With "Immunity Debt," Democrats are Having their Ivermectin Moment
As studies pour in showing post-COVID immune system damage, liberals assure us children were harmed by masks
If you’re a parent, you’re no doubt aware of the surging flu, RSV, COVID, HFM, Strep, scarlet fever, impetigo, every-other-infection-under-the-sun cases. A common mommy-blogger topic has been “Gee, my kids keep getting sick every time I send them back to school,” and “Gosh it sure is rough having my kids home constantly— motherhood, amiright??”
Over at Vox, an article was published today bemoaning children’s constant, relentless illness- but the tone of the piece hardly reflected the urgency of the crisis. Instead, Vox treated the concurrent viral surges as an annoyance likely arising from kids not having been as sick in recent years. Handwashing, not masking, was encouraged in the article.
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This cutesy spin on an extremely concerning, emerging public health crisis serves to normalize what is objectively abnormal. It also shifts attention from the growing body of studies which demonstrate post-COVID immune system damage.
Your children being constantly sick should be raising red flags.
Your children returning home from daycare with seven- yes seven, as one mother recently sighed on twitter- concurrent viral infections, is not normal (as the doctor treating the child pointed out when he stated he’d “never seen that before”). 19 children dead of strep throat in the UK in a matter of weeks- not normal. 6 children dead of the flu in British Columbia in November alone- information they first attempted to hide from the public- far outside the 1-2 annual deaths seen in the province, with the season just getting started. 45-hour ER wait times in Ontario- not normal. Pediatric hospitals around the country setting up overflow tents- not normal.
Since Biden’s inauguration and the vaccine rollout, liberals have engaged in a “post-pandemic” cosplay that has no basis in reality. Even deaths in the acute phase, where the vaccine arguably made the most difference, continue to roll in - 400,000 died under Trump in ten months or, about 40,000 per month. Meanwhile, nearly 700,000 have died under Biden in 22 months, or (rounding down) about 30,000 per month. But acute deaths - while they, too, were never eliminated, are hardly the only way COVID maims and kills.
The long-term effects of infection are just now coming into focus, and what we know does not bode well for continual reinfection.
Democrats, like the MAGA Republicans before them, are hellbent on excusing their party leaders and obfuscating the ongoing nature of this crisis. Over at The Tyee, Andrew Nikiforuk covered what we know about T-cell dysregulation in COVID and post-COVID patients better than I ever could, and I highly encourage you to check out his deep-dive article, “What If COVID Reinfections Wear Down Our Immunity?” But while even the possibility of T-cell harm on a population level should be making front-page news, Democrats and their media allies have decided instead to swallow wholesale a pseudo-scientific supposition first invented in 2021: immunity debt.
Immunity debt is a convenient explanation for a lot of reasons. First, it allows us to preserve our national delusion that COVID ended and is no longer a problem. Second, it allows us to continue living our best, unmasked lives like the MAGA crowd circa 2020. Explanations that require us to do nothing, nor face the reality that we mass-infected millions of children with not one single sole clue how they might be harmed by this novel pathogen in the long-term are psychologically appealing for obvious reasons. Like the ivermectin-hoarding right-wingers before them, Democrats swallowed “immunity debt” without needing to see a single study confirming its existence (and good thing too, since no such studies exist).
“Immunity debt” is a simple concept that posits that, since children were well-protected from infection during the 2020-2021 seasons, they are “catching up” on all the illnesses they missed over the last two years. In order to accommodate the surging severity of these disease outbreaks (seen in hospitalization numbers), immunity debt pushers also believe that not getting the flu for a year or two will harm your immune system.
There are (a lot of) obvious and less obvious flaws with this concept. I’ll dive into a few.
First: pediatric illness is surging even in regions that never had lockdowns or masking. The premise itself- the idea that children were well-protected from illness for over two years by harsh lockdowns (lol) and infection controls, is false. In 2020 there were a lot of measures in place, and illness was quite low during that season. But by last winter, most measures had been relaxed, and any continued masking in schools was offset by parents throwing caution to the wind and taking their kids travelling and socializing in the post-vaccine era. In some places, RSV cases were actually quite high last year- it’s only the severity that has changed, meaning more children are being hospitalized per the number of total infections. Add to that, 90% of American children have now had at least one COVID infection, meaning that yes, they have been getting exposed to germs and no, they were not well protected over the last 2.5 years.
No harsh lockdowns were ever implemented, and in red states, it was practically a point of pride to expose yourself and your children to COVID as aggressively and frequently as possible. Children in Florida stayed in schools. And Sweden- the nation that famously rejected any prevention measures whatsoever, keeping schools open, businesses running, and masks off in pursuit of an elusive “herd immunity”- is also seeing surges in pediatric illness. Incredibly, despite the irrefutable reality that Swedish kids were never protected from viral infection, they too are jumping onboard the “immunity debt” train! Yes, according to Swedish health officials, masks their children never wore are making those same children sick two years later.
Meanwhile, nations like Japan, Korea, Vietnam and China, which have consistently promoted mask wearing during flu seasons since well before COVID, never saw any such “immunity debt” mass sickness, nor are they seeing massive RSV or flu outbreaks now.
Second, your immune system is not like a muscle- it doesn’t need exercise to continue functioning. Not getting the flu for one year doesn’t lead to worse or more severe outcomes from flu infection because your immune system forgot how to work. In fact, unless you live in an actual bubble, your immune system encounters tons of microbes on a day-to-day basis. And the idea that immunity debt could apply to the Strep A outbreak now making its way to the US and Europe from the UK epicenter is even more absurd. Strep is bacterial, and having strep doesn’t provide any immunity from future strep. Most children don’t have strep every single year, and if they did, it would in no way protect them from future infection.
Third, immunologists do not use this term and their reactions have ranged from “what the hell are you talking about,” to “no, this isn’t a thing.” Perhaps most famously, immunologist and t-cell expert Dr. Anthony Leonardi has warned of Post-COVID immune deficiency since the summer of 2020. And as he points out, the same doctors who were wrong then are the ones doubling down now. Media has certainly- as always- found a few experts willing to carry water for the theory, but immunologists are not trained on this concept, and broadly agree that the immune system does not need to constantly encounter pathogens to stay strong.
Other specialists have jumped into the debate to agree. Dr. Satoshi Akima, a nephrologist and internal medicine doctor who specializes in immunothrombosis in Sydney has called it “propaganda.” Epidemiologist David Fisman uses health department data here to unpack how Ontario RSV cases point to post-COVID immune harm. Emergency Medicine Dr. Kashif Pirzada calls the notion of an immunity debt “pure fiction”.
Fourth, when we look closely at the different cohorts of children (meaning different segments of the pediatric population grouped by age), we see that children who did not get RSV as babies did better with their delayed RSV infections than children infected earlier. This not only does not bear out “immunity debt,” it shows the opposite is true: delaying infection in young children and particularly new babies produces better outcomes, not worse. In fact, the children who are sickest are those who were born after the lockdowns and masking were already over! In the chart below, we can see that children aged 6-12 months had a massive spike in COVID infections before seeing an almost exactly equivalent spike in RSV infections.
This data, yet more information which points away from “lack of illness” as an explanation for illness and toward immune-system damage post-COVID, even caught the eye of former Surgeon General of the US, Dr. Jerome Adams, who tweeted that “the more we’re learning about COVID, the more concerned I get.”
Now, one point of clarification: there is some evidence to support what has been termed an “immunity gap.” This is the concept that because fewer children were sick in ‘20-’21 and less so in ‘21-’22, there could be a “double cohort” or even “triple cohort” effect, leading to multiple groups of children getting sick - you might expect twice or triple the number of sick kids, although severity wouldn’t be affected. In other words, this is a population level effect, whereas “immunity debt” is supposed to impact individual children.
Let’s look at a some evidence below and see if these numbers could represent, charitably, even a triple cohort effect:
Canada is in the throes of a severe pediatric hospitalization crisis; the chart below shows that average pre-pandemic norms of pediatric admissions for this time of year were below 25. In the 2022 season, those admissions are at 225, or 9x the norm.
Wales reports more than 850 scarlet fever cases in a single week: The average number of scarlet fever cases for the same week over the previous three years was around 25. So, about 35x more cases than pre-COVID norm.
And these examples are hardly outliers. We are seeing illness and death that simply cannot be fully accounted for by a double or triple cohort effect.
A few outlets have heeded the pushback from immunologists- many of whom have taken to social media to assert that no, there is no such concept in immunology, and no, of course your kids don’t have to get the flu every year to stay healthy. Financial Times- which, as I noted in my last article- is doing great work reporting accurately on COVID, recently published “‘Immunity debt’ is a misguided and dangerous concept,” and Salon the above-linked article “Does your immune system need a workout? The bad science behind "immunity debt," explained”.
But by and large, our “watchdog” press has fallen in line with the immunity debt claims; some, like the New York Times and the Washington Post, have simply accepted it as fact and continue to make reference to it as the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths mount. The deaths of children. They know that the public legitimacy of their paper will push parents to accept this pseudo-science as fact, so they employ it liberally and without justification, never mentioning the many studies confirming immune system damage after COVID. Additionally, acknowledging that the mass continual reinfection approach has, indeed, harmed an entire generation of children, is just not something you want to do when you and your paper relentlessly pushed to return children to unsafe schools and strip off their masks.
Watching the world react to overflowing Pediatric ICUs with a shrug and blind confidence in a thoroughly debunked concept is frankly, scary. It’s concerning that with very little prodding, Democrats wholesale accepted the idea that masks hurt their kids; an idea that was to the right of the right back in 2020. During the Ivermectin craze I believed that Democrats were not prone to the level of denial and groupthink on display as Republicans grasped for any explanation for the ongoing mass-death event that wouldn’t implicate Trump or force them to make very minor sacrifices. Maybe people weren’t really dying. Maybe there was a secret cure being hidden from the public. Maybe the vaccine was responsible.
Now Democrats are the ones employing this type of conspiracy to avoid facing reality or demanding answers from the Biden administration. Maybe masks harmed their immune systems. Maybe lockdowns made them sick. Maybe Strep is deadlier now. Maybe we should just keep reinfecting the children with COVID over, and over, and over again, even though studies have found that each reinfection carries higher risk of severe outcome, hospitalization, viral persistance and death.
The idea that a child born today could contract COVID 40 times before college and live a normal, healthy lifespan, is completely unsupported by what we know about this disease. It harms the blood vessels. It harms the immune system. It spikes your risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. It can damage your organs, your lungs, your kidneys, your liver, and your brain. It compromises your fertility, ages you biologically, and can lead to hair, bone and tooth loss. There is no long-term immunity and reinfections get more dangerous over time. Viral persistance is seen in at least a signficant minority of patients, which is demonstrated to cause ongoing T-cell activation. This can lead to T-cell exhaustion over time (total destruction of the immune system as is seen in AIDS patients with persistent HIV infection).
It’s time to take post-COVID immune deficiency seriously and in turn, to accept that a “new normal” would mean high-quality ventiliation everywhere, indefinitely working from home, and universal high-quality masking, for starters. This is not a disease we can live with- certainly not the way we are living with it. “Old normal” cosplay will never bring 2019 back, but it will kill and maim many more children before we are done with it. Like the Republicans before us, we deserve better than being told to get back to work and enjoy our twice-annual infections. Following in their footsteps by swallowing every evidence-free half-truth our government throws at us will leave us no better off than the MAGA crowd.
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While it's good you have written this piece, I truly don't see any answer forthcoming. People on both sides of our political divide share a common belief: that partisan politics is the answer to the troubles the US faces. I mainly interact with the "D" side and have a hard time having a discussion when the answer to any issue is to "vote harder". I believe we need to find common ground for all people, not just those on our 'side'.
One would think that public health would be a great place to find that common ground and I suppose we actually have - both sides want to ignore the problem and don't mind sacrificing other people's lives in the process.
I can only hope that we regain our senses before all public health initiatives (not just those relating to the coronavirus) go by the wayside.