It is commonly accepted that an effective vaccine for COVID-19 will save lives.
The vaccine, be it BioNTech’s, Moderna’s, or any other pharmaceutical intervention, will most effectively bring an end to the COVID era. The “science” needed to bring this intervention into the world is astounding, with tens of thousands of test subjects undergoing trials for each version. Months and months and months of careful testing, and yet A SINGLE ADVERSE EVENT among any of the study participants halts the progress. One event. Savings lives is critical, so long as no harm is done in the process.
Simultaneously, governments all over the world have become obsessed with their own interventions. The non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) range from mask mandates, to required testing, to full scale economic lockdown. In the most extreme, China even resorted to welding people into their homes.
There has been no shortage of speculation that the lockdowns have caused harm. The argument has always been that they save lives by mitigating spread, but there really has not been comprehensive proof of that. Florida and California, two comparable states in climate and demography, have had comparable disease spreads with remarkably different approaches to inhibiting its residents. In other words, the NPIs adopted by California, draconian in some respects, have not proven any more effective than the “control group”…Florida’s non-interventionist approach.
As every state experiences the spread of COVID, it is impossible to find NPIs that have successfully mitigated the epidemic, short of outright martial law. This brings it back to the concept of that single adverse event that stops pharmaceutical development. Countless reports of suicide ideation, domestic incidents, and substance abuse have increased over 2020 as lockdowns in all of their flavors have remained in place. Are these not “adverse events”? Holding our elected executives to the same standard, every single lockdown would have been lifted immediately for its failure to produce the intended outcome, while also causing MULTIPLE ADVERSE EVENTS in certain parts of our society.
The reality is simple. Public policy, and the NPIs that come with it, has largely been determined by those at elevated risk of contracting COVID yet have virtually NO RISK to livelihood by staying in their home until the dust settles. On the contrary, other groups pay a steep price. The young, the middle class/essential workers in industries like food services or manufacturing, and small business owners that operate in the world of human interaction suffer the most. Students are at very low risk from this virus, and yet to protect the older, decision-making grownups in their lives, we lock them in a virtual classroom every other week. The worker stocking shelves at the grocery store is unable to stay home and get a paycheck, so he is forced to work in order to pay his bills. But heaven forbid he go catch a movie after work some night…that might put his betters at risk. The owner of a bowling alley or a restaurant, having upended their world to comply with some effective, often arbitrary, public health standards are now told to “pause”. Do lockdowns protect these people? No. The lockdowns protect the privileged among us. They protect those that can work from their basement without worrying about missing a paycheck. They do not protect those of us that have to SHOW UP!
Every extension of emergency declaration, and every new executive order, reminds us of the conceit our “leaders” hold. In the most charitable view, they believe they are doing what is best. But their own hubris blinds them from the adverse events they promote every day. They do not believe common folk can survive without their beneficence. Let them eat cake.
[This post was updated at 11:13 am with links added.]
Roland Benjamin is a resident of South Kingstown and owns a manufacturing business based in Smithfield.