Regardless of how you feel about the threat posed by the new coronavirus, or the human response to it, these last 11 months have been an ordeal.
Barring the few who have benefited massively from the pandemic, nearly all the rest of us have been impacted negatively—sometimes catastrophically so. But there is always a silver lining somewhere. If we focus only on the negativity, we will pay an unnecessarily heavy price in anxiety, depression, apathy and disempowerment. So I want to touch on what I feel are some of the most important things we’ve learned about the world we are so drastically, and often unwittingly, reshaping.
One silver lining has been the belated but by now widespread recognition of the importance of nutrients, especially vitamin D, C and zinc, to impact infection severity. These micronutrients help provide the immune system with resources it needs to function competently. The ANH has launched campaigns around these nutrients, recommending evidence-based target levels much higher than those used by governments, which have failed, with very few exceptions, to acknowledge the preventative or therapeutic role of supplements.
Another observation that struck me as a scientist is the engagement of politicians in scientific decision-making. While scientists have been feeding huge amounts of information to governments and international organizations like the World Health Organization, it is politicians who have been making the decisions that affect our daily lives.
These circumstances have allowed for remarkable U-turns in policy on lockdowns and other restrictions. They’ve also resulted in the communication of much erroneous information to the public, such as telling people they should stay indoors, or justifying huge public spending programs for mass testing.
Right now, while scientists in the UK attempt to understand a new mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2, politicians are forced to give answers. Expect some to be wrong. In a world where distrust of big government and big corporations has reached an all-time high, this isn’t a good plan. Better to communicate truthfully about the uncertainty.
The reality is that all viruses mutate, and in RNA viruses like this, the mutations rarely change how the virus functions or how harmful it is. There may be impacts on vaccine effectiveness, given we know that some mutations can be resistant to neutralizing antibodies, but this is currently being widely denied (without supporting data) by vaccine makers.
All this deep uncertainty won’t be resolved until extensive molecular analyses are carried out, alongside studies of clinical data from different countries and regions. But while there is no evidence suggesting increased threat to public health, there is no justification to act as if there was. So, don’t shut the borders. Let nature do its thing.
The silver lining to all this could be that we learn just how much unnecessary damage can result from the misuse of molecular biology.
And what about the silver bullet? It is challenging to find any substantive evidence that the new generation of synthetic biology vaccines can rid the world of this virus. They depend on new manufacturing platforms that are untested at scale, and their effectiveness claims from phase three trials are based on very small groups, not reflective of the populations at most risk from the virus.
Vaccines for the two most closely related coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, caused excessively severe reactions or arrived too late. These viruses have managed to self-regulate with the human immune system so they’re still present but no longer a global threat. SARS-CoV-2 could similarly peter out.
I’d argue that for those of us who are healthy, we should stop either trying to fight with or hide from this virus. Nature will take its course and rebalance.
It turns out the patterns of mortality in Sweden and the UK over the last year have been remarkably similar despite dramatically different government responses.
Perhaps in time we’ll see that the inordinate efforts invested in trying to control the virus resulted in a vast waste of resources while undoing decades of societal efforts to narrow social and health inequalities.
Using lockdowns and social distancing to slow transmission of viruses might one day be thought of as akin to trying to herd cats.
We must be much more cognizant of whole systems—and therefore the risks and benefits to all parts of the human and nonhuman ecosystems we inhabit and share.
This is why we can no longer ignore the collateral damage caused by efforts such as lockdowns to delay transmission. We also need all available data—which is why the vaccine transparency initiative we’ve launched at the ANH is so crucial.
And we need to get real about the unlikelihood that there will ever be a single silver bullet for this virus, even one that comes in the form of a syringe, and appreciate that we probably cannot afford to repeat this exercise every time we encounter a new virus.
That’s why the ANH is working just as hard in 2021 to help bring more and more people on board with a vision and plan for humanity and health that works with, not against, nature.
Visit www.anhinternational.org to find out more about our campaigns.