COVID Mea Culpas and Back-Flips

Of course, for daring to suggest that medicine had been politicised and much of this was simply a grab for more power and control by our petty dictators, we were mocked, scorned, vilified and treated like scum. But finally, it seems almost on a daily basis now there are some who are willing to put up…

Better late than never I suppose. Many of us have been saying for nearly three years now that the hysterical government overreactions to Covid were way over the top, unnecessary, and doing far more harm than good. Consider the lunacy:

The madness of being confined inside our homes 23 hours a day; wearing masks everywhere; avoiding parks and beaches and empty streets; confined to a 5-kilometre radius for travel; destroying businesses and the economy; banning proven medicines; denouncing natural immunity; making jabs mandatory; arresting those who dared to question all this – it was an Orwellian nightmare.

Of course, for daring to suggest that medicine had been politicised and much of this was simply a grab for more power and control by our petty dictators, we were mocked, scorned, vilified and treated like scum. But finally, it seems almost on a daily basis now there are some who are willing to put up their hands and admit that we got things wrong – massively.

There are numerous reports now out on the near-uselessness of masks; of the inability of the vaccines to prevent transmission; of the overwhelming damage done to people by the draconian lockdowns, and so on. This site could go full time in just reporting on these regular mea culpas and admissions that our leaders – political, medical and others – got it wrong big time.

Here I want to look at two of the more recent examples of this – one from Australia and one from America. The title and subtitle of the first one read as follows: “Infectious disease expert slams ‘absolutely atrocious’ Covid measure. A leading Australian infectious disease expert has ripped into one of the most draconian measures enforced during the pandemic.” The article begins:

A leading Australian doctor has said that restrictions on outdoor activity at the height of the Covid pandemic were a massive mistake that should never be repeated. Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious disease expert who previously worked for the World Health Organisation, said Australia should “never in the future stop people from being outdoors”.

He said the virus was rarely spread between passers-by outdoors – and that he had warned against the draconian measures at the time. Several studies have shown that as few as one in 1,000 cases of Covid were transmitted from person-to-person outdoors.

Professor Collignon is among many in the medical field who have now come out against aspects of Australia’s pandemic response, as calls for more independent reviews continue to mount. “No matter how hard you look, you cannot find (much Covid) transmission outdoors,” he told Daily Mail Australia. “We should never in the future stop people from being outdoors.

The piece continues:

Professor Collignon said the rules against being outdoors in various states during 2020 and 2021 were “absolutely atrocious” in retrospect. He said there was risk of picking up Covid in enclosed spaces, such as on public transport or inside a home, but if you travelled alone to an outdoor venue then the chance of transmission was low.

He also criticised the closures of beaches, national parks and playgrounds as the risk of transmission was “minimal”. In October last year, the Premiers of Victoria and Queensland pushed back against an independent review of Australia’s response to Covid-19 which found “significant mistakes were made”.

Both states introduced strict laws during the pandemic, with Queensland closing its borders for prolonged period and Victoria have one of the longest lockdowns in the world. Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk both defended the decisions made by their governments during the pandemic after the 97-page Fault Lines review was released.

The review found state and federal governments “overreached” with politically driven health orders and excessive lockdowns which failed to protect the elderly, disregarded the young and abandoned disadvantaged communities. Mr Andrews dismissed the report as “academic views”….

The infectious diseases expert admitted that “vaccines are much less effective at preventing mild disease than I thought they would be” and declared that “hybrid immunity is the most effective”. In January of 2023, Prof Collignon openly criticised gain-of-function research, asking if there had been any tangible benefits to developing diseases in a lab. “I can’t see how it has helped with any better vaccines, or drugs for flu, coronavirus,” he said. “All risk and pain with no gain.”

And in the US an opinion piece in Newsweek is still making headlines. An MS MD/PhD medical school student argued that “It’s Time for the Scientific Community to Admit We Were Wrong About COVID and It Cost Lives.” He starts his piece as follows:

As a medical student and researcher, I staunchly supported the efforts of the public health authorities when it came to COVID-19. I believed that the authorities responded to the largest public health crisis of our lives with compassion, diligence, and scientific expertise. I was with them when they called for lockdowns, vaccines, and boosters.

I was wrong. We in the scientific community were wrong. And it cost lives.

I can see now that the scientific community from the CDC to the WHO to the FDA and their representatives, repeatedly overstated the evidence and misled the public about its own views and policies, including on natural vs. artificial immunity, school closures and disease transmission, aerosol spread, mask mandates, and vaccine effectiveness and safety, especially among the young. All of these were scientific mistakes at the time, not in hindsight. Amazingly, some of these obfuscations continue to the present day.

But perhaps more important than any individual error was how inherently flawed the overall approach of the scientific community was, and continues to be. It was flawed in a way that undermined its efficacy and resulted in thousands if not millions of preventable deaths.

What we did not properly appreciate is that preferences determine how scientific expertise is used, and that our preferences might be—indeed, our preferences were—very different from many of the people that we serve. We created policy based on our preferences, then justified it using data. And then we portrayed those opposing our efforts as misguided, ignorant, selfish, and evil.

We made science a team sport, and in so doing, we made it no longer science. It became us versus them, and “they” responded the only way anyone might expect them to: by resisting.

He concludes:

[P]andemic policy was created by a razor-thin sliver of American society who anointed themselves to preside over the working class—members of academia, government, medicine, journalism, tech, and public health, who are highly educated and privileged. From the comfort of their privilege, this elite prizes paternalism, as opposed to average Americans who laud self-reliance and whose daily lives routinely demand that they reckon with risk. That many of our leaders neglected to consider the lived experience of those across the class divide is unconscionable.

Incomprehensible to us due to this class divide, we severely judged lockdown critics as lazy, backwards, even evil. We dismissed as “grifters” those who represented their interests. We believed “misinformation” energized the ignorant, and we refused to accept that such people simply had a different, valid point of view.

We crafted policy for the people without consulting them. If our public health officials had led with less hubris, the course of the pandemic in the United States might have had a very different outcome, with far fewer lost lives.

Instead, we have witnessed a massive and ongoing loss of life in America due to distrust of vaccines and the healthcare system; a massive concentration in wealth by already wealthy elites; a rise in suicides and gun violence especially among the poor; a near-doubling of the rate of depression and anxiety disorders especially among the young; a catastrophic loss of educational attainment among already disadvantaged children; and among those most vulnerable, a massive loss of trust in healthcare, science, scientific authorities, and political leaders more broadly.

My motivation for writing this is simple: It’s clear to me that for public trust to be restored in science, scientists should publicly discuss what went right and what went wrong during the pandemic, and where we could have done better.

It’s OK to be wrong and admit where one was wrong and what one learned. That’s a central part of the way science works. Yet I fear that many are too entrenched in groupthink—and too afraid to publicly take responsibility—to do this.

Solving these problems in the long term requires a greater commitment to pluralism and tolerance in our institutions, including the inclusion of critical if unpopular voices.

Intellectual elitism, credentialism, and classism must end. Restoring trust in public health—and our democracy—depends on it. 

Wow, strong words indeed. But much-needed words. We need more and more of our leaders and experts to come forward and own up to their mistakes, their hysterical overreactions, and their harmful policy recommendations. And some real apologies would be a first step.

Many of us warned about what was happening for the past several years but were treated as absolute lepers, pariahs and worse. Many of us paid the price: losing our jobs or being hounded out of polite society or even being arrested and jailed. It was hell for so many of us.

It is nice to see some folks now admitting how very wrong they were. But much more is needed in this regard if they want to regain our trust.

Update: And one more recent study said this: “Immunity acquired from a Covid infection provides strong, lasting protection against the most severe outcomes of the illness, according to research published Thursday in The Lancet — protection, experts say, that’s on par with what’s provided through two doses of an mRNA vaccine.” 

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