What do Covid and Climate Change have in common?

News
Parallels between climate change and covid. Image Source: UNCTAD

Many scholars have pointed out parallels between covid anti-vaxxers and climate change contrarians, between climate change misinformation and covid vaccine misinformation, and between vaccine hesitancy and climate change denial.

However, I want to explore a contrasting parallel, this time between the medical industrial complex and the fossil fuel industry. Between Big Pharma and Big Oil. I think this parallel makes a whole lot more sense than trying to portray the medical industrial complex as the science-backed ‘good guys’. Let me explain.

Technological and economic progress that disrupts finely balanced natural systems

The burning of fossil fuels to produce energy was originally understood as a wonderful breakthrough to enable transport and production, enabling vast industrialisation and unprecedented economic growth, alleviating poverty, and extending health & wellbeing globally. Similarly covid vaccines have been understood to be a significant technological breakthrough and the veritable ticket to solving the covid pandemic: returning life back to normal.

Both technological breakthroughs, however, involve significant disruption to finely balanced natural systems. Our bodies have a natural immune system. Covid vaccines use novel lipid nanoparticle transfer and genetic (mRNA or viral vector) technology with no long term data on safety or efficacy. But there are questions about pathogenic priming (“original antigenic sin“) and other possible mechanisms of harm from Covid vaccines. It should hardly be surprising that such concerns exist when a medical industrial complex seeks to maximise profit through manipulation of natural systems, for that is the modus operandi of Big Pharma. I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily bad (or good), merely that the presence of at least some potential concerns would seem, at face value, legitimate.

Back when James Watt’s steam engine sparked the industrial revolution, nobody was concerned about global warming for around 200 years; although it was midway in that period when scientists such as Fourier, Tyndall and Arrhenius described the mechanisms and early modelling of the greenhouse effect.

Both Covid vaccines and the burning of fossil fuels are known to have mechanisms that may disrupt finely balanced natural systems. The science for both is clear. In fact it is clearer on the covid vaccine front than on the fossil fuel front. And that’s because covid vaccines are designed to enhance (positively disrupt) the natural immune response to covid. That is not in dispute. Whether there is net societal or individual benefit from those disruptions are questions of values rather than purely scientific questions. And the questions which science can answer may take years or even decades to answer.

Questions of science or policy?

The scientific method cannot alone answer questions of values or policy, but it can provide data and evidence to help answer quantitative questions.

This is why I struggle to see clear parallels between climate denial and vaccine hesitancy. They are simply not in the same category. One is a question about the nature of reality (what is?), the other is about the best course of action (what ought?). To deny that humans are significant contributors to climate change is to doubt the scientific evidence that provides a quantitative estimate, with confidence intervals, of how much humans activity contributes to global warming. However, I still don’t understand how the question of whether one should take a covid vaccine can be answered with a quantitative answer that is purely derived from scientific enquiry. I’m intentionally labouring the point here, because whether or not to get vaccinated is inherently a policy question based on values, which may (hopefully) informed by scientific evidence to answer questions that one deems important. Those questions could be:

  • How strongly do I wish to avoid catching covid?
  • How strongly do I wish to avoid being hospitalised by covid?
  • How will I try to avoid transmitting covid?
  • Do I wish to pursue lifestyle methods to reduce risk?
  • Do I wish to pursue more established pharmaceuticals for prophylaxis or early treatment?
  • Do I wish to subject myself to unknowable possible long term consequences (either positive or negative) from taking a novel therapeutic intervention?

To repeat my key message: while I am yet to be convinced of clear parallels between climate denial and vaccine hesitancy, despite many claims of parallels, I can see clear parallels between Big Pharma and Big Oil. Which brings me to my next point.

Follow the Money

Identification of financial beneficiaries does not necessarily imply hidden motives or perverse incentives. It’s important to stick to known facts rather than unknowable conspiracy theories. In the case of Big Oil, there is a well documented history of casting doubt on the science of climate change to preserve industry profitability. In the case of Big Pharma, there is also a well documented history of fraud and corruption, including data falsification, in pursuit of profit.

There is a significant profit for Big Pharma for covid vaccines. That need not automatically lead to a conclusion of corruption but the history of fraud and corruption must certainly make it a possibility.

Policy Response: Totalitarianism and Coercion

Now I’m jumping to parallels between covid policy response and global warming response. (While Bg Pharma and Big Oil may have some influence on policy response in their respective domains, it is not their primary focus, so unproven conspiracy theories aside, they’re off the hook.)

Both covid and global warming are genuine global issues of high priority. (Of course there are several high priority global issues, but I’m not commenting on the relative priority of these and other global issues. That is a separate question entirely.)

Governmental policy response for both covid and global warming are both areas of concern for possible exploitation by commercial interests and coercive intrusion into personal freedoms. Again, I’m not commenting on the merits of such policy responses or the corresponding concerns, but merely observing that for a large and somewhat influential part of the population, these concerns are at least their reality.

My Thoughts on the Church’s Response to Covid-19

Contents

  • Church statements on immunisation: the less said the better
  • Something in common: climate change, immunisation, and flat earth
  • What can we do proactively? Promote liberty & health

My recommendation for my church’s position statement on immunisation

Key Points

My Argument

I am a committed Seventh-day Adventist and love our message, mission and movement. One of the key contributions of our church is the Adventist Health message, which promotes healthy lifestyles. A direct result and advantage of promoting lifestyle health is that gains achieved through lifestyle interventions generally have corresponding reductions in reliance on pharmaceutical interventions. This should, in theory, include a corresponding reduction (even if only marginal) in the need for, and reliance on, immunisation.

Lifestyle approaches to health may not completely nullify the potential benefit of a given inoculation, but they may reduce the available benefit (measured in risk reduction) from an inoculation and its clinical trials. For example, if a clinical trial’s study and control groups both followed Adventist principles of healthy lifestyles, the measured risk reduction benefit would be less than if both groups followed a typical modern lifestyle. That’s because the baseline risk has already been reduced through lifestyle measures. Since all inoculations have a risk/benefit trade-off, it would make sense that someone following the healthy lifestyle practices recommended by the Adventist health message would, from a risk/benefit trade-off perspective, probably not be able to justify taking as many immunisations as someone following a typical modern lifestyle. Inoculations with a more marginal risk/benefit trade-off would probably not meet the threshold of benefit, given the baseline risk reduction achieved through lifestyle, to overcome the risks associated with the inoculation.

Further, one of our founders, Ellen White, the person singularly responsible for the Adventist Health message, strongly discouraged reliance on pharmaceuticals. Our church does not interpret this advice as negating all pharmaceuticals, but it predisposes us to place a relatively higher value on lifestyle interventions and relatively lower value on pharmaceutical interventions.

Inoculations are pharmaceutical interventions. By design, they introduce foreign matter directly into the bloodstream of the human body. Adjuvants are typically at least somewhat toxic. This is not a problem unique to immunisation – all pharmaceuticals carry some risk and have some marginal level of toxicity. E.g., antibiotics, by definition, are toxic to the life of particular microbes. Please remember, and I must state this clearly: I am definitely not saying that just because something has some level of toxicity it should not be used for health purposes.

According to our church’s health message and values, it could be expected that we would be relatively less reliant on immunisation and relatively more reliant on lifestyle interventions to prevent illness. And it would also be expected that the general direction we would be aspiring toward is one in which positive lifestyle interventions are maximised and pharmaceutical interventions are minimised.

This does not mean that our church should advocate against immunisation, just as it doesn’t advocate against pharmaceuticals in general.

But in the same way that the church also don’t advocate for pharmaceuticals, I would suggest that it need not advocate for inoculations either. It normally makes sense to leave it to the FDA and TGA (and similar organisations around the world) to do their jobs to ensure safety and efficacy. But sometimes new information comes to light and inoculations have to be withdrawn from the market. If the church had endorsed every approved inoculation, that would have meant endorsing inoculations that were subsequently terminated and would then need to be unendorsed by the church.

It would be better to simply say very little or nothing at all on the topic.

Big Pharma has done much good for world health. For example, Merck created a drug that has safely and effectively eradicated river blindness in Africa. Merck donated sufficient ivermectin to eradicate river blindness globally. Its inventors deservedly won the Nobel prize for it.

However, Big Pharma also has a dark side. Multiple criminal convictions and large fines have been recorded for fraud, bribery and falsifying safety data.

I’m usually very reluctant to take antibiotics, but antibiotics have been instrumental in healing my gut from issues caused by parasites that I’ve had for 20 years. Despite the problems, I’m thankful for the benefit brought to our world by pharmaceuticals.

My Proposed Statement on Pharmaceuticals and Immunisation

The Adventist church has a statement on immunization (American spelling) that I think can be improved based on our collective experience with Covid-19 and the response of governments around the world that has characterised by many as tending toward coercive and totalitarian. One thing I’d like to see removed is placing peer reviewed science alongside inspired revelation as the basis of our beliefs and practice in any area. We certainly would not do this in the area of origins, and there are many areas of health science that still conflict with inspired revelation, which clearly trumps peer reviewed science in our church’s epistemology, as substantiated by our experience over the decades. I would also broaden it to include pharmaceuticals as I think the issues involved and stance we take are applicable to both. This is my proposed revised statement:

Pharmaceuticals and Immunization

The Seventh-day Adventist Church places strong emphasis on health and well-being. The Adventist health emphasis is based on biblical revelation and the inspired writing of E.G. White (co-founder of the Church). We believe that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and therefore that looking after our bodies, including being careful about what we put into our bodies, is integral to our Christian life and worship.

The Adventist Health Message has a long and distinguished history advocating for maximising positive lifestyle interventions to promote health and minimising pharmaceutical interventions where possible. We understand that pharmaceuticals can contribute to optimising health, particularly in acute health crises, but we do not get involved in the endorsement or approval of particular drugs or immunisations. As a church, we leave it to regulatory bodies and the process of peer reviewed science to assess safety and efficacy of particular medical interventions, and encourage our church members to exercise personal freedom of conscience to decide which ones to take.

What do immunisation, global warming and flat earth all have in common?

Apart from being rife with conspiracy theories that can’t all simultaneously be correct, there is another thing they all have in common. Our church does not have special revelation or expertise in any of them. Actually, Ellen White’s advice on flat earth theories over a century ago is relevant here.

“Whether the world is round or flat will not save a soul, but whether men believe and obey means everything… [W]hen Christ gave my commission to do the work He had placed upon me, the flat or round world was not included in the message; the Lord had taken care of His house, His world here below, better than any human agency could care for it, and until the message came from the Lord, silence was eloquence upon that question.” 21MR 413-4

What I take from this quote is that as a church we don’t need to enter into disputes and take positions on things that are not relevant to the church’s message and mission.

I’ve developed my thinking a bit during Covid-19. Previously I’ve advocated for our church recognising the validity of the issue of anthropogenic global warming, in order to improve our credibility. I’ve even written articles in RECORD on the topic. While I still personally believe that there is human caused global warming that creates risks for society, I probably would be less concerned about trying to convince the skeptics and be more ready to advocate for the “silence is golden” position. (I still haven’t found a credible argument that anthropogenic global warming isn’t real.) And on the flipside, I am increasingly aware that environmental crisis is an area where a coercive government response may be a threat to religious liberty.

The church does not have special expertise or revelation in the areas of immunisation, global warming, or the shape of the earth. We have members and employees who are experts in each of those fields, but that does not confer that expertise on the church as a body. For example, I have done doctoral research and continue to work in water engineering as it intersects with climate change, so it frustrates me that many in our church speak dogmatically from ignorance about that area of science. However, it is not a topic on which our church needs to have an authoritative position.

We do, however, have special expertise and revelation in the area of lifestyle health, often known as the “Adventist Health Message“. There is an abundance of revelation (through the ministry of Ellen White), and scientific evidence through the multi-generational Adventist Health Study at Loma Linda. This is an area where we do have something worth proclaiming.

Comment specific to Covid Inoculations

Our church has made extensive statements generally in support of Covid inoculations, but emphasising that the church is leaving the choice up to individuals. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I think this is a case where the less we said about pharmaceutical interventions the better, whether for or against inoculations on the one hand (where we have weighed in) or early treatment with repurposed drugs such as ivermectin on the other (where to my knowledge we haven’t). There is ongoing debate in the media, in the scientific community, and between countries as to whether or not inoculations should be mandated and whether or not ivermectin is safe and effective or should be banned.

The risk the church runs is that we could be trying to be an authority on an area of life (i.e., effectively saying Covid inoculations are beneficial) where we don’t have any special revelation or authority. Safety & efficacy of pharmaceutical interventions is not a core function or expertise of our church. To weigh in on this topic as we have in this pandemic would effectively be trusting that the processes of peer reviewed science and regulatory oversight are going to lead to good (or at least benign) health interventions. But history shows that’s not always how it plays out. There are numerous drugs and inoculations over the decades that have had to be pulled from the market because of unfavourable risk/benefit with the benefit of hindsight.

It’s fine to trust the intentions of regulators and scientists, but as far as I know, in no other area have we ever trusted or allowed our church’s position on a topic to be determined by peer reviewed science or government policy. It is simply not consistent with our epistemology or mission to entrust church belief or policy to the outcomes of secular science or government.

It seems to me that Covid inoculations (and a bunch of other Covid public health responses) are arguably likely to be found to be at best suboptimal with the benefit of hindsight. There could, of course, be totally understandable reasons for this, such as the urgency involved in responding to a global pandemic.

What can our church contribute in the Covid response?

The ultimate solution to every problem besetting humanity, including Covid, is the gospel. As such, it makes little sense to prioritise mitigating Covid risks over preaching the gospel. In fact both those objectives can both be met simultaneously without compromising either. Preaching the gospel should always be the church’s central mission focus.

The gospel provides an interesting insight into pandemic response. Given that the gospel is the ultimate solution to every problem, including Covid, it could be argued that belief in the gospel should be mandated to bring about the ultimate favourable resolution for everyone rapidly. But such a mandate would be entirely anti-gospel. The gospel is about love and freedom. Mandated irreversible personal health interventions are inevitably associated with fear, coercion and control.

The church has a wonderful opportunity to present the biblical message of hope and purpose, based on love and freedom. While we are surrounded by fear and tight controls in the face of the pandemic, hundreds of times the Bible says not to fear. We can bring healing through love and hope as the antidote to fear and mental suffering. Protection and promotion of personal and religious liberty is extremely important in this time of excessive coercion and control.

And we have an eminently safe and effective health toolkit through the Adventist health message. While we can trust our government to have good intentions to do the best it can for public health within the constraints of human wisdom and expertise, we have a scientifically proven health message inspired by Divine omniscience and omnipotence in which we can place our full trust and confidence!

The Liberty & Health Alliance is one group of Adventists who, from what I’ve seen so far, are doing amazing work in advocating a biblical message of health and freedom extremely relevant for these times. They are not particularly pro or anti inoculations, but share relevant information for people to make their own decisions. I believe they provide a template for how our church can contribute meaningfully in the Covid response.

Follow-up to Covid-19-84

Thanks for all the engagement, questions, and critical feedback on my earlier post on what I believe has been a somewhat draconian response to Covid.

Recommended Public Health Response?

A great question was what public health response would I propose instead? My public policy suggestions are tentative as there is a lot I don’t know, but here are a few ideas for what it’s worth:

Fact-Checking the CCCA Presentation

A friend shared a fact-check of the CCCA presentation that I shared. This is helpful, as it is always good to view multiple perspectives on important issues – particularly where there is controversy. There were a couple of valid observations that were new to me.

However, the AFP’s fact check is insufficient to bury the CCCA presentation for these two key reasons:

  1. They’ve picked a few relatively minor points and ignored the major points of the presentation, in my view. Major concerns that remain undealt with include:
    1. No comment on all cause mortality end point.
    2. No comment on BMJ’s publication of whistleblower’s concerns.
    3. No comment on several other trial study design issues.
    4. No comment on pervasive conflict of interest.
    5. No comment on Pfizer’s history of criminal activity.
    6. No comment on the overall trend of heart issues in professional athletes – just correctly pointing out that one case (Christian Eriksen) is probably not linked to the inoculation, even though AFP overstates the original claim of CCCA on that particular point.
  2. The AFP repeats the myth that ivermectin is ineffective, contrary to numerous published studies.
    1. While I’m no apologist for ivermectin, there has clearly been an indefensible demonization of repurposed drugs such as ivermectin.
    2. Please read this article by (Emeritus) Prof Robert Clancy of Newcastle University School of Medicine for an articulation of highly aberrant response from Australian health regulators.
    3. There are numerous publications demonstrating efficacy and many parts of the world are using ivermectin. The Australian position seems indefensible.

Covid-19-84

Covid-19-84. Apologies to George Orwell.

Key Points

Key Evidence

If you only have time to look up one of the many credible and compelling links included here, please review this presentation (video & PDF of slides with references) from the Canadian Covid Care Alliance. A convincing case is made that the “Pfizer inoculations for Covid-19 do more harm than good” and “should be withdrawn immediately.”

My Approach

While I am no health scientist or professional, I have done a PhD so am familiar with the scientific process and peer review. My view is not set in stone but follows the evidence. The Covid virus itself is changing and of course the scientific knowledge about it is also developing. My thinking and response are correspondingly open to change.

I should also disclose how my values may influence (bias) my thinking. My environmental sustainability and spiritual values are such that I favour natural approaches to health and wellbeing over pharmaceutical intervention, wherever possible. This is as much based on values as it is on science. This does not mean that I never take a pharmaceutical intervention. In fact, my gut health in the last year has significantly improved largely thanks to a pharmaceutical intervention. In the area of Covid prevention and treatment, my existing beliefs and values draw me to natural and lifestyle approaches to health promotion. Already following a plant-based diet, I am heartened to know my risk reduction is 73% for moderate-to-severe Covid-19.

My Current Position

Notwithstanding my openness to learn and grow, I believe Australian and global public health policy settings are far removed from what would be expected from a society that prioritises values of health, safety and societal freedom (as has been understood and practised in Western democracies for much of the last couple of centuries).

Covid-19 comes nowhere near the level of lethality needed to justify what amounts to a huge inroad into the basic standards of a functioning liberal democracy.” – James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law, UQ

Why the Apparent Mismatch Between Public Policy and Scientific Evidence?

I trust our government and health professionals to be doing the best they can given:

There is a significant degree of institutionalisation (knowledge, values, rules) and path dependency that helps to explain how this interplay may not always lead to optimal public health outcomes. My PhD on institutionalisation and path dependency in another field provides me with some experiential basis to posit this explanation.

But Isn’t there a Scientific Consensus?

In many fields there develops over time a consensus of scientific enquiry such that new evidence tends to confirm core hypotheses and these are eventually firm enough to inform public policy. An example is anthropogenic global warming.

Fact checkers (such as FactCheck.org, Politifact, etc) are usually useful points of reference for the non-expert public citizen. However, the science of Covid is novel compared to most other fields of enquiry, thus knowledge is rapidly growing. Often that necessitates changing basic assumptions and decisions about public health science and policy.

Is there a role for fact-checkers when scientific enquiry can often be more divergent than convergent at this early stage? Unfortunately, current fact-checking regarding Covid is at risk of being driven more by political and corporate interests defending existing or desired policy settings rather than being open to the truth gained through genuine and open scientific enquiry.

A case in point is when the highly prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) was “fact-checked” by Facebook/Meta such that BMJ felt compelled to publish a pointed open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, identifying the fact-checking as “inaccurate, incompetent and irresponsible”. The original story was the BMJ’s publication of a whistle-blower’s disclosure of concerns regarding Pfizer’s clinical trials.

The Logical Case Against Mandates

There is quite a compelling case against inoculation mandates from a health science and policy point of view. There is minimal to zero personal benefit, negligible societal benefit (in terms of transmission risk), and some level of personal health risk. While there are regulatory norms around safety and efficacy that arguably have not been satisfied for covid inoculations, whether the level of personal health risk is ultimately tolerable or not should be, in my opinion, left up to personal values and judgment. This is usually referred to as informed consent.

There are also undesirable societal impacts of inoculation mandates beyond epidemiological metrics. A perverse incentive is created by mandating en masse a pharmaceutical intervention which unavoidably carries some level of health risk (even if only perceived), is urgently fast-tracked in the context of a declared global pandemic, and from which pharmaceutical companies derive a significant profit. The perverse incentive is to cut corners on safety and efficacy trials, and to ‘sell’ a message of fear to the public to increase demand. There is also a perverse incentive to ignore and even demonise effective treatment options. (Early treatment has saved millions of lives in many developing countries, which have far better disease and death rates compared to Western countries.)

Do we really want there to be a gold-rush mentality among pharmaceutical companies the next time there is a chance of a global pandemic?

Mandates also promote anxiety, distrust and division in an already suffering society.

Thankfully Japan is modelling an approach based on informed consent as opposed to compulsion; though it is somewhat alarming that it is unique in this regard. In relation to Covid inoculation, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare clearly states: “Please do not force anyone in your workplace or those who around you… and do not discriminate.”

Isn’t it selfish to push back against inoculation?

If inoculation was safe and effective (including at preventing transmission), then yes, it could be argued to be selfish not to be inoculated. The preponderance of evidence undermines these requisite conditions, however.

There are a number of legitimate alternative perspectives that actually put the ‘selfishness’ shoe on the other foot:

Trying to influence the choices of another by applying labels of selfishness is itself an inherently self-serving act. Coercion is antithesis to selflessness, love and freedom. Protesting against illogical mandates at risk of losing one’s livelihood is hard to construe as selfish (although such construction has been attempted).

Follow-up Post (added 11 January)

See my follow-up post for:

  • What public health policy would I recommend?
  • Alternative views (‘fact check’) on the CCCA presentation
  • Where to find published scientific evidence on Covid prevention and treatments (in addition to the links below).

Further Reading

Risk reduction and early treatment: https://covid19criticalcare.com/

Declarations & advocacy against mandates: