Rumours quickly circulated about the UK government planning to deploy the armed forces onto the streets of London to enforce quarantine over the COVID-19 pandemic. A shiver ran down my spine as I had a flashback to walking the streets of occupied Palestine whilst being watched by Israeli snipers. I could not help but make a mental connection. It raises the question to whether these are hints of the UK moving towards becoming a police state and where to draw the line between the freedom of choice and the infringement of human rights, making informed decisions and the spread of fake news?
As Palestinians went into quarantine, life was not too different from living under the Israeli occupation, the constant surveillance, and restriction on their freedom of movement. For us here in the West it was an alien concept, causing mass hysteria. Scared hoarders accumulated in large groups to stock up on toilet paper, probably doubling the infection rate in the process. The media played its part in scaremongering by sharing false information and by using inflammatory headlines. Everything became polarized to draw attention and make sales. A prime example was a story around a scientific paper published in the Lancet where scientists had just begun to study the novel virus, ‘Are patients with hypertension and diabetes mellitus at increased risk for COVID-19 infection? Lei Fang, George Karakiulakis & Michael Roth. It hypothesizes that diabetes and hypertension treatment with ACE2-stimulating drugs (ibuprofen) increases the risk of developing severe and fatal COVID-19. Whilst this observation was true in the study it was irresponsible of the media to share as one study in one population type is not conclusive evidence for it to become a public health recommendation. Within hours everyone was refusing to take ibuprofen, frustrating doctors and pharmacists who were left with massive stockpile and no real evidence to support it was dangerous to prescribe. The same thing is currently going on with the recommendation to use Malaria medication as a treatment for COVID-19, it has shown promise, but clinical trials need to happen before this can be proven.
That is treatment but scientists agree battling COVID-19 should begin with controlling the rate of infection, to put fewer lives at risk. Prevention is better than cure, why then has our government taken such slow action? Is the economy more important than human lives? Following on from watching events unfold in China, Iran and Italy, the UK government has still not officially called for a lockdown, many restaurants and gyms (perfect grounds for the spread of infection) remain open stating they will only follow advice from Boris. Given that we cannot all stay in quarantine for two years waiting for a vaccine to be developed, the government’s form of damage control was to go for a different approach of, ‘herd immunity’ which has been deemed irresponsible by some scientists. The aim was for a 60% infection rate in the hope the population will become immunised to a level which will mean they will not become re-infected at another time and thus infect others. Whilst in theory this has its benefits, it is a highly risky strategy to apply to a novel deadly virus, which is guaranteed to result in many deaths before mass immunisation is achieved. This has been interpreted by some as a form of eugenics, the government’s attempt to remove the elderly and immunocompromised from society which will then cost the government less in medical bills and pensions. The evidence suggests herd immunity only works if 90% or above of the population are immunized, which is much higher than the government’s suggested 60%. Commonly herd immunity is induced by the process of mass vaccinations. The case study of measles shows it is only effective if almost everyone is vaccinated. If a few people refuse the vaccination rightfully out of their freedom of choice further outbreaks are likely to still occur. These may then put the rest of the population in danger including the immunocompromised. Even those who have been previously vaccinated are at risk of reinfection as no vaccine is 100% guaranteed to work (it is based on the individual’s immune response, which also happens with natural foreign bodies). If everyone had been vaccinated Measles would have been irradiated from society. Vaccine hesitancy is listed in the top ten threat to global health, resulting in 2–3 million deaths per year. Another strong argument to call for the eradication of all diseases in society for which we have vaccines is that viruses are prone to mutations. If the virus mutates it will render herd immunity and vaccines useless, further making unnecessary deaths even more reckless.
This poses an interesting question of whether it is ethical to force vaccinations onto a population. There is a social responsibility to keep everyone safe and reduce the burden on the healthcare system and economy, but is the price of this too high if it means removing freedom of choice? Denmark has already passed a bill to enforce quarantine and vaccinations to the COVID-19 once it is finally developed. This has angered anti-vaccine activists who want to want the right to refuse what goes into their bodies and believe vaccines cause more damage than good but this is often based on false information or a low number of cases in comparison to what would be hundreds of deaths. Medicine has always been about the risk-benefit ratio. No vaccine is created equal and the vaccines of yesterday are not the same as the ones available today. As technology advances with the likes of cheaper genome sequencing, we are moving towards a more personalized healthcare which will eventually be catered towards individuals thus reducing the risk of side effects, but there is still a very long way to go.
Conspiracy theorists are speculating on the origins of the virus and who will benefit from the ‘cure’, making presumptions about the validity of science. Now is the time to focus on a solution and saving lives. A time to separate government polices from scientific research, and be mindful of the misinformation which exists in the media that is manipulated by a political agenda.
Let’s not become divided by our suffering but work together as nature intended for the sake of our own survival as the human race.