By Kevin Roche
There are only two ways that this epidemic ends. One is by population immunity that makes transmission rare, and one is eradication of the virus. The latter is simply not going to happen. The former can be accomplished in two ways, or really, by a combination of both. One is natural immunity and the other is vaccine-aided immunity. Natural immunity is slowly occurring as people become infected and recover, but it is increasing far more slowly than it otherwise would in most countries because of extreme lockdowns. A vaccine that aids in creating immunity is a hope. (For all those who worry about the strength of the antibodies created by having the disease, note that a vaccine is very unlikely to prompt any stronger antibodies.) The reasons to be somewhat doubtful about that hope are: 1) there hasn’t been a coronavirus vaccine created in the past, but maybe there is more incentive this time; 2) many of the early vaccine candidates are not typical types of vaccines, so it is unknown how well they will work; 3) vaccines generally don’t work as well in the elderly, who are obviously the hardest hit in this epidemic; 4) because so few people actually get seriously ill and die, any serious safety concerns will make use of the vaccine seem dangerous in comparison to the lives it is actually saving; and 5) it would take at least a year to follow the normal vaccine development process and rushing that process increases the risks that the vaccine is ineffective or has serious adverse effects.
We seem to have a number of people who don’t understand these basic facts; who somehow believe that the lockdowns are making the virus go away and when they end, we will all be safe. Not only is the first part of that belief not accurate (the second part is already the case for most of us), the lockdowns are delaying the one thing that would make it safe, especially for the at-risk groups. The sheer stupidity of the lockdown strategy, given the bifurcated nature of this epidemic, is that the strategy is forcing both the epidemic course and the lockdowns to go on indefinitely. If you ease the lockdowns now, you will see greater transmission and infections. You might as well never have put them in place. Only a government employee with a guaranteed job or a rich person (yeah, I’m talking about you Bill Gates) could think indefinite lockdowns are a viable strategy. I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago titled “We Are Going to End Up Where We Should Have Started”. I still believe that. The smartest strategy is one that would have allowed a moderate pace of spread, building population immunity, while protecting at-risk groups. The biggest at-risk group, seniors in congregate living situations, is already isolated, so it shouldn’t be difficult to protect them. Almost a third of our population, people 24 and under, have essentially a zero risk, and they have the highest rate of contacts. That group is an enormous head start on population immunity. The remainder of the population is generally very low risk as well. It is not hard to imagine getting to the desired 60% or 70% (and as some research suggests, it may not need to be that high) of the population being immune with very low risk. Certainly a lot lower risk than the damage we are doing to people’s lives right now with lost jobs and deferred health care.
There is no question in my mind what the smarter strategy would be.