Saturday, February 26, 2022


One reason I have been suspicious of the idea that letting covid just ride and the population acclimating to a general immunity being the only real solution in the long run, is that I think people have not really thought through what "long run" means. It is true that our species coevolving with the virus species is the most reliable long-term immunity.  After all, the New World populations were devastated by Old world diseases because they were novel to them, while many of the Europeans survived each bout of hantavirus or smallpox that spread. Here's the problem: many of the Europeans survived.  Not all, even after thousands of years of (general) exposure to these diseases. 

I posted Tom Wessells recently talking about forests and trees, mostly. In this one he is talking about coevolution.  He has zero intent to say anything about covid - how could, he, as the video is from 2019? Yet in the context of talking about invasive species, including fungi and Eurasian bittersweet (which he correctly calls "the northern equivalent of kudzu") he mentions this very principle a few times, that even with a very destructive start, species eventually move to an equilibrium and become mutually tolerable, and then even mutually beneficial.  Great! Bring it on!

Except it takes a thousand years, minimum, and often even that is not enough (and he doesn't like the "short term" consequences of multiple centuries all that much, even when it is just plants). As in malaria. Or smallpox, eventually defeated by vaccination, not adaptation.

Humans aren't chestnuts or ants, no. But the principle is the same. It seems very tempting to say "Look, we just have to bite the bullet and get to the other side of this disease and we'll be fine. Ugly, but the only way."  It would be fine, if it was fairly brief and very few of us died getting there. Yet that is surpassingly unlikely.  It's an attractive myth. Boris toyed with it in Britain but was talked out of it.  The Swedes had an early go at it and then abandoned it.  It's not a crazy idea, because the principle underlying it is real.  It's just a wrong idea when you look at the details.

Well, the video is a good college level biology lesson anyway, even without application to human diseases.


james said...

There's also the "It'll kill some of us forever, just like cancer and traffic accidents, and the opportunity cost of focussing on this is getting too high" approach ... at least in theory--I've not read of anybody proposing this argument. (Am I the first? That'd be a scary responsibility.)

Or there's the "Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?" approach. That one actually seems fairly popular, if people's actions are any guide.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think I have heard variations of the former, though not stated quite that baldly. It is actually not a bad argument, as it does take in the costs of both approaches. It has a cruel and callous sound, but the reality is that all choices will have costs, it is best to admit them. While granting that a lot of the institutional response has focused much more on the "saving lives, reducing contagion" benefits rather than the economic costs - though even there, there has been a lot of focus on that, just not what critics would like - it is also so that the very unskeptical people calling themselves the skeptics have tried to dart down a variety of escape holes - that not many people are really dying, that they were almost dead anyway, that the vaccines don't work, etc.

That is, of course, what loud voices on the internet are saying, which may not be an accurate reflection of...well, of much of anything.