As Dr. Fauci walks back criticisms of Britain's decision to grant emergency approval to the Pfzier-BioNTech - something Dr. Fauci characterized as "rushed" earlier this week before receiving the proverbial kick under the table - and Pfizer cuts its 2020 vaccine delivery target due to issues with 'raw materials', a video of DoubleLine Capital founder Jeff Gundlach expressing doubts about the prospects for a vaccine is making the rounds on twitter.
Speaking in an off-the-cuff manner, Gundlach raised questions about the timeline for vaccine-induced COVID herd immunity, something Sweden's Anders Tegnell recently affirmed remains a poorly understood concept, that some might characterize as "conspiratorial".
Gundlach is skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines pic.twitter.com/3KVo2ftTAY— Fritz (@Fritz844) December 4, 2020
First, Gundlach pointed to the ~95% effective number: "I'm just not buying it," Gundlach said, arguing that the sample size of infected patients (that is, trial participants who actually contracted the virus) is too small to be reliable.
"I would take this news more credibly if they came up with a vaccine and they said it worked, like, 53% of the time. There's something about that 94.5% that just looks fishy to me. You go from zero to 94.5...um...I got a feeling that it's a very small sample, I got a feeling that it's relative to one strain."
"And these things mutate like crazy. That's the problem with vaccines on coronaviruses, is they mutate like crazy. We can't get a durable vaccine on the regular influenza, we have failure rates of over 50% in some years."
And then there's the side effects, which Gundlach cited as another reason to question the timeline and whether vaccines will be widely accepted by Americans.
A group of doctor's recently issued a warning about the side-effects, and the need to plan out vaccinations carefully so we don't have 12 nurses from the same floor too sick to work all on the same day. The CDC has said it is committed to working out these types of logistics. But at the end of the day, fears of the side-effects could become a serious deterrent.
"Apparently, the ones they've tested with these high rates, apparently it's super unpleasant to take the vaccine. You have to take it twice, it's painful...you have to deal with really painful side effects...this is what I'm hearing from people who know more about this than I do."
Finally, Gundlach brought up public opinion polling showing roughly half of Americans aren't rushing to take the vaccine.
"I saw a survey from Gallup - not that I believe polls anymore - but this was a poll that said if you were given a free vaccine from the FDA...would you take it? Even then, the number was 50% - and that was before they told you it hurts like hell...and you might be sick for 3 days."
As one might expect, Gundlach's comments provoked a few armchair commentators to declare Gundlach's comments as not only false and misleading, but dangerous.
The first 40 seconds of this are scientifically false. It doesn’t mutate appreciably, sample size is adequate and carefully mathematically selected, this coronavirus is substantially different from flu. I hope he isn’t investing on those intuitions; they are idiotic— Fizzle (@WillFizzle) December 5, 2020
Saying the vaccine "mutates like crazy" may be slightly hyperbolic, but there is evidence showing some strains of the virus are deadlier than others. Public Health officials in South Australia argued that their extremely restrictive lockdown conditions were a response to the deadly strain documented by scientists.
As far as comparing COVID-19 to the flu, it's entirely possible that rates of efficacy for COVID-19 vaccines might be lower - perhaps even significantly lower - than these headline numbers suggest.
Most of what Gundlach is saying here is appropriately labeled as speculation. This is the view of a skeptic who is trying to anticipate the unanticipated - ie, that the process of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in the west goes far less smoothly than OWS head Moncef Slaoui and others have led the public to believe.
Whether Gundlach is actually trading on this view is a mystery. Is it possible that the bond titan might be trying to sow some FUD simply to try and stir the pot?
The timing is also notable, coming after Friday's disappointing jobs numbers, which caused the yield curve to widen even further, as the yield on the 10-year approaches the 1% mark for the first time since March.
Might we see Gundlach make one of his infrequent, but closely followed, appearances on CNBC this week to take the side of Rick Santelli?