Let me add to the New Year celebrations by looking at some reasons to be cheerful in a world full of mind-boggling bad news and anxieties. This is my effort to put some flesh on the bones of wishing you all a Happy New year!
Despite the resultant waning of immunity they and the wild infection offer I continue to feel positive about the success of vaccines. In particular, the mRNA vaccines which will offer more in the future for diseases including cancer. The Astra Zeneca vaccine is effective too, but lagging behind. Like all medical interventions, the are not without their problems, but those problems are a fraction of those caused by the disease they at first prevented, and now dampen down.
Nothing stands still and better vaccines are being explored using all the lessons learned so far. The hope is for a variant resistant, nasal vaccine inducing high, longer lasting immunity against all coronaviruses. Right now for many scientists, this is the holy grail.
Of course vaccination will forever be a victim of its own success, no one individual knows they will have benefitted, only data can show that, while side effects are real and current and thus makes the news.
The image above shows two 13-year-old boys in the early 1900s – the one on the right was vaccinated against smallpox, the one on the left wasn’t.
Around the world vaccination continues to be save lives previously lost to TB, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, and the many other diseases we can now prevent and smallpox which has been eliminated. There are hopes that cervical cancer in women will become a rarity after teenage vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus, the cause of over 90% of cervical cancers.
With lower infant mortality offered by vaccination women, when free to choose, have less babies, and aside from the suffering relieved, populations can stabilise and fall. Even though that causes real problems for expansionist economics, for our ecosystem and the future that is an unequivocally good thing.
2 Chinas U turn on Zero COVID
Chinas rigid thinking on COVID has been challenged by brave souls who protested against the never ending lockdown and clearly failing attempts to achieve Zero COVID. The Chinese approach, long since time expired seems to be melting like polar ice in the face of protests. The notion of Zero COVID worked well in New Zealand and Australia, though was removed when the time was right and that time was long ago.
Rather than be shot in the streets Chinese protesters actually seem to have provoked a political change.
There will now be a price to pay in terms of their poorly performing vaccine and low vaccine rates in the key elderly population, and the overwhelming of health services. That will allow people to get on with their lives but will be a health disaster for many. Widespread infections will generate new variants, so fingers crossed these are milder, though this is not guaranteed. What happens to China matters to the world but the change of political mind of such an authoritarian regime must be good news.
Whoops! Won’t be needing these isolation camps any more!
I hope with the next pandemic, lockdowns will be used more precisely; earlier, sharper and shorter while vaccines and treatments are being developed, biology defined and as early in 2020, keeping hospitals emergency services functioning. Perhaps the CCP will now change their mind on other issues, such as the persecution of the Uyghers? Im not holding my breath!
3. Striking back
I feel very sad to see the strikes in the public sector, but also a tinge of optimism that this may be the start of a more widespread realisation that public services are being slowly destroyed and that something must be done about it.
In the past I would never see myself on strike as a GP, but then again, my old practice was overwhelmed by work, unable to get new staff and had to be taken over which saddened me greatly. Today, I certainly would strike, knowing that strike days make the news and inform everyone about the mess which has been created and the crisis in the failing NHS.
Unprecedented strikes by NHS staff who want enough pay to survive as well as attracting applications for the 40,000 nursing vacancies to ensure safety of patient and quality of care.
So well done to the strikers. There are echoes of Chinas intransigence when listening to the truly dreadful time expired ‘bash the union’ response from the government. This hints at the complacent lack of perspective of those with underserved and socially damaging wealth who climb to the top and seem to lack an understanding of much beyond how to make money and buy influence.
The pandemic for me has made me read and think more about science. Not scientists; like any profession they are a mixed bunch, mainly noble but with some real charlatans. It has been good to see previously unsung public health experts being given air time to explain the scientific perspective on the pandemic and our responses. They have been brilliant!
The pandemic has brought science into the news and become, for a while, a part of our daily lives – as if it ever isn’t! Left is how the lateral flow tests work.
Pure science is the generation of idea and the opening them up to testing, criticism, experiment, and either rejection or confirmation. The increased exposure of everyone to scientific thinking and its benefits for mankind is good news.
4. Freedom of Information
This internet pandemic has been described in real time. Compare that to the Spanish Flu which took over a century to unravel and still contains mysteries. This time websites like “Our World in Data” are able to track the pandemic development that for me, offered unprecedented information on what is going on, and available free to anyone.
The excellent World in Data is one example of our phenomenal access to data.
Their reach extends into the social and economic areas and is a must go site for anyone wondering what is actually happening in this troubled world of ours. Curiosity, far from killing the cat, is the bedrock of education and a prerequisite for learning – feed it!
5. Pre-prints and the dissemination of ideas
A feature of academic life in the past what the prolonged struggle to get stuff published in the established medial journals. Now that has been done away with by more or less instant publication of ‘pre-prints’ on various servers and hence the proliferation of papers on COVID19, and much else.
Just some of the pre-print servers which speed up the dissemination of ideas and information, heightening the need for critical reading to avoid the junk.
Problems are that without expert review, some real crap gets through – there have been some real humdingers – but it has for the main part been a huge acceleration in the generation of ideas, even those which fizz out and fade under scrutiny.
6 The medicalisation of politics
The mid terms in the US were not the disaster that many were predicting. They were influenced heavily by more people voting Democrat who felt affronted by the reversal of the Roe vs Wade protections for women.
Enough voters got fed up with being told what to do with their bodies by the nutty evangelical right to avoid the usual mid term kick back against the incumbents.
Over here too the insistence of the Unions for government to talk to them about pay and conditions is bringing home the fact that politics and healthcare are intertwined. Certainly with a health service in a state of collapse, perhaps some on the right will have to bend to the need for more funding, workforce planning and you never know, more preventative work in public health.
7. The demise of neo-conservatism
For the last 12 years people in the UK have suffered from the worst political leadership in my lifetime. Corrupt, incompetent and callously determined to increase the flow of wealth to the undeserving rich. I will describe “Killer Conservatives” in more detail in new year, but the good news is that people seem to have just about had enough.
The nightmare result of personality politics. And what terrible personalities they were. Johnson has gone for good, but Trump? Surely, never again!!
Two more years, and heaven knows how many Conservative leaders, we should be able to see the back of them. Better spending priorities, fairer taxation, less cronyism and corruption would slowly move us back to a more humane society, perhaps not solving all our problems, but providing relief for many.
8. Wildlife protection
COP15, (yes the numbers are confusing), agreed unprecedented trade protection of 600 species, including the especially disastrous hunting of sharks from further destruction. It was more heartening to hear that this was agreed without all the usual watering down of text so everyone can agree often leading to universal disappointment. The draft was written by experts and the world leaders, including China and the US agreed to its provisions without haggling, which perhaps, just perhaps, means politicians might be listening.
The agreement at COP16 really is good news.
Maybe it’s due to the pandemic’s origin in the trade of wildlife and habitat destruction. Appreciation that we have to live with what is left or our fellow wild inhabitants of this planet is critically important. A global recognition of this reality is sorely needed even if as usual we have to wait to see the resulting action.
9. Small is beautiful
Much of the bad news are big dramatic phenomena; war, the pandemic, climate change and more. Many of the good news stories are relatively small, slow and fail to make the news. I’ve always known that he vast majority of human interactions are positive, plenty of small, lovely moments which never make the news but provide us with the fabric of our lives. So well done to everyone trying to make a posiitve difference.
So for an uplift, visit Future Crunch, where many of improvements in the world have been assembled to counter the depressing effect of the News. This includes French moves to put the right to abortion on the statute books, increased Latin American literacy rates, the fall in road traffic accident deaths globally, increased protection of mangrove swamps, and the recovery of threatened species, from our own beaver to Yangtze dolphins and American Swift Foxes.
10 A time for happiness?
In this day and age, I wonder if a person who feels a deep ongoing sense of happiness and contentment really must either have their heads in the clouds or have phenomenal control of their mind. Anxiety based on the reality of the world can be a force for good and the pursuit of happiness another treadmill its best to hop off. So what of happiness in a modern world?
Perhaps happiness happens now and again in moments which inspire and motivate us to make the most of the rest of our time. Family, children, grandchildren, friends offer golden moments of joy and wonder.
The natural world, even that within our reach outside our doors and windows offer fascination and helps the observer to become aware of how much and how little we know.
For me, schoolchildren digging up spuds from the school veggie beds inspired joy for me as well as wonder and amazement for them. Many of them had no idea this is where spuds cam from and it made their and my day. Simple things matter.
A decent magnifying glass can make any trip outside more interesting, a microscope reveals yet more of the incredible explosion of life around us, its complexity and awesome beauty. Reading on the structure of a single living cell leaves me smiling with wonder at the complexity of life.
No God would ever have designed the Endoplasmic Reticulum or Golgi apparatus – what names for an amazing structure which, amongst other sci fi looking structures within ever cell in our body keep each cell and thus ourselves ticking over.
The beautiful interior of a single cell. In reality, it is the dynamic, busy, incredible building block of you and I and just about everything.
There is music, art, culture, reading, knowledge, mystery, hobbies and habits which provide those magic moments of inspiration that help us get by.
Chasing happiness is a recipe for the disappointment. Perhaps contentment derives more from acceptance that ambition. Focusing on the really important things in our day to day life can help provide us with the ability to face the issues which justifiably cause discomfort anxiety and fear.
Whoever said life was easy, but it certainly is a beautiful thing?