THE POLITICS OF IMMUNITY PART 3
PART 1 – The Politics of immunity: the science that passes us by and PART 2 – Waning Vaccine Immunity: The Unprintable Lead
How the politicization of naturally acquired immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is a danger to the health of everyone on the planet–including you.
That’s right. Along with Justin Timberlake and Aunt Jemima pancake mix, you can now apparently add the human immune system to the list of canceled entities. Presumably chimpanzees still have one, but if I were them I wouldn’t get too comfortable. They could be next. The immune system has been called out for being “vaccine insensitive” just by the fact of its very existence and for “hurting the feelings of pharmaceutical companies”. In spite of this, scientists stubbornly continue to suggest that naturally acquired immunity to SARS-COV-2 is a key factor in the fight against Covid-19. The cheek. The Autonomic Nervous System should be nervous. It could be next for the chop at the hands of the Ministry of Truth. Je plaisante, of course, but not completely…
What is naturally acquired immunity? In a very small nutshell, it is the protection that our bodies acquire after becoming exposed to a pathogen. First, our innate immune system is triggered by the invading pathogen, and then we mount a response to fight the intruder through our adaptive immune system that includes B cells that produce the nAB’s (neutralizing antibodies) and helper and killer T cells. A heroic struggle ensues that results in the development of cellular memory that is able to mount a quicker defense the next time it encounters the same threat.
While discussion of the role of naturally acquired immunity (which for the sake of brevity I will shorten to NAI) to SARS-CoV-2 continues to be shared in the journals, reports and non-corporate platforms of the medical and scientific community, in the rhetoric of the political and medical establishment, and in the vast majority of the mainstream media, the natural immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is being treated with squinty-eyed suspicion, and is at best treated as irrelevant. We are being subjected to vaccine mandates that either stubbornly refuse to take NAI into account at all (the United States) or acknowledge it only marginally (France). Even in places where it is acknowledged to some degree, naturally acquired immunity is always obscured by the overriding commandment of vaccination at any cost regardless of previous infection. What can explain this?
One reason is that the discourse around Covid has become so restrictively narrowed to the vaccines that any discussion about natural immunity is regarded as a threat to vaccine confidence. This is very perverse logic. It completely misses the reality that vaccine confidence is no different than any other confidence – it deteriorates in a culture of distrust. Vaccine confidence is dependent on transparent and respectful dialogue between public officials and the people they are supposed to represent, not on censorship, lies and bullying. But this reason actually begs the question. Why would vaccine confidence become framed as the single most important factor, especially when increasingly we are seeing that the vaccines cannot–in any real-world scenario–be the single solution to the problem? And why do we see such division and hostility in the framing of the subject by our politicians when other framings are far more likely to encourage public unity and solidarity?
Another question worth asking is why aren’t the Covid-recovered being recruited into the global effort against the disease in a way that makes use of their defense capabilities?
There is a growing body of evidence that supports the following conclusions:
—Covid-recovered people are safe to be around. In fact, they are far less likely than those who are vaccinated to contract or spread the virus. If you are not vaccinated then you have more to fear from those who are vaccinated than from those who have recovered. In short, those who are Covid-recovered do not present anywhere near as much of a threat to others as those who have not been exposed to the virus.
—All of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are “leaky” a term used by scientists to describe vaccines that protect the host but do not prevent the spread of the pathogen other examples of which include the malaria vaccine. The smallpox vaccine, by contrast, completely blocks viral spread, and is referred to in virology as a “perfect” vaccine.
—Covid vaccine efficacy is decreasing at a rate that should have everyone – vaxxed or unvaxxed – concerned, lasting at best 6 to 8 months. If, as the science is telling us, Covid-19 is now endemic and emerging seasonally in the global population not unlike influenza, this means that the vaccinated are destined to become booster dependent to maintain variant-resistant antibody levels ad infinitum. By contrast, more and more studies are indicating that NAI is comparatively more robust, and durable up to a lifetime.
––Natural immunity provides a crucial protective buffer in exposed populations, particularly now that SARS-CoV-2 has entered the endemic phase and is, according to most scientists, going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
THERE IS NO COHESIVE STRATEGY FOR THE NATURALLY IMMUNE AND THIS BODES ILL FOR US ALL.
Even as evidence continues to mount that natural immunity provides robust protection against CV19, public health policy remains stuck in messaging loops that limit our ability to respond sensibly and effectively to the health threat that Covid-19 presents, especially as an endemic disease.
There appear to be several factors that can help explain how we got from there to here:
—as already noted natural immunity has been conflated by the media and by policymakers with vaccine hesitancy and herd immunity, a concept that has been repeatedly misrepresented in the media.
—public policy is running behind the science, what I’ve dubbed ‘data lag’.
—the subject is really, really complex and does not lend itself to bumper sticker style rhetoric.
— the media prefer stories that pitch one group against another such as the vaxxed vs. un-vaxxed.
If the topic of natural immunity is discussed, especially in the American media, it is most often presented as a political rather than a biological issue. The predictable line up of talking heads — almost exclusively Republican – are trotted out to argue that natural immunity is better than vaccines. Then the equally predictable responders – almost exclusively Democrat – are dragged in to bang the vaccine drum and to label any talk of NAI as anti-vaxxer – a term that possibly eclipses ‘racist’ in the list of the worst things you can call someone (closely followed by ‘unvaccinated’).
The result is that we are being labeled as belonging to one of only two camps; those who mistrust the vaccines and the medical bodies that promote them and who see natural immunity as a support for their arguments against their use, and those who vigorously support the CV19 vaccines and associate discussion of natural immunity with vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy theory loons. This leaves out in the cold anyone – including scientists, health professionals, and ordinary citizens – who genuinely seek to understand the truth of the matter and who and would like to talk sensibly about both vaccines and natural immunity. These people – who I would argue are actually the majority – are not interested in arguments ‘for’ or ‘against’ bringing public health discussions to the level of a Saturday bar room soccer squabble. They simply want to be better informed. While politicians insist on the language of public compliance (the “vaccinated” vs. the “unvaccinated”), immunologists speak of individual resilience— the “immune” and the “non-immune”.
Can you imagine hearing Yonatan Grad, Associate Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard on any hard-hitting news show as saying yawningly non-combative things like:
“Immunity conferred from natural infection and vaccines, patterns of social contact, and virus transmissibility will all play a role in what COVID-19 will look like as it continues to circulate in the months and years ahead.”
This kind of stuff is terrible for ratings. “Boring!!” you can hear the editorial team groan. “Bring on the anti-vaxxers and the vaccine evangelicals!!” Don’t worry, the producer has them on speed dial.
In September, the Doc Caucus, a group of healthcare professionals who are also members of Congress, called on the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to acknowledge NAI when it comes to CV19 policy. Senator Marshall said in the letter.
“As members of the Doctors Caucus, we applaud vaccines’ role in preventing infectious diseases such as polio and measles, and now COVID-19. However, we must also acknowledge the need to develop patient-centered solutions that evidence medical necessity. To this end, we strongly urge the CDC to acknowledge infection-acquired immunity in addition to vaccine-acquired immunity.”
The issue is also being played out at the judicial level as US troops go to court to seek vaccine exemptions for those who’ve recovered from CV19.
“Service members that have natural immunity, developed from surviving the virus, should be granted a medical exception from compulsory vaccination because the DoD instruction policy reflects the well-established understanding that prior infection provides the immune system’s best possible response to the virus,” the lawsuit states.
How have we reached the point where healthcare professionals are reduced to lobbying the principal medical powers of the land to acknowledge a fundamental biological fact? Can you imagine a medical agency denying the reality of homeostasis because some people didn’t want to take a drug meant to keep us from dying of hypothermia?
Such Newthink is becoming increasingly infectious. It is worse than conspiracy theories since they tumble from the mouths who five minutes ago would have called you crazy if you told them they would arguing such things. On a Zoom call the other day, a friend from Colorado said, “I don’t believe in natural immunity”. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant that he didn’t believe in natural immunity to Covid-19, not that he had just relegated an undisputed biological fact to the realm of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. But any way you slice it, it was a very odd thing to say. My friend is, by the way, highly educated, a rational and thoughtful soul, and certainly not someone you would expect to fall prey to ideological possession. I could not have felt more perplexed than if he had announced his conversion to Creationism.
The irony is that those denying NAI are often the very same people who claim to be following “the science”. But denying NAI is even less scientific than denying evolution. At least evolution is still only a theory, which is why it is called ‘the theory of evolution’ even if that theory that is accepted by an overwhelming majority. Naturally acquired immunity is not a theory any more than is homeostasis.
Regardless of how either the media or our policymakers prefer to frame it, natural immunity is not a right-wing conspiracy. To deny or downplay its role in public health is not only idiotic, it is exceedingly dangerous. If natural immunity reminds us of anything it should remind us of who we are: intricate, unique and complex individuals with billions of years of highly sophisticated threat detection and resilience programmed into our cellular memories. We need to remember that we don’t need ratings, we don’t need to be re-elected, we don’t need endless zeros of profit margins, we just need some tools in survival. And one thing that the 225 million Covid-recovered know, deep in the annals of their cellular wisdom, is something about how to survive.