February 14, 2021

Skin in the game

The other day, someone on our local chat group posted a 29-word message about a 42-year-old female nurse at a hospital in Greece who had symptoms of an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome immediately after receiving a second vaccination against Covid-19.

There is so much to unpack in this simple, short message that I felt it would be a great place to start the exploration of Covid-19, the pandemic and the whole vaxxer story. Each of the issues the message raises has counterpoints in alternative narratives swirling around the internet. So, what are the issues, and what are the counter-narratives?

‘Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.’ A. Huxley

There are a few basics I like to have in mind while considering the Covid-19 pandemic and on which many of my assessments are based. Principle amongst these is that the pandemic has thrown four powerful drivers of modern society together: politicians, scientists, economists and business (principally but not exclusively the pharmaceutical industry). Each of these have their own ‘skin in the game’, their own interests to pursue or protect, and their own spectrum of personal and public interest. All their contributions in the form of data, policies and statements should be interpreted against the background of these factors.

Personal protection?

This spectrum of interests is important because what is in a single individual’s perceived interest might not be also in the wider public interest. There is an innate tension between personal freedom and protection of society, and a pandemic stretches this enormously. Equally, but less widely appreciated, there is a disparity between public health and personal health. Face masks are one of the clearest examples of this: the wearing of the vast majority of face masks protects those around the wearer, but affords little protection to the wearer. It’s an effective public health measure, but a much less effective personal health measure (more on this later).

In summary, in assessing the usefulness of any contribution from politicians, scientists, economists, business or supporters of some counter-narratives, questions like ‘what is their objective here?’, ‘who benefits from this narrative?’ and ‘are there other supporting data available?’ are the constant companions of any enquiry.

Viruses – the Undead

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  • My understanding of GB syndrome was that it’s a herpes type virus that more commonly exhibits as Glandular Fever if at all in that most peoples symptoms are sub clinical and it’s mostly those whose systems are under stress who show symptoms. So it could be that the Covid injection was enough to tip her system into that situation.
    An interesting feature of the Covid outbreak is the lack of reports on other seasonal virus outbreaks like influenza. Are they not newsworthy, not there or even suppressed by CV19 or the quarantine measures. Oh for an independent variable and some real data! Sadly many scientists seem to have crossed the line from informing policy and into the area of guiding policy and the arena of shaping policy. Not something that can be done without some of the dirt of politics rubbing off onto them.
    Once scientists step beyond their brief, what they say becomes a matter of opinion – and everyone has one of those – they sum to zero and whatever nugget of science they’re based on gets drowned out in the noise – sorry for the rambling nature of this comment

    • Hi Dave. It has taken me a long time to respond to your comment because I wanted to see how the variant story unfolded. When you wrote this, a couple of months ago, much less was known than is now. I think it’s pretty clear that the virus is constantly evolving. Back in the day, I did a research project on Epstein-Barr virus and glandular fever, so your comment took me back many years! The relationship between stress and symptoms of Covid-19 is still not understood. There is a clear link between obesity and severity, but stress is far more difficult to measure. There is certainly some evidence that previous infection with a common cold type coronavirus may produce some immunity and hence reduced symptoms. Herpes viruses often have the capacity to lie dormant (eg in neurone cells) and flare up in acute cases. There is now evidence that SARS-Cov-2 can insert part of its genome in human DNA but that’s probably not the same mechanism as Herpes viruses use.
      Your point about flu has been noticed more widely and it seems likely that an almost zero rate of influenza in some countries in 2020 was due to Covid-19 precautions.
      However much scientists like the image of objectivity, we all have egos and can never escape the subjectivity which that entails. I would argue, however, that we would be poorer if we achieved objectivity because we then lose a valuable part of being human. Far better to strive for greater awareness of the subjective state…

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