Coronavirus Update 7/31/21

By Whitney Tilson

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Normally I wait to compile a bunch of interesting articles, data and exchanges with my readers before I send out another email, but having just come back from a 48-hour, 54-mile backcountry trek on/near the famed John Muir Trail in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains (I posted some pictures on Facebook here), I’m exhausted and don’t know when I’m going to have a couple of hours to send out my usual email, so I’ve decided to send this exchange with a reader as a stand-alone.

In it, I am unusually blunt and some will no doubt think that my approach is counterproductive, which I acknowledge is a possibility – but so be it…

As always, I am happy to hear contrary points of view, but I have no patience for hateful screeds – I instantly delete them and block the sender. If what I write makes your blood boil: a) you have only yourself to blame for signing up for this list – I didn’t force you!; and b) it will take you two seconds to unsubscribe – simply click this link to send a blank email to [email protected] and you’ll never hear from me again.

Best regards,


PS—Damn, I have to say that, as serious as this topic is, I had more fun writing this email than any I can recall in quite some time!

My reader wrote:

Hi again Whitney,

I love your passion about all this, but I have to share with you my experience as a person who has chosen not to get vaccinated. Please don't confuse me with an anti-vaxxer, there are more than 2 sides to this sordid experience...

I caught covid about 2 weeks ago, and had a couple of really bad days and a bit of a Covid hangover for the past week. My teenage kids also caught it around the same time and had very few symptoms, and then my fully vaccinated wife caught it despite quarantining, and had the worst symptoms of all of us. I am thankful that nobody got a severe version of it, and that we now have natural or God given immunity, but please help me understand how getting vaccinated is better than building natural immunity especially when vaccinated people can get as sick or sicker than the unvaccinated. 

With Gratitude,

Here was my reply:

Dear [],

Before I reply, I’m assuming you sent it to me in the spirit that, if we were sitting down together over a cup of coffee and I asked, “So, do you want me to politely blow smoke up your as** or do you want to know what I really think?”, you’d say the latter.

Assuming that’s the case, I have three thoughts:

1) Thanks for sharing your story – it’s always interesting to hear various peoples’ experiences. That said, I try to keep in mind that the plural of anecdote isn’t data. 

For example, one of my readers emailed me a few days ago saying that he didn’t believe the data I’d presented that 86% of Democrats but only 52% of Republicans had been vaccinated because three of his golfing buddies were Republicans and had been vaccinated. 

To your question: “how [is] getting vaccinated better than building natural immunity especially when vaccinated people can get as sick or sicker than the unvaccinated.”

The answer is that overwhelming evidence and data show that: a) your proposed strategy of “building natural immunity” would result in tens of millions of deaths worldwide, most completely needlessly now that we have vaccines; and b) notwithstanding your anecdote (consisting of a sample size of one family), vaccinated people are far less likely to get COVID and, if they do, are far less likely to be hospitalized or die from it. In fact, using last month’s U.S. COVID mortality data, unvaccinated people are 158 times more likely to die from it. 

To be clear, I am not claiming that getting vaccinated is 100% risk free. Quite a few people feel crappy for a day and a few have more serious side effects like blood clots. So why am I so adamant that the vast majority of people choosing not to get vaccinated are (to quote what I say to you below) “reckless, boneheaded and selfish”?

Here’s why: I would wager that the average person isn’t able to fully, rationally assess the difference between a 1-in-1,000 risk of catching COVID and suffering severe consequences (even death) vs. a 1-in-100,000 chance of suffering severe consequences (even death) from taking one of the COVID vaccines. 

Both are extremely unlikely, right? So best to stick with the “safe” option of doing nothing – what psychologists call “status quo bias.” 

But I trust you can see that, in truth, the vaccination option is 100 times better/safer! 

2) I hope you have a forgiving wife. My wife and I have been together for nearly 31 years and I’m happy to say that our relationship is as strong as it’s ever been and we love each other very much. So it would take a lot more than her doing what you did for me to even contemplate divorcing her. 

That said, I cannot think of anything she’s ever done that would trigger the anger with her that I would feel if she had done something as reckless, boneheaded and selfish as what you did, needlessly sickening not only me but (far worse) our children with a virus that could leave us with LIFELONG debilitating ailments. If you think I’m exaggerating, just Google “long COVID” and you’ll quickly learn that as many as 30% of COVID sufferers, even those who had few or no symptoms, are experiencing a range of serious problems, most commonly fatigue and “brain fog.” 

You see, that’s the thing about this virus – and your decision. It’s not just about you. When you chose not to get vaccinated, you endangered not only yourself, but everyone you came into contact with: family, friends, work colleagues, even strangers sitting at the next table in a restaurant.

This is why I feel strongly that most of those who choose not to get vaccinated (with the exception of, say, healthcare workers) should have the right to endanger themselves – but no-one else. In other words, they should be banned from any indoor contact with anyone: no going to an office, school, concerts, theaters, restaurants, or travel by air, train or bus. In short, if you want to be like you were a year ago, when there were no vaccines, then you have to behave like you did (or at least were supposed to!) a year ago…

3) I sincerely hope none of you suffer any long-term effects from catching the virus.

Best regards,


Whitney Tilson
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About Whitney Tilson

Prior to creating Empire Financial Research, Whitney Tilson founded and ran Kase Capital Management, which managed three value-oriented hedge funds and two mutual funds. Starting out of his bedroom with only $1 million, Tilson grew assets under management to more than $200 million.

Tilson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in government in 1989. After college, he helped Wendy Kopp launch Teach for America and then spent two years as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. He earned his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1994, where he graduated in the top 5% of his class and was named a Baker Scholar.

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