For COVID ground truth, hours of research and calls to experts offer a window on what we know.
For a moment, put aside common suspicions – that panic justifies overregulation, science is bowing to politics.
If we just look at facts, the window gets clearer – and more complex.
Military analogies fit well.
First, policy lags the battlefield – it can be wrong, subject to rapid changes. COVID policies were set and reset without data – because it was thin. A humanly engineered coronavirus hit the world by surprise. Attributes were poorly understood.
Policy jumped back and forth, as now.
This is no defense of CDC or Mr. Fauci (who has shaded the truth too often), just a fact, when the disease appeared innocuous, no masks.
When transmission accelerated, co-morbidities, crowded hospitals, then mask and distancing mandates proliferated. Policy lags data.
Second, overreactions proliferated, and may again, as in war. Fearful and presumptuous governors imposed untested infringements on civil liberties, backpedaled, now test restrictions tied to the “delta variant.”
Fear produces poor decision-making, frustration, reversals, and angst.
Third, collateral damage was high. Damage done by shutting down schools, businesses, throwing people out of work, creating thousands of bankruptcies, pushing massive fiscal recovery dollars, and the federal debt has been extraordinary.
New numbers show 91,000 drug overdoses last year, most by kids, up 30 percent – horrifying.
Suicides were up. Unemployment hit records, along with business bankruptcies.
Overcompensation with free federal dollars slowed recovery, shrunk the labor market. Fresh federal debt pushes inflation, even as supply chains struggle to recover.
So, collateral damage from ill-informed, untimely, poorly targeted state and federal policies continue to hobble our country, arguing for more thoughtful approaches in the future.
Fourth, partisan politics undermined trust in science. To date, the COVID era teaches us that when political leaders use science to advance partisan politics, everything goes south. Trust in the White House, Congress, CDC, FDA, and federal government plummet.
Even now, the Biden White House and governors push vaccines not fully approved by FDA, just under emergency waivers. Meantime, they put political pressure on FDA, creating new doubt. Full FDA approval might open the door to legal mandates for all schools, workplaces, public venues, just as vaccines were mandated in the – considerably more serious – polio epidemic.
What else do we know?
Several important things.
Senior researchers are afraid of losing NIH grant money, so stay quiet. But some doctors are speaking. One noted FDA should not be politically pressured since that undermines public trust, can compromise research, potentially creating more harm to the public – asserting safety without proof. Masks may be harmless, but vaccines have consequences.
On the other hand, action may trump delay, with vaccine imperfections minor, wider coverage opening schools, businesses, and the economy, reducing collateral damage. Balance is needed.
By whom? Individuals and families, suggests one senior doctor.
As policies flip-flop, common sense is important. Subgroups may be at risk. Which groups? Well, he offers: What do we know about the effect on pregnant mothers, potential birth defects, long term effects on smaller children? Not much. Why?
You cannot change the speed of time; laws of physics, chemistry, and biology define when vaccines warrant full approval.
So, does that mean smaller children could face greater risk from this vaccine than the “delta” variant? Not necessarily, but we do not know. What do we know? Generally, America’s emergency vaccines are almost 94 percent effective against the original COVID strain, 88 percent against “delta.” Less than one percent of Americans have contracted the lambda variant.
Generally, variants or mutations are less virulent, less dangerous. On the other hand, they transmit faster, making contraction easier, prevention important. Kids are easy spreaders, always getting sick and getting well, but spreading their colds and other viruses.
Examples? Yes, he summons a “real-life” example. Triaging patients last month in an ER, he diagnosed 20 “delta variant” cases, 18 under the age of 18, one three months old.
When I gasp, he calms me. They will likely all be fine, recovery fully.
So, the paradox – faster transmission of the variant, including among and from children, but less chance of serious impact.
So, what should that mean for schools, businesses, the economy? He demurs not a policymaker – but points out how policy lags battlefield knowledge, overreactions are common, collateral damage is often serious, and partisanship screws up science and public trust. Good points.
He reminds me, too, critics are a funny lot. They use hindsight as if it were foresight. The “delta variant” may have come and gone by the time policies settle. On the other hand, history is a good guide. Shutting down schools, businesses, and our economy – never mind reseeding doubt in the electoral processes – seems unwise, is probably unnecessary.
Better might be leaving big decisions to families, letting variants run their course, which happened in the 1950s with Asian flu, 1960s with Hong Kong flu. Better might now be letting families decide whether vaccines fit them or do not.
Better might be understanding life involves some risk, judgment, prudence, precaution, and indulging liberty to keep it. Looking for ground truth, that sounded like it to me. If we look at facts, the window gets clearer – even if sometimes complex.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.