While my fractious science communications community is likely to be outraged by the heresy of this title, I can only tell them to stop taking their dogma so seriously, lighten up and learn to listen to others … even those they passionately disagree with. We’ve already screwed up so many times that perhaps a bit of humility might be called for.
Precautionistas wash their hands and pray they don’t get COVID-19.
Risk managers consider all scenarios and prepare for the worst.
As informing the population is a key step in proper risk communication, we need to prepare the public for all scenarios. We presently have a pernicious, highly contagious respiratory virus with a long incubation period amplified by asymptomatic super-spreaders. When infected, it can evolve into a long, slow, cruel death. There won’t be a vaccine for quite some time but we need people to get back to work and school.
So what do we inform the public to do to stay alive? Should we only inform them on how to avoid the virus (precaution) by washing their hands and staying indoors? Or should we also be reminding people of the best preparatory means to survive should they unluckily fall ill with the coronavirus (risk management)? We hear a lot from our risk managers about preventative measures, like hand washing and social distancing, but whom among us has ideas on how to survive getting hit by a deadly virus without a vaccine?
The COVID-19 Storm
When a storm is coming, risk management teaches you to protect what’s valuable. If it is a big one, you board up the windows of your house and turn off the gas. COVID-19 is a big one, it has only touched a fraction of the population and will likely guide our narrative for the next 12 to 18 months. But preparation for this storm is not about hoarding toilet paper and pasta.
Let’s start with a likely scenario: that you and your loved ones have a good probability of being infected with this coronavirus between now and the time a vaccine becomes available (end 2021). In other words, you need to examine your vulnerabilities and take appropriate risk-reduction measures based on the assumption you are going to get hit (not praying that you’ll be spared). Precautionistas are merely trying to stay safe (why face masks and hand washing are their main preoccupations); risk managers draw up all scenarios, including getting sick, and ask themselves: What can I do to survive the virus?
Wash your hands … with soap
Are you serious? Is that the best advice we can give people? Basic rules of hygiene that every five-year-old should already know? I can get the virus by opening my mail!
Wear a face mask … but not the good ones
Even though we know that face masks are only really useful to ensure you don’t infect others, it won’t prevent you, yourself, from falling ill. And as we have a shortage of PPE for healthcare and nursing home workers, the good masks are unavailable (another risk management fail). As there is inadequate stock of gloves or masks you will need to check the Internet on how to make your own PPE (sadly this is what many of our front-line doctors and nurses have had to do).
Washing hands and making your own face masks is all Western risk managers have been able to do to advise their populations on how to try to not get sick but what have they been saying on how to survive the COVID-19 storm should you get sick? Practically nothing. No wonder so many people are so content to stay at home. But informing the public on how to survive this pandemic is essential, at least until a vaccine can be developed, tested and then mass produced. This can be expected in about 18 months so, realistically, early 2022 for those who are not high risk (two more winters).
So how do we survive the interim period where a deadly virus is live and there is no vaccine? Staying home for 18 months seems a pretty big ask so we might need to seek another sort of experience. What do people who refuse vaccines do, on a daily basis, to survive deadly viruses and infections?
Maybe we should ask them!
What Should we Ask Anti-Vaxxers?
If I want to learn how to swim, I should ask a swimmer. If I want to learn a language, I should find a fluent language teacher. If I want to learn how to grow organic food, I should ask the Amish. But what if I want to survive a pandemic without a vaccine? Could an anti-vaxxer help me?
Let’s start by excluding the information I don’t need to consider:
- I don’t need to know how Bill Gates developed the coronavirus to profit from increased use of chemicals and vaccines.
- I shouldn’t spread Chinese conspiracy theories.
- I don’t have to set 5G towers on fire.
- I won’t have to buy supplements like Mercola’s hydrogen peroxide nebuliser or Bakker’s colloidal silver solution.
- I won’t load up on unregulated detox meal packets.
- I won’t dare try the bleach enema solution (thanks Donald … but no thanks).
Like any group or movement, we need to filter out the extremists and lunatics from the moderates. So outside of the conspiracy theorists, the opportunist snake-oil supplement salesmen and the militant anti-capitalist naturopaths, what do parents who choose not to vaccinate do to protect their children? What are the anti-vaxx gurus telling their followers to do during this pandemic? Why, for the last four months, have so few risk managers asked this question (while social media is censoring these groups to the applause of the mainstream science communications community)?
What do parents who choose not to vaccinate do to protect their children?
Should we exclude anti-vaxxers from the debate, like the climate deniers, the naturopaths and the chemophobes? Should we fight dark ideas by keeping them in the shadows or should we confront them in the light of reason? The Risk-Monger just finished watching the 9-part The Truth about Vaccines 2020 series and while he did not learn anything new and had a few eyebrow-raising moments, he also saw some points made by moderates that could be useful for those who feel that washing their hands and wearing home-made face masks is just not enough to protect themselves from the present COVID-19 threat.
Besides relying on herd immunity, what do those living without vaccines recommend to weather the disease storm? One thing, really.
Strengthen your Immunity
The best way to strengthen your immunity to viruses is to vaccinate. But if there is no vaccine, then you would have to consider other means. This is where the anti-vaxxers’ messaging is miles ahead of the conventional scientific community relying on vaccines as the main solution. I sometimes ask people: Give me five main means to strengthen immunity. I am often met with blank stares or only a few actions.
I am still mystified how, at the beginning of the year, ten weeks were lost reassuring the public and then just telling them to wash their hands. Four months into the pandemic and the message has not changed. While hand hygiene is good for many reasons, viruses are fought in the immune system. A weak immune system is more vulnerable so individuals need to take responsibility to build it up as storm prevention. Our risk managers should have been honest with their populations, telling them it is likely they will at some time contract the COVID-19 coronavirus, and strengthening their immune system until a vaccine is readily available is what they should do to prepare for that storm.
Some immunity-building discussions did emerge into the coronavirus mainstream (like eating garlic, ginger or keeping well hydrated) but they were quickly misdirected to the lunatic fringe and dispelled as myths because they were considered as coronavirus cures rather than means to strengthen the body’s immune system. In attacking the fringe debates, health experts gave a confusing message to the public: that having a strong immune system is not important (compared to washing your hands). This has become a dangerous health communications failure.
But outside of the naturopath opportunist solutions of investing in online supplements, detox diets and essential oils, what can people do, reasonably, to strengthen their immunity levels to increase their chances of surviving a coronavirus hit?
Here are five main ways to strengthen immunity levels and be in a better position to survive exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Five Simple Ways to Survive the Coronavirus
Let’s assume, despite the hand washing, face masks and social distancing, that you will sadly contract the COVID-19 coronavirus in the next 18 months. What can you do today to beat the virus tomorrow? (I can’t believe health authorities have not widely communicated this!)
1. Maintain a high level of fitness
People in good physical condition who regularly work out tend to have better resistance to infections and recover more quickly than those in poor condition leading a sedentary lifestyle. A well stimulated cardio-vascular system and a strengthened respiratory capacity is an essential storm-wall to fight viral attacks. The UK Imperial College released data showing that obese individuals have a much higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
So what have the authorities done? Locking populations up in small apartments with no means of physical activity and imposing a sedentary lifestyle has perhaps been the worst thing for people’s immune systems. Some countries allowed people to go out for exercise, but many, like Italy and Spain, enforced a complete lockdown for two months.
2. Eat a balanced diet
We are often told to eat a balanced diet with a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables to maintain a healthy immune system and prevent cancer. We are also learning more and more how higher levels of protein improve cell functions and shorten recovery times. One of the reasons I have fought the organic food industry lobby at every turn is because their elitist food preferences make it difficult for a good part of the population to access affordable nutrition.
So what have the authorities done? With stay-at-home measures and widespread fear of public places (like supermarkets), many consumers have stocked up on dry goods and processed foods rather than fresh fruit and vegetables. With a higher level of stress and anxiety, comfort eating of high-carb junk food has become the norm.
3. Avoid stress
Sound body, sound mind, but what can anxiety do to the body? Chronic stress situations affect not only blood pressure and heart health, they can also impede diet and sleep patterns further weakening immune systems.
So what have the authorities done? With mismanaged lockdowns, restrictions on most social activity, 24/7 body counts in the media, skyrocketing domestic violence reports, lost jobs and collapsing economies, sombre stories of loved ones dying alone in overwhelmed hospitals and strict sanctions on those not staying indoors, we can safely conclude that there has been little reason for increased public stress or anxiety.
4. Sleep well
With insufficient sleep the body produces fewer proteins that fight inflammation and infection. Certain infection-fighting cells and antibodies are reduced when people do not get enough sleep. Adults need around seven to eight hours of sleep each night to ensure a strong immune system.
So what have the authorities done? While there is some evidence of people sleeping more under lockdown with more sedentary routines, circadian rhythms have been demolished. Most of my students have evolved into permanently-pyjamaed nocturnal creatures.
5. Reduce your bad habits
This one hurts but until the threat subsides, we need to stop smoking and cut back on our alcohol and drug consumption. That is kind of obvious. That being said, there is evidence that nicotine offers some resistance to contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus (although a strong respiratory system is essential to combat the virus). The Risk-Monger has always been a staunch supporter of vaping but more studies need to be conducted before we can conclude that nicotine is a good preventative drug to be prescribed for COVID-19. Unfortunately, whiskey does not deliver the magic bullet many wishful thinkers had claimed.
So what have the authorities done? By locking people in their homes in a state of anxiety, increased mental health issues, domestic violence and uncertainty, they have created the perfect environment for substance abuse. The Risk-Monger, himself, has recently discovered just how easy it is to order his favourite Merlot online.
Note there are other debatable means to strengthen your immunity but if you concentrate on these five, hopefully if you get hit with any virus or infection, you will make it to the other side. These are all common sense actions (like washing your hands) but people need to be reminded of them and empowered to take control of their health and well-being. Too bad most public health authorities have introduced lockdown measures that do anything but allow individuals to strengthen their immunity. What on earth were they thinking?
It should also be noted that many elderly people, those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, have a compromised immune system not only due to age, but also with poor sleep patterns, little physical exercise and imbalanced diets. While most healthy people can build up their immune systems to protect themselves, it is a tragedy how our risk managers isolated the strong while failing to protect the most vulnerable in nursing homes.
Why has this Immunity Information not been Widely Shared?
Wash your hands … with soap … while singing “Happy Birthday” … twice. Sorry, while this common sense basic hygiene practice is good to know, it just won’t help me prepare for the COVID-19 storm if and when I get hit. I have been sharing information on strengthening immunity levels to prepare for COVID-19 here and here but few others have joined me in this basic personal risk management information campaign.
Why haven’t populations been reminded how to strengthen their immunity? Even if we don’t succeed in building our fitness, eating well, avoiding stress and bad habits and sleeping enough, these are still social goods we should always be striving for. Shouldn’t health experts be promoting this at all times? Why haven’t they? Was hand hygiene so much more important? When authorities in Italy, France and Spain restricted any outdoor exercise, were the risk managers even aware of the increased threats they were imposing on their populations?
In the mainstream media, I have only seen a CNN Staying Well infomercial about exercising, sleeping and eating well to strengthen immunity. It is no joke that the scientific community has been somewhat mute on this valuable advice. I have not found any practical information from the WHO – their only advice on immunity is related to their vaccine partner. When I Google “How to strengthen your immunity“, I land on a list of naturopath, anti-vaxx sites. The only credible site I could find on the first page of my search engine results is from Harvard Medical School, but it is a page that was just updated from 2014.
The stark reality is that large health authorities don’t actually care if you live or die once you contract the COVID-19 coronavirus. What they care about is whether you spread it before you die. Take a look at the vocabulary of the WHO Seven Steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There is no advice on how to fight the virus. The US CDC also published their Six Steps to prevent COVID-19 or their bone-chilling video with, confusingly, six different steps. Once again the messaging is only about limiting the spread, not about being in better shape to survive the virus. Couldn’t these health organisations simply add an extra point?
How hard would it be to say: 08. Eat and rest well while getting sufficient physical exercise.
I can only assume that this basic, common sense information has not been widely shared because strengthening immunity as an alternative to vaccination is a central point of anti-vaxx, naturopath doctrine. The WHO has had a regrettable history of vindictiveness from almost every utterance from Margaret Chan on the pharmaceutical industry to the WHO campaign against vaping to maintain their tobacco industry delegitimisation strategy. But strengthening immunity levels by any and all means should be central to any public health campaign regardless of the advocates.
What a sad indictment of the narrow-minded science communications community who won’t communicate basic personal health advice while putting all of their scientific faith in a vaccine coming sooner rather than later. It is not only about preventing the spread of the virus (precaution); it is about giving people the best means to survive the virus (risk management).
Keep your spirits up
As stress weakens your immune system, a positive outlook and relaxed disposition is essential. Many of my students are in a very sad state of distress. If you are suffering from the lockdown, keep a regular schedule and find routines to keep your mind busy. Eat well, sleep and get some daily exercise. I worry how the mental health consequences from these sudden and psychologically brutal lockdowns will produce more victims long-term. We need to relax and take care of ourselves. I fear nobody else is taking responsibility so we’re on our own until the scientific community can develop that vaccine.
I think it’s time for me to go out for a run. Realising that our risk managers actually need to seek advice from anti-vaxxers has me craving an endorphin lift.