Welcome to Closing Statements of The Great VIRAL Debate. 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, closes his argument:
Returning to the question I repeat: COVID19 was a serious public health threat which required a social response. A Darwinian style ‘herd immunity’ response, where the old and ill (the main victims of this particular virus) were simply left to die, would have been monstrous and deeply unethical.
The prospects for any widespread ‘natural’ immunity to COVID are receding. A British study found that between 20 June and 28 September the numbers of those antibody positive fell from “almost 6% to 4.4%” (Alford). Antibody levels even in the hardest hit cities have rarely exceeded 10%, far too low to contain a highly infectious virus. Britain and Sweden are not far apart. Sweden’s public health authority admitted in September that, by mid-June, less than 12% of Stockholm residents, and only 6% to 8% of the Swedish population, had COVID antibodies (Vogel).
Our understanding of any new virus should be informed by collective medical science, not just cherry picked sources. This is not the same as social or political argument; there are valuable broad agreements in medical science, because it is far more demonstrable than social science. In my opening I gave five sources for estimated IFRs (Infection fatality rate) for COVDI9 (most between 0.5% and 1%). Denis challenged one of these and misquoted his own sources (Ioannidis and the CDC) as I noted earlier. The CDC accepts an IFR of 0.65%, 6 to 7 times that of the seasonal flu. And now we also have the ‘long COVID’ illnesses, especially amongst public health workers.
We also see nearly 1.2 million reported COVID19 deaths, after nine months of pandemic. Paget demonstrated an average global seasonal flu death toll of about 400,000 per year, over the past decade. We already have three times that and, after 12 months, we will likely have four times that, even with preventive measures. Globally, reported deaths remain constant at about 5,000 per day.
The good news is that, in many countries which have faced epidemics for many months, the proportion of those dying has fallen considerably. This seems mainly due to (i) improved treatment of what multiple studies now show to be as much a vascular as a respiratory disease (Kavanagh), and (ii) very high levels of testing, showing many asymptomatic cases in younger people but also lower death rates amongst older people (Dorling; Hendrie; Oke, Howdon and Heneghan).
Those denying the seriousness of this disease have been left behind in social debate. How can deniers credibly engage with these questions, when their starting point (often unchanged since March 2020) was that there was no real public health threat?
- How can we meet the demands of students for a safe return to classes?
- How and when can quarantine measures be safely rolled back?
- How can we support ‘long COVID’ sufferers including the public health workers?
Denis can present his idiosyncratic theories that the problem was (i) a seasonal winter flu in cold countries, or that (ii) the deaths were mostly to do with the poor ventilation in aged care facilities. But in my view he will miss the real challenges.
The same applies to those who have been swept up in the baseless anti-vaccine scare campaigns, endangering the lives of children (e.g.) over the measles vaccine. International travel now requires COVID tests and soon that will include COVID vaccination. They demanded the same of us with smallpox vaccine in the 60s and 70s and they will do it again with COVID, with reason.
I repeat my initial point, we should first address the in-principle matters of public and preventive health, before moving to engage with particular political stupidities. I have harshly criticised the use of police in the second wave quarantine regime imposed in my home town Melbourne, but I accept that some sort of quarantine was needed. ‘Lockdown vs no lockdown’ was always a childish comparator – it led people to obsess over symptoms and not causes and encouraged them to ignore questions of ‘when, how and by whom’. I say the roots of the current crisis should be looked for in the failures of public health systems.
Finally, whatever anyone thinks about our debate, we have left a record of our sources which honest and curious people can use to check the facts for themselves.
Click HERE to read Dr Rancourt’s Final Statement.
Track this debate’s progress in our Coronavirus Debate Section
Alford, Justine (2020) ‘Coronavirus antibody prevalence falling in England, REACT study shows’, Imperial College, 27 October, online.
Anderson, Tim (2020) ‘COVID-19: the Swedish Model’, American Herald Tribune, 4 October, online.
Dorling, Danny (2020) ‘Coronavirus: why aren’t death rates rising with case numbers?’. The Conversation, 10 September, online.
Hendrie, Doug (2020) ‘Are COVID death rates really falling globally?’, NewsGP, 11 September, online.
Kavanagh, Kevin (2020) ‘Is COVID-19 Primarily a Heart and Vascular Disease?’, ICT, 9 September, online.
Oke, Jason; Daniel Howdon and Carl Heneghan (2020) ‘Declining COVID-19 Case Fatality Rates across all ages: analysis of German data’, CEBM, 9 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.
Vogel, Gretchen (2020) ‘‘It’s been so, so surreal.’ Critics of Sweden’s lax pandemic policies face fierce backlash’, Science, 6 October, online.