3 Years of COVID-19: Learning to Live in a World Reshaped by the Pandemic

Michael Merschel wrote . . . . . . . . .

On March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, everyone wanted to know: “What is this disease, and how can we stop it?”

After three years of terrible loss – including more than 1.1 million U.S. deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – along with remarkable scientific progress, some experts say the question has become, “How do we adapt to a world where that disease is here to stay?”

“It’s really a glass-half-empty, half-full approach, where some people say, ‘Well, you know, COVID is much less morbid than it was two or three years ago, and things are so much better,'” said Dr. Sandeep R. Das, professor of internal medicine in the cardiology division at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

At the same time, thousands of people are dying monthly from COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus that’s still “quite dangerous,” Das said. “So, it’s not something where we can just sort of declare victory and ignore it.”

That two-sided reality means he and other experts agree there is no one-size-fits-all approach to facing the risks.

“We definitely don’t want people to run around terrified,” said Das, co-chair of the American Heart Association’s COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease Registry. “It’s something that you have to take seriously, and you have to do what you can to mitigate risk.” At the same time, he said, “you have to be able to live your life.”

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, agreed that the urgency with which people take protective measures will depend on their individual circumstances.

“It depends on how hard you’re trying to avoid getting a ubiquitous virus,” said Adalja, an infectious disease specialist. And that means advice on common concerns will vary.

Are masks still important?

The CDC says wearing a mask is still considered helpful in preventing exposure to COVID-19 and in helping infected people limit the spread of the disease. In areas with medium to high levels of COVID-19 cases, the CDC “especially recommends considering” masks and social distancing.

Adalja said that people at high risk for developing severe COVID-19 – the CDC’s list includes people with diabetes, heart and lung conditions, weakened immune systems, kidney disease and more – still might want to wear masks in crowded indoor settings.

But for people with lower risk, in a world that now has vaccines to protect against infection and severe illness and antiviral drugs for treatment, he considers masks just “one tool that people can use.”

Dr. Nicole Bhave, an associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said that for older and sicker people, “masking is really important.” But she also tailors her advice to individual patients.

Bhave, a cardiologist who sees many patients who are on dialysis or have had kidney or liver transplants, said that for such patients, “I strongly recommend mask-wearing, particularly in crowded public settings. For young, healthy people, I actually do not routinely recommend that,” especially if they are up to date on vaccinations.

Das said that studies about masking “are all over the place.” But he and other physicians wear masks regularly at work, he said, and it’s not a problem.

“It’s such a small ask, in most contexts,” he said.

Who needs a COVID-19 vaccine?

The CDC says everyone as young as 6 months should receive an updated, or bivalent, booster, which protects against both the original virus and more recent variants.

The issue is not whether vaccines work, Adalja said. “I think vaccines are extremely valuable at minimizing the impacts of COVID-19.” According to CDC data from December, hospitalization rates for unvaccinated adults were 16 times higher than those who had received the updated booster, which became available in September.

“If you’re somebody that’s high risk, the vaccine could literally mean the difference between life or death,” Adalja said.

As of early March, the CDC reported that while 81% of people in the U.S. had received at least one dose of a vaccine, only 16% had received the updated bivalent booster.

“I still would advise everyone to have the boosters on the schedule that the CDC recommends,” said Bhave, who helped write American College of Cardiology guidance on post-COVID-19 issues. “But for a younger, healthier person, that may be less critical,” given how most people around them either have been vaccinated or have some immunity from having had the disease.

Das said getting vaccinated and boosted remains the No. 1 thing someone can do to protect themselves.

So if the question is, “‘Should a 90-year-old in the nursing home get vaccinated?’ Of course, 100%, that should be not one bit controversial,” he said. “Should a 20-year-old who’s super healthy get vaccinated? That’s an individual decision. Obviously, the absolute benefit to that person is much smaller. But they could still decide to do it.” For example, staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines means a young, healthy person is less likely to spread the disease to at-risk people they live or work with or encounter in everyday life.

What are COVID-19’s risks to the heart?

Early in the pandemic, Das said, doctors were fearful the coronavirus might directly cause heart problems. “That has largely turned out not to be the case,” he said.

But in the throes of an infection, people still struggle, Bhave said, and are at increased risk for heart attacks, atrial fibrillation (a type of irregular heartbeat) and more.

The stress from a COVID-19 infection might be exposing previously unknown heart problems, Bhave said. And longer-term studies have shown COVID-19 survivors to be at higher risk of problems such as stroke and heart failure.

“I think we do have more to learn about all the mechanisms,” she said.

Among the lingering questions are those surrounding long COVID, Das said. “We absolutely, desperately need more research into the long-term implications.”

Co-existing with the coronavirus

COVID-19 is here to stay, Adalja emphasized.

“We’re talking about the three-year anniversary,” he said. “At the 30-year anniversary, COVID-19 will still be a threat.” The coronavirus will continue to evolve, and new variants are simply a biological fact.

But Adalja celebrates how far science has come, so fast. Before 2020, “COVID-19 and the virus that causes it were not known to science. And now, three years later, we probably have more tools to deal with COVID-19 than we do for any other respiratory virus.”

Adalja said he’s optimistic “in the sense that humans have tackled the most pressing problem with COVID-19, which is being able to reduce its ability to cause severe disease and death and crush hospitals.”

But for individuals, “the way you deal with COVID-19 is very personalized, based on your risk factors for severe disease and your personal risk tolerance.”

Das also celebrates the scientific successes and agrees that people need to find the balance that works for their situation.

“I definitely think people need to not be terrified,” he said. “That said, if you have a lot of cardiovascular comorbidities, it’s not a trivial thing to get COVID. People are writing it off as, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu.’ But the flu kills people.”

After three years, people may want to move on from thinking about COVID-19, Das said. “The problem is that really, we’re not on our own timeline,” he said. “We are, to some extent, on the virus’ timeline.”

Source: American Heart Association






COVID Vaccines Are “Obviously Dangerous” and Should Be Halted Immediately, Say Senior Swedish Doctors

Johan Eddebo wrote . . . . . . . . .

There follows a public statement by a group of five senior Swedish doctors who, in collaboration with Dr. Johan Eddebo, a researcher in digitalisation and human rights, are raising the alert about the Covid vaccines, which they describe as “obviously dangerous”. They say there should be an “immediate halt” to the mass vaccination pending “thorough investigations” of the true incidence and severity of adverse effects.

The true character and scope of the harm caused by the unprecedented mass vaccinations for COVID-19 is just now beginning to become clear. Leading scientific journals have finally begun publishing data corroborating what the underground research community has observed over the last two years, especially in relation to complex problems of immune suppression.

Truly concerning numbers pertaining to both births and mortality are also emerging.

At this moment in time, a new, allegedly super-infectious Omicron variant is all over the headlines. A sub-variant of XXB, this strain is said to possess immune escape capabilities of precisely the type that some independent researchers predicted would follow on the heels of the mass vaccinations’ narrow antigenic fixation.

The WHO maintains that worldwide, 10,000 people still die due to Covid every single day, an implausible death toll more than ten times that of an average flu. It reiterates the urgent need for vaccinations, especially in light of China’s reopening and allegedly falsified data on mortality and infections.

The EU has even called an emergency summit in light of the purported Chinese “Covid chaos” that “calls to mind how everything began in Wuhan, three years ago”.

In Sweden, the Minister for Health and Social Affairs has said he cannot rule out new restrictions, and states that everyone must take “their three doses”, since “only” 85% of the population is ‘fully inoculated’.

That such an extensive vaccine coverage has not yielded better results after nearly two years is a remarkable fact. Even more so in light of some individuals receiving four or more repeated exposures to the same vaccine antigen, yet still contracting the disease they are supposedly immunised against.

At the same time, even more ominous warning signs abound.

One such warning sign is the fact that average mortality in many Western states is still at a remarkably high level, in spite of the direct effects of the coronavirus being marginal for more than a year. Data from EuroMOMO indicate a marked excess mortality in the EU for all of 2022, and the German Bureau of Statistics reports that the country’s mortality in October was more than 19% over the median value of the preceding years.

Is this due to Covid, as the WHO’s ’10 000 per day’ figure would seem to indicate?

Blame is placed at the feet of ‘Long Covid‘ as well as the regular acute infections, but according to the EuroMOMO and Our World in Data stats, the bulk of the excess deaths in Europe during 2022 are actually not due to clinically manifest coronavirus infections.

Moreover, we shouldn’t see continued excess deaths from a respiratory virus of this kind after three years of global exposure due to the inevitable consolidation of natural immunity.

If such a situation persists, the hypothetical connection to a vaccine-related immunity suppression that just now has come into focus becomes pertinent to investigate in detail.

If, as has been argued, the vaccinations, and especially the boosters, alter the immune profile of recipients such that Covid infections get ‘tolerated’ by the immune system, it’s possible that vaccinated individuals will tend towards a situation of long-term, repeat infections that do not get cleared, and do not present with obvious symptoms, while still promoting systemic damage.

The literature now indicates an extensive substitution in the vaccinated of virus-neutralising antibodies for non-inflammatory ones, a ‘class switch’ from antibodies that work towards clearing the virus from our system, to a category of antibodies whose purpose is to desensitise us to irritants and allergens.

The net effect is that the inflammatory response to Covid infection gets down-regulated (reduced). This means that full-blown infections will present with milder symptoms, and that they won’t get cleared as effectively (partly since fever and inflammation are essential to your body getting rid of a pathogen).

That these developments alone aren’t cause for an immediate halt to the mass vaccinations, as well as thorough investigations, is astonishing.

There is of course another, and more well-known, potential partial explanation of the surprising excess mortality. We have indications of clotting disorders connected to the Covid vaccines, evident in a new major Nordic study, while repeated studies evidence a clear correlation between heart disease and Covid vaccination (see Le Vu et al., Karlstad et al. and Patone et al.).

A newly published Thai study moreover indicated that almost a third of the vaccinated youth enrolled exhibited cardiovascular manifestations, and a yet unpublished Swiss study suggests that as many as 3% of everyone vaccinated manifest heart muscle damage.

And as stated above, we also see signals pertaining to fertility disturbances connected to the Covid vaccines.

An Israeli study shows impaired motility and sperm concentrations after both Pfizer and Moderna vaccination. The safety committee of the European Medicines Agency has also affirmed that the vaccines may cause menstrual disturbances, and Pfizer’s own studies indicate that the lipid nanoparticles of the mRNA-vaccines cluster in the reproductive organs.

The hypothesis that COVID-19 vaccinations influence fertility is supported by a significant and unprecedented decline in the Swedish birth rate during the first months of 2022. According to Swedish demographers, the decline is ”surprising”.

There are similar data from many other Western countries, and to continue the mass vaccinations for low-risk groups such as children or pregnant women is utterly irresponsible – especially since the vaccinations do little or nothing to stop the spread as was initially promised, and is often still falsely maintained.

One hopes that the hypothesis of a decline in birth rates due to the vaccinations can be falsified through a thorough and independent investigation as soon as possible. The numbers are truly worrying.

Yet the fact that Pfizer’s data pertaining to fertility disturbances had been hidden away and needed to be discovered through a FOIA request is typical for the entire situation.

There’s almost no independent public debate on these issues, and critical perspectives are actively suppressed by the major digital platforms.

Public watchdogs such as the European Medicines Agency are funded by the pharmaceutical industry and often base their recommendations on Big Pharma’s in-house studies. The independence of our scientific and academic institutions is threatened, and we see a confluence between scientific research, private corporate interests and political and ideological objectives on every level.

To place a digital filter of censorship on top of all of this, where proprietary algorithms micromanage the flow of information and the public debate in accordance with the intentions of their owners, in practice means to abolish the open democratic society and independent scientific research.

Recent disclosures also show that the digital platforms have actively worked towards suppressing critical perspectives on the Covid policies and the mass vaccinations. Twitter has for this purpose developed clandestine censorship strategies and employed so-called ‘shadowbanning’ with the effect of an almost undetectable suppression of the visibility of posts and accounts connected to undesirable perspectives and analyses. Facebook took down more than seven million posts to influence the debate on Covid only during the second quarter of 2020. YouTube has banned publishing of video material that contains critical perspectives on the Covid vaccinations. Such content is designated ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ whether or not it is supported by relevant data.

These kinds of measures have very serious consequences. Digitalisation’s centralised control of the flow of information doesn’t just affect policy on the local and regional level, but also influences the way in which scientific and journalistic work can be designed and carried out. It creates structures that immediately repress heterodox views and silences critical voices through fear and indirect persecution.

Public trust in our common institutions will inevitably be eroded by this development.

The open society now desperately needs a renaissance. The democratic and scientific discourses must be rebuilt from the ground up, and in a way which respects the new and unique risks of our contemporary situation, and which protects and emphasises the responsibility of the individual citizen.

Key to this in our current predicament is to press on with critical questions pertaining to the obviously dangerous mass vaccinations and to investigate the corruption of our political and scientific institutions that the Covid situation has shed light on.

It is critical that we immediately begin to remedy the significant damage that has been rendered to global public health, and to the open society as such.

Johan Eddebo, Ph.D, researcher in digitalisation and human rights

Sture Blomberg, MD, Ph.D, Associate Professor in Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care and former senior physician

Ragnar Hultborn, Professor Emeritus, specialist in oncology

Sven Román, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, since 2015 Consultant Psychiatrist working in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry throughout Sweden

Lilian Weiss, Associate Professor, specialist in surgery

Nils Littorin, resident in psychiatry, MD in clinical microbiology

Source: Daily Sceptic





Why Do We Eat Food That We Know We Shouldn’t?

Morgan Hines wrote . . . . . . . . .

I’m lactose intolerant and I know I should keep an eye on my cholesterol, but neither of these factors stop me from picking at a cheese board or ordering ice cream for dessert.

I’m aware while I am eating that my choices aren’t benefiting future me. I never feel good after, yet I keep repeating the cycle.

I don’t know why I keep doing it. I often swear that I’ll stop. “No more cheese,” I say to myself, or, “I’ll stay away from sugar.” But somehow, even with the restraints I put on myself, I still want what I “shouldn’t” have – sometimes even more.

I’m not the only one who struggles with this. When I shared my problems with this decision-making process on Twitter, several users replied with their own stories about foods they consume despite being better off staying away from them.

Zach Honig wrote that even though he knows he’s susceptible to gout, he still indulges in red wine, rich foods and beer. “I just deal with the gout attacks from time to time.”

Like me, Victoria M. Walker refuses to give up dairy. And @ACHolliday replied that they have cysts and aren’t supposed to drink coffee, but sometimes they still do because it provides “comfort”.

Sean Devlin added that food helps to get through the “slog” of the daily grind. Another user, @pablopaycheck, said they choose to eat foods that maybe they shouldn’t “Because yoloooooo”, meaning because you only live once.

Why do we keep choosing foods that we shouldn’t?

The answer isn’t clear cut. There are a variety of reasons we choose to eat what we eat that depend on the individual, their circumstances and other factors.

There’s a spectrum when it comes to healthfulness and food. All foods can fit into a healthy diet, says David Creel, a psychologist and registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute in the US.

But there are less healthy foods that we choose to consume even when we can foresee negative consequences like stomachaches or higher cholesterol levels, down the line.

“Some people actually think about it – they might [perform a mental] cost-benefit analysis … ‘What am I going to get from this? What does it cost me?’ and they make a decision based on that,” Creel says.

But that’s not how everyone’s brain works. For others, habit plays into the decisions they make. “A lot of people, they just kind of do what’s familiar to them, and they don’t do it with a lot of thought.”

What happens in the brain when we choose to eat something? Two areas are stimulated during the eating process.

“We know from people who do brain research that there tends to be two different drivers: liking food when we eat it – our brain responds and we can see that through imaging – and there’s also a ‘wanting’ piece,” Creel says.

Both are important. If someone is having a craving, that’s a “wanting” experience. It’s similar to when someone who smokes is asked if they like to smoke. They may not “like” to, but they do crave a cigarette. Certain emotional states may cause you to crave specific foods, too.

The “liking” experience comes after eating or experiencing a food. Sometimes, liking and wanting feed into each other, but they happen in different areas of the brain, Creel explains.

The physiology of how we decide what we want to eat is complex. It also varies based on who is making the choices.

So, what are some of the factors that play into the way we choose food if we aren’t actively assessing what the outcome of our eating decisions will be?

Foods that taste good and seem “fun” are appealing to us.

“The reason we consume those things that we shouldn’t for whatever reason is typically driven by taste or flavour,” says Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, in the UK.

“It’s hard to resist the temptation of the sugar, or the salt or the fat.”

And part of why foods taste good is based on the associations we make with those foods.

“I ask my patients a lot: ‘What would you describe as a fun food?’ And things like pizza, or ice cream or cake, they come up,” Creel says.

Another association might be how comfort foods are identified. Creel associates home-made buttermilk biscuits with his grandmother. Conditioning from our upbringing contributes to how we associate food and when we want it.

So, it might not even be the food’s flavour or taste that appeals to us as much as the association we make with the food, Creel says.

Spence says that, as humans, we tend to prioritise what happens in the present over anything likely to happen in the future. People “might be drawn more to the reward of those … typically great-tasting foods in the moment because we weigh that more heavily,” he explains.

How we choose what we consume also has to do with human history and evolution, according to Spence. The human brain, he says, will pay more attention to foods that are energy-dense, with extra attention to those high in fat.

We’re evolved, he supposes, to find those foods attractive because at one point they were essential to survival.

Long ago, perhaps people were struggling to find sufficient food. But now, many of us live in a “food-rich environment”, Spence continues, explaining that some of the foods are more energy-dense than we need now.

“The brain evolved for feeding, foraging and fornicating,” he says, noting we all find it hard to override what he calls “ancient urges”.

Creel says he often encourages patients he sees to pause before taking action and consider their choice – not to see anything as “forbidden” but as two options that could have different outcomes.

“If you tell yourself ‘I should have one thing’ and ‘I shouldn’t have another thing’, it kind of sets us up to not do well,” he explains.

For example, if we say to ourselves “I should have an apple” and “I should not have cake”, you either eat the apple and feel like you missed out on the cake, or eat the cake and feel guilty because you didn’t eat the apple.

But if you look at these choices while weighing the outcomes, your actions will likely be different.

Changing “shoulds” to “coulds” gives you freedom to make the decision while removing any guilt, Creel says.

So, if you “could” have an apple or you “could” have cake, your decision might look more like this: you could choose to eat an apple that you think you will enjoy, or you could choose to enjoy the cake because it’s your favourite kind – and you don’t have guilt because you consciously came to the conclusion that eating the cake was worth it.

Making mindful decisions doesn’t just eliminate guilt. Creel says that it may also lead you to avoid less healthy choices.

Being mindful can enhance the enjoyment of all kinds of foods, he says.

“I think it can really help on both sides of the equation – it can be helpful to not over-consume unhealthy foods, and can help promote the consumption of healthier foods.”

Source : SCMP





How Gordon Ramsay’s Lamb Slaughter Joke Explains Our Confusing Relationship with Meat

Kenny Torrella wrote . . . . . . . . .

Several months ago, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay posted a TikTok video of himself climbing into a pen of lambs, saying, “I’m going to eat you!” He rubbed his hands together while saying “yummy, yum, yum, yum” and asked, “Which one’s going in the oven first?” He pointed at one lamb, said, “you,” and then exclaimed that it was “oven time.”

The cheeky video elicited plenty of laugh-cry emojis and comments from fans in on the joke (in 2006, Ramsay asked a contestant on his “Hell’s Kitchen” TV show for lamb sauce, which became a meme). But many commenters were also disturbed, saying the video was sad, that Ramsay had lost it, or that they had lost respect for Ramsay because of his seeming callousness toward cute little lambs.

The video and the reactions it sparked are a stark example of what psychologists have dubbed “the meat paradox”: the mental dissonance caused by our empathy for animals and our desire to eat them.

Australian psychologists Steve Loughnan, Nick Haslam, and Brock Bastian coined the term in 2010, defining it as the “psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering.” We empathize with animals — after all, we are animals ourselves — but we’re also hardwired to seek calorie-dense, energy-rich foods. And for most of human history, that meant meat.

Want to eat less meat but don’t know where to start? Sign up for Vox’s five-day newsletter full of practical tips — and food for thought — to incorporate more plant-based food into your diet.

When faced with that dissonance, we try to resolve it in a number of ways. We downplay animals’ sentience or make light of their slaughter (as Ramsay did), we misreport our eating habits (or dismiss personal responsibility altogether), or we judge others’ behavior so as to claim the moral high ground, as some of Ramsay’s commenters did (even if they likely eat meat themselves).

But the meat paradox doesn’t just flare up when it’s at play in pop culture; it’s a feature of our everyday lives, whether or not we pay any mind to it.

Almost one in four American adults tells pollsters they’re cutting back on their meat intake — while the country sets new records for per capita meat consumption. We abhor the treatment of animals on factory farms, where 99 percent of meat in the US is produced, yet we dislike vegans. And even those of us who say we’re vegetarian or vegan are often stretching the truth.

The meat paradox is also the subject and title of a recent book by Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, a UK-based nonprofit that advocates for organic farming practices, higher animal welfare, and lower meat consumption.

I wanted to speak to Percival because he is a walking embodiment of the meat paradox. He spends his days campaigning against industrialized animal agriculture while insisting animals should still play a role in our farming and food system, albeit a much smaller and more humane one.

Percival is quite sympathetic to the vegan cause, going so far as to call animal slaughter “murder,” but isn’t a vegan himself and doesn’t hesitate to criticize the vegan movement’s eccentricities and exaggerations. And he’s gravely worried about what will happen to the world if humanity can’t figure out how to resolve the meat paradox. The West’s meat-heavy diet is a major accelerant to the climate crisis that shows little sign of slowing, and that diet is already being exported to the rest of the world.

So in an effort to unravel the meat paradox, Percival talked to farmers, anthropologists, psychologists, and activists to better understand humanity’s messy, complicated, and millennia-deep relationship to the animals we hunt and farm for food.

The meat paradox in ourselves

Percival found that the meat paradox isn’t just a product of modern-day industrialized animal farming, but a psychological struggle that goes back to our earliest ancestors. Those animal carvings and cave paintings made tens of thousands of years ago? They may be more than mere caveman doodles.

“It’s partly speculative, but the case has been made by various scholars that these provide evidence of a ritual response to animal consumption which may well have been rooted in those dissonant emotions, that conflicted ethical sense,” Percival said. “There’s a profound moral dilemma posed by the killing and consumption of animal persons.”

But the meat paradox has intensified in the modern age. One of the founding studies of the meat paradox literature, Percival told me, was the one published by the psychologists Loughnan, Haslam, and Bastian in 2010. They gave questionnaires to two groups, and while the subjects filled in answers, one group was given cashews to snack on while the other group was given beef jerky. The surveys asked participants to rate the sentience and intelligence of cows and their moral concern for a variety of animals, such as dogs, chickens, and chimpanzees.

The participants who ate the beef jerky rated cows less sentient and less mindful — and extended their circle of moral concern to fewer animals — than the group that ate the cashews.

“The act of thinking about a cow’s mental capabilities while eating a cow had created these dissonant emotions beneath the surface, which had skewed their perception in really important ways,” Percival said.

Even exposure to strict vegetarians or vegans can elicit a “heightened commitment to pro-meat justifications,” Percival says about one study. This might explain why we see per capita meat consumption rise in tandem with rates of veganism and vegetarianism.

One of the funnier and more telling passages of the book details a meeting Percival had with Charles Way, the head of food quality assurance for KFC in the UK and Ireland. After Way tells Percival how proud he is of KFC’s animal welfare standards, Percival asks Way, “If you knew that you were going to be reborn as a chicken, would you really prefer to be born onto a farm in KFC’s supply chain, more than on any other farm in the UK?”

Way asserts the company’s standards are above the industry norm (which isn’t saying much), but then says it wouldn’t make a difference, “so no.” Percival tries again: “If you knew that you were going to be reborn as a chicken, do you think you would eat less chicken?”

By Percival’s telling, Way simply doesn’t reply.

When confronted with these dissonant emotions through reports on the harsh reality of factory farming, we try to deny them, dissociating the meat on our plate from the animal that produced it, and in doing so, denying animals of their sentience and intelligence.

We make myths to justify our relationship with animals, too. One of the more popular ones is the “ancient contract,” which goes something like this: Animals give us their meat, and in exchange, we give them domestication and thus an opportunity to evolutionarily succeed. This concept was coined by science writer Stephen Budiansky in 1989 and has been touted by food writers Michael Pollan and Barry Estabrook, as well as iconic animal welfare scientist Temple Grandin.

Pollan and Estabrook don’t condone modern-day industrial animal farming, and Estabrook says it’s a violation of this ancient contract. However, “there is a glaring deceit at the heart of our ancient contract,” Percival writes: “No individual animal has consented to the terms of the deal.”

We also use language to obscure; one study found that replacing “slaughtering” or “killing” with “harvesting” reduced dissonance, and that replacing “beef” and “pork” on restaurant menus with “cow” and “pig” generated more empathy for animals. Adding a photo of an animal next to the dish further elevated empathy, while also making vegetarian dishes more appealing to study participants.

Percival says the meat paradox can be found across cultures and time periods, and that “there is no culture in which plant foods are problematic in the same way.”

The meat paradox in our institutions

The meat paradox is just as active in our institutions as in ourselves.

Percival’s book opens with a tour of the Natural History Museum of London, where exhibits tell the story of animals’ habitat loss and the effects of climate change on wildlife. But then when you visit the museum’s restaurant, “you might be served food which directly contributed to all those crises,” Percival said. (Meat production is a leading cause of habitat loss, as large swaths of forest are cleared to grow soy and other crops to feed farmed animals.)

Eventually, the museum changed up its menu — offering plant-based dishes, higher-welfare meat, and organic foods — after a pressure campaign from Percival.

That story had a happy ending, but I worry the meat paradox will only harden in ourselves and in our institutions as meat becomes more grist for the culture war, as when some Republicans freaked out over a made-up story that the Green New Deal would result in a “burger ban.” To overcome that, Percival argues, we need to stake out a middle ground in the meat debate.

“We need progressive farmers and omnivores to be trying to defuse the tensions with vegans and animal activists, and we need the vegans who say, ‘Okay, step one is let’s phase out the industrial systems and focus on higher animal welfare,’” he told me. “And if you can get a large enough demographic to claim that middle ground, then we might see some progress.”

The middle ground is a hard place to be in an increasingly polarized world. But there are signs of progress: Whenever voters are given the choice to ban cages for hens or pigs, they vote yes, and plant-based meat has gone mainstream in recent years.

And since more bold regulation, like a meat tax, would be politically toxic right now, the change has to start with us.

“I’m not of the view that individuals can fix all this on their own or that it’s the sole responsibility of consumers to fix the food system,” Percival said. “But at the same time, I am of the view that our own choices are influential. They help set social norms. And you need that sort of mass mobilization before political change becomes viable, before you can force businesses to change.”

And to get there, we first need to reflect upon the meat paradox within ourselves, which would allow us, he said, to “see our sort of complicity and entanglements in all this and understand what it might mean to begin to disentangle ourselves.”

Changing how we eat is one of the most effective actions we can take for the climate, but it’s also one of the most personal, as evidenced by the deep-seated influence of the meat paradox. But freeing ourselves from its dissonance really could help us claw our way out of some of the crises we find ourselves in — if we’re willing to confront it.

Source: Vox





COVID-19 Vaccination — Becoming Part of the New Normal

Peter Marks, Janet Woodcock, and Robert Califf wrote . . . . . . . . .

As the US emerges from the recent Omicron surge of the COVID-19 pandemic following close to a million deaths in the country attributable to COVID-19, many people are hoping that the worst is over. Widespread vaccine- and infection-induced immunity, combined with the availability of effective therapeutics, could blunt the effects of future outbreaks. Nonetheless, it is time to accept that the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is the new normal. It will likely circulate globally for the foreseeable future, taking its place alongside other common respiratory viruses such as influenza. And it likely will require similar annual consideration for vaccine composition updates in consultation with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC). A recent meeting of the VRBPAC on April 6, 2022, resulted in a lively discussion and agreement on many considerations for planning for upcoming approaches to COVID-19 vaccine strain composition decision-making, development, and recommendations.

COVID-19 vaccines, developed and deployed in record time based on foundational scientific and clinical research conducted over the preceding decade, have conservatively saved tens of thousands of lives in the US and many more across the globe. Although data show that third doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provide more durable protection against the severe outcomes of hospitalization and death, only 45% of the US population has received a third vaccine dose, including only about 68% of those older than 65 years—the individuals at greatest risk of adverse outcomes from COVID-19. Because fourth doses of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were only recently authorized for those older than 50 years, it is too early to assess their effects on protection against serious outcomes of COVID-19 in the US. However, robust observational data from Israel with a large sample size showed additional protection against hospitalization and death in that population.

During this coming fall-to-winter period, 3 factors may come together to place the country’s population at risk of COVID-19, particularly those who are unvaccinated or who are not up-to-date with vaccination. These factors include (1) waning immunity from prior vaccine or prior infection, (2) further evolution of SARS-CoV-2, and (3) seasonality of respiratory virus infection, waves of which are generally more severe in the fall to winter months when individuals move their activities indoors.

By summer, decisions will need to be made for the 2022-2023 season about who should be eligible for vaccination with additional boosters and regarding vaccine composition. Administering additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to appropriate individuals this fall around the time of the usual influenza vaccine campaign has the potential to protect susceptible individuals against hospitalization and death, and therefore will be a topic for FDA consideration.

Those at greatest risk who might benefit most from vaccination include immunocompromised individuals and people older than 50 years, given the prevalence of comorbidities that increase the risk of severe disease and death in this latter group. Additional groups that might benefit include those who are unvaccinated (including children) or not up-to-date with vaccination (eg, those who have received only 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or have not received a booster dose). The benefit of giving additional COVID-19 booster vaccines to otherwise healthy individuals 18 to 50 years of age who have already received primary vaccination and a first booster dose is not likely to have as marked an effect on hospitalization or death as in the other populations at higher risk (noted above). However, booster vaccinations could be associated with a reduction in health care utilization (eg, emergency department or urgent care center visits).

Around the same time that a decision is made regarding who should be eligible for vaccination, a decision will also need to be made on the COVID-19 vaccine composition. To provide maximal benefit across the entire age spectrum, careful consideration will need to be given to the choice of the SARS-CoV-2 variant(s) to cover in the COVID-19 vaccines for the fall and winter of the 2022-2023 season. This is because the variant(s) covered by the vaccine may have an important influence on both the extent and duration of protection against a future SARS-CoV-2 variant(s) that may circulate. Better alignment between the variant(s) covered by the vaccine and circulating variant(s) of SARS-CoV-2 might be expected to prevent a broader spectrum of disease, potentially for a longer time. In the event of a major fall or winter wave, a vaccine with optimal variant coverage might facilitate significant reductions in lost productivity and health care utilization from both acute and chronic complications of COVID-19, including postacute COVID-19 syndrome. Of note, in the past, such an overall public health benefit in an otherwise healthy younger population has been considered during the annual influenza vaccine campaign.

In terms of practical considerations, at the recent meeting of the VRBPAC, there was relatively uniform agreement that a single vaccine composition used by all manufacturers was desirable and that data would be needed to inform and drive the selection of a monovalent, bivalent, or multivalent COVID-19 vaccine.8 There was also general agreement that, should a new vaccine composition be recommended based on the totality of the available clinical and epidemiologic evidence, optimally it could be used for both primary vaccination as well as booster administration.

The timeframe to determine the composition of the COVID-19 vaccine for the 2022-2023 season, to use alongside the seasonal influenza vaccine for administration in the Northern Hemisphere beginning in about October, is compressed because of the time required for manufacturing the necessary doses. A decision on composition will need to be made in the US by June 2022. Because of this timing, the FDA, in consultation with the VRBPAC, will need to arrive at a recommendation for the future composition of the US COVID-19 vaccines for 2022-2023 based on the available evidence and predictive modeling, with the understanding that there will be some inherent residual uncertainty about the further evolution of SARS-CoV-2. To date, the original, or prototype, vaccine composition deployed has been reasonably good at protecting against severe outcomes from COVID-19. However, a greater depth and duration of protection might be achieved with a vaccine covering currently circulating variants.

As plans are being developed for the coming fall and winter, it is critical that patients and caregivers understand the profound benefit of a booster dose of the mRNA vaccines or a second vaccine dose of any kind after the Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine and that this understanding leads to action now in the face of a current uptick in infection rates. Clinicians should not be susceptible to inertia and should continue to recommend that patients get their COVID-19 vaccination status up to date, meaning primary vaccination and relevant booster(s). There is no evidence that getting vaccinated now will have adverse effects or toxicity that would preempt the administration of an additional vaccine dose in the fall months if there is evidence of waning of immunity, a new variant, or an adverse seasonal pattern.

Vaccines, as public health interventions, have been responsible over the past century for reducing an unimaginable amount of morbidity and for saving millions of lives. The eradication of smallpox and near elimination of several other infectious diseases are an unambiguous triumph of modern medicine. During the 2022-2023 COVID-19 vaccine planning and selection process, it is important to recognize that the fall season will present a major opportunity to improve COVID-19 vaccination coverage with the goal of minimizing future societal disruption and saving lives. With the plan for implementation of this year’s vaccine selection process, society is moving toward a new normal that may well include annual COVID-19 vaccination alongside seasonal influenza vaccination.

Source : JAMA Network