Scott Gottlieb: What’s the point of banning travel from India now?

There must be some scientific reason why he’s puzzled about this while normies like you and me aren’t, but if there is, he doesn’t offer it in the clip. Watch, then read on.

India’s “double mutant” variant is already here, he notes. So what are we achieving by preventing travel from India?

Isn’t the answer … “we’re slowing the spread of that variant”? Imagine you walk into a forest, light five matches, and drop them on the ground at random spots. In all likelihood all five matches will burn out without starting a forest fire. Now imagine doing the same thing with 500 matches. The odds of a big blaze rise. If we have travelers from India carrying the “double mutant” arriving in the U.S. each day and dispersing throughout the country, the odds grow that one of them will end up in a community with a high percentage and that the variant will begin spreading rapidly.

So we want to limit the number of matches that are dropped even though we know that a certain number are already burning, right? What am I missing?

He’s right, though, about ending the travel bans on the UK and, I guess, China. If we can restrict travel to and from India to minimize community spread here, we should also un-restrict it in countries where the virus isn’t spreading aggressively anymore. The UK’s positivity rate is lower than ours is.

Gottlieb is looking forward on the India travel ban, wondering what future benefit we’ll gain from it. Other doctors are looking backward and asking the question I asked on Friday: Why didn’t Joe Biden and his crack team of COVID warriors impose the ban weeks ago, before India’s outbreak became a nuclear reactor of contagion?

“It’s been clear for more than a month that India is the epicenter of the pandemic,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Michigan. “These restrictions should have been in effect weeks ago.”

[Professor Lawrence] Gostin said the delay in issuing guidance, as well as the four-day break in between the announcement of the restrictions and their implementation, made him concerned that the government was falling behind in the race to keep India’s variants from gaining a foothold in the United States, where half of adults have gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. The lack of clarity on potential quarantine for those following the guidance by returning home, too, is a source of frustration for public health experts.

“I do have concerns,” Gostin said. “Announcing the travel restrictions in advance will mean that many more passengers from India will arrive before then, some carrying dangerous variants into the U.S. Also, there are no clear rules for U.S. citizens who are just as likely to spread variants when they arrive home.”

Maybe Gottlieb’s a fatalist about the Indian variant spreading here because of what he said yesterday about “convergent evolution.” The reason the same variants keep popping up in country after country isn’t necessarily because travelers are bringing them in, he notes in the clip below. In some cases the same variants may be rising spontaneously in isolated populations because particular mutations have an evolutionary advantage. The British variant spreads more easily than the common coronavirus does, for instance, so go figure that if the common virus happens to mutate in an infected American in the same way as the British variant, it might begin spreading from him to his community and suddenly we have a “British variant” outbreak here. In that case, we should expect to see India’s “double mutant” pop up eventually whether or not anyone’s bringing it in from India or not.

Makes sense — except, again, *delaying* the spread of variants by limiting travel is useful, no? Even if we’re destined to see the Indian variant emerge here, it matters a lot whether it emerges when 50 percent of Americans are still unvaccinated versus when only 20 percent are.

The Indian variant isn’t the one to worry about right now, though. This afternoon Seattle scientist Trevor Bedford flagged the fact that the Brazilian variant, P.1, has been picking up steam lately in the United States.

A geneticist who’s studying COVID echoed Bedford, noting that he’s seeing P.1 more frequently lately too. Note the increase in green bars lately in the graph.

The Brazilian variant is notorious for its apparent ability to reinfect some people who’ve already had COVID and recovered from it. The good news is that early lab tests suggest that Pfizer’s vaccine works against P.1. The bad news is that it might not be quite as effective as it is against the common virus; one scientist expects that if we end up getting a newly designed booster shot in the fall, it’ll target the Brazilian or South African variants because vaccinated people need a bit of extra protection from those strains. The bottom line is clear, though: If you’re on the fence about being vaxxed, now’s the time to do it, before P.1 runs wild. That’s the variant that brought Brazil to its knees. We probably have too many people vaccinated already to suffer a major outbreak here but those who are unvaccinated are still susceptible to bad outcomes. Don’t wait.

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