A Big Picture Look at the Disastrous Public Health Response to COVID-19
An underlying principle of public health is, or was, to provide the public with accurate information so that they can make good health choices for themselves and their community. The past 3 years have seen this paradigm turned on its head, with the public’s money being used to deceive and coerce them, forcing them to follow public health dictates. The public has funded their own incarceration and impoverishment through their taxes, with public funds driving the unprecedented nonpharmaceutical, and then pharmaceutical, response to a virus that kills mainly old sick people near the end of their lives.
Children have had their education downgraded, and economies have been mangled, ensuring future generations will also pay. So, what did the public actually pay for?
COVID-19 was not novel, but a variation on previous respiratory disease.
Most healthy people infected with SARS-CoV-2 recover without any intervention, gaining natural immunity which, in the absence of vaccination, generates a more robust and long-lasting protection with less risk for reinfections as compared to individuals protected by vaccination alone. Globally, the infection fatality rate (IFR) of SARS-CoV-2 is about 0.15% and comparable to seasonal influenza (IFR 0,1 %). The IFR of those under twenty years was only 0.0013 %, and highest for those beyond 70 years. The IFR of COVID-19 among community-dwelling elderly is lower than previously reported in elderly overall.
A higher IFR was found in countries with many long-term care facilities, perhaps because exposure tends to occur through other immune-suppressed elderly, rather than immune competent children with lower viral loads. An aging population goes through the process of immunosenescence and increased incidence and severity of infectious diseases is expected.
Severe COVID-19, or COVID-19 Associated ARDS, is a syndrome within the known ARDS spectrum. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and associated cytokine storm has been recognized for more than 50 years. It occurs when a diverse array of triggers causes acute, bilateral pulmonary inflammation and increased capillary permeability leading to acute hypoxemic respiratory failure.
Although supportive care improved the prognosis, mortality and disabling complications in survivors in intensive care are still high, and have remained relatively unchanged in the last 20 years. In 2013 an estimated 2.65 million deaths worldwide were attributed to Acute Respiratory Tract Infection.
As with other ARDS etiologies, people suffering from (COVID-19) ARDS are mostly elderly people with comorbidities including being overweight, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, often using multiple medications. Other restrictions on the immune system, such as vitamin D deficiency, put people at increased risk.
As of July 2022, WHO reported over 601 million confirmed cases and over 6.4 million deaths associated with COVID-19 globally. More than half (3.5 million) died after the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines, though 67.7 % of the world population has received at least one vaccination. The WHO estimates a total of 14.9 million excess deaths in 2020-2021 associated with COVID-19 directly due to the disease or indirectly due to the impact of the public health response on health systems and society.
Footing the bill for the disposal of orthodox public health
Since COVID-19 was recognized in Western countries in early 2020, expenditures on public health in many of them have more than doubled, imposing over $500 billion in monthly costs on the global economy. Some trillions more have been spent on compensation and stimulus packages for those left without income due to the public health response, whilst economies, and therefore future employment opportunities, have been heavily damaged. This is nearly all funded by taxpayers, or borrowed to be funded with interest by the taxpayers of the future.
Politicians and various experts have claimed that the coercive COVID-19 public health policies are the only way to curb COVID-19, though such measures were advised against by the WHO in its pandemic influenza guidelines of 2019. They would increase poverty and inequality, whilst having (still) unproven efficacy.
Citizens have paid the bill via taxes for novel nonpharmaceutical interventions (lockdowns, mask mandates and frequent testing) and repeated vaccinations of immune people with rapidly waning vaccines, whilst seeing their own incomes reduced. The increase in the money supply to cover relief for forced unemployment has driven inflation, contributing to increased food, water, energy, health and insurance costs. These responses have disproportionately harmed low income families.
Governments take over medical management
Early in the pandemic it became clear that intubating a COVID-19 patient could increase long-term harm and mortality. Unfortunately, many hospitals continued a low threshold for the use of ventilators for the fear that other methods of oxygenation would spread the virus. In 2020 the US spent billions of dollars stockpiling unused ventilators.
In many countries a relatively new antiviral drug, remdesivir, developed with State funding, became the first choice of treatment for hospitalized people with COVID-19. The safety and toxicity of the expensive remdesivir was widely disputed. Yet even after the first results of the WHO’s Solidarity study found little or no effect on reducing hospital stay or Covid deaths, the EU continued a €1.2 billion agreement with Gilead for 500,000 treatments and it continued to be prioritized for use in the United States.
Final results of the Solidarity study confirmed the finding of little or no effect. In contrast, the use of cheaper drugs with antiviral activity, like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, was suppressed. Although ivermectin is now included in lists of the US National Institutes of Health in August 2022, governments are silent on its use, preferring to transfer funds to Pharma for newer on-patent drugs.
Expanding lockdowns from prisons to society
Lockdowns may prove to be one of the gravest governmental failures of modern times. A cost-benefit analysis of the response to COVID-19 found lockdowns to be far more harmful to public health (at least 5-10 times) in terms of well-being than COVID-19. Significant collateral damage is not unexpected, as mass business closures and restricted movement have affected billions of people globally through poverty, food insecurity, loneliness, unemployment, educational interruption, and interrupted healthcare. What did not make media headlines is the more than 3 million children who have died from malnutrition in the first year of the pandemic. Together with increasing malnutrition, the world is facing rising burdens of child marriage and child labor, developmental and mental problems, poverty, suicide and chronic disease.
Reviews of the effects of lockdowns on COVID-19 mortality concluded there is no broad-based evidence of noticeable COVID-19 benefit. Pandemic models that guided poverty not only overestimated COVID-19 impact but failed to take into account the collateral damage of lockdowns. The sense of fear, anxiety and helplessness brought to families and 2.2 billion children around the globe with removal of future earning capacity and limited access to healthcare will impact lives in an unprecedented manner for generations.
A recent study analyzing the 50 states of the US, with 10 states that had no lockdown impositions, strongly support the hypothesis that lockdowns place a sudden and severe stress burden on vulnerable demographics and were associated with significant increases in death in those states that used lockdowns as a disease control measure.
Mental health problems, noncommunicable inflammatory diseases, cancer and sudden deaths have increased in people across all age groups, indicating millions of people may now have more compromised immune systems. The links between stress/anxiety, ill-health and early death have long been recognized.
Within Western countries, the most deprived people and neighborhoods have higher risks for severe COVID-19, and higher mortality rates. The underprivileged in society are disproportionately affected by infectious diseases due to poverty, malnutrition, chronic stress, depression and anxiety, a deprived immune system and poor access to health-care. Rather than enhancing the resilience of these populations, the public health response has compounded their poverty, removed education opportunities, and so increased their vulnerability to this and future pandemics.
Testing for sake of testing
State investments were made for COVID-19 diagnostics: PCR tests and point-of-care tests including rapid antigen tests. While billions of tests have been used, they are poor in distinguishing infectiousness and inaccuracy provides a false sense of security, with positive results unnecessary driving fear and sick leave.
The WHO had previously, sensibly, advised against contact tracing once extensive community spread is present – people will be infected eventually, and gain immunity. Spending resources to find a small proportion, not possibly sufficient to stop transmission, is epidemiologically pointless. No reason was provided for reversing this orthodox and logical advice.
Hiding faces to pollute the environment
While there is no sound scientific support for the effectiveness of face mask mandates in the community, including children, state governments invested in the availability of free face masks for all citizens. The two published randomized controlled trials of face masks during COVID-19 showed minimal or no impact, while meta-analyses of previous studies show no significant efficacy. Yet in the first half of 2020 importation of face masks in the EU grew 1,800 % to €14 billion, while the industry in 2021 was worth $4.58 billion globally. Face masks with microplastics and nanoparticles are now polluting the environment, and potentially increasing the risk of impaired immune systems.
Getting an awkward technology past the regulators
Despite severe COVID-19 being highly concentrated in elderly people since early 2020, with significant comorbidities and strong evidence of effectiveness of post–infection immunity, the WHO stated in early 2021 that vaccinating the global population against COVID-19 is the only long-term strategy to contain the coronavirus crisis; “No one is safe until everyone is safe”. Rising vaccination rates were said to be necessary to improve healthcare, job prospects and future educational plans.
Unfortunately, the peak efficiency of 97% and 96% respectively claimed for the Moderna and Pizer COVID-19 vaccines against COVID hospitalization waned rapidly after vaccination. The 6-month follow-up reports showed no reduction in all-cause mortality. The COVID-19 adenovector vaccines from Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson showed better protection against mortality but aren’t used for booster vaccinations in most countries due to the risk of vaccine-related side effects.
A recent peer-reviewed article by Fraiman et al. noted excess risk of serious adverse events analyzing the trial data of both mRNA vaccines that points to the need for formal harm-benefit analyses, particularly those that are stratified according to risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes. The authors request the public release of participant level datasets from the sponsoring drug companies, which is still not openly available.
Moreover, the vice president of Pfizer, answered the question of Rob Roos, a Dutch Europarlementarier during the European Commission on October 11, 2022, concerning whether the mRNA vaccine of Pfizer had been tested for prevention of transmission of the virus before the release of the vaccine in 2021. She said no, thus indicating the vaccine promotion and coercion was based on false arguments.
For authorization to use medical interventions the benefits need to outweigh the risks. These mRNA vaccines don’t clearly meet this bar for people under 70 years of age. A recent study by nine health experts from major universities found that per COVID-19 hospitalization prevented in previously uninfected young adults, between 18 and 98 serious adverse events were observed. In Scandinavian countries the use of the Moderna mRNA vaccine has been restricted for the potential risk of heart inflammation in adolescents.
Although official reports on the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines by Public Health Institutes have been limited, there is growing data on myocarditis, menstrual irregularities or the excess of all cause mortality and severe outcomes in vaccinated groups. The recent leakage of Israeli safety data and release of US CDC V safe Data show serious safety problems with COVID-19 vaccines that deliberately need further investigations.
Countries with the highest vaccination rates and strongest coercive measures have experienced high numbers of hospitalization and deaths, while some with a low vaccination rate, including many sub-Saharan countries maintained low Covid-19 mortality. Antibody responses are shown to be lower in elderly people while decreased responses or higher infection rates have occurred after repeated vaccinations. The CDC disclosed just how fast mRNA boosters can fail.
This calls into question the mass all-population vaccination and boosting strategy. Pascal Soriot, the CEO of Astra-Zeneca, has suggested that “booster jabs for healthy people on a yearly basis are a waste of tax money.
A temporary reprieve
On August 11, 2022, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the virus now poses significantly lower risk due to high levels of immunity from vaccines and infections. On August 19, it changed its recommendations to reflect this, no longer differentiating between vaccine status or post-infection immunity. President Biden declared in September 2022 “The pandemic is over,” though it remains unclear what this means with ‘emergency’ measures remaining in place.
While the global economy has suffered, this is only clear from a specific standpoint. In contrast to the mass of the population, private companies are involved in the response, particularly in the pharmaceutical, biotech and web-based sectors. These companies have increased their wealth by hundreds of billions of dollars in 2020 and 2021, as did high-net-worth individuals, many of whom were advocating for the response that ensured this.
The beguiling vision of fleecing taxpayers to benefit the private sector
The current COVID-19 response has wiped out the gains from decades of global progress in health and income, especially for women and has exacerbated persistent inequities. Unfortunately, a world that is facing the most serious health crisis in a century and the most serious economic and social crises since the second World War is now also on the hook to fund those who would repeat this.
Together with the WHO, world leaders have now called for a global pandemic preparedness treaty to make this state of affairs more readily repeatable. They justify this call for further diversion of public funds through the harms, financial and other, accrued during the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is driven by a vision that health is a political choice based on solidarity and ‘equity’ to be established in a centralized global response delivered via international organizations including the WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, (a global Vaccine Alliance) and the public-private partnership Coalition for Economic Preparedness Information (CEPI), launched in 2017 at the WEF by Bill Gates, the Wellcome Trust, Norwegian Government and others. Finance institutions, including the World Bank, have now stepped in to accelerate the growth of this burgeoning pandemic industry. A new World Bank-hosted Financial Intermediary Fund (FIF) for pandemic prevention, preparedness and response was installed at the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in June 2022.
A real concern is growing that the new vision of drug and vaccine approval by the FDA and EMA will expand a commercialized market driven by drug manufacturers at the expense of rigorous independent scientific and regulatory review. This risks irreparable harm for many people while boosting the profits of pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Prescribed medications are already estimated to be the third most common contributor to death globally after heart disease and cancer.
Despite their stated intent, the investments in COVID-19 vaccinations and nonpharmaceutical interventions of the past three years have not improved human capital, economic and societal performance. Moreover illnesses, disabilities and mortality show steep rises in the working age group (25-64 years) as observed by insurance companies. Predictions by consultancy firms of the support Covid-19 vaccinations would provide to the economy have been unrealistic. Countries are now facing shortages of healthcare workers in part due to vaccine mandates, reducing healthcare access to people with ill-health who have paid insurance and tax money for healthcare. It might even result in bankruptcy of hospitals.
Good Health, the most precious asset of life
The CEO of CEPI stated in an interview with McKinsey that “The emergent issue of waning immunity and the threat posed by the evolution of the virus tell us that we need to produce broader and more enduring immune responses.” Mass surveillance, lockdowns, wearing face masks and poorly effective COVID-19 vaccines have contributed to chronic stress, fear and anxiety that reduce the resilience of immunity. Unfortunately, when the immune system (immunosenescence) is weakened vaccinations are also less able to generate effective protection.
More state investments in frequent vaccinations, mass distribution of vaccines, developing new vaccines within 100 days, development of simulating models, and more clinical trials will be poor alternatives to strengthen the underlying immune systems through a life in freedom with high social capital, a healthy diet, education, sports, play, social interactions, equity in decision-making and fair earnings.
Health is key for resilient economies worldwide. The relationship between health and the economy is bidirectional, whereby economic growth enables funding in investments that improve health; and a healthy population contributes to and enhances an economy. Therefore, public and private investments in health for all needs to transform from maximizing value for money to positive cumulative impacts on people’s lives.
Optimizing health is the ultimate goal and a human right. The global response to the coronavirus pandemic has revealed an ethical crisis in public health, in which the pre-pandemic norms of public health ethics have been cast aside.
This has wrecked health, human rights and economies, whilst the people public health was supposed to serve it had to pay for its implementation, and will pay for its harms. It will be a long way back, and recovery will require public health to return to its servant nature, and leave the limelight where it caused such disaster.
Carla Peeters is founder and managing director of COBALA Good Care Feels Better. She obtained a PhD in Immunology from the Medical Faculty of Utrecht, studied Molecular Sciences at Wageningen University and Research, and followed a four-year course in Higher Nature Scientific Education with a specialization in medical laboratory diagnostics and research. She studied at various business schools including London Business School, INSEAD and Nyenrode Business School.
David Bell, Senior Scholar at Brownstone Institute, is a public health physician and biotech consultant in global health. He is the former Program Head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva, Switzerland.