Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Atlas Shrugged: The libertarian "herd immunity" hoax could kill millions – but whatever

By D-Jay
Herd immunity.  It’s the perfect Covid plan for Donald Trump.
It allows him to do absolutely nothing in the face of a devastating pandemic, but tell us it is actually his ingenious plan to get us through with minimum inconvenience or impact on the economy.
Trouble is, it’s nothing but nonsense.
DANGEROUS nonsense.
A few inconvenient facts:
⇾ Genuine epidemiologists agree that herd immunity requires some 60 – 80 percent of the population. For the U.S., that comes to about 200 – 265 million people.
⇾ According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the current U.S. death rate for Covid-19 is 2.7%.  Extrapolated to the required numbers, that would come to some 5.4 to 7.2 million deaths.  Even if that rate was to be somehow magically reduced to 0.5%, we’d still be looking at more than a million fatalities.

⇾ In the course of this, the U.S. health care system could easily collapse.  Even at our current infection levels, hospitals and medical service networks in badly hit areas are on the ropes.  Imagine how bad this could get if all the guard rails were removed.  Bear in mind that this is not just a matter of physical assets. With enough willpower and money, these can be replaced. Burned out, incapacitated, or dead doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other front-line workers aren’t so easy.
⇾ The tsunami of Covid cases would crowd out everything else from the health care system. Had a stroke or heart attack? Get in line for an ambulance or hospital bed. Early screening for cancer or other deadly conditions?  As they say in New York, Fugetaboutit!  

⇾ Early on, it looked like Covid-19 was either something that killed you or was no big deal in the end. If you were healthy and young, you might not even notice you had it. Even if you weren’t, you’d probably be fine if you didn’t die. We know now, however, that this was a huge misunderstanding of the disease. It can have a very wide variety of serious, long-term consequences short of death, and this applies to the young as well as the old.

⇾ It might not work! Donald might be loudly trumpeting his post-Covid immunity, but we don’t even know yet if the antibodies generated by the body after infection really prevent re-infection. And if they do, for how long? If any natural immunity obtained lasts less than a couple of years, we would need to lose more than a million people a year to maintain herd coverage under this system.

The experts recognize that, for all the reasons listed above, herd immunity is a reasonable, achievable goal only after we have an effective vaccine and at least 80 or 90 percent of the population have received it. Until then, it is an insane pipe dream. Insane and unnecessary. If everyone would just exercise some common sense – wear a mask at all times, keep proper social distance, avoid large gatherings and stay out of crowded bars – wholesale lockdowns wouldn’t be needed anyway. 
So where in the world is this craziness coming from?  Why is herd immunity even being talked about at this point as a potential anti-virus strategy?
More specifically, who is behind the so-called, “Great Barrington declaration” a recently issued petition of sorts that has been getting a lot of attention, especially on the right?
Did you really have to ask?
Scratch the surface and soon, very soon, you will find the usual libertarian-funded pseudo-science noise machine. 
Fortunately for us, three genuine experts in the field, Trish Greenhalgh - professor of primary care health sciences at Oxford University, Martin McKee - professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Michelle Kelly-Irving - a social epidemiologist working for the French institute of health research – Inserm – based at the Université Toulouse, have unpacked it for us in an excellent article in The Guardian entitled, “The pursuit of herd immunity is a folly – so who's funding this bad science?” 
The whole article is well worth a read, but to quote their key points:
The truth is that a strategy of pursuing “herd immunity” is nothing more than a fringe view. There is no real scientific divide over this approach, because there is no science to justify its usage in the case of Covid-19.
It’s time to stop asking the question “is this sound science?” We know it is not. Instead, we should be more curious about the political interests surrounding the declaration. Within hours of its launch, it had seeded political and ideological impact disproportionate with its scientific significance. The hashtag #signupstartliving began trending on social media. Its three signatories were later received by Alex Azar, the US secretary of health and human services, and by Scott Atlas, recently appointed as Donald Trump’s health adviser, who tweeted on 8 October that “top scientists all over the world are lining up with the @realDonaldTrump #Covid_19 policy”. And on a call convened by the White House, two senior officials in Trump’s administration cited the declaration.
Was this ever really about science? When scientists disagree, we expect them to provide evidence for their position. Yet the declaration’s many contentious statements are unreferenced – and the manner of its launch seems designed to amplify publicity over substance. If anything, the tactics employed in this performance have serious implications for the public’s trust in scientists.
It is already clear that the declaration is being used to legitimise a libertarian agenda. Indeed, some authors have questioned if it was ever anything about health, or whether its motivations were always purely economic; as the professor of political economy Richard Murphy put it, the declaration was “the economics of neoliberalism running riot … revealing in the process its utter indifference to the interests of anyone but those who can ‘add value’ within that system”.
So there it is. In place of any attempt at a rational public health policy, we have another crackpot idea being pushed by Trump and his cronies, led this time by Fox News alumnus libertarian radiologist Scott Atlas.
Surely he knows how much suffering and death would be caused by the policy he’s advocating. When confronted with the evidence, however, what happened? 
You guessed it…
Atlas shrugged.


Josh said...

The strange, upside down world, thing about American Christianity is that it is intensely Darwinistic-Lamarckian. In fact, the more fundamentalist Christianity is in the US, the more Darwinistic it is. The stronger a Christian denomination/sect/branch/cult denies evolutionary biology (think about the Jack Chick tract view of evolution v. creationism psuedoscience), the more Darwinistic it is. I would argue Dominionism, which is the type of Christianity promoted by the Chalcedon Foundation, is actually peak Darwinism (in that, it turns Darwinism into a dogma and religious cult). American Christianity seeks to replicate what Darwin called the eternal "War of Nature" (all beings pitted against one another in mortal combat and competition for mere survival/existence) into politics and policy. Their view is that society should reflect exactly the kill or be killed, might makes right, the strong do what they wish reality of nature (often using a jungle ecosystem as the example par excellence), while simultaneously denying natural sciences (such as evolutionary biology) in favor of the Hebrew creation fable. It's fascinating to me how Christianity co-opted every bit of Darwin, Lamarck and the like, but sought to move them from science into society.

Anonymous said...

@ D-Jay, very good post, though I have a comment regarding my take on the motivation of Trump, Atlas, et al.

@Josh, above, writes about the strange new Social Darwinism that the think tanks have cooked up. It’s their job to make bad ideas seem acceptable. And in this case, to make “nature red in tooth and claw” a perfectly fine development in our social world.

It seems to me that the Trump and his fascist backers prefer an approach that should really be called “Thinning the Herd.”

To the Libertarian, there is nothing more distasteful than worthless, aka not wealthy, people who rely on the government fulfilling its end of the social contract (it is commonly held by the Libertarian and others of the extremely wealthy that a person’s worth is determined by his or her financial net worth.)

One of the real problems with Charlie Koch, the AEI, etc, is that they are not stupid. They know what the baby boom population aging into Social Security and Medicare means. It means more money out of Charlie Koch’s pocket. And he, and his 01% friends, will do just about anything to put a stop to all that “wasteful government spending.”

So, by luck, from their point of view, the pandemic arrives, and it’s going to be a struggle to avoid the terrible consequences of the Thinning the Herd mindset that has so quickly become policy — even if only in part, so far.

Gus said...

Anonymous 1:43 AM. I think you hit the nail on the head. Most of the thinning of the population will be those over age 60 with pre-existing conditions (and many without those above age 70 or 80). So basically retirees, who I'm sure Libertarians consider to be past their use usefulness since they no longer work and produce wealth (for the most part). Of course, there are a number of elderly amount the 0.1%, but they can afford the kind of treatments Trump got from tax payer dollars, so they have a bit less worry than the average senior citizen. They want to thin a very specific part of the herd and Covid19 just happens to do just that. Who would have thought that conservative Christian types would embrace the law of the jungle so completely? I guess most of us on the left did.

margie said...

You could also add that the "worthless" hit hardest by Covid happen to be black and brown and BLUE. I really think that Trump changed course on how to deal with Covid once the reports came out about who and where the virus was effecting. I am a bit surprised that Trump hasn't said the quiet part out loud yet.

Anonymous said...

We have two weeks of growing Trump insanity to witness.

Who knows what the Orange Oaf will actually say out loud?