Transcending Covid Tribalism: Will the Best Science Please Stand Up?

Over the past two years, COVID policy was based on “The Science.” Good science is certainly the right basis for pandemic mitigation. However, inexplicably, COVID policies were modeled largely after early 20th century approaches, theory, and case law. In both government decision-making and scientific publication, COVID data was too often interpreted through the lens of the 1905 case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the 1918 response to the Spanish Flu, and the germ theory of disease. 

For two years the phrase “follow the science” was instrumentalized by all political sides to further their agendas. Most recently “the science has changed” was spoken by health authorities to justify dropping mask mandates. As we slowly step away from two years of worldwide instability, the question is: Has public health science really changed? Has the theory used by public health scientists really evolved past an early 20th century theoretical framework of pandemic mitigation? Or is the world still a century behind in theories of human disease? 

Unlike physicists, medical scientists don’t glorify theory. In fact, they deny it is even there. But like subconscious urges, medical theory has a way of driving medical decisions from a subterranean part of the medical mind. In that light, what really drove the lockdowns and draconian mandates? It was the more than century-old germ theory—the simplistic view that disease automatically ensues when a virus enters any human body. Immunology was in its infancy in the early 20th century, and was an outgrowth of the germ theory. 

A peek back at UK Imperial College modeler Neil M. Ferguson et al’s original publication in March 2020, which forecasted a worldwide plague of COVID-19 is instructive. Although they wrote “whilst our understanding of infectious diseases and their prevention is now very different compared to in 1918,” they ignored over a century of accrued knowledge to apply a 1918 version of the original germ theory in their model. No natural “innate” immune responses were included, although every other coronavirus known was easily resisted by most healthy individuals. In effect, billions of taxpayer dollars for NIAID/NIH research from 1918-2020 was wasted. The knowledge gained of inter-individual differences in susceptibility to viruses was simply ignored. 

Although Harvard professor Nancy Krieger’s ecosocial model had already highlighted that, due to systemic inequities older African Americans and American Indian populations are often most vulnerable to viruses, they were given no special protection during lockdowns. Many could not afford to stay home during lockdowns and were, paradoxically, preferentially exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the workplace. 

Did it make sense to base pandemic mitigation on the notion that viruses spread indiscriminately from person to person without differential host resistance—as if human beings are biological dominoes? Or is it time to consider each person’s physical and social environment such as pollution, poverty, hopelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, malnutrition, isolation, a breakdown of morale, seasonal depression, or the myriad of other factors well known to weaken antiviral immunity? 

How do we allow science and scientists to evolve past an archaic theoretical model which—in force since 2020—has caused a breakdown in the principles that have shaped Western democracy and civilization? How do we create science that acknowledges whole human beings and their medical, psychological, and social problems in ways that are precise without being invasive or harmful?

From the laboratory to the human experience

Is it possible that health bureaucrats have had no ill intent in imposing global lockdowns, but that their thinking is clouded by the germ theory? Medical science is still mostly stuck in the laboratory. You can grow bacteria and viruses in cell cultures and animals, and germ theory allows you to imagine that’s all that matters. Seen in this light, the institution of public health denied human nature, and people’s primordial needs for two years in favor of experimental laboratory-driven science. Bureaucrats denied the psychological and emotional human element, and the simplest most important fact of human survival: People need each other to thrive, especially during a health crisis.

The rolling lockdowns, isolation, social distancing, masks, coerced medical procedures, hospitals denying life-saving emotional support from the families of ICU patients, the extreme control of the minutiae of people’s lives, down to the direction in which they walked in grocery stores or how they breathed, closed international borders, all of these unprecedented experimental measures aggravated the global health crisis. They paradoxically weakened people’s immunity and overall mental and physical health. They were implemented without due process when better disease models were available.

The attempts at the “zero COVID” strategy was not sustainable. It did not consider the science of natural immunity, the risk for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death by age group, or the need for focused protection of at-risk populations.

The obsession to vaccinate everyone in the richest countries in the world—regardless of age, medical need, the patient’s right to informed consent or informed refusal, and benefit to risk factors—was detrimental to vaccination campaigns in poverty-stricken countries with vaccine shortages. As stated by professors Martin Kulldorff (Harvard) and Jayanta Bhattacharya (Stanford):

In most countries, older high-risk people have not yet been vaccinated. With a global vaccine shortage, every dose given to a low-risk young adult in the United States means one fewer dose available for high-risk older people in Brazil, Congo, India or Mexico. When American universities and companies mandate vaccinations, they are not only failing the young in this country, they are also indirectly responsible for the death of older people in the developing world. (The Hill, June 17, 2021)

Considering the irrational response to COVID-19, there is a need for new general theories of disease that go beyond the germ theory. There is a need for a more general theory that explains individual susceptibility, immunity, chronic disease etiology, physical and social environment, and that considers every person’s individual life circumstances and needs.

Medical science must be redefined to include every person’s physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual reality, and individuality. It must be spearheaded by a case-by-case model that reflects the universal truth that humans are born free, and that respects each person’s dignity, individuality, and unique set of needs.

From a code of ethics to a new theoretical framework

Following WWII, the Nuremberg Code was created in 1947 in response to the atrocities perpetrated by the Third Reich. The Nuremberg Code was never meant to be a static moment in time, only applicable to that particular age of suffering. It was meant to serve as an ethical basis to secure every individual’s personhood and unfettered right to informed consent or informed refusal without coercion, where medical and scientific procedures are involved.

Dr. Evelyne Shuster (Ph.D.) calls the code “the most important document in the history of the ethics of medical research”. From the uncoerced and voluntary clear and informed consent of the human subject, to the scientist’s ethical duty to terminate any experiment at any stage if it becomes detrimental to the subjected person, the ten elements of the code were meant to set the highest standard for humane and ethical medical science where humans are involved.

In the second half of the 20th century, the atrocities of WWII and the ensuing  Nuremberg Code influenced America’s civic and collective consciousness. Each person had the responsibility of self-reliance, and the right to assess his own risk tolerance. People had the right to make their own medical decisions based on their own personal circumstances and needs—even during a pandemic. Dr. Donald Henderson, the man who led the effort to eradicate smallpox, seemed to understand the fundamental importance of medical codes of ethics in their relationship to a person’s right to free will. 

In 2006, while the ideas of mass quarantines and lockdowns were gaining momentum in the United States, after more than 50 years of expertise in the field, Dr. Henderson et al wrote “Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza,” which appeared in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science. Drawing from their collective experience and from the lack of real scientific evidence supporting the contrary, they concluded that:

Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.

So where did public health as an institution go wrong? Why was a century of scientific research ignored in favor of the most extreme and inhumane measures? Why was every element of the Nuremberg Code completely disregarded in the Age of Coronavirus, for a solution that was globally so much worse than the problem itself?

By any scientific measure the response to COVID-19 has been unreasonable, and its catastrophic impact is already being forgotten. Within the first few months of the closures and lockdowns, the women’s workforce in the United States and around the world was decimated. Tens of millions fell into unemployment and poverty. Children were the greatest victims of COVID policy with an entire generation having to deal with lack of education, illiteracy, and lack of socialization for two years.

Early childhood developmental issues erupted after children were kept out of school entirely, or forced to mask and learn from masked, expressionless faces for two years. There was a dramatic increase in child and adolescent suicide. There was a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression, with women and children disproportionately affected. Millions developed life-threatening health conditions from sedentary isolation, and from skipping routine medical check-ups for fear of going to hospitals and clinics during a pandemic.

The lockdowns gutted the bit of healthcare access that rural communities had. People living in poverty were the hardest hit—not only by the disease itself but by the discrimination and bigotry created by the QR-code society. People who are deaf and who rely on lip-reading to communicate were forced to live in a world of abject silence for two years.

Some of the most stable democracies in the world are now shadows of their former selves, governed by politicians who have endowed themselves with—and enjoy— quasi limitless emergency powers since 2020. A new caste system has emerged where humans are divided not only into the “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated” but horrifyingly as the “essentials” and “nonessentials.”

While fear of death by COVID has governed everybody’s lives since 2020, nearly 6 million children under age five are still dying every year of preventable diseases. And according to the World Health Organization the world’s biggest killer is still “ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16 percent of the world’s total deaths.”

It is clear that the global answer to COVID was the wrong answer all along. The impact of the restrictions and mandates has been devastating on all fronts. It is apparent that the answer to a more humane iteration of public health science is to create a new theoretical and legal framework. It has never been more important to redefine science in its relationship to medical codes of ethics, to human beings, to their personhood, to their free will, and to each of their personal realities and real-world experiences.

Medical codes of ethics created in isolation from real biomedical knowledge constitutes ethics in vacuo. COVID policies are problematic because they were imposed, unscientific, irrational, harmful, and counterproductive. Biomedical ethics as currently practiced imposes judgmental criteria in complete absence of biomedical realities. It is not coincidental that theory—which is codified knowledge—is not recognized as an important branch of biomedical science.

In his example, Dr. Henderson was certainly aware that the human side of the microbe-host relationship matters in ways that must be considered in mitigation. He mentions minimizing anxiety and maintaining social stability. However, he never took the next step and incorporated those factors in a more general model of disease.

There is a real question whether a body of fact and risk calculations is truly a science at all without a general theory of human health and disease. “The Science” which public health advocate and biostatistician Irwin Bross called “Official Science” or national government doctrine and scientific dogma, is a major hurdle to overcome in the road to revitalizing scientific theory and knowledge. We must move past “The Science” to create new and innovative models for disease mitigation keeping the whole human being in mind.

As the world exits the chaos of the past two years, it is time to take that next step. It is time to rethink public health science as a tool that serves human beings. It is time to move beyond the quaint but utterly outmoded germ theory to a theoretical framework of disease that faces our real 21st century realities. This may help us to avoid falling into the infernal trap of turning human beings into servants of unethical science. It is time to step away from the dark age of official “Science” and let science evolve alongside a more enlightened—and free—humanity.

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