I have come across this extraordinary interview by Professor Knut Wittkowski, an epidemiologist who states in powerful form why social distancing will prolong but not eliminate the disease. His insights go a long way toward explaining why recent data has not come close to reaching [initial high death] estimates, and it’s unlikely they will.
Richard Epstein, on the website of the centre-right Hoover Institute
A month after the COVID-19 epidemic peaked in China and SARS-CoV-2 migrated to Europe, then the USA, epidemiological data begin to provide insights into the risks, and effectiveness of intervention strategies such as travel restrictions and social distancing. Respiratory diseases, including the 2003 SARS epidemic, remain about two months in any given population, though peak incidence and lethality can vary. The data suggest at least two strains of the 2020 SARS-CoV-2 virus evolved during migration to Europe. South Korea, Iran, Italy and Italy’s neighbors were hit by the more dangerous “SKII” variant. While the epidemic in Asia is about to end, and in Europe to level off, the more recent epidemic in the younger US population is still increasing, albeit no longer exponentially. Peak level will likely depend on which strain entered the US first. Models that help us understand the epidemic also help us choose prevention strategies. Containment of high-risk groups, like the elderly, and reducing severity by vaccination or early treatment of complications, is the best strategy against a respiratory virus disease. Social distancing or lockdown can be effective over the month following peak incidence of infections, when the exponential increase ends. Earlier containment of low-risk people merely prolongs the time the virus needs to circulate until the incidence is high enough to initiate “herd immunity”. Later containment is not helpful, unless to prevent a rebound if containment started too early.
Abstract of Professor Wittkowski’s recent paper, which prompted the interview.
My post yesterday featured Professor Bhakdi’s open letter to Chancellor Merkel. It also linked to twenty-one other credible authorities questioning the “drastic” measures now being taken in the name of ‘flattening the curve’ of infection through social distancing and lockdown, so that medical capacity is not pushed to breaking point by a flood of cases at the same time.
A comment by bevin pointed out that the initial response of the UK Government had been to downplay the threat, and pursue a ‘herd immunity’ approach quite the opposite of ‘flattening the curve’. Given the context, I took bevin’s wider point to be that any notion of lockdown as establishment conspiracy doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
I agree, though I’m ahead of myself, having promised yesterday not to stray into speculation: to stick instead to highlighting credible but marginalised voices with legitimate questions. It’s not easy to disprove a conspiracy theory and, as I keep saying, some in any case prove accurate. But for what it’s worth, the truth of bevin’s remark is one of a few things that leave me disinclined to see the official narrative on CV-19 as a grand hoax.
Be that as it may, ‘flattening the curve’ versus ‘herd immunity’ has emerged as a key arena in a struggle of ideas1 somewhat one-sided in the UK (after Boris Johnstone’s U-turn) and across the globe. Clear and critical thinking, always in short supply, gets even scarcer with fear in the mix. But how well founded are our fears? Conversely, are we indifferent to other threats which may pose greater dangers?
Pass. And in any case I’m again ahead of myself. The interview with Professor Wittkowski, cited in my opening quote, took place in New York a week ago on April 1 and 2, though I first found it on OffGuardian yesterday. A little background research threw up this:
Dr. Wittkowski received his PhD in computer science from University of Stuttgart and his ScD (Habilitation) in Medical Biometry from the Eberhard-Karls-University Tuüingen. He worked for 15 years with Klaus Dietz, a leading epidemiologist who coined the term “reproduction number”, on the Epidemiology of HIV before heading for 20 years the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at The Rockefeller University, New York. Dr. Wittkowski is currently the CEO of ASDERA LLC, a company discovering novel treatments for complex diseases from data of genome-wide association studies.
The interview lasts forty-one minutes. (Here’s a transcript of its highlights.) Don’t take my title as evidence of Knut Wittkowski as excitable. He isn’t – I’m embracing my inner tabloid headline writer is all – though he does indeed say, amid many other weighty points, that we should let the children spread the virus.
Like Sucharit Bhakdi, Wittkowski is calm and rational. A scientist first and foremost, the issues he raises are not to be ignored by anyone who takes this pandemic seriously.
- In this regard I recommend J.G Farrell’s splendid Siege of Krishnapur, set in a town on the Indian Plain during the Uprising of 1857. To pass the time, the besieged English sahibs hold an Oxford style debate – exquisitely surreal given that participants and audience face death by hunger, disease or the vengeance of the mutineer sepoys – on the cause of cholera. Farrell based it on contemporaneous exchanges in the Lancet, and pits medical orthodoxy (a complacent but likeable old sawbones) on the disease as arising from airborne ‘vapours’, against the newfangled nonsense (espoused by a younger man, a rationalist and idealist both) of its being caused by foul water. I have another story about how cholera was shown to be waterborne, but this is the more relevant here.