The Vaccine Part 2: The Two Battles of COVID-19.
The world has by under siege by a virus that is neither apocalyptic nor dismissible. It is somewhere in the middle. It’s not quite flu, but it’s not quite plague. It has spread on a massive scale. A scale larger than any of us have ever seen. There have been many deaths. For each death each of us can probably come up with a dozen or so people that were asymptomatic or developed some mild cold symptoms. It is fickle and unpredictable.
The first battle of COVID-19 is in the natural world. The virus is a natural enemy. When the virus began to spread the only defense against it was our immune system. An highly sophisticated system that has faced and defeated many threats, but not efficient enough to slow the pandemic. Scientists around the globe developed defenses against it. Repurposed medications, synthetic antibodies, and vaccines were successfully studied and deployed. The combination of our immune system and pharmaceutical innovation will ultimately end the natural battle, but the timing, and execution of this victory is highly dependent on the 2nd battle.
The second battle has been the battle of appropriate response. What should we do while we wait for a the resolution to the first battle? I have spent much time reading, writing, and discussing this pandemic. I have found two sides in the battle of response: 1) the Pragmatists and 2) the Sympathizers.
The Pragmatist are objective/analytical individuals. They are somewhat impervious to anecdotes and headlines. They agonize over percentages, graphs, and tables. They are less emotionally driven. Their decisions are based more on the aggregate than individuals. We all know this individual. When schools were closed this individual would bring up the harms of remote learning and leaving children unsupervised. When restaurants were closed, they discussed the economic impact of lost jobs. They probably wear a mask around their chin. Now, that the vaccine data is available, they argue the lack of need.
The sympathizer is much more subjective, more thoughtful. They feel the loss that others suffer. They argue for sacrifice to stop the pandemic. They believe, a death is a death no matter the circumstances, and every death or hospitalization from the pandemic is unacceptable. We all have come across these individuals. They share tragic stories on social media. They can recite case and death numbers from memory. They confront you if your mask is not on properly. They have an altruistic duty to get the vaccine.
If you haven't noticed, in general, I’m a pragmatist. Big shocker to many of you I’m sure.
This battle has been fought on several fronts. Lockdowns, school closing, masks, travel bans, number of people that can gather, having Grandma over for Thanksgiving, and now the vaccine. These battles of behavior have been contentious. However, to those that control the narrative and our country, the outcome in the battle of response has been decisive.
If you had spent much time with me over the past 8 months there are several things you may have heard me say. Most of the deaths are elderly individuals. In fact, over half the deaths are individuals over 80, and 90% are individuals over 55. The virus is not nearly as lethal as it appears, it is just on such a massive scale no one has ever seen before. Case numbers have been under reported so we are probably closer to a level of immunity that will reduce the need for a vaccine in some groups. Masks don’t make much of a difference because they aren’t worn properly at the time when transmission risk is highest. I’ve said lockdowns are dangerous. I even tweeted to let kids go to school and spread the virus. Keep the teachers protected, and let the kids have fun. The risk to a healthy child is near zero.
It’s not that I have no sympathy for those that have suffered due to COVID. I do. I simply try to weigh the two evils, the virus, and the response. My hope was to find balance.
I’m not the only one. There are many that share these same ideas. However, none of these arguments have really gained any traction. In fact, most have them have had terrible optics. Sweden, the poster child for herd immunity has been shamed on a global scale. They have retracted their strategy and adopted more conventional pandemic tempering strategies. Videos on social media of individuals throwing temper tantrums to put on masks spread virally. The argument of restricting individuals’ freedoms appeared selfish and petty to the other side. Data regarding the effectiveness of masks and school closings were highly publicized regardless of the underlying validity or true effectiveness. The argument that the economy will suffer mightily from the lockdown and our children will have to pay for the stimulus fell on deaf ears. When the White House, one of the most public entities in support of the economy, suffered from an outbreak the narrative quickly became about incompetence surrounding the greatest issue facing America. So, we elected a new President.
One interesting thing about data is that it has no emotion. Increasing death counts and cases were plastered all over the nighttime news in bright red letters. Comparison charts showing the US response compared to other countries could not be ignored. Images of ICU wards filled with patients on ventilators and family photos of fallen loved ones impacted our emotions far more than charts showing disproportionately affected demographic groups, and falling fatality rates. Data has no morality to it. It’s simply information. We apply the morality to it. The perspective. The emotion.
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu talks about the concept of “Harmony.” Harmony is the idea that a military’s actions must be in harmony with the citizens of the nation state. The people, soldiers, political officials, and officers must all agree that war is justified for the nation-state to win. Morality is subjective and varies from person to person, and situation to situation. Believing you stand on the moral high ground makes a difference. Standing in harmony on the “moral” high ground is almost unstoppable. Pragmatists could not harmonize or claim the high ground. Now, it’s clear, the pandemic needs to end. The inertia of the virus and the response is too much for any further discussion on balance.
So, the pragmatists lost. Not only did we lose. We got completely crushed. Now that the vaccine is here. It is time to concede. The concession offered should be getting the vaccine. I have had my opinions regarding the actions during this pandemic, but I firmly believe in prevention through vaccines. I’ve even received my first dose. If I didn’t believe it would protect me, I would still get the vaccine. Here’s why.
There are two reasons. First, it’s here, it’s safe, I might as well protect myself and my family. No sense taking the risk I could lose COVID roulette, even though my risk is very low. Second, it’s endgame for COVID. This is the most important thing for every pragmatist to understand, there is no way to end this pandemic, and our response to it, without the vaccine. There is no argument you can make that will slow the inertia of this event. No statistic you can present that will swing the momentum back towards your line of reasoning and unwind the world we live in today. If you hold out, it will just drag on month after month.
You can huff and puff, and kick and scream as much as you want but it won’t matter. The vaccine is the only way to return to a semblance of life prior to March 2020. To go to work with a cough and not be allowed to return until you are tested. To walk around without a mask. To send your child to school with a runny nose and anxiously await a phone call from the nurse to come pick her up and quarantine for 10 days. It is the only way to end the battle on all fronts. So, my advice is to suck up your pride and go get it.
One thing I’ve learned about being pragmatic is that it’s a cold place. It's sterile. It’s a lifeless algorithm, or a robot’s CPU. There’s a part of my intellect that enjoys that place, but it is disconnected from emotion. Like many of you, I hope I have grown this year. I’ve learned so much about myself, about statistics, data, and research due to COVID. So far, I know there is one simple lesson COVID has taught me. Data and statistics don’t have a pulse. And people want to feel that they have a pulse.