By Meg Hansen
On December 28, Bill Sayre invited me on his Common Sense Radio show to reflect upon what I have observed and learned from the pandemic. The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Meg Hansen: Two years into the pandemic, our public health authorities are still doggedly focused on prevention as the sole policy response, having abandoned clinical treatment altogether. COVID-19 is airborne — it is not a pandemic anymore so much as it is endemic, which means that it is in the air, it is with us, and it’s not going away. A “zero COVID” strategy, still in place in Vermont (where the idea is to eliminate COVID altogether), is not possible with prevention alone. Whether it’s with masks, social distancing or vaccines, prevention strategies alone are not enough.
Start Treating COVID
Meg: It is really important that we treat COVID, and that is the only way that the disease can be held under control. But the issue has become so politicized that we are unable to have an honest discussion about the fact that treatment is the way forward. Until five days ago, the only drug that had been approved was remdesivir, which in itself is very politicized and doesn’t always help. It is given in later stages when the patient is hospitalized. Studies show that the drug is not always effective.
We need drugs that help right away, when the patient has mild or moderate disease, to stop the infection from progressing into severe complications requiring hospitalization. Five days ago, the FDA gave Emergency Use Authorization to a drug called molnupiravir by Merck, which is again shrouded in much politicization. Merck is the same pharmaceutical giant that won a Nobel Prize for a drug called ivermectin. You can’t say that word [ivermectin] anymore as it has become so maligned, whereas drugs are the way to help people.
We also don’t talk about the fact that those who recover from COVID, at least 25 percent (some studies say up to 40 percent), develop a chronic condition called “long COVID.” Without treatment, there is no way that we can return to a normal, healthy, happy society where we can all see each other and interact in the way that God has created us all to be.
Bill Sayre: But it seems to me that we are so divided today (as a society here in Vermont and throughout the nation and the world) that whatever one’s politics might be, every issue has the risk of becoming politicized. We must strive not to let that happen. Tempers are flaring; emotions are running high. I don’t know a single business organization, including government organizations, that aren’t saying they’re short staffed and that they could use more help. That’s on the supply side. But remember every person who’s producing something is also receiving something. The result is that as we go out to purchase a service or a good, we have a hard time and are finding many shelves empty. Why is that? That’s the sign of a breaking down of our economy and ultimately our society. We must correct that, and the way we start by correcting it is by understanding what’s happening.
You mentioned a certain Merck medicine that no one dares to pronounce. I wouldn’t dare to pronounce it even when I knew what it was. So explain a couple of these terms and the new Merck medicine.
Meg: Molnupiravir works similarly to ivermectin in that it stops the virus from replicating. And that is really the point with COVID. The virus SARS-CoV-2 has such an exponential rate of replication that our body gets completely overwhelmed. So anything that prevents replication would be extremely beneficial in preventing disease progression into severe complications. Something as simple as a nasal wash or mouthwash (like Listerine or Scope) has been proven to be really helpful to use as soon as you test positive because the nose and mouth are the pathways for the virus to enter our system. So, why aren’t we talking about it?
I studied medicine abroad, earning a degree called the MBBS — the British equivalent of an MD. I don’t practice medicine because it’s not my calling. What I’m discussing here is not in the capacity of a physician, but as someone who has studied these issues and has written about health policy and its ramifications on society. You asked me what I have learned since the pandemic began. To me, it has been heartbreaking to see basic tenets of clinical practice and medicine become so politicized. I find it really heartbreaking that we can’t even talk about different medicines to treat the disease.
The standard medical advice, when you test positive, is to go home and recover on your own. I find that so damaging, so debilitating because as I said, you can develop long COVID or need hospitalization without any treatment. We can’t even talk about taking Vitamin D or other vitamins that boost your immune system.
We can’t even talk about naturally acquired immunity, which protects you to a great extent. All the literature and all public health discourse pretend like natural immunity doesn’t exist. For every other disease, naturally acquired immunity is recognized as strong and robust and better than a vaccine in many cases. So why are we dismissing this phenomenon for COVID? I can’t wrap my head around that.
Stop “One Size Fits All” Policies
Meg: The other thing is indiscriminate policies like the lockdowns, school closures, and universal mandates. The underlying assumption for such policies is that COVID is similarly fatal to everyone. It is not. We know that increased age, obesity, and chronic conditions like heart disease and COPD make you especially vulnerable to the disease. Whereas, if you’re younger and healthier, your body responds differently to the virus.
It’s not the common cold — I’ve heard people say that. This is a serious disease, but it affects people differently and your health profile and age matters. But we aren’t even able to talk about it. Instead, the policy response remains “one size fits all.” There’s no science or logic behind such an approach.
Two years later, public health is still all COVID all the time, but we are not talking about it seriously. No serious discussion would negate naturally acquired immunity or abandon clinical treatment altogether. And while doing so, we are completely disappearing all the negative consequences that derive from focusing only on COVID all the time. We’re not talking about mental health deterioration that follows social isolation. We’re not talking about the effects on children, which are a result of disrupted schooling and continue to the present day.
Start Honest, Serious Conversations
Meg: There is a lack of honesty and skewed or absent logic in our conversations about COVID and in the response policies that have been enacted, which has led to a lot of damage. It has eroded trust in the medical profession and in public health authorities. This is very problematic. When you think about our society and what keeps us together, we need to have faith and trust in our institutions. It is worrying when I think about the future.
I believe you have to weigh the risks and benefits of every medicinal product, whether it’s a vaccine or a drug. But we aren’t having that conversation. It’s important to have informed decision-making, which requires us to be open, transparent, and candid about the adverse effects that come to light while testing the drug.
Long COVID is a condition that has been identified in persons who recover from active infection. Patients continue to experience a persistent cough, brain fog, malaise (feeling like the life force has been sucked out of you), and a whole range of other symptoms that vary from one person to another. This gamut of symptoms seems to continue indefinitely in at least 25 percent of patients that recover from active infection. This is a side effect of not treating COVID. Merck’s new drug is not FDA approved. It has been authorized for emergency use. What are its side effects? I don’t know. Obviously, Merck will not advertise that aspect. Unfortunately, neither the FDA nor CDC is willing to have an open conversation about it, which really baffles me.
Stop Fearing COVID
Meg: I have said a lot about health policy. It would be useful to connect it with economics to see how COVID response policies have impacted the labor shortage and the supply chain issues that we are experiencing. It’s not a simple answer as to why so many young people, so many able bodied people, have dropped out of the workforce. Goldman Sachs calls it a “perfect storm” of various factors that have significantly reduced the supply of workers. The reasons include state and federal unemployment benefits, early retirement, switching to self-employment, and one of the major factors is the fear of COVID. I see fear as an important hurdle to returning our society back to a healthy normal state.
We’ve heard a lot about how this is the new normal. That’s fine. Societies change as we respond to things that come up. But if the new normal is not healthy – if it is one in which people feel isolated and turn to substances to fill the void created due to lacking interpersonal connection that’s so integral to human society – then I don’t think we should embrace this new normal. Unless we eliminate the fear of COVID, every other issue becomes secondary.
What is the role of the media in hyping up the fear? Fostering fear about COVID is counterproductive. “There’s a new variant out.” There will always be new variants, as this is a highly contagious virus. As I said earlier, COVID is endemic. It is with us. It is not going anywhere. The way to keep it under control is by treating it. We need to focus on early aggressive treatment, and teach people how to stay healthy (how to take easy steps like Vitamins, nasal wash) to empower and protect ourselves. That message is unifying. That message allows us to live the lives that we want to create for our families and ourselves. Freedom, liberty, unity and independence. This is how we should move forward in 2022. Get rid of the fear factor. We don’t need fear. We don’t need to fear COVID anymore.
Bill: It seems to me that over the course of our history, here in America and throughout the world, fear creates the opportunity for some form of government to take more authority, more power over the lives of individuals. And, it tends to make people more willing to surrender their individual liberty. Your thoughts on that and what do we do about it?
Meg: When you are afraid, then you want to feel safe. And how do you feel safe when an unprecedented pandemic sweeps the whole world? It would make sense to turn to the government and to authorities in power. Human nature is such that whenever there’s an opportunity to accumulate power and gain influence over other people’s lives (no judgment here, it’s how we are made), we grab it. And once we get that power, we don’t want to let go of it.
But how can you live a happy, wholesome, fulfilling, and meaningful life if it is driven by fear? Let’s talk about fear – fear of anything. People fear public speaking. I’m not trying to trivialize the fear of COVID because people do die, especially if you have risk factors. But there are many things that can kill us. As human beings, we are very vulnerable to all kinds of factors, whether it’s cancer or an automobile accident. Death is something that we cannot escape. We cannot escape it.
There are so many things that terrify us. It is up to us as individuals to say, “No, I’m not going to let fear determine my actions. I’m not going to surrender my own power, power over my life to somebody else.” And it is not needed. Two years into COVID, with what we know now, fear is not needed. Many people in healthcare research have been working hard to find treatments.
By listening to the mainstream media that is focusing on variants, you are giving up your power. So take back your power, own it and say, “I’m going to live a wonderfully fulfilled life because COVID is not the end of the world. I’m not going to let anybody make me believe otherwise.” This is a decision that we all have to come to on our own. That is the bedrock of a free society, a society in which individuals decide that they are going to make the decisions that are best for their families and themselves.
If you make a mistake, you learn from it, grow, and change course. But we cannot surrender responsibility or independence for a false sense of security. And it really is a false sense of security. Vaccinations don’t prevent infections. Masks are not perfectly preventative. We know that whatever drugs come will have some adverse effects. There’s no bulletproof answer. This is a messy world that we live in and we have to navigate it. But in order to do that, we cannot surrender these important decisions to a government that is populated by people [bureaucrats] who honestly don’t know much more than we do.
Listen to the full clip here.
Meg Hansen serves on the Board of the Ethan Allen Institute. She previously led a Vermont health policy think tank, and ran for state-level public office in 2020.