Covid compared to air pollution

Torstai 22.6.2023 klo 17.57 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The covid pandemic closed the world for the better part of two years. Travel restrictions, mask mandates, chaos in hospitals…So went 2020-2022. And many people’s scare still persists. However, it is now time to relate the threat of covid to other problems we face, largely because the drastic measures most people were ready accept indicates that strong response to imminent crisis is possible.

The covid pandemic came out of nowhere very rapidly. That is the main reason for the strong response. In the beginning we did not know, how the disease would evolve and if the health care systems would be able to respond to the increasing disease pressure. Now, three years later, we are much wiser, vaccines have been developed, treatments are more effective than in the start and the virus has probably evolved so that new mutants cause less serious infection. Thus, life has normalized and coronavirus does not dominate the news. There  have been about 600 000 000 reported cases so far (although the true case load is certainly much higher, maybe 2-3 billion). The reported death toll is approximately 8 000 000, giving 1.3 % mortality.

These numbers are important, as they enable comparisons to deaths caused by air pollution. It is usually said that the reason why government do not respond to pollution as they did to coronavirus is the former being “tomorrow” and the latter “today” problem. Since combatting pollution would mean expenses, economic growth today would be disturbed, thus actions are delayed until there are economic resources to do them. Such “we’ll do things tomorrow” attitude was not possible for covid. However, one must seriously ask, if air pollution is a “tomorrow” problem. Every year it  directly causes 10 000 000 deaths, i.e., clearly more than covid has caused during the pandemic. In addition to direct mortality, indirect deaths occur, and asthma cases increase massively. Thus, air pollution is a “today” problem, and by making actions against it, one would also combat climate change. The economic cost of failing to do actions against air pollution is far greater than the funds needed for mitigating air pollution as a result of sick leaves, needs for hospital beds etc. And here, as in the case of climate change, we already have the technology needed for actions against air pollution.

We only need to accept that we have a “today” problem, which must be solved. Solving it may initially carry economic costs. However, in the long run the costs will most likely be recovered, and they will certainly be much smaller today than in future. Instead of asking: do we have the economic means to stop air pollution, we should ask: can we avoid economic collapse in future, if we do not stop air pollution today.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: coronavirus, climate change, mortality, economy, tomorrow ptoblem

Living with Covid19

Maanantai 20.12.2021 klo 15.39 - Mikko Nikinmaa

I am frustrated because of the blatant lies about coronavirus and vaccinations that are circulating in social media, and which people believe in. I am frustrated, because only fear-mongering seems to be an acceptable avenue for coronavirus news. I am frustrated, because the development of immunity on the basis of vaccinations and natural infections is not fully explained. I am frustrated, because in many places the decision-makers are making covid19 decisions completely based on fear, and not on expert opinions. Because of this frustration, I decided to write this blog.

First, it was clear from the beginning that the new coronavirus was going to be in our midst forever. This was clear, because it was transmitted from person to person easily, because it had spread widely already by the time it became headline news and because the mortality it caused was relatively small. The only effect different travel restrictions could have, was to slightly slow down the spread. There is only one way to stop the virus completely, not allowing any free interaction between people; interaction is accepted only between people frequently tested to be negative for covid19.

Once the virus was in our midst and could transmit from person to person, it naturally also mutated. That is what viruses do. The rate of mutations varies a lot, but there are a few restrictions to the types of viable mutations. Any structural changes must be such that the virus remains infective. This can be a very limiting factor behind structural changes available for the virus. Since the sole purpose of evolution is to make the virus as common as possible, the direction in the long run is to increase transmission but decrease the severity of disease. From South African data, it appears that the Omicron mutation has already reached high virulence and decreased severity of disease (at least in vaccinated population and among people who have caught the covid19 earlier). In the middle of November, there were about 600 reported infections and two weeks later around 40 deaths, in the beginning of December, there were about 15000 infections but two weeks later still only about 40 deaths.

This brings me to fear-mongering. Both the media and many governments have started shouting wolf about Omicron saying that since it is highly virulent, rising death toll follows. The South African information has not passed the publication threshold, because it is not alarming, and would not lend support to the travel restrictions and closing down societies which is now happening everywhere. Incidentally, the highest number of infections in South Africa was December 12 with close to 40000 cases. The number has since then decreased to 15000. But although the high case load may not lead to increased number of severely diseased people, I cannot expect that the panic-stricken reporters or cabinet members would ever admit that they have panicked.

The development of vaccines was much faster than ever before. This was possible because of research, which initially had nothing to do with vaccine development. However, when the need arose, much public money was placed in the development, and not a single step of normal vaccine development was omitted. Thus, from the onset one can say that the vaccines are as rigorously tested as the earlier, more slowly developed ones. The vaccines function in two ways, the initial but also more rapidly waning component is antibody production. The cell-mediated immunity develops slower but is more long-lasting. Cell-mediated immunity is boosted more by long intervals between vaccinations and repeated exposures to the causative virus or bacterium. This was the reason for the experts recommending long intervals between vaccinations. Our immunity towards most disease-causing agents is largely based on cell-mediated mechanism. When we come in contact to a disease-causing agent, which we have encountered preciously, our memory T-cells start multiplying and the immune response is much more rapid than with an unknown disease-causing organism. The more frequent the contact to the disease-causing microbe is the more robust the response is. The booster vaccinations strengthen especially this cell-dependent immunity.

Finally, lies about vaccines or the disease itself would be ridiculous if they weren’t taken seriously by many people. The vaccines do not contain microchips, they do not cause serious disease, they are not merely saline. They do, indeed, help people, and because especially cell-mediated immunity becomes more robust with increased number of vaccinations, the positive effect increases with booster shots. The disease itself is real, but instead of living in constant fear, we should start living with another disease. It cannot be eradicated and so we need to accept that like other diseases, it causes some deaths every year.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: vaccine, immunity, coronavirus

It is not all negative with Coronavirus

Perjantai 13.3.2020 klo 16.01 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The major argument against climate actions has been that such actions cannot be done, as they are too costly. This argument has now been proven wrong. With the spread of coronavirus, most nations have taken measures, which would have been thought to be impossible a month ago. The reason for this is that we are encountering a new threat, consequently with no financial lobby groups, which can be transmitted to anyone. Further, the coronavirus infection can affect rich and poor alike. In the media only the spreading of the virus has been discussed, and it has been said that it can be deadly. However, the danger to different age groups has seldom been given. This is given in the enclosed figure: from the figure it is clear that for people in working age, the mortality is marginal. Probably it is related to the percentage of young people with severe lung problems.

The total coronavirus mortality in the world up to today (Friday, March 13) is maximally similar as is caused every day by air pollution. It is notable that the mortality to coronavirus infection has been higher in China with severe air pollution than in Northern Europe with clean air, for example in Sweden, out of approximately 500 cases, onCoronavirus_mortality.jpgly one has so far died. With the decrease of energy use in China because of the reduced production, the decreased air pollution can be seen even in satellite pictures. This means that probably the death toll caused by air pollution in China has decreased at least as much as it has increased as a result of coronavirus infections. Further, the climate effect of Chinese energy production has decreased markedly in the last couple of months.

In addition to decreased energy production for industry, air traffic and car traffic have markedly decreased. Both have been the aim of climate activists, but without coronavirus bans could hardly have been possible. Distance work when possible helps reducing fuel consumption. The same is true for meetings arranged electronically. Because of problems with component suppliers in different parts of the world (production bans occurring at different times), supply chains are shortened and product components are stored to greater extent than earlier, also leading to decreased transport.

Thus, many of the consequences are in the same direction as what is beneficial for combatting climate change. As one can expect that the coronavirus measures are finished some day, the situation may be similar to aftermaths of other major crises. It has then been typical that innovations increase. Hopefully, any new innovation is sustainable. Also, hopefully one does not return back to situation before the restrictions, but continues the environmentally friendly solutions, where possible. In that way, one could say that Coronavirus Crisis has also had positive effects, especially for combatting climate change.  

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, air pollution, coronavirus mortality