Building Immunity to Viral Pandemics

27 August 2020 — American Herald Tribune

We are facing two viral pandemics in 2020 which are oddly related yet profoundly different – the pandemic of a novel Coronavirus, and the extraordinarily contagious virus of disinformation, falsehoods, and bad science about that pandemic, itself being shared and spread in countries around the globe.

Such a metaphor may be misleading, but also instructive, and possibly leading us to solutions to both pandemics by thinking about them in a different way. Consider two examples; the “lock-down trap” and the “media echo-chamber”.

The lock-down trap is epitomised by the current situation in Melbourne, Australia, where the whole population of five million people is half way through a six-week long “stage 4” lock-down, with a night-time curfew policed by soldiers and enforced with severe on the spot fines. While the introduction of this lock-down might appear to have been justified by the “second wave” outbreak of infections, the origins of that outbreak in an escape from quarantine hotels means that the punishment for government incompetence is being served by the victims. Those victims also include the casualties of COVID, who are almost entirely in insufficiently protected aged care homes, of which an astonishing number were somehow infected.

There are few overt signs of revolt at this injustice, but the repressive conditions are creating a near-hysterical interest in vaccines – presented and seen as the only true way out of the domestic prison. To say this is being exploited by government and commercial interests might be going beyond the evidence, but the situation is certainly “exploitable”. While the media and the public are jumping the gun as even challenge trials are still some way off – at least in the candidate vaccines being considered here – discussion has already turned to the question of mandatory vaccination.

Enter the disinformation pandemic! Unlike the measures taken under state of emergency powers to arrest the progress of the Coronavirus epidemic, the epidemic of disinformation and false ideas going viral is mostly doing so at the hands of the credulous public, albeit echoing the “talking points” or “dog whistles” of health advisors and government ministers.

Rather like the man in “1984” denounced by his own daughter for “thought crime” but who didn’t know he was guilty of it – the “credulous” public truly believe the ideas they have been fed, as if they were their own. So many times people will say to me, as if they’d discovered some gem of knowledge the authorities were loath to admit to – “I heard that some people are suffering strange conditions long after they’ve had the infection, even though they had few symptoms at the time”.

What they didn’t hear, because the authorities really were loath to admit to it, was that “nearly all people” suffered only mild symptoms, with many not even knowing they had it, and henceforth becoming immune. Instead they heard, from various experts and advisors, that “COVID mightn’t produce immunity”, or “young people spread the disease even though they are asymptomatic”, along with many other myths and half-truths and downright lies, like those about Hydroxychloroquine.

And there are more to come, particularly on vaccines. To the Western world’s horror, Russia has developed a very promising vaccine quickly and without fuss, which is already in its final stages of approval and is expected to be both effective and safe. This is not just “Russian propaganda” – which only really exists in the minds of Western media and their captive audience these days. Russia has many of the world’s best scientists and a long history of relevant research, not compromised by excessive commercial interests. Russia’s vaccine is based on a simple formula which can be rapidly developed to suit new types and strains of virus, as described here in detail. As the article points out, the Western world simply doesn’t want to know about the excellent credentials of Russia’s vaccine or admit that it may be more promising than their own. And with the new resurgence of suspicions about things in vials coming from Russia following the “Navalnychok” stunt, we won’t be competing with the twenty countries who’ve already put in orders.

But there is some even more significant and striking news that is likely sending shivers through the boardrooms of favoured Western pharmaceutical companies – the apparent prospect of herd immunity amongst India’s 1.4 Billion people. In a discovery described as “shocking news” by our media, antibody testing in New Delhi had discovered that 29% of the population of 20 million appeared to have been infected with CV19, giving a total of around 6 million cases instead of the 150,000 odd positive test results for the city. Other cities in India showed similar levels of antibodies following a huge testing program of 220,000 people across the whole country.

Even more astonishing, and I would say exciting, was the discovery that in some poor slum areas of cities up to 57% of people tested positive for antibodies, which is approaching “herd immunity” levels. The implications of this were not discussed by the “shocked” reporter in New Delhi, beyond noting that the death toll from Coronavirus would be far lower in relation to infection rate than previously thought, but then concluding that many deaths must be going uncounted. That is possible, but there is another explanation which is more positive – that the widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, and in fact its recommendation by the chief health body in India, has resulted in a far lower death to infection ratio than in countries where it has not been used or has been banned.

The drug has been used for decades in India as a prophylactic against malaria, so is readily available and very well understood and accepted as one of the safest drugs in existence. Consequently its protective effect against infection with the novel Coronavirus was soon noticed, as well as its ability to lessen the depth and duration of infection. While HCQ’s lethal effect on the virus is now incontrovertibly established, a small but well-planned trial of its possible prophylactic effect provided a highly significant finding.

In a survey of 106 Indian health care workers over a fixed period beginning in March, of which half had been taking HCQ, it was observed that twenty developed the infection in the control group, while only four did so in those taking the HCQ prophylactic – representing an 80% cut in infection rate. This research has a special significance for the current outbreak in Melbourne for two reasons. As with so many countries around the world, healthcare workers have been disproportionately affected, and infected by the virus. This is put down to their greater exposure and also failure of protective equipment, both of which may be inevitable, but the invariable response makes the situation worse, often inducing a breakdown in the hospital system thanks to quarantining of infected staff as well as all their contacts.

In Melbourne this knee-jerk response of forcing all staff and contacts into quarantine led to a disaster in aged-care homes, where replacement staff failed to attend to residents’ needs or prevent the spread of infection, and mortality was likely far greater. As it was, infection appears to have initially spread to these centres through staff, who often work in several homes and through labour hire companies, and have not received proper instruction in infection control. They are however mostly conscientious and hard-working – and underpaid – so cannot take any of the blame.

The second point of significance of the Indian trial is that the high infection rate of health workers in Victoria could have been far lower had Hydroxychloroquine been taken prophylactically, and for those who became infected, would have reduced the time they were unable to work. It is more than ironic that while HCQ has been effectively banned in Australia, either by direct prohibition of use for CV19 or by a constant stream of negative comment from health authorities, researchers and media, there is still a trial ongoing in Melbourne of HCQ as a prophylactic treatment in health workers.

When this trial started back in June, I considered it just another attempt to show that HCQ was no use, because there was practically no Coronavirus infection persisting in Australia. Participants would take 200mgs a day or a placebo for four months, when it would be shown that HCQ had no useful effect as none of either group was likely to have been infected!

But how things have changed!  Now some 2700 healthcare workers have been infected in Victoria’s “second wave”, out of a total number of positive cases around 16,000. The “COVID Shield” trial at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute planned to recruit 2,200 health workers for their study, and unlike many HCQ trials that were abandoned following the fraudulent Lancet study and WHO’s temporary halt on research, the trial is continuing, and due to finish in September. Even at this late stage, an early examination of the results is clearly called for; given that the Indian study was published on June 22nd, one could argue that the failure to examine the early results was negligent, as chance would suggest that tens or hundreds of those involved in the trial would be working at infected sites in Melbourne and there would soon be a clear indication whether HCQ has a useful protective effect.

Demonstrating this prophylactic effect would have obliged authorities to recommend and make it available for all health workers, and ultimately saved many lives, particularly of those for whom normal hospital service has been suspended for months. It’s very hard to see a good reason why this shouldn’t have happened, though it’s too easy to see a bad one. It’s also worth noting (from personal communication) that the drug has been widely used by healthcare workers in South Africa, helping them to deal with the most serious epidemic of Coronavirus in Africa.

But as with signs of developing resistance and immunity, this cheap and effective drug cure is not in the interests of those who seem to be in control of both pandemics, whoever they are. By recruiting willing media to hide the elephant from view, and well-paid scientists to claim it doesn’t exist, their control has become totalitarian.


David lives in Australia, but grew up and graduated in the UK.

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