On the stupidity of comparing COVID-19 healthcare burden to lifestyle diseases

Here in the Netherlands, as elsewhere, hospitals are again seeing a huge surge in admissions of COVID-19 patients. But this time, as in many other countries, the overwhelming majority of these patients are unvaccinated. The disproportional burden on ICU capacity caused by these unvaccinated COVID-19 patients means that non-urgent care is now postponed in most hospitals.

Those opposing the COVID-19 vaccines (also known as ‘anti-vaxxers’) are rightly blamed for this situation. But the anti-vaxxers themselves disagree with that point of view. One of the more popular responses from anti-vaxxers is the argument that the choice not to get vaccinated is no different than any other life-style choice, like smoking, not exercising enough, eating too much, engaging in sports with high risk of injury, or drinking alcohol. The ardent anti-vaxxer will often claim that these risky behaviours are on equal foot with refusing the vaccine, and go on to remind us that smokers also take up ICU beds. Here I will illustrate why that argument is completely fallacious.

Let’s start with smoking. Smoking tobacco is an immensely complex addiction problem, involving strong physical and psychological dependence. And smoking related illnesses do not manifest immediately. It typically takes many decades before smoking cigarettes leads to disease. We should therefore remember that people who may occupy an ICU bed today because of smoking tobacco, often started this extremely addictive habit at a time when smoking was still allowed in public places and was widely considered socially acceptable behaviour. Furthermore, while a long-term smoker who quits today will certainly experience an enormous health-benefit by doing so, there will nonetheless always remain some permanent damage from the many years of smoking. Medical conditions from past smoking may thus still arise years later, requiring some degree of ICU level care. But this is in no way comparable to ending up in the ICU during a pandemic, when everyone floods the ICUs at more or less the same time by refusing a proven safe and highly effective vaccine. This just doesn’t happen with smoking: they don’t all just get lung cancer in the same year. And when (ex-)smokers do end up in an ICU, they don’t stay there for two to three weeks or longer. Refusing a safe medicine is not the same—at all— as a huge societal problem as tobacco abuse, or any other drug problem for that matter. In many cases, substance abuse is related to genetic factors, socioeconomic factors, and in some cases is considered by specialists to be a form of self-medication for certain mental illnesses. Oftentimes there is not so much ‘choice’ at all regarding this lifestyle. And refusing a vaccine, usually based on misinformation and by simply ignoring common sense, is nothing like that.

Other comparisons anti-vaxxers frequently make involves obesity and alcohol abuse. But just like smoking, these are intractably complex issues that cannot be readily solved in the short term. Extreme cases of morbid obesity are even treated with surgery, for Christ’s sake! How is that in any way comparable to refusing a vaccine? It’s insane! There are nations who have declared obesity a pandemic, and have literally imposed special taxes on certain foods (e.g. sugar-tax in the UK) in an attempt to stem the tide. Again, this has nothing to do with refusing a safe vaccine; an addiction or genetic predisposition to not getting vaccinated is unknown to science. A genetic component to the pigheaded stupidity of the anti-vaxxer also remains to be elucidated.

The final comparison I have seen is that in which the choice not to get vaccinated is likened to the choice to engage in high-risk sports. And for some reason I often hear skiing used as an example. Well, alright, let’s do the math. First we’ll look at COVID-19. In the case of unvaccinated people, let’s say the average risk of ending up in the ICU because of COVID-19 is about 5% and the chance of dying is about 1•6%. Could be more and could be less, depending on the country you look at. That’s 50,000 ICU patients and 16,000 deaths for every one million people. So how does skiing compare? Well, in the US the chance of dying from a skiing accident is just shy of one-in-a-million; for every million people visiting a ski-resort, statistically speaking one of them will die during their visit. ONE IN A MILLION! Skiing is over three orders of magnitude safer than getting COVID-19! An NSAA report from 2011 tells me less than 50 skiing related deaths were reported over a period of ten years in the US (at least from in the >90% of US ski-resorts represented by the NSAA). While every death is one too many, 50 deaths in 10 years is about 0.007% of the US COCID-19 deaths in a little over a year. Thus, comparing skiing to COVID-19 is statistically—in terms of fatality risk— just about the same as comparing a trip to the beach in a Volvo to a goddamn NASA rocket mission to outer space! That is literally how ridiculous the comparison is. So let me learn you something that is generally true: ANY sport or activity that is as dangerous as getting COVID-19 would be declared ILLEGAL immediately, without question. Normal people wouldn’t even be able to get insured for such an incredibly dangerous activity, unless you paid an ASTRONOMICALLY high insurance fee.

So to summarise: COVID-19 is not to be compared to health risks associated with ANY life-style. That has to stop right now. Not getting vaccinated is quite simply both insensible and irresponsible, and unnecessarily burdens public healthcare. Yes, in Western countries we have a lot of freedom. However, while you may very well exercise your freedom to refuse the vaccine, that choice does not liberate you from responsibility and consequence. And believe you me that choices always have consequences. In the absolute worst case scenario, if ICUs get completely overrun, you could very well find yourself being triaged right out of the ICU to receive just standard hospital care, with perhaps in the end some palliative sedation to ease your passing while your wailing loved ones can’t even give you a last kiss. This is a nightmare scenario no doctor ever wants to see, but the unvaccinated seem to be doing everything in their power to make it happen. If you are one of them, then please reconsider. Get the vaccine. It’s safe, it’s extremely well tested, and it really works. It’s never too late to change your mind.

Food review: Fish taverna ‘Estiatorio o Tasos’ (‘Εστιατόριο ο Τάσος’)

Before returning to The Netherlands in the beginning of Oktober, we went on one final excursion to a popular little port-town in Greece called Galaxidi (‘Γαλαξίδι’ or alternatively ‘Γαλαξείδι’). And a friend who currently lives there had recommended a particular fish taverna (‘ψαροταβέρνα’) to try: ‘Estiatorio o Tasos’ (‘Εστιατόριο ο Τασος’; literally ‘Restaurant Tasos’). So we did. And this is my review of that establishment.

Restaurant Tasso in Galaxidi, Greece

It wasn’t busy when we arrived, but we did arrive a tad early for Greek standards and it definitely got busier later. During high-season I would advise arriving early to get a table, or perhaps make a reservation. Otherwise be prepared to wait a little.

I have seen at least two reviews on google mentioning that their meat dishes aren’t the best in town. Now I’m not going to outright say ‘don’t order meat’, but this is a seafood restaurant, located right next to the harbour. What do you expect? Going out of your way to visit a fish taverna in the port and then complaining about their meat dishes, is a lot like walking into a whiskey bar and complaining about their beer selection. We did not order any meat dishes, so I cannot comment on them, but I’m almost certain that they will be just decent at best, no more no less. The seafood, however, is something else!

Fresh ice for the ouzo

First thing we ordered was the horta (‘χόρτα’ literally ‘green stuff’). The patron felt obliged to warn us that this horta was a tad bitter, but I actually prefer it that way. It was still warm when it arrived (which is the way to serve it; in many tavernas it unfortunately arrives cold at your table) and had a light bitter taste to it. Very nice. I would say slightly above average.

Ouzo ‘d’Artemis’ blue — Good ouzo from Athens

We also ordered a little bottle of ouzo, and asked for something not too strong. The waitress suggested this brand of ouzo from Athens; d’Artemis Blue (see photo). The bottle was served together with the original glasses—which isn’t common practice in Greece—and it’s a nice touch that Belgian customers especially will surely appreciate. This ouzo was quite fragrant, full of aromatic volatiles from the aniseed, yet not overly sweet and not too ‘strong’ (which is exactly what we asked for). A good one for sure!

Below is a photographic overview of all the food we ordered; horta, fried squid, fried shrimp, fried fish, and fried octopus.

The fried squid was almost perfect, but we felt it was lacking is a bit of crunch in its crust. The fried shrimp were also very tasty, but didn’t really stand out: no better than you’ll typically find in many other fish tavernas. The fried fish however… WOW, just WOW! This blew our minds! You could literally taste the sea, and these were perfectly fried. Simply one of the best, freshest fish I’ve ever had. The grilled fresh octopus was the second favourite, very nicely grilled; good char, soft tender meat.

En plo‘ ouzo (‘εν πλω’), from Patra.

Half-way through this feast, we ordered a second bottle of ouzo; ‘en plo’ (‘εν πλω’) by the Camari distillery located in Patra. Again a mild variety, but a tad stronger and a bit more neutral than the d’Artemis. And also again, we got two new glasses to match the ouzo brand. This is not common at all, and I think it’s a very nice touch. But when it comes to the flavour, I think I preferred the d’Artemis more; that one is close to the top ten of best ouzakis I’ve had. But this is just my personal taste preference of course. Both ouzos are of excellent quality.

Chocolate tiramisu

We finished the meal with this complementary little sweet: chocolate tiramisu. Not a typical greek desert, but it was still nice and—considering how heavy tiramisu can be—surprisingly light.

The price was reasonable, about average for a decent fish taverna, certainly considering the enormous amount of food we had. We stayed a night in Galaxidi and departed the next day, but not before having a coffee at the establishment next to the taverna. While enjoying a nice ‘freddo cappucino’, we watched a small boat with a fisherman at the helm slowly pass by in front of us as it was leaving the harbour, probably on its way to catch more seafood for that evening’s menu. Straight from the sea onto your plate. I would definitely eat again at Restaurant Tasos in Galaxidi. Recommended.

“Achilleas” Fish Taverna (Ψαροταβέρνα Αχιλλέας)

My ex-girlfriend is Greek. Thankfully, we are still good friends. Over the past decade I have seen Greece in all four seasons, and I still frequently travel to Greece to stay with her and discover more of that beautiful country. One thing I quickly discovered, is that I really love fish tavernas.

But not all fish tavernas are created equal. No sir. All will serve fresh fish, of course. But it isn’t uncommon for some tavernas to have only have frozen squid and octopus on the menu, though many more will (additionally) offer the more expensive fresh cephalopods. And as anyone who knows anything about seafood will readily inform you; freshly caught is always superior.

This brings me to Achilleas Fish Taverna, on the island of Crete. Plenty of fresh seafood there. Located in Chania, about 15 minutes walking distance from the famous Venetian port, you’ll find that establishment on the corner of Monis Gonias and Akti Papanikoli, where you can sit on the terras outside for probably much of the year and have a nice view of Nea Chora beach and the sea. After a short wait for a table to become available, we sit down and order. We decide to have fava, cretan rusk with tomato and cretan cheese, little fried fish, grilled squid, and fried potatoes.

Heavenly fava (φάβα)! And you can add as much onion as you like.

Oddly for a fish taverna, one of the tastiest dishes was the fava. Without question one of the best I’ve ever had! Beautiful smooth rich creamy texture, served with a separate plate of fresh onion so you can add as much as you like. Exactly as it should be.

Grilled kalamari (καλαμάρι). So tasty, I forgot to take a photo before already having some. 😉

The fresh grilled squid (“καλαμάρι”) was simply delicious, and the marithaki (“μαριδάκι”)—little fish that are grilled or fried—was even better. You eat these tiny fish entirely in one bite: head, bones, and tail. Loved these! The only slight niggle I have is that they removed the heads, which I don’t understand. Maybe squeamish tourists complained too often? Weird, because you can still just decapitate the fish yourself if you don’t like the heads. But okay, it’s not a big deal.

Fresh fried fish, coated in flour, nice light crunch.

We also ordered fries (πατάτες) and a typical Cretan dish comprised of Cretan rusk called paximadi (“παξιμάδι”), tomato, olive oil, and a special kind of Cretan soft cheese called mizithra (“μυζήθρα”). Also very tasty.

Rusk, tomato, soft cheese.

And now for the really amazing stand-out feature of this taverna: the vast selection of ouzo they offer. Ouzo is a typical Greek drink, famously known for the so-called ouzo-effect wherein the anethole that is dissolved in the ethanol is forced out of solution by the addition of water (e.g. from the ice cubes), creating an emulsion that causes the light scattering effect that makes the drink appear milky white. More importantly, it is very tasty and one of the traditional accompaniments to mezethes (“μεζέδες“). It goes well with seafood.

Frantzeskos ouzo from the island Samos.

I have honestly never been to a taverna that had so many types of ouzo to choose from. There were something like 60 different brands and varieties from all over Greece! We complimented the owner on his splendid assortment, and then he proudly told us that several producers of ouzo (not big commercial ones, obviously) have come to his tavern and were pleasantly surprised to find that they were actually able to order their own ouzo. I can tell you that this is very special.

We selected two bottles of ouzo. The first bottle was from Frantzeskos, from Samos, and it is simply amazing! Soft, velvety, sweet, no harshness and wonderfully aromatic. One of the best ouzos I’ve ever had, no question.

Meze (“little bite”) on the house: thinly sliced pickled raw fish, with olive oil, a crack of pepper and a sprinkle of herbs.

The second bottle, Nisiotiko by Giokarini, was also from Samos. Still velvety but a tad harsher compared to Frantzeskos. Also plenty aromatic, but a bit less of that light creamy sweetness. Perhaps a bit ‘fresher’ and therefore arguably a slightly better match with seafood. Certainly still in my top ten, but I definitely liked the Frantzeskos better. We were also served a plate of fish meze with this bottle, compliments of the house, which is a very nice gesture.

Nisiotiko/Νησιώτικο ouzo, made by the Giokarini/Γιοκαρίνη distillery from the island Samos.

After dinner in Greece it is very typical for tavernas to offer a little desert, usually some slices of watermelon. But in Crete, you are usually served tsipouro instead—often distilled by the taverna’s owners themselves. We were served a pleasantly light chocolate cake instead, definitely for the best since we’d already drunk two bottles of ouzo.

A little complimentary sweet.

The unique ouzo selection and outstanding seafood make Achillea’s Fish Taverna the kind of place I would wholeheartedly recommend, and I will 100% visit it again when I return to Crete. Fresh seafood is always a little bit more expensive, but the prices here were absolutely reasonable—certainly for this quality. There was no table available when we arrived, also a sign that the food is going to be good. We had to wait a little, so it may be advisable to make a reservation. After dinner, it’s a good idea to go for a little walk along the promenade to digest the food a little. At the end you’ll find a little harbour, where it is quite possible you’ll see the fishing boat, like the one below, that was used to catch your dinner. How cool is that?

A typical Greek fishing boat.