As we saw in a previous post, Dr. Larry Brilliant has never confined his practice to laboratories or clinics. Among his accomplishments are a TED talk and advising on a horror movie. In April, for the readers of Wired, Steven Levy wrote,
In the last year, Brilliant — best known for his work in helping to eradicate smallpox — has been active in helping people understand Covid-19, as founder and CEO of Pandefense Advisory.
This interview includes a very thorough exploration of the concept of herd immunity; what is and isn’t; what it can and cannot do. Here is a taste:
Herd immunity is fetishized now in society. It is envisioned as a magic moment when the ball will drop in Times Square and we’ll all be dancing, kissing and hugging, and marching our way into normality. Well, that’s never going to happen.
One of the current difficulties in the United States seems to be that people just don’t understand what a variant is. It can be as different as a child from a parent. Having known one is no guarantee of safety from the other. Brilliant talked about the city of Manaus in Brazil, which believed it had achieved herd immunity. The price had been a monumental amount of sickness and death, but it seemed like a done deal. Then, along came the Gamma variant, and almost as many people fell ill as had the first time. The epidemiologist said,
The whole reason we’re rushing to vaccinate everybody is to get people protected against this disease, so that when we do get variants that are more lethal, we will be able then to simply get booster doses. These vaccines clobber today’s variants, but they can’t clobber tomorrow’s, because we just don’t know where this wily virus is going to mutate and become a variant.
He also has many thoughts about the importance of contact tracing. And, of course, about the younger humans in this catastrophic situation:
We don’t vaccinate children, but they’re part of the herd.
From a heart full of compassion, the “hippie doctor” expresses some stern thoughts:
In the 1900s, we had an architecture for public health in the United States that was the envy of the world… This pandemic has exposed the crevices in our social system at every level, including medicine and public health…
The pandemic supposes and exacerbates the trends of the centrifugal forces in the world, the winners and losers. And we have to stop and think, who are we as a people?
But he recognizes his own mistakes and those of colleagues:
We expected a respiratory disease that killed because it created pneumonia. But this disease is systemic. It causes long-haul symptoms, it goes from nose to toes…
The thought of long-haul symptoms brings us inevitably back to the ever-vexing topic of childhood obesity. COVID-19 has a penchant for overweight and obese people, including kids and teens. Suffering from long-haul COVID leads to a distinct lack of activity, a lot of bed rest and screen time, a big opportunity to eat unwisely, and a tendency to accumulate fat.
Societally, at the moment, there is a tendency to want to free the young, which of course makes them very vulnerable. But we know so little, and the fact that even eminent scientists have trouble getting a grip on this disease says that no one can afford to be complacent.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Larry Brilliant Has a Plan to Speed Up the Pandemic’s End,” Wired,com, 04/01/21
Image by Joi Ito/CC BY 2.0