There is something sick and macabre about the widespread belief in this country that people must be sacrificed in order to provide a quick fix to the COVID-19 pandemic. I guess it is just part and parcel of the country’s remarkable tolerance for unnecessary deaths despite all our rhetoric about “the sanctity of life”.
It’s not like we don’t know how to control this pandemic and mitigate the deaths associated with it. It admittedly creates hardship but is also easily done. It takes a few weeks of lockdown combined with extensive testing, contact tracing, and isolating, as South Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Germany have all clearly illustrated. But somehow this country seems to believe that process is both impossible and intolerable. So, instead we end up with quick-fix solutions that get even more people killed. It’s why we have the President hyping hydroxychloroquine which not only killed one man in Arizona but also led the VA to test the unproven treatment on veterans, resulting in a death toll two and a half times higher than standard treatment. It’s why we have a doctor in Texas deciding to do what he calls an “observational study” at nursing home by prescribing hydroxychloroquine apparently without the patients’ consent. It’s why we have the President musing about injecting bleach into our bodies or radiating ourselves with UV light, resulting in hundreds of calls to state poison control centers across the country.
Incredibly, there is now a bipartisan effort in Congress to get the FDA to allow so-called “challenge trials” where healthy people would be purposely infected with the virus in order to test the efficacy of potential vaccines. One infected group would get the test vaccine while the control group would simply be given a placebo and no additional treatment. The ethical considerations of such trials are dubious, considering there is no known cure for the virus and the long-term effects of the virus are unknown but worrying, with reports of significant damage to other internal organs beyond the lungs. In a normal vaccine trial, volunteers would be given the vaccine and then would have to wait and see if they became infected in the normal course of their lives.
Proponents of the challenge trials claim that it will shorten the time to develop a viable vaccine by months. At least 3,300 people have already signed up for these challenge trials and you have to give them credit for being willing to put their lives on the line for the benefit of others. But right now the issue is moot because we are months or more away from any vaccine that is in the stage of development where challenge trials will benefit. The push for challenge trials right now seems like another misguided attempt at a quick fix, increasing the likelihood of more irresponsible testing like we saw with hydroxychloroquine.
Even as Trump touts the most insane quick fixes in his increasing desperation about his chances in November, his current plan, with the complicity of red state governors, is to simply let hundreds of thousands more get infected and tens of thousands of more die in order to hopefully get a strong enough recovery from “re-opening” the economy to get him re-elected in the fall. As David Frum notes, “What the Trump administration plainly yearns to do — and ditto FL, GA, TN, and other GOP governors — is to reopen, let the disease rip, take casualties, hope for rapid onset of sufficient immunity. Trump and his governors are working to ensure there won’t be any other choice…Trump will distract from his ‘take the punch’ policy by touting miracle cures. But the real plan is a desperate gamble on early reopening and faster immunity to re-elect Trump without the major medical effort this administration lacks the capacity and competence to lead”.
Beside the heartlessness of such an approach, one of the bigger problems may be the fact there is no guarantee of immunity. The WHO recently warned that there is no evidence that patients who have recovered from the COVID-19 infection are immune from a second infection. In fact, cases in South Korea and China, as well as low levels of antibodies in some recovered patients, indicate that there may be little resistance to renewed infection.
It seems incredible that the largest economy in the world can not do the basic but admittedly difficult work to control this virus. Instead, we find our leaders touting quick fixes that will lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths. But I guess we should not find that surprising for a country that has one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed countries and allows gun violence to kill as many Americans each year as the entire Korean War.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on April 26, 2020.