Why the COVID vaccine won’t save live poker

Jon Pill
Published by:
Posted on: December 24, 2020 4:04 pm EST

With the world getting three vaccines all at once and promises of millions (or 100 million) vaccine doses hitting shelves in the coming months, the world has started to look forward to a return to something like normal.

For the poker community that means getting back to our brick and mortars. Maybe even holding a proper WSOP at the Rio again. It would go some way to washing the strange taste of this year’s chimeric online/offline abomination.

But the vaccine is a long term solution. If you were hoping that the vaccine signals a return to normal at your local cardroom in the next few months you may need to temper your optimism.

Here’s why.

The shadow on the cave wall

A perfect vaccine doesn’t exist. But if it did, it would have a few key features.

For example, it would completely prevent the virus (SARS-CoV-2) from taking hold as well as preventing it from causing the disease. The vaccine would be safe for everyone. It would be available to everyone. And it would be effective against all possible mutations of the virus.

Plus, while we’re fantasizing, it would be manufactured and delivered cheaply and speedily.

The degree to which Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna meet these criteria is the degree to which a vaccine will help us get back to the card table.

The biggest problem is the last. Being able to produce and distribute the vaccine fast enough.

Herd immunity kicks in when around 60% of a population is immune. The sooner we get there the better.

The U.K. got 500,000 people dosed up in the three weeks it’s been vaccinating it’s citizens. That’s less than 1% of the population.

If that’s the rate in a small nation with a highly centralized, free healthcare system , imagine how much slower somewhere like the U.S. will find it. The population is roughly five times that of the U.K., they are spread out over about 40 times the area, and not all of them have access to healthcare.

100 million vaccinations in Biden’s first 100 days will still leave over two-thirds of Americans unvaccinated at the end of April.

Complicateder and complicateder

Poker players are not a priority to get the vaccine. Healthcare workers, the elderly, and anyone who lives or works in a care home are first up. After that, Canada and the U.K. have a priority list that looks at dangerous co-morbidities like COPD, diabetes, and age.

Anyone under-60, who isn’t already pretty ill will be waiting a while before they can safely buy-in at the Rio. I know a few grey-haired cabbies’ games that’ll be back in business. But the rest of us better stay home.

Then there is the question of efficacy.

As an example, the Pfizer vaccine was, in its preliminary trial, 90.3% to 97.6% effective at preventing COVID.

Taking the lower number of 90%, this means that: 43,000 participants were split into two groups. Half of the participants got the vaccine and half got a placebo. After a week, the ratio of COVID cases in the placebo group was ten times larger than the cases of COVID in the vaccinated group. The 90% effective number represents the “missing” cases in the vaccinated group.

The study says nothing about whether the vaccine reduces the risk of infection with the virus. Just whether the vaccine prevented the disease.

A 90% protection rate is great (W.H.O. would have been happy with 50%). But the vaccine only works if we use it, and that raises the next problem.

To vax or not to vax

There are a few excellent reasons not to get vaccinated. Already in the U.K., the advice is not to give the vaccine to people with a history of severe allergic responses. People should talk to their doctors about the risks and follow expert advice.

There are also terrible reasons to not get vaccinated.

This is not the place to hash out the absurdity of the anti-vaxxer position. Suffice to say there are people who will refuse to take the vaccine. A USAToday poll put that number as high as 20%. They avoid whatever risk they imagine the vaccine has, and still get to parasitically enjoy herd immunity should we get there. In the meantime, they make it that much easier for the virus to spread.

For up to 1 in 10 people who take the vaccine, it won’t convey immunity. Other’s can’t take the vaccine for good reasons. These people are put at risk by voluntary hold-outs.

The same river twice

Vaccine efficacy can fade over time. If that turns out to be the same with these vaccinations and the rates we can supply vaccines at doesn’t increase, then we have a Forth Bridge problem.

If we dodge that, we still have the problem that viruses mutate.

The second we start vaccinating, we create an environment that selects for whichever mutations can beat the vaccine. If the population of viruses lack variation we can kill it off faster than it can evolve defenses. But the more infected people we have when we start jabbing, the more chances the virus has to shuffle the pack looking for a winning hand.

The appalling mishandling of pandemic responses across the world has created a huge number of cases. That’s a lot of hands for the virus to play.

This is not inevitable, some diseases never beat our vaccines. Smallpox certainly didn’t. On the other hand, the flu manages to out mutate our vaccines every five to seven years. Coronavirus, with its far higher rate of spread, could beat that.

It’s not all bad…

Those are the reasons not to expect the vaccine to fix everything short term. But there’s no denying this is a step in the right direction.

And at an individual level, getting a vaccine will make a huge difference in lowering your personal risk. If your doctor recommends you to get one, you absolutely should. And by protecting yourself, you are doing your part to keep hospital beds free, health workers safe, and your loved ones from worrying.

Live poker is a leisure activity. In this pandemic several features of the game make it a high risk for transmission.

We can wait until this thing is beaten. In the meantime, we have the internet.

Featured image source: Flickr