Scott Deshefy

Viruses Don’t Buckle to Obstinacy, Just Soundly Applied Science and Good Sense

Government investment is one of two main functions of authority. For 5,400 years, to keep peace internally, governments have kept populations cohesive by monopolizing force, resolving squabbles and forbidding violence by citizens to settle disputes. Historically, successful confederations, city-states and nations have learned to redistribute individual wealth, not to enrich a privileged few and upper-crusted strata, but to promote the common good by investing in the future, that is, well-considered, proactive aims and goals. Deriding government investment as “communist” or “socialist” is not only fallacious, but ideologically moot and irrelevant to problem-solving. American life would be intolerable without Medicare, social security, schools, police and fire departments, national defense, disease control and many other “socialized” mainstays. Speculative outlays can be private, of course, but corporations and the rich rarely make them without guarantees of short-term returns. Education, infrastructure, environmental protection and non-military research and development rarely attract private investment, either because the pay-off is beyond the next fiscal quarter or it’s shared by everyone. Thusly, despite four decades of scientific consensus that global warming and climate change are anthropogenic, we’ve yet to make changes necessary to reverse it. Likewise, pleas for pandemic preparedness went unheeded, and much of our money goes to the military, prisons and insurance premiums for private, for-profit healthcare ranked highest in cost but lowest among other democracies in outcomes. Large variations among Americans in education have also cut our competitive edges in science and technology, while engendering gullibility.

That 22% of Americans self-identify as science-deniers doesn’t sound dangerous until you consider roughly the same percentage of adults refuse to get vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, another subset of whom take toxic horse de-wormer instead. While it’s troubling Vladimir Putin’s anti-vaxx trolls use disinformation on Twitter to undermine America’s COVID response, it’s more alarming (as studies show) that small groups of U.S. Twitter and Facebook users amplify those lies to 50 or 60 percent of social media. As imagined conspiracies, ideological beliefs and fake realities gain ground, people adverse to scientific truths become “unteachables,” only accepting fragments of fact confirming their biases, without examining all evidence. How many times have we heard half-baked assertions global warming and climate change are natural phenomena caused by Earth’s Milankovich cycles? In fact, changes in Earth’s axis tilt (obliquity/precession) and orbital patterns (eccentricity) do influence 100,000-year recurrences of Ice Ages and planetary warming. But Milankovich cycles, ranging tens to hundreds of thousands of years, can’t account for rapid, unprecedented warming since pre-industrial times, a span of just 150 years. The only correlative explanation for Earth’s rising temps is atmospheric CO2 from humans burning fossil fuels. We’re actually in a cooling phase of the Milankovich cycles, solar radiation has decreased, and only the troposphere (affected by CO2, methane and other greenhouse gases) is warming, not the overlaying stratosphere. Also, during past glacial cycles, atmospheric CO2 fluctuated from about 180ppm to 280ppm. Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, CO2 increased 47 percent (280ppm to 413ppm), up 11 % in the last 20 years alone.

Bats, by virtue of communal existences, harbor many emerging and re-emerging viruses. Many are highly pathogenic to other mammals like us, but cause few diseases in bats because of their lightning-fast interferon suppression of viral replications, a near-continuous “high alert” antiviral immune response. Lacking that, we have to ramp-up our antibody immune system with each new virus to which we’re exposed. Vaccines jumpstart that process before viruses get a foothold in our bodies and replicate to such an extent we become seriously ill or die. In the days of Cotton Mather and George Washington, soldiers at Valley Forge and folks in Africa and the Middle East were already scratching their forearms with smallpox pus (a.k.a. variolation) to build-up smallpox immunity and prevent deadlier infections from congesting their lungs. Vaccinations improved on that process by injecting dead (and thusly harmless) virus particles or, more recently, innocuous mRNA genetic material to ward off serious infection. The immunologically naïve, in their “open up, get-back-to-normal” frenzy, think COVID vaccinations are supposed to be a force field negating needs for masking and social distancing. As with inoculations against flu and other socially-transmitted diseases, coronavirus jabs prompt our antibodies to identify and attack viral invaders to which we’re not yet exposed. Vaccinations prevent serious illness from COVID and mitigate its spread, but injections neither make us invincible nor entirely non-vectors.

Even protected by shots, we may inhale a virulent microbe or two, breathed on us in conversation, and exhale them to someone else. We may be asymptomatic, but the other person, if unvaccinated, could die, spreading it to others without shots in a chain reaction of worsening symptoms. Getting everyone vaccinated is Priority 1. Unvaccinated individuals, filling our ICUs, increasing COVID cases amongst children by 240% since July, and pushing death tolls to 700,000, are walking factories for highly transmissible variants, such as Delta. Until herd immunity well-exceeds 90%, kids get inoculated alongside adults, and disease control keeps real-time pace with evolving strains via annual boosters, SARS-CoV-2, like polio and measles, will retain some embers not totally extinguished. Government mandates for vaccinations, mask-wearing and social distancing are thusly investments in the future. In crises, it’s not about individual choice, but community choice, especially considering vaccinations have been proven safe on an unprecedented scale and mask-wearing and social distancing have zero negative attributes. Otherwise, misplaced notions of “individual freedom” become tyrannical “reigns of terror” on everyone else. Viruses don’t buckle to human obstinacy, just soundly applied science, consideration and epidemiological good sense.

Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.

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