What this pandemic seems to illustrate yet again is (surprise, surprise!) that the media is only interested in reporting whatever political spin they want and as we know, they are only interested in reporting the bad news bits. Let's face it, everyone loves a bit of a drama. Non-drama is not click bait. Is this why despite the daily publication of the NHS data there seems to be so much confusion over the reality of COVID-19 in terms of actual direct fatalities? Understanding the context for fatalities is important and is why deaths within the different groups are categorised. This level of categorised, contextual data allows for appropriate decision making. For example, where do special measures need to be taken to protect the vulnerable?
So, just how dangerous is this disease really? and for who?
Are you more likely to die of drowning?
Websites such as fullfact.org do seem to be trying to help. They recently looked at the comparison claims between the risk of drowning and the risk of dying from COVID-19. Their report confirmed that according to the NHS data, 253 people up to the 14th May under the age of 60 with no other underlying health issues had died from COVID-19 in hospitals. They then compare this number with the number of annual deaths by drowning, taken from UK Drowning Prevention Strategy, which said an average of 400 people a year die from accidental drowning in the UK. However, the Forum has said that drowning deaths have fallen since 2016. Its latest figures show that, in 2018, 263 people died from drowning in the UK.
Fullfact then rightly point out that for accurate comparison not all numbers were taken into consideration such as care home deaths (although this may not be too relevant in the under sixties), and the need for like-for-like periods i.e. drowning deaths are for the full year. However, at this point you do feel that hairs are being split and that there is maybe a pretty good comparison between the two fatality rates. Of course, we do also have to assume that because the person reported to have died from COVID-19 (a real person and not just a statistic), tested positive that this was also the cause of death, which is a pretty big assumption. It is also worth pointing out that children seem to be hardly affected at all.
This pandemic was predicted
In his article, A big flap about a bit of flu, Professor David Mabey states in his opening lines, "Of course, we shouldn’t forget that this is not the first time a spectre of devastating pandemic has grabbed headlines and altered government policy: in 1976 the highly hypothetical suggestion of a ‘Swine Flu’ outbreak drove the American administration to initiate a population - wide vaccination campaign. Ultimately there was no pandemic – just a lot of people with Guillain-Barre secondary to the vaccine. The current panic should therefore be considered with that note of caution in mind". This article was published nearly ten years ago during the bird flu panic, and resulted in record breaking drug sales (for a drug with unproven efficacy anyway). This article went on to predict the current pandemic as well as where it was going to originate from.
Another big flap?
A professor's job is to teach, but have we actually learned any lessons? Researchers are now going flat out down the vaccine path as though this will be some form of panacea to all our woes, however, in the rush there will inevitably be problems with the vaccine and we still do not really know what immunity in terms of this virus actually means. So, is this just a case of history repeating itself and yet another "big flap".
Informed policy shift
Half the problem over the original pandemic policy was that it relied on Prof Ferguson's fatally flawed forecasts. However, we are now learning the true reality of this virus. It is time to get over the over-reaction and for policy to be informed by the new facts and data as they emerge. These data clearly have implications with regards to returning to school and the shift in focus to dealing with the resulting mental health pandemic - for which there is no vaccine, and the massive back-log of routine operations.
The one thing that will speed the ability for policy to become implemented is how the public are appraised of the situation as it changes, and provided with the associated (authoritative) health education that is needed. We all have a responsibility to see the difference between hard data and a good drama.