The Myth of the Permanent Pandemic


Friday, May 14, 2021

After more than a year of misery, the COVID-19 pandemic may finally be beginning to wane. The United States is overseeing one of the better vaccine rollouts in the world, and the widespread vaccination of our seniors will hopefully prevent large-scale casualties. 

But according to many naysayers, the pandemic will never truly end. New COVID variants, they say, will ravage the world, overpower our immediate vaccination capabilities, and force us into an indefinite cycle of restrictions, relaxations, and vaccinations. They point to new variants in South Africa and Brazil as being current examples of this phenomenon. 

Perhaps the clearest expression of this view can be found in Andreas Kluth’s March 24 piece in Bloomberg. While Kluth admits that “some of the shots available today are still somewhat effective against some of the new variants,” he claims that “over time they will become powerless against the coming mutations.”

This powerlessness would necessitate that we forever live in a pandemic state of mind, which would inevitably provoke a pervasive sense of defeat in our civilization. 

Kluth’s solution is to accept that our “Brave New World needn’t be dystopian,” but acknowledge that “it won’t be anything like the old world.” I will henceforth refer to this line of reasoning as the “doom argument.”

The doom argument is a variant of defeatism — a particularly dangerous one that is convinced of its own righteousness, and we cannot allow it to go pandemic. 

The doom argument fails on both epidemiological and normative grounds, and society cannot abide by the defeatism it embodies. 

From an epidemiological perspective, there is no evidence so far that new variants will cause widespread infection among vaccinated individuals. 

Breakthrough infections – in which a disease is able to evade vaccination and infect an individual — are inevitable. While it is true that the South African variant, which we now have significant data for, is more capable of evading vaccines than other strains, vaccines are still, by and large, effective in mitigating COVID-19 infection and spread. 

Furthermore, antibodies, the form of immunity reported upon most by media outlets and public messaging, are not the human body’s only line of defense against COVID-19. Our memory cells, T-cells and B-cells, which are produced through both vaccination and natural infection, can recognize diseases long after the initial antibodies have faded. 

Importantly, a March 31 NIAID press release announced that “researchers determined that SARS-CoV-2-specific CD8+ T-cell responses remained largely intact and could recognize virtually all mutations [including B.1.351] in the variants studied.”

As such, there is no reason to believe that our immune systems “will become powerless against the coming mutations,” as Kluth claimed. 

The doom argument, scientifically speaking, is evidently a derivative of mass hysteria. It takes the ultimate worst-case scenario and assumes that it will automatically occur. This situational frame creates a society predicated on fear, which would be detrimental to American civilization. 

Such detriments would occur because both a culture paralyzed by fear and a system in which previously normal activities are criminalized are antithetical to the American experiment. 

The end of the American experiment, and what ought to be the end of any government, is the instillment of virtue among its citizens — a position consistently supported by the Founding Fathers.

The radical new society suggested by thinkers like Kluth would not be interested in virtue. Its only end would be the mitigation of the coronavirus, which Kluth even admits is “mild” compared to historical pandemics. 

What good is valuing disease prevention above all else if people are told how they should be hugging others; if small businesses lose traction to conglomerates due to endless waves of restrictions; and if more life-years are lost as a result of learning loss than from COVID itself?

Even if his arguments were true — which, as we know now, are not — Kluth’s solution would create a lonely new reality in which we are seen as vectors of disease rather than individuals. 

But this pseudo-scientific, immoral world can be avoided if we do not give in to fear or doom. There is already light at the end of the tunnel, and we are so close to grasping it. 

If we give in to defeat and accept the doom argument, we will not have lost to COVID-19. We will have lost to ourselves. 

We must recognize the wisdom of John Adams, that “there is danger from all men,” and we can “trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

It is the cure that could halt the spread of doomerism altogether.

Garion Frankel studies education policy and management at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. He serves as the Policy Director for the Texas Federation of College Republicans, as well as a Contributor for The Western Journal and Young Voices.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Garion Frankel

Garion Frankel studies education policy and management at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. He serves as the Policy Director for the Texas Federation of College Republicans, as well as a Contributor for The Western Journal and Young Voices.

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