Covid: in the rearview mirror

Three years ago life was in the process of rapidly shutting down. First large gatherings, then schools, then restaurants, then even (for a brief time) parks and beaches and national forests.

Two-and-a-half years ago the shell-shocked world was waiting with bated breath for much-ballyhooed experimental vaccines which would surely end the pandemic.

Two years ago there was a sense of hope as the shots initially appeared to be highly effective, and the most vulnerable groups were first in line to receive them.

Eighteen months ago this hope had turned to frustration as “breakthrough” infections became common. Rather than accept the limitations of the vaccines, society chose instead to blame those who chose not to take them and to ramp up coercion and discrimination.

One year ago, vaccine mania was in rapid retreat as the new Omicron variant of the virus had infected nearly everyone – vaccinated and unvaccinated alike – and reports of severe adverse reactions to the shots were circulating widely around social media and dinner tables even if they seldom made it on the news.

Six months ago, the news cycle and conversations had mostly moved on from covid, while those still afraid pinned their hopes on the new “bivalent booster” – hopes that were quickly dashed as it became evident that it offered no greater efficacy and that being “up-to-date” with shots provided little to no protection against infection.

At the moment I am getting the sense that the world has moved on entirely. People regularly use the phrase “during covid” to refer to a time in past, as folks might say “during the war” or “last winter”. We have rising inflation, a looming economic crisis, and geopolitical tensions with a side of nuclear brinkmanship – all within the pressure cooker of a world facing resource shortages, ecological overshoot, and climate disruptions. Those who still wear masks everywhere and support vaccination mandates are a small and ever-shrinking minority.

As covid fades into the rear-view mirror, a particular story is crystallizing within the dominant collective consciousness. According to that story, a new and dangerous virus spread rapidly in early 2020 and we necessarily locked down and closed schools and businesses to save lives. Then safe and effective vaccines were rolled out and allowed society to reopen and restrictions to be eased. Vaccination mandates and entry requirements were useful for a time in terms of increasing vaccination rates and decreasing the spread of illness, but now that the pandemic is effectively over they can be relaxed. Covid is still spreading, but thanks to widespread vaccination it is now a much milder disease akin to the flu that we can live with.

All major events of history end up with stories written about them, and those stories are often incomplete, one-sided, or even outright false. From “manifest destiny” and colonial expansion through slavery and lingering racism, the history books have been written and rewritten several times.

Perhaps, given the desire to put all of this behind us, it will now be years or decades or centuries before the covid saga is given a thorough objective analysis – and perhaps it will simply fade into the past to become a topic only of interest to scholars with the record never officially corrected. Before I stop writing about it, though, I’d like to take one more look back at what actually happened over the last three years.

Were lockdowns and masks and school closures necessary?

These measures were supported based on a great deal of confounded and cherry-picked studies. The most significant confounding factor was that these “non-pharmaceutical interventions” or NPIs tended to be implemented near the peak of infection waves and then to be given credit for the trend reversal that was about to occur anyway. On a broader scale, when comparing states (e.g. California vs. Florida) or countries (e.g. UK vs. Sweden) that either did or did not implement these measures, there were no consistent differences in infection or death rates. At best, the measures only delayed infections by a few months, and at worst they were security theater that greatly disrupted society in exchange for no health benefit whatsoever.

Were the vaccines safe and effective?

The effectiveness question is easier to answer. By and large the vaccines were effective *at preventing severe covid illness* **in vulnerable populations** ***who had not previously been infected***. Given that a person was a) at risk of a serious or fatal infection due to age or health conditions and b) had not yet been infected with and recovered from covid, then the choice to get vaccinated carried a net benefit *with respect to hospitalization or death from covid*. Whether it carried a net benefit overall – even in the most vulnerable groups – was never conclusively established.

The idea that the vaccines would somehow by more effective than natural immunity following infection was always wishful immunological thinking and unsupported by science, though this has only been recently and quietly acknowledged by mainstream sources. Furthermore, the idea that vaccination would reduce transmission and that vaccinated people would thereby be safer companions and care providers – the core justification for mandates and discrimination – was never proven by any reasonable standard of evidence.

Claims of vaccine safety were always suspect, given the very limited period of clinical testing, the lack of clinical testing on particular groups (e.g. pregnant women or people with autoimmune conditions), and the novel mRNA technologies being used. It rapidly became apparent that a significant number of people were suffering severe and debilitating reactions immediately following vaccination and that these reactions were being dismissed or ignored by doctors.

Furthermore, three alarming trends have arisen since the mass deployment of mRNA covid vaccines. The first is a marked increase in sudden cardiac death and other cardiovascular problems in adolescents and younger adults. The second is a persistent rise in all-cause mortality – around 10% – that is broadly shared among countries that injected mRNA vaccines into a majority of their population but not among the rest of the world. The third is persistently high levels of covid infection, coupled with high incidence and severity of other seasonal illnesses – again present in nations that encouraged widespread and repeated use of mRNA vaccines but not in other nations. Coupled with scientific evidence that repeated genetic vaccination may well induce immune tolerance to the virus’ spike protein, this is certainly concerning.

Pinning the cause of these trends on the vaccines – as opposed to the virus itself or social stress or some other modern environmental toxin – will prove difficult or impossible particularly in the absence of large-scale controlled trials. (The original clinical trials were effectively destroyed when the control group was offered the vaccine after six months.) It certainly does not help that many among the vocal opposition were expecting some sort of mass casualty event as a result of vaccination, and that this has thankfully not come to pass and seems unlikely to occur moving forward.

That said, it remains my educated perspective that mRNA covid vaccines (and mRNA vaccines in general) are inherently unsafe and that any further booster injection at this point offers a negative risk/benefit proposition. I expect that an understanding of these hazards will finally break through to mainstream awareness at some point – along the lines of lead poisoning or smoking or asbestos or thalidomide – but with billions of dollars and career/political reputations on the line, I’m no longer holding out hope that these revelations will happen soon.

Were vaccination mandates useful or beneficial?

The mainstream version of the story is that these mandates were useful when they were implemented, but that they are no longer needed and so can be relaxed now. That’s a long ways from the truth.

Any protection that vaccination may have offered against infection and transmission was always quite limited and disappeared entirely with the arrival of the Omicron-family variants. It is certainly possible that – for a limited time during the summer and fall of 2021 – the incidence of infection in fully-vaccinated environments was lower than in fully-unvaccinated environments. That said, no one ever managed to craft a solid scientific argument that unvaccinated people posed an undue risk to vaccinated people (who, after all, were well-protected from severe illness by their shots) or that universal vaccination would somehow eradicate the virus and end the pandemic (as opposed to simply losing effectiveness in the face of new variants as happens annually with the flu).

Firing nurses and teachers who had already gained immunity from natural infection was clearly counterproductive to public health and collective well-being, as was the choice to demonize and discriminate against those who chose to remain unvaccinated. Encouraging families to ban their children or brothers or grandparents from holiday gatherings created lasting trauma that will take time to heal – and for no good reason whatsoever.

Plenty of comparisons to Nazi Germany have been floated, and as is generally the case with such analogies they proved to be overblown. There were no executions, no death camps, no genocide – nor were these ideas ever floated outside of a fringe minority. Perhaps a better parallel would be the forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Even that is pushing it a bit far, although during the peak of vaccine mania in late 2021/early 2022 a poll did find that 58% of Democrats wanted to confine unvaccinated people to their homes and 45% supported shipping them off to “designated facilities.”

The Japanese-American internment fiasco also ended abruptly, with citizens returning home to reopen restaurants and serve those who had just months earlier supported their imprisonment. It took decades in that case for any formal apology to be issued, so perhaps I am premature in wishing for reconciliation. I am hopeful, however, that such a reckoning might be possible – at least on a local and familial level if not nationally and globally.

Do we owe our current “post-pandemic” position to widespread vaccination?

Conventional wisdom says something like “now that most people have been vaccinated, covid no longer poses a serious risk.”

In reality, the declining severity and fatality rate of covid infection from 2020 to present is due to three factors, of which vaccination may well be the least important. The most significant factor is likely the rise of Omicron-family variants of the virus, which were both significantly more infectious and substantially less virulent than the earlier variants. It’s probably fair to say that if Omicron had been the first variant to circle the world, countries would never have panicked and locked down. Respiratory viruses generally evolve to become more infectious but less dangerous over time (since sicker people stay home and are less effective spreaders), and this one proved to be no exception.

The second factor is the development of natural immunity, which was well underway prior to the release of the vaccines and which ultimately provided a level of protection to nearly everyone regardless of vaccination status.

The third factor is of course vaccination, which clearly played a role in training the immune system to recognize and clear the virus without severe illness. Modeling studies which claim that the vaccines saved millions of lives in the US alone are based on highly flawed assumptions, but I do not doubt that the shots saved some lives and that getting them was the right decision for some people.

It’s worth noting, though, that covid infection rates are currently higher in nations with high mRNA vaccination rates, suggesting potential longer-term negative efficacy likely due to induced tolerance.

Finally, it should not be necessary to point out that the pandemic is also effectively over (in terms of causing excess deaths) everywhere in the world, including in countries that did very little vaccination. The simplest interpretation is that the pandemic is effectively over because several years have passed, and that’s about how much time a new respiratory bug takes to circle the world and mutate a few times and reach an equilibrium with the human population. The same was true of the “Spanish Flu” that caused waves of infection and death from 1918-1920. Our interventions probably made some things better and other things worse and overall didn’t change the weaving of the pattern all that much, because we are not as all-powerful as we would like to believe.

Where are we now?

Barring some unexpected new variant, or revelations of vaccine harms finally reaching mainstream awareness, this is probably the last I will write about the whole covid and vaccine saga on this blog. Over the past three years I have written about choosing life in the face of death, proposed forming a “Coalition of the Unafraid”, framed the pandemic overreaction in terms of a crisis of faith in the Religion of Progress, envisioned vaccination as a “Sacrament of Progress”, and attempted to follow the evolving science of vaccine benefits, harms and risks.

It would seem that we are moving into a period of history in which our lives will be disrupted multiple times in multiple ways – akin to the period from 1916-1946 that included two world wars, a major pandemic, a great depression, and a dust bowl mega-drought. Given our impending collision with limits to growth and energy, the years ahead will likely be even more tumultuous than the early 20th century. I did not have a pandemic, overreaction, and vaccination mania on my bingo card, but as Yogi Berra says, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” I am hopeful though that when the next storm hits it will bring communities together in response, rather than tearing us apart through fear and scapegoating. We shall see…

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Irrational risk assessment

I was musing this morning on the general perception that our society has become more risk-averse with time, and realizing it is only part of the picture.

This is certainly true in certain areas. Parents today are much less likely to allow their young children to play and walk to school unsupervised, despite no significant increase in the occurrence of kidnapping or attacks on children. We are afraid of the asbestos and lead in our homes, of attacks by political extremists on the other side, of lightning storms and cougars and sharks.

At the same time, we are remarkably *unafraid* of the very real risk of global nuclear war. The last time tensions between nuclear-armed superpowers were this high, during the Cold War, there were global marches and protests and treaties being signed. Now, for some reason, it hardly makes the news. We are also collectively too risk-tolerant when it comes to the known and potential downsides of new technologies: pharmaceuticals, food additives, genetic vaccines, radio transmitters held next to our heads, microplastics, forever chemicals. And we have a special blind spot – especially hypocritical on the social justice-oriented left – for the suffering and lost life-years caused by economic inequality, exploitative pricing, poverty, and homelessness.

So, I present this chart. The placement of each item is admittedly subjective and open to debate. In general, risks on the left side are well-publicized and widely recognized, out of proportion to the actual harm that they cause, while risks on the right side are underplayed or outright denied in media and collective consciousness.

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2022 Weather Summary

2022 was a year of essentially two seasons: winter and summer. After day upon day of cold rain in April and May, we had a brief period of springtime before the summer heat arrived. The transition to fall was even more sudden, with a transition from consistent 70-80 degree sun to consistent 55 degree rain happening on October 21.

It was the coldest year since 2013, averaging 0.6 degrees below the recent average, and the temperature dropped below freezing on 77 days – a new record for my weather station going back to 2009. (The lowest was 30 in 2010, although there have been three years with 76.) Hard freezes in mid-April (down to 25.6 on April 15) were bad news for orchards and vineyards, although it did not freeze after April 17 – right around our average last frost date. There were several near-freezes in May – including 34 degrees on May 20 – which combined with incessant rainfall made it impossible to get warm-season crops established on schedule for most farmers.

The late planting gamble paid off, however, as the summer months were warm and dry and summer weather extended well into our typical fall, with rains not arriving in earnest until late October. The first frost didn’t arrive until November 8, oddly after the first snow on November 6, at which point few tender crops were still producing. In keeping with the sudden change of seasons, the first frost was the first of 13 consecutive freezing nights, with the mercury dropping further and further on crisp clear mornings until reaching 18.2ºF on November 19 – the coldest reading of the year.

The coldest temperature of 2021 was 23.5ºF. In 2022 we saw colder temperatures than that on 14 days across four different months – not even including the ice storm before Christmas that bottomed out at 23.8.

The year finished with a succession of extremes. Although the true arctic air stayed to our north, we had nearly a day of rain at 24-30 degrees as a warm Pacific storm overran a stiff northeasterly breeze, depositing around a third of an inch of ice on roads, trees, and roofs. Though the roads were briefly treacherous, it was not enough to damage trees. The warm air finally won the battle on Christmas eve, when it rose from 32 to 53 in a few hours, leading to one of the warmest Christmases on record at 58.5. After 59.1 on Boxing Day, the strongest windstorm in at least the last five years swept through in the wee hours of 27th, causing a fair number of power outages in the area and bringing temperatures back to seasonal levels.

Precipitation for the year totaled 37.65″, just a bit shy of our 40.5″ average. Aside from the incessant rains of April and May, however, much of our usual wet season was not actually wet, with long dry periods interrupted by brief atmospheric rivers. There was no significant rain from Jan. 8 through Feb. 26, from September through Oct. 20, from November 9-26, and for the first three weeks of December. It seems to be a trend in recent years that our rain events are fewer but wetter, a trend that makes for pleasant winter hiking but is not great for infiltration and groundwater recharge.

January started with at atmospheric river and the year’s wettest day (2.04″) on the 3rd, before shifting into an anomalously dry pattern. Clear days near month’s end brought lows around 20 and highs around 50.

February – usually dreary – featured plenty of sunshine, with three days reaching 60+ in the week before Valentine’s Day, starting from frosty mornings. A cold snap from the 23rd-25th brought two mornings below 20 degrees, followed by an overdue return to winter rains on the 27th.

It seems like March is often a cold month, but this year included some warm days with 68 degrees on the 22nd and 26th. This warm early spring would spell trouble for early-opening buds and blossoms.

April averaged colder than March, 4.2 degrees below normal, with more than double the usual precipitation at 6.24″ and rain on 2/3rds of the days. After a single 75-degree day on the 7th, temperatures dropped steadily to a blossom-biting 25.6ºF on the 15th, nipping the primary buds of grapes, figs, and persimmons and reducing pollination of pears and apples. The incessant rains kept pollinators grounded on most days as well. On the other hand, the abundant rainfall finally put an end to our long-running drought and blunted what could otherwise have been a severe fire season.

May continued the cool and wet for the first half of the month, with many days topping out around 60 and a few around 50. Spring finally arrived on the 21st, with a series of beautiful days in the 70s. Rainfall was again nearly twice normal, and farmers on wetter sites could not till their fields until the last week of the month – six weeks later than most years.

The rain would continue in June with measurable precip on 11 of the month’s first 17 days (once again totaling twice normal for the month) and a March-like high of 58 degrees on the 12th. Newly-planted tomatoes and peppers were not happy, and many warm-season crops would run 2-4 weeks behind their usual schedule for the rest of the summer. Summer arrived precisely on the Solstice (21st) with a series of 80 degree days and no more rain. A two-day heat wave brought 97.5ºF on the 26th, bringing faint echoes of the previous year’s unprecedented late-June heat dome.

The first three weeks of July featured beautiful summer days in the 70s and 80s, with lush green vegetation continuing longer and fire season starting later thanks to the abundant June rains. Heat arrived on the 24th, a long series of 90+ degree days topping out at 101.2ºF – the warmest of the year – on the 29th.

August was warm – uncomfortably so at times – with nine days above 90 degrees and a departure of 2.6º above normal making it our largest positive anomaly of the year. That said, most nights dropped into the 50s, allowing homes to cool, and evening sea breezes reliably brought relief after the warmest hours.

September featured no rain whatsoever until the 28th, with a monthly total of 0.28″ registering just 19% of normal. There were plenty of beautiful late-summer days in the 70s and 80s, but smoke finally reached our area as east winds fanned the Cedar Creek Fire into a major conflagration that threatened the town of Oakridge.

October also featured no rain until the 21st, by which point the delayed arrival of the rainy season had tipped us back toward drought status. Seed and bean farmers reveled in the continuing sunshine, bringing in late-planted crops with no trouble. A high of 89 degrees on the 15th had us wondering what month it was exactly, but we were reminded soon enough as rain and November-like temperatures arrived on the 21st.

November managed to reach average rainfall despite a dry and cold spell from the 8th to the 21st. The 6th provided a surprise as cold heavy rain turned to snow, briefly accumulating around an inch before slowly melting. An infusion of dry air on northeast winds allowed temperatures to drop off steeply at night in the following days, avoiding the persistent fog that often accompanies high pressure at this time of year. The many nights in the upper teens and low 20s made for difficult germinating conditions for late-planted cover crops and caused some damage to radicchio heads. The monthly average temperature of 38.8 degrees was 6.5º below normal and also our coldest month of the year – perhaps the first time I have seen that award go to November. It felt much more like winter than fall, although the frosty mornings did warm to 50 degrees in the afternoons.

December failed to provide much precip for the first three weeks, and ended up about 25% shy of average despite the deluge at the end. The 13th-17th brought a return to crisp 20-degree nights and sunny days, before the winter Solstice ushered in a period of dynamic weather that would bring freezing rain at 24 degrees, a sudden warm-up to a near-record 58.5 on Christmas, and then a major windstorm on the 27th. The last few days were seasonally rainy, a trend that continued into the early days of 2023 as the storm track moved south into California.

What will 2023 bring us? We shall see…

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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

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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