Profiteering and Covid – plus – what is the end-game?

Profiteering

The head of the Welcome Trust – an organisation with deep links to big pharma – has called for more vaccines to be purchased and given to developing countries so as to reduce the pool of unvaccinated in which mutations can occur. Gosh. He isn’t of course the only one to see the pandemic as a huge opportunity. Remember the ‘Threat – Opportunity’ matrix which all these revenue masters learn in primary school; of course they analyse the pandemic in terms of the market threats and opportunities. Why not? But all this is coated of course with warm words or, more accurately, false narratives.

Just to correct Sir Jeremy Farrar, (who incidentally was in on the secret call which Dr Fauci arranged to manage and do damage limitation on the first findings by scientists that the virus was manufactured in a lab [1]), current evidence is that most vaccines have very limited efficacy against mild infection and transmission. For example for AstraZeneca (with its “extremely rare” side-effects) after three months it seems to offer no more protection against transmission than not being vaccinated at all. Protection against transmission also drops for Pfizer. [2] Both Pfizer and AstraZeneca also lose efficacy against a “high viral load”* very rapidly. For example Pfizer efficacy against a “high viral load” drops from an initial 92% to 78% after 3 months. [3] Presumably this fall continues over the next 9 months. That is; these two leading vaccines both offer limited or very limited protection against mild infection and transmission.

Unless we get to a point then that everyone in the world is vaccinated or boosted every three months there will continue to be significant global transmission of the virus. Given the cost of the vaccines as well as logistics difficulties even in developed countries in giving every member of the population a dose every three months this is not realistic. The goal proposed by Sir Jeremy Farrar is not a realistic one. By all means let’s increase the distribution of vaccines in developing countries; it will reduce the number of deaths. But, realistically, the goal of reducing transmission to prevent evolution of the virus is a utopia. Sir Jeremy Farrar must understand this (or he is unqualified for his position).

What is not 100% clear to me from the Guardian article or Observer piece is whether Jeremy Farrar is calling for a) governments to buy more doses and then give them to low-income countries or b) for the vaccine manufacturers to simply provide more at cost to low-income countries. According to this Guardian article the UK government is buying the Pfizer Covid vaccine at £22.00 a dose (I think that is each of the 2 dose regime). Manufacturing cost according to the article £0.76. Pfizer has, according to the same article, given 2% of production to low-income countries. In his article for the Observer Jeremy Farrar writes: “Rich countries, who have the majority of existing supply, must share more doses over the coming months”. In this case this would appear to mean a); the UK should give some of the doses it has bought at a 28x mark-up and then presumably buy more (if he is talking about Pfizer). He also suggests governments increasing funding for a WHO scheme which aims to achieve equitable access to vaccines. In both cases it would appear that Jeremy Farrar is wringing his hands and imploring governments to give more money to pharmaceutical companies (or the WHO – who in turn spend some of the money buying vaccines from pharmaceutical companies) on a project which is very unlikely to achieve the goal of preventing future mutations. I don’t see him in this piece asking Pfizer to increase the share of its production which it makes available to low-income countries via the WHO scheme.

The end-game for the pandemic

The reality looks very much like: Sars-Cov-2 will continue to mutate and throw up new variants. Vaccines may need to be modified and we may get to a point where people will need to take cocktails of multiple vaccines. Vaccines will offer some protection but some vaccinated people will still get ill and die. Due to rapidly waning efficacy of vaccines and the realistic time period between vaccination (the absolute best it seems realistic to hope for in the developed world would be at 6 month intervals) as well as the fact that vaccines have quite limited efficacy against transmission, the virus will not be eliminated. Sars-Cov-2 and variations looks like being here to stay.

We can hope; a miracle may occur; the virus could mutate itself into causing a much, much, milder illness. But, in general, it looks like the situation is quite analogous to the flu virus. Multiple variations, changing each year; some protection from vaccines, but it will remain a killer of the elderly and infirm. The question then is; what restrictions are going to be put in place in the long-term? At the moment we have absurd panicky reactions to Omicron. But next it will be Pi. At some point ‘democratic’ governments will come under pressure (from business) to implement balanced long-term measures instead of these knee-jerk responses. They may even realise this themselves. Right now it looks like these restrictions will probably include: testing for international travel, limited quarantines after international travel, exclusion from participation in social life of the unvaccinated enforced with digital ‘Covid passes’ – and, in some countries, mandatory vaccination, together with requirements to self-isolate when positive (widely ignored for the obvious reason that billions of people around the world cannot afford to stop earning money for two weeks). To his credit, Sir Jeremy Farrar specifically calls for support to enable the less well-off to self-isolate when positive. (There is a limited scheme available in the UK but not enough it seems to persuade everyone).

All this is a classic example of how large corporations (pharma) and governments, both top-down ‘right-wing’ organisations in Illich’s sense, try to ‘deliver’ solutions. These solutions have certain characteristics; they are very expensive; they build in addiction and reuse of the product (repeated vaccinations); they involve coercion rather than voluntary consent; they ameliorate the problem they are trying to solve to sufficient extent to justify the measures but the cost to benefit ratio is huge (mirrored, of course, by the enormous profits made by those at the top).

The alternative, ‘left-wing’ model (in Illich’s sense) would be based on: accurate information dissemination (including about the risks and limited efficacy of the vaccines alongside the benefits) and voluntary actions by individuals to get vaccinated when medically appropriate (i.e. risk groups and those who do not have natural immunity), voluntary social-distancing in realistic ways and self-isolation when ill. The latter would require employers to act in a socially responsible way and give people paid time off to self-isolate. Now, of course, it is my turn to dream.

Notes

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3F2ZJGipiE https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2021/06/17/covid-19-fauci-lab-leaks-wuhan-china-origins/7737494002/ (Details of the meeting referred to in the audio have not been released. So much for democracy.)
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/10/13/do-coronavirus-vaccines-prevent-transmission-of-the-virus [non-peer reviewed study] “Three months after having the AstraZeneca vaccine, those who had breakthrough infections were just as likely to spread the Delta variant as the unvaccinated.”
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02261-8 [I think this is the same study as 1.]

* I haven’t read the study but I know enough about how these studies are typically rigged by statistical manipulations to understand that what constitutes exactly a “high viral load” is quite likely to have been decided so as to produce the most favourable results for the vaccines.

Ukraine and Russia – crisis in the Donbass heating up

The problem is that the West seems unable to grasp that the people who are in power in Kiev – who came to power as the result of an illegal coup against an elected President – are, at least on the basis of their current actions, a liability. A liability in as much as they are still dreaming of retaking Crimea and recapturing Donbass on their terms. (It is true of course that there has been an election since the coup – but this happened after the country was already fragmented. If the clock could be rolled back to 2014 any democrat would say that the best thing to have done would have been to wait until the Presidential elections, which were due in 2015 anyway, could settle the question of an alignment with the EU, rather than drive Yanukovych out in an illegal coup).

Crimeans voted 80% to join Russia. The 80% has been subsequently confirmed by multiple polls by Western organisations. The East of Ukraine has always been more Russian leaning; the West more inclined to lean towards Europe. Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions had more support in the East. A Gallup poll in April 2014 makes it very clear how Ukraine is split between a pro NATO/EU West, a pro-Russia East and a more balanced centre. [1] Ukraine as a country is riven by a fault-line – facing both East and West. The crisis in 2014 was prompted by the EU and Russia fighting over Ukraine; they put pressure on the country and the fault-line came into the open.

The situation now reflects this split. Crimea is with Russia. The Donbass would like to be. (It is anecdotal of course but the one person I know from the Donbass assures me that her family would rather be part of Russia than Ukraine). The political elite in Kiev cannot accept this reality and dream openly of reconquering Crimea and they seem unable to accept that they will have to grant Donbass substantial autonomy to settle the conflict. This is unrealistic.

The West should tell their clients in Kiev to implement the Minsk agreements and quickly offer the Donbass region substantial autonomy. Instead they supply them with weapons and military trainers and support them in their belief that the crisis in Donbass has been instigated by Russia (rather than reflecting the actual feelings of the people in that region). This creates an unstable situation.

The media of course in the West drills its readers daily in “Russian aggression”. It is highly unlikely that the Kremlin would want to take Ukraine; the country is a basket case with a far lower GDP per capita than Russia and problems with corruption. Russia will act militarily to protect the citizens in Donbass if Kiev breaks Minsk and tries a military adventure. They have said so. Again – the capitals in the West should act responsibly and disabuse their clients in Kiev of the notion that they can retake Crimea on any terms and the Donbass militarily. Any other course leads to real danger of war. And it will not be “Russian aggression” that got us there. But Western intransigence. This fatal inability to clearly analyse situations and instead to mistake the echo-chamber of their own propaganda and imperialistic delusions for an ‘analysis’ of the situation.

(For what it is worth it is my view that Russia has no right to say that Ukraine can’t be part of NATO – though they can advise that if Ukraine did become part of NATO they might have to put more weapons near the border).

Notes

  1. https://www.usagm.gov/wp-content/media/2014/06/Ukraine-slide-deck.pdf

Propaganda is not a joke

Standard delusional fare from the Guardian on Russia.

I don’t know if this kind of garbage matters. It won’t have an effect on Russia. It is about media management for a domestic audience. Were war to break out they have primed the population to believe that it is all the fault of the evil enemy. The usual primitive stuff. Clearly possessing a University degree and/or journalistic training does not prevent you from engaging in this kind of magical-primitive thinking. (Unless the deployment of primitive types of their-tribe-bad / our-tribe-white-as-the-driven-snow is a tactic they’ve learnt from the intelligence services to manipulate the population and they know what they are doing – but I don’t think so).

Absent from the piece is any factual acknowledgement of the build-up of NATO forces in the area, or of the fact that the US has supplied significant new weapons to Ukraine or of the recent use of a drone by Kiev in violation of the ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. Nor is there the slightest mention of the agreed peace process – the Minsk accords – which Kiev has not even started to implement. Or, to be more accurate, some of these facts (the build-up of NATO forces) is alluded to by being presented as an “accusation” of Russia – as if it were either not true or mere opinion. This presenting of inconvenient objective facts as opinions voiced by the other side is a part of how this kind of propaganda is written; it allows them to be mentioned (for the appearance of balance) and discredited at the same time.

The quote which is supposed to show that Putin supports tension on Russia’s borders looks like a garbled translation (via an online translator?) and doesn’t make sense. As it stands is unintelligible. It is possible that Putin was referring to Russian forces in Russia near Ukraine and pointing out that these might have a deterrent effect on Kiev. (In which case Roth is using the garbled text to mischievously produce fake news).

Finally notice that “truth” for the journalist comes from the military of the regime in Kiev. That is probably unwise.

The Georgian 2008 war should in fact be a lesson. Georgia provoked a war in 2008 no doubt hoping that NATO would fly to its aid. Kiev is more than capable of trying the same gambit.

Analysis of Guardian/NATO agitprop against Russia

One of the Guardian’s chief agitprop writers on Russia shows the usual cynical imperialistic double-standards in this piece.

Putin this weekend complained of Ukraine’s use of Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone strikes in Donbass, saying that they violated a 2015 ceasefire agreement.

This is actually a standard narrative tactic they use quite a lot. Of course – Kiev’s attacking positions in Donbass with drones was a blatant violation of the ceasefire. But this is normal; if the militias in Donbass were doing it it would be reported as “a violation of the ceasefire”. But when their ally does it they bury that fact by saying that the ‘enemy’ (Putin in this case) has said it violates the ceasefire – thus turning an objective fact into subjective opinion.

In general of course the reporting is ludicrously one-sided. We hear so much about apparent Russian troop movements in these NATO propaganda outlets but radio silence on the build-up of US warships in the Black Sea or the supply by the West of lethal arms to Ukraine. This enables them to project what is probably a cautionary defensive move by Russia as ‘aggression’.

It is all so obvious.