Reflections on 2021 – Millennial Revolution

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Today’s post will be our last of 2021, and as we all endure yet another pandemic holiday season, with a new variant threatening to put us back into lockdowns and potentially roll back all the progress and sacrifice we’ve made over the last 2 miserable years, it’s easy to get all gloomy and doomy whenever we turn on the TV or read the news.

So I thought I would take this opportunity to remind everyone of some of the good things that happened in 2021 as it draws to a close.

We Will Beat Omicron

First of all, let’s talk about the simultaneously giant and microscopic elephant in the room: the world is being walloped by a new variant of COVID.

It’s sometimes hard to sift through all the news that comes out about this as a) there’s just so much of it and b) they often report conflicting information. But if you filter out all the click-baiting headlines and scaremongering tactics, you can find some glimmers of hope that this latest variant might not cause the end of the world after all.

Silver Lining #1: Omicron Appears to be Less Deadly

The scientific community has been suspecting this for some time, and has been super cautious not to get everybody’s hopes up, but as times passes and Omicron spreads around the world, we’re getting more and more corroborating evidence of this from multiple, independent sources.

Here’s a study from South Africa…

The study…found that people diagnosed with Omicron in South Africa between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30 were 80% less likely to be admitted to hospital than those diagnosed with another variant in the same period.

South African study finds a lower risk of hospitalization with Omicron but there’s a catch,

Here’s one from the UK…

People catching Omicron are 50% to 70% less likely to need hospital care compared with previous variants, a major analysis says.

Omicron up to 70% less likely to need hospital care, BBC Health

And here’s one from Australia…

The early signs are very pleasing and the advice we received from the chief health officer this morning, [New South Wales chief medical officer] Dr. Kerry Chant, it looks like the Omicron will be five times less severe than Delta.

Omicron ‘five times less severe’ than Delta,

Even here, in Canada, we’re seeing this drastically lower severity on the ground.

Here are the new daily cases being reported in Ontario…

Notice the “cute” little first spike back in April 2020 of the original COVID strain, then the two subsequent waves caused by Alpha and Delta in the beginning half of the year, and then the giant scary spike up caused by Omicron now.

Now look at the ICU rates reported by Public Health.

The hospitalization rate of Spike #1 was shockingly high at the time given that it was ripping through nursing homes and infecting mostly older people. Then waves #2 and #3 also saw hospitalization peaks that surpassed the first wave as we collectively struggled to immunize our population. But now with the Omicron wave, that same shape on our ICU admittance isn’t happening. In isolation, this might not mean much because we’re still early on in Wave #4, but other countries who got hit with this before also saw something similar, which gives us quite a lot of hope that our experience will follow suit.

There are many competing theories for why this is happening. One suggests that the virus is evolving to be less deadly so it can more successfully reproduce (after all, a virus that kills its host doesn’t survive themselves). Another is that as our immune systems gain experience fighting this virus either via vaccination or infection, subsequent waves will naturally become less and less deadly over time.

Whatever the reason, what’s becoming clear is that while the Omicron variant does seem to escape vaccine protection from getting sick and testing positive, it’s also really important to note that fully-vaccinated people still enjoy 70% protection from hospitalization. With a booster, that figure jumps back up to pre-Omicron levels.

Which is great, because this thing spreads like nobody’s business. Real-world analysis is showing Omicron is 3-4x more transmissible than Delta, which basically means we’re all going to get exposed to it one way or another.

Silver Lining #2: Omicron Outbreaks are intense, but short

However, the fact that it’s fast-spreading may not be an entirely bad thing. Because an interesting thing about Omicron is being reported in the country where it all started: South Africa. And that interesting thing is…they’re already over the peak of their outbreak.

South Africa’s top infectious-disease scientist, who has been leading the country’s pandemic response, said Wednesday that the country had rapidly passed the peak of new omicron cases and, judging by preliminary evidence, he expected “every other country, or almost every other, to follow the same trajectory.”

South Africa’s huge omicron wave appears to be subsiding just as quickly as it grew, The Washington Post

Remember, the Delta outbreak is still going on, and we first heard about that one coming out of India in July. By comparison, the Omicron outbreak in South Africa went from nothing to a raging wildfire, and then started coming back down from that peak in a matter of weeks.

I guess it makes mathematical sense. The faster a virus spreads, the faster it runs out of easy targets to jump to.

And remember, after South Africa emerged from the worst of their outbreak, they realized that their hospitals never filled up, and morgues never overflowed. In a country without much vaccine coverage.

If that’s not a ray of hope, I don’t know what is.

Silver Lining #3: We Have Vaccines AND…a Cure!

And also, remember that this time last year, we were staring down a barrel of never-ending lockdowns with no idea if a vaccine or a cure would ever be discovered.

Today, we have both.

Not only do we have multiple really effective vaccines, Pfizer just applied for, and received, FDA approval for their drug that treats COVID.

“This authorization provides a new tool to combat COVID-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.”

The company reiterated Wednesday that it’s ready to start delivery in the U.S. immediately.

FDA authorizes Pfizer’s Covid treatment pill, the first oral antiviral drug cleared during the pandemic, CNBC

It’s called Paxlovid and is distributed as a pill rather than a difficult-to-administer IV. It doesn’t target the virus’ protein spike, so it works equally well on all variants. And it’s 90% effective if taken right after symptoms develop, which is awesome. It even gets around the anti-vaxxer issue, because even anti-vaxxers aren’t anti-cure.

Yes, we are exhausted and heading back into battle with a ferocious and tenacious enemy. BUT, we are heading into it this time with the kinds of weapons we would have sacrificed our firstborn to have a year ago.

The Stock Market Is Going Nuts

Alright, enough about the damned pandemic. Let’s look onto more positive things, like…the stock market!

Yowza. After Pfizer and Moderna announced their vaccines in January, the S&P 500 has been on a near-continuous tear. In 2021, the US stock market is up 24%! Traders bet hard on the economy reopening as people got vaccinated and boy has that bet turned out to be prescient. I’ve never seen a one-year performance like that in my entire investing career.

And it’s not just the US stock market. The Canadian stock market is also up a similar amount at 21%. The MSCI EAFE index is the laggard, “only” advancing a little under 10% for the year.

2021 was the year of the index investor, because no matter what index you put your money in, it went up. We’re still shell shocked by how much money we made this year in retirement, and we are currently putting together a detailed breakdown that we will post in the new year.

There’s Lots to Look Forward To

And above all, the biggest difference between the end of 2021 and the end of 2020 is that in 2020, all we could see on the horizon was…nothing. A raging pandemic with no cure, no vaccine, and no end in sight, we ended that year with very little to look forward to.

The end of 2021 is very different. We have a cure, we have multiple vaccines, and the end is clearly in sight. And beyond that elusive finish line, all the stuff we loved, and missed, and desperately want to get back to is waiting for us. Concerts. Weddings. Big family gatherings.

And TRAVEL. Oh dear Lord, how I miss travel.

This will mark the second straight year that we’ve been in Canada, the longest amount of time we’ve spent in any one country since we retired.

In 2020, we couldn’t travel because of border restrictions. In 2021, we stayed home out of an abundance of caution, and because our family needed us to be here. But in 2022, especially after we get boosted, we are planning on dusting off the ol’ backpacks and getting back on the road.

So stay tuned for more travel-related news in the new year.

Goodbye 2021

So you know what? Goodbye 2021.

You contained lots of surprises. Not all of them were good. Actually, scratch that. Most of them were NOT good.

But you know what? I’d take you over your nasty little brother 2020 any day of the week.

Because in 2020, we ended it with a big fight ahead and no idea how to beat it.

But in 2021, we end it with an equally big fight ahead. But this time, we have exactly the right weapons we need to kill this thing once and for all.

Happy holidays, everyone. Stay safe, stay healthy, and never, ever, ever give up hope.

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