As the pandemic evolves, the failure of current public health policies now shines clearer than a midnight star. The assumption that hybrid immunity — vaccines combined with infections — would end COVID’s relentless evolution has fed the pandemic, not starved it.
If getting infected, vaxed or vaxed-plus-infected actually made us safe as COVID circulates, Canada wouldn’t be recording its highest death rate of nearly 20,000 this year.
Yes, COVID has vanquished more Canadians this year than in 2020 or 2021. And the virus has sent more Canadians to the hospital this year than in previous ones, too.
If hybrid immunity was the solution our children’s hospitals wouldn’t be in crisis, with young patients on ventilators battling co-infections of the flu, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID.
There is much alarm about the fact that children are getting walloped, but little consensus on why.
One misleading explanation is that because kids were shielded from other infections due to COVID protocols, they’ve incurred an “immunity debt” that now has come due. For the record there is no such thing as immunity debt.
And until we have a better understanding of what is going on, we can’t rule out another thesis — that repeated exposures to COVID may have weakened children’s immunity to other infections. A recent not-yet-peer-reviewed preprint study found, for example, that children who had been infected by COVID had a much higher incidence of RSV infection than children not infected by the virus. Research also shows that respiratory infections can lead to surges in invasive bacterial infections.
In any case, there is no mystery to what we should be doing to protect ourselves and our kids.
Do not listen to powers that be who pretend that getting infected with COVID multiple times is now no big deal. They’re asking you to lower your guard for a nasty virus that can invade the brain, disregulate the immune system and damage the vascular system.
This strategy has led to predictable results — more direct deaths, more excess deaths, more disease and some 1.4 million Canadians reporting some form of long COVID over the last two years.
Dawn Bowdish, professor of medicine and Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity, recently spelled out the consequences to the Toronto Star in terms the politicians dare not speak. “Canadians collectively are going to be less healthy and live shorter lives than we did in the pre-COVID world.”
She bases her view on hard facts. Given that 4.5 per cent of people infected with Omicron go on to develop long COVID, a chronic and debilitating condition that can last years, we can expect declining health in the population as the new normal.
Unless, of course we reject the fantasy that we can end a pandemic by pretending it is over without changing a single behaviour or condition of living.
Brendan Crabb, an infectious disease expert, immunologist and director of Australia’s prestigious Burnet Institute bluntly tells the truth. “It is never OK to get infected with a pathogen as a part of a strategy to not get infected by that pathogen.”
So what should we be doing instead?
The solutions are not hard or onerous. They do not involve lockdowns. Or even major rule changes.
The key is to simply and systematically reduce viral transmission with clear messages that get the job done to protect the general health of our citizens, children and elders.
Everywhere. All the time.
Providing schools and work places with good ventilation and filtration is doable and even cheap, given that Canada has spent $9 billion on COVID hospitalization costs alone this year.
Why isn’t it happening?
Putting on a N95 mask or a respirator in public spaces radically reduces transmission and protects everyone.
Why isn’t the government providing N95 masks for free to encourage their widespread use?
Isolating when sick, an old-fashioned courtesy, reduces the spread of disease.
Why did we abandon this basic communal kindness?
Providing access to testing gives everyone information about viral movement and prevalence. It also invites proper treatment or respectful isolation.
Why have we retreated from medical accountability?
Public health officials have a duty to advance health and serve the common good. They abandon that responsibility when they kowtow to the short-term needs of cowardly politicians with an eye only on election cycles and disease of power.
Why, then, aren’t we being consistently reminded by health officials that the pandemic poses real risks to our health and the quality of lives?
In particular why aren’t officials daily reminding people of these critical 10 points?
1. COVID is airborne and travels like smoke.
Many public health officials still refuse to acknowledge this glaring fact. Until government makes a major investment in ventilation and air filtration in public schools, we risk kids getting COVID more than once a year.
As I noted earlier, we don’t know what impact repeated infections will have on children’s immune systems and vulnerability to other kinds of infections, but it could be damaging. In fact, the stakes could be enormous. As a writer for the Gauntlet put it: “The idea that a child born today could contract COVID 40 times before college and live a normal, healthy lifespan, is completely unsupported by what we know about this disease.”
A responsible society cares for its young; a failing one does not.
2. COVID is a disease of the vascular system.
This explains why COVID infection can leave in its wake a variety of cardiovascular injuries including stroke, restricted blood flow, inflamed hearts and blood clots in the heart and lungs.
It also explains why COVID in different people affects different organs. The infection travels by the vascular system to the brain, the gut, the heart, the lymph glands and the kidneys. It was never, as hubris has alleged, a cold or “just the flu.”
3. COVID alters and ages brain function for up to two years after an infection.
Based on the health records of more than million people, a Lancet study found that COVID infection increases the risk of a psychotic disorder, cognitive deficit, dementia and epilepsy or seizures up to two years after the infection. Even a mild case of COVID can shrink the brain, dramatically affecting neurological functioning and have the impact of a decade of aging.
4. Having COVID is associated with a 66 per cent higher risk of developing new onset diabetes.
So says an article in Scientific Reports. Another paper found that the risk of diabetes increased 1.17-fold after COVID-19 infection "compared to patients with general upper respiratory tract infections.”
5. COVID damages the heart and can cause sudden strokes in young people.
Prior to the pandemic excess deaths from strokes were on the decline in the United States. Using data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that excess deaths from strokes rose 23 to 34 per cent among young people between the ages of 25 and 44, and rose 13 to 18 percent in older age groups since the beginning of the pandemic.
6. Each and every COVID infection exerts a toll on your health.
Reinfections increase the risk of developing diabetes, kidney disease, organ failure and mental health problems, according to research published in Nature Medicine. The authors found that people with COVID reinfections were twice as likely to die and three times more likely to be hospitalized than those with no history of previous COVID infection.
Moreover people with repeat infections were three and a half times more likely to develop lung problems, three times more likely to suffer heart conditions and 1.6 times more likely to experience brain conditions than patients who had been infected with the virus once.
As one recent Canadian study noted, “Because each new SARS-CoV-2 infection carries some risk of long COVID, everyone remains at risk for developing the condition.”
7. Immune dysfunctions can persist for up to eight months and possibly longer after a COVID infection.
Australian researchers found “an ongoing, sustained inflammatory response following even mild-to-moderate acute COVID-19.”
8. Women are at greatest risk for long COVID.
We don’t know why, but we don’t improve things by ignoring the evidence.
9. Vaccines alone won’t deliver us.
When public health officials now speak to us, they invariably hammer home one, simple message. Get vaccinated.
No argument here. Yes, do get vaccinated. Still, we should keep some important caveats in mind.
Although vaccines have significantly reduced deaths and hospitalizations their effectiveness is waning as the virus that causes COVID evolves. And by not engaging in other public health measures, we make it easier to spread and therefore evolve.
And consider this flaw built into the current messaging strategy. Just why would the public seek out booster shots (which really do work for a short period of time), when the authorities pretend the worst is over and that no other interventions are necessary?
There is no single technological fix that will dispatch COVID let alone end the pandemic.
10. We are all in this together.
There is only one way out of our COVID mess. It is not denial. And it is not passivity.
Public health officials and politicians aren’t telling us this because they are afraid to take on the responsibility for implementing these changes. Or they are too ashamed to admit the scale of their mistakes.
That means each and every citizen must send them a signal that we refuse to surrender to an immune evasive virus. And that the prospect of massive ill health of our children is not acceptable collateral damage.
The pandemic will not end until we consciously and collectively act.
We can only do that by systematically changing conditions of modern life to starve this wildfire of its fuel and oxygen.
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