Momentous Monday: Where we are now

This time last year, California was just over four months into lockdown due to COVID-19, with only essential employees able to work and limitations on store hours and capacity. Bars, restaurants, clubs, theaters, and arenas were all shuttered.

Towards the beginning of July, that was all about to change and everything was going to loosen up. But then… well, I published these words exactly a year ago, on July 19, 2020:

“But then July rolled around and just a few days ago, the state of California and the city of Los Angeles announced, “Oops. Y’all screwed it up, so we’re pushing reset and starting over.”

Sound familiar? Well, if you’re in L.A. County or the Bay Area, at least, it probably does, because we’re now going back to at least being required to wear masks in public after a very brief foray of not requiring them for vaccinated people.

It looks like we might be right on time, too, because today, I saw social media posts from a handful of friends who were all fully vaccinated but who nonetheless have tested positive for COVID-19, most likely due to the delta variant — and for every friend who posted, at least two friends of theirs reported knowing one or more people in the same circumstances.

The delta variant is more contagious. People who’ve been fully vaccinated can also get it, although their odds of severe illness and hospitalization are still reduced. The situation this year comes right down to the same thing that caused it last year: Authorities bowed to pressure and ended mask mandates too soon.

In 2020, it was in time for the 4th of July holiday, and there was a spike in new cases right after that. This year, it was because it seemed like it was time to unmask because so many people were vaccinated, and the number of new cases had dropped below the thresholds set to trigger various levels of precautions.

The problem is that there are still far too many people who cannot or will not get vaccinated. Some have sound medical reasons — compromised immune systems, chemo patients, and the like. Some haven’t yet qualified because they’re too young.

But far too many people who should get vaccinated won’t get vaccinated because they have a poor understanding of science and medicine, what vaccines are and how they work, and how this one was developed.

A big complaint people have is that they don’t know what’s in the vaccine, but that’s just because they’re lazy. A simple web search for COVID vaccine ingredients will quickly lead to the answer, and the CDC website has the exact ingredients for the three vaccines being used in the U.S.

If chemical names scare you by their very nature, compare the contents of any of those vaccines to what naturally occurs in, e.g., a banana to see how different they really are. And remember: One banana is a lot bigger dose than one vaccine.

Another anti-vax argument I hear is that it was rushed in production and approval. And while the approval process was expedited because, pandemic, the development of the vaccine technique itself goes back decades.

This technique uses messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in order to make our body’s cells produce certain proteins, and it was being proposed as a therapeutic method at least as early as 2000. The first clinical trials happened in 2008.

So no, this vaccine was not developed overnight. The technology was there. We just needed a target for it.

Something piggy-backed on this argument goes like this: The vaccine will alter your DNA forever! And, again, this is just wrong. An mRNA vaccine works like this. It enters the body and then enters cells near the injection site. Once inside the cell nuclei, they cause the cells to do what they do: Transcribe the mRNA into proteins.

In this case, the instructions given are to create the spikes on the outside of the COVID-19 virus that allow them to infiltrate our cells. But here’s the big difference in function. When a virus gets into your cell, it completely highjacks the nucleus, shreds the existing DNA, and turns the cell into a factory for making nothing but more virus until the cell explodes and dies and sends more virus out into the body to repeat the process.

An mRNA vaccine just uses an existing function to create a particular protein without disrupting cell function otherwise, and then those proteins go into the bloodstream. Once there, the body’s immune cells find them, recognize them as not belonging, and create antibodies to destroy them.

Unlike other vaccines, mRNA shots do not contain any of the actual DNA of the virus its being used against. Compare this to things like vaccines for small pox, measles, or polio, which do use the genetic material or weakened or killed versions of the actual virus.

If anything, an mRNA jab I actually safer, because at no point are you ever exposed to the complete virus itself.

The idea was that recreating the protein spikes that identify the virus would be enough to give someone immunity, and normally it should have. The problem is that the COVID-19 virus is principally mutating in those spikes. This actually makes sense, because as we vaccinate away certain strains, the ones that aren’t recognized will persist and become the new dominant variant.

That’s how evolution works, and we’re seeing it in real time.

Now, granted, just because a virus is mutating doesn’t mean that it’s becoming more virulent or fatal. There are probably COVID variants we don’t even know about because they never actually cause any disease or symptoms.

But here’s how the unvaccinated contribute to helping the more infectious strains evolve: If someone is vaccinated against any of the strains from Alpha to Gamma, then they’re probably not going to get infected and their body will not become a virus factory.

But if someone is not vaccinated, then their bloodstream is going to become a viral playground, and the more times something copies its DNA, the more chances you have for random mutations. Some will go nowhere, some will outright kill the virus itself — but some will stumble upon some trick that defeats the vaccines and also makes it easier for them to invade new human cells.

And that’s where COVID-19 delta and humanity seem to be.

We made some strides in 2020 despite official inaction and denial on the Federal level, with only more forward-thinking governors helping their states avoid the worst, but selfishness, impatience, and scientific ignorance held us back.

It seemed like we were pulling out of it by spring of this year, with vaccines finally being rolled out in mass numbers and people actually getting them, but then the vaccination rate tanked, and we are right now back at exactly where we were one year ago.

Of course, this is why plagues are never a single-year thing. The flu pandemic of 1918 actually lasted for about two years and two months, starting with a fairly virulent strain, and then a much deadlier second wave a little over a year later.

If COVID follows this pattern, then we’re going to be masked, socially distanced, and isolated until at least May of 2022, so get used to the idea, because we’re just starting to sail into that deadlier second wave.

And, personally, all of this comes in the context of my having gone to an engagement party a good distance away that took place mostly inside in a house and among mostly strangers, and it was the first time I felt comfortable taking my mask off under such circumstances since this all started.

I don’t know yet whether that was a big mistake or not because I’m not quite sure what the incubation period is. But the vaccines appear to not give 100% immunity to the delta variant, so my mask is staying on.

Anyone who thinks that a mask mandate equals tyranny is a complete idiot — and doubly so if they won’t get vaccinated.

I’ll have to remember to come back with a July 19, 2022 post to comment on this one and its predecessor.

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