Part 1: coronavirus – a multifaceted pandemic

At a time where the lungs of the world, our ecosystems, were literally on fire, humanity has been hit by a global lung disease. Millions have left their lives to Covid19 and millions to the wider impact. The virus is at the intersection of many of our contemporary global crises: a public health crisis, the destruction of nature and increasingly fragmented and polarized societies. Complexity requires us to move beyond a narrow and destructive tunnel-vision of the Coronavirus.

By Jean-Philippe

Levels of wisdom and consciousness

Today, growing fear, disorientation and divisions mark the age of the pandemic. In media and politics, the “war” metaphor has become dominant and mandatory vaccination is being presented as ultimate solution. French President Macron went as far as to say that unvaccinated cannot be considered citizens anymore and that the government strategy is to “piss them off”[1].

Coronavirus in a sick world

Instead of dealing with the symptoms of a sick system, we need to heal the roots causes of the pandemic: ecocide, broken health systems and civilizational diseases made possible by an economy that is designed to benefit from extraction, scarcity, and disease. To heal from the pandemic and its side effects, we will need to learn to see the interconnectedness of our states of health. And design pathways that promote our health and resilience, beyond divisions.

Understanding complexity

If there is one clear lesson of the pandemic, it’s to be humble in the face of the many unknowns this pandemic has brought. Scientific evidence has been shifting fast, just as the political objectives and their justifications have. Now we can seize what a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world means. But some trends stand out. The success of Sars-Cov-2 has been made possible by a globalized economy. Public health systems have been cut down. People were affected differently according to gender, sexual orientation, skin colour or age.

Coronavirus: an essentially modern phenomenon

The virus is a phenomenon of the modern age. It is global, fast, and destructive. The coronavirus and our responses to it bring together the essential questions of our time. First, it highlights the disappearance of responsibility – among the pharmaceutical industry, political actors and individual citizens. As responsibility is scattered, new scapegoats are created to distract from own shortcomings.

Second, we are challenged in dealing with the complexity of the phenomenon in its medical, technological or political dimensions. Unintended consequences and collateral damage become apparent. And high-tech solutions, like mRNA and vector vaccines, don’t deliver as expected. And lastly, civilizational discontinuity. The great values upheld by Western democracies, individual human rights and civic freedoms, are being put on hold by emergency states that are becoming ever more permanent, and arbitrary.   
How have we been dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic? Have we grown in solidarity, learned from mistakes, and built resilience?

This series of articles will shed light on these questions, by contextualizing the responses to coronavirus (part 1), discussing the main “war on virus” narrative (part 2) to come to an outline of a more diversified and regenerative approach to contemporary public health (part 3).

Where are we today?

Today, 5,4 million deaths are reported from the coronavirus pandemic. As with many other figures, also the death toll is in a grey zone. Based on excess death rates, the real figure has been estimated to 19 million by The Economist[2].

Generally, older people and people with an existing medical condition were much more likely to develop the disease, enter hospital and die from the virus. The risk factors for getting the virus and developing disease are not homogenous. When it comes to the collateral effects, analysis on social inequality, racial inequality, geographical inequality and others have underlined that different groups are differently affected by lockdowns and other covid policies. Particularly women and young people were severely impacted.

Main risk factors: prior diseases

According to a US-study among 540,667 adults[3], 94,4 % of hospitalised covid patients had at least one pre-existing medical condition. Of these 50% had high blood pressure, 50% lipometabolic disorder, 33% were overweight and 25% had cardiac diseases.

Two years into the pandemic, it is fair to say that the current approach in use by many countries today faces increasing difficulties. Neither original vaccination promises nor expectations towards public health policies have been met. Vaccine effectiveness is waning fast, health systems are collapsing, and the collateral damage of our coronavirus-response is immense. Lastly, it looks like only little attention has been given to treating the root causes of Covid, learning from other’s experiences and actively lowering risk factors for actually developing the disease.

Looking back: high-tech hopes

When The Economist titled “suddenly, hope” on 12 November 2020, the hopes put into the new generation of vaccines were indeed great. The new coronavirus vaccine was portrayed as the final solution to eradicate the virus. In this sense, it has been a sort of redemption promise from science, and the condition presented for “returning back to normal”.

„It is time to celebrate how far biology has come and how fruitfully it can manipulate biochemical machinery for the good of humanity. There will be time later to worry about how that power might also be abused.“

The Economist, November 2020

“Science has done its bit to see off the virus. Now comes the test for society“ The Economist wrote. It had been the first time mRNA vaccines were marketed ever. And then big time, at global scale. Only once before had an mRNA vaccine undergone a successful phase 3 trial. To their credit, since the launch of the vaccination programmes, many deaths among vulnerable groups could be avoided in those places and countries where the vaccines were available.

Waning effectiveness of new generation of vaccines

However, the new generation of vaccines have not held their promises in terms of durability of their effectiveness. It has been proven that the mRNA or vector-based vaccines lowered hospitalization and death rates significantly with prior variants, but with decreasing effectiveness (from over 90% to 70%) after six months. Additionally, with the Omicron variant, that effectiveness is waning even further for most vaccines (see box). Furthermore, despite lowering the transmission rate by 40% (WHO[4]), vaccinated people still contribute significantly to virus transmission.

Omicron booster effectiveness of mRNA and vector-based vaccines

For people who had two initial doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the UKHSA estimates[5] that Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna boosters are around 60 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections from omicron 2 to 4 weeks after the third dose, but this falls to 35 to 45 per cent by 10 weeks. For those who had two initial doses of Pfizer/BioNTech, protection falls from 70 per cent at 2 to 4 weeks to 45 per cent at 10 weeks after a Pfizer booster, but stays around 70 to 75 per cent up to 9 weeks after a Moderna booster.

When it comes to safety, only very few cases on side-effects among the total vaccinated population have been reported. Understanding the unreported gap will prove important to get greater clarity and build trust. When it comes to the long-term, there is, due to the only recent global market introduction and provisional approval of the new generation vaccines, no data available to evaluate potential long-term risks of mRNA vaccines and other new generation vaccines, including potential toxicity or carcinogen effects .

Since the original two shots are becoming more rapidly ineffective than thought, it is being discussed to get new booster shorts every three months – for an undetermined period. Considering the low duration of protection of the current vaccines, virologists like Hendrick Streek (Germany) wonder if they are the right type of vaccines. Have the hopes put into these new types of vaccines developed in records amount of time been disproportionate? Despite, or maybe due to these setbacks, In France, Austria and Germany, mandatory vaccination, and the exclusion of unvaccinated people from public life are being discussed or already put into practice.

The war approach to the coronavirus

How can we make sense of the way countries are currently dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic? The next article will outline the main “war” narrative used in dealing with the coronavirus, implementing public health responses, and promoting other measures. With the concept of the “Covid Tunnel Vision”, we will shed light on how the coronavirus is being subjected to a military approach to health. With detrimental consequences