Money would be better spent bankrolling vaccination programs for vulnerable people in poor places (Image: PA Images)
We are making a similar mistake with Covid.
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Angela Rayner erupts at Sajid Javid in furious row: ‘This is a LIE!’ Instead of body bags, we now count the number of people who test positive for the virus that causes the disease.The problem is that the count of cases does not measure the actual danger that the virus poses to people.
There is a thousand-fold difference in the mortality risk from Covid infection between young and old.Based on World Health Organization data published before the vaccine, the survival rate after infection is 95 percent for those over 70, while for those under 70, it is 99.95 percent.
Tracking cases among the vulnerable old is thus a much better marker of progress in the epidemic than cases overall.
That was true before the incredible successful rollout of the vaccine among the vulnerable old in the UK, the US, and elsewhere.
That success, alongside the durable natural immunity conveyed to people who have recovered, has decoupled cases and deaths from one another.This is not just a
theoretical proposition – it has been tested by experience.
The success of Sweden in protecting the vulnerable from Covid-related death stems from prioritising its elderly population before its third wave of cases this past spring.
The same is true of the most recent wave of cases in the UK.
With the vulnerable elderly and others with certain co-morbid conditions now protected by the vaccine, high community prevalence of Covid no longer poses the risk of mortality it did in 2020.
In every country where a sufficient proportion of the vulnerable population is vaccinated, mass testing programs are now useless.
Yet counting cases is not just useless; it is actively harmful.
First, testing is not free.Since the beginning of the epidemic, technicians have probed nasal cavities nearly 500 million times in the US and over 225 million times in the UK.The typical test costs $125, which means the US and UK have together spent in the order of $90billion on Covid testing.
Trending If the goal is to save lives, that money would be better spent bankrolling vaccination programs for older, vulnerable people in poor countries.
Tests should be reserved for the sick.
Second, mass testing is an insidious form of lockdown by stealth.
Testing regimens aim to check whether perfectly healthy people harbour the virus though they display no symptoms whatsoever.
Careful reviews of the published data show that a significant fraction of the time, though a PCR test for viral fragments (the type typically used for testing) may be positive, a healthy person is not infectious and poses no risk of spreading the virus.
Further, the contact tracing system forces into quarantine countless people who come within the vicinity of the non-infectious healthy person who tested positive.
The result is that a vast number of healthy adults and children are forced to stay at home and miss out on life, with no infection control benefit whatsoever.
Third, mass testing causes lockdown.When cases go up, the media and politicians push for draconian and ineffective lockdown measures, including closed businesses and (in the US) schools.
Australia and New Zealand are the apotheosis of this policy of institutionalised hypochondria, where governments impose lockdowns whenever even a single case is found.
This tactic works because obsessive case tracking and reporting are closely tied to the sense of panic and dread in the population.
The government scientific advisory board (SAGE) has admitted to using “media to increase [the] sense of personal threat” in the UK.
This practice is deeply unethical and will ultimately harm trust in public health.It is not a coincidence that case counts trackers have featured prominently in the propaganda campaign.
Though cases will come and go with the seasons whatever we do, Covid deaths will no longer rise in proportion thanks to the vaccine-protection of the vulnerable.
Epidemiologists can track cases using population sampling and surveillance systems as they like, but there is no further need for lockdown, quarantines and fear.
Learning to live with Covid means continuing research to find better treatments and better vaccines.It means continuing to prioritise the vulnerable and extending this protection around the world.
It means a return of public health to a holistic vision that extends beyond infection control.
The virus now joins 200 other pathogens (give or take) in regular circulation in human societies.The war on Covid should be over..