Quacks have taken over public health policy while Indians pay for their hubris

Vaccines are still under experimental use but no control group is being set up to identify the efficacy of vaccines, if any, and to alert us in case of adverse or long-term effects

Representative Photo
Representative Photo

Dr Amitav Banerjee

I once visited the clinic of a quack with obscure degrees but with a thriving practice. The waiting room was crowded. A woman gulped down the prescribed pills with a glass of water in the waiting room and threw up instantly. Her husband angrily walked back to the quack and started creating a scene. The quack asked the husband why he is worked up. The husband complained that the pills given to his wife made her throw up and demanded refund of the consultation fees.

The quack came out and patted the back of the patient, uttering “Shabash, Shabash, dawa asar kar giya, isiliye diya tha, undar ka jaher bahar nikalne ke liye” (Bravo, Bravo, the medicine has worked, it was given to eliminate the inner poison). The words of the quack were hypnotic. Both the husband and the patient touched his feet and left! Neither the quack nor the patient understood how the drug worked. But this vacuum was filled by the quack’s suave talk and blind faith of his patients.

Similar dubious methods are being used not only by the pharma industry but by politicians, their advisers, career scientists and academicians. Regrettably, they enjoy the blind faith of the people. Who would have imagined that modern medicine will fall to this level of quackery in the 21st century!

Public health principles have been thrown out of the window, reminds Martin Kuldorff, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, reflected in the repetition of draconian and unscientific measures which helped less and harmed more. The cycle of lockdowns, mass testing and tracing seem to be back at their starting point, China.

Mass vaccination of adults and more concerning of children is a case in point. The infection fatality rate of Covid-19 at global level across all age groups is less than 0.3% and in India less than 0.1%. Among healthy children, deaths after infection with the virus is negligible. And most importantly, over 80% of them had robust natural immunity even before the vaccines were approved for them.

Mass vaccination of Indian children with vaccines approved in unholy haste under emergency use authorisation makes no epidemiological sense. Not that it makes any sense for healthy young adults either.

Natural robust immunity after recovery from viral infections is a well- known phenomenon but it took almost two years for the CDC in US to grudgingly concede this. Yet, vaccine is being pushed among those who have recovered from natural infection.

And moreover, if we vaccinate even those who have recovered from Covid-19 it would be difficult in the long run to identify whether adverse events, if any, is due to the Covid-19 disease or because of the vaccine.

The Omicron wave thankfully has caused far less hospitalization and deaths compared to the delta variant. Botswana and South Africa, where it originated, reached endemic status pretty soon with low to modest vaccination coverage. Omicron acted as nature’s vaccine wherever it spread.

In a video interview which went viral, even Bill Gates could not hide his disappointment that the benign Omicron spread faster than the vaccine rollout rendering vast swathes of populations immune.

Vaccine manufacturers and proponents of mass vaccination had a setback when realisation dawned that none of the vaccines stopped transmission. They then clutched at the straw and claimed that vaccination reduced hospitalisations and deaths.

Well, Omicron did not cause hospitalization or deaths. So, if Omicron is proving not much of a bother why not leave it alone? And, also, since the existing lot of vaccines (which are nearing expiry dates - no wonder the desperation to push boosters!), are made from the original strain, how can they protect from newer variants? Moreover, Indians already had acquired natural herd immunity which studies have established is 13 to 26 times more robust than vaccine induced immunity.

Data also did not indicate that children below 18 years faced any impact of the pandemic in spite of over 80% having encountered the earlier more virulent strains. Moreover, published studies have raised concerns that while deaths in children from Covid-19 disease is negligible, mortality from the vaccines is not negligible and long- term adverse events are unknown.

But then we underestimated the vaccine promoters! They now claimed that Omicron infection is mild because of mass vaccine rollout, in a desperate bid to boost their way out of impending bankruptcy, not necessarily financial, but political, scientific and academic as well!

How have we landed up in this mess in the so called enlightened 21st century? The web involves not only big pharma, but politicians, their bureaucrats, career scientists and academia. While pharma seeks profit, others have to advance their career or perish. The noble calling of academics is noble no longer in the current environment.

Researchers have to compete for grants which are scarce from government sources. There is great pressure to publish and get research grants from extramural sources for their own as well as their institution’s standing. This need is filled up by big pharma. Research carried out under such constraints cannot be objective and unbiased. Molehills have to be converted into mountains to attract attention and get grants. Elementary, my dear Watson!

An editorial in the prestigious British Medical Journal titled, “Covid-19: politicisation, corruption and suppression of science,”, sums it up poignantly, “When good science is suppressed, people die.”

(Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD. Post Doc in Epidemiology, presently Professor at Dr DY Patil Medical College, Pune. Views are personal)

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