Covid – 19 - America’s Coming Biostorm

After all those scientific papers on transmission models, infection rates and social distancing we now discover the plan for ending the US lockdown fits neatly on two pieces of cardboard. ‘My body, my choice.’ reads one ‘Give me liberty, or give me Covid-19.’ states the other. Perhaps more important than what is written on these two placards is that the people holding them are both supporters of, and supported by, the most powerful person in the western world. So, are we about to see the US public, tiring of life in lockdown, embark on a dangerous experiment in crowdsourced herd immunity?

The Herd Mentality

The theory goes that if enough people in a community have gained immunity after being infected with a virus the lack of vulnerable new hosts will bring the epidemic to an end. As, in many cases, Covid-19 is asymptomatic it is difficult to determine the number of people who have been infected. The most optimistic figure is 50%, a claim made in a paper, not peer reviewed or supported by tests, by Oxford University. In Germany, where testing has been rigorous, it was found 15% of those living in one badly effected town were found to be carrying Covid-19 antibodies. It therefore seems unlikely that anywhere has the 66% infection rate, needed to provide the human herd with immunity, been achieved. It is also apparent that even quite low infection rates can put a tremendous strain on local healthcare services. In that case why would anyone be desperate enough to encourage the spread of Covid-19?

You Do The Math(s)

Aged over sixty-five you find yourself confined to your house because if you contract Covid-19 there is 5% chance you will die. You are part of that curve the government is trying to flatten. In the end you still die, but at a time which is more convenient to the health service. In fact, if no vaccine is available by the time you reach your seventies the chances of dying from Covid-19 more than double and becomes a near certainty if you are living in care home. If you are gambling person, the incentive to contract Covid-19 earlier rather than later increases the younger you are. Many aged under sixty resent the fact that they are giving up their freedom, and sometimes their jobs, to protect an older generation already regarded and privileged and hoarders of the nation’s wealth. They are impatient for a vaccine, but in its absence see genetic testing, which will indicate if a person has had Covid-19, and immunity passports as offering freedom and a return to something resembling normality. Politicians refer to genetic testing as a ‘game changer’ - but it may change the game in a way no one expects.

Come Friendly Virus’s and Rain Down on Michigan

Anyone who grew up in the days before the MMR vaccine will remember measles parties. The last thing a parent wanted was for their child to contract measles at the beginning of the school holidays and ruin that long planned trip to Majorca. If you contracted the virus mid-way through school term it was amazing how many sleepover invites you received. And the death rate for measles, for anyone aged under 15, was 0.2% - for Covid-19 it is almost zero. Even so currently Covid-19 parties are impractical because for younger people the disease is often asymptomatic, unlike measles you do not end up covered in spots. But with the launch of genetic home testing kits comes a potential tipping point in the spread of Covid-19. Young and old alike would be able to rebalance the risk and reward, gain and pain of Covid-19 infection which, thanks to lockdown, is not evenly spread over the generations.

While for an individual young person the risk of infection proving fatal is relatively low for the US healthcare system, with over 3% of the country’s 200 million people of working age in critical care, the epidemic would prove fatal. Some US states could expect the sort of Covid-19 meltdown currently experienced by Brazil. With the US public having forced their hand, scientists would have no option but to use the live Covid-19 virus as a vaccine, hoping it could be administered in a small enough dose to cause only the mildest form of the disease. With such a program in place it might also be possible to create herd immunity using only the fittest two thirds of the population and shielding those for whom any Covid-19 infection would prove fatal. (Ironically many of those protesting in Michigan had Body Mass Indexes which would make any contact with a Covid-19 carrier potentially fatal.) This sounds a though we have entered intravenous disinfectant territory, but bear with this because, to some extent, we are already part way into the world of unconventional science.

A Vaccine – But Not As We Know It

Perhaps there is no need to panic because human trials of vaccines have already started. (Rather than describe in detail the work carried out to date here is Laura Spinney’s article in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper)

If we are lucky, very soon someone will produce an inactivated vaccine - much like the annual flu shot. This as the name suggests would have few, if any, side effects. It could also be given to people with compromised immune systems who suffer the severest effects of Covid-19. Unfortunately, inactivated vaccines could be over a year away, and given Covid-19 is a novel form of coronavirus, may not work.

Much closer are live-attenuated vaccines, like the one developed for measles. These contain a live virus modified to appear similar enough to Covid-19 to encourage the immune system to create antibodies to fight off a genuine infection. Usually great care is taken when creating a live vaccine to guard against bringing into the world a virus even more dangerous than the one it is hoped to destroy. One reason why a cloud hangs over Wuhan Institute of Virology, which, like virology labs around the world, was engaged in just such research. Given time is of the essence researchers are skipping animal testing and going straight to human trials, good news for Rhesus Monkeys, but like much else with Covid-19 ‘unprecedented.’ If the first attempt at fooling the immune system into creating antibodies to fight Covid-19 fails, the next step is to create a more convincing imitation of the virus. Gradually the researcher inches towards becoming the host on one of those Covid-19 infection parties.

No Politician In Their Right Mind Would Let This Happen

The National Health Service has not only risen to the challenge of treating thousands of people with Covid-19 it has also become something of a religion giving a common cause for an otherwise diverse and secular Britain. Following his return from the dead Boris Johnson has projected himself as the NHS’s new Messiah, insisting we endure all manner of hardship to protect this iconic organisation. The US healthcare services is despised almost as much as the NHS is worshipped and instead Americans are forced to find common cause in a flag, the right to bear arms and the pursuit of the dollar. The US lockdown endures through a fear of the unknown, according to a poll by the New York Post, a majority of Americans do not want their confinement to end - until a test for the Covid-19 virus is available. This proviso is important, as once everyone has access to genetic testing the public’s mood will change.

We shouldn’t let ourselves be fooled by the amateurish appearance of those cardboard placards, nor the apparent spontaneity of the demonstrations across six US states. ‘Give me liberty or give me Covid-19’ is a message carefully crafted by a movement financed by businessmen whose profits have been severely dented by the lockdown. There are companies which will no longer be viable if consumers socially distance. There are industrialists who will always put the economy ahead of lives, and a president who will use legislation to send meat packers back to work, despite the risk of infection. All offer encouragement to that small group of activists prepared, willingly or unwittingly, to infect themselves and set off a second wave of infections which will bounce the US out of lockdown. Their actions will leave scientists with little choice but to abandon containment in favour of managed herd immunity. It is clear this group of activists has the backing of Donald Trump, whose presidency is at risk should the US economy has not recovered by the end of the year.

The Last Restraints

WHO (The World Health Authority) perhaps anticipating the dangerous path the US may be about to take, warns it is not guaranteed recovered Covid-19 victims retain antibodies long enough to make herd immunity work. Unfortunately, in the eyes of Donald Trump’s supporters, the WHO’s authority has been undermined by constant criticism.

Where the US goes the UK, and the rest of the world, will be compelled to follow. Already Britain’s business leaders and members of the Conservative Party have suggested lockdowns and social distancing are more disruptive, and may even cause more deaths, than the pandemic they are designed to contain. There is a suspicion that within SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) the body advising the government on Covid-19, are individuals still wedded to herd immunity as a strategy.

For those who insist on drawing parallels between the current battle against Covid-19 and past military conflicts, it is worth pointing out herd immunity is not a strategy. It is a tactic, a desperate one at that. The closest military equivalent is scorched earth; creating a wasteland in which an enemy can no longer operate. Germany employed this tactic during its retreat from the Soviet Union and by April 1945 the German army was destroying towns in Germany itself.