'For coronavirus, we are a fodder base, hares, only with resuscitation and ambitions'
Aleksey Vodovozov about the coronavirus roulette, failure of vaccination campaign in Russia, and real statistics
“The only thing that can scare people is if Covid-19 changes so much that infected people start to fall on the streets in convulsions, blood will flow from their eyes, projectile-vomited all over the place, a person will begin to decompose on the spot, covered with terrible scabs. Only this can somehow encourage people to get vaccinated," says Aleksey Vodovozov, a scientific journalist, science populariser, therapist of the highest qualification category, in the interview with Realnoe Vremya. He also gives an assessment of vaccination rate in Russia, because of which our country can become a plague barrack for the whole world, estimates the discrepancy between the real number of cases with the statistics provided and outlines a pessimistic scenario for the development of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The authorities have decided: 'Okay, let them die slowly. But at least they won't be be indignant”
In your opinion, the current fourth wave of coronavirus will be the most severe since the beginning of the pandemic?
The coronavirus has demonstrated one interesting thing — it is useless to assume and predict something. COVID-19 doesn't care about these forecasts and does it its own way. We can only assume that this will definitely not be the previous wave. But how heavy the fourth wave will be is still difficult to say. We'll see the results. Unfortunately, we now know the past of the coronavirus better than its present and future.
But I think we'll see some more waves. And they will develop for a fairly simple reason. Now on the territory of Russia we clearly see the natural course of infection. Only two things can interfere with it. The first is the strict restrictive measures that were introduced last year. The second is mass vaccination, in which the virus simply has nowhere to circulate.
They are not going to do the first thing here — at least with regard to the introduction of lockdown at the federal level, or at least compliance with those restrictive measures that were introduced earlier.
For economic reasons?
Predicting politicians is even more difficult than dealing with Covid-19. Maybe for economic reasons. Maybe so as not to cause a social outburst. The authorities may have decided: “Okay, let them die slowly. But at least they won't bebe indignant.” And I must say — yes, indeed, they are dying, and quite actively. If we look at the official statistics of deaths, which, to put it mildly, does not look like a natural one, then even according to it we have set another anti-record.
If you look at the official statistics of deaths, which, to put it mildly, does not look like a natural one, then even according to it we have set another anti-record
Every day we break records for deaths from coronavirus. And so it will continue. The only option is vaccination. Since there are no powerful restrictions that were in place last year and allowed to extinguish the first wave, there is not and will not be. So, the only option is to take care of yourself in your own hands, that is, to get vaccinated. There are no other options.
“We are more or less lucky that the Delta variant raging in our country”
They used to say that to achieve the notorious collective immunity, it is necessary to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, then they switched to 80. In the case of Covid-19, will collective immunity work?
With collective immunity, everything is much more complicated than expected. It could have been created by a one-time vaccination of the entire population of the planet — but this is unrealistic. At the same time, the virus changes. In people who were vaccinated more than six months ago, the tension of immunity decreases. If there were no new mutations, this might be enough. But there are new variants that bypass immune protection. Now we are more or less lucky that we have the Delta variant raging in our country. Because the same Mu variant escapes from antibodies many times better than Delta does. The only thing that saves us is that it does not yet have such characteristics that allow the Mu to displace the Delta in the intraspecific struggle.
Inside the virus, there is also a fight for a giant food base, in which the most adapted to spread wins, and not the strongest and most powerful. This is Delta so far.
If some devil suddenly jumps out from behind the Delta — a new genetic variant with more successful characteristics in terms of spread, that is, the capture of humanity, then the Delta may seem nothing to us.
Do you believe in such a development of events?
Everything is possible. And we need to be ready for such a situation, but we are not. But at least vaccine developers around the world are preparing — they are doing well in this sense, they track trends, and as soon as a new line appears, they immediately check the ability of existing vaccines to neutralise them. For example, the same creators of Sputnik have developed a new version of the vaccine for pure Delta, if it is suddenly needed.
Now, I would say, there are two vaccines that work at the highest level — these are Moderna and Sputnik. No one else can compete with them
Fortunately, Sputnik V works surprisingly well. At the initial stages, its effectiveness was slightly lower than that of other drugs in relation to previous variants, and it copes with Delta almost better than anyone in the world. Now, I would say, there are two vaccines that work at the highest level — these are Moderna and Sputnik. No one else can compete with them. Pfizer's vaccine was good with respect to the initial variants, but as for Delta, it works very poorly, the effectiveness drops to 60 percent.
“Russia risks becoming a plague barrack for the whole world”
Does Sputnik have an efficiency against Delta at 80 percent?
At least, judging by the information we have. But it means protection from symptomatic cases. If we talk about the possibility of fatal outcomes — there is already an efficiency indicator soaring under 95 percent. The most defeatable protection is the very first (from infection and the development of symptomatic Covid-19) — it is the lowest. And then there is protection from hospitalisation, from severe cases, from a ventilator, deaths. The further — the higher the effectiveness of the Sputnik and Moderna vaccine going next to it. The rest work worse.
But the important thing is that many studies have shown that the third dose of the vaccine — the so-called boost — significantly increases immune protection.
That is, even those who were vaccinated with Pfizer vaccine 7-10 months ago, the level of immune protection decreased and the Delta variant was able to break through them. But as soon as the third dose was administered in Israel, Europe, the outbreak was extinguished. There was just a colossal outbreak in Israel — the biggest of the entire pandemic, but in a month they dropped it 10 times. And now look at what is happening in Russia? And compare — how much they have vaccinated ones, and how much we have.
Some people really like to cite Sweden, Denmark: “They say, look — they coped without restrictive measures, they don't even need to wear masks.” So, 95 percent of the adult population is vaccinated there. That's why they cancel the restrictions — everyone has been vaccinated there en masse. But we are risking becoming a plague barracks for the whole world and being vaccinated at the level of Africa. Now Russia's vaccination coverage is somewhere on the level of Laos and other “incredibly technologically advanced countries”. And it's a shame — we have developed one of the best vaccines in the world and we treat it this way.
Now Russia's vaccination coverage is somewhere on the level of Laos and other “incredibly technologically advanced countries”. And it's a shame — we have developed one of the best vaccines in the world and we treat it this way
“Coronavirus takes away from one and a half to ten years of life expectancy”
You have already mentioned the boost. The attitude to revaccination is still ambiguous, there was a publication of a study in The Lancet…
Editor's note: a group of scientists came to the conclusion that mass revaccination from COVID-19 coronavirus infection is not necessary now and, on the contrary, can lead to side effects. Among these scientists — Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), Soumya Swaminathan, and the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, Michael Ryan. Their article was published in The Lancet magazine. According to the authors of the study, early revaccination from coronavirus can lead to side effects. Experts emphasise that this applies to both mRNA vaccines and adenovirus-based drugs. The report suggests that if booster doses are injected into the body too early or too often, it can cause myocarditis in the patient (in this case, we are talking about the introduction of mRNA vaccines, that is, drugs from Pfizer and Moderna), as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome (here we mean adenovirus-based vaccines, including Sputnik V and the drug from AstraZeneca).
It was not a study, but the opinion of a number of experts. This has not been proven in normal, high-quality clinical studies. Everything we have for today suggests that the third dose works perfectly for both those who have been vaccinated twice, and those who have been infected before, and then vaccinated. A huge mass of field information confirms this. 6,4 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines have been administred worldwide in 184 countries.
The world is vaccinated by 41 percent, and we can't even get to 30 percent. By this indicator, we are even worse than the world as a whole, counting all African countries, Southeast Asian countries and others. You will have to get vaccinated, and you will also have to get revaccinated. Simply because the virus continues to circulate and it has the opportunity to evolve. The smaller its food supply, the lower the rate of its evolution and the possibility of acquiring new properties. We will be able to stop it only in this way — there are no other options.
When they say, “Yeah, it's because of the vaccinated the virus mutates," — nothing like that. Everything is exactly the opposite. The virus mutates because millions and billions of its generations are replaced in people who are sensitive to it. Including those who have been infected are sensitive. After a while, they get infected again perfectly well two or three times. It is evolutionarily advantageous for a virus to leave a sick person without the necessary protection. How come? Very simple. The immune system is one of the targets, it just hits it.
What about the post-Covid-19?
And we don't really know anything about post-Covid-19 syndrome at all. We do not understand what kind of pathology it is, why it arises, how to cope with it.
According to various estimates, very modest and approximate, the coronavirus takes away from 1,5 to 10 years of life expectancy from those who are hospitalised. That's a lot.
If you talk to normal practicing colleagues who have a first name, last name, position, and not with fictitious ones who say that the red zone is allegedly full of vaccinated people (this is actually a lie), then now a huge number of people who have chronic diseases have reappeared against the background of the Covid-19 suffered are being treated in hospitals.
They come with arterial hypertension under 200, although they have never had this, with myocarditis, even with strokes, heart attacks and other problems. There are a lot of people with post-Covid-19 syndrome, and there are more and more of them. But now they remain in the background, because the infected are in the foreground. It is necessary to deal with Covid-19 patients first, but when it comes to post-Covid-19 — it is unclear.
If we could now stabilise the number of cases at the level of 1,5-2 thousand across the country a day, maybe it would be possible to gradually move towards the issue of rehabilitation of those who have had Covid-19 and those suffering from post-Covid-19 syndrome.
There are a lot of people with post-Covid-19 syndrome, and there are more and more of them. But now they remain in the background, because the infected are in the foreground
“EpiVacCorona is almost the only one in the world with negative efficiency”
Should revaccination still be done by Sputnik Lite?
We have no other options. There is simply no CoviVac on an industrial scale. The developers themselves did not even expect that there would be such a rush demand. They quickly made about 1,5 million doses, which instantly ran out. Mow they were forced to modernise the production. But at the same time, the capacity will increase by a maximum of three times. That is, it is difficult to expect a particularly significant contribution from CoviVac. Yes, this is a normal working inactivated vaccine. If there is one, you can use it. But there are problems with EpiVacCorona. If we recall Putin's speech, in which he listed Russian vaccines, EpiVacCorona was not even named there. Because it has a huge number of problems. Including people who have been vaccinated with this drug actively become infected. EpiVacCorona is almost the only one in the world with negative efficiency. People should not get infected while being vaccinated — but they do. I would like to admit a mistake and redo something or start developing something else, but, unfortunately, there is no such thing yet.
Why Sputnik Lite? There is a fairly simple reason, even purely economic. We still cannot produce Sputnik V in the required quantities. We have not overcome the problem with the second dose, which grows very slowly.
Let me explain — Sputnik V consists of two vectors — adenoviruses of type 26 (the first dose) and type 5 (the second dose). The 5th type grows much worse than the 26th, so far. We have a bias towards the first dose. That is why the first dose was registered separately as Sputnik Lite.
We can look at everything we have on Sputnik Lite, and these are, for example, large-scale Argentine studies — they studied the first dose of Sputnik V, because they did not have time to deliver the second one, and it turned out pretty well. Protection against symptomatic cases is 75-76 percent, and this is very good considering that among the vaccinated Covid-19 develops incomparably easier than among the unvaccinated.
Therefore, today the scheme is as follows: if a person has been infected, it is desirable for him to be vaccinated with Sputnik V in six months. Six months after vaccination, it is desirable for a person to get vaccinated with Sputnik Lite. For a long time, this will be our only available vaccine.
“Official statistics should be multiplied by six or seven”
In your opinion, to what extent do the statistics on morbidity differ from the real figures? Even the State Duma questioned the data on Tatarstan, where 60 cases of Covid-19 a day were detected for 4 million people until recently (now it is more than 80)…
To say for sure, we need an alternative system for collecting statistics, but there is no such. So we can assess only by some indirect things very roughly. It is important to understand that the morbidity statistics that we see are positive PCR tests. It is very easy to manage it — we just reduce the number of tests performed, and that's it — the incidence is falling. If we increase the number of tests performed, the incidence will immediately increase. Everything is simple.
And so it is all over the world. We have a certain limit on the workload of laboratories, and when it is reached, we run into a shelf on morbidity. Because there will simply be no new cases, they will not have time to test them. That is, it's not even a question of someone deliberately distorting something. Although this is also the case. But the first thing we ask is the percentage of test coverage of the population…
“The main reason why we lose people is because they are not vaccinated”
Even if we take official statistics, now the death rate from Covid-19 in Russia is approaching three percent. Is this related to the coming of Delta?
Including. If we look at the rate of increase in deaths, we will be in one of the first places in the world, if not in the first place at all. Yes, Delta is transmitted much better than the original strain, and this greatly affects mortality. And the patient's condition becomes heavier much faster. Previously, a person could be in a hospital and develop from CT-1 to CT-4 in a week. But today, this morning he arrives with CT-1, but in the evening he has CT-4.
You can talk as much as you like on this topic, but the main reason why we lose people is because they are not vaccinated. We can take the example of the UK, where many more people get sick a day — under 40 thousand infected a day. But at the same time, they have 150 deaths, but we have under a thousand a day. Here is the difference between a country that is thoroughly vaccinated and a country that is practically not vaccinated. The difference in lethality. Yes, there are a large number of cases of infection, but against the background of vaccination, the disease develops more easily, and vaccinated people do not go to hospitals, do not occupy beds in intensive care and do not die.
What do you associate with such a low percentage of vaccination in our country? Indifference?
Yes, it is with it that I associate. It works our traditional: “Whatever.” Many people hope that Covid-19 will not affect them or they will get over it in a mild form. This is such absolute infantilism — no responsibility.
“Now Covid-19 is the main cause of deaths”
If the authorities had revealed real statistics — with the number of sick people, dying, would it have somehow changed the situation?
I don't think so. People can't be scared by this anymore. The only thing that can scare people is if Covid-19 changes so much that infected people start to fall on the streets in convulsions, blood will flow from their eyes, projectile-vomited all over the place, a person will begin to decompose on the spot, covered with terrible scabs. Only this can somehow encourage people to get vaccinated. Why did they get rid of smallpox so quickly? It is just very bright, “beautiful” and convincing in this sense. Until now, a huge number of people think that more people die from the flu than from Covid-19. Although Covid-19 has absolutely broken all records, blocked all diseases, and now it is the main cause of deaths — at least in our country for sure. I think even cardiovascular diseases will be replaced by Covid-19 in terms of mortality, although we traditionally had it at the top of the top.
It turns out that my colleagues and I are trying to persuade people: “Please get vaccinated and live.” But they say, “No, we want to die and we'll take that guy and those grandmothers with us.” It's a horror, I just don't get it. People refuse to live.
Until now, a huge number of people think that more people die from the flu than from Covid-19. Although Covid-19 has absolutely broken all records, blocked all diseases, and now it is the main cause of deaths — at least in our country for sure
“So far, I have a complete sense of disaster”
It is believed that over time, the virus should become more contagious, but less deadly, so as not to kill its victims. Why doesn't the coronavirus fit this logic?
The same Delta doesn't fit this logic. This is what we would like to happen. But in fact, the virus doesn't care. If it has a huge food base, and it is incredibly gigantic — then it doesn't care. It can also kill — yes, these branches will die. But the rest will survive, and there will be millions of them. And I would not say that the current “wave” will be the last. There are no prerequisites for this yet.
Given our sloppiness, do you have a pessimistic attitude about the further course of the pandemic?
So far, I have a complete sense of disaster and a rather sad prospect.
That we're all going to die?
No, not all. Some will survive. It is clear that there will be fewer deaths among the vaccinated. But they will die too. And this is the saddest thing — people who did everything as it should be: they observed sanitary and epidemic requirements, were vaccinated, can also die. This should not be the case in principle.
People in the 21st century should not die from infections on such a large scale. Everything looks very pessimistic so far. The further — the worse.
But maybe someday we will handle this situation. There are different options for how this can end. We'll see. Humanity has always coped with such challenges. The question is at what cost. As life, we will remain on the planet. The question is in what quantity and who exactly.