If the Viruses Keep Coming, Here’s How We Should Respond

Here’s a headline that gets one thinking: “‘Unknown pneumonia’ deadlier than coronavirus sweeping Kazakhstan, Chinese embassy warns.”  

The story, appearing in The South China Morning Post on July 9, quoted the Chinese embassy in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan as warning Chinese citizens, “The death rate of this disease is much higher than the novel coronavirus.” 

As the article noted, Kazakhstan has seen nearly 2,000 deaths from pneumonia this year—628 of them just in June.  In the meantime, Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, said in a televised address that the Central Asian nation is “facing the second coronavirus wave coupled with a huge uptick in pneumonia cases.” The Chinese embassy adds that experts “have yet to identify the virus.” 

This news about a new deadly virus is disturbing, isn’t it? That is, it’s highly disturbing that some new strain of pneumonia is loose in the world, as well as a second wave of the coronavirus, also known as Covid-19—although some say we’re still in the first wave. 

In any case, pneumonia has already been recognized as a dangerous companion illness to Covid.  Indeed, if we step back, we realize that in addition to pneumonia (which can be bacterial or fungal, as well as viral), the world has suffered at least three major flu-virus outbreaks in the last 17 years: SARS, MERS, and, Covid-19.  And now, perhaps, some new disease, which the Chinese embassy dubbed “Kazakhstan pneumonia” before backing off under political pressure.  Still, it seems that by one name or another, we’re under steady attack.  

So where are all these viruses coming from? That’s an unanswered question—or should we say, that’s a question with no proven answer.  Some put the blame on globalization; it is, after all, easier than ever to travel around the world. Moreover, the growing population of the planet, some 7.8 billion, is developing rural areas, as well as simultaneously packing itself more densely into cities. So whatever unfamiliar pathogens are to be found amidst, say, the bat population in the surroundings of Wuhan, China, are likely soon to spread to the 11 million residents jammed into that city. And from there, to spread everywhere. 

Inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan in 2017.BY

Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli (left), who is often called China’s “bat woman” for her work on viruses originated from bats, is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province on February 23, 2017. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

Moreover, as this author noted here at Breitbart News in April, it’s possible that these exotic viruses have had some human help—and maybe a lot of help.  Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and many others have demanded a full investigation of Chinese laboratories. Of course, nobody expects the Chinese government to come clean, although just on July 12, a new report in Britain’s Mail on Sunday, quoting a Chinese whistleblower, suggests that the People’s Republic had a lot to do with the origination of the virus.  So the Chinese Communist Party’s stonewalling notwithstanding, the truth may yet come out.

So while we don’t yet know, for sure, the source of this virus, we do know, for sure, that it’s been devastating.  Just in the U.S., Covid has killed more than 136,000, and sickened more than 3.2 million.   

In other words, if the coronavirus wasn’t intended as a weapon, it’s certainly worked out that way.  That is, from the point of view of an enemy of the United States—and there are more than a few of those around the world—the coronavirus has proven effective at not only killing and sickening, but also at damaging and disrupting.  

So whether the virus was the result of Mother Nature in a bad mood, or the result of a deliberate asymmetric attack, it’s a safe bet that we’ll be confronting this sort of national health threat again.  Indeed, quite possibly, we’ll be confronting wave after wave. 

Building Bulwarks Against the Waves

So what should we do?  How should we respond to these waves of danger?  One answer is to “de-couple” with China, as a way of limiting our exposure to what China is producing, be it visible, or invisible.  

In fact, over the last three-and-a-half years, the Trump administration has taken a mostly hawkish stance on China, and the policy has borne some fruit.  For instance, the U.S. trade deficit with China shrank by about eight percent from 2017 to 2019; although, of course, the trade deficit is still an enormous 12-digit number.  

So we can see, plenty of work remains to be done—and much of it has an immediate national security imperative.   For example, the Chinese app TikTok is now regarded as dangerous spyware, and yet it still remains freely available on Google and elsewhere in the U.S.  Indeed, TikTok ranks as the most downloaded app in the Apple Store, boasting 123 million downloads in the U.S.  So perhaps the Trump administration could take a lesson from India, which just banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps. 

Of course, the fact that we haven’t yet managed to stop China from exporting buggy malware to our shores is a reminder that we’ll have a hard time stopping them from exporting, intentionally or not, other kinds of bugs.   

Yet in addition to scrutinizing—or, better yet, stopping—dubious imports from China, we should be thinking more broadly about stopping contagious diseases from all over the world.  After all, other recent infections, such as MERS, Ebola, and Zika, did not originate in China. 

Thus we can see: We need a strategy for safeguarding ourselves from the world’s contagions, not just China’s. 

For instance, we should be thinking about literal, physical, bulwarks against the waves.  And that means infrastructure, including, now, infrastructure that affords social distancing, such as wider walkways and new roads to promote population dispersion.

Interestingly, Donald Trump has always had the right idea on infrastructure—build, baby, build—and yet like so many hopes of this administration, it hasn’t happened.  Indeed, as we know, the Trump administration has been up and down the rollercoaster of “infrastructure week,” which turned into infrastructure weeks, which then stalled into infrastructure never—or at least never in this four-year term.  

Yet still, the lure of low interest rates—the current federal funds rate is zero—makes it cheap to borrow and to build.  Here at Breitbart News in March, this author wrote about the need for new walls and new structures, spread across the country, in response to the challenge of the virus.  That is, if people aren’t safe when they’re dense-packed in cities, let’s carve out more safe spaces, including open spaces in areas that need economic development.  (In that vein, another article appearing in Breitbart News a year-and-a-half ago, entitled “Making Rural America Great Again,” seems prescient.) 

Yet even as we think about these possible responses to the coronavirus and others, there’s one big response that needs some real emphasis: Defeating these damn viruses. 

If We Realize We’re Fighting a War Against Disease, We Can Plan for Victory

Let’s start with an obvious point that seems to get lost as we think about masks, social distancing, and all that: The coronavirus is trying to sicken, even kill, us all.   And therefore, we shouldn’t be seeking to accommodate ourselves to the virus, but rather, we should be seeking to un-accommodate the virus itself—as in, kill it before it kills us. 

To be sure, the coronavirus is an unthinking thing, just a strand of RNA surrounded by a sheath of protein and spikes of glycoprotein.  And yet, mindless as it is, the virus is a mortal enemy, just as surely as if it were sighting us in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.  

So when we’re faced with an enemy, what should we do?  We should defend ourselves, of course, but even more, we should fight back.  

That is, we should be fighting a war against illness, incapacitation, and death.  And when we’re fighting a war, we should be taking shelter as we need to, but most of all, we should be building weapons.  

It’s hard to think of a better public purpose than such fighting back; after all, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution includes the words, “provide for the common defense.”  

In that spirit, the same Founders who created the Constitution regarded epidemics as a grave threat to both domestic tranquility and the general welfare.  That’s why, in 1798, President John Adams created the agency we now know as the U.S. Public Health Service. 

Indeed, our national history proves that health professionals, joined by others in the private and public sectors, can work miracles.  For instance, during World War II, American scientists turned a British discovery, penicillin, into an enormous—and enormously life-saving—antibiotics industry. During the war, hundreds of thousands of sick and wounded GI’s recovered because of antibiotics, and since then, of course, vastly more lives have been saved and improved by penicillin and its many follow-ons. 

A roomful of female workers packing penicillin into cardboard cartons as a male foreman supervises them in a pharmaceutical plant, USA, circa 1945. (R. Gates/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Impressed by the wartime track record of dramatically increased innovation and production, President Franklin D. Roosevelt envisioned extending Uncle Sam-spurred industry into postwar health improvement.  In a fateful letter, dated November 17, 1944, Roosevelt wrote to Vannevar Bush, America’s chief military scientist, outlining his vision.  

Recalling that the Pentagon’s research and development had produced many military miracles—from antibiotics to radar to synthetic rubber—FDR described the collective effort as “a unique experiment of team-work and cooperation in coordinating scientific research and in applying existing scientific knowledge to the solution of the technical problems paramount in war.”  

Then Roosevelt added his signal conclusion—if science can be systematically harnessed to do the work of war, it can be similarly harnessed to do the work of peace: 

There is . . . no reason why the lessons to be found in this experiment cannot be profitably employed in times of peace.  The information, the techniques, and the research experience developed by the Office of Scientific Research and Development and by the thousands of scientists in the universities and in private industry, should be used in the days of peace ahead for the improvement of the national health.

It’s worth pointing out that when FDR wrote this letter, the fighting was still ongoing; indeed, the greatest weapon of all, the atomic bomb, unleashed in 1945, was still in one of Bush’s laboratories.  And yet FDR was thinking beyond the war—beyond, even, his own life.  He was thinking, instead, about the lives of his fellow Americans, as well as the peoples of the world, in the post-war era:

With particular reference to the war of science against disease, what can be done now to organize a program for continuing in the future the work which has been done in medicine and related sciences?  The fact that the annual deaths in this country from one or two diseases alone are far in excess of the total number of lives lost by us in battle during this war should make us conscious of the duty we owe future generations.

So that was the plan: Mobilize for “the war of science against disease,” just as we had mobilized the war of science against Hitler and Tojo. FDR died on April 12, 1945, before World War II was won; yet fortunately, his successors in the White House picked up the fallen torch.

In those days, the most dreaded viral scourge was polio, which afflicted—and usually crippled—tens of thousands of Americans each year.   So under the leadership of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, the nation mobilized around the search for a polio vaccine, spearheaded by Dr. Jonas Salk. 

Dr. Jonas E. Salk, professor of research bacteriology at the University of Pittsburgh, PA, is shown in a laboratory on March 27, 1954. Dr. Salk announced the successful use of a new polio vaccine on 90 children and adults. An assistant, Ethel J. Bailey, works on a step in the vaccine’s production. (AP Photo)

Fittingly, victory, in the form of a vaccine, was announced on April 12, 1955—the tenth anniversary of FDR’s death. The Food and Drug Administration pronounced the Salk vaccine to be “safe and effective.”  Dr. Thomas Francis of the University of Michigan, the project’s official monitor, made the triumphant announcement before an audience that included some 150 reporters, as well as a nationwide radio audience.  According to medical historian Dr. Paul A. Offit, by the time Dr. Francis had stepped down from the podium, “Church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping.” As one observer put it, “It was as if a war had ended.”

Indeed, a war had ended—we had won a massive victory against disease.  As as the historian and commentator Alistair Cook wrote on April 16, 1955:

Nothing short of the overthrow of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union could bring such rejoicing to the hearths and homes of America as the historic announcement last Tuesday that the 166-year war against paralytic poliomyelitis is almost certainly at an end.

So now, back to our time.  We’ve been attacked by a new virus, and, frankly, so far at least, the virus has been winning.  So now we need to mobilize for our own defense.  That is, we must build up our medical-industrial complex; we need more scientists, laboratories, entrepreneurs, pharma companies—overseen by pro-cures national leaders—aimed at producing more cures, vaccines, and anything else we need to stay healthy.  

Would such a national medical mobilization be expensive?  Sure it would.  And yet as the medical activist-philanthropist Mary Lasker always said, “If you think medical research is expensive, try illness!”   Moreover, in these days of low-to-zero interest rates, we could be borrowing to finance the weapons of medicine, just as we once borrowed to finance the weapons of war. 

So that’s what we desperately need today: We need to defeat the coronavirus, through a vaccine, a cure, or by outright eradication—just as we eradicated the deadly smallpox virus, back in 1980.

In fact, beyond the coronavirus, we need a comprehensive “Cure Strategy” for other diseases as well, because the best way truly to improve public health is by making each individual healthier.  After all, a cure is less expensive than care; it’s cheaper to beat than to treat.  After all, if we can’t make America healthy again, we can’t make America great again. 

But first, let’s focus on beating the coronavirus, and whatever other viruses might be coming from places such as China, Kazakhstan–or some other place altogether, perhaps even our own back yard. 

Yet still, undeniably, earlier this year the U.S. suffered the public-health equivalent of a Pearl Harbor; indeed, even now, it’s impossible to say that we’re winning the war against he coronavirus.  So now, in response, we need to rally.  We need strong leadership and a bold mobilization, aimed at inflicting on the virus the medical equivalent of a Hiroshima. 

It was with wonder-weapons that we won World War II.  And it’s with medical wonder-weapons that we’ll win World War V.  “V” is for “virus,” of course, and also, just as in FDR’s time, “V” is for “victory.” 

Yes, victory is what we need—nothing less.  

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