Pandemic Post Mortem

Unless some of the mutant strains are able to elude many of the vaccines—which I doubt—the pandemic is over.

New cases have plunged to one third of their peak value. The 7-day moving average was as high as 255,000 new cases and is now (February 16th) about 82,000. This is not well reported, because “Things are returning to normal” is like “Dog bites man.”

So, now is a good time to look back and assess what happened.

This was a nature-made disaster. But its harm was so magnified by government that one has to view the bulk of the suffering and deaths as due to disastrous government policy.

Above all, responsibility for the destruction has to be assigned to the FDA.

There are five levels here.

Level 1. The FDA as such

Had there been no FDA for the last 50 or 100 years, it is beyond question that medicine would have been so radically advanced that no virus could have created a pandemic. One factor accelerating medical progress would, of course, be the elimination of the years or decade of time wasted waiting for bureaucrats to permit offering medications on the market.

But the much more potent accelerator would be the Big Data doctors and researchers would get if the public were permitted to ingest whatever they wanted to. A huge pool of mini-experiments like that gives rise to quantum leaps of progress.

If a government bureau, like the FDA, wants to issue recommendations, that’s one thing. But it’s something else entirely when they seek to gain control over your health decisions. By what right, and at what cost, does a government agency stop you by force from taking the medication you think best?

And it is force: government is the agency whose rulings are mandatory, being enforced by the police. Government is the social institution in charge of the use of physical force within its territory. Laws are not suggestions or recommendations.

No individual has the right to use force to stop you from taking a medication, and neither do 100 million individuals, and neither do the politicians who appoint the panel of experts. Your life is your own, your mind is your own, your body is your own.

Using the police power of the state to enforce even a distinguished panel’s conclusions about personal health is totally improper and destructive. Placing science under political control can only lead to the corruption of science and to popular distrust, as we have seen in regard to the vaccines.

Level 2. The FDA on efficacy

As of mid-February, 1000 times more Americans than were in the clinical trials have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Had Moderna and Pfizer been permitted to sell their vaccines while clinical trials were being conducted, the vaccination process that began in December would have begun in May. Those additional six months cost many thousands of lives. And scientists would have tens of millions of informal data points to consider.

Note: the Phase III trials were not for safety but for efficacy. The government was satisfied on the safety of Moderna’s vaccine (reference) after the Phase I trials of March through early May. (The company then looked at efficacy for its own information and found that every single one of the 45 subjects developed high levels of antibodies to the coronavirus by two weeks after getting their second dose.)

Your right to act on your own conclusions about your health was taken away by 1962 legislation expanding the FDA’s role to cover not just the safety but also the effectiveness of medicines and medical treatments. That was an immoral and deadly enlargement of state power over the individual. The premise was paternalism: “We experts won’t permit people to waste their time and money on things that, even if safe, don’t work.” It doesn’t matter whether the experts do know better or are an ossified establishment: decisions regarding your health are yours to make.

Back near the beginning of this nightmare, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed pleading for the FDA, in this emergency, to drop the efficacy requirement and revert to the pre-1962 standard: safety. Tragically, the plea was completely ignored.

Level 3. The panic over hospital overcrowding

The public and politicians alike over-reacted to the possibility that hospitals could be temporarily unequipped to deal with a surge in Covid cases. In the ensuing hysteria, the country was locked down for month after month, businesses were bankrupted, jobs were lost, people’s lives were shaken, and there was a massive loss of wealth—all to prevent hospitals from being unable to handle all the Covid cases.

Why is shutting down the whole country preferable to hospitals not having enough staff or beds for all the Covid sufferers? The answer is: the tragedy at the hospitals is visualizable in contrast to the less easily visualized but even-greater tragedies resulting from extended shutdowns of the economy.

Plus, the ethics of altruist self-abnegation made intolerable the prospect of doctors having to decide whom to treat and whom to crowd out. “We can’t have some doctor or his staff deciding who will live and who will die.” (Why not? No answer.)

The absolute was: hospitals must not be overloaded. That would have made sense if mass vaccination had been just a week or two away. Then you could have argued that the government would accomplish something in its desire to “Flatten the curve” But the FDA made sure that the vaccines would not be released until “adequate testing” had been conducted, written up, forms filled out, and ruled upon by faceless bureaucrats. So the effect of all the lockdowns and general havoc the government wreaked was merely to add a slight delay to what was inevitable: the spread of the virus through the unvaccinated population.

Level 4. Capitalism non, socialism sí

Right from the beginning, the responsibility for everything having to do with the pandemic was taken away from individuals and made into a collective—i.e. governmental—responsibility. Even the military was involved in what should have been business activity on a free market. Never considered was the free-market solution: profit. The selfish search for profits would have resulted in many resources being pressed into service, and their owners highly rewarded, which is what justice demands.

We needn’t have strangled everyone with “flatten the curve” lockdowns. We needn’t have let the bureaucracy go power-mad. Instead, the same quest for profit that fills the supermarkets and clothing stores could have turned that hospital capacity line sharply upward, instead of destroying the economy for the sake of spreading out the same number of cases over a longer time frame.

As I wrote back then, why not pay physicians and health staff ten times the normal rate to attract out-of-state and out-of-country physicians, nurses, and hospital personnel? During the February crisis in New York City, it would have been much cheaper to offer out-of-state doctors $1 million per week to come to NYC to help with the crush.

Regarding distribution of the vaccines, the free market would have speedily and efficiently gotten the vaccines from the lab into production and into people’s arms. Businesses pursuing high profits do not exhibit the incredible bungling we’ve witnessed from government taking over distribution and injection of the vaccines.

Level 5. The FDA and testing

All that I have said about how government coercion prevents us from getting vaccines applies just as much to government coercion preventing fast and accurate testing from being made available. Often during the last year, we heard about newly developed fast, easy, at-home testing. But it never seemed to materialize. The cause: government paternalism, prohibitions, and the government’s disastrous tort law system, which make it almost impossible to sell any medical product. Just this morning, the WSJ’s story was headlined: “Rapid Covid-19 Tests Go Unused”:

The U.S. government distributed millions of fast-acting tests for diagnosing coronavirus infections at the end of last year to help tamp down outbreaks in nursing homes and prisons and allow schools to reopen.

But some states haven’t used many of the tests, due to logistical hurdles [that for-profit companies seem always to surmount] and accuracy concerns, squandering a valuable tool for managing the pandemic. The first batches, shipped to states in September are approaching their six-month expiration dates.

Bear in mind that the Moderna vaccine was created in a couple of days back in February 2020. There is no scientific problem in devising a vaccine effective against the coronavirus. The problems are political, which means ideological, which means philosophical. For two centuries the philosophy of self-abnegation and coerced submission to the collective has been replacing the original American philosophy of reason, self-interest, and individualism. The predictable calamity was in fact predicted by Ayn Rand through the hero of Atlas Shrugged, who says, in a different situation:

It was man’s mind that all their schemes and systems were intended to despoil and destroy. Now choose to perish or to learn that the anti-mind is the anti-life.

Nature produced the virus. The philosophers and intellectuals preached the collectivism that barred free individuals—patients, doctors, researchers, pharma companies—from taking rational action to defeat it.