better estimates of how effective these vaccines really are.

Side effects overlap with those of Covid-19 and Covid-19 vaccines

It’s a bit troubling that these vaccines, especially ACAM2000, can cause myocarditis of all things. We already know that this condition can arise as a result of Covid-19 vaccination, and it appears that subclinical heart inflammation may be relatively common. Covid-19 infection is also known to cause cardiovascular complications, and the spike protein – however introduced into the body – appears to trigger clotting. All of this means that the rate of myocarditis in the present environment might turn out to be higher than the 1 in 175 observed in the clinical trials, or perhaps monkeypox vaccination will add to a cumulative burden on the heart in those who have been vaccinated and infected multiple times. As someone who has not been vaccinated against Covid-19 and who has experienced one mild infection, I am not personally too worried about this.

We could be vaccinating into a pandemic again

Geert Vanden Bossche has been the most vocal voice warning that vaccinating against Covid-19 in the context of high infection rates will give the virus ample opportunities to mutate to evade and even capitalize on vaccine-produced antibodies.

We may face a similar situation with monkeypox. This is especially true in the case of “post-exposure prophylaxis.” The incubation period of monkeypox is typically longer than the time required to generate antibodies following vaccination, which means that vaccination immediately after exposure can prevent infection or reduce disease severity. This also means, however, that the monkeypox virus will be replicating at the same time that the body is developing an antibody response, which creates an environment favorable to immune escape mutation if it is done on a wide enough scale.

It may be that the mutation rate of monkeypox is low enough that this isn’t really a concern, and it is also true that however the virus evolves in the future we will have no way of knowing whether our vaccination effort played a role. So…while this is a concern, there is no clear action to be motivated by it except perhaps to avoid disease exposure during the vaccination period.

What Does All This Mean?

I still feel wounded by the coercive messaging and ostracizing mob mentality surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines. I am increasingly convinced that my decision not to receive those vaccines was the right choice for me, and I remain concerned that we have only seen (or at least publicly acknowledged) the tip of the iceberg in terms of adverse effects.

I am also deeply skeptical of the continual addition of new vaccines to the childhood schedule with no in aggregate testing, and I suspect that over-vaccination during immune system development is likely to be playing a major role in the epidemic of allergies and autoimmune-linked conditions in young people.

That said, I have no problem with the general principle of vaccination, especially inasmuch as it was empirically developed prior to the political dominance of the pharmaceutical industry and the hubris of the modern secular religion of Progress (or Science). So the fact that these vaccines use very old technology actually gives me greater confidence in their probable safety and efficacy.

I still stand firmly opposed to any and all mandatory vaccination by government decree, my willingness to compromise on this in particular situations having been destroyed by my government’s willingness to mandate an entirely novel, inadequately tested, emergency-authorized vaccine against a pathogen with fatality rate of well below 1%.

That said, having done my research, if monkeypox continues to spread and to hone its ability to infect humans – quite possibly becoming more virulent in the process – I will not hesitate to receive one of these vaccines with the aim of avoiding what appears to be a most unpleasant disease.

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Shapes in the Fog

Making sense of COVID and vaccine risks

It’s been two and a half years now since a new virus stormed the globe, leading to massive disruptions that were – depending on who you ask – completely unnecessary or woefully insufficient.

Since that time, billions of humans on planet Earth, myself included, have parleyed with the virus awkwardly known as SARS-CoV2. Many have now had it two or three times. Of these, around one in five hundred – most commonly those already approaching natural death – have died as a result of infection, and a small but significant proportion continue to experience distressing or debilitating post-viral syndromes that are collectively known as “long covid.” The vast majority have made a complete recovery, and getting “the coof” or “the rona” has become a common enough occurrence that life-altering levels are fear are now mostly confined to the immunocompromised, the elderly, and the hypochondriacs – the same folks who have long been taking extra precautions during every flu season.

It’s been eighteen months since vaccines targeting the virus were rolled out to great fanfare, in the hope that this would quickly build “herd immunity” and drive the virus to extinction. Since then, exactly the opposite has occurred, with infection rates rising to even higher levels and many people experiencing multiple “breakthrough” infections after vaccination. At the same time, rates of death and serious illness have declined substantially since early 2021. The vaccines have almost certainly played a role in this improvement, although it is difficult to fully separate this effect from that of ever-rising natural immunity (from previous infection) and the emergence of a new (“Omicron” or BA.x) family of viral variants that has a lower affinity for lung cells than previous versions.

It’s been a year since I felt personally under great pressure to consent to receiving these vaccines, with restaurants and venues imposing vaccination mandates and the federal government attempting to mandate vaccination for all employees in various categories. Since that time, as it has become clear that vaccination does not prevent infection or transmission but at best tilts the odds slightly and reduces severity, the pressure has decreased and most mandates have been relaxed. Plenty of true believers remain, however, eager to get their fourth or fifth dose as soon as it is allowed. As an unvaccinated person I remain banned from entry to Canada, to my local contra dances, and to one of my favorite hot springs. Given the current trajectory I am hopeful that these remaining barriers will be removed in the months ahead and that we will not ultimately end up with a two-tier society with an unvaccinated “underclass” as many – myself included – have feared.

I have written plenty about my concerns regarding particular vaccine risks and the strange and divisive media-driven mob mentality that has has surrounded all things covid since the beginning. I have also participated in ongoing discussions on these topics on John Michael Greer’s Ecosophia forum, where it seems that I have been assigned the role of scientist-in-residence. Whether this role is befitting is certainly open to debate. I am not a virologist, immunologist, vaccinologist, epidemiologist, or even someone with a biomedical background. I place a higher value on functional and evolutionary understanding of biological processes than on mechanistic details, which has both strengths and weaknesses. Although I have delved deeply into some scientific papers, I rely heavily on other critical thinkers – among them Bret Weinstein, Brian Mowrey, and the mysterious quantity known as El Gato Malo – for critical assessment of the current literature.

My own academic background – a PhD in biological engineering with a focus on genetically modifying cyanobacteria to produce hydrogen from sunlight – has provided me with a solid understanding of both biochemistry/molecular biology and the pervasive ideology (Scientism, Religion of Progress, transhumanism, whatever you want to call it) that dominates the worldviews of all modern scientific institutions and leads to willful blindness and failure of critical thinking in certain areas, most prominently those that relate to the completeness of our understanding (of everything from the human body to the known universe) and the ability of modern technology to solve problems ranging from resource shortages to climate change to infectious disease.

Eighteen months after these novel genetic vaccines became available and a year after a majority of the population received them, it is clear from my perspective that they are simultaneously one of the most dangerous medical experiments of the past century and also that they are nowhere near as harmful as many of their most vocal detractors have claimed. Considering that these alternate worldviews have effectively polarized to “the vaccines are the safest medicines ever produced” and “all vaccinated people will die”, the probability that reality will land somewhere in the middle approaches 100%. Exactly where in that middle reality will end up remains unknown and quite probably even undetermined at this point: dependent on ongoing booster shot deployment and ongoing viral evolution. That said, however much good these shots may have done, it is clear at this point that they have also directly contributed to many thousands of cases of death and disability, and the tools of science are just beginning to peel back the curtain to understand what may be going on.

The understanding that I present below is a blend of science and hypothesis: an attempt to distill the risks posed by infection and vaccination into broad categories and disruptions of biological processes, without getting too bogged down in details. I provide citations where possible, but I acknowledge that some of the logical connections remain conjecture. As such, I don’t claim to present the truth, only to present my own understanding of the present situation. I hope that it can prove helpful to others, and perhaps can provide inspiration to survey the available literature or conduct the necessary studies to further reveal the shapes in the fog.

1. Immune Disequilibrium, Three Ways*

*A shameless reference to Brian Mowrey’s brilliant discussion of immune equilibrium over evolutionary time.

Our popular understanding of the human immune system is far too simplistic, and this appears to extend into the field of vaccinology as well. Pathogens are detected and fought. B cells develop antibodies which bind to and neutralize the pathogens to prevent future infections. High titers of neutralizing antibodies are good, and vaccines that elicit this effect are good. Vaccines are unlikely to have deleterious effects on immune function – the worst that usually happens is that they just don’t work.

I think it’s helpful to think of the human immune system as a Department of Defense. It has had nearly four billion years of evolution to develop, beginning as a bacterial defense against bacteriophage viruses and evolving layer upon layer of nuance and complexity as we evolved into multicellular organisms in an ongoing coevolutionary dance with viruses and other microbes – some of them harmful, some beneficial, some neutral, and some not fitting easily into one of these groups. Its cells and subsystems perform the roles of special operations, intelligence, central command, heavy artillery, surveillance, and just about every other role essential to an effective Department of Defense.

The immune system has the following tasks:

  • Identify and destroy infectious agents that are actively evolving to evade detection and destruction.
  • Identify and destroy human cells that are mutating to become dysfunctional and cancerous.
  • Avoid launching attacks on healthy tissues.
  • Tolerate the presence of foreign molecules on non-infectious particles (e.g. pollen, bee venom, food allergens).
  • Facilitate the development of a healthy intestinal microbiome, by tolerating beneficial/commensal organisms and attacking those that are parasitic or pathogenic.

A healthy immune system can occasionally be defeated by a pathogen that is able to evade the innate defenses and establish a serious infection before the second line of adaptive defenses are activated. Vaccination aims to activate that second line of defense ahead of exposure or (in the case of rabies) following exposure but before the pathogen has a chance to multiply significantly. In practice, success is dependent upon the nature of the pathogen, the route of exposure, and the rate of pathogen mutation. Vaccines against rabies and smallpox are nearly 100% effective while those against influenza have a much lower efficacy. Vaccines against rapidly-mutating respiratory viruses like SARS-CoV2 have always been an iffy proposition at best.

In addition to suffering defeat in battle, the delicate balance maintained by the human immune system can be disrupted in three ways, all of which are relevant to the covid and vaccine story. These are:

  • Autoimmunity. Immune cells can misidentify normal human proteins and biomolecules as pathogenic, resulting in a sustained attack on healthy tissues that can be progressively debilitating.
  • Allergy/overreaction. Immune cells can misidentify inert particles like pollen as pathogenic, or they can launch a life-threatening inflammatory attack on a pathogen that is out of proportion to the threat level.
  • Tolerance. Immune cells can fail to attack pathogens and nascent cancers, and this effect can be specific to particular antigens or broader in which case it is more often described as immunosuppression or immunocompromise.

From what I have been able to gather, spike protein exposure and genetic vaccination both carry risks of autoimmunity. Genetic vaccination shifts the major failure mode from overreaction to tolerance.

It is important, at this point, to understand that immune disequilibrium is largely probabilistic rather than deterministic. Just as different military generals will make different decisions in the same situation leading to different outcomes in battle, so will different immune systems respond in varying ways to the same stimulus, resulting in health or dysfunction. Therefore perturbations or disruptions to the immune system will tend to have probabilistic effects – to increase or decrease the odds of a particular outcome. Give everyone the same amount of lead or arsenic, and they will all get sick and display similar symptoms. Give everyone the same immune disruption, and perhaps 5% will suffer debilitating immune dysfunction and the other 95% will be fine. Such is the nature of the immune system, which can make it difficult to attribute causation to disruption (“all these other people got it too, and nothing happened to them…”) unless we are carefully tracking outcomes vs. interventions over a longer term – something that is most definitely not happening with these vaccines.

Spike protein and autoimmunity

One of the tricks viruses use to evade the immune system is to mimic portions of human proteins, such that any antibody or T cell epitope targeting that section of protein will also be autoreactive. For the most part, these nascent autoreactive responses are weeded out by central and peripheral tolerance processes, thus decreasing the breadth of the effective immune response against the virus. Occasionally these tolerance systems fail, resulting in an autoimmune reaction. The spike protein of SARS-CoV2 exhibits a surprising degree of sequence overlap with a number of human proteins, suggesting a potential for autoimmunity development, and indeed long covid appears to have a significant autoimmune component.

The risk of autoimmunity development posed by spike protein exposure will be present with both infection and spike-based vaccination, and indeed many people have reported long-term autoimmune-type symptoms following vaccination, quite similar to those experienced by long covid sufferers.

Genetic vaccination: a novel and confusing immune stimulus

In understanding the immune response, it is useful to assess what signals it is looking at to determine the presence of an infection. In a genuine viral infection, there will be viral particles present displaying antigen proteins. There will be infected cells displaying these same proteins as a signal that they are infected. And there will be a whole host of other signals coming from infected cells generally informing the immune system that it’s time to do battle. The result of this will be activation of both an immediate innate immune response to destroy free viruses and infected cells, as well as an adaptive immune response to develop antibodies and cellular memory as a second line of defense and to ward off future infections.

Live attenuated vaccines – the oldest vaccine technology – replicate all of these processes, with the difference that the strain of virus or bacteria used is unable to cause severe illness.

Inactivated-virus vaccines and protein subunit vaccines – the most common type in widespread use for childhood vaccination – present only the antigens on inert particles and do not infect any cells. In order to sufficiently activate the immune system they include “adjuvants” – essentially immune-cell-irritating chemicals. It makes sense to me that overuse of adjuvanted vaccines could also easily cause immune disequilibrium leading to higher rates of allergies and autoimmune conditions such as are currently being observed among children. More work is needed to test that hypothesis – work that seems to be mysteriously retracted when it does get published – but I think it is likely that over-vaccination of children is causing more harm than good, and I will readily admit that this perspective helped to inform my initial skepticism toward the novel covid vaccines.

Genetic vaccines – including all covid vaccines available in the US until the very recent approval of the Novavax protein subunit vaccine – utilize a novel and fundamentally different technology that has previously seen very limited application in humans in the form of the Ebola vaccine. With genetic vaccines, the antigens are not directly injected, and are therefore not encountered on free-floating particles by immune cells. Instead, the vaccines supply genetic instructions to produce an antigen – either in the form of mRNA in lipid nanoparticles that fuse with cells (Pfizer/Moderna) or in the form of unrelated viruses that inject DNA into cells (viral vector: J&J/AstraZeneca/Sputnik). In molecular biology, this process would be called transfection.

What the immune system sees following genetic vaccination is the sudden appearance of large amounts of a novel protein on the surface of otherwise healthy and uninfected cells, in the absence of any viruses or virus-like particles containing that protein. The lipid nanoparticles themselves are pro-inflammatory and act a bit like an adjuvant, but it is otherwise unclear that this really looks like an infection to the immune system. It might instead look more like a tissue transplant, or exposure to fetal antigens during pregnancy. It is most definitely unlike any natural infection process.

We know that genetic vaccination results in the production of large amounts of anti-spike neutralizing antibodies and also generates anti-spike T-cell responses. Prior to the arrival of Omicron-family variants, this provided strong protection against covid infection for the six months or so that antibody titers remained high. That said, the post-vaccination immune attack on otherwise-healthy spike-expressing cells (itself possibly implicated in rapid-onset inflammatory reactions such as myocarditis) is likely to be perceived by at least some of the immune system’s intel apparatus as an autoimmune error. Repeated vaccination is thus likely to induce tolerance, as I proposed in my immune tolerance hypothesis nearly a year ago. The recent discovery that tolerance-inducing IgG4 antibodies increase following two genetic vaccinations and especially following the third shot adds credence to this hypothesis – see also Brian Mowrey’s discussion of these findings.

It is also reasonable to hypothesize that while some immune systems will react to the sudden appearance of foreign proteins on otherwise healthy cells by inducing tolerance, other immune systems might well interpret the same phenomenon as a sign that those cells are abnormal or infected and in need of destruction, which could lead to development of an immune response to other proteins on the same cells which would then trigger autoimmunity. Coupled with the fact that the spike protein seems predisposed to trigger autoimmune reactions, this could further increase the odds of debilitating autoimmune reactions following genetic vaccination, as appears to be the case with many of the harrowing stories published on Real Not Rare

Disequilibrium begets disequilibrium?

Autoimmunity can induce tolerance as the immune system responds to self-attack by downregulating both specific and general responses, leading to a state of immunosuppression. This may actually be occurring on a large scale if the immune regulatory apparatus generally recognizes the attack on spike-producing cells as an autoimmune error and responds accordingly by suppressing the innate immune response, at least temporarily.

It is also true that breaking tolerance can induce autoimmunity. So it is reasonable to expect that infection with SARS-CoV2 following vaccination-induced tolerance might lead to a breaking of spike-specific tolerance with a concomitant breaking of tolerance toward molecularly-similar human proteins which would then lead to autoimmune disease. This particular mode of harm remains entirely hypothetical in this instance, though I would not be surprised to see it validated in the months and years ahead.

Implications of immune disequilibrium

Early on in the pandemic, most severe and deadly infections appeared to be mediated by a cytokine storm – an immune overreaction that caused more damage than the virus itself. Suppressing this overreaction – making the immune system more tolerant of the virus – could actually improve outcomes. Based on this I consider it reasonably likely that at least part of the observed efficacy of genetic vaccination against severe covid infection may have been attributable to induced tolerance rather than – or in addition to – induced immunity. Thus, a genetic-vaccination-induced shift from a predominant immune-overreaction failure mode to a predominant tolerance failure mode may have initially appeared as an improvement in disease outcomes. Any further benefit from this hypothetical effect is unlikely moving forward, as at this point nearly everyone has some prior immunity/exposure to SARS-CoV2 which itself should reduce the likelihood of immune overreaction upon future encounters.

Beyond this potential upside, immune disequilibrium has substantial downsides. Autoimmunity can manifest in many ways: chronic fatigue, chronic pain, neuropathy, diabetes, organ failure, etc., and often includes a whole constellation of debilitating symptoms. It is clear that this can be induced by infection as well as by vaccination, but to the extent that vaccination no longer provides any meaningful protection against infection it would seem that the effect of vaccination on autoimmunity risk will be additive rather than protective moving forward.

Spike-specific tolerance will tend to manifest as negative vaccine efficacy: increased susceptibility to the very disease the shots are meant to protect against, except perhaps during a brief period following injection when neutralizing antibody titers are boosted. Indeed it is the high level of reinfection among the vaccinated and boosted that seems to have ignited the recent interest in vaccine-induced tolerance as a possibility.

More general tolerance or immunosuppression may manifest as reactivation of dormant viruses, increased susceptibility to all infections, and increased incidence/aggressiveness of cancer as the innate immune response fails to recognize and attack developing tumors. All of these have been reported, at least anecdotally, in the wake of genetic covid vaccination.

2. In Which the Spike Protein Does Bad Things

The spike protein is a sequence of 1273 amino acids that folds into a complex three-dimensional structure. It resides on the surface of the SARS-CoV2 virus, where it facilitates binding to the ACE2 receptor and fusion with the cell membrane leading to infection. It also functions as an antigen – “antibody generator” – an activator of targeted immune responses that can prevent or attenuate future infections, which is why it was chosen for the genetic vaccines.

Aside from this, however, it is also just a molecule – a complex chemical – that can interact with other molecules in myriad ways. Chemicals can be acutely or chronically toxic, and they are typically assessed for toxicity in a variety of animal tests before being injected into the human body.

I can find no evidence that the spike protein was specifically toxicity-tested in the process of vaccine development. Perhaps it was simply assumed that exposure via infection was otherwise inevitable, so exposure via genetic vaccination wouldn’t be much different. Regardless of the reason, an increasing number of studies have painted a concerning picture of spike protein effects in the human body.

The spike protein has been shown to bind to a number of targets, with potential implications for impaired endothelial cell function, disrupted blood-brain barrier integrity, and neurodegeneration associated with amyloid deposition in the brain.

Among the most common reported adverse events following infection and vaccination, however, have been clotting-related disorders including strokes and sudden cardiac deaths. There are mechanisms by which this clotting may be induced by immune inflammation, but increasingly it appears possible that this may be a direct effect of spike forming amyloid (abnormal protein polymer) structures and/or binding to the clotting protein fibrinogen and triggering it to polymerize into abnormal, breakdown-resistant amyloid clots. These amyloid clots are observed in both long covid and chronic fatigue syndrome, and in addition to forming physical blockages they can be inflammatory and auto-immunogenic. I would not be surprised if the apparent similarities to anti-phopholipid syndrome are ultimately attributed to downstream effects of this abnormal clotting mechanism.

While any effects of spike protein behaving badly can obviously arise following either infection or spike-based vaccination, it seems likely that two-dose genetic vaccination will introduce more systemic spike protein over a longer period of time than the mild SARS-CoV2 infections experienced by a majority of people. Furthermore, as discussed above, if vaccination fails to prevent infection the two processes may be additive, booster injections will be further additive, and if repeated genetic vaccination induces spike tolerance the effect may be greater and more prolonged spike protein exposure during subsequent infections with a resulting higher risk of clotting and long covid/chronic fatigue.

I hesitate to mention the published photos of large rubbery blood clots being found by embalmers, as these seem to dwell somewhere between the realm of lurid unsubstantiated reports and real scientific findings. I will say that if this proves to be an actual novel phenomenon, it would seem likely to me that it is connected to the amyloid-clot-inducing behavior of spike protein in the bloodstream.

3. Viral Evolution and the Alternate Universe Problem

Geert Vanden Bossche has been consistently issuing dire warnings about mass vaccination with non-sterilizing vaccines in the midst of a pandemic, given that this can potentially provide a uniform and robust antibody response across an entire population that the virus can then exploit to develop new and more infectious/more virulent variants – somewhat akin to the manner in which an agricultural monoculture is more vulnerable to pest and disease damage than a diverse mix of crops.

Although Geert has now made several time-bound predictions that have failed to pan out, I do give credence to his broader ideas that interfering in the establishment of natural immune equilibrium with this new virus is likely to alter these coevolutionary processes in a way that is at least as likely to be harmful as it is to be beneficial, to cost more lives over the longer term than it saves.

The problem is that this hypothesis is effectively impossible to test given that we only have one planet, and new variants of SARS-CoV2 spread around the entire globe and rise to prominence over a period of a few months. Looking back from the year 2050, it is entirely possible that the circulating strains of SARS-CoV2 (assuming it is still circulating then, which seems probable at this point) will be more virulent and have caused more deaths than would have been the case had we focused on building natural immunity rather than mass vaccination with novel, experimental genetic vaccines. That said, given that we can never determine exactly how or why a new variant comes into existence, we won’t be able to know with any degree of confidence whether our vaccines made the virus worse.

Some Thoughts and Predictions

Although it is now common parlance to refer to “during the pandemic” as a time in the past, I don’t think this story is yet coming to an end. I also don’t know what the future will bring, though I’m willing to offer some general predictions – any or all of which may of course prove entirely false.

  1. SARS-CoV2 infection levels will rise and fall but will generally remain high over the next year in highly-vaccinated countries, thanks to vaccine-induced tolerance and potentially ADEI (antibody dependent enhancement of infection). Those who have developed spike tolerance but who don’t have the short-lived antibody protection of an injection in the last 1-2 months will experience the highest rates and longest durations of infection.
  2. All-cause mortality will remain elevated and will be roughly proportional to the current rate of SARS-CoV2 infection and ongoing genetic vaccination in the population. If there is a large-scale shift to tolerance or a potential cumulative lethal threshold for spike protein exposure, mortality could begin to rise substantially especially over the winter months.
  3. Rising rates of debilitating symptoms will be attributed to long covid by one narrative and to the vaccines by another. In reality both will be correct to some degree, possibly at the same time in the case of damage caused by increased spike exposure during infection after vaccine-induced tolerance. Hopefully data sleuths like The Ethical Skeptic and El Gato Malo will be able to tease out the differences.
  4. Unvaccinated people will – in general – experience better health than vaccinated people. This effect may not be significant when comparing to those who only received an initial round of injections but will likely be more dramatic when comparing to the boosted and especially 2x-3x boosted.
  5. Official data showing infection rates and death rates by vaccination status will become increasingly difficult to find.
  6. The much-feared crisis of overwhelmed hospitals unable to provide routine essential care may finally arrive this fall and winter, driven by the declining health of multiple-boosted health care workers, the staffing shortage that is affecting all sectors of the economy, and rising numbers of people in need of care.
  7. Interest in additional shots will continue to wane outside of a small circle of true believers. I don’t foresee another push for vaccine mandates unless a new vaccine is released that offers much better short-term protection against infection than the ones currently in use.
  8. Reports of vaccine harms will gradually seep further into mainstream media and consciousness. While I’m hopeful that this will lead to a “turning of the tide”, it is possible that deflection strategies (e.g. attributing harms to long covid instead) will continue to be successful, especially given the sacred and untouchable status of anything called a vaccine within the failing-but-still-dominant religion of Progress.
  9. Immune suppression/general tolerance from repeated genetic vaccination and/or frequent covid infection will lead to increased severity of other infections, and potentially to increased rates of certain cancers.
  10. Viral evolution will be a wild card. We could see a continued trend toward decreasing virulence, or the next immunity-evading strains could also feature increased severity or an increased rate of lasting symptoms. At this point I do not expect to see the “new variant causes mass death” situation that Geert Vanden Bossche has been predicting.
  11. “Classic” severe Covid-19 of the type producing bilateral pneumonia and requiring intubation will remain rare, as we have largely transitioned from an inflammatory overreaction failure mode to a tolerance failure mode. Those experiencing severe or chronic SARS-CoV2 infections will be more likely to present with direct effects of viral tissue damage or spike protein toxicity.
  12. It is entirely possible that most of these predictions will come to fruition and yet the story will be eclipsed by the looming economic convulsions and food shortages that seem increasingly inevitable in the year ahead of us.

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Thoughts on Roe v. Wade

I’ve been somewhat hesitant to weigh in on the recent Supreme Court ruling, because abortion has not been a central issue to me and because I respect and care about people on both sides.

Then I read Caitlin Johnstone’s take and found that most of it really resonated with me. I quote her below.

“It sure is mighty convenient timing for all political and electoral energy in the United States to suddenly get sucked up into a single issue which affects the powerful in no way, shape or form. I wouldn’t have thought it would be possible for everyone’s attention to get diverted away from inflation and the looming likelihood of wage reductions and soaring unemployment or the economic war with Russia that’s making everything worse for everyone while pouring vast fortunes into the proxy war in Ukraine, but by golly, the empire found a way. “

Why exactly are we doing this now? Couldn’t we have litigated abortion back when politics were boring in 2004 or 2014? Why must an issue that has been divisive for centuries move to the fore when there are immediately pressing concerns that deserve our full attention?

I’ve seen a lot of people arguing that the whole “My body, my choice” position was invalidated by the way people were forced to take Covid vaccines in order to participate in society.

This is an entirely logical argument, in my opinion. It’s not logically consistent to say that bodily autonomy needs to take a back seat in one area and then claim it’s of utmost importance in another. Proponents of vaccine mandates are responsible for the fact that this argument is being used, and that it is being used effectively.

It’s very disconcerting that the law has come down on the side of subverting bodily autonomy in both of these major debates recently. As humanity gets more and more complicated, we may see the dominance of the notion that our bodies are not our own yield greater and greater consequences going forward.

To all of the Blue Team people who pushed hard for vaccine mandates and are now shouting My Body My Choice, you are hypocrites and have lost my respect and my future votes. Now that vaccinated people are catching covid at similar rates relative to unvaccinated people and the reality of untold thousands of vaccine-related injuries and deaths is getting more difficult to hide, you would like to quietly forget about the whole thing.

That’s not how this works. You wanted to mandate a novel, experimental vaccine against a mostly-survivable disease based on very limited data and a great deal of religious conviction that “vaccines save lives”. You went along with smearing and silencing of actual scientists who tried to voice their concerns every step of the way.

You don’t get to claim that all the experts expected success, and that it’s therefore a great surprise that the shots don’t work as expected and cause more adverse reactions than all other shots combined. It’s not a great surprise to me, because I don’t have the rose-colored glasses through which believers in the Religion of Progress view new medicines and new technologies. I fully expected a vaccine of a novel type tested for only six months to work less well than expected and to cause unanticipated harms.

I’m willing to stand with you on the issue of abortion, but if you wish to regain my respect and my vote you will need to:

  • Support an end to all remaining covid vaccination requirements for travel, border crossings, events, employment, exemption from testing, etc. – especially now that there is zero unbiased scientific evidence that these requirements make any meaningful difference in terms of covid transmission.
  • Apologize to all of us who you have been judging, denigrating, disinviting, smack-talking, and all-but-dehumanizing over the past year.
  • Promise to never do this again: to support bodily autonomy in all arenas, and to accept that if you want someone to take an action for what you believe to be the common good you will need to furnish a convincing argument rather than use coercive or stigmatizing tactics.

To all of the Red Team people who have been fighting against vaccine mandates and gun laws but are now celebrating your long-desired restrictions placed upon millions of women’s bodies, you are hypocrites too and have failed to earn my respect or my vote. I understand your feelings and beliefs about this issue, but I do not accept your wishes to legislate those beliefs upon those who feel or believe differently. I have gained some level of admiration for conservatism over the past two years, and I appreciate your vocal opposition to vaccine mandates and other authoritarian overreach of the left, but you just killed my chances of voting for any of your candidates for the foreseeable future.

For me the issue of abortion comes down to bodily sovereignty, not only in that the state has no business forcing unevidenced beliefs about metaphysical personhood upon people’s reproductive systems, but also in that it’s immoral to force anyone to let their body be used by anybody else.

Leaving aside philosophical debates about whether a fetus is a person and all the faith-based mental contortions you need to pull off to make a small cluster of cells seem the same as you or me, bodily sovereignty means abortion should be a right even if we concede that the fetus is a person. No person of any age, whether six weeks in utero or sixty years out utero, has a right to use my body without my permission.

If I needed to be hooked up to your kidneys for my survival, the fact that I would die without the use of your kidneys wouldn’t legitimize the state forcing you to let me use them against your will. In exactly the same way, it’s illegitimate for the state to force a woman to let a fetus use her body to gestate just because it can’t live outside her. Even if we grant both the woman and the fetus full bodily autonomy, a woman refusing to let a fetus use her body is not a violation of the fetus’s bodily autonomy because the woman isn’t at fault for the fetus’s inability to survive outside the womb anymore than you’d be at fault for my inability to survive without the use of your kidneys.

Until recently I have been more open to compromise – something along the lines of abortion being allowed with no restrictions for the first trimester and then only in extenuating circumstances later in pregnancy – but my experience with the vaccine mandate push has changed my mind. I have seen too many stories of people at high risk of serious vaccine reactions who were not granted exemptions to mandates, despite such exemptions supposedly being available. I’m not willing to task a government and legal system populated by ideologues with determining whether a particular set of extenuating circumstances qualifies a woman to receive a later-term abortion.

Abortion is unavoidably a moral issue. Choosing to terminate a pregnancy – or not to terminate one – can have consequences: health consequences, emotional consequences, mental consequences, spiritual consequences (depending on your belief system), karmic consequences, etc. Can that not be enough? Do we really need to add legal consequences as well? Furthermore, pregnancy moves right along, and difficult decisions need to be made quickly. The vast majority of women even considering later-term abortions are facing serious complications: fetuses with severe defects who will not survive long past birth, health conditions that make carrying a pregnancy to term life-threatening, the sort of once-in-a-lifetime crises that are difficult enough without also having to convince a bureaucratic and possibly ideologically-motivated judge to believe you and grant you a permit.

So…bodily autonomy takes precedence. Abortion should be safe and legal and available throughout pregnancy. That doesn’t mean it’s right in all or most cases. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your own judgments about other people’s choices. It doesn’t prevent your place of worship from having its own rules for members with their own consequences. It certainly doesn’t mean that our society as a whole is OK with killing babies. It’s simply the least harmful solution to this moral quandary, at least from my current perspective.

Call me politically homeless. I’m not voting for anyone who supports vaccine passes or mandates, and I’m not voting for anyone who wants to restrict access to abortion. The first candidate to combine an anti-mandate and pro-choice platform gets my vote. Betsy Johnson, is that you? Extra points if they oppose our endless overseas military involvements and are serious about redistributing wealth and ending poverty.

(Yes, I have empathy for the citizens of Ukraine. No, I don’t think we should be sending weapons, prolonging the fighting, playing nuclear brinkmanship with Russia, driving inflation and shortages, and imperiling the world’s food supply through our warmongering response. We should certainly provide humanitarian aid and welcome refugees from Ukraine, and we should do the same for the countries that we – or “allies” supplied with our weapons – have aggressively invaded and destabilized over the past decades: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, among others.)

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A Plea To My Left-Leaning Friends

I’m a lefty. I always have been, and probably always will be. While I can see the virtue in “individual responsibility” and self-reliance espoused by the political right, I believe firmly that we need to look out for each other, and that a world in which everyone has their basic needs met and no one gets to extract wealth from others simply because they are wealthy is a world that we should work toward, even as we face declining resources and inevitable shortages in the years ahead.

I believe all profit from rent is a form of usury. I believe that profit from health care is immoral. I believe that housing and health care are human rights. I believe that refugees and immigrants are human beings and deserve to be treated as such, with empathy and respect, even if we must sometimes enact limits and restrictions. I believe that all labor deserves a living wage. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe that neoliberal capitalism is basically evil. I believe in revitalizing local communities and local economies and taking business away from multinational billionaire-led corporations.

You also believe most or all of these things. We used to talk about them, share visions and ideas. Then you walked away down a path that I could not follow, leaving me feeling abandoned, dumbfounded, and befuddled. Now you seem to lump me in with the right, with whatever thoughts and motivations you project upon them: selfishness, individualism, lack of compassion and empathy, bigotry, racism.

If the CEO of Monsanto, with the backing of the FDA, were to tell you that the solution to world hunger and climate change is GMO-chemical agriculture, would you believe him? It is certainly an argument that has been tried. If Elon Musk were to tell you that the solution to climate change is a total conversion to electric vehicles, would you believe him? If, ten years from now, we are all driving Teslas and Musk is a trillionaire but we’re still emitting the same amount of carbon generating the electricity and mining the lithium, would you still believe him?

Something very odd happened two years ago when a strange new virus appeared on the scene. You chose to believe that it was different this time: that the ecocidal, elitist capitalist villains in Big Medicine, in Big Pharma, in government regulatory institutions had the answers, if only we would deign to listen. That they knew how to control this pandemic. That they would rise to the occasion to become the true heroes that they never were before.

You chose to believe The Science. The same Science that calls fracked natural gas “clean energy.” The same Science that believes in chemical-intensive GMO agriculture. The same Science that brought us an epidemic of unnecessary opioid addiction.

With strong urging from the media, you went along with denunciation and discrediting of highly credentialed voices – allowing them to be somehow associated with the all-consuming taint of Donald Trump and his followers. Dr. Pierre Kory, a highly-respected critical care doctor, founded the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, seeking to find repurposed drugs that would be effective against this new virus. When they discovered that ivermectin – a widely used and extremely safe antiparasitic drug that earned its discoverer a Nobel Prize – seemed to work, authorities responded by banning doctors from using it and describing it as “horse dewormer.” Does it actually work? It certainly appears to at least in some cases, but even if it didn’t what is the harm in letting doctors use their training and experience to find solutions to a novel problem?

When authorities decided to recommend and then require masks – in spite of a whole body of past research finding little to no efficacy against flu transmission – you not only obeyed without question but proceeded to brand anyone who so much as questioned it an “anti-masker”, someone who clearly cared only about themselves and wanted other people to die.

When epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford came together to issue a statement saying lockdowns and restrictions were doing more harm than good, and that we could save more lives by focusing on protection of the most vulnerable, and they were quickly slandered and debunked in the media, you didn’t ask whether there might be more to this story.

When vaccines were released in record time under emergency use authorizations, having been tested for a mere six months, you believed the assertions that they were “safe and effective”. When highly regarded vaccinologists like Dr. Robert Malone and Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche voiced serious concerns, you accepted “fact-checking” claims that they were peddling “disinformation” for their own supposed gain. When the only system we have for recording vaccine adverse events – VAERS – registered more disability and death following these shots than following all other vaccines combined over the past 30 years – you accepted the explanation that these reports are unverified and therefore probably meaningless. When 12-year-old Maddie de Garay, a volunteer in the Pfizer vaccine trial, spoke out about becoming wheelchair bound and unable to participate in daily life after getting the shots (while the trial only recorded her symptoms as “stomach discomfort”), you noticed that only right-leaning outlets would interview her and so you assumed the motivation must be political. When the vaccine-injured began telling their stories – how their health crashed after the shots and their doctors didn’t take them seriously or failed to consider a connection to the vaccine – you ignored that too and supported censorship of their voices.

I had hope for the vaccines as well, at first. I almost got them back in May, but I had made a promise to myself to wait a year, which I am now glad I kept.

We were promised that vaccinated people would be “dead ends” for the virus. Then the Delta wave came along, with some of the highest case rates in the most-vaccinated countries, and high rates of breakthrough infection. I thought this might lead to you doubting the vaccines, or at least doubting the wisdom of mandating them, but instead you doubled down, asserting that they protected against hospitalization and death, and that was enough.

When immunity proved to wane after 5-6 months, you signed up for booster shots, despite the fact that we had no meaningful clinical trials whatsoever to justify them. When Omicron came around – exceedingly contagious but causing much milder illness and infecting vaccinated and unvaccinated people equally – you accepted the logic that this meant we needed more boosters, maybe even to require boosters for everyone. You believed baseless assertions that “the unvaccinated” people were to blame for continuing infection, even as the virus spread through 100% vaccinated college campuses and even as the most-vaccinated countries tallied the highest case rates in the world, suggesting that vaccine efficacy might even be negative. You supported incredibly divisive vaccine mandates that were virtually guaranteed to exacerbate ongoing labor shortages in health care, transportation, food processing, and other sectors that were already under severe stress.

Perhaps I sound a bit angry. This has been a difficult two years. But I’m not really angry at you. I would like to be friends again, to talk about the world we would like to create: resilient communities outside of the global capitalist system, mutual aid networks, local food webs. I would like to gather and sing and dance together again, free from the idea that we are all walking bags of death (with the unvaccinated the deadliest of all).

But it seems like you are still under some sort of spell, and I have to wonder: what would it take to break it? How low does the covid death rate have to go before you can treat it as an acceptable risk like the flu? How many vaccine injuries have to happen before you can acknowledge that these shots have real risks and may not be advisable for everyone of all age groups? How many boosters will you accept in the face of diminishing returns, as the virus continues to evolve?

Does Dr. Fauci need to recant, or the CDC, or CNN, or NPR? I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. People with power and influence tend not to admit they were wrong. They will try to walk away quietly, to move on to the next crisis or news story without any reflection or self-examination.

I’m not sure I can do anything to break this spell, but whenever you are ready to leave it behind I’ll be here waiting. And perhaps then we can start to see this whole episode as not so different from previous failures of technology and capitalism. Overconfidence in the face of uncertainty. Advertised solutions that are conveniently profitable for the wealthiest citizens. Destruction and demonization of the working class. Disastrous effects on human health and community solidarity shoved under the rug. Blame cast upon our fellow citizens (“the unvaccinated” are the new “deplorables”) rather than on those at the top, when their “solutions” fail to work as promised.

Let us please not let this go on much longer. It’s OK to occasionally agree about something with the folks waving the confederate flags. Just because one side of a debate has people you personally despise, or people who have stupid political reasons for acting as they do, does not mean that side is wrong. As I write this, the media is playing that game to discredit the Canadian trucker protest against vaccine mandates. It’s time to stop falling for it, to accept that none of our efforts – lockdowns, masks, vaccines – can stop this virus from becoming endemic, and to come back together to create a new way of being and living as the extractive global capitalist system crumbles around us.

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Musings on Asymptomatic Transmission

Last week on the Ecosophia discussion board, someone asked a question about whether asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 is real, and my response was that yes it is real but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we ought to behave as though it is real. Since writing that response, I have realized that this concept is at the core of the social panic that has gripped the world for the past two years, and that it deserves a great deal more unpacking.

It is important to understand that the idea that someone can be sick but not sick – which is to say infectious but not symptomatic – is rather new among human societies. Prior to antigen and PCR tests, one was either sick – in which case it was advised to maintain isolation – or healthy – in which case there was no concern. Disease carriers were recognized – as in the story of Typhoid Mary – but this was seldom extended to the point of suspecting that anyone might be infectious and ought to be regarded as such.

In the developing science of evolution, there was a spirited debate between the theory of “inheritance of acquired characteristics”, espoused by Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, and the theory of natural selection espoused by Charles Darwin, which was eventually integrated with modern genetics. In the former, traits acquired by an individual, such as giraffe’s neck stretched a bit longer by a lifetime of reaching for leaves, would be directly passed on to offspring. In the latter, outcomes were determined only by genes, which were randomly reshuffled by sexual reproduction and which had nothing to do with traits acquired during an individual’s lifetime. Gene theory ultimately won this debate, but in recent years evidence has emerged in support of Lamarck’s ideas. The science of epigenetics has revealed that the experiences of parents directly influence the development of their offspring, by regulating patterns of gene expression such that – for example – children born into famine are physically different than children born into plenty.

In the world of infectious disease there has been a similar debate. “Terrain theory” or “host theory” postulates that the primary determinants of disease are internal – overall health, nutritional status, biochemical balance – and that pathogens will only cause illness in unhealthy bodies. “Germ theory” postulates that the primary determinants of disease are the pathogens themselves, and that health and lifestyle have a relatively small role to play.

Prior to the advent of PCR and antigen testing, our understanding was a sort of compromise: those who were ill were regarded as harboring germs and were advised to avoid contact with those at risk of severe illness. In the past forty or so years, however, culminating with Covid-19, germ theory has reigned supreme. Most people are now confident saying that someone is “sick” if they test positive for a disease, regardless of whether or not they feel ill, and furthermore that they are not sick if they test negative, even if they have significant symptoms. Research that would partially validate terrain theory – such as studies showing that severity of Covid-19 is strongly correlated with low vitamin D levels – is largely suppressed or ignored.

All of the Covid-19 control measures – the lockdowns, the mask mandates, the vaccine mandates – are predicated on the idea that anyone could be infectious at any time, which is to say that asymptomatic transmission is important and should be minimized at all costs. Regardless of whether one feels these measures are justified, it should be clear that the resultant fear of human contact and self-imposed isolation is not conducive to a joyful life or a healthy society. This then leads to the oft-asked question of whether asymptomatic transmission is real, but I want to propose that that is the wrong question to be asking.

In order for the last two years of Covid-prevention measures to be justified, three questions must be answered in the affirmative, and in our obsession with scientific reductionism we have focused only on the first.

(1) Is asymptomatic transmission real?

The answer to this question is quite clearly yes. Someone who tests positive for SARS-CoV2 but who is not showing symptoms can, on occasion, pass the virus on to others, some of whom become ill.

(2) Do efforts to reduce asymptomatic transmission improve public health outcomes?

In other words, does a focus on testing and contact tracing, social distancing, and masking of healthy individuals actually lead to a world in which fewer people get sick and fewer people die? The evidence here is much less clear. It seems, at least with this respiratory virus, that it spreads regardless of our interventions, and those places which have enacted strong measures do not, on the whole, have significantly lower rates of infection and death than those places which enacted few or no measures.

(3) Do the health benefits of behaving as if asymptomatic transmission is real offset the social costs?

This is more of a question of values than of science, but it is the responsibility of science to provide a reasonable estimation of the health benefits. By and large science has attempted to do this by providing a reductionist affirmative answer to Question 1 while largely ignoring the more holistic Question 2. Those who would speak for “The Science”(TM) furthermore insist on distorting the values involved, portraying this as a conflict between the value of human life, on the one hand, and selfish desires for individual freedom or greedy desires to keep the economy moving, on the other.

The truth is that we don’t have solid evidence that restrictive Covid rules lead to better health outcomes, in which case the reality of asymptomatic transmission becomes more of a biological curiosity than a driving factor for moralizing and political action. On the values side, the reality is that the conflict between individual freedom and collective safety, or between economic profit and employee well-being, fails to adequately describe the trade-offs. What is the cost of isolation for elders in nursing homes, in assisted living, in hospitals, who are not able to see their loved ones? Did anyone ask them whether they would prefer a decreased short-term risk of death over a continuation of their human connections? What is the cost to our society and to ourselves when we begin to see our fellow humans more as potential disease vectors than as friends, as dance partners, as loved ones, as family? Is this possibly offset by the longer lives we might have if we choose to isolate, to cancel the concerts and dances, to put off seeing our family for a year, and then another, and then another?

Facts do not, on their own, tell us anything about how we ought to live. We often pretend that they do, and thereby fail to consider the values, the stories we tell ourselves, that fill the space between the facts and the conclusions that we come to. Too often we claim that our differences are about facts vs. lies, when in fact they are about different value systems that make sense of the facts in different ways. When one side – usually the “Follow the Science” side – insists that its policy positions are based only on facts and not values, is it any surprise that many on the other side respond by denying the facts? Perhaps this is why we have climate deniers and Covid deniers. If we could begin to discuss our value differences, then it would be easier to agree on the facts.


Let’s consider some examples of different stories that can be told based on the same facts. These are far from the only stories that can be told based on these facts, but they represent some of the more common stories that we tell ourselves.

Fact: All human beings eventually die.

Story 1: Because we will eventually lose everyone we know, it is best not to get too close to people. Loving others leads inevitably to pain and loss.

Story 2: Because our time on Earth is limited, we should live fully and love freely, as if each day might be our last or the last time that we see our friends.

Facts: 1% of humans are sociopaths, 6% of men are rapists, 25% of women experience abusive relationships.

Story 1: Anyone could be an abuser and no one can be fully trusted. It is best to keep to oneself, or to settle for an unsatisfactory life because the alternative could be far worse.

Story 2: Pain happens, our hearts and intuitions can fail us, and the world is not as we wish it might be, but it is still worth it to dive in, to trust others, to love, to heal and grow, even after abuse or betrayal.

Fact: We are descended from ancestors who have conquered and oppressed other humans, or who have been conquered and oppressed. This historical injustice remains a factor in distribution of resources and opportunities.

Story 1: This should understandably lead to feelings of guilt on the part of the privileged and resentment on the part of the oppressed. We must actively seek to compensate for historical injustice, and we must cast judgment on those who are not fully committed to this work.

Story 2: The past should be acknowledged, but the path to a more harmonious coexistence lies not through reopening of old wounds but through a commitment to acknowledge all humans as equally valuable and equally worthy of dignity and respect moving forward. Compensation for historical injustice may be pursued voluntarily but must not be coerced or enforced.

Fact: SARS-CoV2 and other infectious diseases (e.g. flu) can be transmitted by asymptomatic people.

Story 1: Because avoidance of disease and death should be prioritized over all other values, we should behave as though we, and anyone we encounter, may be infectious at any time. It is therefore reasonable to demand behavioral compliance from others and to enact public health regulations – gathering restrictions, occupancy limits, mask mandates, vaccination requirements – with the aim of minimizing disease transmission.

Story 2: Although there are environments (e.g. hospitals) in which minimizing the risk of disease transmission makes sense, we cannot live fulfilling lives in a world in which we view ourselves and others as disease vectors. It is therefore reasonable to reject the entire paradigm of fear, of asymptomatic testing, of contact tracing, of public health measures. In the novel world of genetic testing it is widely respected that most people would prefer not to know that they are likely to die of a particular condition earlier than normal. Similarly, perhaps it is better to simply accept that sometimes we will get sick, and some of us will die, and more of us will die in pandemic years, than to accept the isolating and anxiety-inducing consequences of behaving as if we might accidentally kill someone simply by breathing or singing or dancing together. It is better to stop asymptomatic testing and stop assigning blame or responsibility to chains of transmission that can only be uncovered by the new technologies of PCR or antigen testing.


I was more or less on board with the imposition of public health measures for the first two months – March and April of 2020. It seemed that we might have a chance of driving the virus to zero, like SARS-1 before it, and thereby have our sacrifices pay off. But I was also aware that viral extinction might not happen, and that if it didn’t happen we would need to make an important choice.

I’ll close by quoting from that post written May 13, 2020, which included one of my father’s original songs:

In the morning the sun so gloriously greets the day
Brings the light, ends the night
And in the streets the people go the same old way
Without sight, without light
And how many days just pass us by
When we never really live and we never really die
And we never really laugh and we never really cry
And we never really know the reasons why
In the evening all the colors gather
In the sky, the western sky
Yet in the streets the people all would rather
Just get by, just get by
And how many days just pass us by
When we never really live and we never really die
And we never really laugh and we never really cry
And we never really know the reasons why

Ed Stone, sometime around 1980

In this case we know the reason why, and we are accepting a lesser life in the hope that doing so will lead to lesser death.  But perhaps that is always the reason why.  Perhaps we don’t really live and really laugh because our fear stops us short, tells us stories that keep us small, keeps us confined to the past and future, the virtual and the distant, while neglecting the miracle of the here and now. 

The latest guidance says that we won’t be singing together again, dancing together, crowding into stadiums again, until we have effective treatment or a vaccine.  That wording concerns me, precisely because it is conditional and not at all time-bound.  We might have a vaccine next year, or we might have one that is 40% effective like for the flu, or we might not ever have an effective vaccine at all, like for HIV.  It’s not like waiting until Christmas.  It’s more like staying in an unpleasant living situation because your scary roommate tells you they are probably moving out sometime in the next few years, and it feels safer and easier to stay put. 

Nearly two years and five billion injections later, Covid-19 cases are higher than ever and it is clear that we’re in the “might not ever have an effective vaccine at all” situation. Even as the public health narrative crumbles, many people cling to the idea of safety, wishing for the exhausted and flailing experts to tell them how to avoid catching or spreading a virus which – for most – will cause only a mild and brief illness. It is clear that asymptomatic transmission is real, but it is high time that we considered it an acceptable risk of being alive, that we stopped testing healthy people and identifying chains of transmission, that we stopped condemning ourselves and others for unknowingly spreading disease, and that we returned to physical closeness with our friends, our families, and our dance partners. It is time that we consciously erased the insidiously divisive and isolating concept that any of us might be lethally contaminated at any time.

Parts of the world are well on their way, and others have a long way to go. Unfortunately I’m in a “long way to go” community, but I see signs of recovery.

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2021 Weather Summary

Like 2020, this past year will not be remembered by many people primarily for its weather, although it was an extreme weather year in many places.

The most unusual weather event of 2021, by far, in the Pacific Northwest was the late-June “heat dome” which effectively moved the climate of Phoenix a thousand miles north for a few days. Sinking air aloft led to compressional heating, generating temperatures of 90 degrees up at 5,000 feet. Even the summer sun was insufficient to mix these temperatures down to ground level without the help of atmospheric winds. For this reason, Corvallis avoided the most extreme heat, topping out at 107.5 instead of the 117 reached at Salem or the incredible 121ºF reached at Lytton, BC, a day before the town caught fire in the raging winds that finally ushered in cooler air. Many all-time high temperature records were broken by ten degrees, and native trees not adapted to this level of heat were scorched and may struggle to recover.

Although this was another extreme fire season in California and BC, we were lucky in this area both to get some late-season rain in June that dampened fuels and to avoid the summer winds and lightning storms that characterized 2020. Although we could smell smoke in the air on a few days, air quality mostly remained in healthy ranges.

Temperature trends

In keeping with recent trends, 2021 featured a warm January, a cold start to spring, and a hot summer. The summer featured 26 days above 90 degrees – a record for my 13 years of record keeping, and a second exceptional heat wave in August that topped out at 102.5ºF, which made few headlines after June. Despite weather models suggesting single digits possible in late December, cloud cover held the lowest temperature to 23.5ºF which was our lowest of the year. Like other recent years, it was not one to challenge the winter hardiness of crops.

Precipitation trends

Despite precipitation totals only marginally below normal, the combination of a dry spring, a hydrologic deficit carried over from previous years, and a hot summer led to this part of Oregon being classified as severe drought by late summer. For all of the news of drought, the rivers kept flowing here, and it was largely a good season for farmers who escaped direct heat damage. As of December the drought classification persists, but I have to assume it will be amended soon, as twelve inches of precip (including 10″ of snow) in December left us with an above-average total for the year for the first time since 2017. As I write this, we are in another flood watch with 4-5″ of rain possible in the days ahead. So I am hopeful that 2022 will not be a drought year.

Monthly notes

January was largely warm and wet, and it featured at atmospheric river on the 12th that dropped 2.24″ of rain – the wettest day of 2021 – and briefly raised the Marys River to its second highest flood on gauge records. Rain fell on 22 out of 31 days, with a total of 8.4″ for the month, and a brief cold snap brought a low of 24.6ºF on the 23rd before warm rain returned.

We just barely missed out on high-impact weather in February, when a stable arctic boundary set up directly over our area for several days from the 11th through the 13th. The Seattle area saw cold snow, and the northern Willamette Valley from Portland to just five miles north of Corvallis saw ice accumulations up to 1.5 inches that decimated trees, left forests looking like a hurricane had passed through, and left some areas without power for two weeks. Here, we had hours of rain at 31.6 degrees, which left a light glaze on twigs but melted as fast as it froze, causing no damage or power outages. Aside from that storm, February was cool and wet but mostly seasonal.

March had the year’s largest cold anomaly, at 2.9 degrees below normal, despite only 50% of normal precipitation. It didn’t feel especially cold, as many days had freezing nights and 55-65 degree highs with sunshine. The spring drought would continue.

April was exceptionally dry, with rain on only five days totaling 0.60″ or 23% of normal. Our last frost came on the 12th, and we reached 80 degrees on April 17th.

May continued the spring drought, with 0.80″ of rain or 40% of average. Temperatures were seasonable, with some 80-degree days but also plenty of 60-degree days. We came close to having a late-season frost on the 8th (32.9ºF), but early-planted tomatoes and peppers survived.

June – usually a rather nondescript month weatherwise – was full of extremes this year. The month started with a high of 95.7, which was followed by a cold spell with a low of 35.8 on the 9th. Coming out of the cool weather we had an unusually strong late-season low pressure system which dropped 1.5″ of rain on the 12th and 13th, contributing to a monthly total of 1.85″ (50% above normal) which delayed fire season but unfortunately was too little too late to offset the spring shortfall. The rain gave way to a week of July weather (highs 80-90), which was followed by the heat dome event, with 102.7 on the 26th and 107.5 on the 27th. The sea breeze front that shoved out the hot air on the 28th brought some of the year’s strongest winds, breaking branches off of oak trees and knocking out power to my shop. June averaged 4.6 degrees above normal – the largest temperature anomaly of 2021.

After the wildness of June, July was a mellow month, if still hot. We had ten days at 90 or above, but none above 100, averaging 2.5 degrees above normal with almost 100% sunshine and zero rainfall.

The first half of August continued the summer of heat, topping out at 101.4 on the 11th and 102.5 on the 12th. This is the first time I have recorded four days above 100 in one year; parts of eastern Oregon and Washington had many more as the hot pattern remained in place from late June through mid August. Mid-month brought a surprising and most welcome break from the heat, with most days for the rest of the month in the 70s and low 80s, and a few drops of rain (0.07″ total) on the 25th and 26th.

September was a month of beautiful weather, with substantial rain on the 17th-19th and again on the 27th bringing the monthly (1.82″) total a bit above normal and allaying fears of a repeat of the September 2020 firestorms.

October brought a resounding first frost (29.0ºF) on the 12th, which would prove to be the only freeze of the month. That made the growing season of 2021 exactly half of the year, from April 12th to October 12th. The second half of the month shifted into a cool, wet, November-like pattern, making it feel like we mostly missed out on autumn this year. Total rainfall, at 3.28″, was again just a bit above normal.

The first half of November continued the rainy pattern, with rain on each of the first 12 days. The latter half of the month brought a mix of brief cold snaps, intermittent rain, and 60-degree days after Thanksgiving. It can be tough to reach normal rainfall in usually-soggy November, and the total of 5.75″ was a bit shy.

December began with a clear 65-degree day – the only such day that I can remember in any Oregon December. That would be followed by precipitation on 26 of the following 30 days, ultimately totaling 12.01″ or 68% above normal even for the typically-wettest month of the year and bringing the annual total to 42.79″, hopefully putting an end to our long-standing drought. The 11th and 19th brought atmospheric rivers, with the 19th-20th bringing another flood to the Marys River. Arctic air arrived on Christmas night, with around 10″ of snow falling over the next two days – ending a long drought without significant snowfall dating back to February 2014. The cold air stuck around with the snow melting gradually over the next few days, but nighttime clouds prevented radiational cooling, keeping lows in the 20s instead of the teens and single digits predicted by weather models.

As I write this, southerly winds have put an end to the cold snap, with a wind advisory posted for tonight and a flood watch out for another atmospheric river tomorrow. I am grateful that we are headed into 2022 with a rainfall surplus and a healthy snowpack in the mountains. We shall see what the next year brings.

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Covid-19 Vaccines: A One-Year Assessment

A year ago, when the first three Covid-19 vaccines received emergency approval to much collective hope and fanfare, I made a promise to myself that I would wait one year to decide whether to be vaccinated myself, based on the body of evidence of efficacy and short- and long-term safety.

That year has now passed, and I have made my decision: I am going to remain unvaccinated, and I feel like that decision is scientifically justified.

While I expected that vaccination would become a contentious issue, I would never have predicted in late 2020 that governments would be mandating these vaccines a year later, or that the official government and media narrative would become so strident and so devoid of nuance.

I have long lamented the societal tendency – which has been ongoing for at least two decades but which really accelerated following the 2016 election – to divide the world into Good People and Bad People. Good People supported Hillary. Bad People supported Trump. Good People posted black squares on their Instagram pages to signal their support for racial justice. Those who deemed this to be a rather silly and ineffectual means to support racial justice were deemed Bad People. This divisive poison has now even penetrated into the small world of organic seed production. The Good People seek to break down “dominating” constructs, to “decolonize” the seed community, to center and elevate those voices which have been marginalized. There is nothing wrong with this work per se, but it comes with a certain self-righteousness, in which many of the elders of the community – those who have fought to establish a foothold for small organic seed production against the machinations of ruthless global corporations – are called out as part of the problem, as egotists, as Bad People. It refuses to acknowledge our common humanity, our common dedication to the sacredness of seed and of life on this planet.

This has been a difficult year for me; 2021 was the year in which I – thanks to my opposition to the vaccine narrative and my unwillingness to be vaccinated – became a Bad Person. I don’t do well with that. For better or worse, I am one who looks outward for validation and respect, and even in normal times I am socially awkward and I often feel that I am being pre-judged negatively by those who I meet. I am most grateful for the online community that author John Michael Greer has established for open discussion, and also for all of those in my personal community who have maintained respect for me even as their own perspectives hew closer to the mainstream.

I feel grateful to be self-employed in a small town in the United States right now, and not in Chicago, New York City, Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, or any number of places where basic rights are becoming contingent on vaccination status. Although I am not currently free to leave the country, I am grateful that few of my opportunities have been constrained, and that it seems that further ratcheting of restrictions is unlikely at this point. At the same time, I have to admit that in all likelihood I owe many of those continued freedoms to angry right-wingers with guns, who honestly believe that the drive for vaccination is driven by a malicious globalist agenda for social control. I do not agree with the opposite pole on most issues, but I guess if I am going to survive in a polarized society it is helpful to live in a place where both of the poles – however dogmatic and misguided their beliefs may be – hold some degree of influence. I have to hope, though, that this progressive increase in polarization will begin to give way to renewed communication, to healing, before it gives way instead to armed insurrection and violence.

I should reiterate here what I actually believe is going on, which is most definitely not that we have excellent and safe vaccines available that would end the pandemic if only those stupid and ignorant unvaccinated people would get their shots already. It is also definitely not that Bill Gates and Klaus Schwab and cronies are using vaccination to roll out a worldwide digital identity and social credit system that will create a Matrix-like world in which we are all subservient to the global capitalist Machine. Certainly if the latter were even partially true, vaccine cards would not be cheap and easily forged cardstock, and there would already be some nationwide database of vaccination linked to passports or drivers licenses. Instead, I perceive that the majority of modern humans are believers in Progress – the set of beliefs that includes the mastery of human ingenuity over nature and over the evils of the past, among other things – and that vaccination is a core sacrament within that belief system. It is simply assumed, in the face of a global pandemic, that a vaccine will be developed and will put an end to suffering and death, and any who would question that assertion are backwards heretics who must be discredited and silenced.

In my quest to better understand the science of Covid-19 and vaccination, I have now read well over a hundred scientific publications, and I continue to monitor the latest research that appears on preprint servers each week. I feel like I have a solid understanding of where the science stands, which I will attempt to present here. I’m not going to fill this with citations and footnotes – in part because I am presenting an overall mindset shaped by reading multiple studies – but I can provide additional references upon request to back up any particular claim.

Are the vaccines safe?


Most of the time when people hear this question they mentally convert it to “Are the vaccines safer than infection by a virus that has claimed 800,000 American lives?” which is a very different question which I will address below, but “safe” ought to imply actually safe. Boarding a plane is safe, in that it does not meaningfully increase one’s chance of death as opposed to staying at home. By the same metric, driving cross-country is significantly less safe, although still safe enough that few people hesitate on that basis alone.

This graph tells the story:

Reported vaccine-associated deaths from the CDC Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, 1990-present. Reported Covid vaccine-associated deaths prior to 2020 are due to erroneous date entries on reports. From https://vaersanalysis.info

Contrary to frequent debunking attempts, these are not meaningless data. Submitting to VAERS takes about a half hour and requires the submitting doctor or patient to affirm under penalty of perjury that they have solid reason to believe the death or other adverse event was caused by a vaccine.

We can argue about to what degree these deaths might be under-reported or over-reported, but even if the tally is off by a factor of ten in either direction, the take-home message remains the same: these are the most dangerous vaccines in modern history, and they carry a real risk of death and other life-altering adverse effects. This is affirmed by the existence of survivors’ movements like Real Not Rare, which seek to draw medical and political attention to the very real experiences of harm and loss that a growing number of people have experienced following vaccination.

Occasionally I still see the argument that it is OK to lie about safety because the net benefit of mass vaccination would exceed the net harm. I no longer believe that that cost-benefit ratio of mass vaccination favors the vaccines, but even if this were true I cannot stand behind any argument that says it’s OK to lie “for the greater good.” This is not “just a little poke”. It carries very real risks along with real benefits, and the decision to be vaccinated should be a carefully considered one – along the lines of prophylactic surgery to offset a high genetic risk of cancer.

Is vaccination safer than infection?

It depends.

The risk stratification of Covid-19 infection is immense, with elders with comorbities around 1,000 times more likely to die if infected compared with healthy children and young adults. At least in the near term, vaccination of high-risk groups clearly carries a lower risk to life and limb than infection. However – and especially given that the risk of some adverse effects is higher in the young – the opposite is quite clearly true for children and healthy young adults.

One of the most morbidly befuddling aspects of the past year has been watching what could have been a heroic victory of modern medicine – releasing a vaccine that reduces the risk of death by 75-95% in vulnerable elders – turn into a tragedy as we increasingly marketed, coerced, and even mandated these same beta-version products to everyone regardless of pre-existing risk or natural recovered immunity. Rather than acknowledging that the first vaccines to market are likely to be less-than-ideal and continuing development of safer vaccines with more rigorous testing, we have committed ourselves to the same options and many countries have already ordered enough doses to provide their citizens with four or more injections. Whether or not one is in favor of mass vaccination, this failure at the cost of human life should be unforgivable.

Do the vaccines reduce transmission?

Not by much, and perhaps not at all since Omicron arrived.

We have known for months that vaccinated people, when infected, carry identical viral loads to unvaccinated people, and that the virus can readily spread through fully-vaccinated schools, hospitals, and workplaces. Thus the primary basis for vaccine passports and mandates has been very weak, and in venues that require a negative test only for unvaccinated people, it will actually be the vaccinated people who are more likely to bring in and spread the virus.

We have also known, based on population-level data, that there is no significant inverse correlation between the proportion of the population vaccinated and the number of reported Covid-19 cases, which further suggests that vaccines do not meaningfully reduce transmission.

With Omicron, the vaccinated proportion of infections has been equal to – or in some cases even greater than – the proportion of vaccinated people in the population. Boosters might help for a few weeks to a few months, but it is high time that we let go of the idea that vaccines reduce transmission.

Was it ever reasonable to assume that vaccination would drive the virus to extinction?


The closest analog we have to SARS-CoV2 is not smallpox or polio but another respiratory retrovirus: influenza. Flu vaccines reduce infection rates and disease severity to various degrees, but they do not prevent infection altogether (because the type of antibodies generated by the vaccine have a limited presence in the respiratory tract), and the virus mutates continuously to get around them. The current outcome, with transmission continuing despite vaccination and increasing levels of vaccine resistance in new variants, was always the most likely one.

Do Covid-19 vaccines reduce hospitalization and death from Covid-19?


Although plenty of people on the opposition side try hard to pretend this isn’t true, the signal is quite clear in the data. The effect is also quite durable, with vaccine-induced protection against infection fading after a few months while protection against severe infection remains. This is likely due to priming of T-cell immunity, and similar protection against severe infection is observed following recovery.

This remains a strong argument in favor of vaccination for high-risk groups, and the idea that increasing vaccination rates will reduce strain on hospitals is also worthy of consideration. However, as conventionally presented without nuance, the argument fails to note that those with natural immunity will receive a much more limited (if any) benefit from vaccination, and for some groups (especially young men) there is growing evidence that vaccination actually causes more hospitalizations (due to myocarditis and other adverse reactions) than it prevents.

Are long-term effects still a concern?


Until a full two years have passed – and possibly up to five – we cannot rule out the possibility of Antibody-Dependent Enhancement – a situation in which vaccine-induced antibodies lead to enhanced, more severe infection by a future variant of the virus.

There is also a possibility that spike protein exposure or immune dysregulation as a result of vaccination could lead to shortened lifespans or increased occurrence of illnesses or medical conditions. Of course the same is true for infection; some people experience long covid, and the rate of cardiovascular and neurological problems appears to be elevated for some time after recovery. So this is a trade-off with unknowns on both sides.

Are continuing boosters safe?

We have no idea, but I’m betting on “no”.

There is certainly no reason to believe that they will be safer than the original injections, which we already know are more dangerous than any other vaccine in common use. And given that protection against severe illness and death following vaccination remains robust beyond six months, and an ever-increasing number of people have experienced breakthrough infections which act as a natural “booster” and confer strong immunity, it would seem that the cost-benefit ratio looks worse for the boosters than for the primary series.

One thing to keep in mind here is that these are genetic vaccines – an entirely different technology than the conventional vaccines which inject antigens directly – and we have effectively no studies regarding the short- or long-term safety of injecting them three, four, five, or more times.

Genetic vaccines provide instructions for human cells to produce viral proteins, which then generate an immune response. This immune response unavoidably targets human cells, which could easily interfere with the delicate balance between autoimmunity (a failure state in which the immune system attacks its own tissues) and tolerance (a failure state in which the immune system recognizes pathogens or cancer cells as its own tissues and fails to attack them). Repeating this process multiple times per year strikes me as a dangerous idea, made more so by the fact that we have almost no prior data and we are conducting this experiment in real time on millions or perhaps billions of people.

Furthermore, we now know that the spike protein is itself biotoxic, directly causing blood clotting and possibly also amyloid formation. Repeated internal exposure to this protein through continuing boosters could lead to cumulative harm.

Is natural immunity equal to vaccination?


Although some studies have found that hybrid immunity (infection AND vaccination) is superior, it remains true that the protection against infection and severe disease provided by previous infection is comparable to, and in some cases superior to, that provided by vaccination. There is no solid justification for requiring or even recommending vaccination for those who have already recovered from Covid-19.

What does the future hold?

Covid-19 will become endemic in the human population, and in a number of animal populations as well. It will likely follow a similar path as coronavirus OC43, which is thought to have entered the human population from cattle in 1890 and to have caused waves of illness and death – with symptoms quite similar to Covid-19 including loss of smell – of decreasing severity over 5-10 years before it faded into the background to become just another seasonal cold virus that is still with us today.

All of us will get infected at some point, or our immune system will be trained to recognize the virus by subclinical infection such that we acquire immunity without detectable antibodies. Vaccination could easily help to reduce the death toll, but applied as a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel it could also greatly increase the death toll – through adverse effects of the vaccines or by driving viral evolution in an unnatural way that selects for increased virulence.

At the moment we are still very much in sledgehammer mode, and for that reason I am increasingly concerned that the net effect of our vaccination campaign on human life will be negative, and perhaps dramatically so.

Into a new year we go. I hope the news at the end of 2022 is more positive, and that we can begin to step back from the polarization, “othering”, and dehumanization that has been accelerating in recent years and that represents an existential threat to our society.

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Fear is Tearing Us Apart

Vaccine Mandates are a Terrible Idea

I wrote early on in the pandemic that if our control efforts didn’t work, or if their consequences proved too great to bear, we were going to need to consider the possibility of surrender, to accept a new disease among us. It seems that we may finally be reaching that surrender point, recognizing that the virus will eventually become endemic – but what I didn’t anticipate was our collective ability to pretend that our control measures were effective long after evidence emerged to the contrary. Our governments claimed that lockdowns worked, even when neighboring states with and without restrictions had similar levels of infection and death. Then our governments claimed that mask mandates worked, even when neighboring states with and without mask mandates had similar levels of infection and death. Now our governments are doubling down on vaccination, increasingly requiring it for employment and participation in everyday life, even as it becomes clear that our current vaccines are not capable of ending the pandemic.

In all cases, rather than rethinking whether the control measure in question was really as effective as claimed, the response to apparent failure was to cast blame on those who refused to comply. So a rise in infection was the fault of the partiers, the fault of the anti-maskers, the fault of the anti-vaxxers. This has had the effect of further inflaming an already divided society while promoting “public health” measures that quite possibly, in the balance, do more harm than good.

As the Biden administration pushes forward with ratcheting vaccine mandates and officially-sanctioned demonization of the unvaccinated, I think it’s time for a reasoned assessment of what we actually know about these vaccines nine months in to an unprecedented global rollout.

What do we know about the Covid-19 vaccines?

1. They don’t prevent infection and transmission (after a brief grace period)

The vaccines have always been sold primarily on their ability to prevent severe illness and death, but it was also initially assumed that they would reduce infection and transmission – and thereby reduce disease prevalence in the population. They were pitched as our ticket out of the pandemic, to return to normalcy.

We now have data to the contrary. While there is a protective effect for the first few months following injection, this effect is never stronger than 70% or so, and by 4-5 months it may disappear entirely. In the US, differing testing requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people ensure that we detect more cases among the unvaccinated. The UK appears to be doing a better job of monitoring vaccine effectiveness, and their most recent report actually reveals a slightly higher rate of Covid-19 infection among vaccinated vs. unvaccinated people for those age groups that were injected more than 3-4 months ago.

We can also compare population-wide disease prevalence between high-vax and low-vax areas, which oddly reveals that some of the most-vaccinated countries – like Israel and the UK – have some of the world’s highest infection rates. This is most definitely not the pattern we would expect to see if vaccination reduced infection and transmission, and indeed it seems possible that mass vaccination might be increasing transmission on a population level.

If vaccines don’t meaningfully prevent infection or transmission, then the primary logic in support of vaccine mandates is fatally flawed. Very intelligent people who ought to know better keep talking about “protection from exposure to unvaccinated people” despite an onslaught of evidence that vaccinated people are also contracting and transmitting the virus. In environments that require weekly testing only of unvaccinated people, it is in fact likely that the unvaccinated people are safer to be around in the context of avoiding infection.

2. Vaccine immunity wanes over time

While the vaccines do provide a transient protection against infection, this protection fades to essentially zero after five months, according to this study, even as protection against severe illness is maintained – although a similar study in Israel found some level of fading protection against severe illness over time as well. We do not yet have data on whether booster shots might be able to counteract this effect.

3. Natural immunity is superior

The dominant narrative in the US has been that the vaccines provide superior immunity relative to natural infection with Covid-19. This claim has persisted despite being contrary to immunological logic – most illnesses provide stronger immunity than their respective vaccines – and despite being consistently disproven by real-world data. This study of Cleveland Clinic employees found no significant reinfection among those previously infected with Covid-19, and this news article provides a good example of how contrary evidence is neutered and twisted to fit within the dominant narrative.

Natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity may be comparable during the brief peak of vaccine protection, but as vaccine protection wanes natural immunity becomes far superior. In Israel, people vaccinated in February were 13 times more likely to acquire Covid-19 in August than people who were naturally infected in February.

4. Adverse reactions are common and can be severe

Adverse reactions to the Covid-19 vaccines are much more common than reactions to any other vaccine in current use, and it is accepted that many people will need to claim 1-2 sick days after their second shot. More serious events requiring hospitalization, causing lasting effects, or even leading to death have been observed with some regularity, and the VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) database has been inundated with reports at a rate 10 to 100 times higher than following flu shots or childhood vaccinations. Those who have experienced adverse reactions often find doctors unwilling to accept a connection to the vaccine and unhelpful in diagnosing and treating their symptoms, and online communities have formed as support groups and to advocate for those injured by the injections.

Even using only “official” reports of adverse reactions, it is now becoming apparent that vaccination carries a greater risk for teenage boys than natural infection with Covid-19. Given that so many reactions are unrecorded, it seems possible that this negative risk-benefit tradeoff could extend well into young adulthood. The mechanism of adverse events appears to involve biotoxicity of the viral spike protein; this Substack article does a good job of covering what we know so far while also examining the possibility of lasting damage or longer-term effects.

5. Vaccines provide protection against severe illness and death

Even as protection against infection fades to zero over time, the Covid-19 vaccines continue to provide a significant level of protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. It remains true that hospital ICUs and covid wards are predominantly filled by unvaccinated people – and also predominantly by people over age 50. This remains a strong argument in favor of vaccination, but if protection is primarily personal rather than societal it is also a strong argument against mandatory vaccination.

I accept the validity of the argument that if hospitals are full, people are less able to receive needed care for any reason. This is an argument for increasing vaccination among elders and vulnerable groups. It is most definitely not an argument for mandating vaccination of children and younger adults. Although a small minority of younger people will be hospitalized, these groups are not contributing to hospital overcrowding in a significant way.

Protection against severe illness alone could have been a cause for celebration, had we simply sought to protect the most vulnerable groups with the goal of minimizing suffering and death. But instead we were promised that the vaccines would prevent infections and drive case numbers to zero, and their failure on this account is driving a great deal of fear and unjustified scapegoating.

What don’t we know about the Covid-19 vaccines? – risks for increased transmission and worsened outcomes

We have released vaccines in the midst of influenza pandemics before, but they have simply been updates of existing vaccines. Even then, there were surprises such as reported cases of narcolepsy following the Pandemrix Swine Flu vaccine. It is often said that we have not previously encountered long-term problems with a vaccine, so we shouldn’t expect any this time. That claim ignores the fact that such problems have not infrequently appeared in animal trials and early human trials of novel vaccines. We have never before released a vaccine against a novel virus using novel technology within a year of its initial development, so we are truly in unprecedented territory here.

1. Genetic vaccines may induce immune tolerance

All three of the Covid-19 vaccines in use in the United States are “genetic vaccines.” This means that in contrast to traditional vaccines which inject inactivated virus or other inert particles containing the protein that elicits an immune response, these vaccines supply genetic instructions – in the form of mRNA or viral-vectored DNA – to human cells which then produce the immunogenic protein. Aside from the Ebola vaccine which has seen limited use, no genetic vaccines have been previously deployed in humans.

One obvious concern with genetic vaccines is that since our own cells are producing the novel proteins, our body might be expected to activate the mechanisms that typically prevent our immune system from attacking our own cells – a complex assemblage of biochemical pathways collectively known as immune tolerance. Along these lines, an RNA vaccine under development is specifically designed to induce tolerance in order to treat an autoimmune disease. If tolerance is activated, the immune system still produces antibodies, but it becomes less apt to attack and kill the cells producing the spike protein, and by extension the SARS-CoV2 virus should it make an appearance.

Interestingly, immune tolerance is strongly protective against severe Covid-19, because the life-threatening pneumonia form results not from viral replication but from a dysfunctional immune overreaction. Thus it is entirely possible that the vaccines are highly protective against severe disease precisely because they induce immune tolerance.

Induction of tolerance can be a useful tool, but it would also be expected to increase the likelihood of infection once antibody levels decline. Tolerance, if it is occurring, may result in higher viral loads and increased risk of vascular problems caused directly by the virus, and it may also result in increased risk of infection by other viruses through a down-regulation of the innate immune system.

So far we have indirect evidence suggesting that tolerance may be occurring – namely durable protection against severe illness in the absence of any durable protection against infection, and we also have evidence that the vaccines reprogram the innate immune system – the first line of defense – to some degree. However, we don’t yet have solid evidence that immune tolerance mechanisms are being activated by these vaccines.

2. The vaccines could train the immune system to get stuck in a rut – “Original Antigenic Sin”

In some cases, when the immune system mounts a strong antibody response to a pathogen or a vaccine, it fails to update its response when exposed to a new variant of the pathogen but instead produces more of the original and no-longer-effective antibodies, thus allowing the pathogen to replicate unchecked. This phenomenon is known as Original Antigenic Sin (OAS) and it is hypothesized to have played a major role in the severity of the 1918 flu pandemic for certain age groups.

The risk here is that by inducing a very strong antibody response to one form of one viral protein – the spike – we may reduce the agility of the immune system to respond to variant viruses with modified spikes – and this could could actually put vaccinated people at a disadvantage relative to unvaccinated people or people with natural, more broad-based immunity.

3. Vaccine-induced antibodies could enhance infection of future variants – “Antibody-Dependent Enhancement”

Antibodies serve two purposes. They neutralize a pathogen by blocking its active sites, and they mark it for destruction – usually by big gobbling cells called macrophages. When viruses mutate, some of the antibodies still bind but no longer have a neutralizing function. Furthermore, some of the original antibodies may actually cause the mutated virus to be more infectious – either by facilitating a protein conformation that is better at infecting cells or by allowing the virus to remain active and to replicate inside of the gobbling macrophages. This phenomenon is known as Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE), and worryingly it cropped up in a number of animal vaccine trials for the original SARS coronavirus.

We have no clear evidence of ADE occurring to date, but several studies have indicated that vaccine-induced antibodies may facilitate infection by SARS-CoV2 variants. Should ADE make an appearance as a result of waning immunity or following the emergence of a new variant, it could easily lead to a situation in which disease outcomes are worse in vaccinated people than in unvaccinated people.

These three possibilities – tolerance, OAS, and ADE – are not mutually exclusive and are in fact potentially reinforcing, and it is entirely possible that this unholy trinity could rise up to bite us in the months ahead. Or these concerns could prove unfounded, and we may be left with just vaccines that protect against severe illness while not protecting against infection and carrying a significant risk of adverse reactions.

What is clear, however, is that at this point most people who have elected not to get vaccinated are unwilling to change their minds. Many have already recovered from Covid-19 and therefore have perfectly good immunity. Many have observed both covid infections and vaccine reactions within their community and have decided that risking infection is the better choice. Many are simply fed up with the coercion and dehumanization increasingly aimed at “The Unvaccinated” and have decided to dig in their heels. Against this backdrop, we now have the Biden administration – and many state governments as well – attempting to mandate vaccination for healthcare workers, for teachers, for government employees, and now for all employees of medium-to-large businesses. It is patently clear that whatever happens, this isn’t going to end well.

Why vaccine mandates are a terrible idea

1. They aren’t supported by science.

I covered most of this already, but I should note that it isn’t exactly difficult to find science that contradicts the logic of vaccine mandates. Anyone who is vaccine-hesitant can type a few words into Google Scholar and instantly discover reputable articles revealing that natural immunity is superior to vaccine immunity, or that vaccine-induced protection against infection is incomplete and transient. This will lead to increasing distrust of government and the media.

2. We can’t afford to lose workers, especially in healthcare

The officials declaring mandates don’t seem to be aware that a great many workers would rather lose their jobs than submit to vaccination. With hospitals already at capacity, even losing 5% of nursing staff would lead to unacceptable wait times and a reduction in quality of care. I would hope that, faced with such a choice, most people would rather receive care from an unvaccinated (and regularly tested) nurse than receive no care at all. All across the workforce, attempts to enforce vaccine mandates are all but guaranteed to result in mass firings or walkouts that will disrupt essential services, exacerbate ongoing shortages, and quite possibly send the economy into a tailspin.

3. Society can’t handle much more division without breaking

I am tired of living in a perpetually divided society. In my younger years it seemed like the two American tribes fought perpetually and somewhat good-heartedly over the same perennial issues: abortion, environmental protections, taxes, government spending, social welfare. For the past two decades the situation has been deteriorating. It took a step downward in in the Bush I era, and another during the Tea Party response to the Obama presidency. Trump ramped up divisions and hatreds on both sides, and it seemed that every new issue became immediately politically polarized. Protests, virus responses, ivermectin, vaccines. As Charles Eisenstein eloquently pointed out, the dehumanization of “The Unvaccinated” appears to be tapping into the same patterns of thought and behavior that have historically led to pogroms and genocides. If we wish to avoid actual violence, insurrection, secession, and civil war, we absolutely need to reverse the trend toward ever-increasing division within society, and Biden’s push for vaccine mandates is Very Much Not Helping.

4. Mandates raise the stakes of failure substantially

If it turns out that the vaccines do have serious unforeseen problems that lead to disproportionate illness and death among the vaccinated, those who were coerced against their will will be the most incensed and prone to outbursts of violence. Had we simply offered the vaccines to the most vulnerable groups and to anyone willing to participate in the experiment, the consequences of failure would have been minor – mostly a sense of sadness and loss. Once we started to incentivize shots for teenagers with ice cream cones and to issue “jab or job” mandates, we raised the stakes. If the “safe and effective” mantra proves even partially false over the long run, our nation will experience the sort of political convulsions and crisis of authority that often lead to revolution and chaos. And it will all have been totally unnecessary.

I have never been so unhappy with my government as I was listening to Joe Biden push his vaccine mandate plan last Thursday. Not even under the childish ad hominem outbursts of Donald Trump or the pre-Iraq warmongering of Bush I. The UK, recognizing that vaccines don’t stop transmission, just announced that it is abandoning its vaccine mandate plan. Denmark, following Sweden’s lead, is relaxing all covid restrictions. These are countries that we used to look up to.

Covid has become like the blue flower of Batman, a curse of fear that is tearing our postmodern Gotham apart. I am sad for my country which has weathered much worse but may not survive this storm. I am angry at those officials who would impose their “expert” will over the individual choices and survival instincts of their citizens. I am upset that science seems to matter only inasmuch as it supports a particular predefined narrative, and that anyone who dissents can be smeared regardless of their credentials. I am hopeful that when the dust settles we might finally begin to build a different world beyond neoliberal consumerist crony capitalism. But first we must weather whatever is ahead. Winter is coming. May your pantry be well stocked, and may we all find love in our hearts to support each other in times of need.

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A Sacrament of Progress

If you are a human alive in the world today, you have probably had occasion to think about the Covid-19 vaccines. Perhaps you were first in line to get your shots. Perhaps you are waiting for them to reach your corner of the planet. Perhaps you have grave doubts about them. Perhaps you are facing judgment for your choices, perhaps having to decide between keeping your job and following your heart.

I want to discuss the rapidly-evolving science and remaining unknown risks of Covid-19 vaccines, but first I want to propose a hypothesis for exactly why this has become such an emotionally-charged topic. Charles Eisenstein has done an excellent job of outlining the dangerous mob morality at work – the same phenomenon that has led to some of the darkest episodes in human history – but that leaves the question of why vaccines? Why has society not divided to this degree over smoking, or alcohol, or climate change, or gun rights? Why has this medical decision created a level of discord matched only by religious divides?

I offer this hypothesis: Vaccination is a sacrament of the religion of Progress.

I have written previously about the religion of Progress, and the basic premise is as follows: Human identities are fundamentally composed of stories and beliefs. The idea that we can reject religious belief in favor of “objective” modern science is therefore false. To the extent that modern science informs beliefs about the nature of existence, collective worldviews, and morality, it inevitably takes on the role of a religion. The religion of Progress comprises all beliefs, values, stories, and rituals based around the concept that advancing human technology defines a linear trajectory from a dark, primitive, disease-ridden past to a bright, modern, safe future in which humans have mastery over the vagaries of nature and ultimately over all of planet Earth.

Over the past century or so, humans around the globe – but especially in the “developed” world – have increasingly become believers in Progress. A cancer patient of today feels the same hope and admiration for an oncologist and the latest chemotherapy as their counterpart 500 years ago would have felt for a village healer and the prescribed herbal tinctures. The fact that the oncologist probably boasts a higher patient survival rate has no bearing on the narrative and ultimately religious dimensions of the experience on a personal level. We all have hopes, dreams, and fears – and whether we seek answers from shamans, priests, or scientific experts we are still ultimately all believers.

Vaccination is a method of preventing infectious disease by training the human immune system to recognize pathogens prior to exposure. It has proven extremely effective against deadly diseases like smallpox and polio. Thanks to vaccination, a bite from a rabid dog or bat is no longer a sentence to a miserable death but rather carries almost no risk if treated promptly.

The human immune system is extremely complex, and is still not completely understood. It is faced with the daunting task of identifying and destroying pathogenic microbes while steering clear of reactions with the millions of molecules that comprise our cells and that appear in our bodies as a result of the foods we eat and the air we breathe. Immunity is not merely a matter of developing antibodies. It is a matter of maintaining ratios of neutralizing to non-neutralizing antibodies, avoiding cross-reactivity, storing disease signatures in memory cells, activating T-cells, B-cells, and macrophages, and much more. Furthermore, there is a very high level of immune system diversity in the human population. Most people, upon being stung by a bee, will develop antibodies that recognize bee venom and reduce inflammation from future stings. A few people will instead develop large numbers of reactive antibodies that set off a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction upon future stings. There is no clear way to predict in advance which people will develop such an allergy.

The history of vaccine development is one of trial and error – mostly error. Vaccine candidates may not work, or immunity may be short-lived, or they may generate nasty side effects in some people, or in some cases they can even provide negative protection – rendering an illness more deadly rather than preventing infection. This is referred to as Vaccine-Associated Disease Enhancement (VADE) or Antibody-Dependent Enhancement (ADE). Sometimes vaccines appear to work but then cause problems months or years down the road. For this reason, vaccine development is typically a long, slow process – and even then vaccines are not uncommonly withdrawn or updated following unanticipated problems.

Vaccines are, at their most basic level, a medical intervention. Like surgery or antibiotics or cancer drugs, they can save lives, but if applied unnecessarily or without sufficient testing they can cause harm. They can interact with each other and with other medications in unpredictable ways, and they can potentially have effects on long – even evolutionary – timescales that are impossible to predict in advance.

All religions have a need for sacraments: ritual actions that serve to affirm belief, to ward off harm, and to distinguish believers from nonbelievers. In Christian traditions, the most significant of these are baptism at birth and the Eucharist – the Holy Communion. Without much thought or intention, vaccination seems to have taken on a sacramental role within the nascent religion of Progress. If prayers to God failed to stop children from dying of smallpox and polio, but vaccination succeeded, then it makes sense that the rite of vaccination would take on a sacred value. Vaccination was a way to partake directly not of the blood of Christ, but of the potion of human Progress, to baptize a child into this new faith with wards of protection against the evil diseases of the past.

Certainly vaccines did (and do) save lives, but as the religion of Progress has blossomed they have taken on a psychological – almost mystical – importance that dwarfs their medical value. Even before Covid-19, those who refused vaccines for themselves or their children were viewed not merely as unhealthy or irresponsible – like smokers or drug addicts – but as heretics deserving of the harshest condemnation. Vaccines began to acquire a special status as beyond reproach. They are perhaps the only product on the market for which manufacturers are granted immunity from liability. Researchers are discouraged from investigating potential vaccine harms, and any problematic results are rapidly debunked, denounced, or retracted. Doctors are discouraged from associating medical diagnoses with vaccination, and people who believe they or their children have been injured by vaccines are ignored, gaslighted, and – if they gain too much attention – censored.

The sacramental status of vaccines is problematic because it creates an environment in which truth-seeking science is discouraged and evidence of harm is suppressed. This is analogous, in a sense, to the manner in which rampant abuse of children by Catholic priests was suppressed for decades; those who had been abused dared not speak up against men regarded as holy in their wider community, and those within the church dared not speak out lest they fracture the faith of their followers. As we pass the peak of industrial civilization overshoot and move into decline in the face of hard resource limits, believers in Progress are clinging ever harder to their sacraments, ramping up rhetoric against “anti-vaxxers” as contemptible enemies.

Enter SARS-CoV-2. A novel and highly contagious virus that causes respiratory and vascular illness (Covid-19) that can be deadly, particularly in the elderly and immunocompromised. A century ago, the virus would have been viewed as a minor ordeal in comparison with World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. In the era of Progress, however, death from infectious disease is a relic of the evil, pre-technological past and must be prevented at all costs. Within the already-fragile religion of Progress, this created a crisis of faith, and so we had to Do Something.

Over the past year and a half, we have done a lot of somethings – lockdowns, social distancing, business closures, mask mandates – few of which had any clear impact on viral transmission despite endless expert assurances to the contrary. We willingly accepted disruptions and sacrifices that would have been unthinkable a year prior, all in the name of stopping a virus that killed around one out of 300 people it infected.

From the first day of lockdown it was a foregone conclusion that our ticket out of this mess – our return to normalcy – would be a vaccine. The virus would bow down beneath the gods of Progress – the holy trinity of Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J. The world cheered when the first injections were approved after nine short months, and folks and whole nations jostled for their place in line. When it became clear that far from everyone wished to share in this particular sacrament, an enormous propaganda machine sprang into action, promising lottery tickets, donuts, ice cream cones, appealing to our sense of morality, criticizing objections as political or uninformed, and seeking to make vaccination mandatory for travel, for employment, for recreation.

Conspicuously missing from all of the media coverage is any mention of the real reasons why most dissenters are avoiding this vaccine. Limited testing, novel vaccine technology, declining efficacy, and reports of severe adverse effects and deaths leaking out, whispered between friends and posted anonymously by nurses and doctors in fear for their jobs. I will grant that it is possible to make an argument that everyone ought to accept a personal risk for the good of the whole, but this must be done openly, with a solid understanding of risks and benefits, and with a guarantee of support for anyone suffering harm from that choice. It cannot be done coercively, while attacking straw man objections and shoving the most important concerns under the rug.

It is worth noting that prior to 2020, no coronavirus vaccine had been approved. Multiple attempts to create a vaccine for the closely-related SARS virus resulted in vaccine-associated disease enhancement (VADE) in animal trials – rendering vaccinated animals worse off than unvaccinated animals following infection. In some cases the vaccines worked initially but later caused severe issues. Scientists involved in developing Covid-19 vaccines were aware of this problem and sought to avoid it by specifically targeting antibodies against part of the spike protein, but their success is far from guaranteed. The religion of Progress demanded a worldwide vaccine rollout posthaste, but our collective sacramental trust in the goodness of vaccination in no way protects us against a confrontation with hard-knock reality should this experiment fail.

As I write this, in late August of 2021, the Covid-19 vaccines still appear to provide protection against severe illness, as evidenced by hospital censuses, but:

  • Covid-19 vaccines no longer provide strong protection against infection and transmission of the Delta variant.
  • Covid-19 cases are surging in some of the most vaccinated parts of the world, including Israel, Hawaii, Iceland, and Gibraltar.
  • Vaccine-induced immunity appears to wane rapidly after as little as five months, with Israel already recommending booster shots.
  • The incidence of severe adverse reactions – including deaths – following vaccinations appears to be 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than for most vaccines.
  • Natural immunity appears to be equally effective and longer-lasting than vaccine-induced immunity.
  • Molecular modeling suggests that vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies might actually facilitate infection by the Delta variant, meaning that we may be seeing the beginning of antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE).

Despite clear emerging evidence of vaccine failure, an ongoing rise in infections is being blamed solely on unvaccinated people, and pressure to accept the injections is steadily mounting. Never mind that vaccine passports make no logical sense when vaccinated people are also spreading the virus. Never mind that the risk/benefit assessment of vaccination for children and young adults may well be negative, even without considering longer-term risks.

The best possible outcome of our vaccination campaign at this point would be to blunt the end of a historically-minor pandemic, preventing illness and saving lives. The worst possible outcomes would rank among the largest mistakes ever made by humankind, right up there with profligate burning of fossil fuels and deployment of nuclear weapons. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that a new variant or waning immunity could trigger VADE with the result that vaccinated people are more vulnerable to Covid-19 and the death rate rises from 0.3% to 3%, or 10%, or 30%. Or our leaky vaccines could drive viral evolution to create a disease that is more harmful to vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike.

Nothing is certain with regard to the future of Covid-19 or the vaccines, but what is certain to me is that we are in the grip of a collective insanity driven by the last desperate gasps of the religion of Progress in the face of resource limits and impending decline. I do not wish for the vaccines to cause harm to those I love, but I do in a sense hope that they fail just enough to break the power of the sacrament, to deal a mortal blow to the religion of Progress.

We live in a time when technological progress is stuttering to a halt, when the latest gadgets are buggier and shorter-lived than the older ones and when standards of living are declining for a majority of people. In the years ahead we will have less oil, less money, more climate disruptions, and more human migrations. The religion of Progress would have us pursue massive buildouts of alternative energy, electric cars, nuclear power, geoengineering, artificial meat, and energy-intensive cryptocurrency. It would have us seek to consume our way out of this predicament that we consumed our way into. That is, quite simply, impossible, and the longer we follow that path, the more difficult the inevitable transition will become.

When the stranglehold of Progress is finally broken perhaps we will be able to focus on living more simply, to accept death when it comes in lieu of ever-more-complex and energy-intensive medical interventions, to build bioregional agrarian communities, to place a real value on owning less stuff, using less energy, leaving lighter footprints on the Earth. I am hopeful that we can get there eventually, but I suspect that the months and years immediately ahead will be tumultuous. May we all find love and support amidst the fear and chaos.

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