Wesley's Journal

Life Lessons: Don't Let Other People Tell You What Your Motivation Should Be

Posted by Craig Wesley on

I'm lucky to have studied with some brilliant people when my wife and I were both students at London Business School (LBS) studying for our Masters in Finance. I'm fairly confident that the most intelligent person that I'll ever know was from that program. He already had his MBA from MIT before attending LBS and is even going for his third degree in Artificial Intelligence at a university in Germany.

A few years ago, I started trading foreign exchange (FOREX). Fortunately, very early on, I was lucky enough to listen to a podcaster interviewing a trader who sells an online course and he was talking about how becoming a trader was like learning how to become a lawyer or even a doctor. That one doesn't became a lawyer or doctor overnight, but only after years of studying. So luckily, I never put in more than $300 in my trading account and so far I haven't lost that money.

When the "COVID-19 Era" started, I found nearly 100% of my income gone in a flash. That's because almost all our income was dependent on the travel industry. So, as you can guess, I started to get more serious about trading.

My brilliant acquaintance, after he graduated from LBS, got probably one of the most sought out jobs anyone can get, energy trader. He was so successful that after a few years, he quit and literally traveled the world for I believe the next three or so years before starting his studies in Germany. He didn't travel in luxury, but I don't think there are a lot of people who could afford to do what he did.

I decided to reach out to him via messenger to see if he could advise me on study materials, such as books, videos, websites, etc. During our conversation, he asked me why I wanted to trade. I told him to so that I could maintain our lifestyle of staying home, working and basically just surviving. Remember, the pandemic had basically rendered me unemployed with zero income and our business was never booming so we basically had less than $2k in saving.

The reason he asked me this is because, in his opinion, the only reason to trade is for "intellectual curiosity." As I already mentioned, this was coming from someone I regard as being maybe the most intelligent person I've ever met. So, obviously, it made me think for a moment.

Ultimately, despite how highly I regard him, without a doubt in my mind, I know that my friend is wrong. While intellectual curiosity has driven people like Einstein and many great minds in human history, there is probably no greater motivation than being poor.

Every day, there are people killing, cheating, stealing, or risking their own lives because of money. If there's one thing that COVID-19 has shown, then it's that essential workers aren't going to work and risking the health of themselves and their family out of intellectual curiosity, but because of basic survival. While I'm sure there are those who do it out of "intellectual curiosity," and maybe those are the most successful at whatever they do, I would argue that it's pretty rare and those are essentially outliers.

Oddly enough, I ended up enrolling in an online trading course from a former M.D. who quit to become a full-time trader. In a couple of interviews, he talks about the reason he became a doctor is because he hated being poor. Nonetheless, he received his MD from the University of Chicago and even was a professor at Emory University, despite knowing he wanted to be a professional trader since he was young. Quiet literally, his motivation to become a doctor was money, basically to not be poor, and he certainly achieved a certain level of success from that motivation.

Comedian Ronny Chieng does a whole bit about how the motivation for Asian parents to push their children into medicine has nothing to do with helping or saving people, but one hundred percent about the money and social status. While the world would be better if helping people was the only reason people became doctors, to say that money has nothing to do with it, especially in capitalists societies, would be fairly naive.

Life lesson, don't let anyone tell you what your motivation for your actions should be. Or, probably more accurately, don't let people tell you that there's only one reason for why you should do something. And above all, don't let people tell you that you can't be successful because you don't share their motivation.

Read more

I'm lucky to have studied with some brilliant people when my wife and I were both students at London Business School (LBS) studying for our Masters in Finance. I'm fairly confident that the most intelligent person that I'll ever know was from that program. He already had his MBA from MIT before attending LBS and is even going for his third degree in Artificial Intelligence at a university in Germany.

A few years ago, I started trading foreign exchange (FOREX). Fortunately, very early on, I was lucky enough to listen to a podcaster interviewing a trader who sells an online course and he was talking about how becoming a trader was like learning how to become a lawyer or even a doctor. That one doesn't became a lawyer or doctor overnight, but only after years of studying. So luckily, I never put in more than $300 in my trading account and so far I haven't lost that money.

When the "COVID-19 Era" started, I found nearly 100% of my income gone in a flash. That's because almost all our income was dependent on the travel industry. So, as you can guess, I started to get more serious about trading.

My brilliant acquaintance, after he graduated from LBS, got probably one of the most sought out jobs anyone can get, energy trader. He was so successful that after a few years, he quit and literally traveled the world for I believe the next three or so years before starting his studies in Germany. He didn't travel in luxury, but I don't think there are a lot of people who could afford to do what he did.

I decided to reach out to him via messenger to see if he could advise me on study materials, such as books, videos, websites, etc. During our conversation, he asked me why I wanted to trade. I told him to so that I could maintain our lifestyle of staying home, working and basically just surviving. Remember, the pandemic had basically rendered me unemployed with zero income and our business was never booming so we basically had less than $2k in saving.

The reason he asked me this is because, in his opinion, the only reason to trade is for "intellectual curiosity." As I already mentioned, this was coming from someone I regard as being maybe the most intelligent person I've ever met. So, obviously, it made me think for a moment.

Ultimately, despite how highly I regard him, without a doubt in my mind, I know that my friend is wrong. While intellectual curiosity has driven people like Einstein and many great minds in human history, there is probably no greater motivation than being poor.

Every day, there are people killing, cheating, stealing, or risking their own lives because of money. If there's one thing that COVID-19 has shown, then it's that essential workers aren't going to work and risking the health of themselves and their family out of intellectual curiosity, but because of basic survival. While I'm sure there are those who do it out of "intellectual curiosity," and maybe those are the most successful at whatever they do, I would argue that it's pretty rare and those are essentially outliers.

Oddly enough, I ended up enrolling in an online trading course from a former M.D. who quit to become a full-time trader. In a couple of interviews, he talks about the reason he became a doctor is because he hated being poor. Nonetheless, he received his MD from the University of Chicago and even was a professor at Emory University, despite knowing he wanted to be a professional trader since he was young. Quiet literally, his motivation to become a doctor was money, basically to not be poor, and he certainly achieved a certain level of success from that motivation.

Comedian Ronny Chieng does a whole bit about how the motivation for Asian parents to push their children into medicine has nothing to do with helping or saving people, but one hundred percent about the money and social status. While the world would be better if helping people was the only reason people became doctors, to say that money has nothing to do with it, especially in capitalists societies, would be fairly naive.

Life lesson, don't let anyone tell you what your motivation for your actions should be. Or, probably more accurately, don't let people tell you that there's only one reason for why you should do something. And above all, don't let people tell you that you can't be successful because you don't share their motivation.

Read more


Wedding Song Consideration: Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Last night as Anne and I sat down for dinner, Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven started playing from my "liked" Spotify playlist. Anne started to mouth along to the song, which is unusual since she doesn't listen to much music, especially classic rock. I asked her how she knew the song, though I've played it plenty of times, and she said it was because of lot of her customers ordered it as their wedding song through her custom print business.

I was a bit shocked since I'm very familiar with the inspiration of the song. I remember watching Eric Clapton perform it on MTV's Unplugged decades ago and seeing that there was some true emotion there. It was only more than a decade later when "googling" became a thing where I found out the inspiration of the song.

Released in 1991, Tears in Heaven was inspired by maybe the most horrific tragedy that any parent could think of. On March 20, 1991, Eric Clapton's 4 year-old-son, Connor, accidentally fell to his death at his mother's New York City apartment after a window was left open after janitorial work. It's such a tragic story that it's hard to even think about, but you can read more about it on biography.com.

That being said, a wedding song is between the two people coming together and so what's ultimately important is what the song means to them and not anyone else.

But, if you are reconsidering, then here are a few suggestions:

Anne & I's unoffical wedding song: The Hollies "The Air That I Breathe." It's a certified love song and longing for family. Albert Hammond, who co-wrote the song, moved to Los Angeles to be with a woman he fell in love with. He didn't quiet like Los Angeles. The "air" that's being sung about is the Los Angeles smog. He also missed his family back in London. Nonetheless, the song talks about how he doesn't need cigarettes, sleep, light, sound, food, and books as long as he's with this woman.

John Lennon's "Oh My Love": While there's a certain generation who is against John and Yoko Ono's union, there's no way to deny that they were really deeply in love and connected on a level that a lot of people don't. BTW, John Lennon, in interviews, credited Yoko Ono as being a co-writer of Imagine. Anyway, "Oh My Love," is basic and raw, simply talking about the love between two people and how that makes one see and sense things for the first time because of that.

The Beatle's "In My Life": Goosebumps, that's all I can say. It's been a while since I listened to this song and I just got goosebumps listening to it. It's a simple song talking about wonderful memories, but the best is yet to come since "they" are not together.

Elton John's "Your Song": Not sure there's much to say about this song. It's the song that made Elton John, "Elton John." It's one of the most popular songs that Anne prints for her business and you can't fault any couple for choosing it.

Check out Anne Wesley's custom wedding vowel and song prints here.

Read more

Wedding Song Consideration: Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Last night as Anne and I sat down for dinner, Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven started playing from my "liked" Spotify playlist. Anne started to mouth along to the song, which is unusual since she doesn't listen to much music, especially classic rock. I asked her how she knew the song, though I've played it plenty of times, and she said it was because of lot of her customers ordered it as their wedding song through her custom print business.

I was a bit shocked since I'm very familiar with the inspiration of the song. I remember watching Eric Clapton perform it on MTV's Unplugged decades ago and seeing that there was some true emotion there. It was only more than a decade later when "googling" became a thing where I found out the inspiration of the song.

Released in 1991, Tears in Heaven was inspired by maybe the most horrific tragedy that any parent could think of. On March 20, 1991, Eric Clapton's 4 year-old-son, Connor, accidentally fell to his death at his mother's New York City apartment after a window was left open after janitorial work. It's such a tragic story that it's hard to even think about, but you can read more about it on biography.com.

That being said, a wedding song is between the two people coming together and so what's ultimately important is what the song means to them and not anyone else.

But, if you are reconsidering, then here are a few suggestions:

Anne & I's unoffical wedding song: The Hollies "The Air That I Breathe." It's a certified love song and longing for family. Albert Hammond, who co-wrote the song, moved to Los Angeles to be with a woman he fell in love with. He didn't quiet like Los Angeles. The "air" that's being sung about is the Los Angeles smog. He also missed his family back in London. Nonetheless, the song talks about how he doesn't need cigarettes, sleep, light, sound, food, and books as long as he's with this woman.

John Lennon's "Oh My Love": While there's a certain generation who is against John and Yoko Ono's union, there's no way to deny that they were really deeply in love and connected on a level that a lot of people don't. BTW, John Lennon, in interviews, credited Yoko Ono as being a co-writer of Imagine. Anyway, "Oh My Love," is basic and raw, simply talking about the love between two people and how that makes one see and sense things for the first time because of that.

The Beatle's "In My Life": Goosebumps, that's all I can say. It's been a while since I listened to this song and I just got goosebumps listening to it. It's a simple song talking about wonderful memories, but the best is yet to come since "they" are not together.

Elton John's "Your Song": Not sure there's much to say about this song. It's the song that made Elton John, "Elton John." It's one of the most popular songs that Anne prints for her business and you can't fault any couple for choosing it.

Check out Anne Wesley's custom wedding vowel and song prints here.

Read more


Tenet Box Office: A Sign That America Stands a Chance Against COVID-19 or We're Doomed to Repeat Our Mistakes

Posted by Daniel Hsu on

When Christoper Nolan's Tenet released it's first trailer on December 19, 2019, I thought I had the perfect plan for my birthday since the movie was coming out the same week as my birthday and, like many, I'm a really big Christopher Nolan fan.

Of course, the COVID-19 era started and now, for me personally, it is not worth the risk to see a movie in a theater with strangers free to snack, drink, and essentially not wear a mask for 2 hours and 29 minutes. About a month into the pandemic, experts made a list, ranking the most risky activities from zero to ten, with zero being the least risky. Going to a movie theater is rated as an eight.

Here is another chart showing the risks of different activities. The creators of the index says you should feel free to download and share the graphic.

COVID-19 Activity Risk Index
If you're wondering why movie theaters are opening when so many experts call it risky, then, as you can guess, it's all about dollars and cents. Just like the flu, movie theaters, restaurants, etc can't be held liable if you get COVID-19 because it's nearly impossible to prove where you were infected. It's the same reason why companies aren't liable if their employees get infected. There's nothing to prove that they didn't get infected from a family member.
I've personally lost almost all my income due to COVID-19, so I feel like I can say this from a perspective of someone who's been extremely financially effected by the pandemic, but there are plenty of businesses out there opening up who don't care about "freedom," rather they just want to make money while disregarding the real safety of their employees and customers. That's true in terms of government as well, remember tax dollars have to come from somewhere.
The movie industry literally had to get its most famous stunt man, Tom Cruise, to promote watching Tenet in the theaters. I'm a big Tom Cruise fan, I respect his professional work a lot, but that was definitely one of the biggest industry publicity stunts I've ever seen.
A writer from Deadline chronicled his trip to San Diego to watch Tenet at an AMC multiplex. He writes of how people are allowed to eat and drink in theaters, but have to wear a mask at "other" times. I guess people just better hope that someone doesn't eat the entire time they're watching the movie as an excuse not to wear a mask. That's basically every COVID-19 nightmare I've had since pandemic started. To give you an example of why this doesn't work, in S. Korea a woman spread COVID-19 to 27 customers, all except employees wearing masks at a Starbucks. That's because you can't wear a mask when you're eating and drinking. Soon after, the CDC released a study linked eating at restaurants with increased COVID-19 transmission.
Though Warner Brothers initially reported that Tenet "opened" at $20.2M, Indiewire reports that Tenet's actual Labor Day figures, what's generally considered it's opening weekend, were $10m at 2,810 theaters. That's roughly $3,559 per theater.
Major markets like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are still closed, but 75% of North America is able to see Tenet in theaters, though theaters are limited to 25% capacity. Indiewire believes that if all theaters were open, the gross would have been closer to $30m.
In contrast, last year's Marvel's Avengers: Endgame opened at $84,504 per theater. Even when divided by four to crudely compensate for 25% capacity, we get $21,126 per theater.
These figures show a possible sign that maybe Americans are treating COVID-19 with the seriousness it deserves. After all, $3,559 is only 17% of of the $21,126 per theater (crudely adjusted for 25% capacity) Endgame did in April 2019. To a certain degree, it might be a fair assessment since Tenet really didn't have any competition, opened on Labor Day weekend, and any pent up demand should have brought people out to the theaters. Even in its second weekend, Tenet only added $6.7M.
Tenet's opening has been so disappointing that Wonder Woman 1984 has been pushed back to Christmas. As you can guess, another test by studios to see the public's attitude to going out to the theaters. If Dr. Fauci's assessment that COVID-19 cases will most likely surge during the winter, then I'm pretty sure it'll be another failed test.
At the same time, one could argue that Christopher Nolan films don't have the same appeal as Marvel films and I believe that's 100% correct too. While I haven't seen Tenet, I believe Nolan's closest film to compare opening figures is Interstellar, a movie that I've seen almost a dozen times. It roughly has the same Tomato Rating and is in the Sci-Fi, somewhat action, genre.
Interstellar, opening in November 5, 2014, hit $47,510,360 with 3,561 theaters on its opening weekend. Again, if we crudely adjust for 25% capacity, then it earned $3,335 per theater. That's pretty much exactly how much Tenet earned per theater ($3,559) and that is a terrifying thought.
If that's the better comparison to make, then what we see in the media about people not taking COVID-19 seriously enough is true and not just extreme examples. Which means that heading into fall and winter, Dr Fauci's fears will most likely come to fruition.
With the fall season about ten days from now, we'll see very shortly which of these two cases are true.

Read more

When Christoper Nolan's Tenet released it's first trailer on December 19, 2019, I thought I had the perfect plan for my birthday since the movie was coming out the same week as my birthday and, like many, I'm a really big Christopher Nolan fan.

Of course, the COVID-19 era started and now, for me personally, it is not worth the risk to see a movie in a theater with strangers free to snack, drink, and essentially not wear a mask for 2 hours and 29 minutes. About a month into the pandemic, experts made a list, ranking the most risky activities from zero to ten, with zero being the least risky. Going to a movie theater is rated as an eight.

Here is another chart showing the risks of different activities. The creators of the index says you should feel free to download and share the graphic.

COVID-19 Activity Risk Index
If you're wondering why movie theaters are opening when so many experts call it risky, then, as you can guess, it's all about dollars and cents. Just like the flu, movie theaters, restaurants, etc can't be held liable if you get COVID-19 because it's nearly impossible to prove where you were infected. It's the same reason why companies aren't liable if their employees get infected. There's nothing to prove that they didn't get infected from a family member.
I've personally lost almost all my income due to COVID-19, so I feel like I can say this from a perspective of someone who's been extremely financially effected by the pandemic, but there are plenty of businesses out there opening up who don't care about "freedom," rather they just want to make money while disregarding the real safety of their employees and customers. That's true in terms of government as well, remember tax dollars have to come from somewhere.
The movie industry literally had to get its most famous stunt man, Tom Cruise, to promote watching Tenet in the theaters. I'm a big Tom Cruise fan, I respect his professional work a lot, but that was definitely one of the biggest industry publicity stunts I've ever seen.
A writer from Deadline chronicled his trip to San Diego to watch Tenet at an AMC multiplex. He writes of how people are allowed to eat and drink in theaters, but have to wear a mask at "other" times. I guess people just better hope that someone doesn't eat the entire time they're watching the movie as an excuse not to wear a mask. That's basically every COVID-19 nightmare I've had since pandemic started. To give you an example of why this doesn't work, in S. Korea a woman spread COVID-19 to 27 customers, all except employees wearing masks at a Starbucks. That's because you can't wear a mask when you're eating and drinking. Soon after, the CDC released a study linked eating at restaurants with increased COVID-19 transmission.
Though Warner Brothers initially reported that Tenet "opened" at $20.2M, Indiewire reports that Tenet's actual Labor Day figures, what's generally considered it's opening weekend, were $10m at 2,810 theaters. That's roughly $3,559 per theater.
Major markets like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco are still closed, but 75% of North America is able to see Tenet in theaters, though theaters are limited to 25% capacity. Indiewire believes that if all theaters were open, the gross would have been closer to $30m.
In contrast, last year's Marvel's Avengers: Endgame opened at $84,504 per theater. Even when divided by four to crudely compensate for 25% capacity, we get $21,126 per theater.
These figures show a possible sign that maybe Americans are treating COVID-19 with the seriousness it deserves. After all, $3,559 is only 17% of of the $21,126 per theater (crudely adjusted for 25% capacity) Endgame did in April 2019. To a certain degree, it might be a fair assessment since Tenet really didn't have any competition, opened on Labor Day weekend, and any pent up demand should have brought people out to the theaters. Even in its second weekend, Tenet only added $6.7M.
Tenet's opening has been so disappointing that Wonder Woman 1984 has been pushed back to Christmas. As you can guess, another test by studios to see the public's attitude to going out to the theaters. If Dr. Fauci's assessment that COVID-19 cases will most likely surge during the winter, then I'm pretty sure it'll be another failed test.
At the same time, one could argue that Christopher Nolan films don't have the same appeal as Marvel films and I believe that's 100% correct too. While I haven't seen Tenet, I believe Nolan's closest film to compare opening figures is Interstellar, a movie that I've seen almost a dozen times. It roughly has the same Tomato Rating and is in the Sci-Fi, somewhat action, genre.
Interstellar, opening in November 5, 2014, hit $47,510,360 with 3,561 theaters on its opening weekend. Again, if we crudely adjust for 25% capacity, then it earned $3,335 per theater. That's pretty much exactly how much Tenet earned per theater ($3,559) and that is a terrifying thought.
If that's the better comparison to make, then what we see in the media about people not taking COVID-19 seriously enough is true and not just extreme examples. Which means that heading into fall and winter, Dr Fauci's fears will most likely come to fruition.
With the fall season about ten days from now, we'll see very shortly which of these two cases are true.

Read more


The Social Dilemma (Documentary): My Personal Experience With Social Media & Steps I've Taken to Quit It

Posted by Craig Wesley on

As with most people, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I was in the first generation of commercial internet users. I'm fairly confident that my brother and I were one of the first people on this planet to have AOL dial-up service. I even recently got a coupon code from eBay because I was one of their first users. I was one of the first users of IRC. My first date may have actually been from someone I met on an IRC chatroom. I was an early user of myspace and craigslist. I think got a handful dates from both platforms:) I was downloading illegal software and music before even Napster existed. I've basically been there for most of the birth of commercial internet.

Facebook came on my radar when I was studying in London for my Master's Degree during 2007. All my classmates were on it and so I signed up. To be honest, I didn't care for it. Just like now, I didn't really see the point of it and when the news feed was introduced, I still didn't care. Don't get me wrong, I love connecting with friends and new people. After all, I'm also one of the first internet daters to exist. For me, at that time, I really enjoyed emails and text messages. I didn't really see how Facebook added to that and, for me, it still doesn't because it have never helped me connect with people in a meaningful way.

But my relationship with Facebook got more complicated. While I was in London, my now wife and I, started an online clothing store. Holy Moly, relatively speaking, we were probably at the tail end of the first wave of online efashion retailers. Shopify, BigCommerce, and other shopping cart platforms that are so popular now didn't even exist back then. When I moved back from London to the San Francisco Bay Area, I decided to continue the business and I spent thousands of dollars on building a following for a Facebook page.

While that business was never successful, to a certain level, I was able to make money from Facebook. I think that also means I'm in the first-generation of users to make money from Facebook ads. As you can guess, my opinion quickly changed. I went from, "I really don't see the point of Facebook," to "Facebook and social media is the future."

Through Facebook, I was able to get a consulting job with a public traded company in Thailand that paid me back for any money I ever lost running old Facebook ads and help pay off 1/3 of my student loans. During that time, I even had two investors willing to invest a total of $500K-$750K in the business, though I turned both investors down. Nonetheless, that all happened in a large part due to Facebook.

But, and of course there is a but, things started to change. I eventually closed that fashion business down because it never really made enough money and I was basically on Facebook as a "normal user." Maybe it was because I was transitioning from a failed business and even the next business venture I had failed, but my relationship with Facebook and the internet took a pretty bad turn. Not surprisingly, this was around 2012 or 2013.

Maybe like many people in their 20s, I was a real optimist. I really thought I could do something good in this world by building a business and helping people around me. I remember having thoughts about how if I ever made enough money that I would just give my friends a million bucks and basically just take care of the people around me.

Not that I'm not empathetic now, but I really felt the pains of the world and it really bothered me. Even when Bush won his second-term, things still never felt like the world was going to end. Terrible things were happening that made me incredibly sad, but here's the thing, I was never really truly angry.

I would say that around 2012 and beyond, I started getting truly angry at people and the world. I know this sounds nuts, but around this time, it was when reality tv and social media influencers started taking over everything on the internet. I remember one of my reoccurring thoughts was, "how could people keep spending money to be like the Kardashians, while we have children dying in Syria, global warming, and overall suffering happening across the world?"

Honestly, it's still a thought I have today, but that thought went from frustration to real anger after a while. And, as you can guess, the 2016 election only brought everything to a boil and the pot is still boiling over. Compared to the Iraq war, where I certainly didn't care to be around people who supported it. I actually ended a friendship with someone who said that the Iraq War was a "sunk cost." I didn't have complete animosity and have a hard time getting through my day because of them.

On a side not, while social media is helping divide and polarize this country even more, it's just amplifying the divide that has always been there since the history of man. Because, you know, the Civil War happened without computers or social media.

It was definitely the 2016 election that I started to realize how unhappy the news and social media was making me. Since then, like an addicted "user," I've taken steps to basically quit this abusive and addictive cycle of social media and news feeds.

While I definitely have improved my relationship with social media, it's still a work in progress, but below is a list of things I doing for my "recovery."

1. I quit using Google News

The biggest detriment to my mental health is probably when I read upsetting news. This really became an issue when I discovered Google News and the iOS app. With Google News, no matter how often I told it that I didn't want to read about Trump, Politics, murders, etc, it would constantly show these news articles at the top of my daily briefing.

While one could argue that Trump is the headline of the day, though I can't see why Trump Tweets should be in the headlines, the last straw for me was when Google started showing me homicide stories from across the US that weren't national news. Unfortunately, certain type of homicides happen every day, but for some reason Google News wanted to keep pushing those stories on me even when I told it that I wasn't interested.

It didn't take me long to realize how abusive Google News was. It was really trying to trigger such an emotional response to keep me as a "user." What Google didn't realize is that what made me addicted to Google News was simply knowing what real life changing events were happening. For example, for me, real news, before COVID-19, was an article about when autonomous driving could be the standard. Having an idea of when people in the US would be traveling by self-driving cars to me is real news, not when Trump, Elon Musk, or Kanye West sends out a tweet. That's not real news, that's literally tabloid news. The same type of news one would have read in the National Inquirer.

I was willing to stay in this abusive relationship with Google News so that I could always be on top of what real world changing event were happening. But the problem is that just reading the headline, without even reading the article, is enough to set me off. At this point, most people don't need to read the article to know what's in it. For example, one recent article is titled, "‘He’s a small child’: Utah police shot a 13 -year-old boy with autism after his mother called 911 for help". Without even reading the article, most empathetic people should be upset just by reading the title.

While it's hard to argue against Google search results when looking up news on a specific topic, I had to quit the iOS app. Now, I'll only use Google news on a browser searching for specific news topics that I want to dive deeper into.

2. I don't read news pushed onto me, I go find news from reputable news sources (AP News, Reuters)

Fortunately, unlike my Google News addiction, it didn't take me long to realize that some news being shared on the Facebook Feed was complete trash. Especially after the 2016 election, I made it a point to not read any news being pushed on me from social media. Instead, every day, well several times a day, I visit what I believe are reputable news sources, such as the Associated Press for world news and Reuters for more business and economic news. Unfortunately, all news agencies are truly obsessed with Trump, which is one reason he won the 2016 election, but it's at least a bit muted compared to CNN or Fox News, which are basically on the extreme end of the biases. I find even National Public Radio can be too obsessed with Trump and political news that I've minimized my visits to their website.

BTW, if you think Associated Press is "fake new," then you really should quit social media and the internet as a whole and look to truly define what a fact is to you and test to see if that definition always holds true.

Unfortunately, for local news, it's literally impossible to escape click bait news. The movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, is a perfect movie on why local news is generally so terrible. Have you noticed how news anchors can go from looking so serious when talking about a grizzly murder, to so happy when talking about a viral video. And why is the "news" showing viral pet videos? It's basically like watching a bunch of sociopaths pretending to have human feelings. As you can guess, I don't watch local news. I read it like the rest of my news. Nonetheless, local news can be pretty important, especially during COVID-19 so I scan headlines for what's important from my free local news site.

3. I use Facebook only for to sell old junk and even then I still use a pseudonym

During the George Floyd protests and when Mark Zukerberg refused to do anything about certain Trump posts, combined with how Facebook shaped the 2016 election by letting fake news spread like our California Wildfires, I decided to truly minimize my use of Facebook and the information it has on me.

For example, I don't use my real name, birthday, list my location, or basically provide any profile information. I unfriended everybody and unfollowed/unliked all pages, which includes music, bands, movies, books, that I've liked in the past. If I'm actually shown an ad, I mark it as not interested.

There was a day when people posted a blacked out profile picture to support the Black Lives Matter movement and I just decided to stick with that.

Basically, I have the minimum of what could be considered a profile on Facebook. I use it because my wife is still on there and I think it's a decent way to log-in to other websites, especially when all the information Facebook has on me is either incorrect or non-existent.

4. I minimally use Instagram and barely use Twitter

In a different life, I would have love to been a photojournalist, so I do enjoy posting my photos on Instagram and I still can't get away from seeing how many "likes" a photo gets. Fortunately, for the same reason why I essentially quit Facebook, I haven't really posted much on Instagram. In the explorer tab, Instagram is very responsive to when I say I'm not interested in a certain post. Generally, when I say I'm not interested in a political post, TikTok dancing videos, etc, it'll remember that and very rarely show me those photos again.

I've never been a big Twitter user. I literally only follow three account, California Earthquake, City of Alameda, and Alameda Power. I skip the explore tab completely because it's usually junk news or trends to keep users engaged.

5. Other social media platforms, don't know them, don't want to know them

My generation is basically the Myspace and Facebook Generation, so I never got on TikTok, Snapchat, or whatever else is out there.

6. My Youtube feed doesn't know what to suggest

My Youtube feed really only suggests maybe 5, at most 10, different channels that I've watched in the past. Just like Instagram, I proactively mark when I'm not interested in certain channels and topics. I think I've done it to the point where Youtube doesn't actually know what videos to suggest, so all they can do is suggest videos from channels that I'm already watching.

As you can guess, I avoid the explore tabs all together, especially the news tabs. Those are literally all Trump news videos. If I want to see news on a specific subject, then I'll search for it myself and make sure I'm watching it from a real news source.

7. I use Firefox and stopped using Google search

Tor browsers are probably the most private internet browsers, but earlier versions were very slow so I just settle with Firefox and use a minimal tracking search engine, such as DuckDuckGo or Startpage. While I still use Google Mail because of its Spam filters, to a certain degree, I've cut off a big chunk of what Google wants, which is to track just about everything you do online. Gmail scans your emails, Google remembers all your search queries and clicks, and, through Youtube, knows what videos you're watching. By not using google search, it takes a big chunk out of what data they're tracking and storing on you.

8. I usually just stick with the same handful of website that I always visit

When I'm not researching for a blog post, I only have a dozen or so websites that I visit and I stick with them. Sticking within these "walls" helps me to stay sane and be less angry with the world. I'm 100% sure I'm missing out on something in the vast world wide web, but I honestly don't mind at this point.

So far, these steps have really help me get back on a healthier track with technology and the internet. Fundamentally, I try to minimize my exposure to platforms that depend on serving ads and in many ways I'm just trying to go back to "old school" technology of emails and direct messages to communicate with people. As I mentioned before, it's all a work in progress because my wife and I make our living online, a small living, but a living nonetheless. So, for us to literally unplug isn't realistic at this point.

Best of luck to you and hopefully you have or will have a healthy relationship with social media platforms.

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As with most people, I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I was in the first generation of commercial internet users. I'm fairly confident that my brother and I were one of the first people on this planet to have AOL dial-up service. I even recently got a coupon code from eBay because I was one of their first users. I was one of the first users of IRC. My first date may have actually been from someone I met on an IRC chatroom. I was an early user of myspace and craigslist. I think got a handful dates from both platforms:) I was downloading illegal software and music before even Napster existed. I've basically been there for most of the birth of commercial internet.

Facebook came on my radar when I was studying in London for my Master's Degree during 2007. All my classmates were on it and so I signed up. To be honest, I didn't care for it. Just like now, I didn't really see the point of it and when the news feed was introduced, I still didn't care. Don't get me wrong, I love connecting with friends and new people. After all, I'm also one of the first internet daters to exist. For me, at that time, I really enjoyed emails and text messages. I didn't really see how Facebook added to that and, for me, it still doesn't because it have never helped me connect with people in a meaningful way.

But my relationship with Facebook got more complicated. While I was in London, my now wife and I, started an online clothing store. Holy Moly, relatively speaking, we were probably at the tail end of the first wave of online efashion retailers. Shopify, BigCommerce, and other shopping cart platforms that are so popular now didn't even exist back then. When I moved back from London to the San Francisco Bay Area, I decided to continue the business and I spent thousands of dollars on building a following for a Facebook page.

While that business was never successful, to a certain level, I was able to make money from Facebook. I think that also means I'm in the first-generation of users to make money from Facebook ads. As you can guess, my opinion quickly changed. I went from, "I really don't see the point of Facebook," to "Facebook and social media is the future."

Through Facebook, I was able to get a consulting job with a public traded company in Thailand that paid me back for any money I ever lost running old Facebook ads and help pay off 1/3 of my student loans. During that time, I even had two investors willing to invest a total of $500K-$750K in the business, though I turned both investors down. Nonetheless, that all happened in a large part due to Facebook.

But, and of course there is a but, things started to change. I eventually closed that fashion business down because it never really made enough money and I was basically on Facebook as a "normal user." Maybe it was because I was transitioning from a failed business and even the next business venture I had failed, but my relationship with Facebook and the internet took a pretty bad turn. Not surprisingly, this was around 2012 or 2013.

Maybe like many people in their 20s, I was a real optimist. I really thought I could do something good in this world by building a business and helping people around me. I remember having thoughts about how if I ever made enough money that I would just give my friends a million bucks and basically just take care of the people around me.

Not that I'm not empathetic now, but I really felt the pains of the world and it really bothered me. Even when Bush won his second-term, things still never felt like the world was going to end. Terrible things were happening that made me incredibly sad, but here's the thing, I was never really truly angry.

I would say that around 2012 and beyond, I started getting truly angry at people and the world. I know this sounds nuts, but around this time, it was when reality tv and social media influencers started taking over everything on the internet. I remember one of my reoccurring thoughts was, "how could people keep spending money to be like the Kardashians, while we have children dying in Syria, global warming, and overall suffering happening across the world?"

Honestly, it's still a thought I have today, but that thought went from frustration to real anger after a while. And, as you can guess, the 2016 election only brought everything to a boil and the pot is still boiling over. Compared to the Iraq war, where I certainly didn't care to be around people who supported it. I actually ended a friendship with someone who said that the Iraq War was a "sunk cost." I didn't have complete animosity and have a hard time getting through my day because of them.

On a side not, while social media is helping divide and polarize this country even more, it's just amplifying the divide that has always been there since the history of man. Because, you know, the Civil War happened without computers or social media.

It was definitely the 2016 election that I started to realize how unhappy the news and social media was making me. Since then, like an addicted "user," I've taken steps to basically quit this abusive and addictive cycle of social media and news feeds.

While I definitely have improved my relationship with social media, it's still a work in progress, but below is a list of things I doing for my "recovery."

1. I quit using Google News

The biggest detriment to my mental health is probably when I read upsetting news. This really became an issue when I discovered Google News and the iOS app. With Google News, no matter how often I told it that I didn't want to read about Trump, Politics, murders, etc, it would constantly show these news articles at the top of my daily briefing.

While one could argue that Trump is the headline of the day, though I can't see why Trump Tweets should be in the headlines, the last straw for me was when Google started showing me homicide stories from across the US that weren't national news. Unfortunately, certain type of homicides happen every day, but for some reason Google News wanted to keep pushing those stories on me even when I told it that I wasn't interested.

It didn't take me long to realize how abusive Google News was. It was really trying to trigger such an emotional response to keep me as a "user." What Google didn't realize is that what made me addicted to Google News was simply knowing what real life changing events were happening. For example, for me, real news, before COVID-19, was an article about when autonomous driving could be the standard. Having an idea of when people in the US would be traveling by self-driving cars to me is real news, not when Trump, Elon Musk, or Kanye West sends out a tweet. That's not real news, that's literally tabloid news. The same type of news one would have read in the National Inquirer.

I was willing to stay in this abusive relationship with Google News so that I could always be on top of what real world changing event were happening. But the problem is that just reading the headline, without even reading the article, is enough to set me off. At this point, most people don't need to read the article to know what's in it. For example, one recent article is titled, "‘He’s a small child’: Utah police shot a 13 -year-old boy with autism after his mother called 911 for help". Without even reading the article, most empathetic people should be upset just by reading the title.

While it's hard to argue against Google search results when looking up news on a specific topic, I had to quit the iOS app. Now, I'll only use Google news on a browser searching for specific news topics that I want to dive deeper into.

2. I don't read news pushed onto me, I go find news from reputable news sources (AP News, Reuters)

Fortunately, unlike my Google News addiction, it didn't take me long to realize that some news being shared on the Facebook Feed was complete trash. Especially after the 2016 election, I made it a point to not read any news being pushed on me from social media. Instead, every day, well several times a day, I visit what I believe are reputable news sources, such as the Associated Press for world news and Reuters for more business and economic news. Unfortunately, all news agencies are truly obsessed with Trump, which is one reason he won the 2016 election, but it's at least a bit muted compared to CNN or Fox News, which are basically on the extreme end of the biases. I find even National Public Radio can be too obsessed with Trump and political news that I've minimized my visits to their website.

BTW, if you think Associated Press is "fake new," then you really should quit social media and the internet as a whole and look to truly define what a fact is to you and test to see if that definition always holds true.

Unfortunately, for local news, it's literally impossible to escape click bait news. The movie, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, is a perfect movie on why local news is generally so terrible. Have you noticed how news anchors can go from looking so serious when talking about a grizzly murder, to so happy when talking about a viral video. And why is the "news" showing viral pet videos? It's basically like watching a bunch of sociopaths pretending to have human feelings. As you can guess, I don't watch local news. I read it like the rest of my news. Nonetheless, local news can be pretty important, especially during COVID-19 so I scan headlines for what's important from my free local news site.

3. I use Facebook only for to sell old junk and even then I still use a pseudonym

During the George Floyd protests and when Mark Zukerberg refused to do anything about certain Trump posts, combined with how Facebook shaped the 2016 election by letting fake news spread like our California Wildfires, I decided to truly minimize my use of Facebook and the information it has on me.

For example, I don't use my real name, birthday, list my location, or basically provide any profile information. I unfriended everybody and unfollowed/unliked all pages, which includes music, bands, movies, books, that I've liked in the past. If I'm actually shown an ad, I mark it as not interested.

There was a day when people posted a blacked out profile picture to support the Black Lives Matter movement and I just decided to stick with that.

Basically, I have the minimum of what could be considered a profile on Facebook. I use it because my wife is still on there and I think it's a decent way to log-in to other websites, especially when all the information Facebook has on me is either incorrect or non-existent.

4. I minimally use Instagram and barely use Twitter

In a different life, I would have love to been a photojournalist, so I do enjoy posting my photos on Instagram and I still can't get away from seeing how many "likes" a photo gets. Fortunately, for the same reason why I essentially quit Facebook, I haven't really posted much on Instagram. In the explorer tab, Instagram is very responsive to when I say I'm not interested in a certain post. Generally, when I say I'm not interested in a political post, TikTok dancing videos, etc, it'll remember that and very rarely show me those photos again.

I've never been a big Twitter user. I literally only follow three account, California Earthquake, City of Alameda, and Alameda Power. I skip the explore tab completely because it's usually junk news or trends to keep users engaged.

5. Other social media platforms, don't know them, don't want to know them

My generation is basically the Myspace and Facebook Generation, so I never got on TikTok, Snapchat, or whatever else is out there.

6. My Youtube feed doesn't know what to suggest

My Youtube feed really only suggests maybe 5, at most 10, different channels that I've watched in the past. Just like Instagram, I proactively mark when I'm not interested in certain channels and topics. I think I've done it to the point where Youtube doesn't actually know what videos to suggest, so all they can do is suggest videos from channels that I'm already watching.

As you can guess, I avoid the explore tabs all together, especially the news tabs. Those are literally all Trump news videos. If I want to see news on a specific subject, then I'll search for it myself and make sure I'm watching it from a real news source.

7. I use Firefox and stopped using Google search

Tor browsers are probably the most private internet browsers, but earlier versions were very slow so I just settle with Firefox and use a minimal tracking search engine, such as DuckDuckGo or Startpage. While I still use Google Mail because of its Spam filters, to a certain degree, I've cut off a big chunk of what Google wants, which is to track just about everything you do online. Gmail scans your emails, Google remembers all your search queries and clicks, and, through Youtube, knows what videos you're watching. By not using google search, it takes a big chunk out of what data they're tracking and storing on you.

8. I usually just stick with the same handful of website that I always visit

When I'm not researching for a blog post, I only have a dozen or so websites that I visit and I stick with them. Sticking within these "walls" helps me to stay sane and be less angry with the world. I'm 100% sure I'm missing out on something in the vast world wide web, but I honestly don't mind at this point.

So far, these steps have really help me get back on a healthier track with technology and the internet. Fundamentally, I try to minimize my exposure to platforms that depend on serving ads and in many ways I'm just trying to go back to "old school" technology of emails and direct messages to communicate with people. As I mentioned before, it's all a work in progress because my wife and I make our living online, a small living, but a living nonetheless. So, for us to literally unplug isn't realistic at this point.

Best of luck to you and hopefully you have or will have a healthy relationship with social media platforms.

Read more


Should you get the COVID-19 Vaccine when it's first available?

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Spoiler: if it's an mRNA vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer, then be sure to make an informed decision. Don't take the decision lightly. If it's an adenovirus vector from Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca, then it's very slightly more proven than mRNA, but it's still not an easy decision. If it's a measles vector or recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology vaccine from Merck, then you can feel a lot more confident about its safety. Last, but not least, if it's Glaxosmithkline (GSK) & Sanofi Pasteur's combination of their recombinant protein technology and pandemic adjuvent technology, then you can also feel more confident about its safety. In the end, they all have to be proven safe through a phase 3 clinical trial and even then I'd still want to wait and see for some of these technologies.

A recent poll by USA Today/Suffolk showed that two-thirds of USA voters would not take a vaccine when first available, with a quarter saying they plan on never getting it. As I was writing this post, a group of nine pharmaceuticals, including Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and biotech firms pledged not to release a vaccine until after phase three trials have proven efficacy and safety to help instill public confidence.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, that pledge is a bit of smoke and mirrors, at least by some of the pharmaceuticals. Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, while going along with this pledge, says they will have "an answer" by October and went on to say that people who don't take the vaccine will be the "weak link" in the chain. And don't be mistaken, he means the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine because that is the most likely to be first approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization.

I mention this below, but the Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. An mRNA vaccine has never been approved by the FDA for commercial use and trails for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine only started on April 29, 2020. October 2020 is obviously less than a full year to know about its safety. For me, there is some cause for concern. While mRNA is said to be a promising technology, Dr Laura Blackburn, Head of Science at the phgfoundation, wrote, "we need a better understanding of their potential side effects, and more evidence of their long term efficacy." This was first written in October 2018 and is still on the foundations website because I believe it still holds true.

Update: Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, says that their vaccine could be given to Americans before the end of 2020, less than one year since starting clinical trials. In my opinion, he is publicly priming people to get ready to take the Pfizer vaccine, especially following the "weak link" comment he previously made about those not wanting to take a vaccine.

To be honest, I'm in the two-thirds who are not willing to take a vaccine when it first comes out, especially if its approved in 2020 or even early 2021. I know the other one-third is probably thinking to themselves, "it's because of people like you that we'll never get out of this situation." In my defense, I can count on two hands the number of times I've left the house since the San Francisco Bay Area first initiated the shelter-in-place order on April 7, 2020 and almost all those trips were for doctor appointments for my wife and my mom, combined with a total of four trips just dropping off mail at the box. All essential goods are delivered to our house using Amazon, Instacart, and other third-party services.

Yep, that's it and I don't plan on letting my guard down until there is a vaccine available. The reason being that our household includes my wife, our unborn baby, and my 69 year old asthmatic mother. We're a multi-generational household, not a house full of healthy 20 or 30 years old. COVID-19 could prove extremely disastrous for our household.

But, the reason we haven't moved to a remote location far from people and essentially lead a mostly normal life is because I do believe a vaccine will come. I'm just not planning on taking it until I've seen the data. And that's the key, the data from the clinical trials.

For myself, I will not take a COVID-19 vaccine when first approved, especially if it's in 2020 or early 2021, because I'm worried about serious adverse events (SAE). The U.S. Food & Drug Administration defines SAE as "An adverse event is any undesirable experience associated with the use of a medical product in a patient." This includes death, permanent damage, birth defect, hospitalization, and more. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this is my main concern about taking a COVID-19 vaccine.

Trust in the FDA is rightfully shaky, nonetheless I do have relative faith in the data provided by the clinical trials. For example, Moderna's Phase 3 trial will include 30,000 participants (half will get the "real" vaccine), which is fairly large, and trial sites include such institutions as Kaiser Permanente - Seattle, UCLA Vine Street Clinic, University of California at San Diego, and University of Texas just to name a few. If for some reason Moderna, or even the FDA, tries to fudge any data, then the chances of a whistle blower coming forward is extremely likely.

Additionally, Moderna will follow participants 759 days (2 years) after the second dose to record "Adverse Effects" and "Medically Attended Adverse Effects." 759 days is an extremely long time when comparing it to an influenza vaccine. For example, the original version of Fluarix, which is the flu vaccine Kaiser Permanente administers, was approved with only 2,000 participants and followed participants for only 21 days for adverse events. The first clinical study started in May 2002 and FDA approval was granted in 2005. Of course, the big difference is that flu vaccines were first studied in the US in the 1930s. For the seven known human coronaviruses there is no FDA approved vaccine.

Even though Moderna is believed to be one of the front runners for a COVID-19 vaccine, the phase 3 clinical trial will not be finished within 2020 or even 2021. It's estimated primary and final completion date is October 27, 2022. But, it doesn't mean there will not be an approval through an "emergency use authorization." And that's unfortunately where the problem stems from.

If Moderna shows an efficacy of at least 50% (the flu vaccine is about 60% effective), then the FDA will mostly likely grant emergency use authorization. While the efficacy data should be mostly reliable, the data for adverse effects/events will not be.

I believe the reason Moderna is using a 759 day trial period is because an mRNA vaccine has never been approved. So, unlike more recent flu vaccine that follow up on adverse events between 21 days and in few cases up to 1 year, mRNA requires more data on adverse effects because it is so new. One of the biggest fears is that a mRNA vaccine platform can cause inflammation or autoimmune reactions.

So those rushing into the mRNA COVID-9 vaccines by Moderna or Pfizer should make a very educated decision on whether or not they want to be one of the first people in the world to widely test this technology. It's not like your trying out a pair of Google Glasses or getting the newest Apple product.

I personally don't know if I'd feel safe taking an mRNA vaccine within the next five years, let alone the next year or so. Fortunately, mRNA vaccines are not the only ones in the pipeline.

The next group are adenovirus vector vaccines, which is the technology being used for the Johnson & Johnson, AstraZenica/Oxford, and the "Russian" vaccine. Once again, there are no commercially approved FDA Vaccines for humans. While Russia approved their Sputnik V(accine), it is not approved by the FDA. Apparently, there is one commercial rabies vaccine for wild animals.

Adenovirus Vector Vaccines have previously been in or are currently in clinical trials for Ebola, HIV, and Zika Virus by Johnson & Johnson. One HIV study had 2,500 participants, half receiving the real vaccine, and showed to have "acceptable" side effect. Oddly enough, six people did die during the trial, but they all belonged to the placebo group, with such causes as multiple stab wounds, suicide, drug intoxication, acute pancreatitis, and myocardial infarction. I guess  the vaccine was safer than living life. China also approved an emergency use vaccine for the Ebola using the technology. Additionally, an extremely small safety trial of 48 participants is currently in Phase 1 trails for a MERS vaccine by the University of Oxford, who is working on the AstraZenica vaccine.

Update: AstraZenica halted it's trail for a little under a week when one of the trial participant, who did receive the live vaccine, developed symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal cord.

In many ways, Adenovirus Vector Vaccines have a head start compared to mRNA vaccines in terms of data, but nonetheless there are no commercially available FDA approved vaccines for humans. I would feel more comfortable taking a Adenovirus Vector Vaccine over an mRNA vaccine, but it all comes down to what the data says and waiting for the completion of the phase 3 trials. Unlike the rest of the vaccine vectors/technologies being used by Merck and GSK, the adenovirus vector vaccine is still relatively unproven.

Last, but certainly not least, are the vaccines that Merck and GSK are working on. Merck, which is taking it very slow in the COVID-19 vaccine race, has two vaccine platforms, one based on a measles vector and one based on the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology, which is used in the first FDA approved Embola virus vaccine for humans. While rVSV technology was just approved in December of 2019 by the FDA, it's still one more than mRNA or adenovirus vector vaccines, at least in regards to humans, and was in clinical trials for about 5 years. The measles vector is a modification of the measles vaccine Schwarz strain, a childhood vaccine used since the 1960s. In a way, it's a proven, yet still unproven, vector technology since it's taking the the safe and proven attenuated measles virus, but still modifying it vaccinate against other viruses.

GSK, working with Sanofi Pasteur, are attempting to combine two FDA approved technologies. They will attempt to use Sanofi's recombinant protein-based technology, which is currently used in their FDA approved influenza Flublok vaccine, and combine that with GSK fairly established pandemic adjuvant technology. Flublok was first approved by the FDA in 2013, so there is definitely some track record for their recombinant technology and its safety.

Everything being equal, for example if all were available at the same exact time, had the same efficacy, and all said were "acceptably safe," I would most likely want to take the GSK/Sanofi vaccine. Sanofi's Flubok has been approved since 2013 so their recombinant technology has a longer track record that just about everything else mentioned. Then I would strongly consider Mercks two offerings and, with a decent amount of hesitation, an Adenovirus Vector Vaccine. I would probably skip an mRNA vaccine and wait it out for a more proven technology to be approved.

Unfortunately, everything isn't equal and so what will be most important is to look at the clinical trial data for whatever vaccine is eventually approved. A clinical trial just started in Brazil using China based SinoVac's vaccine, which using a chemically inactivated version of COVID-19, which is considered an old fashioned technology. It the same technology used in Hepatitis A, Flu, Polio, and Rabies vaccines. That could end up being the safest and effective of all the vaccines for all we know at the moment.

I'll repeat myself again, in the end, it'll come down to what data is reported in the phase 3 clinical trials. Even then, some people may want to wait because not all trials are created equally. For example, Moderna's phase 3 is estimated to complete primary trials by Oct 2022, while Pfizer estimates it'll end it's primary trials by April 19, 2021. It's very realistic that Pfizer will "complete" phase 3 trials by that date, even though final completion is estimated to end in November 2022. The FDA will probably try and convince everyone that they know all Serious Adverse Events, including prolonged events, literally within a year of starting that trial. Like I said, not all trials are created equal. As you can guess, I personally wouldn't take Pfizer's RNA vaccine until November 2022 or possibly beyond, and only if no other vaccine is available.

For those of you who know for sure you're going to take the first FDA approved vaccine, very possibly through emergency use authorization, you essentially should consider yourself as part of the clinical trial. The big difference is that adverse events will not be included in the trial data, but rather you or your doctor should, as a community service, report them through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VERS). This will go a long way to see if these vaccines are truly safe for everyone else.

Finally, I will mention that this puts Russia's vaccine approval into perspective. Essentially, they're extending clinical trials into an uncontrolled public trial. That's essentially what they're doing and the Trump Administration, and it seems like the FDA, are not far behind that rational.

Putin approved their vaccine on August 11, 2020, while Trump is pushing for a vaccine approval by November 2020, only 4 months difference. People were outraged that Putin and Russia would do such a thing, but Fauci says it's possible to have our vaccine ready by the end of this year, 5 whole months longer. I guess those five months makes us look more legitimate. On a side note, Merck's CEO is not rushing anything because he doesn't see how any effective and safe vaccine would be ready in such a short time, which is another reason why I would take a Merck vaccine over one that looks certainly rushed for approval.

Ironically, the vaccines using the least proven technologies will most likely be approved first, while those using more proven technology will probably be last. Definitely try to remember point when it finally comes time to choose a COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, that's if we're lucky and have several vaccines to choose from.

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Should you get the COVID-19 Vaccine when it's first available?

Posted by Craig Wesley on

Spoiler: if it's an mRNA vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer, then be sure to make an informed decision. Don't take the decision lightly. If it's an adenovirus vector from Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca, then it's very slightly more proven than mRNA, but it's still not an easy decision. If it's a measles vector or recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology vaccine from Merck, then you can feel a lot more confident about its safety. Last, but not least, if it's Glaxosmithkline (GSK) & Sanofi Pasteur's combination of their recombinant protein technology and pandemic adjuvent technology, then you can also feel more confident about its safety. In the end, they all have to be proven safe through a phase 3 clinical trial and even then I'd still want to wait and see for some of these technologies.

A recent poll by USA Today/Suffolk showed that two-thirds of USA voters would not take a vaccine when first available, with a quarter saying they plan on never getting it. As I was writing this post, a group of nine pharmaceuticals, including Merck, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and biotech firms pledged not to release a vaccine until after phase three trials have proven efficacy and safety to help instill public confidence.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, that pledge is a bit of smoke and mirrors, at least by some of the pharmaceuticals. Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, while going along with this pledge, says they will have "an answer" by October and went on to say that people who don't take the vaccine will be the "weak link" in the chain. And don't be mistaken, he means the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine because that is the most likely to be first approved by the FDA under an emergency use authorization.

I mention this below, but the Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. An mRNA vaccine has never been approved by the FDA for commercial use and trails for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine only started on April 29, 2020. October 2020 is obviously less than a full year to know about its safety. For me, there is some cause for concern. While mRNA is said to be a promising technology, Dr Laura Blackburn, Head of Science at the phgfoundation, wrote, "we need a better understanding of their potential side effects, and more evidence of their long term efficacy." This was first written in October 2018 and is still on the foundations website because I believe it still holds true.

Update: Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, says that their vaccine could be given to Americans before the end of 2020, less than one year since starting clinical trials. In my opinion, he is publicly priming people to get ready to take the Pfizer vaccine, especially following the "weak link" comment he previously made about those not wanting to take a vaccine.

To be honest, I'm in the two-thirds who are not willing to take a vaccine when it first comes out, especially if its approved in 2020 or even early 2021. I know the other one-third is probably thinking to themselves, "it's because of people like you that we'll never get out of this situation." In my defense, I can count on two hands the number of times I've left the house since the San Francisco Bay Area first initiated the shelter-in-place order on April 7, 2020 and almost all those trips were for doctor appointments for my wife and my mom, combined with a total of four trips just dropping off mail at the box. All essential goods are delivered to our house using Amazon, Instacart, and other third-party services.

Yep, that's it and I don't plan on letting my guard down until there is a vaccine available. The reason being that our household includes my wife, our unborn baby, and my 69 year old asthmatic mother. We're a multi-generational household, not a house full of healthy 20 or 30 years old. COVID-19 could prove extremely disastrous for our household.

But, the reason we haven't moved to a remote location far from people and essentially lead a mostly normal life is because I do believe a vaccine will come. I'm just not planning on taking it until I've seen the data. And that's the key, the data from the clinical trials.

For myself, I will not take a COVID-19 vaccine when first approved, especially if it's in 2020 or early 2021, because I'm worried about serious adverse events (SAE). The U.S. Food & Drug Administration defines SAE as "An adverse event is any undesirable experience associated with the use of a medical product in a patient." This includes death, permanent damage, birth defect, hospitalization, and more. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say this is my main concern about taking a COVID-19 vaccine.

Trust in the FDA is rightfully shaky, nonetheless I do have relative faith in the data provided by the clinical trials. For example, Moderna's Phase 3 trial will include 30,000 participants (half will get the "real" vaccine), which is fairly large, and trial sites include such institutions as Kaiser Permanente - Seattle, UCLA Vine Street Clinic, University of California at San Diego, and University of Texas just to name a few. If for some reason Moderna, or even the FDA, tries to fudge any data, then the chances of a whistle blower coming forward is extremely likely.

Additionally, Moderna will follow participants 759 days (2 years) after the second dose to record "Adverse Effects" and "Medically Attended Adverse Effects." 759 days is an extremely long time when comparing it to an influenza vaccine. For example, the original version of Fluarix, which is the flu vaccine Kaiser Permanente administers, was approved with only 2,000 participants and followed participants for only 21 days for adverse events. The first clinical study started in May 2002 and FDA approval was granted in 2005. Of course, the big difference is that flu vaccines were first studied in the US in the 1930s. For the seven known human coronaviruses there is no FDA approved vaccine.

Even though Moderna is believed to be one of the front runners for a COVID-19 vaccine, the phase 3 clinical trial will not be finished within 2020 or even 2021. It's estimated primary and final completion date is October 27, 2022. But, it doesn't mean there will not be an approval through an "emergency use authorization." And that's unfortunately where the problem stems from.

If Moderna shows an efficacy of at least 50% (the flu vaccine is about 60% effective), then the FDA will mostly likely grant emergency use authorization. While the efficacy data should be mostly reliable, the data for adverse effects/events will not be.

I believe the reason Moderna is using a 759 day trial period is because an mRNA vaccine has never been approved. So, unlike more recent flu vaccine that follow up on adverse events between 21 days and in few cases up to 1 year, mRNA requires more data on adverse effects because it is so new. One of the biggest fears is that a mRNA vaccine platform can cause inflammation or autoimmune reactions.

So those rushing into the mRNA COVID-9 vaccines by Moderna or Pfizer should make a very educated decision on whether or not they want to be one of the first people in the world to widely test this technology. It's not like your trying out a pair of Google Glasses or getting the newest Apple product.

I personally don't know if I'd feel safe taking an mRNA vaccine within the next five years, let alone the next year or so. Fortunately, mRNA vaccines are not the only ones in the pipeline.

The next group are adenovirus vector vaccines, which is the technology being used for the Johnson & Johnson, AstraZenica/Oxford, and the "Russian" vaccine. Once again, there are no commercially approved FDA Vaccines for humans. While Russia approved their Sputnik V(accine), it is not approved by the FDA. Apparently, there is one commercial rabies vaccine for wild animals.

Adenovirus Vector Vaccines have previously been in or are currently in clinical trials for Ebola, HIV, and Zika Virus by Johnson & Johnson. One HIV study had 2,500 participants, half receiving the real vaccine, and showed to have "acceptable" side effect. Oddly enough, six people did die during the trial, but they all belonged to the placebo group, with such causes as multiple stab wounds, suicide, drug intoxication, acute pancreatitis, and myocardial infarction. I guess  the vaccine was safer than living life. China also approved an emergency use vaccine for the Ebola using the technology. Additionally, an extremely small safety trial of 48 participants is currently in Phase 1 trails for a MERS vaccine by the University of Oxford, who is working on the AstraZenica vaccine.

Update: AstraZenica halted it's trail for a little under a week when one of the trial participant, who did receive the live vaccine, developed symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, a rare inflammation of the spinal cord.

In many ways, Adenovirus Vector Vaccines have a head start compared to mRNA vaccines in terms of data, but nonetheless there are no commercially available FDA approved vaccines for humans. I would feel more comfortable taking a Adenovirus Vector Vaccine over an mRNA vaccine, but it all comes down to what the data says and waiting for the completion of the phase 3 trials. Unlike the rest of the vaccine vectors/technologies being used by Merck and GSK, the adenovirus vector vaccine is still relatively unproven.

Last, but certainly not least, are the vaccines that Merck and GSK are working on. Merck, which is taking it very slow in the COVID-19 vaccine race, has two vaccine platforms, one based on a measles vector and one based on the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology, which is used in the first FDA approved Embola virus vaccine for humans. While rVSV technology was just approved in December of 2019 by the FDA, it's still one more than mRNA or adenovirus vector vaccines, at least in regards to humans, and was in clinical trials for about 5 years. The measles vector is a modification of the measles vaccine Schwarz strain, a childhood vaccine used since the 1960s. In a way, it's a proven, yet still unproven, vector technology since it's taking the the safe and proven attenuated measles virus, but still modifying it vaccinate against other viruses.

GSK, working with Sanofi Pasteur, are attempting to combine two FDA approved technologies. They will attempt to use Sanofi's recombinant protein-based technology, which is currently used in their FDA approved influenza Flublok vaccine, and combine that with GSK fairly established pandemic adjuvant technology. Flublok was first approved by the FDA in 2013, so there is definitely some track record for their recombinant technology and its safety.

Everything being equal, for example if all were available at the same exact time, had the same efficacy, and all said were "acceptably safe," I would most likely want to take the GSK/Sanofi vaccine. Sanofi's Flubok has been approved since 2013 so their recombinant technology has a longer track record that just about everything else mentioned. Then I would strongly consider Mercks two offerings and, with a decent amount of hesitation, an Adenovirus Vector Vaccine. I would probably skip an mRNA vaccine and wait it out for a more proven technology to be approved.

Unfortunately, everything isn't equal and so what will be most important is to look at the clinical trial data for whatever vaccine is eventually approved. A clinical trial just started in Brazil using China based SinoVac's vaccine, which using a chemically inactivated version of COVID-19, which is considered an old fashioned technology. It the same technology used in Hepatitis A, Flu, Polio, and Rabies vaccines. That could end up being the safest and effective of all the vaccines for all we know at the moment.

I'll repeat myself again, in the end, it'll come down to what data is reported in the phase 3 clinical trials. Even then, some people may want to wait because not all trials are created equally. For example, Moderna's phase 3 is estimated to complete primary trials by Oct 2022, while Pfizer estimates it'll end it's primary trials by April 19, 2021. It's very realistic that Pfizer will "complete" phase 3 trials by that date, even though final completion is estimated to end in November 2022. The FDA will probably try and convince everyone that they know all Serious Adverse Events, including prolonged events, literally within a year of starting that trial. Like I said, not all trials are created equal. As you can guess, I personally wouldn't take Pfizer's RNA vaccine until November 2022 or possibly beyond, and only if no other vaccine is available.

For those of you who know for sure you're going to take the first FDA approved vaccine, very possibly through emergency use authorization, you essentially should consider yourself as part of the clinical trial. The big difference is that adverse events will not be included in the trial data, but rather you or your doctor should, as a community service, report them through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VERS). This will go a long way to see if these vaccines are truly safe for everyone else.

Finally, I will mention that this puts Russia's vaccine approval into perspective. Essentially, they're extending clinical trials into an uncontrolled public trial. That's essentially what they're doing and the Trump Administration, and it seems like the FDA, are not far behind that rational.

Putin approved their vaccine on August 11, 2020, while Trump is pushing for a vaccine approval by November 2020, only 4 months difference. People were outraged that Putin and Russia would do such a thing, but Fauci says it's possible to have our vaccine ready by the end of this year, 5 whole months longer. I guess those five months makes us look more legitimate. On a side note, Merck's CEO is not rushing anything because he doesn't see how any effective and safe vaccine would be ready in such a short time, which is another reason why I would take a Merck vaccine over one that looks certainly rushed for approval.

Ironically, the vaccines using the least proven technologies will most likely be approved first, while those using more proven technology will probably be last. Definitely try to remember point when it finally comes time to choose a COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, that's if we're lucky and have several vaccines to choose from.

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