As COVID continues to mutate faster than we can combat it; as its ability to evade immunity continues to improve; and as infections and re-infections damage our immune systems; public health has done nothing but issue confusing messages. Although many in public health and medicine dismiss COVID infections as inevitable and even beneficial, a growing body of science shows that their thinking is dangerously erroneous.
It’s a Race
Omicron and its variants are getting better at evading human immunity, whether that immunity was induced by infection or by vaccines. Furthermore, the new variants are more transmissible than past versions of the COVID-19 virus. The new variants are now doubling every 12 to 14 days. That means that the variants are faster than any technology that we have for creating vaccines or boosters. The virus is winning the race.
The Transmissibility of BA.5
Viruses are not alive and have no intelligence. The power of evolution drives their existence. Once a virus enters a host human being, it makes millions of copies of itself using the host’s cells. As it is being copied, random copy errors often occur. If these random errors give the virus an advantage (e.g., an increase in transmissibility), then the virus typically dominates others in the same viral family. This is what is happening today with the Omicron sub-variant, BA.5.
In public health, we measure how contagious a disease is by its reproduction number (R0). This is the average number of people an initial case infects in a population with no immunity (from vaccines or previous infection). The lower the number, the better.
Let’s compare the transmissibility of influenza to COVID-19 and some of its variants:
- Influenza: RO = 1.5
- COVID-19 (the original Wuhan strain): R0 = 3.3
- Delta variant: R0 = 5.1
- Omicron BA.1 variant: R0 = 9.5
- Omicron BA.2 subvariant: R0 = 13.3
- BA.4/5 subvariants: RO = approximately 18.6. If this is true, then BA.4/5 is one of the most transmissible viruses that humankind has ever seen! This value is based on a pre-print study from South Africa that suggests BA.4/5 has features that make it highly transmissible.
The Summer and Fall of Infection and Re-Infection
I know more people today who have COVID or repeat infections of COVID than at any time in the history of this pandemic. You? Therefore, I believe that the summer and fall of 2022 will go down in history as the great period of “infection and re-infection.”
The high rate of new infections and re-infections is occurring because this is an entirely new pandemic featuring a totally different virus. The original vaccines and boosters were not designed to combat BA.4/5. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the original vaccines continues to wane. Thus, it is now possible to be reinfected with a different version of COVID every month!
Although the new mutants do not seem to be more lethal than “older versions,” they are infecting more people. Therefore, these new variants can cause more fatalities than would a variant that made people sicker but was less contagious.
The Costs of More Infections
More infections mean more variants in the future. You should expect them and prepare accordingly. More infections also increase the potential damage from COVID, which can be significant: immune dysregulation, blood clots, nerve cell death, inflammation, lung damage, kidney failure, cardiac damage, brain damage, and even death for more than one million Americans.
More infections also increase the likelihood of more “long COVID.” Recent research by the CDC in Atlanta indicates that nearly 1 in 5 American adults who had COVID-19 suffer from long-haul symptoms (i.e., long COVID).
Recent Research Findings Regarding Repeated Infections
A recent U.S. Veterans Affairs study involved five million people and looked at health outcomes after a first, second and third infection in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. What do you think the researchers found?
What they found what not reassuring. Every COVID infection increased the risk for bad outcomes in a graded fashion (i.e., for every infection, risks got worse). For example, a second infection doubled the risk for death, blood clots and lung damage. It also increased the risk of hospitalization by three times. These are not trivial numbers.
Recent research also shows that each reinfection does not provide you with an immunity advantage like it did early in the pandemic. For example, an infection this summer will not protect you against an infection this fall or winter. In contrast, each time you are infected, your immune system is damaged, regardless of how mild the symptoms. Research indicates that the damage appears to be cumulative.
A past infection by a previous variant also seems to attenuate rather than strengthen immune protection – even among those with three vaccinations. Put simply, those who have had COVID several times before seem to be at greater risk of getting COVID again. Further, each COVID infection depletes T-cells in the immune system, destabilizes immune function, and causes cumulative damage to the immune system. These are all reasons why it is important to avoid a COVID-19 infection – not only for yourself but for those around you who are at risk of serious outcomes.
The Strange Response from Public Health
As COVID continues to mutate faster than we can combat it; as its ability to evade artificial and natural immunity continues to grow; and as infections and re-infections cumulatively damage our immune systems; one would think that public health experts would be telling the American public about these risks with clear messages and would be informing us how to reduce our risks.
Instead, it appears that those in charge of the US public health response are overwhelmed or incompetent or perhaps, both. In my view, the American public has been abandoned – left alone – to figure things out for themselves. The messages from public health have been very confusing at best!
Although many public health officials and physicians dismiss COVID infections as inevitable and even beneficial, a growing body of science shows this position is dangerously erroneous. COVID-19 infections are not inevitable, and they are not beneficial!
Today, there is no coherent response (perhaps there never was) to reduce viral transmission that includes wearing high quality face masks, physical distancing, increasing air ventilation and filtration, and avoiding the sharing of air with strangers in enclosed spaces. Moreover, in the U.S., testing, tracing, reporting, and quarantine have all been reduced.
Furthermore, with the popularity, increased availability and use of home testing, our public health system has no clue how many people are positive. We are flying blind. Case counts mean nothing. Whatever number you see, you can be assured that it is much, much higher.
Reduction of Infections is the Only Logical Strategy
Reduction of infections and elimination of COVID in the population is the only long-term, grass roots strategy that makes any sense. It is also imminently doable with adequate testing, wearing respiratory protection, tracing, supported sick leave, and having targeted goals for reducing transmission. Whether or not the American public will cooperate is an entirely different question.
Currently, public health officials, government leaders, physicians, and school administrators are creating or condoning policies that allow the variants to burn through the population. Yet these leaders do absolutely nothing to put out the fire.
In my view, such leaders are guilty of malpractice. Such policies not only cause immense suffering but also erode trust and credibility in public health, medicine, government, and schools.
The Current Destination of Public Policy
In my opinion, the variants are just getting warmed up. Considering waning immunity, many people’s failure to further practice mitigation efforts, and their willingness to pretend like the pandemic is over, I project that more variants will arise. It is very possible that these new yet unknown variants will be even more infectious and harmful than the current one.
The sad part about this entire situation is that we allowed it to happen. It happened because Americans today have short attention spans, are selfish, are weak, lack the grit and perseverance of our ancestors, and wanted the pandemic to be over. We allowed this to happen by not taking the measures needed to go to zero. That means we failed to do whatever was needed to eliminate COVID-19 in our city, county, state, and country. We pretended that we could live with this virus and that vaccines would save the day.
We were wrong. Dead wrong. Over 1 million times and still counting, wrong.
Our current public policies means that living with the virus will normalize infections, reinfections, 400 to 500 dead Americans every day, damaged immune systems, long COVID, disrupted supply chains, and fewer public health/health care providers because of exhaustion, harassment, threats, or worse.
What does the future hold? No one knows. The only thing that I know for sure is that this virus is not done with us.