Many people have hopeful expectations that an effective vaccine may soon be available to protect our population from COVID-19 (Corona Virus Discovered in 2019). I would by no means minimize the seriousness of this disease nor the benefits of a vaccine to stop its spread, but I would like to suggest that perhaps the pandemic IS the vaccine that is needed to protect our population against even greater threats that are real possibilities. Any serious discussion of vaccines should be grounded in the history.
Dr. Edward Jenner paid attention to the peasant lore that milkmaids who had been afflicted with Cowpox (vaccinia) never got Smallpox (variola). Therefore, he experimented and successfully put some of the pus from a vaccinia lesion into a small cut he made on one arm of his test subjects. This produced a case of Cowpox, a fairly uncomfortable pustular disease, in these individuals. However, it gave these people life-long immunity to the related disease of Smallpox. We now know that by introducing this foreign agent into their bodies he was stressing their immune systems. The natural reaction to stress is what provides the beneficial effect of vaccination.
It is worth noting that there have been countless warnings of our vulnerability to a pandemic. Bill Gates and others have often told us of the need to prepare for exactly the situation we have today. The Worldwide Threat Assessments developed for the office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2017 and 2018 surveyed many potential scenarios and even suggested a coronavirus jumping from another species to humans as a potential cause of the next pandemic. In July of 2015 the Department of Homeland Security published a short document entitled, "PANDEMIC IMPACTS TO LIFELINE CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE," that is filled with eerily familiar statements like this: "Second to vaccine development, the most effective and economical mitigation strategy is a rapidly deployed and multilayered approach combining various intervention strategies such as social distancing, school closures, and treatment with antivirals." On Page 9 is a tri-color Figure with a high-peaked curve and a longer lower curve, labeled respectively, "Pandemic Outbreak: No Intervention," and, "Pandemic Outbreak: With Intervention." Beneath the curve is this explanation, "Intervention policies that can help minimize the effect of a pandemic include: school closures, antivirals to be used for treatment and prophylaxis, and social distancing measures—i.e., limiting physical contact with others, voluntary household quarantining of the ill, and wearing gloves and appropriates protective masks such as N95 respirators."
What I hope I have illustrated is that prior to this current pandemic there was already an awareness of the threat, and an understanding of what ought to be done to prepare. What was lacking was a capacity to accept that really terrible things CAN happen, even though no one has ever seen such things before, and the willingness to act. This perhaps can be best illustrated by comparing our attitudes and behaviors in regard to the hijacking of airliners on September 11, 2001, versus today. It is a little like that now, with a deadly pandemic. As often noted, pandemic is a term that indicates world-wide spread of a disease, and says nothing of the severity of the disease. The H1N1 was a much-ballyhooed pandemic that probably dulled our initial response to the current one, because the disease it caused was little different from the usual seasonal flu. The current pandemic, on the other hand, may serve to sharpen our attention. As Samuel Johnson said, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully." We need to bring our concentration to bear on a number of individual circumstances that are well known, but not taken seriously.
A short list of these includes: 1. The vulnerability of our power grid to attack or to unusually powerful solar flares, such as the Carrington event in 1859 that seriously disrupted telegraphy (the only electrical grid in existence at the time), 2. Our reliance on China for medicine and other essential products. 3. Our almost total reliance on cell phones and GPS for essential and emergency services.
We have already seen some beneficial effects of this pandemic. The stress has greatly accelerated movements that were underway but had been impeded by inertia or vested interests. Here are two examples: Until about mid March of this year the Medicare restrictions on telemedicine made it strictly a niche service, now it is mainstream. Until late March, a Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant could not order home health services for a Medicare beneficiary, but because of the latest Coronavirus emergency aid package (signed on March 27) now they can.
I do not intend to minimize anyone’s suffering when I say that I believe everything IS exactly as it should be. Indeed, it is a belief that I had often expressed for many years. And then my son died… I wondered if I could continue to believe it. Now I know that nothing has ever given me more comfort in that time than that firm belief. Because of it I have been saved from every "what if" my thinking or perceptions presented. My thoughts are endless, but infinitely more infinite is God’s love and grace. May you find it now. May we all find it now.
Dr. Bradly Bundrant authored this article and is the Chief of Staff at Ballinger Memorial Hospital District and the founder of the Health & Wellness Coalition of Runnels County.