Zika, Polio, Covid!

David R. Kotok
Sun Apr 24, 2022

This Sunday, we are combining three elements into one commentary. Readers will see why we at Cumberland still favor the healthcare sector in our US Equity ETF portfolio. That sector is destined to stay very busy.

 

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Cumberland Advisors Market Commentary Sunday 2022 Zika, Polio, Covid by David R. Kotok



Let’s start with Zika.

On January 23, 2019, we published a 14-chapter, 51-page pamphlet on Zika, with some 75 bibliographic citations. You may obtain a PDF copy of the pamphlet at the Cumberland website:  https://www.cumber.com/sites/default/files/2021-08/Zika-Pamphlet-by-David-R-Kotok.pdf. Anyone wishing to have a printed copy may email me and send me a postal address, and we will send one to you. In Chapter 14, on page 50, we quoted from a Cumberland commentary published in May 2016, when Zika fear was elevated and Zika cases had surfaced in the United States.

We wrote: “While the Zika virus spreads in the US and other nations, the US Congress has fiddled like Nero in Rome. The debate has been over a relatively small amount of funding to be used for research and prevention of this mosquito-borne disease. Meanwhile, the number of cases in the US has tripled and continues to grow. After months of delay and with mosquito season intensifying, the Senate and the House have each passed Zika bills — but with funding levels greatly reduced from the initial White House request. Now the House and the Senate must conference to reconcile their differences, a process that can take weeks. Those of us who await the birth of a child or grandchild find the sluggish and inadequate response of the Congressmen and Senators to be abhorrent and inexcusable.”

Readers are invited to read the rest of the story about how the Congress lost an entire year before finally funding the mitigation effort directed at Zika. Readers may also read sources noted in the pamphlet bibliography that articulate what happens to the children born with afflictions caused by Zika and sources that estimate the huge longer-term societal cost of Zika.

Now, Zika is back! Zika, like any other virus, including Covid and polio, is prone to mutate!

Below is an excerpt from the April 14th edition of the Johns Hopkins daily bulletin Global Health Now, with an update on Zika:

Zika’s Shapeshifting Threat: A single mutation of the Zika virus could be enough to trigger another outbreak, researchers report in a new study (“A Zika virus mutation enhances transmission potential and confers escape from protective dengue virus immunity,” https://www.cell.com/cell-reports/fulltext/S2211-1247(22)00407-7).

Lab studies show the virus can easily shapeshift as it is passed back and forth between humans and mosquitoes. More worrisome is that new variants can thrive even in populations that have built up immunity from previous Zika outbreaks. The virus continues to pose the greatest threat to babies in utero, who can develop microcephaly.

The findings point to the need for more vigilant Zika monitoring, researchers say — especially as vaccine development is ongoing. BBC (“Zika virus may be one step away from explosive outbreak,” https://www.bbc.com/news/health-61078867)

What will Congress do now? When do we do the health-related research and prevention? Before the crisis? Or after?

Let’s move to polio.

In 1955, the evolution of the polio vaccine changed the dynamics of polio affliction. President Dwight Eisenhower launched a national effort to use this miracle developed by Dr. Jonas Salk (“Lessons from how the polio vaccine went from the lab to the public that Americans can learn from today,” https://www.asbmb.org/asbmb-today/science/092620/lessons-from-how-the-polio-vaccine-went-from-the-l). Later, the vaccine was developed in an oral version by Dr. Sabin, and the famous “sugar cube” became common (“Jonas Salk and Albert Bruce Sabin,” https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/jonas-salk-and-albert-bruce-sabin). I personally remember polio vaccination and the subsequent sugar cube.

Now polio is returning. It has never been fully eradicated worldwide despite decades of efforts to do so. It is endemic in Afghanistan and Pakistan (“Endemic Countries,” https://polioeradication.org/where-we-work/polio-endemic-countries/). Cases have turned up in other countries. See “Countries with Polio 2022,” https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/countries-with-polio. Polio is a transmissible disease that afflicts young and old.

Now, the anti-vax cacophonous claque of misinformation has stooped to a new low of lows. Here’s an example of an email sent to me by an anti-vax person whose name I do not have permission to reveal. We’ll just call him Richard.

Richard wrote: “The Covid vaccines are trending to VAIDS and causing previous cancers in remission to come back and causing conditions and diseases (not necessarily Covid but potentially anything) to happen like on polio.”

Richard is gravely mistaken.

Richard invoked something he called VAIDS. There is no evidence from any curated source that substantiates this distortion of truth. Here’s what Reuters’ fact checkers report about VAIDS: “Fact Check – ‘VAIDS’ is not a real vaccine-induced syndrome, experts say; no evidence COVID-19 vaccines cause immunodeficiency,” https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-vaids-fakes/fact-check-vaids-is-not-a-real-vaccine-induced-syndrome-experts-say-no-evidence-covid-19-vaccines-cause-immunodeficiency-idUSL1N2UM1C7. Here’s an Associated Press report on this spreading of falsehoods: “COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause immunodeficiency syndrome,” https://apnews.com/article/fact-checking-330111634396.

The anti-vax misinformation is lunacy. Some people who are unvaccinated against Covid and polio have contracted polio, and the anti-vax world is now blaming Covid vaccines for the polio cases. This is madness without any factual basis and without any logic to support that conclusion. Here’s the report of the polio cases discovered in Israel:
“Polio Risk Expands in Israel,” https://www.precisionvaccinations.com/polio-risk-expands-israel.

Here's the global status of known polio cases in 32 countries as of April 13, from the Polio Global Eradication Initiative:  https://polioeradication.org/polio-today/polio-now/this-week/#weekly-country-updates-as-of-13-april-2022-16. The following countries are being tracked for various poliovirus types which have been confirmed by cases.

Afghanistan
Benin
Burkina Faso
Cameroon
Central African Republic
Chad
Congo (Republic of)
Côte d’Ivoire
Djibouti
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo)
Egypt
Ethiopia
Gambia
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Israel
Liberia
Madagascar
Malawi
Mauritania
Mozambique
Niger
Nigeria
Pakistan
Senegal
Sierra Leone
Somalia
South Sudan
Tajikistan
Uganda
Ukraine
Yemen

We might add that the last confirmed polio case originating in the US was in 1979, according to the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/polio-us.html).

An additional word is needed about the blame that the disinformation spreaders place on Covid vaccines for polio cases. These are statements from malicious fakers who have corrupt motivations behind their actions. They get money from subscriptions to their missives. And many of them vend snake oil treatments. They gain publicity from social media that permits prevarication and from news outlets that don’t care about the public health impacts of their broadcasts. This is a penalty we pay as a society for the misinformation that is poisoning the politics of the country.

The politics are alarming. In January 2022 in Georgia, 17 senators introduced a piece of legislation that would have prevented schools from requiring vaccinations for Covid and polio and other childhood diseases we have vaccinated against for many years (“Proposed Georgia law would end all childhood vaccination requirements, ” https://www.wjcl.com/article/proposed-georgia-law-to-get-rid-of-all-childhood-vaccination-requirements/38977250#). Following an outcry, and perhaps after reading their own bill more carefully, the lawmakers who had crafted the bill withdrew the legislation and rewrote it to apply to Covid vaccination requirements only. (“Bill banning COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’ clears Georgia Senate,” https://www.ajc.com/politics/bill-banning-vaccine-passports-clears-georgia-senate/VFINGR4O4VFW5DXC4PGJ6KSMJQ/).

In Florida a new piece of legislation that prevents vaccine verification for certain visitors of sick people or elders or others is currently written to include ALL vaccines and not just Covid. Polio can infect young and old. It is not just a child’s disease. So now an unvaccinated polio carrier may now visit a nursing home facility or a hospital in Florida where an older person or younger person becomes exposed to infection. The same, of course, is true of Covid and any other infectious disease. (“New laws let visitors see loved ones in health care facilities, even in an outbreak,” https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/04/03/1086216581/visiting-patients-during-covid)

Let’s move to the Congress and Covid.

Here’s the status of the emergency legislation extension as of April 11, as reported by Becker’s Hospital Review: “Renewal of public health emergency expected before April 16 deadline: 8 things to know,” https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/renewal-of-public-health-emergency-expected-before-april-16-deadline-8-things-to-know.html. Unfortunately, with Covid mitigation funding running dry, we are again repeating the “Zika story” of adverse effects from a political delay. While a new variant is surging and hospitalizations are now rising, full funding languishes this Sunday while the Congress takes a vacation.

While we are on the subject of Congress, let’s segue for a moment and note that the entire US Senate voted yes to sanctions on Russia. Over 400 Members of the House also voted yes. (“Senate unanimously passes Russia trade, embargo bills and House clears them,” https://rollcall.com/2022/04/07/senate-unanimously-passes-russia-trade-embargo-bills-house-vote-set-to-follow/).

Eight Members of the House voted no. There were two Democrats and six Republicans. The nays were Biggs (R, AZ), Bishop (R, NC), Bush (D, MO), Gaetz (R. FL), Gosar (R, AZ), Greene (R, GA), Massie (R, KY), Omar (D, MN), and Roy (R, TX). It will be up to the voters in each of these congressional districts to decide if they want to trust the fate of our nation to any of these eight Members of Congress.

Dear readers, in 1947, Sir Winston Churchill rose in the House of Commons and wryly observed: “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time….” (https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/quotes/the-worst-form-of-government/). We seem to keep proving that America is an example of his sage perception.

Please have a safe and a pensive Sunday.
 

David R. Kotok
Chairman & Chief Investment Officer
Email | Bio


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