Is the Pandemic Over?

By now you’ve probably heard that President Biden has declared “the pandemic is over.” Is he correct or is this just another Biden faux pas?

As usual, the White House staff is in full-retraction mode. The official response was that the president was simply expressing what many Americans were already feeling and seeing and what Mr. Biden had been saying all along – that the nation has vaccines and treatments to fight the coronavirus and that for most people, it is not a death sentence. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra echoed the sentiment while getting his booster shot at a community health clinic in New York.

Others were less charitable. Eric Topol, the Scripps Research Translational Institute Director who is one of America’s leading Covid scolds, tweeted “Wish this was true. What’ve over is @POTUS’s and our government’s will to get ahead of it, with magical thinking on new bivalent boosters. Ignores #LongCovid, inevitability of new variants, and our current incapability for blocking infections and transmission.”

“We still have 400 to 500 people dying daily in this country,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta. “If that’s over, it’s a little too high to me.” Anthony Fauci, still the Biden Administration’s top infectious disease expert until his retirement in December, declared, “We are not where we need to be if we’re going to be able to, quote, ‘live with the virus,’ because we know we’re not going to eradicate it. We only did that with one virus, which is smallpox, and that was very different because smallpox doesn’t change from year to year, or decade to decade, or even century to century.”

What none of these experts is saying is that we are transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic. By definition, a pandemic is “an outbreak of a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world.” An endemic is “when an infection in a population is constantly maintained at a baseline level in a geographic area.” The most widely seen endemic is influenza. We have lived with influenza in some form for over a hundred years. Each year the influenza virus makes some changes in its structure, requiring new vaccines to account for these changes. Such is the case now with Covid-19.

The endemic of Covid is certainly not over, as evidenced by the continuing number of deaths and hospitalizations. But such is also the case every year for influenza, which accounts for between 20,000 and 60,000 deaths in an average year. These numbers have declined since the outbreak of Covid-19, probably because of under-reporting of influenza deaths and over-reporting of Covid deaths. Mitigation efforts to prevent the spread of Covid may also have had some beneficial effect on the spread of influenza.

The real question is why President Biden is declaring the Covid pandemic is over, while at the same time declaring the public health emergency is still present. The Wall Street Journal editorial board explains the answer to this question: “The reason is almost certainly money. A March 2020 Covid law enables the government to hand out billions of dollars in welfare benefits to millions of people as long as the emergency is in effect. This includes more generous food stamps and a restriction on state work requirements. It also limits states from removing from their Medicaid rolls individuals who are otherwise no longer financially eligible. The Found for Government accountability estimates these ineligibles cost nearly $16 billion a month.

“Most outrageous, only weeks ago the Administration used a separate national emergency declaration related to the pandemic to legally justify canceling some $500 billion in student debt. An Education Department Office of General Counsel memo says the pandemic and national emergency enable the Education Secretary to modify federal student aid requirements under the 2003 Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act.”

So, which is it, Mr. President? Is the pandemic – and the public health emergency – over, or not? You can’t have it both ways.

Covid & Flu Boosters Together or Separately?

By now you’ve probably heard there’s a new Covid booster available, designed to give greater protection from the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. (New Covid Boosters Coming Soon) This is the first improvement in the Covid vaccine since its original production in 2020. This new vaccine will also provide protection from the original Covid variants.

Covid has now become endemic, just like influenza. That means we can expect it to remain in our population indefinitely, with seasonal variations, must like the flu. For most people, especially the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, this means an annual Covid booster, just like the flu. The question now is when to take the boosters and should they be taken together or separately?

The White House is promoting people take them together. That should make you skeptical right away.  Ashish Jha, White House Covid coordinator, on September 6th said, “I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the Covid shot.” Does he really believe that was God’s motivation to give us two arms? On the other hand, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, says, “Get your updated Covid-19 shot as soon as you are eligible.” So, should you follow the White House’s advice and get both boosters right away?

Medical experts may differ in their opinions, and they often do. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest separating the two boosters makes sense. The reason for this is based on the knowledge that flu vaccine effectiveness erodes pretty quickly over the course of a flu season. A vaccine dose given in early September may offer little protection at the height of the flu season which is usually in February or even March. “If you start now, I am not a big fan of it,” said Florian Krammer, an influenza expert at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “I understand why this is promoted, but from an immunological point of view it doesn’t make much sense.”

Helen Branswell, writing for Statnews.com, says a number of studies have shown that the benefit of a flu shot wanes substantially over the course of a flu season – exacerbating effectiveness problems that are frequently seen when some of the strains in the vaccine aren’t well matched to the strains making people sick. Work done by researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center and the Harvard School of Public Health estimate vaccine effectiveness declined by about 18% for every 28-day period after vaccination.

A study done by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and elsewhere showed that the vaccine’s protection against flu that is severe enough to trigger hospitalization decreased by between 8% and 9% per month after vaccination. In older adults, who are more likely to get seriously ill from flu, the decline happened at a rate of about 10% to 11% per month.

“You’ve got about four months of pretty solid protection,” said Emily Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology who specializes in flu at the University of Michigan School of Public health. Martin was an author of this study.

When is the right time to get your flu shot?

Most experts will advise you to wait at least until the end of October to get a flu shot, though they’ll attach the caveat that if you start to hear about flu activity picking up where you live, you should accelerate your plans. “I’ll follow very carefully the activity in the community,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “If it starts to pick up, I’ll move immediately. Otherwise, I’m counting on sometime in late October, early November.”

As usual, getting your healthcare advice from the White House is probably a bad idea.

California’s Man-Made Energy Crisis

Our federalist system is designed to allow states to be “laboratories of democracy” where policies can be tried at the state level before they become nationalized. This is a good thing. Just look at the state of California for validation of this thesis. One look at how California is addressing climate change and you know what not to do in your state.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board calls out California for their man-made energy crisis. They say, “Californians narrowly averted rolling blackouts on Tuesday, but the threat looms all week amid an unpleasant but not unusual heat wave. This ought to be a warning about how the government force-fed green energy transition is endangering grid reliability, but Democrats and the media can’t break out of their climate-change conformity to think clearly, or think at all.”

Climate change seems to be the knee-jerk explanation for everything that goes wrong in California – heat wave, drought, water shortage, blackouts, brownouts, high gas prices – you name it. But WSJ editors say California’s climate hasn’t suddenly changed. Triple-digit temperatures aren’t unprecedented even in early September, despite Governor Gavin Newsome’s claims. After all, most of California is a natural desert. What has changed in recent years is California’s electric generation.

Solar and wind power have rapidly expanded thanks to rich government subsidies along with the state’s renewables mandate. California recently outlawed sales of all gas-powered vehicles by 2035 (see Green Energy Delusions). These policies have made it harder for baseload gas and nuclear generators that run around the clock to make money. Many have shut down, and the result is that the state often lacks sufficient power when the sun goes down.

California’s summer electric generation capacity increased by about 10,700 megawatts (MW) between 2010 and 2020 – potentially enough to power eight to ten million homes. The problem is that gas-fired capacity during this time declined by 4,390 MW and nuclear by 2,150 MW. Solar and wind surged 17,000 MW, but those sources can’t be commanded to run when people need them. (This energy can’t be efficiently stored.)

Therefore, the state must rely on imports from other states in the evenings, especially during heat waves. But these imports are becoming less dependable since California’s neighbors are also losing base-load generators owing to their own renewable buildouts. Arizona lost about half of its summer coal-generating capacity between 2015 and 2020.

(Sounds much like the U.S. dependency on foreign oil imports when we could be drilling for that oil in our own country.)

The result of these policies is an energy crisis when heat waves span the Southwest like the one this past week. That means asking users to turn up their thermostats and providing incentives for industrial businesses to power down. A desalination plant in Carlsbad cut water production by about 20% earlier this week to free up power for homes. That only adds to the stress when the state is also experiencing a drought.

In other crisis intervention steps, the state has installed temporary gas-fired generators to run during grid emergencies. In other words, the state that is working so hard to banish fossil fuels has become more dependent on them. Los Angeles’ municipal utility is generating nearly 30% of its electricity from coal, some of which is being shared with the rest of the state. Imagine how much worse this situation will be when gas-powered vehicles are eliminated! WSJ says, “Call it Gavin Newsom’s dirty little climate secret.”

The cost of this energy policy malpractice is not just uncertainty about energy availability. Electricity prices in California’s wholesale market surged Tuesday evening to about $1,700 per MWh compared to the normal $100 and $67 a year ago. All of this explains why residential electric rates in California have risen by 50% in the past two years – three times more than they have nationwide.

Californians paid on average about 29 cents per kilowatt hour in June, by far the most in the continental U.S. and twice as much as in neighboring states. Rates are only going higher. Green-energy subsidies don’t make electricity cheaper. They create market distortions that threaten the grid and raise prices.

Aren’t you glad we can learn from California’s mistakes?