Fri 2022-Jan-28

The Ten Billionth Dose

Tagged: COVID / MathInTheNews / PharmaAndBiotech / Politics / Statistics

There have now been around 10 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses given. What should we make of that?

How many doses, now?

Carl Sagan, Cosmos Carl Sagan, astrophysicist and host of popular science American book and TV show Cosmos [1], used to describe astronomically large numbers with the endlessly repeated phrase “billions and billions”. In grad school, we used to joke that there needed to be a new unit in the metric system, the Sagan, with a value of some multiple of $10^{9}$, for multi-billion quantities somewhere north of a billion but south of a trillion.

In April of 2021, we noted that the COVID-19 vaccination campaign had given out its billionth dose. Today, Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, quoting the always-excellent Our World in Data, reminds us that we mark another order of magnitude progress in the almost exactly 8 months since then:

(Free advice: don’t bother reading the Twitter replies.)

The Weekend Conclusion

Several thoughts come to my mind:

  • How often is it we get to do 10 billion of anything, at least above the atomic scale?!
  • Anybody who tells you the vaccines are “untested”… is a fool.
    • This is, operationally, the largest Phase IV trial of a drug, ever in humanity’s history.
    • If there had been severe side-effects, they would be seen now; despite the hysterics, hyperbole and outright lying on the right, no such effects are seen.
    • Step outside the Republican propaganda bubble, and at least try to be reality-based here. (Try the litany of Gendlin, or the litany of Tarski maybe?)
  • Alas, there are 8 billion people currently sharing the planet. (By the standard of “billions and billions”, we have approximately 1 Sagan of living humans.)
    • Each person needs 3 shots of mRNA with current technology, or about 24 billion doses.
    • So 10 billion doses means we’ve done only 10/24 = 42% of the job.
    • We definitely need to pick up the pace for the developing world, especially Africa.

We still have to save almost 60% of humanity. They should live and not die: it’s pikuach nefesh.

Notes & References

1: C Sagan, Cosmos, Random House, 1980.

Written Fri 2022-Jan-28

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