Back in 2012 I was at a security conference in Boston and one of the keynote speakers made a pitch that computer security was beginning to show some of the properties of an evolved system. I.e.: pathogens were starting to occupy every possible niche, defenses appeared and were overcome, etc.
Attending with me was a biologist, who immediately leapt up during the Q&A session and commented, “evolution is a good approach only if you’re willing to accept billions of casualties.” That brought down the house.
I have an average education about evolution, which means I’m probably on par with a European high school student, but it’s enough for me to understand that everything in biology only makes sense in the overall context of evolution (Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1973) [Yes, I had to look that one up] so I had some brow-furrowing moments when people started talking about “herd immunity” for COVID. But I wasn’t able to put the pieces together until the amazing Daniel Griffin on TWIV explained it clearly. [link below]
Here’s my paraphrase:
Herd immunity only kicks in when you have a significant percentage of a population that has immunity, so that the probability a pathogen will be able to spread is reduced below the point where it sustains an outbreak. However: that kind of immunity level does not occur in nature, it only occurs when you have a way of conferring immunity, i.e.: a vaccine. Proof of that is: The population never developed herd immunity against Small Pox, Chicken Pox, Mumps, Measels – in fact, humans have never developed herd immunity without there being a vaccine.
There are idio-creos out there who don’t understand that, and think that if enough people are exposed to SARSv2.0 humanity may develop herd immunity. No. What has happened, now, in large part thanks to humanity’s incompetent response to the pandemic, is that we will have it with us forever unless we develop a vaccine and work hard to wipe it out. Which, we won’t do, because we’ll have a vaccine and only the poor and underprivileged will get it. We can lose millions of people and maybe develop some kind of immunity, but that’s a really high price to pay (e.g.: the sickle cell adaptation to Malaria) for being stupid. Perhaps if you are seeking a meta-framework to understand all of this: this is the price humanity pays for ignoring science and allowing dipshit authoritarians to rule us.
Here’s the TWIV episode:
I was thinking that, when they build statues to the heroes of the pandemic, it’d be cool to have a bronze car in a parking lot somewhere, with a bronze Daniel Griffin sitting in it, patiently and clearly explaining things to those that are listening. He looks exhausted and rushed, but he’s still giving his personal time to teach. It would be a subtle memorial, but Griffin is – by every definition – a hero. He should never have to pay for his own beer ever again. (That’s my modern rendition of being given the keys to the city)
The whole time, during SARS1.0 I kept thinking “if this is a test for how humanity responds to a new pathogen, we are in trouble” and it turned out that was correct. At the time, I concluded that the problem is our nationalist system. Governments aren’t going to cooperate because some of them see themselves opposed in self-interest, others are dictatorships led by selfish goons who don’t give a fuck, and others are ineffective representative democracies that are internally conflicted and run by selfish goons who don’t give a fuck. The nationalist system makes it impossible for humans to effectively respond to a collective problem that requires a unified response. So, if Apophis does head into the “keyhole” to hit Earth in 2068, one or two nations might act in their self-interest and mount an effective response. But with something like SARS2.0, everyone has to mount an effective response, and that’s not happening because some populations are in thrall to dipshit dysfunctional dictators. What is another global crisis coming that requires everyone to respond effectively? Global carbon emissions, of course. We can’t expect the current nationalist system to mount an effective response, for the same reason it hasn’t mounted an effective response to SARS2.0: idiots and assholes in the driver’s seat. In fact, the US is, right now, pulling exactly the same shit with regard to climate change: exempting its massive military (which by itself emits more pollutants than some developed nations like Sweden) and basically doing the equivalent of global rednecks driving around in de-tuned diesel trucks “rolling smoke.” It is already too late, but American, Russian, and Chinese governments are not going to coordinate an effective response: they’re going to dance around the bonfire pissing gasoline on it and singing “Disco Inferno.”
When I was a kid, parents would take their kids to get infected with Chicken Pox so they could deal with it while they still had a fresh, young, immune system. That did not happen with me, so I got Chicken Pox in my 30s and wound up under an oxygen tent, breathing with lungs full of goopy foam. The point, though, is that even with “Chicken Pox parties” the human population could not develop herd immunity. We’re not going to develop herd immunity to SARSv2.0, period, full stop.