Thursday Throughput: Covid Vaccine Army Edition
[ThTh1] One aspect of the COVID vaccine that I’ve seen some befuddlement about is this: vaccine recipients are being told to continue to wear masks, socially distance and avoid crowds. This has led some to ask what good the vaccine is if it’s not going to allow recipients to roam free in society.
The reasoning behind this advice, however, is fairly straight-forward. First, even under the most optimistic assessments, the vaccine does not grant complete immunity to COVID-19. At best, it reduced your chances of catching it by 95% (and it ramps up to that over the course of weeks). This means that if you are exposed to COVID — say, by being in a room with a victim who isn’t wearing a mask — there is still a chance you will catch the disease. And there is still a chance you can spread it before you know you’re sick. That risk far lower than it was before — 95% lower. But it is not zero. You are still far better off wearing a mask and socially distancing. When you combine the vaccine with those measure, it reduces your risk from low to minimal.
This is one of the most common misconceptions about vaccines. Vaccine aren’t really about protecting the individual. Well, they are in the strictest sense. But the real power of vaccines comes from what they do to the herd, what they give to society. Because, with every vaccine, there are some people who can’t take it, some people who won’t take it and some people for whom it will not be effective. By taking the vaccine, you are protecting yourself, yes. But you’re also protecting society. You are denying the virus the pathways it needs to cause mass infection.
We are currently riding the crest of the wave of COVID-19 infections. Every day, the virus is killing 4,000 people in the US alone and at least 14,000 worldwide. If you start running around society without a mask and pushing your face up to people, the risk that you will catch the disease is not trivial.
However, as more people are vaccinated, the virus is going to start finding fewer and fewer bodies to take refuge in. Over time, we will see those numbers begin to come down. And as they fall, we will be able to lift restrictions — not just on those who’ve had the vaccine but on everyone. And we will be able to do it because millions, possibly billions of people have gotten vaccinated.
So, the vaccine does provide you with some protection. If you are exposed to someone, your chances of catching the disease are much lower. And if you use precautions like social distancing, you can reduced your odds of catching COVID to nearly zero. But this is really about the herd. This is really about society. This is really about what you are doing for everyone else.
From Day One, our best weapon against this pandemic has been each other. Your mask protects me; my mask protects you. It’s been about making sacrifices to deny the disease the chains of infections it needs to keep going. By taking the vaccine, you make it much harder on the virus.
As I’ve said before, the deployment of the vaccine is not the end of the War on COVID. It’s D-Day. It’s when we begin to fight back against this indifferent monster. Getting the vaccine doesn’t mean the war is over for you. It means you’ve gotten a shiny new tank.
Keep fighting. The next few months will be some of the hardest we’ve ever had. Because the virus has new weapon too: new more infectious variants. But if we stay buckled down and keep getting vaccinated, we can emerge from this.
[ThTh2] I’ve written about Tabby’s Star before, the star with unusual drops in brightness that signified interesting science and was blown up in the media to a claim that we’d detected an alien civilization. A new piece of information came out this week: Tabby’s star has a companion.
[ThTh3] In reading about Bitcoin owners who have lost their passwords, there’s something to keep in mind: this problem with Bitcoin is literally unfixable. Bitcoin does not have the passwords and the blockchain structure of it, as I understand it1, makes it impossible to correct these kinds of errors. There’s a reason we have trusted third parties for this sort of thing.
[ThTh4] And today’s candidate for No Those Radio Signals Are Not Aliens: Ganymede.
[ThTh5] Almost all galaxies are expected to have giant black holes in their cores, massing millions or billions of times the mass of the Sun. Their existence is probably the result of how large galaxies form: from the merger of smaller galaxies. As galaxies merge and build up, the black holes within sink to the center and merge as well. But sometimes that process can kick thing around a bit, such as in Abell 2216, whose central black hole can’t be found
[ThTh6] It takes the Earth exactly 365.2422 days to go around the Sun, with the extra part of a day made up for with a complex system of leap years. Well … not quite. The Earth’s spin can vary a tiny amount due to movements of tectonic plates, climate events, glacier rebound, flows of magma within the mantle, etc. This is the reason we occasionally add an extra second to the year to account for that slowdown. Well, apparently the Earth of had enough of 2020 as well. It spun unusually fast, with some of the shortest days in half a century. In fact, there were so many short days (28, in fact), that there’s talk of taking away a second from the clocks to account for it.