Tuesday, May 04, 2021

dodging the bullet

Last week I had coffee with Larry Segall at La Bruja.

We took up a topic we had started at our last get-together. "Why was our area of Mexico spared the worst ravages of the virus?"

Very few people here have masked during the last year. Social distancing simply did not happen. People went on working as if their daily lives depended on it -- because they did.

We both knew people living in cramped, multi-generational homes where one person contracted the disease and no one else in the family did. Or, at least, they were not symptomatic enough to seek medical help.

There were (and are) active cases here and people have died as a direct or indirect result of the virus. But far fewer than many of us expected.

The radio this morning reported a story that just adds to the mystery. Haiti, the poorest of the American republics, has one of the lowest death rates in the world. While parts of Europe approach a death rate of 3,000 deaths per million, and The United States rate is 1,800 per million, dirt-poor Haiti, with a health system and social net that has long been minimal, has a covid-19 death rate of just 22 per million. The rate is so low that the country's response team has been disbanded.

When the virus first became a pandemic, some health experts anticipated the virus would kill as many people worldwide as the Spanish flu had. 50 million people.

Fortunately, they were wrong. By a factor of 15. But that was because no one really knew what to expect of the virus. So, the health establishment recommended that people take the same actions as they had with other respiratory ailments. Wear masks. Wash hands. Don't touch the face. Keep away from people.

Those of us who did those things look at our experience here in Mexico and wonder how effective those measures were. At least, for here. And for Haiti.

Like the Costalegre, Haiti never locked down its economic sphere. It could not afford to do so. People mingled in markets. Unmasked. They greeted one another with hugs and kissed cheeks. With all that, Haiti has a death rate 22 per million. One of the lowest in the world.

But why? No one knows. But there is a lot of speculation.

Because the average age in Haiti is 23? Or was Haiti spared because most of the people who were infected by the virus had mild or asymptomatic cases, and the population developed a form of "herd immunity?" Or that the homes in Haiti offered adequate ventilation? Or that climate change worked in the favor of Haitians?

There is one additional possibility. Haiti has been spared in its first wave, but may be facing a worse future. That is exactly what happened (and is happening) to India. The same question could be asked of the Costalegre.

Earlier in the week, Gary, Joyce and I were having dinner at Papa Gallo's and the topic of our area's few number of deaths from the virus came up. We ran through the same speculation that the policymakers in Haiti have considered. The relative youth of the area. People spending most of their time outdoors. Well-ventilated houses. The possibility of asymptomatic cases. 

The point is that no one has an answer why this virus tends to mete out its worst more like a tornado than a hurricane. Taking one there and sparing another here.

For just a week now, the health authorities have returned to Cihuatlán to administer the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca to the over-60 crowd who received their first dose in April. Similar clinics have been vaccinating throughout the country. That is why I was surprised to discover how few people have currently been vaccinated in Mexico.

According to this morning's tracker, 9.9% of the Mexican population has received at least one dose of vaccine. 6.1% have been fully-vaccinated. (That number also reflects vaccinations that need just one dose.)

To put those numbers in context, Britain's numbers are 52% and 23%. America's are 44% and 32%. Canada's are 34% and 3%. (Canada has made a policy decision to prioritize initial injections over second jabs.) According to WHO, the world average is 15.08%.

The national numbers, of course, are only vaguely interesting. Until the world is vaccinated, variants of the virus will continue to circulate from country to country. At the current rate of vaccination, The Economist estimates world-wide vaccination may not be until 2024 or 2025.

And it will most likely not be until then that scientists can start parsing the data associated with the virus to offer theories why places like the Costalegre and Haiti and Vietnam were spared the worst that the virus offered. 

Lessons that we might be able to use when the next virus comes our way. Because it will.  

No comments: