How will Covid-19/Coronavirus Affect my Alternative Investment Portfolio? Part 58: August 7th
"Younger, sicker and quicker (to get worse)": 4th U.S. wave vaults past multiple records, as Delta muscles its way to 95% dominance; Herd immunity: Are we getting close or is Delta moving the goalpost on humanity?; Crystal Ball: U.K. appears to be losing control of its latest wave and Delta causes infections in Israel to soar; New study estimates herd immunity may require "well over 80% and approaching 90%" rates to stop pandemic; How did the experts and pundits get Delta so wrong?; After stonewalling critics for weeks, CDC reverses course and reinstates recommendation for the vaccinated to mask-up; The CDC's inexplicable "see no virus, hear no virus, speak no virus" policy on breakthrough infections comes under more fire; Israel claims Pfizer vaccine’s power wanes quickly over time and also lets through more severe cases too; Poll finds most unvaccinated Americans believe getting the jab is a bigger risk to their health than catching the virus itself; Latest update on my portfolio strategy.
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This article is part of a multi-article series that's been published regularly since the pandemic began, back in March 2020. It started with three introductory articles on the virus and its effect on the economy and on alternative investment classes. Then it moved on to weekly updates on the latest and greatest developments (along with weekly updates on my evolving personal portfolio strategy). Then in February 2021 it moved to bi-weekly updates and in May 2020 it changed to once several weeks. You can see the links to every article in the series here.
"Younger, sicker and quicker (to get worse)": 4th U.S. wave vaults past multiple records, as Delta muscles its way to 95% dominance.
For the 78th week in a row, the United States battled the coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes the Covid-19 disease. And as of Saturday morning, the official death toll had climbed to 632,644 (versus 624,746 on Saturday morning, 2 weeks ago).
Here's a quick summary of what's happened so far:
The first U.S. death wave started in early March 2020. It spread overwhelmingly in urban areas (like New York City in the Northeast). It peaked in late April 21st and the country fought it down until early July.
The second death wave started on July 7th 2020. This ran predominantly through urban areas and the Sun Belt. It peaked on August 1st, before falling until early October 2020.
The third death wave began on October 9th, 2020. It was initially led by rural areas and later spread across the entire country. By late October 2020, it had caused acute shortages of critical drugs and key medical personnel needed to fight the disease. Then in November 2020, it caused hospitals to overload in certain areas of the country. These were forced to deny care to incoming patients (both those infected with the virus and uninfected), resulting in higher deaths than necessary. This wave peaked in late January of 2021. Then it subsided considerably through June 2021, alongside -- and thanks to -- a rapid increase in vaccinations.
Now, we’re in the newest, most uncertain and critical phase of the pandemic. This is a race between humanity’s vaccines versus the virus’s ability to mutate into more dangerous versions that evade the vaccines.
Humanity led the race in the early stages. But the pace of progress is slowing due to vaccine hesitancy and the plodding, tortoise-like global vaccine rollout. Meanwhile, the virus is gaining momentum and has spawned multiple generations of increasingly dangerous mutations. And Covid-19 has been aided by large numbers of people refusing to take health precautions, which gives the virus more time and evolutionary incentives to mutate.
The risk most concerning has been that one mutated version may actually achieve escape velocity and completely jump the vaccine firewall. If this happens, and if it’s a variant that’s severe enough, we may see renewed lockdowns along with damaging economic effects (and potentially even a double-dip recession). And if this occurs, it would be negative to many investments. So, monitoring this situation is the newest focus of this article series.
The latest and most dominant variant is Delta (formerly known as the "double mutant" from India). Delta is a beast because it’s 225% more contagious than the first strain. And it multiplies rapidly, churning out an over-achieving 1000 times more copies of itself than the original. Indian doctors have reported that in addition to the typical Covid-19 complications and symptoms, Delta has unpleasant new ones. These include: hearing impairment, gangrene (from blood clots), stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and joint pain. Studies have shown that people who have Delta also become infectious to others much more quickly (only 4 days versus 6 for the original). And early studies in England and Scotland suggest it carries a higher risk (double) of hospitalization.
Delta has also speedily become the most dominant variant in U.S. sequenced tests. What’s the latest there? Here's the latest statistics:
Delta's dominance has only strengthened from an already strong 79% two weeks ago to stifling 95.29%. And it’s a startling leap from almost nothing (6.6%) at the beginning of June (only 5 weeks ago).
What effect has this had on infections? Here's the latest:
This is a bad graph. Not only has the fourth wave failed to stop, but it’s continuing to climb. And it’s now eclipsed the worst of the first wave, the worst of the second wave and the worst of the mini-wave at the end of the third (caused by first-generation variants, Alpha through Gamma.)
The main difference between now and earlier in the pandemic, though, is the vaccines. While newer studies have shown they don’t stop the spread of the disease (see later section), they do greatly minimize the chance of hospitalization and death. And as of today, according to the CDC, 80.3% of those who are most vulnerable to severe outcomes (65 and older) are fully vaccinated.
So, many health experts are expecting the country to be able to sustain higher infection rates than in previous waves, before smacking into the horror situation of hospital overload.
And, while earlier in the pandemic, much of the hospitalization data available was so poor it was virtually unusable at a national level, it’s improved greatly. For example, the CDC's COVID-NET now tracks the hospitalizations among children and adults through a network of 250 acute-care hospitals in 14 states. So while still not perfect or comprehensive, it provides a more useful tool now than it did earlier. So we'll start to look at that as well.
How are hospitalizations looking this week?
This isn’t a very good graph either. As a reminder, hospitalizations tend to lag infections. So a spike in new cases can take one to two weeks to show up here. And even with that delay factor, hospitalizations have now surpassed the highest point of the first wave from back in the earliest days of the pandemic (July 2020). And they’re also now worse than the peak of the third wave in early 2021.
So hospitalizations are looking a little bit better than infections. But so far, it’s not as much as many were hoping. And if the 1 to 2 week lag is taken into account, it may not be much of an improvement at all.
This has caused some health experts to conjecture that perhaps Delta is able to more easily cause severe disease among younger populations than the original. And studies are underway to examine this hypothesis. But at this point, it's too early to have any results.
Anecdotally, many doctors working on the front lines claim that they are seeing this difference with Delta, and to a significant extent. Patients are undoubtedly younger than in earlier waves, with many in their 20’s and 30’s. And almost all are unvaccinated. So some physicians have coined a new phrase for these new Delta patients:
"Younger, Sicker and Quicker (to get worse)"
And unfortunately, signs of hospital overload are already starting to show.
On Saturday, the city of Austin Texas sounded the alarm that the situation is "dire." And the city of 2.4 million people has only 6 ICU beds left. Public Health Medical Director Desmar Walkes said:
"“The situation is critical. Our hospitals are severely stressed and there is little we can do to alleviate their burden with the surging cases.”
Patients in ICUs have skyrocketed 570% in the past month. Covid patients on ventilators surged from 8 on July 4 to 102 on Saturday. And there may be more to come as cases in the Austin area have increased 10 times.
Meanwhile, vaccination percentages for younger people continue to be poor.
As mentioned earlier, 80.3% of citizens aged 65 and older are fully vaccinated. But the CDC’s site shows this number drops rapidly when looking at 12 years of age and older, to 58.5%. And that comes out to only about 50% of the entire U.S. population (since children below 12 are not currently authorized for the vaccine).
Herd immunity: Are we getting close or is Delta moving the goalposts on us?
Above, we talked about how 50% of the population is currently vaccinated. And those experiencing natural immunity from surviving a Covid-19 infection are believed to be about 30-40%. So some are wondering “Why we aren’t already free from Covid” all together? Unfortunately, the simple math above ignores some complicating factors:
(1) Many 2nd generation variants are able to reinfect recovered patients.
(2) We don’t know how long natural immunity lasts. And many health experts believe it wanes (similar to the vaccines).
(3) The percentage of vaccinated people includes a number of people who then opted for the vaccine (So there is some overlap). And the “fully vaccinated” numbers mentioned above may be slightly inflated by those who seek out third shots as increased protection.
So the “Covid-19 Population Immunity Calculator” online, created by the heavily followed data scientist YouYang Gu, is one source that tries to take into account several of these factors.
Based on the efficacy data (last updated on April 26, 2021), the calculator's estimate is that we would be at around 62%. (This is using an estimate of natural infection rate at 35%, total population vaccination at 50%, and the vaccination rate among previously infected individuals at 40%).
If accurate, that still wouldn't be too bad. It would be fairly close to the 70% that many believe is required to hit herd immunity. But unfortunately, none of that takes into account the game-changing Delta variant. If you change the model sliders on the outdated efficacy factors to numbers more in line with what we’re learning about Delta, it results in a much lower current total population immunity (moving herd immunity even farther away).
(The calculator, using the April data, automatically sets those three efficacy factors at 85, 85, and 95, respectively. In spite of Pfizer and Moderna celebrating 95% rates, Gu’s notes explain that (in April) he expected real world efficacy of vaccines to be slightly lower than found in trials; that a not-insignificant number of people would miss/skip their second vaccine dose; and that the J&J vaccine numbers would skew the overall vaccine efficacy a bit downward.)
Gu isn’t alone in thinking herd immunity is slipping further away. In the section below, a recent study concluded that herd immunity against Delta might require 80 to 90% of the population to be immune. If so, the virus may be moving the goalposts on humanity.
Crystal Ball: U.K. appears to be losing control of its latest wave, and Delta causes infections in Israel to soar
Meanwhile, both Israel and the United Kingdom have higher vaccination rates than the United States (69% and 63% versus 50% respectively). And both were hit with the Delta variant sooner than the U.S.
So both are probably very helpful leading indicators of what the U.S. can expect in the coming weeks and months. How are Israel and the U.K. looking this week?
Here are the latest infections:
Israel's graph is bad and infection rates continue to skyrocket unchecked. This week, they reported that half of new infections are among the vaccinated. And they’re seeing evidence that the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes quickly over time, so are rolling out third booster shots for the elderly (see later section).
On the other hand, the United Kingdom briefly hit a peak and dropped which was a welcome sign. However, this week, that improvement ended and it plateaued. And, two weeks ago, the country emerged from tight lockdowns. So, many expected a surge in the infection situation about two weeks later. So unfortunately, it looks like that's occurring right on schedule.
It generally takes additional weeks for infections to progress to hospitalizations, so it's too early to expect to see anything there now. So we will check in on those in the next update.
New study estimates herd immunity may require "well over 80% and approaching 90%" rates to stop pandemic.
Herd immunity happens when so many people in the community are vaccinated (or infected and unable to be re-infected) that the virus can no longer spread. And when this happens, a pandemic ends. It dies out on its own.
And health experts say it's difficult to make accurate estimates of this number. But the previous consensus for the original virus was around 70%.
So this week, a new study came out analyzing Delta. And if accurate, then unfortunately, the herd immunity threshold is much higher and further away.
Ricardo Franco, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and co-author of the study, said:
"The problem here is that the Delta variant is … more transmissible than the original virus. That pushes the overall population herd immunity threshold much higher … For Delta, those threshold estimates go well over 80% and may be approaching 90%.
If accurate, this would make Delta one of the most difficult viruses to control we’ve encountered. Franco explained:
"[In comparison] Measles has one of the highest herd immunity thresholds at 95%."
How did the experts and pundits get Delta so wrong?
Earlier in the pandemic, many health experts said that the chances of the coronavirus mutating into a more dangerous strain were almost nonexistent.
After all, SARS-CoV-2 isn't particularly sophisticated. It has only about 15 genes versus 3,000 in a run-of-the-mill E. coli bacterium that causes a stomach bug. And more importantly, its structure has a built-in genetic self-checking mechanism, which many viruses don't have. This keeps its mutation rate low at only one mutation for every 10 replications (versus about five times higher for the flu and 10 times higher for HIV).
And, mutations cause a random genetic scrambling that almost always has no effect on the virus (or makes it less dangerous or even nonviable). It's estimated that it may take a million-trillion mutations to come up with a single variant that is harmful (like a Delta).
As a result, many experts (like Richard Neher, an evolutionary biologist at Switzerland's University of Basel) concluded in late 2020 that Covid mutations were a non-concern. In August of 2020, Neher claimed:
"They [mutations] don't seem to make much of a difference. We probably only need to worry about it on a timescale of about five years."
But virtually all of these experts failed to anticipate how widespread the pandemic would become (and they under-estimated by a large amount). As of today, a staggering 202.6 million people have been officially tested and confirmed with the disease. And due to the lack of adequate testing, the actual number is much higher (and believed to be in the multiple billions).
How does that massive rise in infections affect the mutations?
Mutations per day: A single infected person might carry 10 billion copies of the virus. So with a one in 10 mutation rate, they're producing 1 billion mutations per day.
Mutations per person: The longer they're infected, the more mutations they create. Currently, the average length of a brief case is believed to be about two weeks. A more serious case of hospitalization typically lasts for three to six weeks. And a case that results in death usually takes about 10 weeks to happen. So, a conservative average might be about two and a half weeks, for the typical patient. If so, then that brings the total to 17.5 billion mutations … all coming from a single person's infection.
Mutations for all: Then multiply this by just 1 billion people (which is far more conservative than multiple billions). The result is a number of mutations so large that it probably doesn’t have a name: 1.75 with 20 zeros after it (1.75 E 20)
In comparison, the million trillion threshold estimate (the number of mutations needed to produce one negative mutation) is only 1 with 18 zeroes after it:
One trillion: 1,000,000,000,000 (12 zeroes)
One million-trillion: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (18 zeroes)
So it probably shouldn’t be a big surprise that we’ve had not just one mutation, but many. And we’re already in our second generation of mutations in a span of 1 ½ years.
As Sharone Green, a physician and infectious disease researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said:
"Having billions of people infected presents a breeding ground for variants unlike anything we've ever seen with these sorts of viruses"
As a result, most experts now acknowledge that Delta is unlikely to be the last successful variant. And any variant that is more transmissible tends to quickly become dominant over the older strains.
So a good development would be for a mutation to evolve into a variant more transmissible than Delta and yet less severe. On the other hand, it's also equally possible that a new variant could result that's both more transmissible and more severe.
Currently, scientists are already looking at several other variants to see how they stack up:
Eta (which is now in several countries)
Kappa (which also originated in India)
Iota (which started in New York City)
Lambda (from South America).
But, research at this stage is still early and there are few definitive results yet.
The doomsday scenario is of course a variant that's worse than Delta. Eric Vail, director of molecular pathology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said this week:
"I wouldn't be incredibly surprised if something else came along that's even more transmissible. [And if it’s more severe, then] such a super-spreading virus might burn through the unvaccinated, non-previously infected population so fast that hospitals couldn't come close to coping."
However, there is wide disagreement on the likelihood of this. And so much is unknown at this point, that there’s no ability to get a consensus.
The one thing that may still work in humanity’s favor is that relatively simple structure of Covid-19. For example, the genes of the virus's spike can combine in only a few hundred ways. So this may theoretically limit the number of possibilities there are. Vail believes this is this the case:
"There are only so many changes that can be made to the spike protein without making it non-functional. [So] I'd be cautious about saying that it can keep mutating indefinitely."
Of course, it's remotely possible the virus could evolve a more complex structure that would allow for additional combinations, too. And a lot remains unknown.
Another positive is that, so far, the virus doesn't have the ability to recombine itself with other variants. This is different from the flu, which can do this. And this recombination feature is what makes the flu so difficult to vaccinate against because a new jab is required each year. So that’s currently another “plus” in favor of humanity.
Meanwhile, the one thing on which virtually all scientists can now agree is that Covid-19 is unlikely to go the way of Smallpox and be completely eliminated. Nature surveyed 100 immunologists, infectious-disease researchers and virologists in the field on whether they thought SARS-CoV-2 would be eradicated or not (i.e. become endemic). And unfortunately, 89% said it's "likely" (or "very likely") to become endemic (i.e. stay with us for years to come and circulating in pockets across the globe):
Perhaps it’s reassuring that 39% believe it is “likely” or “very likely” that it could be completely eliminated in some regions (like the U.S.). Of course, the flip side of that is that the vast majority don't see a way this will happen either. Even if the more pessimistic scientists are correct, that doesn’t necessarily mean a future that’s as bleak or problematic as the way things look today. Other viruses have become less severe over time. And that’s how we got the modern flu (which is the much less deadly remnant of the horrific Spanish flu pandemic of 1918).
And perhaps SARS-CoV-2 may also ultimately become like the flu in that it will become a rite of passage for young children (who have not yet been vaccinated) to get it...with the remainder of the older population (at least, those who are willing) receiving regular vaccinations as protection.
But either way: if these scientists are correct, then the general public may need to come to terms with the fact that the virus is most likely here to stay (in one form or another). If so, then we may need to start thinking about it as a permanent, unwanted houseguest rather than a one-time intruder.
After stonewalling critics for weeks, CDC reverses course and reinstates recommendation for the vaccinated to mask-up
On May 28th, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) made a huge and controversial announcement. They said that the fully vaccinated could safely "resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing".
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky excitedly proclaimed:
"We have all longed for this moment. If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic"
However, this raised eyebrows with many health experts. At the time, there were no conclusive studies proving that vaccinated people couldn’t spread the disease. And if they could still spread the disease, then the CDC’s guidance would most likely exacerbate the pandemic rather than help it.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams was very direct in his criticism:
"I’m worried the CDC made a ... premature … harmful call on masking in the face of the delta variant."
...Even the vaccinated now could be spreading [the virus]. We cannot afford to send the message that if you're vaccinated you have no worries and no responsibilities.
...Instead of vax it OR mask it, the emerging data suggests CDC should be advising to vax it AND mask it in areas with rising cases and positivity -- until we see numbers going back down again.
CDC was well intended, but the message was misinterpreted, premature, & wrong. Let’s fix it."
However, the criticism fell on deaf ears and the policy continued full steam ahead.
And of course what happened was that the unvaccinated (who either had always hated masks or had tired of them) were now able to stop wearing them in public, too (because their lack of vaccination was undetectable). So some health experts pointed out that this was moving in the wrong direction.
Additionally, families with children under 12 (who are not yet eligible for vaccinations) and/or at-risk household-members (who in some cases can't take the vaccine) complained that the CDC guidance had made it less safe for them to go into public (because they were now more likely to bring home an infection).
And the issues didn’t stop there. The United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing thousands of grocery store workers, claimed the CDC policy was worsening the situation for its members:
"Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local Covid safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”
Yet, still the CDC held its course and did not relent.
Accordingly, many were very surprised when on July 27, it announced a sudden about-face. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said:
“Today, we have new science related to the Delta variant that requires us to update the guidance regarding what you can do when you are fully vaccinated.
In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant, and protect others. The CDC recommends that everyone in grade schools wear masks indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.”
Since the CDC had dug in its heels so deeply against mask wearing for so many weeks, many health experts wanted to know exactly what science had changed the CDC’s opinions.
The study did an in-depth analysis of a Covid-19 outbreak that happened in Cape Cod, Massachusetts from July 3-17th. The city hosted a large number of indoor and outdoor events for tourists in bars, restaurants and rental homes. And 469 Covid-19 cases were identified (with more presumed to be asymptomatic).
Unsurprisingly, 90% of the specimens were identified as the Delta variant. But what was surprising to many is what Delta did to those who were fully vaccinated.
After the previous CDC advice, many vaccinated people had assumed that they would be very unlikely to get an infection, much less a symptomatic or severe case. And it had been repeated over and over again that "breakthrough infections are very rare." (Note that, at the same time, the CDC had deliberately chosen to stop tracking most of these break-through infections for months … which we'll talk about in the next section).
So the report was a wake-up call to many, when it showed that a shocking 74% of those infected had in fact been fully vaccinated (meaning these were all "breakthrough infections").
The study also showed that 79% of those vaccinated and infected were symptomatic, and suffered from symptoms like cough, headache, sore throat, myalgia, and fever. And a disturbingly large percent of those hospitalized (4 out of 5 people or 80%) were also fully vaccinated.
But, this was only the beginning. The real stunner was what the study found when they performed real-time PCR tests on the participants. These are nasal tests that are used to detect Covid-19 and analyze what's going on inside the patient. And these tests made a shocking discovery. The viral load in the vaccinated was identical and indistinguishable from the unvaccinated. And it’s believed that the more virus a person has in their nasal passages, the more likely they are to infect someone else with it. So if accurate, this means that vaccinated people are able to spread the Delta variant just as easily as the unvaccinated.
Some health experts pointed out that this shouldn’t have been a real surprise. Early in the pandemic, an argument had been made that a vaccine injected into muscle (which is how all the current vaccines work) was unlikely to prevent the spread of a virus which replicates quickly and infects its victims via the nasal passages.
Dr. Anna Durbin, a vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins University, explained:
"Without a strong mucosal response, injected vaccines may be less likely to produce so-called sterilizing immunity, a phenomenon in which a pathogen is purged from the body before it’s able to infect cells."
Even with an intramuscular vaccine, the body eventually fights back against mucosal pathogens. But the process is a lot slower. And in the meantime, the virus has a chance to multiply rapidly and also infect others.
As Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona, explained:
“It’s mainly a timing issue. If you have circulating cells and molecules, they’ll eventually find the infection. But you’d rather have a more immediate response.”
So all of these factors in the study drove the abrupt change of policy at the CDC.
Still, some health experts said the agency’s change of heart hasn’t gone far enough. Even the study’s authors themselves (in an addendum) pointed out a potentially major flaw in the thinking behind the current CDC policy:
“On July 27, CDC recommended that all persons, including those who are fully vaccinated, should wear masks in indoor public settings in areas where COVID-19 transmission is high or substantial. Findings from this investigation suggest that even jurisdictions without substantial or high COVID-19 transmission might consider expanding prevention strategies, including masking in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status, given the potential risk of infection during attendance at large public gatherings that include travelers from many areas with differing levels of transmission.”
As of today, the CDC has not announced any changes in its policy.
The CDC's inexplicable "See no virus, hear no virus, speak no virus" policy on breakthrough infections comes under more fire
How did the CDC miss the ball so completely on the prevalence of breakthrough infections?
Some health experts have suggested multiple reasons, but one in particular has been singled out frequently.
In May 2021, the agency deliberately chose to stop tracking any breakthrough infections that didn’t result in hospitalizations or death. And since hospitalizations and deaths are typically just a small fraction of breakthrough infections, this would effectively exclude monitoring the overwhelming majority. Many experts were stunned and flabbergasted. Charity Dean, Assistant Director for the State of California Health Department, said:
“When I saw the CDC was going to stop tracking vaccinated people who get infected, my heart sank. We lost our shot at being able to characterize how this variant is moving through the population and how new variants might emerge.”
Michael Kinch, director of the Center for Research Innovation in Business at Washington University in St. Louis, was more blunt in his criticism:
“The more data you have, the better decisions you can make. So why would they knowingly turn away data which historically has been really important to have? For an administration that said they’ll be driven by the science, it makes no scientific sense.”
But the CDC was unmoved. And as a result, many states also stopped tracking this breakthrough information. So valuable data was lost forever.
Fast forward to this week: after the news of the Massachusetts study broke, Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey was reportedly furious. He wrote an open letter to the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky demanding answers and accountability for their decision to stop tracking these cases.
In the letter, he pointed out that monitoring by the Massachusetts Department of Health had found that breakthrough cases accounted for 43.4% of all new Covid-19 infections in the Commonwealth for the week of July 10 through July 16 alone.
And he demanded an answer to the question that has stymied many:
"On May 1, 2021, why did the CDC announce that it will no longer require states to report information to the CDC on breakthrough cases that do not require hospitalization?"
And he also insisted on a change of policy:
"The CDC should resume collecting data on all such cases. Health officials and workers need robust data and information to guide their decisions.”
Israel claims Pfizer vaccine’s power wanes quickly over time and also lets through more severe cases too
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel's director of Public Health Services, was interviewed on Sunday about the country's decision to start giving booster shots to those 60 and older, and what led to it.
She said data shows that half of the country's infections are now among the vaccinated (in other words, breakthrough infections). And the infection rate for those vaccinated in January is double that of those vaccinated later in March. So they are seeing that the vaccine's power fades over time. And she also explained they are seeing an increase in serious disease among the vaccinated.
"First is really the evidence of what we think is waning immunity and the difference between the infection rate between those who were vaccinated early on and those who were vaccinated later. But also there is evidence that we have increased severe and critical conditions: hospitalization among the 60 and above population who are fully immunized. And that's together with the fact that we’re also seeing a lack of response to the vaccine over time. So this has led us to suggest to people, or allow them, to be vaccinated a third time. So it's not just the fact that we're seeing more disease, but they're getting to more severe and critical conditions [too].”
Poll finds most unvaccinated Americans believe getting the jab is a bigger risk to their health than catching the virus itself.
On Wednesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey of Americans and their beliefs and attitudes regarding the pandemic and the vaccine. And it found that three fourths of the unvaccinated say they’re "not worried" about getting seriously sick from the virus. And more than half (53%) believe that getting vaccinated is a bigger risk to their health than getting infected with coronavirus.
On the other hand, continuing bad news about Delta has caused one in five of the holdouts (22%) to now feel that they’re “more likely” to get vaccinated. And intentions have been translating into actions as vaccination rates have ticked upwards in the areas being hit the hardest by the variant. https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-vaccination-rates-rise-where-delta-variant-is-spreading-11628189168
Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Alabama are all now vaccinating people at their fastest rates since April. And in the last two weeks, Tennessee is seeing a 90% increase in first shots, Oklahoma an 82% increase, and Georgia a 66% increase.
Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University, said:
“It demonstrates to me that people are watching what’s happening. Hopefully this will nudge people that are on the fence. Don’t wait until Covid comes knocking on your door."
The best determinants of whether a given person will be unvaccinated include being uninsured and under the age of 65. Maybe this means that many younger and middle-aged people don’t realize that vaccination against Covid is free, and an information campaign would be beneficial.
Only 44% of this uninsured, under-65 population has been even partially vaccinated with a single dose. In comparison, 85% of those aged 65 and older have gotten at least one shot.
And the political divide continues as well. Members of one political party are only 54% likely to have had a single dose, versus 86% of the other.
Latest Update on My Investment Strategy
Every update, I take a look at the latest developments and data and reevaluate my personal outlook on the possible economic scenarios and my personal investment strategy. And this week I'm making no meaningful changes.
The great news: By pure luck, the mRNA vaccine technology (which took decades to develop) matured just in the nick of time to be used. And unlike traditional vaccines, it turned out to be remarkably effective against even first and second generation mutations. This (along with a rapid U.S. vaccine rollout) has allowed the U.S. to avoid the 2021 lockdowns that happened in other countries. So many areas of the economy are recovering well. And the U.S. has catapulted from one of the least-enviable positions in the world to one of the most. Additionally, very generous stimulus cushioned what would've otherwise been catastrophic damage for tens of millions.
The not-so-great news: Still there's been lots of long-term structural and collateral damage. At the current rate the unemployment deficit won't be made up until summer of 2022. And U.S. debt levels have skyrocketed to the highest since World War II. But, considering how much punishment the economy took, this is about as good as could've been hoped for.
How it could still go off the rails: At the same time, more problematic variants are evolving and spreading across the world. And the snail-like global vaccination progress will give the virus months to years of time to evolve and jump the vaccine firewall (achieve "escape velocity"). If this happens, it could floor the economy again.
So here's my new strategy:
Previously I had put all new real estate investments on hold (along with any correlated to the business cycle).
But last month due to the improving economy, I felt comfortable investing in these again. And since downside risks still remained, I hedged my bets by not pushing the accelerator all the way to the floor. The deals needed to be exceptional (and have strong downside protection).
However this week I am "hitting the brakes" again on real estate and business cycle correlated deals deals due to the surge of Delta. And I want to see if and how this resolves itself before returning to my previous position.
In past downturns, many good distressed opportunities weren't immediately obvious at the moment of recovery and took a year or two to materialize. So I'm continuing to hold cash for these and keep my eyes open.
My opinions and strategy will change if we get some better or worse new In the meantime, that's the review for this week. And I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy.