Variant of Hope

Fauci has seen his shadow – and so we are on course for another 6 weeks of ineffective overreactions on account of the latest “variant of concern.” The media is gleefully reporting that this Omicron variant of Covid-19 is poised to wreak havoc. These same media nags are also happy to inform us that the blame for all new variants rests squarely with the unvaccinated. As usual the truth is the exact opposite.

            Evolution is not driven only by mutations. It also requires selective pressure to work its magic. Emergence of dominant variants will occur more quickly in the vaccinated than the unvaccinated because of selective pressure. Here’s why. The vaccines we have do not prevent transmission (no sterilizing immunity).  Any transmission that does occur will necessarily be enriched in variants not recognized by vaccine-derived antibodies. 

            To be clear, variants can arise in both vaccinated and unvaccinated hosts. The difference is that artificially applied selective pressure (vaccine-derived antibodies) will immediately favor any non-targeted variants. Such variants aren’t necessarily less lethal, rather merely unrecognized. However, in the unvaccinated only natural selection is active. Natural selection when applied to pathogens tends to weaken them. Viruses that give their host the sniffles pass on their genes. Viruses that kill their host don’t. Upshot: natural selection favors non-lethal variants, artificial selection does not.

            The counter-narrative suggests that the unvaccinated are a cauldron of variants spilling onto their otherwise variant-free vaccinated brethren. When these variants hop to a vaccinated host, then the vaccine antibodies act as a sieve, blocking the original variant and allowing the newer ones to pass on. This is just wrong. The only difference between a vaccinated and unvaccinated host is that a vaccinated host will block the alpha strain. That’s it. They will both foster an equivalent degree of variants. Those suggesting otherwise believe fear and shame are a cudgel to manipulate the masses into compliance with the fantasy of “zero Covid.” 

            Another common myth is that the Omicron variant arose in largely unvaccinated South Africa. This idea is a case study in logical fallacies. First, correlation is not causation. Second, observation bias is not reality. If ants invade your home and you discover them in the bathroom that doesn’t mean that’s where they entered. Nobody was looking for “omicron”. Then someone happened to discover it first. Now everyone is looking for it — and lo and behold it’s everywhere! The only way to justify travel bans and renewed lockdown measures is to pretend that Omicron is “spreading quickly” because it is being discovered everywhere. Funny how governments always choose the interpretation of reality that maximizes their power.

            Although intuition suggests what is good for the individual must also be good for the group, this is not always the case. For example, antibiotics benefit an individual with an infection, however mandating them as a universal prophylaxis would be catastrophically bad. This is also true of mask mandates where moral hazard effects overwhelm whatever tiny benefits a mask may provide to an individual. With the Covid-19 vaccinations we see the same individual vs. the collective bifurcation. Evolution’s effects lie dormant for the individual but are emergent within a collective.

            With a non-sterilizing vaccine the proper strategy is to give it only to the very small subset of at-risk individuals (however so defined). These will be a tiny minority of the population so any individualized selection toward some variant will not come to dominate.

            The political establishment is plowing forward without any regard for the unseen future consequences of their policy of universal vaccination. This is the danger of letting politicians rule the world: their bias is to favor short-term solutions that are “seen” while ignoring long-term consequences that are “unseen”. Short-term actions get them re-elected. Long-term consequences are a problem for future Homer. The only silver lining is that variants such as Omicron represent a new hope – an end to Covid as it evolves into the common cold.