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Why ‘Herd Immunity’ Isn’t the Answer to Solve a Serious Pandemic

by John Brian Shannon

As I write this blog post (Saturday, March 14, 2020) there are 142,539 cases of the Novel Coronavirus variant 2019 (COVID-19) in the world and in some countries the total number of new cases continues to grow at a slow rate, yet in other countries the number of new cases is growing at a steady geometric rate, while in other countries new COVID-19 cases are growing at an exponential rate.

In places where COVID-19 is growing slowly, most countries have the capacity to deal with it and should see exactly as many cases treated as diagnosed. Where the virus is spreading at a geometric rate, only those healthcare systems with sufficient capacity will be able to handle that progressively larger daily number of cases, and where COVID-19 is growing at an exponential rate, about 2% of infected persons will die — because, so far, that’s the fatality rate for COVID-19 globally.

Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 Situation Summary (updated daily)

Also as of today, there have been 5,393 deaths verified as COVID-19 fatalities — although, especially in developing countries — thousands of people die every day from all sorts of things and there isn’t the capability to test the cause of each and every death. Indeed, some 29,000 people die every day from hunger alone and if they can’t solve the hunger issue in their country, trying to find funding for millions of COVID-19 test kits must surely rank farther down their priority list.

Thus far, 135 countries have reported COVID-19 cases and a report out of China says that serious illness occurs in only 16% of cases. That kind of information helps to keep the illness rate for this virus in the proper perspective.


World Coronavirus cases, March 14, 2020

Global Coronavirus case countries, March 14, 2020. Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Europe is Now the Epicentre of COVID-19 Cases Due to their ‘Herd Immunity’ Health Paradigm

Much of Europe operates their healthcare systems by purposely not treating such conditions as influenza (the flu) and other contagions, which they think is the best way to facilitate their much-vaunted ‘Herd Immunity’ goals.

And in previous decades where the vast majority of contagious diseases had low fatality rates the ‘Herd Immunity’ option was worthwhile, as everyone who subsequently caught the virus and then later recovered were thereby and automatically permanently immunized by the (terrible) experience of becoming ill and recovering courtesy of the human body’s own immune system response. Healthcare systems liked it because it was and remains the cheapest way to ‘immunize’ the public against a mild virus.

But That Was Then, And This Is Now…

During the peak Baby Boomer years, most people were young, healthy, lived in a healthier environment, and often spent considerable time outdoors which can be beneficial for human health.

In 2020, a larger proportion of people are older, less healthy, and live in a less healthy environment — although, due to advanced healthcare in most countries, people also tend to live longer lives. And for that, you can thank modern healthcare.


Global Population Pyramid 1960 & 2020

Global population pyramid 1960-2020 comparisons


In 2020, We’re Living On Borrowed Time

Millions of people return from visiting abroad every year in 2020, therefore, our species is exposed to countless more contagions — and chief among them are respiratory diseases such as influenza, SARS and MERS viruses and more recently, the latest Novel Coronavirus (which itself is a SARS-type virus) and others such as the Zika virus that made headlines a few years ago after travelling from Egypt to the United States for the first time in recorded history.

All these viruses mutate over time, and it can happen that they mutate several times in a decade. Which doesn’t bode well for the future as we’re in a permanent state of being one mutation away from extinction or something approaching that. And the leaders of healthcare systems don’t want to admit it to themselves, nor do they want to be accused of spreading panic among the general population.

So, carry on blissfully, because one day a mutated SARS or MERS virus or some other mutated and highly contagious respiratory virus may spread across the globe in a matter of days and we’ll all die horribly! Won’t that be fun? 😉

If I had told you a month ago that a Novel Coronavirus was going to spread across the globe and that the United States was going to close its airspace to European aircraft and (after tomorrow night) stop those Americans stuck in Europe from returning and simultaneously close its border with Mexico, you would’ve laughed.

After all it has never happened in recorded history, although during the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1918, had there been millions of people flying around on passenger aircraft every day, the United States and other developed countries may have ceased to exist as we know them.

“The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919.
In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918.
It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.” — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Now that particular H1N1 virus variant still exists and it continues to appear from time to time in human populations. You know it as ‘the flu’ which many people are resistant to on account of their ancestors catching H1N1-1918 and their immune systems creating antibodies to combat the disease which (the antibodies to H1N1-1918) are passed to their children via Mother’s milk which is loaded with antibodies for their infants.

But not everyone is resistant, nor has everyone the same amount of immunity. In 2020, the H1N1-1918 strain no longer kills millions of people per year. That’s a benefit of so-called ‘Herd Immunity’ — whomever doesn’t get killed by it develops some amount of immunity and can pass along the antibodies to their infant children.

It’s great when it works, although the fatality numbers can get high. But ‘Herd Immunity’ was as good a method as any in 1918 to prevent further outbreaks, because medical knowledge about viruses was low and the level of medical technology was even lower.


What if COVID-19 Fatality Rates Were the Same as Ebola or Other Viral Killers?

All Europeans would be dead by now, is the short answer and North Americans would be barely hanging on.

And there are two reasons for that; One, politicians were initially slow to get the message that a major healthcare crisis was on the way (and there’s a reason for that which we’ll discuss in a moment) and Two, Europeans prefer to ignore viruses because (although small numbers of deaths occur) it helps to build a ‘Herd Immunity’ within a given country (which only works where everyone doesn’t die or are permanently maimed by the virus)

Healthcare Systems are Permanently One-Week Behind Viral Transmission

It’s nobody’s fault that the world’s healthcare systems are at a supreme disadvantage when it comes to tracking viral outbreaks.

For example, it can take a week or even longer for a person to show any symptoms at all, while some people may remain asymptomatic (without symptoms) while still passing the virus on to others wherever they go.

Not only that, but once the first case is diagnosed (patient zero) it may be days or weeks before a similar case shows up on the system.

And further, those subsequent cases may be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the original viral case which makes it difficult to associate those cases together as one virus or disease, in one database.

Consequently, once healthcare systems sufficiently ramp-up to handle the epidemic (‘pandemic’ once it crosses international boundaries) the virus will still hide from Doctors and Nurses for a week or more, and in some patients, months.

Which is why it can take time to nail down a rapidly-spreading virus, especially when it’s enabled by millions of people flying from country to country carrying the virus, and in some cases, showing no symptoms while still passing-on the contagion.


What Healthcare Systems Don’t Need is Politicians Adding Another Week or Two of Dither and Delay to the Equation

If leaders of countries refuse to make timely decisions about banning flights from affected countries, it stands to reason that their country will receive evermore carriers and spreaders of the virus, thereby creating more victims in their own country. Which gets costly for healthcare systems once it gets into the thousands or millions of patients.

But that’s only if those healthcare systems choose to treat those infected patients, or (as in the European Union) where they let it run its course through the general population in hopes that fatalities will be low and large numbers of people will gain immunity after plenty of suffering by infected persons.

It’s a dangerous way to proceed, IMHO, and it isn’t for the faint of heart; Hoping that it doesn’t mutate enroute from one city to another, and hoping that not too many people die as it hits the elderly and the infirm much harder than the typical healthy person.

As I said above, it could be argued that countries once had the moral right to follow a ‘Herd Immunity’ philosophy back when there were no real alternatives, but now, in this interconnected world where millions of people fly to and from everywhere on the planet every day of the year and viruses continue to mutate completely unaware of our views on the topic, and when a virus is identified and politicians then add one or two weeks to the equation before finally making the right decision (or at least, some of the right decisions) it’s like playing Russian Roulette with the global population.

We’re only one random genetic mutation from viral annihilation! (Probably unlikely in the short term, but we almost certainly will take a major hit by 2050) Still, we can lower fatalities and huge amounts of suffering now by not employing the “Herd Immunity’ philosophy during global pandemics.

Therefore, the so-called ‘Herd Immunity’ philosophy must end where novel viruses are concerned, and the weeks of political delay prior to taking practical steps to prevent massive spreading of infected persons must end. Or we homo sapiens, will end. One day.

Remember, wash your hands often, maintain a social distance of about six feet, don’t shake hands, and don’t go on a cruise ship if you’re aged or infirm. Other than that, have a great week everyone!


Notes:

Visit the World Health Organization webpage that displays up-to-the-minute situation reports here: WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-2019) Situation Reports


Situation report – 54 Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) SitRep | Dated 14 March 2020
(This WHO link displays the most recent report as of March 14, 2020)


Why Global Markets Will Recover from Coronavirus Sooner, Rather Than Later

by John Brian Shannon

Every previous depression, recession, or one day sell-off has been caused by things like over-valued stocks, improper economic or financial policy, weak banking regulations, or some other economic, financial, or legal reason — therefore, those financial crashes were caused by an organization, a regulator, or a person, doing the wrong thing.

Consequently, the corrective action and the time lag involved to get the market up to where it once was, involved many months, or even years of tough slogging.

But in this case, nobody did anything wrong; There was no over-valuation, no wrong-headed government policy or weak banking regulatory environment, nor were there illegal actions by individuals behind the cause of this particular market adjustment. No matter the numbers… there’s only one reason for this massive and unprecedented market value writedown, and that is fear.

Fear of investors losing the value of their stocks (due to the Coronavirus scare) is the only thing that’s caused this financial meltdown — therefore, once that fear subsides at approximately the same speed as the Coronavirus subsides, the market should then respond very strongly and March 2020 will eventually register as a tiny blip on the year, and my guess is that the Dow Jones Industrial Average will return to 29,000 points or more by the end of 2020.

As no systemic economic, financial sector or banking regulatory problems are to blame for this particular crisis, global stock markets should rebound as soon as the Coronavirus has run its course.


Waiting for the Markets to Open on Monday With All the Money You Pulled Out of the Markets Before They Lost Value During the Coronavirus Scare? Nice!

Well, aren’t you sitting pretty! 😉

If you pulled all your money out two weeks ago, or even as late as week ago, you now have a pool of money that you’ve already made profit on, ready to reinvest in the market just at the time stocks are priced at fire-sale prices!

Oh, yes. Oh, yes, Oh, yes! You are a lucky investor indeed.

And I suspect that there are millions of such investors around the world at this time and I fully expect that once the Coronavirus has run its course through the population, investor confidence will return like a hurricane on steroids.

Think of all that investment hitting the markets over the next few weeks. ‘It’s a beautiful thing!’ as Donald Trump would say.


‘Buy Low, Sell High’

If I’m right (and we’ll soon see) it will demonstrate the perfect example of the ‘Buy Low & Sell High’ strategy that’s been making individual investors and institutional investors wealthy since there were rocks.

If you did wisely ‘cash out’ your stocks over the past two weeks, you can now buy even more of your favourite stocks at their new, low price due to the Coronavirus market event and watch them return to February’s highs and more in the coming months and years.

If millions of investors do this as I fully expect they will; March and April of this year should barely register as a blip on the financial calendar in only a few short months, and investors will reap significant rewards over the coming months and years. And, good on you for being such prudent investors!

Until then, wash your hands often, maintain proper social distancing of about six feet, and don’t go on a cruise ship if you’re aged or infirm. Other than that, happy days for investors will soon return!

Virus Economics: When Markets Feel Poorly

by John Brian Shannon

Fearing that the Coronavirus pandemic might affect their investments, perception became reality for investors in the world’s stock exchanges as markets see their biggest drop in recent years.


‘Money flees uncertainty’ – You’ve heard it before or read it in print

It vaporizes during civil unrest, it dissipates into thin air when politics goes awry such as when a national leader faces a coup d’é·tat, and it leaves without saying goodbye during natural disasters. In short, the thing we call “money” isn’t our friend at all, in fact, “money” (by which, I mean ‘investment’) is the most fair-weather friend we could have.

And that’s a good thing!

(I hear what you’re thinking, “Is Gordon Gekko writing this post? You know, the whole, “Greed is good,” thing and all that?) Hehehe.

No, Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street isn’t writing this post, I’m merely remarking upon what’s patently obvious in the global marketplace — that the de facto rule is that individual and institutional investors prefer stable and profitable companies and countries to unstable and less profitable companies and countries. Of course.

What it means on the ground is that organizations that prepare in advance for the ‘bad times’ are seen as more stable, and therefore a better long-term investment, and that’s where the money flees to during challenging economic times.

Which is why some countries have a AAA+ credit rating and others don’t. It’s why some companies have triple A credit and others don’t. It’s why some countries need IMF loans and others don’t.


Stayin’ Alive, Yeah!

Being prepared, means staying alive, even while your competitors are dying all around you. (Not literally dying; But that’s the kind of talk you hear on trading floors during the so-called ‘bad times’)

I say ‘bad times’ because, for prepared countries (and companies) there really are no ‘bad times’.

Prepared organizations sail right through recessions, depressions, war, civil unrest, natural disasters and more — precisely because they’re well managed and well-equipped to weather any sort of storm, whether it be political, economic, or even natural disasters that can strike without warning.

Any CFO knows that recessions occur every 25-years. They know their factory (or whatever) is located in a floodplain, or in an active earthquake zone, etc., therefore, long in advance of any of those events occurring, they create a ‘rainy day fund’ to carry the company through a catastrophic period with surprisingly little upset.

The reward for this kind of long-term thinking is that when disaster finally strikes (and it surely will, it’s just a question of when) your organization will carry-on with ‘business as usual’ even as your competitors are dying in the market. It’s called ‘building resiliency’ into your company (or country) and it’s a fine thing.

And that’s the time that your company can go ’round and snap those companies up for ten cents on the dollar. ‘Picking their bones’ as we used to say in the halcyon days of Carl Icahn, investor, corporate raider… and strangely enough… philanthropist. Cool, huh?

Anyway, ‘Fortune favours the prepared’ said Louis Pasteur, and he was right.

So it follows then, that countries that aren’t prepared for Coronavirus version 2019 (called COVID-19 now that it’s been officially named) aren’t going to sail through it unaffected.

Rather, it’s easy to see even at this early stage which countries have engaged in long-term thinking, and have long ago upgraded their medical capacities to handle pandemics such as COVID-19, and although some cases showed up on their healthcare systems they had the ability and the capacity to deal with those cases with immediacy.

And if there’s one thing that pandemic-type viruses hate, it’s timely diagnosis, speedy quarantine and effective treatment.

Consequently, those prepared economies will see little economic impact from COVID-19 or any subsequent mutation of the COVID-19 virus which is likely to be called COVID-20 if it occurs in 2020. And there’s always, always, a mutation eventually, however it’s almost impossible to predict when that mutation will occur. At that time, the treatment for COVID-19 won’t work on COVID-20 (or whatever that mutation gets named) or if it does work, it’s likely to be less than 50% effective. Just sayin’.

Again, those governments that believe in long-term thinking and have prepared in advance of the latest Coronavirus pandemic have already inoculated their economies against the worst of the problem, although they could still (secondarily) be affected by other countries whose economies may now suffer on account of not being prepared.

Therefore, it was the perception of investors who have themselves created the entire ‘Black Monday’ market devaluation by pulling their investments from the stock market. But if there are more countries that are prepared for and respond well to the Coronavirus threat, then today’s market recalibration will turn out to be nothing more than a blip on the year-end 2020 annual report.

But if it turns out that a majority of countries aren’t properly prepared to handle this Coronavirus pandemic then this market slide could last a long time and worsen as thousands more become infected.

And then what happens around November or December 2020 if a new, mutated COVID virus appears?

Just as the markets get back to normal, suddenly a newer and more virulent version of this virus begins to run through the world’s healthcare systems… will they be ready then? Let’s hope so.


More Pandemics are On the Way. So, Let’s be Ready Next Time!

One thing’s for certain. In this increasingly interconnected world, there will be more pandemics and perhaps much more deadly and with a more rapid onset than the COVID-19 virus.

In such an instance, only the countries blessed with leaders who aren’t afraid to make the big decisions (like closing their airports and even their land borders and seaports for 2-weeks to prevent millions more infections from occurring) will survive the next viral onslaught.

In the case of the COVID-19 virus (so far) it looks like the major economies have dodged a bullet, because it turns out that it isn’t the strongest virus, as it’s only able to kill the elderly and the infirm. However, future pandemics may not be as mild as this particular Coronavirus.

We need to get ready. We have so far failed this drill, but Western healthcare systems are quickly ramping-up to meet the present threat. Until governments begin to provide permanent ongoing funding to healthcare providers to help them get more efficient at capturing such viral threats, isolating those who are contagious, and effectively treating those who’ve been exposed to such contagions, we’re living on borrowed time.

Let us thank the medical professionals on the front lines diagnosing, isolating, and treating those people who’ve had exposure to the virus, and thank them for doing much in a short time, with only tepid support (at first) from Western governments. Bravo!


Bonus Graphic

Markets see their biggest drop in recent years as fears of the COVID-19 virus spreads.

Markets see their biggest drop in recent years as fear of the COVID-19 virus spreads.