Knowing Humans

Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Fertility, Clotting, and Immune Escape

Dr. Janci Chunn Lindsay warned recently that all the Covid-19 vaccines must be halted immediately due to three safety concerns:

  • fertility risk;
  • blood clotting;
  • immune escape.
Each of these concerns can be addressed.

Fertility Risk

This concern here is that there is a segment of five amino acids that is common between 1) the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein targeted by vaccines, and 2) the synctyn-1 and -2 proteins of the placenta. This concern has been thoroughly addressed since it was raised by Michael Yeadon on December 2, 2020. The universal theme of the responses is that such segments are far too short to trigger cross-reactivity. My favorite articles about it:
  • Health Feedback on Dec 10 gave a dry and straightforward overview of the initial claim and of the various public analyses demonstrating why a sequence of merely 5 amino acids shared between the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the synctyn protein is not enough to trigger cross-reactivity. If you read only one response to the synctyn fertility concern, this is the one.
  • Edward Nirenberg posted on Dec 3 a prompt and fascinating response explaining
    • the evolution and purpose of the mammalian placenta
    • studies of women with Covid-19 during the first trimester show similar pregnancy outcomes as uninfected women
    • the biomolecular details of whether an amino acid sequence homology is significant
    • synctin and spike proteins are examples of convergent evolution.
  • David Gorski on Dec 14 posted a detailed response explaining
    • the history of infertility conspiracy theories in the anti-vaccine movement
    • inefficient old-fashioned Sanger sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 samples is unnecessary (aside from calibration) given modern sequencing techniques
    • if ADE were a problem we’d expect to have seen it by now
    • immunologist Andrew Croxford also showed it's trivial to find many other human proteins with such short homologies with the spike protein
    • Yeadon denies that the Covid-19 pandemic is real, and claims it is an artifact of mis-calibrated PCR testing
    • Yeadon argues that natural Covid-19 transmission is not to be feared, not realizing that anti-spike T and B cell responses should have the same fertility harms as anti-spike vaccine responses.
It's strange and suspicious that Dr. Lindsay echoes Yeadon's concerns four months after they've been debunked so thoroughly.
Lindsay also gestures towards 100 pregnancy losses reported in VAERS, and multiple reports of menses irregularities. She is right that these must be investigated, but investigation must include comparing with the expected background risk of such incidents. When you ignore comparative incidence, you open yourself to charges of fear-mongering, as lay readers often don't have the habit of comparing anecdotes against baseline expectations. Jen Gunter reviews the science about possible interaction between vaccination and menstruation in this excellent article from April.  (Hat tip to Vaxopedia, a guide to skepticism about vaccine skepticism.)

Blood Clotting

This concern is not really a complaint about the vaccines at all. She says "The natural infection is known to cause coagulopathy due to the spike protein. All gene therapy vaccines direct the body to make the spike protein." She then cites a paper that is all about how natural Covid-19 can cause clotting.
Again, Lindsay offers no discussion of comparative incidence among populations, but just cites 795 clotting disorders in VAERS -- without mentioning that over 100M people had received vaccine injections. More importantly: if Covid spike proteins can cause (rare) clotting problems, then it becomes even more imperative to vaccinate. Vaccine recipients will surely have lower peak loads of spike proteins than would be caused by the many severe Covid cases that the vaccines are clinically proven to diminish.

Immune Escape

Linday claims "We have enough evidence now to see a clear correlation with increased Covid deaths and the vaccine campaigns." On the contrary, Covid deaths have been plummeting in the three most-vaccinated countries: Israel, U.K., and U.S.

Regarding immune escape, McGill university posted in March a detailed explanation of why mass vaccination would give SARS-CoV-2 less room to evolve variants -- as opposed to the alternative of letting the virus evolve freely while burning through the population. It points out that immune escape would still remain a concern, and that vaccines may need updating if variants evolve far enough.
The McGill posting links to an article by Edward Nirenberg who systematically rebuts Geert Vanden Bossche, a leading proponent of immune-escape fears. Nirenberg explains
  • the clinical evidence for vaccine effectiveness against variants
  • current understanding of mechanisms for asymptomatic infection
  • an allegedly basic mistake by Bossche on the role of NK cells in vaccine mechanism
  • the ever-growing clinical evidence that Covid vaccines aren't "leaky" (i.e. they reduce transmission)
  • the resounding success of a leaky vaccine in managing Marek's Disease in chickens.
Nirenberg concludes: "Vaccines clearly reduce viral load, prevent severe disease, and disrupt transmission, and they can thankfully be readily modified to address problematic variants as is done every season for influenza with great effect."

Why Covid Vaccines For Young Adults?

Covid deaths in 2020 age 18-29: 1465

Fully vaccinated 18-29 as of May 4: 9.857M (18.39% i.e. of 56.6M total population 18-29)

Covid deaths all ages among fully vaccinated as of Apr 26: 132
Total fully vaccinated as of Apr 26: 95M

U.S. Covid deaths 18-29 all time are 2000 out of 557K, i.e. 0.35%. So assume the same ratio applies to the 132 breakthrough Covid deaths: 0.35% * 132 = 0.46, so round up to 1 breakthrough death among 18-29yo.

In 9 pandemic months of 2020, deaths of 18-29 per million per month were
1465 deaths / 56.6 18-29yo population / 9 months
= 2.8 deaths per million per month of unvaccinated 18-29yo in 2020.

Assume the 9.587M 18-29yo have been vaccinated linearly for the first 4 months of 2021.
9.587M * 4 months / 2 = 19.7M vaccinated person-months. That's 1 death / 19.7M
= 0.05 deaths per million per month of vaccinated 18-29yo in 2021.

This fits with the clinical trial data. 95% efficacy means that a vaccinated group suffers 1/20 the symptomatic Covid cases of an unvaccinated group. The above estimate suggests vaccinated 18-29yo are 1/50 as likely to die of Covid as unvaccinated 18-29yo.

We estimated above that 1 of the 132 breakthrough Covid deaths were 18-29yo (i.e. double the 0.46 deaths you would expect in that cohort if breakthrough Covid deaths have an age distribution similar to regular Covid deaths). Note that 55 vaccinated 18-29yo would have had to die of Covid in Jan-Apr 2021 to match the 2020 per-million-per-month Covid death rate of unvaccinated 18-29yo.

There are no data suggesting vaccinated 18-29yo are suffering excess non-Covid deaths compared to unvaccinated 18-29yo. If there were real data saying this, then vaccinations for this cohort would be stopped immediately. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused after 6.8M vaccinations because 6 women aged 18 to 48 developed blood clots, and one of them died.)

Of course, even 2.8 deaths per million per month is trivial. The primary rationale for vaccinating young adults is now de-emphasizing herd immunity, and emphasizing the suppression of variants (like the one now ravaging India):

FAQ on Covid vaccines for people younger than 18:

Saturday, April 17, 2021

My Dead Man's Switch

If my wife and I both die at the same time, we need our estate's trustees to be able to take over our financial and electronic accounts. (Our trustees are a select few chosen from among our siblings, friends, and adult children.) But as trusted as our trustees are, we don't trust them to have access to all our accounts while we're both still alive. We don't want to store our account credentials in on-site storage that could be taken by an intruder or destroyed by a disaster.  And we don't want to store our account credentials in an off-site service that is inconvenient to update and that itself has to be trusted not to use our stored credentials. What to do?

Our solution is to encrypt our account credentials with a special password known to our trustees, and then arrange that our trustees only get the encrypted credentials if we're incapacitated. For this we use Dead Man's Switch. It allows us to schedule an email to our trustees, that will only be sent if I fail to visit that web site for N consecutive days. The free default is 2, but I bought a $50 life membership that lets me set it to any value. I chose 10. That's long enough to let me be distracted by a vacation or health problem, but short enough to get our trustees going quickly if we actually die.

My dead man's email says:

Subject: Is Brian incapacitated?

This email is automatically sent if Brian goes 10 days without visiting The encrypted information below gives you access to Brian's financial and online accounts. When decrypted it is a list of Brian's passwords. Decrypt it using the following steps. ....

The email then includes instructions how to use An InfoEncrypt ciphertext is encrypted using standard AES-128, and if InfoEncrypt ceases to exist then the ciphertext can still be decrypted on other web sites.

So my passwords are never stored anywhere, except in encrypted form. And the trustee password is never written down anywhere. It's a special password I've told only to my trustees. (I occasionally check that they still remember it. So far, so good.)

An extra level of security would be to divide the password among multiple trustees, so that no single one of them could immediately take our accounts if the Dead Man's email somehow was sent prematurely. But even if that happened, we'd still want to change our most sensitive passwords, in case our trustees colluded. (I had to do this once, because I turned on the gmail feature of inbox "categories", and didn't see my Dead Man reminder emails in the gmail Updates folder. My trustees were shocked to get the scary email announcing my possible incapacitation!)

Dead Man's Switch is a nifty service. It should be combined with an encryption service like InfoEncrypt to make the above setup simpler and more secure. Even so, the existence of this setup means that certain movie script scenarios are now off the table for characters who can be expected to understand this straightforward technology. It's kind of like how so many old movie plots would no longer make sense in a world of cell phones and GPS and mobile internet and satellite emergency location beacons.

P.S. My backup to all this is Google Inactive Account Manager. If I don't access my Google account for 3 months, then my trustees get control of it -- including the file they need to decrypt to see my other passwords. Unfortunately, 3 months is the minimum timeout Google allows.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Taiwan Independence Is Not Worth A Cupertino

During the Cold War, it was fine for Taiwan to free-ride on America's anti-communist containment strategy, and to shelter under America's dominant nuclear umbrella. But the situation changed around the time the Cold War ended in 1989.

While communism as an ideology lost the Cold War, the Chinese Communist Party studiously avoided the Soviets' fate. The CCP adopted just enough market freedoms to generate the easy catch-up prosperity needed to bribe its recently-starving citizenry into continued servility. But the CCP's legitimacy also leans heavily on the idea that the evil capitalists and oppressors who took refuge in Taiwan must never gain independence. The CCP's propaganda has convinced its 1.4 billion citizens that Taiwan independence is an intolerable affront to Chinese national identity. Of course, the real problem is that Taiwan is more than 3 times more prosperous than China, and enjoys vastly more political freedom. Together, these two undeniable facts are an existential threat to the ideological legitimacy of the CCP.  For at least thirty years, the CCP leadership has known that they are only one Beijing Spring away from spending the rest of their lives in jail (or worse).

So the CCP leadership is playing for keeps in aspiring to finally complete the conquest of Taiwan. The American guarantee of Taiwan's defense was arguably a good idea back when it had almost no marginal cost. But now, a credible defense of Taiwan would cost America more than Americans (or the people of Taiwan!) are willing to pay. Even worse, it runs a constant and growing background risk of a catastrophic war that would stretch from the Taiwan Strait to at least Guam, inland China, Japan, Wall Street, near-Earth orbit, and cyberspace.

And it could easily lead to nuclear war. If China set up a sea and air blockade of Taiwan, the U.S. would have to either back down, or challenge this act of war by eventually shooting its way through the blockade. Win or lose, the resulting conventional war would be a catastrophe for America's economy. But worse, the war would be an existential threat to the CCP leadership. Military defeat would not be acceptable when they have a nuclear arsenal just sitting there. So they likely would nuke some mainland American target, or at least threaten to.

Which one? It would be a target with high strategic or economic value relative to civilian casualties. So forget Washington D.C. or Manhattan or any major metropolitan downtown. A lower-yield nuke into Pearl Harbor would mostly spare Honolulu, but the Pacific Fleet's carriers would once again not be present, and the historical precedent is not a good one. Hollywood would be an interesting economic/cultural target, but the population density is high, and the headline would be "L.A. Nuked". A better target would be anywhere along the 13-mile line from Sand Hill Road to Santa Clara Stadium. That line is the backbone of Silicon Valley: venture capital, Stanford University, the Page Mill Rd. Stanford business park, the Google campus, and the remainders of the Valley's aerospace and semiconductor industry. That's where South Korea might aim a trans-Pacific nuke if it could. But China would instead be tempted to aim five miles south, and take out the Apple campus in Cupertino -- especially if they thought it would help them dominate the smartphone industry.

Whatever target they chose, America would be much more averse to this escalation than would the CCP. And so America should game this out, and cut its losses. There is no strategic hope for the 24M people of Taiwan to remain independent from those whose control of 1.4B Chinese depends on a commitment to ending that independence.

Taiwan has been a losing hand since the Berlin Wall fell and China's market economy rose. It's just an accident of geography that the CCP victory in 1949 was not total. When the freedom of Taiwan was relatively cheap to guarantee, it was worth guaranteeing. But it's not worth sacrificing a Cupertino.

This is not yet understood -- neither in official Washington nor in Taiwan itself. More than half of the people of Taiwan expect America to fight for their independence, but the people of Taiwan are unwilling to mount a credible deterrent.  So some U.S. president should say publicly what Trump said privately: "Taiwan is like two feet from China. We are 8,000 miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a f***ing thing we can do about it."