The Unvarnished Truth About the Pandemic From a Harvard Epidemiologist

AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Michael Mina, M.D. Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, gave a wide-ranging interview about the state of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It contained a shocking amount of honesty from an expert who has been a corporate media favorite over the last 18 months, with regular contributions in The New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets.

Mina spoke with David Wallace-Wells for the New York Intelligencer and provided a realistic view of how the pandemic is likely to progress. He also talked at length about vaccinations and breakthrough cases. From his comments, it is clear he believes the virus will be a fellow traveler for the foreseeable future. Several other nations have concluded the same. Britain, Singapore, and Iceland are opting for a strategy of coexistence with the virus. Allowing SARS-CoV-2 to go endemic is the inevitable end to the pandemic.

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Mina explained how breakthrough cases have changed since the CDC stopped tracking them. A positive test does not mean the viral material found can replicate or that the viral load is high enough to transmit. Earlier this summer, most of these individuals remained asymptomatic. Mina explained:

But now we’re actually seeing lots of people getting symptomatic disease — getting fevers, getting sick. I just found out today that my brother has a breakthrough case — he’s fully vaccinated and young and healthy and he is very sick right now. And the data is suggesting more and more that that’s not rare at this point.

The cases are under-diagnosed and under-reported, according to Mina. He believes it is a much bigger problem than the CDC wants to suggest because they need to stay on message. Unfortunately, the message still appears to be a goal of zero COVID-19 cases. The health bureaucracy’s push remains for everyone to get fully vaccinated to reach herd immunity. Mina disagrees:

I think we’re pretty much going to see unabated transmission amongst the vaccinated. It may not be as much as it would have been if nobody had a vaccine, but I think the idea that we’re going to vaccinate our way to true herd immunity — that idea has to be put to bed for a moment. Until we get a more stable sort of immunity and a more stable set of mutations, we should anticipate that anyone who’s been vaccinated can still transmit.

Mina believes transmission occurs when an infected person reaches the peak of the viral load. Because breakthrough patients are building high viral loads, the odds that a vaccinated patient can transmit the virus is the same as that for an unvaccinated one. The viral load in vaccinated patients appears to decline more quickly, but it is the peak that matters.

Isreal’s health ministry has documented a significant decline in vaccine effectiveness over time. Mina takes these findings seriously. He explained that this could have a considerable impact on the elderly:

But the writing’s on the wall. Senior citizens, as they age, don’t have the cells to retain immunological memory very well. Now, if you keep getting vaccinated over five, six years, maybe they can start to build up a much greater cushion of protection. But so far these senior citizens and elderly people in our country and around the world have only been vaccinated twice. Without boosters, I think we should expect that their immune memory will start to wane by the fall.

He predicted the CDC would recommend boosters, which they have. A third dose is pending FDA approval for at-risk Americans. This recommendation may change his prediction for increasing hospitalizations and death among the elderly by the end of 2021. Mina’s concern for the young and middle-aged is very low. He acknowledges it is rare for them to suffer from a severe COVID-19 illness in the first place.

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Since Delta is the new baseline, all variants will derive from it, according to Mina. He believes it will take a year or two for this to happen. And until the virus finds an equilibrium where it can survive and is out of immunity-evading tricks, it is impossible to predict the future.

He adds that an increased number of exposures to the virus will help people defend against severe illness as the pandemic progresses. Natural immunity recognizes lots of different parts of the virus (emphasis added):

I’ve always said that we’re going to age out of this virus. People are going to keep getting exposed. And whether it’s to Delta or to a variant in five months from now, every time you or I or anyone else gets exposed — they’re really building up a decent cushion of immunity with each of those exposures… So it’s only a matter of time before we actually have not only vaccine-derived immunity but natural infection-derived immunity, too.

When you start coupling all that together, you can picture it kind of like a sandwich, just continuing to stack up. Then we can start to say, okay, now, you know, even if the virus changes a bit, I’ve built up so much protection already. I’ve got all these antibodies that not only recognize the spike proteins from the virus, which is what we see with the vaccines, but I’ve now been exposed three times. And so even if the virus mutates this part, I already recognize these other parts. That’s kind of how we’re going to get out of this. That’s how our immune system learns. It’s going to be maybe a couple-year-long endeavor still, and everyone who’s been vaccinated probably will get exposed — eventually, hopefully, without causing any symptoms. I think we’ll get there, but it’s going to be a longer road than we’d like to believe.

His assessment begs the question of whether the recovered need to get vaccinated. It also demands a more rational public health policy. For the young and healthy, maybe boosters should not be required. Is it even ethical for us to use up the supply when there are elderly people in other nations who need them and will also need boosters?

These are legitimate questions. Unfortunately, they will be difficult for the health bureaucracy to answer.  Parents are looking forward to vaccinating young children who rarely show symptoms, let alone become severely ill. The mass hysteria created by the corporate media and the health bureaucrats may prevent changing course. And in the end, that inability may make the road to the end of the pandemic even longer.