The Problem with the COVID Narrative
The author is Emeritus Professor of Pathology at the University of Newcastle Medical School. He is a member of the Australian Academy of Science’s COVID-19 Expert Database
The “great common” of pandemics, as far back as the Black Death that wiped out one-third of Europe in 1347, is that science post-dates narratives — and those narratives create cognitive dissonance and “group think” driven by power figures of the day. The difference with COVID-19 is that it did not need to be that way: the science of COVID was known through experience with influenza and knowledge of compartmentalised mucosal immunology. The power of the pharmaceutical industry and its pervasive influence at every level of political and medical decision-making was underestimated.
Together with a political structure desperately needing a narrative, the world was powered by the belief that genetic vaccines would save the day. Anyone compromising vaccine roll-out had to be “cancelled” and demonised as well, just for good measure, irrespective of the quality of the person, their expertise or the logic of their argument. “False news” was a term used to ensure compliance with the vaccine narrative, supported by government, regulatory organisations, professional bodies, journals and individual health professionals. The world press fell into line to “combat the spread of harmful disinformation”. None could demonstrate their “belief” to be to fact, nor would they debate those who questioned the narrative. A comprehensive critique of censorship and suppression of argument opposing the narrative, Censorship and Suppression of COVID‑19 Heterodoxy: Tactics and Counter‑Tactics, places particular focus on bad behaviour by media organisations.
Two recent personal experiences illustrate the global abnegation by professionals upon whom we traditionally depend for scientific guidance.
First, I approached the Society for Mucosal Immunology (SMI), an international body for the study of immunity at mucosal surfaces, including viral infection of the respiratory tract, and the body best placed to educate in regard to the science of COVID-19 infection. I was one of six founders of the SMI, and the Asian-Pacific representative for many years. There was no response to the proposal that our society had a responsibility to provide leadership in understanding COVID, vaccination and management. No surprise, perhaps; the SMI “gold sponsor” was Pfizer.
Second, an approach to the College of Pathology (of which I was a Senior Fellow, a foundation Professor of Pathology, and past-Chairman of the College committee for undergraduate pathology education) emphasising the unique opportunity for an across-country study to determine whether COVID vaccination was responsible, or not responsible, for the spate of reports of an increase in unexplained deaths occurring in the Western world — excess death above expected background rates of death, where Australian excess deaths during 2021/22 are now exceeding 17 per cent. The College, I suggested, could use its network in Australia and New Zealand developed for quality-control programmes to coordinate a standardised protocol for a post-mortem study to answer what is arguably the most important question facing medicine. After two approaches there was a reply: take your question to the Therapeutic Goods Administration!
These examples are important, as they reflect the failure of professional bodies to support debate or science conflicting with a narrative that has enabled the persecution of health professionals questioning its validity.
“Replacing a narrative driven by commercial interests with science is surprisingly difficult. But it must happen.