Glen Reynolds over at Instapundit points to a story in Medical Express entitled “The dream team: Scientists find drug duo that may cure COVID-19 together“. Yes please and all that but what struck me was this paragraph:
“Although several vaccines have recently become available, making significant strides towards preventing COVID-19, what about the treatment of those who already have the infection? Vaccines aren’t 100% effective, highlighting the need—now more than ever—for effective antiviral therapeutics. Moreover, some people can’t receive vaccines due to health issues, and new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that can penetrate vaccine-conferred immunity, are being reported, indicating that we need to think beyond prevention.” Medical Express
It is pretty clear from this article that the team has been at work for a while though it is not clear when they started.
I would have thought that as soon as COVID-19 was a thing – say March 2020 – there would have been dozens of teams all over the world looking for treatments. (There were, by the way: lots of clinicians were developing treatment protocols involving HCQ, ivermectin, various anti-biotics and other drugs. But these treatment protocols were under reported if not outright censored in the mainstream and social media.)
I have always had a mental image of researchers, medical scientists, public health officials, health ministries, hospital administrators, world health people, the Center for Disease Control and a myriad of other agencies quietly working in the background to prepare for the next, great, health/disease challenge. Ready to isolate the bug, test treatment protocols based on clinical experience, develop isolation and containment strategies based on the epidemiological characteristics of the illness.
I also had a naïve view of the ability of politicians to step up. While the clinical and research side of COVID was the province of doctors and researchers, the overall response to the virus was a matter for political leadership. People in positions of political power certainly need to lean on experts but they also have to allocate resources, examine alternatives, make decisions based on limited information.
Very little of this actually happened.
The first response of most of our political class was to doggedly claim to be following the science, turn day to day decision making over to “public health experts”, follow the guidance of the WHO and the CDC – guidance which was, to be charitable, inconsistent – and to largely avoid questioning the experts. (Trump seemed to make some attempt to raise questions but made little headway in the face of his own public health bureaucracy.)
“Wipe everything” (which the CDC now concedes is pointless because the virus is rarely, if ever, transmitted by contact, “wash your hands” (good advice at any time), “social distance” (hilarious when in effect outdoors where there is next to no transmission), “walk this way” in the essential grocery and liquor stores, “wear a mask”, “wear two masks”, “stay home” (logical for two weeks, insane for six months), “curfew” (no known benefit, Quebec ended up being under curfew for five months), “no indoor dining” (despite next to no evidence that restaurants were significant sources of infection), “don’t travel” (with a vast list of exceptions), “don’t gather outdoors” (unless BLM protest)” (ignoring entirely that the virus rarely spreads outdoors): it was all COVID theatre and, to paraphrase Dr. Bonnie Henry, “There’s no science to it.”
What the politicians did was simply to panic. They abdicated their responsibility to lead to “experts” who seemed to all be reading from the same “mass lockdown, masks everywhere, hang on for the vaccine, there is no treatment” script.
The key political failure was the acceptance of the “there is no treatment” story. Back in February/March 2020 there were suggestions that there might well be treatments of some sort. HCQ was trotted out and, partially because Trump mentioned it and partially because of very badly designed studies, dismissed. The very idea of a COVID treatment regime was, essentially, made illegal in Canada and much of the United States.
The idea of boosting immunity with things like Vitamin D and C and a good long walk every day did not come up at most of the Public Health Officer’s briefings across Canada. And, again, not very well done studies were cited showing that “Vitamin D does not cure COVID”. A claim which was not being made. A healthy immune system, to which Vitamin D can contribute, most certainly does cure COVID in the vast majority of cases.
Citing privacy concerns, public health officials were unwilling to give many details as to who was dying of or with COVID. Age, co-morbidities, race, and the socio-economic status of the dying were disclosed reluctantly and long after the fact.
I don’t think most of this can be blamed on the public health officials. They had their jobs to do and, to a greater or lesser degree, managed to do them. They are hired to apply current best practices – often mandated on a world wide basis by the WHO – to the situation before them. Public Health officials are not expected to be imaginative nor innovative.
Imagination, leadership, thinking outside the proverbial box is what we elect politicians for.
A smart Premier or even a clever Prime Minister, after the first shock of the arrival of COVID, would have immediately found creative people to think clearly about, “What else can we do?” In a matter of a week or two, along with driving vaccine research, a full scale treatment research effort would have been organized. Everything from clinical protocols – which clinicians were constantly innovating – to drug treatments to immune system boosting and health optimization would be on the table. And those efforts would have been supported and discussed by the politicians pushing them.
About the only politically innovative thing we saw in Canada was the Maritime bubble where the Maritime provinces essentially closed themselves off from the world New Zealand style. (I don’t think it will make much difference in the long run but it certainly was different from the rest of Canada.)
Leadership is about considering options. It is also, critically, about creating options to consider. Not a single political leader in Canada and very few in the United States created a single option to the relentless “lockdown, wait for the vax there is no treatment” story.
Which cost tens of thousands of deaths, the destruction of 100,000s of businesses, a general decline in mental health and trillions of dollars in debt.