Herd immunity is an illusion

Israel, one of the most vaccinated nations is overwhelmed with Delta. Three vaccinated Senators tested positive. The vaccines lose their power. Plus: Is Joe Biden going to hide forever?

Three U.S. Senators have tested positive for COVID-19, despite all three being vaccinated. Sens. Angus King (Maine), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), and Roger Wicker (Mississippi) announced they have breakthrough cases in the last two days.

Also, Texas Governor Greg Abbott tested positive, though he received his vaccination back in December 2020. The New York Times got to finger-wagging about maskless events and the Lone Star state’s resistance to continued mandates, but they also noted that at least 10 other governors and lieutenant governors, of both parties and in various states have had breakthrough infections.

And Israel, one of the earliest adopters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, whose national program for vaccination was the darling of the health community, is now overrun with Delta variant infections. Israel’s vaccination rate is 78 percent of 12 and over population. Though the initial Delta outbreak appeared to come into the country from an unvaccinated child who then spread it at school (he was too young to be vaccinated, and showed no symptoms), “and now mainly comes from within the country.”

The vaccines don’t appear to be able to stop vaccinated individuals from getting COVID-19. That’s what we’re seeing in the real world.

Data published by Israel’s Ministry of Health in late July suggested that the Pfizer shot was just 39 percent effective against preventing infection in the country in late June and early July, compared with 95 percent from January to early April. In both periods, however, the shot was more than 90 percent effective in preventing severe disease.

What the vaccines do, is keep those who get COVID-19 from becoming very sick. What they don’t do is keep those who are vaccinated and get a breakthrough infection from spreading the virus to unvaccinated individuals. Those unvaccinated individuals can get very sick, and possibly die if they have other comorbidity factors.

This is what’s filling hospital and ICU beds in states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Arizona, Missouri and Alabama. It’s not the vaccinated who are getting hospitalized, it’s the unvaccinated.

So where do we go from here? The vaccines lose their power to resist infection over time, and seemingly a very short time. Within six to eight months after the shots, the effectiveness of the vaccines that have been tracked is trending down below 50 percent. This means that “herd immunity” is an illusion. If Israel never got there, nobody will.

Now we’re looking at booster shots. But if the shots are the same vaccines that only last six to eight months, then vaccinated individuals will need to get boosters every six to eight months, indefinitely, to protect the unvaccinated from potentially getting very sick.

Or will we, as Israel is doing, go back to masks and social distancing and consider lockdowns. And if we do, is it forever? Are the vaccine critics right? Can we find some compromise that keeps hospitals from getting overwhelmed, and preserves some of the basic liberty, without fear-mongering, that are woven into American society?

I think the answer depends largely on people’s politics, which is unfortunate.

My wife went to the local Kroger early this week, and everyone was masked, with a sign outside noting masks were required by local mandate. Then Gov. Kemp announced “we will not shut down,” reiterating state guidelines that override local mask mandates. When I went to the same Kroger last night, most people weren’t masked, despite the signs still being in place.

A store with a more liberal customer base, like Whole Foods, is probably all masked up. We’ve got two very different populations, fighting one virus, living amongst each other in a single state and nation. What we do know is that the vaccines aren’t the magic bullet to end COVID-19. They do protect people from getting very sick, but not from getting “common cold” symptoms, and not from infecting others.

Even so, get vaccinated. Gov. Kemp is giving all state employees a day off on September 3, the Friday before Labor Day, to get vaccinated. Though it’s a good gesture, I can’t think of a worse way to spent Labor Day weekend than being hit by a viral truck, which is what happens when many people get their shots. (It happened to me.)

And if we’re all supposed to get hit by the truck every six to eight months with a booster shot, that might not be the best strategy, because I’m not willing to do it and eat a day of PTO. I’m not sure employers want to give everyone a free day off twice a year to recover, either.

Eventually, we are all going to have to find a way to live together, and to live with the “new normal,” or we have to get better vaccines. But if the current vaccines aren’t enough, how will we know if the next one is going to work? If the two political sides trust nobody but their own echo chambers, this could go on for a very long, and difficult, time.

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Is Joe Biden going to hide forever?

Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty has been wondering what’s wrong with Joe Biden. He’s asking if it’s normal for the U.S. President to ignore an urgent call from our closest ally, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for 36 hours?

As of yesterday:

As of this writing, shortly after 2 p.m. Eastern time, President Biden has no events listed on his schedule for today, tomorrow, or this coming weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration has pushed back the flight restrictions for “VIP travel” around Wilmington, Delaware from Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern to 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, August 23. Despite the severity of the current crisis, it appears Biden still plans to spend the weekend at one of his homes in Delaware.

Biden has not taken a single question from the media, except one sit-down interview with George Stephanopoulos. The television broadcast of that interview was highly edited, but the transcript is pretty ugly.

Read it for yourself; there’s a lot of word-salad and “I don’t know”s.

BIDEN: No. I-- I don't think it could've been handled in a way that there-- we-- we're gonna go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens. I don't know how that happened.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So for you, that was always priced into the decision?

BIDEN: Yes. Now, exactly what happened-- is not priced in. But I knew that they're gonna have an enormous, enorm-- look, one of the things we didn't know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out, what they would do.What are they doing now? They're cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, et cetera. But they're having-- we're having some more difficulty in having those who helped us when we were in there--

More importantly, Biden is ducking the press. He’s reading from teleprompters. He’s sitting down in highly edited one-on-ones where he can refer to notes and be very well prepped. He’s not taking phone calls right away.

How long can Biden hide? What happens when he stops hiding?

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