COVID-19: Too few data, too much fear-mongering?

British Medical Journal Says


Mary Black’s essay was a relief from the ominous forecasts filling news reports and some recent BMJ articles. (“This too shall pass”. BMJ Opinion 3/18/20. Mahase, “260,000 potential deaths”. BMJ 3/17/20).

In my ignorance I have to admit that the public response in the US seems a little hysterical, reminiscent of baleful forecasts about influenza epidemics and pandemics which started here in 1976. They were driven not only by humanitarian concerns but also by commercial and political motives.

The US government and public health authorities have recently been criticized for being unprepared for Covid-19 and an epidemic with the potential—so we are told—to kill 2 million Americans. I am not sure the criticism is justified, but I am firmly convinced that we have wasted resources, notably on seasonal influenza vaccines. Not only are they of dubious benefit in preventing deaths from influenza (Cunningham, BMJ rr 2/23/20), but they probably increase the risk of non-influenza virus infections. (Cowling et al, Clin Infect Dis 2012:54:1778). This possibility was reinforced by an article of particular relevance called to my attention by Elizabeth Hart. It showed that vaccine recipients during the 2017-18 flu season had a 36% increase in the risk of coronavirus infections.

I endorse the caution against ibuprofen use (Day, BMJ 3/17/20) and recall studies that showed it and other NSAIDS increased the risk of invasive group A streptococcal infections and necrotizing fasciitis when used to treat ordinary streptococcal and viral infections.

Sergei Jargin may be right. In the US at least, the social and economic havoc from excessive restrictions may produce more harm to the public health than the harm done by Covid-19. (BMJ rr 3/17/20) Prudence and common sense are certainly called for. My wife and I are “elderly” so we keep our children and grandchildren at arm’s length, avoid crowds and wash our hands frequently. This is nothing new for us; it is a strategy we have used effectively during annual flu seasons, without the risks of annual flu shots.

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