Politically driven science at the CDC and other government health agencies was not limited to mask studies. Risks of severe or long COVID and benefits of COVID vaccines in children and healthy adults were also greatly exaggerated. Worst of all, basic tenets of immunology (e.g. infection-acquired immunity) were denied. Immunologists were expected to go along with it. Many did.
All one had to do was believe the illusion. Because of the absolute terror of the unknown and complete ignorance of the risks of severe disease and death, most people were more than willing to take comfort in CDC recommendations and subsequent government mandates without the slightest hint of skepticism or protest.
With two years of overreaction to and media obsession with the myriad of ways that COVID-19 can kill or permanently disable people, there’s reason to believe a major subset of the population that was faithfully adherent to public health edicts about non-pharmaceutical interventions will remain mentally scarred.
We can see the long arm of history reaching from the times of the Black Death to modern epidemics, where coercion and state control are accepted by a terrified public and conveniently deemed by a power-hungry elite to be the only acceptable way to combat natural disasters, even at the risk of tremendous and unnecessary collateral damage.
With two full years of hindsight, it’s clear that lockdowns were a disaster and that mandated measures caused more harm than benefit, yet this has not prevented leaders from declaring victory, crediting their own brave and resolute leadership for saving millions of lives and routing the viral enemy. However, SARS-CoV-2 isn’t a real enemy—it doesn’t have an intention other than to exist and spread, and it won’t agree to an armistice. Instead, we will have to live with the virus forever in an endemic state, and skip the victory parades.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that living in the modern world has left most people, including journalists, politicians, physicians, and even many scientists, with little or no appreciation of how important their relationship with microbes is to their overall health. Not just bacteria and fungi, but also viruses, too.
Shutting down everything couldn’t last indefinitely, and people couldn’t avoid being in personal proximity indefinitely without serious consequences. The virus was going to spread no matter what we did. With too much separation and fear of one another, we would cease to function as a community and couldn’t help others.
In our current safety culture-driven pandemic response, any risk of infection is deemed unacceptable, and those who highlight potential costs of mitigation measures are labeled irresponsible and dangerous. However, safety worship and building engineers might override old-fashioned common sense, but they can’t override our own biology.
One of the most fascinating battles between opposing views about variolation occurred during the New England smallpox epidemic of 1721. When a ship brought smallpox to Boston, authorities responded by ordering a cleaning of the streets and isolation of cases. It did not work.
Both immunity to vaccination and infection protect against severe disease, but the scope of immunity that develops after infection is broader, generally more durable, and more specific to lung reinfection. Stronger immunity derived from infection comes with increased risk of severe disease and a higher incidence of long-term effects, especially in older people and those with comorbidities.