Standards, the Paris Update, and Vaccines on the Horizon

STANDARDS. I enjoyed and appreciated the contributions everyone made on the topic of ‘standards’. As I may have mentioned before, the comment that has stayed with me the longest has been this: your commitment to excellence will determine your quality of life.

And that circles right back to standards. One of my resolutions for 2021 is to raise mine across the board.

PARIS. Winter has set in, with temperatures dropping to near-freezing levels. Restrictions here are easing at a glacial pace, consistent with the government’s deliberate and circumspect mindset to the pandemic…and all things really. December 15 will see the end of having a mandatory attestation, or ‘hall pass’ as I like to call it, for trips outside the home. We are already allowed to go out for more than 1 hour and farther than 1 kilometer from our residence at present. Not having to write a note about where you’re going and why will be a relief.

A 9pm curfew is expected to continue nationwide, with exceptions being made on December 24 and December 31, but large gatherings will not be permitted. Officials are hoping that the French people exercise some caution through the holidays, as the retreat from all restrictions is completely dependent on infection rates. If the infection rates spike, back to lockdown we go.

Boutiques and department stores are open here with strict social distancing and capacity limits in force. Decorations light up the store windows as well as streets. Still, the masks worn by everyone in public put a cloth damper on all but the youngest of faces this Christmas time.

Not one for the holiday rush, my most frequent retail interaction is at the tabac down the street which acts as our local post office. I’ve been signing and wrapping complimentary copies of the 2nd Edition of The Old Money Book for a few friends and acquaintances. That joyful bit of work was completed last week. Hopefully, those gifts will get to their respective destinations in time for some fireside reading before the new year.

COVID 19 VACCINES. Britain began its vaccination rollout recently, with the elderly and NHS workers being priority groups. While hailed with great anticipation by the media and understandably great hope and relief by the public, I am less than jubilant. My wish is of course that every person in the world is safe and healthy, and vaccines for this virus will no doubt play a part in making that wish a reality.

However, I did have a long, serious conversation recently with a healthcare professional with decades of experience in their field. Not prone to hyperbole or conspiracy theories, this reserved and very evidence-based person was blunt when I asked what they thought of the vaccine. “It’s an experiment,” was the dry reply.

Shortly thereafter, I noticed headlines about initial recipients of the vaccine having dangerous allergic reactions to the dosage. Only then did UK doctors mention that persons with previous allergic reactions to medication avoid getting the vaccine.

I also noted that the Food and Drug Administration in the United States is going through with an emergency authorization of the vaccine. I hope I am wrong, but I sense a shortcut is being taken somewhere along the line. This suspicion is not soothed when I read that many of the drug companies providing these vaccines to the public will be, for the most part, immune from prosecution or civil lawsuits should the vaccine have unintended consequences for patients who took it.

Let me be clear: I am not an ‘anti-vaccer’. I love modern medicine. I applaud our healthcare workers and researchers who have given so much in this fight. I hope the vaccine works wonders without any issue. I am ready as much as anyone to get back to a normal life.

However, in my opinion, the United States has a bigger, predictable problem which leads to a predictable outcome. The problem is that, as a nation, we lack the self-discipline and patience to do difficult tasks that to be done for the duration that they need to be done. We are self-centered and spoiled, and we want what we want now, much like unruly children. At about 250 years old, we are a teenager of a country.

Largely because of our choices, our infection rates top 1 million new cases of COVID-19 infections each week. During a pandemic, people board airplanes in record numbers and travel during the Thanksgiving holiday. Weddings continue to be held in public. Raves continue to be held in secret. Rallies are announced and attended. Masks continue to be optional. Citizens proclaim that they have their ‘rights’ and that no one can tell them what to do.

Au contrare, mon frere. While you do have your rights. You also have your responsibilities. And the very definition of government is force, to quote George Washington. The government does tell you what to do. Most of the time, it is doing this for the public good. And most of the time, you do it or face the music of breaking the law.

And even as one high-profile deny’er and defy’er after another continues to contract the virus and be taken to the hospital, and even as intensive care units reach capacity in city after city, Americans continue to act as they normally would in a very abnormal time. The results are sad, but not surprising. Tragic, but foreseeable.

Our response to this devastation is cliche, too: we want a cure-all we can take that will tackle the job that we couldn’t manage with a little self-discipline, a little restraint, a little discomfort, a little awareness, a little patience, and a little unselfishness. We want to take a diet pill we see on television instead of eating right and exercising regularly. In short, we want to ‘hack’ this pandemic with something quick and easy that doesn’t require effort from us.

The vaccine appears to be the answer. And, God, I hope it is. Because if it isn’t, and people taking it have life-threatening allergic reactions or damaging side effects, we may find ourselves in a worse situation than we’re in right now.

The situation we’re in right now is one so perilous that it requires an ‘experiment’: a well-intentioned but hastily developed solution that will inevitably have results that may be beneficial on the whole in the short term, but which may also include variables and consequences not completely or even mostly known in the long term.

Specifically, in the view of the United States government, this experiment (the distribution of this vaccine) must be conducted on people because we face an epidemic that is out of control.

As I noted, the long-term health effects of this vaccine are unknown, but hopefully it will prove effective overall. It is imperfect, I’m sure, but I suspect it is viewed as the safest, most viable solution to an overwhelming crisis. The prevailing view, I believe, is that it is better to offer an imperfect product now than a more perfect product later. We are certain to protect and help some people, even most people, even if there are acceptable losses in the process. Cold and callous, but that’s the nature of governing.

This crisis in not one we as a nation could have avoided, to be sure. We are citizens of this planet who share oxygen and travel globally. However, much of the suffering could have been minimized with some leadership in the political sphere and some common sense and discipline in the public space. We as Americans have failed on both counts.

I hope all of you understand where I’m coming from. I care about people. And I’m old enough to have watched numerous medications, products, and procedures approved by the FDA in one year turn out to have disastrous results for innocent, trusting men, women, and children the next year. And those fiascos occurred during normal times, absent a global pandemic breathing down our necks.

Of course, I have no opinion about whether or not you should take the vaccine when it is offered. That’s your decision. As always, I do hope you’ll all remain safe and healthy during this difficult time.

All of you have, by and large, been very good at keeping the comments civil and sane. As this is a very delicate subject, I’ll need you to be even more vigilant: think before you comment, and keep it between the lines. I like to hear everyone’s opinion, but cuckoo-for-cocoapuffs responses will not be published. Thanks for understanding and I look forward to reading your best, most considered thoughts.

From Paris…

  • BGT

 

 

 


12 thoughts on “Standards, the Paris Update, and Vaccines on the Horizon

  1. What an excellent and thoughtful post. Your friend is right about the vaccine: it is an experiment. From NPR:

    “Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates use a new approach to unlock the body’s immune defenses. The approach uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to turn a patient’s cells into factories that make one particular coronavirus protein.

    That protein kicks off an immune response as if there was a real coronavirus infection (to be clear, since it’s only one virus protein, there’s no way the vaccine could actually infect someone or make them sick with COVID-19). Then, if someone who was immunized gets exposed to the coronavirus later on, their body’s immune system will be able to fight it off more easily and they’re more likely to avoid serious illness.

    It’s a vaccine technology that’s so new, no mRNA vaccines have ever been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.” (https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/11/17/935563377/why-does-pfizers-covid-19-vaccine-need-to-be-kept-colder-than-antarctica)

    I’m definitely not an anti-vaxxer either, and I love that we have COVID vaccines on the way. But I won’t be able to get one myself, at least during the initial rollout, because I do have severe allergies. I would also like to see that they don’t cause autoimmune reactions — these wouldn’t become apparent in the short time we’ve had to observe patients.

    Most important of all, getting a vaccine absolutely does not remove or lessen the need for the recipient to be cautious and wear a mask — and due to an ugly confluence of factors, that seems to be the hardest part of slowing the spread here in the United States. We know that it’s possible to carry the virus and transmit it to others even if you aren’t sickened by it, and we don’t yet know whether the vaccines can prevent infection entirely or only prevent symptoms from developing. Everyone in our increasingly-online world seems to want an instant-gratification fix for everything. Yet in real life, there are very few true quick fixes — and a COVID-19 vaccine, while a vital step and desperately needed in its own right, is not one. It will be a while before we know if they prevent contagion.

    Your line, “While you do have your rights, you also have your responsibilites,” is so important.

    Have hope and confidence in the best outcome — but be patient, be safe and keep others safe.

  2. Very well said, sir! I admire your wisdom, caution, candor, and courage. May God bless you, yours and all of us at this difficult – but perhaps – hopeful – time as well as in the foreseeable future
    Best regards,
    JanB

  3. I will ask people who are hesitating – which is worse – getting the vaccine or getting Covid?

    My sister is a doctor who works closely Covid patients and will be vaccinated by EOM. She has avoided getting Covid even though she is literally inches from infected patients.

    A friend of mine works at a FAANG company. He works closely with a young highly talented software engineer who survived Covid, but is now not as mentally sharp post Covid as he was before.

    According to The Economist – about 20% of the U.S. population has likely been infected by Covid. 20%! Economist article: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/12/10/almost-one-in-five-americans-may-have-been-infected-with-covid-19

  4. Good morning Byron,

    Well put and very honest. You have exercised your ‘Orwell’.

    I too am not an ant-vaccer. Having worked in the oil and gas industry in some not-so-developed countries I have a vaccination card the length of my arm. My travels have given me Malaria and suspected TB. My ‘rights’ not to contract these two miseries seemed strangely absent at the time.

    I however share the same concerns about the vaccine as covered above. Currently it seems that there are too many “unknown unknowns”. I worry in particular about women of child-bearing age. Will their be deformities down the line, for example ? You mentioned immunity from prosecution. I prefer the term ‘ absolute absolution ‘.

    It was pointed out to me over the weekend that as a traveler I might be ‘obliged’ to be vaccinated in order to enter certain (many ?) countries, much like a Yellow Fever Certificate. Something other readers might keep an eye out for.

    In the meantime, what am I doing to avoid it ?

    I refer to page 27/143 of the OMB – Self-Discipline and in particular the words “ whether you like it or not “.

    Best wishes to all.
    David.

  5. Hi Byron, I don’t know whether you and other readers and contributors have already brewed Christmas bitters or not, mine are just great. This year I went with burdock root. I like it really bitter. I am experimenting a little bit with Bénédictine DOM. Should you have other suggestion, please share. If you would like to relax a bit during Christmas and like to experiment, try to make your own coronavirus. Cheers. https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/a8/c0/6a/0584dd67435ef2/US7279327.pdf

  6. You nailed it with your assessment of our selfish, self-centered, attitude of instant gratification without sacrifices or consequences here in the U.S. God help us. What on earth happened to the grit of The Greatest Generation?

  7. Thank you, Byron, for your calm, thoughtful and well-reasoned post. Like you, I am most certainly not an anti-vaxxer; my children and I have all had our appropriate and necessary vaccines and will continue to do so as circumstances require. Like you, however, I have grave reservations about this vaccine. Your comment about it being the diet pill of the pandemic is absolutely correct (and, in the midst of all this pessimism and uncertainty, gave me a good laugh – all I could think of was the old Anna Nicole Smith commercial “TrimSpa, baby!”) However, it is very difficult to question the efficacy of this vaccine here in the United States, since there seems to be a real propaganda machine rolling out regarding the vaccine. I have made up my mind personally about my decision to get it/not get it, which is currently a moot point since my circumstances dictate that I am very, very low on the priority list. I only hope that everyone can step back, take a deep breath, and t houghtfully and civilly consider both their opinions and the opinions of others. I think this ties right back into your original thoughts on standards – ini the midst of a pandemic, in the midst of confusion and social disorder, we have the choice and the responsibility to continue acting like reasonable, sane and civilized human beings. I hope you and your family and friends are all safe and healthy and I look forward to reading these posts on December 16, 2021, and saying, “Whew! That was one hell of a year!” Best wishes to all of your readers for much, much better times to come.

  8. Hi Byron:

    Yes, thank you for your very thoughtful and insightful post. I’ve had these same thoughts myself, only on a much more simpler level. 🙂 My husband and I are in our sixties and it’s quite concerning about what we should do. Still on the fence….weighing the risks of both…covid or vaccine. In the meantime, I’d like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and best wishes to all of your readers as well. And, here’s to much better times ahead.

  9. Excellent post Byron. Your concerns are definitely all of our concerns. These are definitely unchartered waters. In June,1944 many young men were told by their government that they needed to do a very dangerous amphibious landing on the beaches of Normandy. There was no guarantee of success, only careful consideration of the probabilities. This is not much different. Our government has made the determination that we should embrace this unknown with all potential dangers very possibly in place. Whatever decision we all make about it, let’s hope we can put this ordeal well behind us and go on living the way we were intended.

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