Saturday 27th of November 2021

could other covid variants become accidentally or deliberately humanised?...


As everyone familiar with media operations is well aware, late Friday afternoon is the best time to release new information intended to attract minimal attention. A perfect example of this came a couple of days ago in the distribution of America’s newly declassified intelligence report on the origins of Covid.

Back in August, a sudden media frenzy on the possible lab origins of the virus that had killed so many hundreds of thousands of Americans pressured the Biden Administration into tasking our 17 separate intelligence agencies with determining the origins of the disease. But their comprehensive “We Don’t Know!” was hardly the answer long sought by the American public, nor the best justification for their many tens of billions of dollars in annual funding.




So for obvious reasons, the intent was to slip the results into the public arena with as little notice as possible, and this was largely achieved, with the short resulting articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal buried deep on the inside pages, with correspondingly little attention from the rest of the global media as well.

But for those who bothered to read past the headlines, the government report was a mixture of sensible conclusions and understandable silence. The total number of America’s proliferating intelligence agencies is now approaching a score, and although they disagreed on numerous issues, there were some points of unanimity. Among other things, they claimed that the structure of the virus provided no evidence that it had been bioengineered, while greatly softening that seemingly important conclusion by noting that modern bioengineering techniques are extremely difficult to detect.

Over the last year, various pro-China partisans sometimes supported by China’s own media organs have highlighted scientific studies around the world that seemingly found traces of Covid infections in other countries long before the original outbreak in Wuhan, suggesting that the outbreak originally began elsewhere. But because of various technical flaws and methodological uncertainties, the report found this evidence quite doubtful, a conclusion very similar to my own.

The report repeats the standard view that original outbreak began no later than November 2019, and a much more significant conclusion became the headline in the WSJ‘s print edition: “Report Says China Lab Was Likely Unaware of Virus Pre-Outbreak.”

For more than a year, individuals aligned with former Trump CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have repeatedly claimed that secret intelligence information existed demonstrating that the Wuhan outbreak may have reached large-scale proportions or at least come to the attention of Chinese officials long before the generally accepted late December date. However, no such material is mentioned anywhere in this report, indicating that it doesn’t exist. Instead, our 17 intelligence agencies seem to strongly support the current timeline, agreeing that the Wuhan lab and the Chinese government probably first became aware of the new disease when the number of infections grew substantial, near the very end of the 2019 calendar year.


Given the natural political constraints upon these professional American intelligence analysts, I think their product was the best that could be expected under the circumstances. For obvious reasons, they completely excluded any discussion of some of the striking anomalies that have been a major focus of my own analysis over the last 18 months, an analysis that very strongly suggests that the Covid outbreak was the result of an American biowarfare attack against China (and Iran), probably carried out by rogue elements of our national security establishment.


The following few excerpted paragraphs summarize some of the most telling facts underlying that remarkable conclusion:



For example, in 2017 Trump brought in Robert Kadlec, who since the 1990s had been one of America’s leading biowarfare advocates. The following year in 2018 a mysterious viral epidemic hit China’s poultry industry and in 2019, another mysterious viral epidemic devastated China’s pork industry…

From the earliest days of the administration, leading Trump officials had regarded China as America’s most formidable geopolitical adversary, and orchestrated a policy of confrontation. Then from January to August 2019, Kadlec’s department ran the “Crimson Contagion” simulation exercise, involving the hypothetical outbreak of a dangerous respiratory viral disease in China, which eventually spreads into the United States, with the participants focusing on the necessary measures to control it in this country. As one of America’s foremost biowarfare experts, Kadlec had emphasized the unique effectiveness of bioweapons as far back as the late 1990s and we must commend him for his considerable prescience in having organized a major viral epidemic exercise in 2019 that was so remarkably similar to what actually began in the real world just a few months later.

With leading Trump officials greatly enamored of biowarfare, fiercely hostile to China, and running large-scale 2019 simulations on the consequences of a mysterious viral outbreak in that country, it seems entirely unreasonable to completely disregard the possibility that such extremely reckless plans may have been privately discussed and eventually implemented, though probably without presidential authorization.

But with the horrific consequences of our own later governmental inaction being obvious, elements within our intelligence agencies have sought to demonstrate that they were not the ones asleep at the switch. Earlier this month, an ABC News story cited four separate government sources to reveal that as far back as late November, a special medical intelligence unit within our Defense Intelligence Agency had produced a report warning that an out-of-control disease epidemic was occurring in the Wuhan area of China, and widely distributed that document throughout the top ranks of our government, warning that steps should be taken to protect US forces based in Asia. After the story aired, a Pentagon spokesman officially denied the existence of that November report, while various other top level government and intelligence officials refused to comment. But a few days later, Israeli television mentioned that in November American intelligence had indeed shared such a report on the Wuhan disease outbreak with its NATO and Israeli allies, thus seeming to independently confirm the complete accuracy of the original ABC News story and its several government sources.

It therefore appears that elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency were aware of the deadly viral outbreak in Wuhan more than a month before any officials in the Chinese government itself. Unless our intelligence agencies have pioneered the technology of precognition, I think this may have happened for the same reason that arsonists have the earliest knowledge of future fires.

According to these multiply-sourced mainstream media accounts, by “the second week of November” our Defense Intelligence Agency was already preparing a secret report warning of a “cataclysmic” disease outbreak taking place in Wuhan. Yet at that point, probably no more than a couple of dozen individuals had been infected in that city of 11 million, with few of those yet having any serious symptoms. The implications are rather obvious. Furthermore:

As the coronavirus gradually began to spread beyond China’s own borders, another development occurred that greatly multiplied my suspicions. Most of these early cases had occurred exactly where one might expect, among the East Asian countries bordering China. But by late February Iran had become the second epicenter of the global outbreak. Even more surprisingly, its political elites had been especially hard-hit, with a full 10% of the entire Iranian parliament soon infected and at least a dozen of its officials and politicians dying of the disease, including some who were quite senior. Indeed, Neocon activists on Twitter began gleefully noting that their hated Iranian enemies were now dropping like flies.

Let us consider the implications of these facts. Across the entire world the only political elites that have yet suffered any significant human losses have been those of Iran, and they died at a very early stage, before significant outbreaks had even occurred almost anywhere else in the world outside China. Thus, we have America assassinating Iran’s top military commander on Jan. 2nd and then just a few weeks later large portions of the Iranian ruling elites became infected by a mysterious and deadly new virus, with many of them soon dying as a consequence. Could any rational individual possibly regard this as a mere coincidence?



These few hundred words merely provide a taste of the underlying evidence contained within my long series of articles published since April 2020.

With only scattered exceptions here and there, this analysis has remained almost entirely unmentionable anywhere on the Internet, but hardly unread, given that these pieces have now received nearly 400,000 total pageviews on this website alone, along with many more on those other websites that have chosen to republish them.


Moreover, the longest and most substantive pieces in the series, now updated to total nearly 50,000 words, have also been conveniently collected into an ebook, available in both EPub and Mobi/Kindle formats, which has now been downloaded some 5,000 times.

These articles, along with the many other pieces in my broader American Pravda series are also subsumed in that eBook collection, which has been downloaded an additional 3,000 times.

Such substantial numbers of pageviews and downloads are especially heartening given that our entire website was banned by Facebook and deranked by Google just days after my first long Covid article ran in April 2020.

I think this material constitutes a very useful supplement to the official report of our own national intelligence agencies, based entirely upon publicly available information and developed at a cost far below the tens of billions of dollars in their annual operating budgets.


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Image at top from SCIENCE magazine "Meet the relatives"...




the huanan market?

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the “lab leak” theory gained little traction. Sure, U.S. President Donald Trump suggested SARS-CoV-2 originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China—and called it “the China virus”—but he never presented evidence, and few in the scientific community took him seriously. In fact, early in the pandemic, a group of prominent researchers dismissed lab-origin notions as “conspiracy theories” in a letter in The Lancet. A report from a World Health Organization (WHO) “joint mission,” which sent a scientific team to China in January to explore possible origins with Chinese colleagues, described a lab accident as “extremely unlikely.”

But this spring, views began to shift. Suddenly it seemed that the lab-leak hypothesis had been too blithely dismissed. In a widely read piece, fueled by a “smoking gun” quote from a Nobel laureate, a veteran science journalist accused scientists and the mainstream media of ignoring “substantial evidence” for the scenario. The head of WHO openly pushed back against the joint mission’s conclusion, and U.S. President Joe Biden ordered the intelligence community to reassess the lab-leak possibility. Eighteen scientists, including leaders in virology and evolutionary biology, signed a letter published in Science in May that called for a more balanced appraisal of the “laboratory incident” hypothesis.

Yet behind the clamor, little had changed. No breakthrough studies have been published. The highly anticipated U.S. intelligence review, delivered to Biden on 24 August, reached no firm conclusions, but leaned toward the theory that the virus has a natural origin.

Fresh evidence that would resolve the question may not emerge anytime soon. China remains the best place to hunt for clues, but its relative openness to collaboration during the joint mission seems to have evaporated. Chinese officials have scoffed at calls from Biden and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for an independent audit of key Wuhan labs, which some say should include an investigation of notebooks, computers, and freezers. Chinese vice health minister Zeng Yixin said such demands show “disrespect toward common sense and arrogance toward science.” In response to the increasing pressure, China has also blocked the “phase 2” studies outlined in the joint mission’s March report, which could reveal a natural jump between species.

Despite the impasse, many scientists say the existing evidence—including early epidemiological patterns, SARS-CoV-2’s genomic makeup, and a recent paper about animal markets in Wuhan—makes it far more probable that the virus, like many emerging pathogens, made a natural “zoonotic” jump from animals to humans.

Some of those clues have led Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona who has done groundbreaking work on the origins of HIV and the 1918 flu, further away from the lab-origin theory. Although he always viewed it as less likely, he co-signed the Science letter calling for a more thorough investigation of the lab-leak hypothesis. But like at least one other signatory, he now has second thoughts about that plea, in part because it heightened political tensions. “I think it probably did more harm than good in terms of actually having relevant information flow out of China,” he says.

Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who spearheaded the Science letter, says the lab-origin theory will continue to thrive until the Chinese government becomes more cooperative. “I don’t think Chinese scientists are less trustworthy,” says Bloom, who has sharply criticized China for attempting to “obscure” data about early COVID-19 cases. “But it’s clear that, at least in relation to this topic, they are operating under strong constraints imposed by the government.”

AT ITS CORE, the lab-origin hypothesis rests on proximity. A novel coronavirus, genetically linked to bats, surfaced in a city that’s home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which has long specialized in studying bat coronaviruses, and two smaller labs that also handle those viruses. One or more lab workers could have become infected by accident, then passed the virus to others. Lab accidents are not unheard of, after all: SARS-CoV, the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), has infected researchers as many as six times after the global outbreak of that disease ended in July 2003.

A researcher’s infection with SARS-CoV-2 needn’t have happened in Wuhan itself. Alina Chan, a gene therapy researcher at the Broad Institute who also co-signed the Science letter, cites a study by WIV researchers, published in 2018, that sampled blood from 218 people who lived 1000 kilometers from the city near caves that were home to coronavirus-infected bats. Six of these people had antibodies that suggested prior infections by SARS-related bat coronaviruses, a branch of the family tree that includes SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and close cousins. Wuhan researchers have visited that area repeatedly and “easily could have picked up something from a human who already carried a human-adapted form of a SARS-related virus,” Chan says.

Shi Zhengli, the lead bat coronavirus scientist at WIV, denies that anyone at the lab fell ill around the time SARS-CoV-2 emerged. In an email interview with Science in July 2020, she wrote that “all staff and students in the lab” were tested for SARS-CoV-2 and related coronaviruses and were negative.

Still, in January, days before Trump left office, the U.S. Department of State said the “government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019.” And on 23 May, The Wall Street Journal reported the existence of an “undisclosed U.S. Intelligence report” that said three WIV researchers “sought hospital care” in November 2019. The story had no details about their illnesses, and some have noted that Chinese hospitals provide care for all ailments, including minor ones.

Virologist Robert Garry of Tulane University finds it improbable that a Wuhan lab worker picked up SARS-CoV-2 from a bat and then brought it back to the city, sparking the pandemic. As the WIV study of people living near bat caves shows, transmission of related bat coronaviruses occurs routinely. “Why would the virus first have infected a few dozen lab researchers?” he asks. The virus may also have moved from bats into other species before jumping to humans, as happened with SARS. But again, why would it have infected a lab worker first? “There are hundreds of millions of people who come in contact with wildlife.”

Another data point argues against infected researchers playing a role, Garry says. As the WHO joint mission report spells out, clusters of early COVID-19 cases had links to multiple Wuhan markets around the same time, which Garry says supports the idea of infected animals or animal traders bringing the virus to the city. A lab worker with COVID-19 would have had to make “a beeline not just to one market, but to several different markets,” he says. “You can’t rule it out, but then why the markets? Why not a soccer game or a concert or 100 other different scenarios?”

But David Relman, a Stanford University microbiome researcher who also co-signed the Science letter, questions the “hopelessly impoverished” data on the earliest COVID-19 cases. “I just don’t think we have enough right now to say anything with great confidence,” Relman says.

Linfa Wang, a molecular virologist at the Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore who has collaborated extensively with WIV on bat coronavirus studies, has a simpler reason for dismissing the lab-leak hypothesis. “Accidents can only happen when you already have a live virus in culture that can leak,” Wang says. Bat coronaviruses are notoriously hard to grow. Shi told Science last year that her lab had more than 2000 bat fecal samples and anal and oral swabs that tested positive for coronaviruses. But the lab had only isolated and grown three viruses over 15 years, Shi said, and none closely resembled SARS-CoV-2. Some have questioned Shi’s veracity—she may well be under pressure from the Chinese government—and noted inconsistencies in her statements, but several scientific collaborators outside China have high regard for her integrity.

Wang also discounts reports that WIV has live bats. “Many years back” the lab conducted immune studies on live bats, Wang says, but these were not of the genus Rhinolophus—the only one found to harbor SARS-related coronaviruses—which no lab has ever been able to keep alive in captivity.

quotation markAccidents can only happen when you already have a live virus in culture that can leak.

great deal of speculation about the pandemic’s origin has centered on six men who developed severe respiratory illnesses in 2012 after clearing bat feces from a copper mine in Mojiang, in China’s Yunnan province. Three of them died. Lab-origin proponents have suggested the men were infected with a coronavirus, a belief fed by a 2013 master’s thesis that provided no direct evidence. That bat virus, they argue, either was SARS-CoV-2 or was turned into it through genetic engineering.

When the miners fell ill, Shi and co-workers were asked to sample bats at the mine, which they did on several occasions. They discovered nine new SARS-related viruses (see sidebar, below). One of these, dubbed RaTG13, is 96.2% genetically identical to SARS-CoV-2, the closest overall similarity yet found. A loose-knit group whose members call themselves DRASTIC—for the Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19—has driven a heated discussion about possible links between RaTG13 and SARS-CoV-2.

Shi has reported that her lab tested blood from the miners and did not find evidence of coronaviruses or antibodies to them. Wang, who helped with these analyses, finds the assertion that the team suppressed evidence of SARS-CoV-2’s link to the Mojiang mine preposterous. “We wanted to prove that a coronavirus caused the deaths,” says Wang, who grew up in Shanghai but is now an Australian citizen. “If we proved that another SARS-like virus was in humans in China that would have been scientifically brilliant,” he says. “It’s a Science or Nature paper. No scientist is going to wait for this to leak.”

Even Bloom agrees with that logic. “That’s one of the strongest arguments you can make against a lab accident,” he says. “On the other hand, I feel like a lot of these questions could be resolved pretty easily by enhanced transparency.”

IN THE MOST ELABORATE lab-leak scenarios, SARS-CoV-2 is not a naturally occurring virus, but was created at WIV. That would bring worldwide condemnation on China, but it would also devastate the field of virology. There has been an intense debate over the past decade about the scientific value of “gain-of-function” (GOF) studies, which deliberately create pathogens that are more virulent or more transmissible to humans—or both—than their natural cousins. Some say GOF studies can help identify and thwart future threats, but critics argue the potential benefits don’t outweigh the risk of creating and unleashing pandemic pathogens.

Shi has created chimeric viruses in the past to get around the difficulty of growing coronaviruses isolated from bats. In work with Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance and Wang, described in a 2017 paper in PLOS Pathogens, WIV made chimeras using the genetic “backbone” of one of the bat coronaviruses her lab could culture and genes that coded for the surface protein, called spike, from newly found coronaviruses.

Scientists disagree about whether this was GOF research. Shi says it was not, because the hybrid viruses her group created were not expected to be more dangerous than the original strains. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the study, told Congress it does not qualify as GOF research under NIAID’s guidelines. Relman finds the GOF label “vague and confusing” and instead describes this as “unnecessarily risky research.”

Definitions aside, if Shi was creating chimeric viruses, SARS-CoV-2 may have been one of them, lab-leak proponents say. They also note biosecurity measures at the lab were relaxed. In her 2020 Science interview, Shi denied conducting chimeric virus experiments beyond those reported in the 2017 paper, but she acknowledged doing some coronavirus studies in biosafety level 2 facilities. That’s one level lower than even Ralph Baric, a coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who has collaborated with Shi, thinks is appropriate. Shi stressed that the work complied with all Chinese regulations.

Still, many scientists contend that SARS-CoV-2 can’t be a lab concoction because no known virus is close enough to have served as its starting material. Some have countered that RaTG13, the virus found in the Mojiang mine, could have been that backbone. That makes no sense, asserts a “critical review” by Garry, Worobey, and 19 other scientists that Cell published online on 19 August. More than 1100 nucleotides, the building blocks of RNA, separate the genomes of the two viruses, and the differences are scattered in a way that doesn’t suggest deliberate engineering.

“Nobody has the sort of insight into viral pathogenesis to design something as really devious as SARS-CoV-2,” Garry says. Three other bat viruses more similar to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13 in some key genomic regions are also unlikely to have been used as a template for the pandemic virus, according to the paper.


The “smoking gun” evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered, in the words of virologist and Nobel laureate David Baltimore, has not held up either. Spike has a cleavage site, a spot where a human enzyme named furin cuts the protein, which helps SARS-CoV-2 infect cells. Since early in the pandemic, lab-origin proponents have claimed that no SARS-related bat coronaviruses have this feature, leading to speculation that a lab added the site to a virus so it could infect humans. When retired New York Times writer Nicholas Wade made the case for a lab leak this spring, the furin cleavage site, buttressed by Baltimore’s provocative words, was an essential part of the argument.

But it’s dead wrong, say many coronavirus specialists and evolutionary biologists. The SARS-related coronaviruses are in the beta genus, one of four in the Coronaviridae family. Several members of that genus feature furin cleavage sites, which appear to have evolved repeatedly. And one SARS-CoV-2–related virus, described in a Current Biology paper last year by a team led by Shi Weifeng of Shandong First Medical University, has three of the four amino acids that constitute the furin cleavage site, which is “strongly suggestive of a natural zoonotic origin” for SARS-CoV-2, the authors concluded.

Baltimore has backpedaled the statement. He did not know several bat beta coronaviruses have the furin cleavage site, he acknowledged in an email to Science. “[T]here is more to this story than I am aware of,” he wrote. “The furin cleavage is the most ridiculous stuff,” Wang says.

Instead of genetically manipulating a virus, a lab could also have created SARS-CoV-2 by passaging, a technique in which researchers grow a virus in a lab dish or an animal, harvest it, and repeat the process again and again, allowing mutations to accrue. But again, they would have needed to start with a close relative of SARS-CoV-2. There’s no evidence that this precursor existed in any lab. And passaging in cell cultures often deletes the furin cleavage site or makes viruses weaker.

Even the U.S. intelligence community during the Trump administration discounted the suggestion that SARS-CoV-2 was “manmade.” The report requested by Biden, which sought input from several groups in the intelligence community, similarly concludes that the virus “was probably not genetically engineered.” (It also said there was “broad agreement” that it “was not developed as a biological weapon.”)

THE JOINT MISSION REPORT from WHO, which runs more than 300 pages and delves into everything from the viral sequences of the earliest cases to pharmacy sales, has several little-noticed findings that make a natural origin appear more likely than a lab leak, says Kristian Andersen, an evolutionary biologist at Scripps Research who co-authored the recent Cell paper with Garry and Worobey. “It wasn’t the perfect report,” he says, but it was “a great start to a collaborative study on understanding the origin of SARS-CoV-2.”

The earliest official announcement about the pandemic came on 31 December 2019, when Wuhan’s Municipal Health Commission reported a cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases linked to the city’s Huanan seafood market. The WHO report devotes much attention to details about Huanan and other Wuhan markets, but also cautions that their role remains “unclear” because several early cases had no link to any market. But after reading the report, Andersen became more convinced that the Huanan market played a critical role.

One specific finding bolsters that case, Wang says. The report describes how scientists took many samples from floors, walls, and other surfaces at Wuhan markets and were able to culture two viruses isolated from Huanan. That shows the market was bursting with virus, Wang says: “In my career, I have never been able to isolate a coronavirus from an environmental sample.”


Read more:

A version of this story appeared in Science, Vol 373, Issue 6559.



See also:


Here we document 47,381 individuals from 38 species, including 31 protected species sold between May 2017 and November 2019 in Wuhan’s markets. We note that no pangolins (or bats) were traded, supporting reformed opinion that pangolins were not likely the spillover host at the source of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While we caution against the misattribution of COVID-19’s origins, the wild animals on sale in Wuhan suffered poor welfare and hygiene conditions and we detail a range of other zoonotic infections they can potentially vector. Nevertheless, in a precautionary response to COVID-19, China’s Ministries temporarily banned all wildlife trade on 26th Jan 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic concludes, and permanently banned eating and trading terrestrial wild (non-livestock) animals for food on 24th Feb 2020. These interventions, intended to protect human health, redress previous trading and enforcement inconsistencies, and will have collateral benefits for global biodiversity conservation and animal welfare.



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journalistic malpractice...




Aaron Rodgers and other professional athletes have views about COVID19 vaccination. Of course they do. I imagine all adults in the United States have views on vaccine policy, and those views likely run the gamut from those who believe these vaccines should be mandated as young as 5-year olds to those who wish they should not have even been authorized to anyone to every possible position in-between those extreme poles. 

Recently, the media has yet again chosen to cover breathlessly the choices of one professional athlete. A few weeks ago it was an NBA player. Four months before that it was a rock musician. In a month from now, I am sure a race car driver, golfer or tennis pro may tweet in haste, and find themselves at the center of a media hurricane. 

I’m sorry to break the news to you all: this coverage is journalistic malpractice. 

We need real debates with real debaters; not debates about personal choices made by celebrities.

When it comes to COVID19 vaccination and policy there are many debates that are desperately worthy of media coverage that get very little. Allow me to name 6:

Debate #1: Should schools mandate COVID19 vaccination? If so, how young? Sixteen and up, 12 and up or 5 and up? Should the rule be 1 dose or 2 ? Should the mandate permit parents to spread the doses further apart (than 21 days) or should it be inflexible? What should the penalty be for non-compliance? What unintended consequences might there be? Will this result in racial discrimination (due to unequal vaccine uptake)?

Debate #2: Should persons who recovered from SARS-CoV-2 be (a) encouraged to be vaccinated (b) mandated to be vaccinated (c ) given credit for proof of recovery? Should they be allowed to receive 1 dose, or do they need 2 doses? What evidence supports these choices? 

Debate #3: Should healthy health care workers (particularly young ones <40) be mandated to receive boosters? If so, should this mandate begin at 6 months or 8 months or 10 months after the series? Is there evidence that this strategy will protect patients and staff or is that speculation? Will this help sustain the workforce over the winter season or will it erode the workforce (due to firing over non-compliance)?

Debate #4: Should the AAP and CDC continue to recommend we mask 2-year olds against the World Health Organization advice? Should airplanes throw families off flights if 2-year olds don’t mask? Should the policy have exemptions for children with disabilities or autism or those who cannot tolerate masking? Should daycares continue to mandate masking very young kids? Should vaccinated nursery workers wear masks where caring for babies?

Debate #5: Should schools continue to have masking mandates? If so, when should they end? Should we run prospective studies or continue to rely on confounded observational ones? 

Debate #6: Are federal workplace vaccine mandates sound policy? What unintended consequences might they have? What impact on politics and voting going forward? Will they spur backlash? 

These are the debates that are worthy of broad public interest. Notice: they are not the choices made by one particular professional athlete.

Now, who should be the debater? Should Aaron Rodgers debate Tom Hanks? No. We want to select debaters who are skilled and knowledgeable on the topic. We want to have experts who disagree debate other experts who disagree. 

Instead of the media fostering such debates, they offer Aaron Rodgers as the spokesperson for why workplace vaccine mandates are misguided. Aaron Rodgers, not a skilled debater, may not be able to withstand the battery and barrage of questions, and thus the public is led to believe that the mandates are justified. 

But are they? I am confident when it comes to the 6 questions, I would be able to win a debate against any leading scholar with an audience of the American people. Here are the positions I would hold:

Debate #1: Should Schools mandate COVID19 vax to attend in person? Absolutely not; doing so is regressive policy, and will hurt poor and minority students. Evidence this policy will result in net benefit is absent. This vaccine is different than others for which mandates exist.

Debate #2: Should persons who recovered from SARS-CoV-2 be mandated to get 2 doses of vax? I would argue that the evidence supporting this claim is confounded and unsuitable for firm conclusions. We ought to pursue a separate RCT in folks who recovered who are ambivalent about vaccination. We need 3 arms of the trial. No more doses, 1 or 2, and power for severe covid endpoints. 

Debate #3: Should healthy health care workers (particularly young ones <40) be mandated to receive boosters? I would argue no; evidence that this strategy will protect their patients is absent, and moreover current rates of nosocomial transmission are already so low it will be hard to improve on. The argument it is needed to ensure a work force in the winter season is undermined by mandates which result in some people being fired (i.e. further lowering work force)

Debate #4: Should the AAP and CDC continue to recommend we mask 2-year olds against the World Health Organization advice? Uh… no. We have to finally admit we never had evidence for this policy

Debate #5: Should schools continue to have masking mandates? The CDC should have tested this policy with cluster RCT, but already the day to sunset it has come. It should end promptly.

Debate #6: Are federal work place vaccine mandates sound policy? I wrote about that topic here, but recent opinion poll data is sobering.

Instead of focusing on these debates, and inviting skilled debaters, the media loves to make Aaron Rodgers the face of all these issues. Yet, he himself might agree that debating these topics is not his skillset nor his interest. Next week it will be a new celebrity.

Ultimately picking weak spokespeople is a broader strategy that undermines debate itself and encourages rampant groupthink, which itself is the defining quality of our media response. If you pick a weak debater to argue the other side, it makes it easy for you to entrench in your own preexisting belief. It is a cheap tactic.

Going forward, I want to hear less about Aaron Rodgers, and more about these aforementioned topics. I want less videos of athletes and more of skilled speakers. Doing less than this is a disservice to the American people.


Republished from the author’s blog


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new spikes...


Scientists are sounding the alarm, as what could be the most highly-evolved strain of the coronavirus has been discovered in patients in different parts of the world. Its resistance to vaccines adds to the concerns. 

The latest known variant of Covid-19 has significant changes in its spikes, which could make it invincible to vaccination. It could be the most highly-evolved coronavirus strain yet, as 32 mutations have apparently been detected in it. The currently dominant, highly transmissible Delta strain, which has contributed to this year’s surge in cases globally, has at least 11 spike mutations.

Originally spotted in three patients in Botswana – and thus known as the Botswana variant – it has already been found in three countries since the first infections on November 11. Six cases have been detected in South Africa, and one more was later registered in Hong Kong, according to British media. 

The Hong Kong patient recently traveled to China from South Africa – putting scientists on high alert, as the new variant could have spread anywhere through international travel. The patient is also said to be double vaccinated.

READ MORE: Spiky death: how long will Covid remain a threat?

News of the mutated strain, known as B.1.1.529 and which could end up being named ‘Nu’, was shared by Tom Peacock, a virologist at London’s Imperial College Department of Infectious Disease. Describing the Botswana variant’s spike profile as “horrific,” he tweeted that it could be “worse antigenically than nearly anything else about.”

Just spotted: very small cluster of variant associated with Southern Africa with very long branch length and really awful Spike mutation profile including RBD - K417N, N440K, G446S, S477N, T478K, E484A, Q493K, G496S, Q498R, N501Y, Y505H

— Tom Peacock (@PeacockFlu) November 23, 2021


Warning that the new variant has a “very long branch length and really awful spike mutation profile,” the virologist said it “very, very much should be monitored.” On the bright side, according to researchers, the high number of mutations could mean the variant is unstable, which might prevent it from becoming widespread.

So far, Covid-19 has killed more than five million people globally, with over 259.5 million infected.


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