Wednesday, December 16, 2020

An Unintended Benefit of COVID-19 Denial

Different countries have adopted different strategies to control the coronavirus. New Zealand, for example, imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns and, perhaps as a result, New Zealanders are looking at a Christmas season free of any restrictions. Sweden, on the other hand, shunned lockdowns in the belief that so-called "herd immunity" would soon follow. Perhaps as a result, Sweden had a death rate much higher than its neighbors. Its prime minister has admitted that the country misjudged its response.

What about the US? As you might expect, our response continues to be divided along tribal lines.

When Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, announced a three-week "pause" on certain activities in that state, in an attempt to halt the virus, Trump’s preferred coronavirus adviser, Scott Atlas, tweeted that Michiganders should "rise up" against the new rules. ("#FreedomMatters.") Biden, asked about that comment, posed a pertinent question: "What the hell is the matter with these guys?"
Source: New Yorker.
What the hell is the matter with these guys, indeed. But I'm here to report that there is a silver lining behind the dark cloud of COVID-19 denial. There's a side benefit. It's not enough to make up for all the sickness and death that denial has led to, but it's a little something anyway.
Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their vaccine appears to be both ninety-five-per-cent effective and safe, even for older people—a historic victory. Moderna’s version, just a step behind Pfizer’s, appears to be effective, too, and other vaccines will follow. What propelled the trials forward, though, was the acceleration of the pandemic itself. The positive cases in the control groups, which were given placebos, piled up so quickly that it became easier to see that the vaccines were working.
Source: New Yorker.
Because there were so many deniers who refuse to wear facemasks, who refuse to practice social distancing, who insist on going to bars and restaurants (and, truth be told, political rallies and holiday parties at the White House), there was enough coronavirus circulating in our communities that the efficacy of the vaccine was easy to measure.

Imagine how difficult it would be to test, say, an ebola vaccine in the US. Give it to 30,000 test subjects throughout the US. Give a placebo to 30,000 others. Wait, three months, six months, a year. Measure how many who were given the real vaccine catch Ebola. None? Hooray. How many who were given the placebo caught Ebola? Also none? How do you know you even administered a real vaccine? That's the challenge when the thing you are trying to prevent doesn't exist. Thanks to the COVID-19 deniers, medical science didn't have that challenge when testing the COVID-19 vaccine's efficacy. We had plenty of coronavirus around to measure and prevent. So, COVID-19 deniers, thank you, I guess?

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