Sunday, November 28, 2021

Life Lately: Omicron

I am not surprised that there’s a new coronavirus variant sending everyone into a panic. The virus is doing what viruses do, mutate, and there will be many more variants before the pandemic is over. (As written before, I still believe COVID will then become endemic). Given how recently Omicron was detected, we don’t know yet if it is more infectious, virulent, or vaccine-resistant.

However, we already know many of the Omicron mutations are in its spike protein, which is what the vaccines target. If the spike protein has been changed significantly by these mutations, current vaccines may be less effective. Again, we don’t know anything for sure yet and it will be a few weeks until we do, so governments can’t do much for now other than try to contain its spread.

I’m tired of reading, thinking, and writing about COVID – but I wanted to say two quick things about Omicron. First is we should all be grateful to South Africa for their advanced sequencing capabilities. A key weapon in the global defence against COVID is our ability to quickly identify aggressive mutations and then act as needed to modify vaccines or therapeutics. South Africa was first to publicly report Omicron, not only because of significant investments in sequencing, but also because of a culture of scientific honesty. Unfortunately (although I can understand the case for it), quick action also includes limiting travel from South Africa to contain the spread. The world needs to strike a balance in responding to new variants, otherwise politicians may become incentivized to gag their scientists when new variants are found.

Second, the whole world needs protection (which is currently primarily through vaccination) – not just developed countries. 60% of people in high-income countries are vaccinated, compared to only 3% of people in low-income countries. Except high-income countries intend to put up walls forever, they will never be safe as COVID will continue to evolve in new and unpredictable ways among the unvaccinated. This is a public health undertaking on an unprecedented scale, and we must rise to the challenge.

To wrap, what does this mean for you? If you’re not vaccinated, I strongly recommend getting both doses of the vaccine. I’ve had COVID twice – both times with symptoms – and I promise you it’s not fun. For everyone else, we must continue to take steps to limit the spread. Wear masks, continue social distancing, and speak with empathy to your friends and relative who are reluctant to get the vaccine. Manage your headspace – for example I have muted most keywords related to COVID on Twitter and have not looked at case counts in months. There’s more in this post I wrote about thriving at life and work in the age of COVID-19.

Oh, and the disclaimer. Follow government and medical advice in your country. I’m just a curious guy with a blog, not a public health specialist or government official.


Two more quick things. First, what are you grateful for today? If you can share, I’d like to know! 😁. I’ll go first – I’m grateful that it’s sunny today (although it’s also 1oC) and I am looking forward to lunch with my first-ever boss who I haven’t seen in five years. My inner nerd is also grateful for South Africa’s advanced sequencing capabilities haha.

Second, I hope you didn’t splurge too much on Black Friday? I just thought I’d remind you that buying things you weren’t already going to buy just because they’re on sale is not a good idea. This may be too late for Black Friday, but it’s still timely for Cyber Monday.


What I’m currently reading: I’ve always been curious about how intelligence arises in the brain. While we know a lot about our bodies, we still don’t have any consensus on how simple cells in the brain create our vast intelligence. To learn the latest thinking on this subject, I’m reading A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. Jeff theorizes that the brain uses map-like structures to build a model of the world. These general-purpose structures in our neocortex can learn anything, and then build models that they use to make predictions. It’s an interesting theory and potentially the beginning of a general “brain theory”.

Maybe we live in a Matrix of sorts after all, just not one where we can stop bullets

What I’m currently listening to: In Christ Alone (My Hope is Found)! There are many good versions of this song, but I absolutely love the Celtic vibe on the Adrienne Liesching and Geoff Moore version. For many months between 2012 and 2014, I used to ride home with a dear colleague who loved this version of the song. In addition to being a great reminder of who Jesus is to us Christians, it’s also a nice trip down memory lane for me.


Cheers to the new week and Happy December!

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