The Politics of Natural Infection

CommentaryFrom the very outset of this pandemic, the topic of natural infection has been a taboo. To suggest that anyone might have been better off risking infection and thereby gaining immunity from a respiratorial virus rather than hiding under the sofa for two years was seen as outrageous and irresponsible. My theory is that the reason has always been political. And that’s tragic. Generations have gone by that have understood it. A life strategy to flee all pathogens is deeply dangerous. The immune system, in order to be trained to protect against severe disease, needs exposure. Not to all things, of course, but to many pathogens that are not finally debilitating or fatal. We’ve evolved with pathogens in what Sunetra Gupta calls a “dangerous dance.” This dance is unavoidable, especially for fast-mutating viruses like SARS-CoV-2. And yet from the beginning, this knowledge seemed to be lost. This is gravely embarrassing since it’s been known for 2,500 years. It was worse than just lost. As a person who wrote almost daily during the pandemic, I too was careful not to discuss this topic with too much bluntness. We all felt the political pressure to say silent or at least cloud our prose with euphemisms. The single most controversial sentence of the Great Barrington Declaration was this one: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.” That talk about building up immunity is what drove people bonkers, as if no one was somehow allowed to utter a settled scientific truth. And yet long before Fauci began to speak as if getting infected was the worst possible fate, he was more honest. Dr. Fauci says you don’t need

The Politics of Natural Infection

Commentary

From the very outset of this pandemic, the topic of natural infection has been a taboo. To suggest that anyone might have been better off risking infection and thereby gaining immunity from a respiratorial virus rather than hiding under the sofa for two years was seen as outrageous and irresponsible.

My theory is that the reason has always been political. And that’s tragic.

Generations have gone by that have understood it. A life strategy to flee all pathogens is deeply dangerous. The immune system, in order to be trained to protect against severe disease, needs exposure. Not to all things, of course, but to many pathogens that are not finally debilitating or fatal. We’ve evolved with pathogens in what Sunetra Gupta calls a “dangerous dance.” This dance is unavoidable, especially for fast-mutating viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

And yet from the beginning, this knowledge seemed to be lost. This is gravely embarrassing since it’s been known for 2,500 years. It was worse than just lost. As a person who wrote almost daily during the pandemic, I too was careful not to discuss this topic with too much bluntness. We all felt the political pressure to say silent or at least cloud our prose with euphemisms.

The single most controversial sentence of the Great Barrington Declaration was this one: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.”

That talk about building up immunity is what drove people bonkers, as if no one was somehow allowed to utter a settled scientific truth. And yet long before Fauci began to speak as if getting infected was the worst possible fate, he was more honest.