News reports continue to keep us up to date on the latest numbers of deaths related to Covid. The pandemic is long over so why are we still getting those reports? We did not get them when influenza was the seasonal bug that impacted so many, except for the required Public Health reports on the government website. The way in which Covid reports are portrayed seems to invoke a sense of concern as if the pandemic is still alive.
That Covid was deadly, particularly with seniors and persons living with immune compromises, is beyond dispute. It came as a surprise to North America although the virus was alive and active in China for at least 6 months prior to the declaration of the pandemic. Once China admitted that Covid was a large public health issue, then the politics of the international community and party politics in the US, and elsewhere, kicked in. Suddenly everyone was an expert on one side or another and those who dared to express views that even questioned the official public health doctrine were branded as strange, weird, extreme.
The theme of “follow the science” was consistently used in rebuttal to persons who had questions or suggestions for treatments. Yet having just emerged 6 months earlier in China, the real science seemingly was based on epidemiology and medical science that relates to all previous outbreaks. But this was a new one and we suddenly started to learn of the various labs around the world that have long been engaged in Gain of Function research. Did you know that term? In layman’s language, it is research that takes place in a number of labs around the world aimed at increasing the strength of viruses, ostensibly so that drug companies can develop vaccines that are effective in combatting viruses as they appear. Noble work, for sure, but risky.
In my lifetime, Covid was the worst such outbreak not solely because of the disease itself but the politics of it. That element began to turn my stomach early on. Unlike many previous outbreaks and because of the public panic that set in, governments were under enormous pressure to rush the drug companies to get vaccines to market in a timeframe that was miniscule compared to typical vaccine development. Indeed, there was, as has now been shown, insufficient time to enable serious study of possible side-effects and all the other factors related to vaccines.
Indeed, many pronouncements early in the pandemic by organizations that are supposed to present authoritative direction, later proved to be either wrong or exaggerated. Yet by then the public and media appeared panic stricken. And there was, because it was new, constantly changing direction on such things as masking, social distancing, segregation.
Other countries were not so given to masking and segregation as was Canada and some states, yet their results seemed to be better than others. But if you mentioned that during the pandemic, the labelling then came out.
The pandemic compromised many businesses and people’s livelihood, changed plans, and had a worldwide impact still not measured. There have been many positive impacts along with the negative. But drug companies and other manufacturers also made lots of money….lots! Billions!
Covid is not the first, nor will it be the last, outbreak or pandemic involving serious respiratory viruses. Check the history and see how many deadly viruses have come across the world with force in the last hundred years. In my career there have been a few.
I recall fairly early in my professional career that the influenza virus hit the population and doctors were encouraging everyone to get vaccinated; millions have gotten the flu vaccine every year since then, circa. 1975. The virus, over the years, has mutated and very often the vaccines have to get modified, but we still take them every year. And every year throughout my career of 50 years we have engaged in the campaigns to get people vaccinated; and in every year that I recall, always a significant core of persons, often workers in healthcare, not wanting to take the vaccine.
I recall vividly in Northern Ontario when the Medical Officer of Health was issuing serious warnings and threats of job loss to staff in long term care who “just did not feel comfortable taking the vaccine.” That was nearly 25 years ago.
The SARS outbreak in 2003, like Covid, originated in China and caused panic and major shutdown of a variety of services, modification in admissions to hospitals, masking, PPE, new levels of infection mitigation procedures. And as with stories associated with Covid, there were then strong allegations of critical information being withheld and guarded by the originating country.
In Canada, even in areas of the country thousands of miles away from the concentration of infection, hospitals and other services had to make rapid adjustments. As an outbreak, it tested health and long-term care systems in a manner similar to Covid. Many lessons were learned in the centers of population concentration; health professionals at that time learned a great deal.
But much of that information and the learning seems to have been lost in the 17 years that transpired from 2003 to the outbreak of Covid in March of 2020. Many of the professionals and public servants who were actively involved during the SARS outbreak have retired with knowledge transfer gaps, apparently.
In New Brunswick there was a very bad virus with all the symptoms of Covid that was alive and circulating, hitting many people in the fall of 2019. It was not called Covid but was referred to by physicians as “a very bad virus”. Treatment included bed rest, lots of fluids and hydration, puffers and nasal sprays with steroids “to prevent the bug from getting into the lungs and leading to pneumonia. Symptoms lasted 2-3 months for patients, such as me, who were afflicted! I had personal experience with it and was sick for 2 months with all the symptoms…never in hospital.
Add to the virus the unprecedented politics of the day throughout North America and beyond and we had a formula for untold confusion, enormous fear, distrust, anger. Suddenly people became suspicious of governments, politicians, public servants, their neighbors. It is a crazy thing that happens when people become fearful. The fear gives way to regimentation as government regulations, crafted by public health, threw us into a state of fear, restriction, race for sanitizer and masks, becoming suspicious of those who asked simple questions.
And who will ever forget ArriveCan? Not me!
Three years in, we are beginning to see that the crisis was compounded by actions based on forecasts of death and spread that were not entirely accurate; we heard much about “forecasting models” used by the World Health Organization, CDC and other leading groups, only to find that much of the original modelling was far from accurate.
I keep waiting for a truly objective assessment of the impact, the value and effectiveness of various interventions, official data on vaccine side effects, and more. That would make a great contribution but it would be, I think, difficult to find knowledgeable people to do the science who are not unduly influenced by ideology and interest groups. But we need it now so when the next virus hits the health and long-term care systems are well prepared, well trained, and well equipped.
Ken McGeorge,BS,DHA,CHE is a retired career health care CEO, part time consultant, and columnist with Brunswick News; he is the author of Health Care Reform in New Brunswick and may be reached at email@example.com or www.kenmcgeorge.com
Ken McGeorge, BS,DHA,CHE is a career health care executive based in Fredericton, NB, Canada.