Polo Gin—the AstraZeneca of gins

My fellow inebriates,

Last week’s directions from the government were: “The best vaccine is the one you’re offered.” This get-what-you-get-and-don’t-get-upset advice was being applied to AstraZeneca, the budget monkey adenovirus vaccine with an infinitesimally small (but nonetheless actual) blood-clot risk.

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Then the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) came out with an unequivocal statement that mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are better than AZ. Not only do they have a higher efficacy; they do not carry the same risk (so far) of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia.

Today Dr. Caroline Quach (favourite doctor name ever) of NACI is trying to assuage AZ recipients’ “vaccine remorse”—telling them they did the right thing to protect themselves, especially if they were at moderate or high risk for catching COVID-19.*

This could be construed in a highly problematic way—frontline workers and at-risk populations being hustled into the arms of AZ while those at low risk sequester themselves comfortably in their remote offices and await Pfizer and Moderna.

To hint further at the inequity here, a shot of AstraZeneca costs about 4 bucks. Pfizer and Moderna cost, respectively, $19.50 and $25-37 per dose.

VaccineTypeCost per doseEfficacy
AstraZenecaAdenovirus-based$3-470% overall. Effective against UK and Brazilian variants but not the South African variant.
Johnson & JohnsonAdenovirus-based$1066-72%, depending on the study. 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death. More effective against UK variant than South African and Brazilian strains.
ModernamRNA$25-3795%. 100% at preventing hospitalization and death. “Quite effective” against all variants. (OMG, what does “quite” mean?)
Pfizer-BioNTechmRNA$19.5095%. 100% at preventing hospitalization and death. 95%. 100% at preventing hospitalization and death. “Quite effective” against all variants. (Again, “quite”?)
Sputnik VAdenovirus-based$1091.4% No data on variants.
Sinovac BiotechInactivated
SARS-CoV-2 virus
$29.7550.38-91.25%, depending on the study. No data on variants.
NovavaxProtein-based$1689.3% Works against South African and UK variants.
CanSinoViral vector (using
SARS-CoV-2 antigen)
?65.7% at preventing symptomatic cases. 90.98% at preventing severe disease. No data on variants.
BharatInactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus$278% against mild to moderate infection. 100% against severe infection. Works against UK variant.

It reminds me of when the only gin in the house was Polo Club, a cheap dry gin from Wisconsin with a knifey flavour profile and overaggressive zest. No matter what you mixed with Polo Club, its hostile character would slice through, killing your chill and urging you to pound your drink so you could thoroughly rinse the glass and put something else in it.

At the time, all of us at LBHQ agreed that Polo Club was unacceptable. My parents said they would hold off on making G&Ts until it occurred to them to buy a decent gin. (This was an open-ended prospect, as their consumption of gin is highly weather dependent and usually isn’t triggered unless they have a party.)

I, however, am an alcoholic, so I was not willing to wait for Bombay or Broker’s. I took the gin that was offered to me. As I sipped, I could feel it shredding my fur from the inside out. I told myself it was okay—because it was timely. And it was somewhat satisfying. Once I’d doctored it up with lots of lime, it scored about 70%.

“The best gin is the one in the liquor cabinet right now.”

You may think it’s in bad taste to compare my gin-seeking recourse to Polo Club with the urging of millions of people toward a lesser vaccine that they accepted because they were at risk and it couldn’t come fast enough.

Of course it’s a tacky comparison.

But it’s a tacky reality too—in the light of NACI’s statement about mRNA vaccines being better, who wouldn’t prefer Pfizer or Moderna? And why shouldn’t they?

My dad was lucky to be offered the Pfizer vaccine at his workplace. My mum was stubborn and held out for it. We recognize what a luxury this was. She’s not frontline and she’s not in a vulnerable category, so she felt comfortable waiting.

But some people couldn’t wait. Time will tell whether it was fair that they stepped forward first for AstraZeneca.

And some bears can’t wait either. That’s why I took the gin that was offered to me. I would have put out my paw out for the AZ too.**

*Public health, get your shit together. We get it—the data are coming in on a daily and even hourly basis. But don’t make Dr. Quach walk back her statement about mRNA vaccines being better. She’s a scientist. Acknowledge what she says and go forward with honesty and transparency.

**Except there’s no point, because bears are a veritable cesspool of serious germs that would kick COVID’s spike proteins to kingdom come.

Can you drink after the COVID-19 vaccine?

My fellow inebriates,

My dad has had his first dose of the vaccine, and my mum is on the list. As you know, bears need no vaccine because we are already petri dishes of jockeying germs, and COVID wouldn’t make a difference to us.

My dad got the shot shortly after having actual COVID, which kicked his ass for a good three weeks. Just as he was starting to recover, BAM! Pfizer kicked his ass with three bonus days of fever and sweats. All good now, though.

Perhaps needless to say, my dad wasn’t much of a party animal as we headed into spring. Where once I could rely on him to pour (and share) a beer or whiskey in the evening, COVID-infected Dad was no fun at all.

(To recap why I depend on my parents to open the bar, I have no thumbs.)

So now my mum’s about to get her jab, and she’s talking about abstaining from alcohol to maximize her immune response.

I immediately went to Google to find some evidence against this sort of extremist action.

The idea that alcohol could mess with immunity first surfaced in Russia, where a health official recommended abstaining two weeks before the vaccine and 42 days afterward. Russians were incensed by this of course.

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There is no evidence for this recommendation. No COVID/alcohol studies have been conducted. All we have to go on is the evidence from past studies on animals to see whether alcohol affected their immune responses after vaccination. Where do I sign up for one of those animal studies? (It helps to be a rat or a monkey.)

What evidence is there?

Subjects with alcohol use disorder have increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. Moderate alcohol use is associated with an enhanced immune response.

Monkeys who were given all-access drinking privileges for seven months and whose blood/alcohol levels regularly exceeded 80 mg/ml had a lowered immune response. But monkeys who drank moderately had higher levels of antiviral cytokines.

So, Mum, moderate is the way to go. And moderate is okay. To be honest, I don’t need to see my you or Dad bust out these days—it would be embarrassing for everybody. Just pour yourself 1.5 oz. of something nice, and be ready to share it with this would-be experimental bear.

COVID, Jameson’s Caskmates Stout Edition, and ramblings about isolation

My fellow inebriates,

I promised to tell you about my dad’s tangle with COVID, and here it is.

It was not as fun as I thought it would be. Turns out I had a lot of misconceptions about COVID.

It wasn’t a holiday.

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I figured if my parents got COVID, it would be an instant two-week holiday. Our liquor cabinet is stocked. Even by my standards it can cover two weeks of all-out hedonism. But I didn’t account for how shitty COVID makes you feel. My fellow inebriates, my dad went dry while he was sick. He didn’t have so much as a beer.

So why did my dad bother getting COVID if it his quarantine wasn’t going to be a big party?

Turns out my dad didn’t mean to get COVID. In fact, he thought he was being super-careful. He wore a mask everywhere, including at work, except while sitting down at his desk. If he got up to grab a coffee or use the photocopier, he’d mask up again. He was in a large space with high ceilings and no one worked close by. When my mum asked, “Shouldn’t you wear a mask all day?” he’d pull out a piece of paper and draw her a little diagram of where everybody sat and how safe it all was.

To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to this. Bears are teeming with microbes and viruses that could probably shit-kick the coronavirus to kingdom come. I wasn’t worried about my dad because he was so sure things were safe at work. But he had forgotten to mention colleagues who were in the habit of making mask-less visits to his desk.

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Who was patient zero?

Before I knew about those people, I would have put money on Miss V. After months of online learning, she had returned to in-person school and was trying to sort out whether she hated it as much or more than virtual instruction. COVID-19 notices had started coming home on a weekly basis, but we hadn’t yet been warned of an in-class exposure. But it seemed inevitable.

But V actually liked keeping her mask on 100% of the day. As soon as the recess bell rang, she would beat it outside and read a book in whatever human-free zone she could find. (She got called out on this once—one of the higher-ranking admin types actually accosted her and told her to stop reading and play dodgeball instead. More on this in another post.)

Anyway, my bet was on school as the scene of transmission, not my dad’s work. So it was a big surprise when nearly everyone there got ill.

Helping the sick

My first impulse was to offer Dad a glass of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition. His throat was in pain and I reckoned it would help. Stout Edition is finished in Irish craft beer barrels, which adds to Jameson’s already lovely oaky, orchard-fruit complexity and long caramel finish. I was willing to drink from the same glass with him—it would be medicinal for both of us, Dad with his spike proteins and me with my raging bear germs. But he declined.

His sore throat was accompanied by a slamming headache and drenching fever that persisted for more than 14 days. When he finally called the doctor, he was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics. We didn’t think he was going to die, but he sure looked like hell. He didn’t just abstain from booze; he stopped eating and lost almost 20 pounds.

Meanwhile, the other humans at LBHQ got themselves tested, several times. On the second try, J (formerly Miss P) scored a positive. Fortunately for her teenage self, COVID didn’t alter J’s life or behaviour in any respect. Clearly J had got COVID from hanging out with Dad.

Mum and V began to make a habit of doing drive-through COVID tests, each time negative. Because they didn’t have COVID, the entire family’s isolation period was extended to encompass not just the time Dad and J were sick, but also the window of infectious potential for Mum and V.

Gratitude

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We were grateful for the kindness of family and neighbours. Mum’s sister and brother-in-law drove out from Vancouver and braved Langley Superstore to do a big shop. My friend Scarybear was impressed with this, as he had been wondering how we would get more Miss Vickie’s chips. But I was even more impressed by our friends, who dropped off a bag of groceries and a cooler full of random beers. That’s how quarantine should be!

Final thoughts on COVID

COVID seems to come in as many flavours as there are people. You don’t know which one you’re going to get. My dad had a shit time with it, but ultimately he was lucky.

Public health people continue to insist there is no transmission in schools, but V’s school has been sending home exposure alerts almost every single day.

Bonnie Henry, please be more emphatic in telling people not to socialize. Don’t ask them to use their own judgment. That’s like asking someone how much income tax they want to pay. Make them isolate so this so-called circuit break actually stands a chance of working.

Mask? Or muzzle?

People, wear a mask. Masks are far more comfortable in April than they are in July. If we get our vaccines and keep to ourselves just a little bit longer, maybe we won’t have to wear them in July.

Get a test as soon as you feel symptoms. COVID starts with the tiniest little throat tickle. It’s so minor that many of my dad’s workmates didn’t bother going for a test—despite discussing the tickle. Then one person went for a test and set off a cascade as they realized the whole office was infected.

Finally, don’t drink hand sanitizer. (Sorry, that one was for me—sometimes I need a reminder.)