2455: Virus Consulting
Title text: All our teams make an effort to stay optimistic, but I will say that once our virus division saw the vaccine efficacy data, they started asking for payment up front.
This comic imagines a scenario where Ponytail works for a consulting firm, which offers advice about viruses, specifically COVID-19. Ponytail tells a panel of people (the government?), consisting of Hairbun, Cueball and Megan, that though they are worried about COVID-19 variants, the fact that the number of people vaccinated is increasing considerably is a good sign. Hairbun then accuses Ponytail's firm of simply "telling them what they want to hear", accusing her firm of giving them false hope to make them keep retaining her firm.
The punchline comes in the final panel where it turns out that Ponytail's colleague, Black Hat, is consulting a different set of clients, which are the viruses themselves. He presents the exact same graph to the viruses and gives them the opposite message: though COVID-19 variants seem to be exciting to them, vaccination numbers are terrible news to their propagation and survival. This repeats the idea of 2287: Pathogen Resistance where the pandemic is seen from the virus' perspective. As in that previous comic, it is the virus that is in a lot of trouble, which is another way of saying that humanity stands a good chance of surviving this situation. (That humanity will survive is also good for the virus, which needs living humans so that it can spread.) This is not the first time that Black Hat has given advice to natural disasters that can kill humans, see 1754: Tornado Safety Tips.
The fact that another member of Ponytail's firm is telling clients that they should be worried is what Ponytail refers to when claiming that her firm does not simply tell clients what they want to hear.
Secondarily, the comic is making fun of the perception that consulting firms will offer their services to whoever can pay, even if they are harmful to society, a perception with some basis in fact.
Around the time of the comic, several SARS-CoV-2 variants, commonly called "COVID variants", had been in the news. The SARS-CoV-2 virus had already been seen to have mutated into many different strains, some of which spread more easily among humans. It was still unknown whether the different variants have a greater individual fatality rate. The contemporary SARS-CoV-2 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna as well as the Regeneron therapeutic monoclonal antibodies all effectively protect against at least the New York (Lineage B.1.526), South African (Lineage B.1.351), and U.K. (Lineage B.1.1.7) variants according to two recent study preprints released April 22, 2021. Further research and peer review was ongoing.
Since the original date of this comic, the common practice changed from describing variants by geographic origins. Variants Of Concern and Variants Of Interest might indeed have arisen spontaneously in the place where their changes had first been detected in (or most directly traced back to), but there was no good reason to perpetuate a stigma upon any particular region. Instead, greek letter-names were applied to the major variations. (For the above noted versions "New York" became Iota, that South African version was identified as Beta, and U.K. (or "Kent") had been assigned as Alpha.) Not all lettered VOCs/VOIs became major players on the global stage, but by by November 2021, the 'alphabet' had reached Omicron (the fifteenth letter but the thirteenth actually used, having just skipped the letters "nu" and "xi" to avoid undesirable sound-alike associations) and, while there is still much to study, this seems to have the capability of greater transmissability and retransmissability (even in the vaccinated) but, initially at least, also lower illness/hospitality/mortality rate. All these factors have reinforced the potential for the Omicron variety to spread more easily in the human population, as more of an endemic than a pandemic, and thus also to dominate the field against its fellow viral variations.
(The "BA.2" sub-varient of Omicron has been seen to be again more dangerous and resistant to preventative/theraputic treatment than the prior Omicron but, as of April 2022, calls by some to give it a Virus Of Concern letter (probably "Pi") have not yet been acted upon.)
Possibly, with hindsight, this actually suggests that Black Hat's caution (and perhaps subsequent advice) has been taken on board by the respective clients. On the other hand, it could be equally true that humanity is just becoming more blasé, or just overly weary of repeating lockdowns/masks/etc, and is no longer fulfilling the original good practice. But all this is in the future, for the comic, and even this explanation doesn't yet know how how it will turn out.
Back in the original comic's time, the title text notes that the firm's "virus division" (the group advising the viruses themselves) has started to get worried that their jobs are becoming obsolete, due to vaccine efficacy. Thus, they are demanding to be paid "up front", before consulting/advising services have been rendered to their clients. Dependent upon the expectations of each party, payment can be asked for "up front", deferred for invoicing once services have been rendered, or a combination of the two. The weaker party to a contract may need to submit their transaction, or a guarantor, before the other spends too much effort in fulfilling their side of the contract.
- [Ponytail stands in front a chart, with a labeled graph with an upward-curving line at the top, and several box-and-whisker plots below, with unreadable text and labels. She is holding a pointer towards the plot while addressing a panel in front of her to the left. The panel is seated behind a desk and is composed of Hairbun, Cueball and Megan. Cueball has one arm on the desk.]
- Ponytail: Now, I know you're worried about the variants, but this graph should be encouraging.
- Ponytail: Your rollout is going well. The vaccines are good. They work.
- Label on graph: Vaccinations
- [Same setting in a narrower panel without the chart. Ponytail has the pointer to her side. Cueball has his arms under the desk as the other two.]
- Hairbun: You're just telling us what we want to hear.
- Ponytail: If you think that, you should see the reports from my colleagues who work for COVID.
- [Close-up of Ponytail in a very narrow panel.]
- Off-screen voice: They work for who??
- Ponytail: Our firm has lots of clients.
- [Black Hat stands in front of an identical chart as in panel one, and points to it with a pointer in the same way as Ponytail did. Only he is looking to the right at his clients. He is speaking to a panel of three large coronaviruses, two of which floats above the desk, the middle one is partly below the desk. Across the top frame of the panel there is a box with a caption:]
- Black Hat: Now, I know you're excited about the variants, but this graph should be terrifying.
- Black Hat: We're in real trouble here.
- Label on graph: Vaccinations
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