Round Two of The Great VIRAL Debate continues. Track this debate’s progress in our Coronavirus Debate Section. Dr Piers Robinson is our chair. Off-Guardian is your host. The proposition under debate is:
SARS-COV-2 merits suppression measures in order to combat the virus rather than the herd/community immunity approach
Dr Anderson, arguing for the proposition, responds to Denis Rancourt’s round two response from 22 Oct:
I want to make some points about ‘immunity’ before addressing the second response by Denis. The rejection of preventive health measures has drawn on simplistic ideas about immunity, such as that surviving a one-time contact with any new virus confers life-long immunity. But while some viruses can be controlled by natural immunity, others evade attempts at either Darwinian immunity or immunity by vaccine. Some like HIV/AIDS cause chronic persistent disease and in others, including COVID19, there is reinfection.
Immunity comes from two factors: developing specific antibodies to the virus and activating a general immune response. Yet after some months we know that COVID19 antibodies in heavily affected cities are only at about 10%, a long way from the necessary levels for ‘herd immunity’ with a highly infectious disease (Jones and Helmreich; Pitt; Woodley; Doshi).
To counter my advocacy of public health systems, Denis attacks ‘state medicine’, by which he lumps together socialized health systems (like that of Cuba and Syria) and Big Pharma-privatised systems (like that of the USA). He does not seem to notice the difference, saying
state medicine … in both socialist and neo-liberal systems … creates an unhealthy dependence, and a debilitating perception of one’s own body and place in the world.”
This is libertarian stuff loved by the Trumps and Boris Johnsons of the world. Denis criticizes ‘Big Pharma’ but sides with them in dismissing socialized medicine.
He then presents his own two-part theory. The first part claims that COVID19 is a typical winter ‘low- humidity’ respiratory disease; the second part is that the deaths “mostly occurred in elderly persons in care homes”, linked to the poor ventilation in those homes.
One obvious problem with this ‘low humidity’ disease theory is that five of the top ten countries reporting infections and deaths (India, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) have substantial tropical populations. On the ‘most deaths in aged care homes’ side, Fiore did report that “about half of Sweden’s 5,730 deaths occurred among those in elder care homes”. However the other half (almost 3,000) amounts to more than double the combined deaths in ALL the other Nordic countries (1,343); and Sweden’s institutional care rate is much higher than that of Brazil, Peru and India. I am afraid this is just another western, orientalist theory.
Denis refers to my citation of the IFR for a seasonal flu as about 0.1% as an “uninformed statement”, apparently miffed that I have not sufficiently addressed his theory about influenza and care homes. However we have both relied on much the same data. Denis cites Ioannidis to speak of “a typical death toll from seasonal influenza” of 290,000-650,000, and I cite Paget which gives the same data, which averages to about 400,000 flu deaths per year. Yet after 9 months of pandemic, and the various quarantine regimes, the reported COVID19 death toll of almost 1.2 million is three times that.
Denis says I rely on Verity et al, from 30 March, and that this is too old. In fact, in my opening statement I cite five sources: Verity et al; Basu; CDC; Bhattacharya; and Mallapaty. In my first response I point out that even the sources Denis relies on (Ioannidis and the CDC) give higher IFR estimates than Denis accepts. No need to repeat all that here.
Finally, responding to my citation of policy and practice in Syria, Denis suggests I am “significantly mistaken”. He refers to a Facebook article by Eva Bartlett (who blocks me on Facebook) in which she abuses me as “a deluded person living far removed from reality” and falsely asserts (without any reference) that I defend “brutal lockdowns”.
Readers of this debate might recall my opening statement which says it is important to distinguish principles of public and preventive health and to “not conflate [those] principles with particular political actions”. There have been all sorts of inappropriate and repressive responses; but we are discussing principles here.
Eva’s main argument is that Syrian policy re COVID19 was “nominal” and not strictly enforced. But examples of crowds can be found everywhere. She misleads people by suggesting that the Syrian government did not take the pandemic seriously, and that Syria’s early closure of the borders, the curfew, school closures and so on had little to do with the country’s low levels of infections. Syrian policy and practice is detailed in my June article, listed below. Denis should not have tried to prove a point simply by citing an unreferenced Facebook post.
Our participants’ Final Responses will be published next week (w/c 01 Nov).
Track this debate’s progress in our Coronavirus Debate Section
Anderson Tim (2020) ‘COVID-19: the Swedish Model’, American Herald Tribune, 4 October, online.
Anderson Tim (2020) ‘How Did Syria Control the Pandemic So Well?’, American Herald Tribune, 4 October, online.
Doshi, Peter (2020) ‘Covid-19: Do many people have pre-existing immunity?’, BMJ, 17 September, online.
Fiore, Kristina (2020) ‘How Did Sweden Flatten Its Curve Without a Lockdown?’, MedPage Today, 29 July, online.
Jones, David and Stefan Helmreich (2020) ‘A history of herd immunity’, The Lancet, 19 September, online.
Paget, James et al (2019) ‘Global mortality associated with seasonal influenza epidemics: New burden estimates and predictors from the GLaMOR Project’, J Glob Health. 2019 Dec; 9(2): 020421., online.
Pitt, Sarah (2020) ‘What will happen if we can’t produce a coronavirus vaccine? And is herd immunity the answer?’, The Conversation, 15 August, online.
Woodley, Matt (2020b) ‘More evidence suggests no long-term COVID-19 immunity’, News GP, 13 July, online.
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