The Pandemic, Science, and the Presidential Election

November 1, 2020 Updated: November 2, 2020

Commentary

The question of the COVID-19 pandemic was placed in the first and most important place in the two formal presidential debates and the vice presidential debate.

While the pandemic is indeed having the most impact on Americans’ lives at the moment, behind the emphasis on the disease is undoubtedly the subtext that President Donald Trump didn’t handle it well and, because of that, is responsible for the consequences.

After all, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden isn’t an official. He doesn’t need to be held responsible; he only needs to criticize, and thus, has an advantage. In addition, top scientific journals such as Nature and New England Journal of Medicine have publicly criticized Trump and backed Biden, adding new variables to this long-standing debate.

As we all know, in the early stage, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the World Health Organization jointly concealed and played down the pandemic, Trump had already ordered the suspension of flights from China, a decision that was criticized by Democratic leaders.

That was no easy decision, because preventive measures are the most unappreciated. If the pandemic didn’t materialize, it wouldn’t have considered a success of early prevention, and once the outbreak became a pandemic, it was seen as the result of improper or insufficient measures.

Trump’s Plan

Trump has been accused of not respecting science, but we should clarify what measures represent science. In the early stage of the pandemic, at least, in part, because the CCP refused to share information about the origin of the coronavirus with the world, the scientific community knew very little about the virus and didn’t have a mature prevention and control plan.

Medical experts suggested totally opposite measures for preventing the spread of the disease: complete lockdown and herd immunity. Most countries gradually accumulated experience after the outbreak of the pandemic. Of course, China, as the original outbreak site, also had the same problem. That’s why the international community didn’t blame the CCP for improperly handling the pandemic but for censoring the information.

The Trump administration has adopted a balanced plan that takes both into consideration: partial lockdown, social distancing, personal protection, telecommuting, gradual reopening, federal bailout, and minimizing unemployment.

In terms of treatment, patients with mild symptoms are self-quarantined at home to prevent the crash of the medical system; clinical trials and approvals of existing anti-coronavirus drugs (such as remdesivir) have been sped up; drugs known for treatment of other diseases (such as hydroxychloroquine and famotidine) have been applied; and new types of treatment methods (Regeneron’s cocktail of two monoclonal antibodies against viral spike proteins) have been developed.

At the same time, the United States has conducted tests that may be the most extensive of any population in the world. Perhaps that’s the reason why the United States has more confirmed cases than other developed countries.

The government also has contracted with pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines. Due to the uncertainty of developing vaccines, companies are usually unwilling to take risks, and government funding is the most practical and feasible solution. The government has also accelerated the localized production of important personal protective equipment, and so on.

These measures have been successful so far. At least the medical and scientific profession as a whole hasn’t proposed more effective comprehensive measures to fight COVID-19 while keeping the economy running.

Difficulties

Of course, the United States has its difficulties in dealing with the pandemic. Each state has the right to formulate lockdown measures on its own, and the federal government has no right to intervene, so of course it shouldn’t bear full responsibility. Unlike in Asian cultures, the general public in the United States rejects masks.

Politics also play a role. The most typical example of political intervention is that the mass gathering of people who violated the ban began with the Black Lives Matter protests and Antifa riots, which received acquiescence or even encouragement from local Democrat-led governments. Any reasonable person can see that these are not the result of Trump’s policies.

It isn’t only the medical profession that has failed to propose more effective measures. The Biden–Harris team’s proposals would result in either further shutting down the country or are not realistic, while the practical part of their measures is no different from what the Trump administration has been doing.

Besides, the severe lack of masks and protective equipment early in the outbreak was caused by mistakes made by previous U.S. administrations. In the past few decades, all production lines were moved to China; the weaponization of the crucial material by the CCP is an indisputable fact in this pandemic. The Trump administration was the first and the only one to try to correct that error.

Pandemic prevention isn’t a purely scientific issue, but a comprehensive issue of science, society, and politics. According to the plan of some epidemiologists and Biden’s team, before an effective treatment and a fully effective vaccination are available, the pandemic can be effectively controlled only by further—or even a complete—shutdown of U.S. society, including the U.S. economy, which would be a fatal blow to the United States. Unemployment would soar. The abnormal deaths caused by the stagnation of social activities would be dozens of times the current deaths caused by COVID-19.

There is a history lesson to be learned. The mass vaccination for swine flu in 1976 was a scientific and political decision-making error. At that time, four cases of lung infections caused by swine flu viruses were found at the U.S. Army’s Fort Dix in New Jersey, and one patient died.

Due to the horror of the 1918 pandemic, the decision-makers were facing a dilemma: whether this was the beginning of another deadly pandemic or just a few random cases. Should we start to develop a vaccine and vaccinate widely, or wait and see? Another question: once a vaccine is available, whether to vaccinate immediately or store the vaccine, because it takes three months from production to the completion of a national vaccination program.

Many people could have died during those three months. And if there is no pandemic after full vaccination, they would still be blamed. The final decision was a nationwide vaccination, but the expected pandemic didn’t materialize. Later, due to the vaccine-induced Guillain-Barré syndrome, litigation continued for many years. It was recognized as a public health disaster.

This shows that, in dealing with the sudden outbreak of previous unknown pandemics, human scientific understanding and correspondence are still limited, and errors in the decision-making process and results are still a high probability event. There are not only scientific limitations, but also constraints outside of science.

Scientific Journals

Science isn’t omnipotent, but an exploration of the unknown. COVID-19 is an unknown field for scientists. Scientists shouldn’t pretend to be authoritative. Direct application of natural science to social politics is often a disaster rather than a solution. Social Darwinism is an example.

As for the criticism of Trump by top scientific journals, although it’s unfair, it is understandable. The team of Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is at the center of the pandemic storm, is the favorite of Nature magazine. Shi’s famous gain of function experiment on coronavirus, in which a team modified the bat coronavirus spike protein to acquire the ability of cross-species infection, was published in Nature in 2015.

There’s also some little-known history in the scientific community. As early as 20 years ago, the top international scientific magazines reported stories such as this. The successful China-born, America-educated scientists in biological fields in the United States brought high technology back to China. They set up laboratories, and some began to work part-time in China. Those laboratories are the prototype of today’s “shadow laboratories.”

At that time, the CCP didn’t yet have a Thousand Talents plan. Scientific magazines were encouraging activities that are considered intellectual property theft today. The scientific community should do more today to uncover the root cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although it’s the responsibility of governments, not science, to hold the CCP accountable for the pandemic, scientific journals still have the duty to trace the origin of the pandemic and provide the government with scientific-based advice, not new policies. It seems that it isn’t only politicians who kowtow to the CCP.

Heng He is a commentator on Sound of Hope Radio, China analyst on New Tang Dynasty TV’s program Focus Talk, and a contributor to The Epoch Times.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.