26 November 2020

Pandemic – how responsible are we now?


How responsible are we for the progress of the Covid Pandemic?


Short: Pandemic – how responsible are we now?


Topic by Sara


Essay by Lawrence



After nine months of the Covid Pandemic we can go back to the subject not because things have changed but rather because things haven’t changed that much. Infections are still high, some countries more serious than others; travel is still limited and controlled; and economic activity is still scrapping the bottom.


From our perspective we have to be clear about what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for someone to be responsible? And what kind of responsibility? Do we mean strict responsibility? The kind of responsibility when people were sent to jail if they did not wear a mask during the 1918 Flu pandemic? Responsible by virtue that they are hold seats of power when this pandemic is taking place? How far should heads of governments be held responsible for the progress of the pandemic in their country? And responsible for inciting, encouraging or pushing false information that might encourage someone to harm themselves by taking their advice. I will start with medical environment.

On the medical front a number of vaccines are well down the pipeline, indeed, the “experts” talk about having a vaccine by Christmas and a large part of the population should be vaccinated by March/April. The issue is not whether the vaccines won’t work, they do if the development tests and toxicity tests being reported are in line with vaccine development protocol. Indeed one of the vaccines is already being investigated because a study group failed to follow the protocol.


Of course, the naysayers, who are against science and vaccines, are having a great time pushing their ignorance. And social media is giving these misguided people an undeserved platform to spread their ignorance and make them feel important. Look for example this article from the World Economic Forum, There's no vaccine for the infodemic - so how can we combat the virus of misinformation? ( https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/misinformation-infodemic-world-vs-virus-podcast/ ) that deals with what the WEF call an “infodemic”.


The more intelligent arguments from these miss-informants include arguments that these vaccines include such things as nanotechnology; as far as I know some of these Covid vaccines do include nano-technology to protect the active ingredients when the vaccine is frozen. These people try to give the impression that they know the science by inventing conclusions from hearsay. There is a good document on the WHO website about the subject of vaccines here:

How are vaccines developed? https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/covid-19-vaccines/how-are-vaccines-developed .


The issue is not whether we should or shouldn’t trust such modern technology such as a Covid 19 vaccine, and one that has been developed at break neck speed, but rather what should we look out for when looking at the risks of such technology.  And there are many factors that should concern us. Transparency is one of them.


It is well known that flu vaccines and most vaccines are made by incubating them in eggs. Except some people are very allergic to eggs and, therefore, cannot be vaccinated with the flu vaccine. Did you know that? I knew that vaccines were incubated in eggs but never made the connection between how traditional vaccines are made with eggs and some people being allergic to eggs. Except eggs are not used for the Covid-19 vaccines nor are foetal cells.


My point is that some people are still responsible for spreading fake information that could endanger the lives of other. This is why these people qualify as mischief makers given that a few minutes consulting a search engine would show real issues we have to consider when preparing vaccines.


Even in the medical scenario there are many pitfalls experts may encounter in the day to day research activities. Hence because we know that vaccines work, our concern should not be whether vaccines work, but rather whether there are enough safety nets and redundant safety systems build in the research programme.


Some might object as usually happens that people are not qualified to discuss the medical problem. We mustn’t fall into the fallacy that unless we are pharmacists or virologists we cannot say anything about the subject, but even then we have to recognise our limits and our mistakes. On the subject of the Covid pandemic what matters are the facts and they are very limited. Feeling omnipotent about knowledge of the Covid pandemic could be very dangerous as demonstrated in the United States. Of course we expect qualifies scientists are involved in making that vaccine but as philosopher we are not interested in inventing a vaccine but in the thinking and methodology people use their expertise.  


In the context of our question the “We” could be interpreted as a collective “we” and as an “individual” we: you and I; and not to mix up this with the Royal We. Many have put their trust on the principles of Herd Immunity especially politicians maybe because the words are easy to understand. And many still dare to push this idea of herd immunity. At this point it would be apt to refer to the 1918 Flu pandemic, but I think what is more relevant for herd immunity is the Black Death (Eureasia and parts of Africa 1346-1353: Wikipedia: Black Death).


It is estimated that between 75million-200million died during the Black Death. I would argue that this is more relevant for our argument because with so many people dying it took seven years to stop this episode of the plague. In later episodes of the Plague in London this affected the poor more because the rich left the capital. (see for example A history of herd immunity in The Lancet. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31924-3 ). Many factors could have stopped the plague, but what we know is that it couldn’t seriously have been herd immunity. If herd immunity took seven years and some 75 million dead then surely it would be criminal to suggest such a strategy in the 21st century. But criminal not because so many people will die, but because intentionally acting so that many people will die.


What is clear though is that infection of the Plague happened in concentrations of mainly poor populations. So yes people who advocate herd immunity are indeed responsible for their actions and criminally responsible if any of these people were in a position of authority. Sure people in authority don’t want to create extreme anxiety and maybe panic the population but this does not justify implementing criminal policies. Proposing herd immunity as a policy to fight the virus is precisely to condemn people to die. Do you want to die because someone else thinks it’s a good idea?


At the individual meaning of “We” (what you see in the mirror) what the plague and similar pandemics and epidemics show is that being poor is a sufficient condition for being a candidate to be infected.  Living amongst groups of people and unable to move to wider spaces then being poor is a sufficient condition to increase the risk of being infected.


The reason why I used the Plague episode in my herd immunity argument is because at the time people did not know about wearing masks, viruses and bacteria and anti-bodies and so on. It was a model where we could test the hypothesis that Herd Immunity is the tool to stop pandemics. What is important for us is whether herd immunity justifies six years of the epidemic and 75 million dead?


From the Plague period we see that Johann Mikulicz, head of surgery department Wroclaw, Poland in 1897, started using a type of medical mask: see A history of the medical mask and the rise of throwaway culture (The Lancet: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31207-1 ). By the time of the 1918 flu pandemic masks were mandatory and subject to imprisonment if not worn in public. Masks work, and therefore, it is the responsibility of the individual to wear a mask. But consider the idea that in 1918 people were jailed for not wearing a mask and today some governments have conflicting policies about mask wearing. Of course, both in 1918 and today, 2020, there were people who organised against mask wearing, but it is unacceptable that such movement should exist today.


Today we ought to be much smarter with technology and what’s more we have immediate access to reliable information about such things as wearing masks. The problem today is that many people do not understand the difference between having a right or a freedom and having a duty that emerge from these tights and freedoms. No legal system would give unfettered power to an individual to cause physical harm or death to someone else (not even the military).


Being uncomfortable wearing a mask during a pandemic is not a dictatorial imposition; it is people cooperating to protect each other. Wearing a mask is cooperating to protect others.


What is relevant for us is by not wearing a mask a case of breaking the classical idea of breaking the social contract. Where we give up some of our jungle liberties for the benefit of all of us? And ought governments who introduce what I called “criminal policies” that are in breach of this Social Contract be liable as individual or as a collective? It seems to me that the Social Contract theory was a good idea at the time but not robust enough in the real world.


What we know for sure is that the Covid-19 pandemic is not going to go away anytime soon. But our enemy is not the virus, but rather, on a good day, complacency.


Best Lawrence




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