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Insights 34: 17 September 2021
NZ Herald: Oliver Hartwich says government should not let 'sunk costs' hold NZ back from freedom
Podcast: Eric Crampton speaks to Graeme Jarvis, Medicines NZ CEO about Covid-19 medicines
Newsroom: Eric Crampton on Chernobyl and the merits of openness in the face of crisis

That we all be vaccinated
Dr Eric Crampton | Chief Economist |
Nobody knows what vaccination rate would allow restrictions to ease safely. But rates need to rise substantially.

Epidemiological models suggest that if more than 10% of the country, including children, remain unvaccinated, outbreaks would put terrible pressure on the health system. And some have medical conditions precluding vaccination.

Models can fail on encountering the real world. But Alberta, Canada, shows that full vaccination of 70% of the eligible population is nowhere close to sufficient.

Almost 90% of Alberta’s fourth Covid wave ICU cases have come from the completely unvaccinated 20% of the province. 218 are in ICU with Covid and numbers are rising sharply.

An outbreak of that magnitude here would leave 30 ICU beds, total, for others. Alberta is asking other provinces to share the load; we do not have that luxury.

Like drunk drivers, the unvaccinated do not just put themselves at risk.

Cancer surgeries are cancelled when there is no space for post-operative care.

On Tuesday, doctors warned Alberta’s health system would fall apart in a month absent stronger measures preventing transmission. On Wednesday, the province announced new restrictions on indoor gatherings, with more lenient restrictions for the vaccinated.

Ekos pollster Frank Graves says that Canadian patience with vaccine refusers, who effectively hold the rest of the country to ransom, “is utterly exhausted.”

Vaccines here have been rolling out at pace. But we know much higher rates are still needed. At least some currently hesitant might take up a non-mRNA option, if offered. Every percentage point matters.

In this week’s Initiative podcast, Medicines New Zealand’s Graeme Jarvis explains how effective treatments would also help ease the burden of any larger outbreak, if they were part of the government’s strategy.

At the same time, the Government needs to make it easier for businesses and venues to ensure health and safety for their workers, clients, and the public.

In Australia, vaccination is mandatory for aged-care workers. But The Herald reports Ryman faces procedural hurdles in setting similar requirements in its own care facilities.

Venues abroad have been able to operate more safely, despite Covid, by requiring that attendees provide proof of vaccination. Currently, Level 2 limits indoor spaces to no more than 50 people. As the vaccination rollout progresses, venues requiring vaccination could safely be allowed to operate with more attendees.

High vaccination rates really are necessary – ideally, all of the Team of Five Million, barring those medically precluded from vaccination.

A barbaric experiment?
Lynne Mitchell | Guest Columnist - Informed Decisions Research |
Arriving into the UK from New Zealand, the fear of entering a “Covid world” has proven unfounded.  

In England, more than 90% of adults have Covid antibodies either from vaccination or having had Covid-19.   After long lockdowns, confidence in immunization is enough for most to accept living with Covid. Covid-19 continues to be a killer, but the fear factor is overridden by the desire for normality and belief that with antibodies you are unlikely to get seriously ill. Fully vaccinated people account for 1.2% of Covid deaths in England, most in the high risk and elderly category.  

Life has opened up in London and city venues are buzzing. While about half of London Transport users wear masks, there are few to be seen out of doors or in restaurants and cafes. More vulnerable people can choose to take extra precautions. In a high-end supermarket in the leafy Suffolk area, most senior folks wear masks.

Elimination in the UK is not an option, so we have to take personal responsibility. According to the NHS (National Health Service), one-third of people with Covid have no symptoms.  Rapid Lateral Flow Covid test kits are available free from pharmacies, shops and NHS courier. The NHS deem these rapid kits up to 99.9% accurate for those with a high viral load and they are for use at home by people who are symptom-free*. Anyone working with the public or going to social occasions can have a stack of kits at home and regularly self-test with results in 30 minutes. At the local nursery school, there is a sign saying their staff self-test twice a week.

If you have Covid symptoms, PCR tests are recommended, available from public and private clinics, pharmacies and free NHS courier home service.  PCR results take 24 hours plus. For those at home unwell with Covid, there is an NHS phone hot line for regular monitoring of symptoms and free pulse oximeters can be couriered to enable self-check of oxygen levels. My family here when they had Covid were asked to submit oxygen level results and report on simple tasks like climbing stairs. A PCR test is required before medical procedures and hospital admission. 

Because of vaccination, testing and support, there is a resilient attitude not to be cowered by the virus and to take personal responsibility in living with Covid.  It doesn’t feel “barbaric”, in fact, it feels civilized.   

Lynne was a business librarian at the University of Auckland for a long number of years and is now a sometime independent writer and researcher
*Editor’s Note: the 99% accuracy figure from the NHS refers to false positives. Rapid antigen tests in general are not as accurate against false negatives; tests approved by the US FDA range in sensitivity from 80% to 97%.

Understanding Heidegger
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
Reading the great philosophers is intimidating: Long sentences, difficult language.

Now there is hope for us mortals. Where I lack the intelligence (or patience) to comprehend the philosophers’ big ideas, artificial intelligence (AI) can help.

The Initiative uses software to improve our writing. It’s genius. You give it something you wrote, and some algorithm makes you sound smarter.

But it also works the other way around, as I learned to my delight.

Consider Heidegger. Heidegger is reputedly the world’s most difficult to understand philosopher. You will agree if you have read anything he wrote.

So I put our software to the test and gave it the following Heidegger passage:

“Today we decide about metaphysics and about even more elevated things at philosophy conferences. For everything that is to be done these days we must first have a meeting, and here is how it works: people come together, constantly come together, and they all wait for one another to turn up so that the others will tell them how it is, and if it doesn’t get said, never mind, everyone has had their say. It may very well be that all the talkers who are having their say have understood little of the matter in question, but still we believe that if we accumulate all that misunderstanding something like understanding will leap forth at the end of the day. Thus there are people today who travel from one meeting to the next and who are sustained by the confidence that something is really happening, that they’ve actually done something; whereas, at bottom, they’ve merely ducked out of work, seeking in chatter a place to build a nest for their helplessness—a helplessness, it is true, that they will never understand.”

This was the result:

“Our philosophy conferences cover exciting topics like metaphysics. In meetings, people constantly discuss how they think. Everybody has spoken. Despite all this confusion, we still believe that understanding will emerge. Meetings are thought of today as productive. But they are just skipping work.”

I’m not sure which is more surprising: That Heidegger makes sense? Or that an artificial intelligence software can sum him up?

Even better, it also works in reverse and can turn anyone into a new Heidegger:

“Additionally, you should also remember that it’s extremely important to make sure you maintain your physical and psychological wellbeing - in addition to being as kind and considerate as possible towards others as well.”

Which is just the longer AI version of:

“Stay safe and be kind.”

On The Record
Initiative Activities:
  • Podcast: Eric Crampton speaks to Graeme Jarvis, Medicines NZ CEO about Covid-19 medicines
All Things Considered
  • Graph of the week: New Zealand has lowest Covid death rate in the OECD and almost the least GDP loss. Taiwan’s GDP gain extraordinary
  • Can an AI tutor teach your child to read?
  • The case for permanent residency for frontline workers
  • What's rapid antigen testing and is it about to become part of daily life?
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