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(en) France, UCL AL #319 - Spotlight, Covid-19: Health crisis, political response (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Wed, 13 Oct 2021 08:39:54 +0300

Government authoritarianism will fail to stem the pandemic. By imposing the health pass, it constrains instead of convincing, which is a short-sighted policy. To advance vaccination among the working classes, on the contrary, we need an incentive based on social measures. ---- After a staggering first wave of coronavirus, we could have hoped for a questioning of the system that caused this crisis [1]. It has not happened. Pressed to get the capitalist economy back on its feet, leaders have overlooked scientific warnings of epidemic rebounds. And the prospects for a way out of the crisis seem to be fading.
For eighteen months, we have never been so interested in the medical sciences, and yet false assertions or even conspiracy theories pollute the debates even in the social movement - in part due to disastrous communication from the public authorities, and the lightness with which the media handed the microphone to megalomaniac charlatans ...

Let us recall some necessary facts.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a nanometric infectious agent (1000 times smaller than a bacteria). After binding to a human cell, it releases its genetic material inside it and then uses the cellular machinery to duplicate itself, thus releasing new viruses called virions. Faced with this threat, our body produces a large number of molecules to destroy the virus. Sometimes the reaction gets carried away and triggers hyper-inflammatory syndrome. The consequences can be dangerous: these are severe cases admitted to hospital [2].

Currently, there is no effective antiviral treatment, we only know how to relieve the symptoms. We must therefore teach our body to defend itself against the virus: this is the principle of the vaccine.

The messenger RNA vaccine is the result of ongoing research since the 1990s. Its principle is based on the use of cellular machinery to produce a specific protein. Instead of giving the instructions for the complete virus to this small factory, the chosen messenger RNA allows our cells to make only the S protein of SARS-CoV-2, present on the surface of the virus. The vaccine therefore trains our immune system to recognize this protein, inducing resistance to infection and a more adapted immune response, greatly reducing the risk of developing hyper-inflammatory syndrome.

We call "cellular machinery" the protein factory of our cells. It uses instructions for use (messenger RNAs) which are copies of pieces of DNA present in the nucleus of our cells [3]. These messenger RNAs cannot enter the nucleus and modify our DNA. Fragile, they quickly disappear after use.

The development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 has been particularly rapid for several reasons:

considerable human and financial resources have been invested all over the world;
the test phases were deployed in parallel and not one after the other, and passed successfully (we are not "guinea pigs"...);
it was easy to find a mass of infected people to do the tests (this is the only advantage of a pandemic);
there was no time wasted in marketing, packaging, etc.
This scientific feat is neither magical nor suspect. It demonstrates the ability to solve complex problems when time and money are put into it. The reverse of what the state does when it demolishes public services.

The global challenge of a general vaccination
So why did we have a fourth wave when more and more people were being vaccinated? Because viruses, like any organism, undergo natural selection. They have an interest, in order to survive, to become more contagious, not to kill their carrier too quickly (so that they have time to transmit it) and to resist whatever can hinder their growth.

The longer the vaccination campaign lasts, the more the virus is likely to mutate to a variant resistant to the vaccine (for example a slightly different S protein). The urgent need to be vaccinated therefore concerns the whole world. An immune Europe would not prevent the outbreak, in the less privileged countries, of variants which would cause new waves in the rich countries. More than a "humanitarian" issue, general and international vaccination is a matter of collective security. It is today hampered by patents, the law of the market, state selfishness and geopolitical rivalries.

Protest and confusion
Emmanuel Macron's announcements on July 12 on the health pass and the related sanctions provoked strong street protests. In many places, the extreme right and the conspiracy movement held the upper hand. However, the population revolted by the sanitary pass was much larger than that of the fascistoid antivax nuclei. The UCL groups which intervened in certain demonstrations did so with a very clear pro-vaccine discourse.

Alternatives to the health pass
The safe management of this pandemic is worsening[4]. More than convincing, the state wants to constrain a fraction of the population that has become suspicious by dint of orders and counter-orders. But let's be clear: short-term, authoritarian measures will fail. There is a high risk of steering into an anti-ax posture a fraction of the population which is initially only suspicious or hesitant.

To be relevant, a vaccination strategy must be incentive and based on social reality. For example:

No health pass, a discriminatory measure which gives the employers arms;
to strengthen the vaccination campaign with human and material resources, and the dissemination of clear information on this medical procedure [5];
For a concrete incentive to be vaccinated: one day off for each dose to employees, including for the vaccination of their child (ren); an equivalent monetary incentive for the unemployed, the homeless, the undocumented, etc.
So many simple measures and a minimal cost compared to what the "partial unemployment " cost...

For the repeal of patents on anti-Covid vaccines, the fruit of research largely funded by public money, in order to expand production throughout the world;
For the socialization of the pharmaceutical industry, a vital sector of public utility for society and humanity. It is not tolerable that this strategic area obeys the logic of seeking quick profits. As long as there remains an interest other than that of the greatest number, the distrust of the population will be legitimate;
For a unified public health service, deployed across all territories, strengthened by the socialization of private clinics. It must be funded up to the stakes with massive and urgent hiring of staff.
A fourth wave is underway. If we continue this way, it probably won't be the last. Due to the destabilization of ecosystems and biodiversity, we risk increasingly violent and frequent epidemic crises [6]If there is no miracle solution, there is still one certainty: we must get out of capitalism urgently.

Thibaut Vulpes (UCL Grenoble)

To validate

[1]Bruno Canard, "Coronavirus: science does not work in an emergency ! », Open University, March 4, 2020.

[2]Inserm, "Coronavirus and Covid-19: From the common cold to severe acute respiratory syndrome", state of knowledge as of May 28, 2021.

[3]Inserm, "Tradesecret: What is messenger RNA ? », December 10, 2020.

[4]Félix Tréguer, "Health emergency, security response", Le Monde diplomatique , May 2020.

[5]Christian Lehmann, "And now, do not miss the vaccine stage", Release, November 23, 2020.

[6]"Escape from the 'era of pandemics'. Experts warn of worse crises to come", IPBES report , 2020

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