I`ve been taking a closer look at what happened at the start of the pandemic and how it came about, and what we can do to stop it happening again.
There are two basic questions that need answering. One concerns the origin of the virus itself – was it engineered or natural, when did it emerge or leak and where, and what explains its changing behaviour in different times and places? The second concerns the origins of our response: where did the lockdowns, social distancing, masks and other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) come from, and why did everyone adopt them even though they had never been used before and there was no evidence such costly measures would achieve anything of significance?
Here’s what I currently think happened – this article is deliberately concise, to serve as a summary. Follow the links to read more detail on each aspect.
The lockdown and NPI agenda began in the Bush White House in 2005 – though China had previously used lockdowns/NPIs in response to SARS in 2003 and claimed success (despite SARS disappearing everywhere and not just where NPIs were used). U.S. President George W. Bush was worried about biological attacks after 9/11 and the Iraq invasion and asked his team to come up with a whole of society response.
The 2005 bird flu scare added impetus to the emerging agenda of ‘pandemic preparedness’ (despite the fact that the scare came to nothing). The plan the team came up with was based on the use of NPIs for social distancing – very similar to what China had used, though the team members themselves did not credit China for their idea but, bizarrely, the high school science project of one member’s 14-year-old daughter.
This draconian biosecurity strategy grew from there. It came to include a stress on the fast development of vaccines and deployment of digital vaccine passes as the exit strategy from restrictions, particularly mRNA vaccines which were seen as a printable vaccine amenable to quick tailoring to emergent pathogens.
The strategic preference for mRNA vaccines may explain why U.S. and other health authorities seem to have put much more effort into finding safety problems with the adenovirus vector vaccines (Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca) than the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna). Bill Gates was an early convert to the biosecurity movement and became a major patron, particularly as U.S. Government enthusiasm for it cooled during the Obama years.
The new biosecurity-oriented, NPI-based pandemic preparedness ideas gradually became embedded in international policy and practice, including through national pandemic plans, WHO guidance, and pandemic simulation exercises such as Event 201, organised by Johns Hopkins University.