Vaccine Failure and the Way Out


The Corona vaccines don’t work very well. Ubiquitous statistics showing that the vaccinated enjoy substantial protection against serious illness and death seem wrong. In some cases they are probably manipulated. They are certainly confounded by the different testing regimes to which the vaccinated and the unvaccinated are subjected. Once you forget the specifics of efficacy and look at the broader picture, it is easy to see where we are. The vaccines have not reduced Corona mortality compared to the same time last year in any jurisdiction that I know of. Countries with high vaccination rates are now seeing the same number of deaths, or more, as they had at the beginning of September 2020. Time is a flat circle.

If you peer deeper, you’ll generally find this: The vaccinated remain substantially protected against serious illness or death, but the unvaccinated are entering the hospital and dying at very high rates indeed, as if to compensate. Thus Israel has maintained the same case fatality rate of around 0.7%, before and after mass vaccination. If this is just Delta being more dangerous, then we would expect countries with lower vaccination rates to be enduring truly staggering mortality right now, but they are not. In heavily vaccinated countries, Delta is raging with a rare fury among the unvaccinated, but in lesser-vaccinated countries it is doing nothing unusual. This means that the efficacy statistics are broadly unreliable. The exact reasons don’t really matter: Either the vaccines have the power to change the whole picture, or they don’t.

None of this should surprise us. Vaccines against coronaviruses have been used in animals for decades, and none of them work very well. Generally they begin to fail after a few months. Despite their technical sophistication, our mRNA and vector vaccines against SARS-2 are no different. They had some success when they were first rolled out, but if anything that probably made things worse. They effectively killed off the older Kent lineage and reduced the overall genetic diversity of SARS-2. Cases plummeted in the United Kingdom and Israel, and Delta emerged victorious from this bottleneck event. When newly vaccinated Icelanders travelled to the Delta-saturated UK for holiday, they did not even enjoy an initial period of protection against infection. They brought Delta back to Iceland, where the new strain circulated among vaccinated and unvaccinated at nearly the same rate.

In a world where the symptomatic mostly stay home, Corona is locked in a balancing act. It can’t make people too sick too soon, or its hosts will remove themselves from circulation and infect nobody. Delta is more aggressive than prior strains, probably to the point of disadvantaging itself in containment-happy countries. The more aggressive, earlier replication allows it to get the jump on immunity in the vaccinated, however, who can also tolerate more virus replication with fewer symptoms. Together with ordinary antigenic drift, this would seem to be the mechanism that has brought Delta to prominence. We are probably justified in calling this phenomenon a weak Marek Effect. Our universal vaccination campaigns worked just well enough to speed up the evolutionary processes that are always and everywhere optimising Corona.

It is impossible to believe that this failure was not foreseen. The scientists who developed the vaccines knew for sure how things would play out. That’s why they concluded the trials after three or four months and vaccinated their controls. It’s why they have been talking about boosters from the very beginning. It’s why, if you listened carefully, you never heard Zero Covid sloganeering coming from Team Vaccine. Only the comparative morons on Team Lockdown ever talked like that.