Confused malcontents swilling Chardonnay while awaiting the Zombie Apocalypse.
The dangers of a COVID ‘elimination’ policy - Dr John Lee, The Spectator, 22 September 2020
... Despite much current optimism, coronaviruses have staunchly resisted attempts at vaccine development before. Even if a reasonably effective vaccine is found, its benefits may well be short-lived — the mutability of the virus means COVID may mutate away from control.
So where does this comparison leave us with COVID? Recognition is difficult, isolation very difficult and comes at enormous societal cost. Which is why elimination is, almost certainly, impossible.
This means we must learn to live with COVID. ‘Defeat’ of the virus is a false and dangerous ambition. The very large proportion of the population for whom COVID represents a small new risk should allowed to get on with their lives normally. The proportion for whom COVID represents a larger risk should be presented with the information, encouraged to make their own risk assessments, and helped to take avoidance action (if that is what they wish to do: some may prefer to keep seeing and hugging their family and regard COVID as one of the many viruses that human-to-human contact can bring).
What’s more, once a nation decides to live with a virus, relatively asymptomatic spread of the virus among large sections of the population is a good thing because it speeds our progress towards collective immunity — which is where, irrespective of what governments do, we will end up in equilibrium with the virus. Through vaccination or infection, this is how viruses dwindle. The main differences between countries will be in the size of the own goals that their responses cause in the meantime.
Ironically, there’s a lesson here from the only other human viral disease that we have nearly ‘defeated’: polio. Polio has been knocked down by over 99 percent by a vaccine using a live, but weakened form of the virus. This is taken by mouth, replicates in the gut, and is excreted in the feces. In most parts of the world this means that the virus then spreads effectively in the community: so asymptomatic spread to those not formally given a dose of the vaccine has actually been essential to the success of the program.
The fatality rates from COVID do not bear comparison with great scourges of the past like smallpox and plague, so coercion in the name of ‘defeat’ for the virus is not justifiable, as well as not being realistic. An unrealistic ambition of ‘defeat’ for the virus might sound good in speeches, but it would be unachievable as a policy — and the pursuit of this policy, with the suppression measures it would bring, would cause harm. Our leaders should choose their words carefully, and their COVID policies more carefully still.