Infecting Ourselves: Slouching Towards Variolation
If the Covid vaccines are safe, why won’t anyone take financial responsibility for any of the few
and minor problems they (almost certainly won’t) cause? Heck, Hunter Biden could step up
and promise to give one of his $500,000 paintings to any American injured by any of the
vaccines subsidized by American taxpayers. (The very “interesting” paintings must only take
him a few minutes to make, so surely it would be no burden.)
I’m like many other Americans and people around the world, generally preferring the
broad, effective, and safe immunities that come from natural exposure to electing to get the jab.
This is not due to ignorance but the opposite. I’ve read the literature. Until I know my family
will be safe if a vax, by some miraculous piece of bad luck, kills or maims me, I just do not want
to risk taking one, especially knowing what I know about the nation’s weak any occ disability program.
But, some friends claim, the government will soon force me to submit to the shots. If it comes to that,
I am going to insist that the government execute me … with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes
Covid-19. Yes, my plea will be disingenuous because the virus in any reasonable dose
is highly unlikely to harm even a pudgy 50-something man in good health. But the broader point is
that I still believe that the proper course of action in March 2020 would have been to continue living
a normal life, just as we did with past pandemics, allowing the vulnerable (we know who they are)
to avoid exposure while the rest of society functions as normal.
De facto, and depending on how much and to what extent people even became aware of the
presence of a new virus, this could have even included a voluntary variolation strategy,,
i.e., to expose ourselves via living a normal life, that is in order to stimulate a natural immune
response. It is based on the long-settled principle that the best path toward avoiding the
most severe effects of pathogens is permitting the immune system to learn from the mild ones.
These days, given the widespread disappointment upon the discovery that the vaccines are not
the magic cure they were advertised to be – they mitigate against severe outcomes but don’t
provide universal protection against infection – we are starting to see some admissions that
conscious exposure may become our best bet once again. The fact that the vaccines are not
quite as effective as advertised can be discussed openly in public, apparently, under the
code word “booster.”
But don’t take my word for the potential power of variolation. Last October, in the august
New England Journal of Medicine, Drs Monica Gandhi and George W. Rutherford argued
that the value of masking was not to prevent the spread of the virus but to mitigate its effects.
“Universal masking,” they noted in their Op-ed, “could become a form of ‘variolation’ that would
generate immunity.” The doctors point out that the fact that some people show severe symptoms while
others remain asymptomatic is probably due to the extent of their exposure. The bigger the dose of
the nasties one receives, the more likely one is to end up in hospital or, alas, the morgue.
It isn’t clear to me, however, why so much has to be left to chance by being exposed to the
virus randomly, in the wilds of our social lives. Even with a mask, we know, one might get a massive
hit that leads to complications, or a small hit that leads to mild symptoms and more community
spread. Why not instead deliberately infect people with small amounts of the live virus and quarantine
them for x days afterwards until they can no longer infect others? After all, this is precisely what
old-fashioned inoculation achieved with so many other pathogens. In the early stages of such a
program, volunteers could be carefully studied, with variations in outcomes linked to
variations in their DNA, infection and immunization histories, vitamin levels, and so forth,
and the dosages tweaked accordingly for later waves of volunteers.
So much time and money has been expended since the “novel Coronavirus” emerged that
scientists already could have engaged in reverse “gain of function” (loss of function?) research,
creating variants less deadly and less transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 but still capable
of helping people to develop natural immunities against the “deadly” Delta and other variants.
(I assume they are called the awful Alpha, bad Beta, ghoulish Gamma, etc.)
One would think there would be a huge market for live vaccines which, after all, would be
inexpensive, all-natural, organic, and non-GMO (well, the recipient would no longer be a GMO).
Instead, both the Trump and Biden administrations put all of the nation’s Covid eggs in the mRNA
“vaccine” basket, a basket that, despite its cost, apparently needs boosting.
Keep in mind that I am not your doctor so I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t take the current
“vaccines.” You should discuss personal health matters with your physician(s) and decide what to put
into your body, or not, on the basis of that discussion, not what some also-not-your-doctor says on
TV or online, even if they are presented as wearing a proverbial white lab coat.
I am also not a scientist per se, “just” a lowly historian of science, somebody conversant with some of
humanity’s past medical successes and their far more frequent blunders. The former typically
occurred when information about diseases and their treatment flowed freely, data could be trusted to
be as accurate as technologically possible, and hypotheses could be openly proffered and tested.
Epic failures tend to occur when and where dismisinfoganda reigns, as during the Covid pandemic and early cholera outbreaks.
While it is silly to say that X person, behavior, or network kills people when actually it is the virus that
does so, politicians and bureaucrats need to be held to account for lying, even if the lie was allegedly
well-intentioned, because the cost of the falsehood is high in terms of public trust. That point was well
understood at least by the 1850s, when a character from the play “Serious Family” named Abinadab
Sleek became a household term for pious hypocrisy, as in “you saw that old canting Abinadab Sleek was up to every dodge and vice, although he did seem such a sanctified fellow individual in public.”
Sound at all familiar?
The recent Covid case data tussle between the CDC and Florida’s health department would make old Mr. Sleek proud because it undermines the mission of both institutions while continuing to distract from the real question of how best to help people avoid bad Covid outcomes, even if that means allowing them to opt into infecting themselves, in a medically-controlled manner, with a virus that cannot be avoided forever.
We seem to be gradually coming around to the idea of endemicity – the realization that this pathogen is here to stay and we must adapt to it the same as we have to millions of others that present themselves in the course of regular life over millions of years. We vaccinate when possible, especially for the stable viruses, but for others, we evolved with immune systems that adapt according to a pattern discernible through scientific discovery.
It was once a mark of the scientifically informed mind to grapple with this truth, embrace it, own it, and live it, with the realization of the counterintuitive truth that exposure and health are not countervailing forces but complementary ones. It is time to take the next logical step and slouch our way toward Variolation.