Falsificationism – 2

For a fascinating and illuminating summary and debate on the competing suppressor and ripper arguments, consider the articles below from The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal but now known only by the acronym). The articles and responses are somewhat technical, but bear in mind that the BMJ website cautions us that it’s ‘intended for healthcare professionals.

This one summarises the opposing camps:

https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3702

This one makes the case that’s there’s level of natural immunity to Covid-19 despite its ‘novel’ character (and it’s worth reading the ‘rapid responses’):

https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3563

The suggestion is that the luckier amongst us may possess a natural immunity to Covid-19 (derived from experience of various strains of the common cold), that this may vary from one part of the world to another, and that in almost all populations the pessimistic assumption, that a herd immunity threshold of around 60% is required before the virus stops spreading, is false. The writer suggests that declines in rates of spread in some communities are a result of the herd immunity threshold being approached or reached already, not the result of suppression alone.

You would think that such a view might be amenable to falsification, in that, where the herd immunity threshold has not been reached, current rates of resurgence would reflect the prevalence of immunity. That makes it science!

So, it’s worth reading the ‘rapid responses’ to the main article. Some are supportive, some contrarian, but most are ‘scientific’ (though who am I to judge such a thing!). Worth noting that one of them discusses evidence to support the view that Vitamin D can help us ward off the virus and improve our chances if we get it. I’m taking it myself!

Overall, the consensus seems to be that it’s likely there’s some kind of natural immunity, to Covid-19, but whether that means the herd immunity threshold, initially and pessimistically modelled at around 60%, is as low as 20% is uncertain. Given the current resurgence, probably not.

The question, then, as to whether the rippers or the suppressors are right in respect of the science is unresolved for the moment (though how this question might be resolved is certainly becoming more clear). How ‘the science’ might then inform policy is a matter for political and ethical debate.

In the UK, Intensive Care Units are not yet overwhelmed, but their use will rise over the coming weeks, irrespective of lock-down levels. Would I bet my soul on letting the virus rip, in the belief that they won’t be overwhelmed due to our approaching the threshold of herd immunity, or in the belief that the vulnerable can be shielded? Probably not.

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