Are viruses mainly a medical or a social problem?
In a previous Corona Virus Pandemic article (ie No 11 April 2020 on this blog) I pointed out the complete neglect in all countries of a strategy to prevent the outbreak of virus epidemics and pandemics. Over 12 months later and there is still no other official strategy than to manage a pandemic – after it breaks out! Moreover the main tool in that management strategy is now to use profit-based vaccines. The almost universal assumption of bourgeois political, medical and economic elites remains that the Covid 19 pandemic of 2019 (and onward) is mainly a medical problem and it is a problem to be solved by medical means.
The most senior medical advisers in Europe and North America still characterise the current struggle to subdue this most recent pandemic as a war between humanity and a virus in which medicine has to beat the virus. This conclusion ignores the fact that the most reliable means of preventing it’s circulation – so far – has been by social means. Lock downs, masks and social distancing, the former albeit used too late and utilised as blunt instrument, have been the most effective methods of depriving the virus of the human means of survival. Vaccines may make the survival of most viruses more difficult, but they do not remove the ability of them to survive and mutate by circulation within human communities.
In other words it is not the virus’s ability to mutate into variants and multiply which makes it spread, it is the way society is organised which is responsible for the way this virus (and any future virus) circulates. The cycle of viral infection spreading is well known and obvious. In this case, from its initial animal source of circulation (stage 1) it is passed to a human primary source (stage 2) and is then passed on to a first social circulatory phase (stage 3) before that early group (work or social) carries it forward and exponentially passes it on (in a modified form) into a wider social epidemic phase (4) and then other multiple social groups carry it beyond this to a global pandemic (stage 5). Viewed in this way it becomes clear that the solution to preventing virus spreading from animal communities to human communities is not to try to manage the pandemic once it gets to stage (4) or (5), because by then it is too late. Not only are people dying unnecessarily but economic activity, other health activities and social activities are seriously disrupted or curtailed.
Just as it is impossible to vaccinate the entire world (not enough vaccines, too much vaccine hesitancy, virus resistance to vaccines via mutation), it is also impossible to eliminate viruses from animals and nature. They abound there and are an established and essential part of life on earth. Furthermore where they circulate within wild animals they do so without causing animal epidemics or pandemics. Indeed, animal and human immune systems probably comprise of many RNA strands donated from historically adapted/mutated viruses to live non-parasitically or even beneficially within their hosts. However, whilst we certainly have to accept the existence of viruses, the idea that we have just to accept virus epidemics and pandemics, as some politicians, medical experts and vaccine producers suggest, is actually untrue. Furthermore, that form of elite misinformation and/or disinformation is an extremely dangerous piece of nonsense.
For example, we humans have to accept that fire destroys our buildings but we do not have accept that we can do nothing about it. Safety, measures are sensibly put in place such as sprinklers and fire proof or fire retardant materials are used (hence official culpability in the UK for Grenfell Tower fire etc). Similarly speed kills, but speed limits and seat belts save lives. The list of such prevention examples could go on almost indefinitely. Despite the flouting of many prevention measures by irresponsible actors, the idea that humans should give up on preventing bad virus epidemics ‘and learn to live with them’ is quite frankly elite nonsense: probably motivated by ignorance or self interest. However, since humanity cannot prevent virus pandemic deaths by means of vaccination and humanity cannot prevent them by entirely eliminating viruses, a vitally important prevention strategy can still be sought elsewhere.
The logical and rational answer, as with other prevention measures is to look at the chain of events from origin to outcome and see which link in the chain would be most effective in identifying, containing and preventing it going further. If we consider the five stages of virus transmission outlined above, it becomes obvious that stage (1) is not sensible since virus circulation among animals is normal, and when within animals viruses are impossible to identify which are problematic to humans. That stage is too early. It is also logical that waiting to stages (4) or (5) is far too late. Indeed, those are the stages that governments and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have been trying to manage ‘it’ and failed miserably as we have been experiencing since 2019. So that leaves stages (2) to (3) as phases or stages to set up measures and protocols which monitor those working in close proximity to animals. It is here that viruses can (and do) enter a human and can go through an initial phase of adaptation. In other words a successful virus will undergo an adaptation or mutation and become partially or fully adapted so as to continue its life cycle in humans in general.
If monitored and identified at that stage (2) or even after it had entered into immediate work and social networks (3), it could then be contained by isolation of a relatively few individuals and those within their immediate social circulatory groups. Careful protected medical intervention, could ensure maximum beneficial outcomes to such small groups and the rest of humanity could continue their lives as before. It therefore came as a pleasant surprise to me when near the end of writing this article I was made aware that some among the medical profession had arrived at a more sophisticated version of the above chain of known transmission. I am therefore indebted – yet again – to Randy Gould (who regularly sends me interesting links) for a link to an academic article which appears below. That link (clicked or pasted into a search engine) produces an important and far more detailed article than this one. It also includes a graphic representation of the social circulatory model the authors suggest is the rational one to be used as a guide in targeting a prevention strategy.
However, I think it is unlikely that the current governing elites and medical establishments will follow this alternative model or the advice offered by this group. The former have ignored even less challenging conclusions from all and sundry including their own advisers. To hope they will admit even relative incompetence and embrace another model of intervention is a rather forlorn one I suggest. However, this alternative strategy needs to be recorded and recognised beyond any dusty academic archive it may get sidelined into. If there is ever a future mode of production not dominated by capital and pro-capitalists which encounters such future problems it is worth knowing that a serious and well considered attempt has been made to alert us to focus on social solutions to socially produced problems.
Roy Ratcliffe (July 2021)