Brownstone » Brownstone Institute Articles » Why the Pandemic-Industrial Complex Won’t Go Away

Why the Pandemic-Industrial Complex Won’t Go Away


According to the most reliable experts – those who have been correct in their interpretation of data throughout the Covid era, most prominently John Ioannidis of Stanford — the Covid pandemic is over.

Thus, Covid joins a long list of pathogens that coexist with humans and that we deal with in a focused and local manner, as necessary, if and when outbreaks occur. Like the flu. We do not test ourselves for these pathogens if we have no symptoms, we do not isolate people even if they do have symptoms, we do not expect the entire population to get vaccinated against these pathogens, and we do not obsessively track the rise and fall of cases in the population.

That’s where we should be with Covid right now. If the CDC announced tomorrow that the pandemic is over, here are some of the big changes we would see:

  • There would be no more testing of vast swaths of the population. The results of these tests, unless you are trying to limit the spread of the disease or locate areas of particularly high infection — are meaningless: even if everyone in the population tests positive, there is no action we need to take. Everyone will be exposed to the virus at some point, and most of us already have been. Most people will not experience severe symptoms or die.
  • There would be no more justification for any mask mandates anywhere – not on transportation, not in healthcare settings, not in schools. Individuals who feel more protected wearing a face covering could continue to do so, but nobody else would need to in relation to Covid. Ever. Remember: the justification for mask MANDATES is that when everyone wears masks it supposedly slows the spread of the disease. If we no longer care about how fast or slow or even if the disease is spreading, then mandates become meaningless. (This is not the same as saying masks work or don’t work, which is a different issue. Brownstone’s Masks section has important info on that subject.)
  • There would be no reason for vaccine mandates, passports, or continued arguments about vaccinating children or anyone else. People who want to vaccinate themselves or their children can do so, and anyone who doesn’t is not posing any risk to anyone else. 

Why, then, have all these things not happened already? Why, if the data and experts say the pandemic is over, does our behavior not reflect that reality? What’s stopping us in general, and public health authorities in particular, from finally putting an end to exhausting pandemic hysteria and reassuring everyone that we can move on? Who benefits from never-ending Covid?

The answer includes all the constituents of the pandemic-industrial complex: politicians, the public health bureaucracy, most of the media, the makers of masks, tests and vaccines, and a segment of the public whose own anxieties and obsessive virtue signaling map perfectly onto pandemic panic. 

We find ourselves in a state of crazy limbo: There is no more acute threat from Covid (as Fauci himself admitted), yet we cling to responses whose only justification was to address the acute threat of Covid. 

The reason, I would contend, is that the pandemic-industrial complex cannot and will not let go. If we leave the pandemic behind us, as it technically already is, then…:

…the politicians who have catered to their base by supporting the most draconian measures and demonizing anyone who questions them as science-denying baby killers, will have to find new reasons to portray their opponents as monsters. (Yes, I’m talking about you, so-called liberals. As a lifelong very left-leaning Democrat I am appalled by your shocking and ultimately disastrous pandemic groupthink.)

…the public health officials who have gained so much fame and adulation for finding ever more variants to track and reasons to remain vigilant will lose the spotlight and have to return to their anonymous and complicated day jobs in which they are supposed to address all aspects of what makes a population healthy. It’s so much easier to focus on just one disease! They will also have to face the public health catastrophes in terms of addiction, mental health, educational deficits, untreated conditions etc. that the all-encompassing, devastating war against Covid hath wrought.

…news outlets and online platforms will no longer be able to rivet audiences and target users with bleeding red maps, skyrocketing case counts, and doomsday predictions. The transition from Trump to Covid as a fool-proof attention-getter helped all media remain sensationally relevant. In fact, I would argue that for a large segment of the media, just as for the left-leaning parts of the country, fighting Covid almost seamlessly replaced fighting Trump, which is how the response to Covid became so hopelessly and destructively politicized. 

…the multi-billion-dollar markets for masks, tests, and vaccines will significantly shrink, leaving what I imagine will become vast stockpiles of useless medicine and equipment. Stock prices and investor returns in related companies and industries will probably fall.

…all the people, most of them in the so-called liberal coastal cities, such as Philadelphia where I live, who have spent two years wearing more masks, getting more vaccines, advocating for more school closures, and feeling infinitely superior to anyone who suggests these measures are ineffective or bad, will have to find a new cause to get super anxious and super angry about. 

That’s a lot of strong interests that need to be countered if we want to get back to normal. It’s a lot of pressure for public health leaders to go against if they want to come out with clear messaging about the end of the pandemic.

How do we lower that pressure from all the constituents of the pandemic-industrial complex so we can fully get ourselves back to some semblance of normalcy? I wish I knew.

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  • Debbie Lerman

    Debbie Lerman, 2023 Brownstone Fellow, has a degree in English from Harvard. She is a retired science writer and a practicing artist in Philadelphia, PA.

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