Happy New Year, everyone! I made it! 6,000+ blog posts over 15 years.  I never thought, way back on January 4, 2007,  that I would actually still be blogging in 2022. A large part of the credit for this longevity goes to all my readers, many of whom have been following me for years. Without your loyalty and support, this blog will not have endured as long as it has.  So my deepest and humblest thanks to each and every one of you!

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I wrote about lessons from our pandemic past and the hope vaccines will bring. But this year, there is more hope as vaccines, especially the highly effective mRNA vaccines, have finally arrived and are beginning to make  a difference. 

Grab a cuppa. This is a long read.


We are still in a pandemic as the Covid virus continues to circulate especially in large pockets of unvaccinated people, particularly in poorer countries who have not been able to get enough vaccines. The difference is stark - the orange line shows how much low income nations trail richer ones.


Viruses mutate all the time. The longer the virus remains in human circulation, the higher the chances new variants will appear.  Covid is no different.

The heavily mutated Omicron variant is swiftly replacing the Delta because it is so transmissible. According to early research, the virus replicates 70x faster in the upper airways, making it spread very quickly. All of us are likely to encounter it. Some early studies indicate it might cause milder symptoms. However, the sheer scale of transmissions means hospitals could once again be overwhelmed as infected staff have to isolate causing even more staffing shortages. Hospital admissions of the very young who cannot be vaccinated are rising - the virus has found a new niche.

Chart credit : Statista 

The public health restrictions being reimposed will not stop omicron but to slow it down.

People are urged to get vaccinated and boosted and to switch from cloth masks to better ones like the N95's to limit transmissions.  Vaccinations are key to reducing severe illness and fatalities. The unvaccinated are at the greatest risk for hospitalizations and intensive care. 

Vaccines improve your chances of survival and help protect the vulnerable - the very young, the elderly, who often have other health conditions and the immunocompromised. 

A pandemic affects all of us because it reduces our access to health care as huge backlogs of surgeries and other treatments pile up.  In my area, the hospitals are facing drug shortages for sedation etc needed to treat critically ill Covid patients. Oncologists in Canada are burnt out facing a "tsunami" of terminal cancers backlogged due to disruptions and delays in the healthcare system. 

Caring for someone in intensive care and providing long term after care if they survive, is extremely expensive.

There is a popular misconception - if one is young, fit and healthy - then there is no need to get vaccinated. It is your individual genetic makeup which determines how your immune system reacts to the virus - whether it makes you asymptomatic and a potential carrier, mildly sick with some symptoms, sick for a long time (long haul) or become very ill and perhaps die. 

The 1918 flu pandemic was one of the most devastating pandemics in history. The majority of the victims were young, healthy adults aged 20-40, probably because their healthy immune system over-reacted to the infection. This reaction is called a cytokine storm, an out of control production of substances produced during an immune response, which can lead to multi-organ failure and death. There weren't vaccines back then, nor were there antibiotics to combat secondary bacterial infections which led to pneumonia.

Diagram credit : Nanomaterials 202010(11), 2301; https://doi.org/10.3390/nano10112301

Many of those who died from Covid in the past two years succumbed to this cytokine storm syndrome. Doctors use anti-inflammatories to block the cytokine storm but they don't always work.  And those drugs make the patients more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections.  (Case history : The life and tragic death of John Eyers : A fitness fanatic who refused the vaccine)

When will it end?  No one knows but eventually, the virus will likely move from a pandemic to an endemic phase. The omicron variant might well hasten the end of the pandemic but it will probably remain around. The 1918 flu strain never really went away. The acute phase of that flu pandemic eventually gave way to seasonal flu.  But every so often, it combined with swine or avian flu strains to re-emerge as deadly flu pandemics in 1957, 1968 and 2009.  

mRNA vaccines

mRNA vaccines are actually NOT new - they have had decades of research. But the breakthrough success they showed against Covid, is a huge game changer for future treatments of other diseases - not just against this virus.  If need be, the current mRNA vaccines can be quickly tweaked to combat future strains of Covid.

Messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA for short, is a single-stranded molecule that carries genetic code from DNA to a cell's protein-making machinery. Without mRNA, your genetic code wouldn't be used, proteins wouldn't be made, and your body wouldn't work. If DNA is the bank card, then mRNA is the card reader. 

Once a virus is inside our cells, it releases its own RNA, tricking our hijacked cells into spewing out copies of the virus – in the form of viral proteins – that compromises our immune system. Traditional vaccines work by injecting inactivated virus proteins called antigens, which stimulate the body's immune system to recognise the virus when it reappears. 

The genius of mRNA vaccines is there's no need to inject the antigen itself. Instead, these vaccines use the genetic sequence or "code" of the antigen translated into mRNA. It's a ghost of the real thing, fooling the body into creating very real antibodies. The artificial mRNA itself then disappears, degraded by the body's natural defences including enzymes that break it down, leaving us with only the antibodies. 

 It is, therefore, safer to produce, more quickly and cheaply, compared with traditional vaccines. You no longer need huge bio-secure labs growing deadly viruses inside millions of chicken eggs. Instead, just one lab can sequence the proteins of the antigen and email it around the world. With that information a lab could make "a million doses of mRNA in a single 100 ml test tube."
Image Credit : 11 Things to Know About mRNA Vaccines for Covid-19

History Repeats Itself

Pandemics are part of human history and future. In the last two decades alone, we have faced three coronavirus threats - SARS in ~ 2003 which was acquired from bats, MERS in ~2015 which arose from camels in the Middle East. Now Covid, the most devastating of the three. 

The measures being used today to reduce the spread of disease were also used long ago.  Diseases become widespread because of human movement. In the past, trade and sometimes war were the catalysts. 

Historians think the Black Death started in 1347 when the Mongol army arrived with the disease and attacked the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya, Ukraine), then a Genoese trade center. They catapulted the bodies of their plague dead into the city. The merchants fled home to Genoa, taking the disease with them and spreading it beyond. That Mongol attempt at geo-political gain backfired. Big time.

The origin of the word quarantine comes from the Venetian word for 40 days - the time ship arrivals have to remain in port before anyone could disembark. Today, many travellers face tests and quarantines when entering countries. (My past post also cover historical efforts at disease control)

13th century Mongols using a counterweight trebuchet (a type of catapult)

There are a number of possible origins to the 1918 flu pandemic which killed an estimated 50-60 million people worldwide.  But American historian and author,  John M. Barry (The Great Influenza) makes his case that the virus emerged in rural Kansas when it jumped species from sick pigs to humans.  From there it made its way into the local army camp and spread via troop movements.

Emergency Army Hospital at Camp Funston, Kansas

Watch this excellent documentary on the 1918 Flu Pandemic  (39 minutes) which shows how the virus wrecked havoc first in army camps, troop ships and trains and devastated populations worldwide. The virus exported in early 1918, returned to the US by the fall.  This second wave was the most deadly. Perhaps the virus had mutated to a more deadly form.

The example given in the video is Philadelphia.  As with other US cities, Philadelphia did not heed public health warnings. The whole city basically shut down and ceased to function for a while. Some orphaned children starved because people were too afraid to go near them.  It is a terrible view of what happens when a deadly virus overwhelms. 

Some of the varied symptoms mentioned in the documentary -like the lost of smell reported by the infected would be familiar to Covid afflicted victims today. Scientists are currently trying to understand how Covid might sow chaos in the brain : it appears to travel widely across the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex has many important functions including processing sensory information. 

Hair loss is another strange side effect - like this 7 year old Canadian girl experienced a year ago when the vaccine was not available for her age group. Another area of investigation is why some people suffer from major debilitating symptoms for months after the initial infection (long haul Covid). Those who are asymptomatic also show damage to their lungs and hearts. Scientists are still studying what the longer term health effects are for Covid survivors.  One study has shown an increased risk of death 12 months after a Covid infection - the observed effect is greater in the under 65's.

This 1918 flu documentary was released in 2018 and the narrator ended it with these words : "The way we respond to the next epidemic could be the difference between life or death."  

As the 1918 ravaged populations, measures such as quarantines and masks were brought in. Then as now, people soon realized the virus was transmitted via aerosols and poorly ventilated, crowded indoor spaces exacerbated the spread. These 100-year-old do's and don'ts also apply today :

Picture credit

Archival images from the 1918 Flu pandemic show familiar measures :

Like the making and wearing of masks ....

1918 - Red Cross workers of Boston, Massachusetts, removing bundles of masks for American Soldiers from table where other women are busily engaged in making them 

People lining up for masks, Montgomery Street in San Francisco in 1918. Photograph: Hamilton Henry Dobbin/California State Library handout/EPA

Events and activities were moved outdoors ....

San Francisco: The congregation of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption praying on the steps, where they gathered to hear mass and pray during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Outdoor Barber Shop, University of California, Berkeley 1919

Did any one object to masks back then?  NPR (National Public Radio)'s Tim Mak looked up at the public health records of the time. He found the activities of the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco turned what was a manageable public health crisis with initial widespread mask use into a disaster for the city, with thousands dead.

LA Herald, Jan 21, 1919. Picture credit

Protests against vaccines? We've been there too. Indeed, the history of anti-vaccination protests is as long as vaccinations themselves. Smallpox was one of history's most terrible diseases. It killed 30% of those infected. Many survivors were left horribly scarred for life. Yet protests and court battles broke out in Britain, the US and Canada in the 19th century and later over smallpox vaccinations. 

Michael Bliss (Plague : A Story of SmallPox in Montreal) wrote about "the last uncontrolled holocaust of smallpox in a modern city." The circumstances in Montreal (and Quebec) in the 19th century were particularly divisive. What happened there parallels many aspects of how today's pandemic is playing out. Change the details and we have a snapshot of today.

When the smallpox virus arrived in Montreal in 1885, the English speaking population in the west end, rushed to get themselves vaccinated. But the poorer French Canadians who lived in the east end, were suspicious and bitterly resisted. The contemporary illustration below showed how families of the infected fought off efforts to take them to the smallpox hospitals.

An illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1885 "An Incident of the Smallpox epidemic in Montreal) by Robert Harris
New York Public Library 

The divisions were drawn down linguistic, socio-economic class, religious and ethnic lines. The Catholic Francophones back then regarded the mostly Protestant Anglophones as elites who couldn't be trusted. The French language newspapers of the time all downplayed the epidemic as hype. The Catholic church was very late in recommending vaccinations and was responsible for superspreader events with costumed processions through narrow streets. Misinformation included a claim that the vaccine also causes syphilis. At the height of the epidemic, hotels were lobbying the government to stop releasing epidemic data to the press because it was bad for the tourist business.

In the end, 90% of the deaths were among the Francophones, most of them children under 10. 

Misinformation?  Nothing new there, either. Fear of change and a lack of understanding of science and technological advances go back a long way. This 1900 anti-electricity propaganda carton is a good example. 

Picture Credit

The 5G network did not cause the Covid pandemic. Our cell phones use radio waves which cannot transmit viruses.  Yet, that misinformation, which probably started on a French conspiracy website, spread like wildfire -literally-  especially after a minority of vocal influencers amplified it on social media.  People began setting cell phone towers on fire in different countries, including Canada. These were not isolated cases. By May 2020, as many as 77 cell phone towers were burned in the UK.  This unfounded belief is still continuing. The BBC recently reported people are currently peddling "anti-5G" necklaces and accessories which have been shown to be harmfully radioactive in The Netherlands.

It is somewhat an irony people who railed against technological advances are using those same things to promote their beliefs!

April 2020 Chart source

Snopes (fact checking website)  : 
Totally debunked. Why would anyone want to make a vaccine a tracker? Our phones and computers already do an excellent job at that!

Perhaps schools could do a better job of teaching science and explaining how science works. Also important is critical thinking and asking questions. There is so much unfounded information on the internet, sometimes dressed up to look plausible with a grain of truth but doesn't hold up with some scrutiny. Social media is not where one should be getting crucial medical and scientific information. When in doubt, ask an expert.

American astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, points out misconceptions about science arise because people fail to understand science is always evolving.  It is not a series of hard facts, all or nothing. As our understanding of the virus and variants grows, our responses and public health advice will change. 

The quality of science studies also matters.  The largest and most robust study of the potential use of ivermectin against Covid - an anti-parasitic drug which people who reject vaccines tout - was the Together trial at Canada's McMaster University. It showed ivermectin had no effect against Covid. 

Other Pandemic Effects

The number of times people search for "jewelry" on the internet peaks regularly 3 times a year - the run up to Christmas, then smaller spikes around Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. But when the pandemic began in early spring of 2020, large dip in the search pattern occurred (red arrow below). 

That was when nearly everything shut down.  Businesses which were most affected were those which relied on foot traffic and had less or no online presence.  

A huge shift to the internet began in 2020 - for both sellers and buyers who had nowhere else to sell or to shop due to movement restrictions. The general effect can be seen the Etsy stats.

Source : Backlinko and Etsy

We also saw shipment delays as postal offices and couriers were and still are overwhelmed. 

Some of the issues began before the pandemic. Container ships have grown very large in order to carry a lot more containers. So large that they risk being stuck in key canals like the Ever Given did in the Suez earlier this year. (BTW Social media misogynists wrongly pinned the blame on Egypt's first female captain for that accident).

When the pandemic hit, orders were cancelled and shipments dramatically decreased. Ships therefore stayed in port longer - they would not sail until they were full. Sometimes major container ports were hit by Covid outbreaks and shut down temporarily or had fewer workers available. Erratic shipments ensued, oh joy.

The truck driver shortage also became worse. Many truckers are older and have not been replaced fast enough especially now when the demand for goods and transportation is so high. 

We operate in a global marketplace where supply chain disruptions complicate manufacturing.  On a simpler scale, let's look at the raw gemstones mined in Australia. They are not processed there. These are typically cut and polished in places like India, Thailand or China before going to customers around the world. We order Czech beads from Europe and Delica beads from Japan, freshwater pearls from China - there are no other home grown alternatives for those, and so is the case for many other products we want and need. 

Costs are also going up.  As demand rises, companies are forced to compete for materials, supplies, products and shipping containers. We, the consumers, will have to pay more. 

It will take a while for things to settle down. 

The Black Death caused so many deaths in medieval times, there were not enough people left to work the land. The oppressive feudal system which exploited the common people and treated them like  slaves, eventually collapsed. The surviving serfs were free to demand better wages and to move to where they were paid and treated better. A renaissance in the arts and sciences followed.

We too, are seeing changes in our time where there are not enough workers willing to return to work for low wages, no benefits, no stability and poor working conditions. Workers also don't necessarily want more money, but more flexibility for work-life balance and better treatment in their employment. 

It's complicated. There are so many other reasons why we have a worker shortage - families can't get childcare so one parent, usually the mother, remains at home. Others have taken early retirement. Some people have chosen to switch careers and are retraining.  Canada's immigration program ground to a halt during the pandemic which means the highly skilled labor we don't have and need - key for our prosperity - isn't coming in. 

Again, it will take time to settle down to our new norm.

Let's hope that this winter's widespread surge will be the last and that the virus will continue to mutate into a milder disease. And that my next anniversary post will look a lot different from this one. 

In the meantime, I hope you all will continue to craft as I plan to do in the year ahead. It's my happy place and I am sure it is yours too.  At this particular time in our lives, we could perhaps consider crafting enrichment, like for zoo animals!  

I think I am "ready, willing and vaguely competent"! 

Before You Go:


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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM