Accusations about “genocide” and illegal practice of medicine, criticism of the use of “vermifuge” and prophylactic treatments “proved to be ineffective”, exaltation of the use of masks and the lockdown. “The Policy Against the Virus: Backstage of the CPI of Covid” (Companhia das Letras, 152 pages), book by senators Randolfe Rodrigues (Rede) and Humberto Costa (PT), released last month, it’s slim on pages but bulky on half-truths, scientific distortions and political rhetoric against the Bolsonaro government. The publication seeks to portray as heroic a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that generated a report riddled with scientific gaffes, delivering nothing beyond the already expected propaganda.
Randolfe and Humberto open the book accusing the president of “exercise illegal use of medicine by prescribing early treatment and ineffective drugs against the virus”. As the same drugs were prescribed by many doctors, this is equivalent to accusing them of illegally practicing medicine.
They also accuse the government of having “the goal of promoting the proliferation of Covid in the certainty that the mass contamination would lead to the immunization of Brazilians”. But what they forget to say, or don’t know, is that the bet on the natural immunity of the less vulnerable to reach a herd immunity that would protect the most vulnerable was, and still is, a serious proposal of doctors and scientists, how can find out by reading the Great Barrington Declaration.
While the book, citing a study, alleges that this strategy was a disaster and accuses those who tried to apply it of genocide, another analysis shows that countries that were frank regarding achieving herd immunity, with previous infections and vaccine, they reached the highest immunization rates in the world, unlike those who still insist on “Covid zero”. The book’s histrionic rhetoric goes so far as to accuse the government of intending to “exterminate indigenous peoples”.
The senators disqualify ivermectin as a “vermifuge”. Just political rhetoric, since nothing in nature or pharmacology prevents a drug that treats worms from also being effective against a virus. It is known, at least, that it is a safe drug. Due to a statistical misinterpretation and political resistance, it is possible that we will never know for sure whether ivermectin is effective against Covid. But there is the positive evidence, such as studies that have even passed the test demanded by those who make statistical confusion.
Bewildered by this favorable evidence and others, the famous American psychiatrist blogger Scott Alexander, with broad scientific interests , proposed that ivermectin must have helped indirectly, by boosting the immune system by fighting worms and freeing it to fight against Covid. It is up to the reader to interpret which is more likely: are people in developing countries full of worms, or can ivermectin really have some effect against the virus, as suggested in studies investigating its molecular interactions?
Randolfe and Humberto claim that, in January 2021, chloroquine and ivermectin were drugs “known for a long time as ineffective against the disease”, they also speak of “provenly ineffective”. That certainty is false, both then and now. In fact, reanalyses of data continue to point out that hydroxychloroquine, a less toxic form of chloroquine, may have helped if taken before the infection. It was not the panacea promised by many, but it cannot be said that it is “ineffective” either. As for “proven”, it is not a term for those who understand science.
There is no occurrence in the book for fluvoxamine, an antidepressant proposed as an early treatment that has passed the most rigorous studies (called “trials” controlled and randomized”). As it did not work to attack all sorts of attempts to reallocate existing and cheap drugs like this, critics of early treatment were left to remain silent on fluvoxamine. Now, the scientific journal Nature publishes that vitamin D also helped against Covid. The politicization of these treatments has always been unnecessary. And there was never any logic in opposing early treatment and vaccines, which act in different areas of prophylaxis and care.
Vaccines: saving SUS money is hurting it to death
Randolfe and Humberto are emphatic in criticizing the attempt by entrepreneurs to buy vaccines at the beginning of the pandemic, as if the State’s interference in private property in the Soviet way was uncontroversial, under the excuse of concentrating efforts in the SUS. With typically progressive stubbornness, they argue that allowing private purchases would be “widening the Brazilian social gap”, instead of unburdening the SUS and saving money with the lack of need to pay with taxes what can be paid directly by the citizen and the company. Everything for the State, nothing against the State.
It’s a parallel world in which the tax payer’s money economy is bad for the tax payer. The purchase of vaccines by private business groups would be the creation of “islands of privileges in Brazil”, “deadly wounding the Unified Health System”. Exactly how saving taxes on the SUS would hurt it to death is not explained. Statolatry needs no explanation.
It is a businesswoman, however, who earns credit for initiating the chain of decisions that led to the CPI: “Senator Randolfe? This is Luiza Trajano. We need to find a way to unlock the process of vaccinating the population.” The mania of the national left to disturb the life of the business community while giving privileged access to select businessmen who are friends of the king is presented here as if it were exuberant and admirable because of the success of the head of Magalu in lobbying the president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco. The authors describe a meeting at his residence on 22 February 200, together with the pharmaceutical companies, and another meeting where they sat down with Flávio Bolsonaro, senator and son of the president.
Bizarrely, Randolfe and Humberto criticize companies that “took advantage of the moment to try to institute new legal frameworks that favored profits for certain segments through the sale of immunizers”, but they have nothing to say about the profit interest of the vaccine manufacturers themselves.
Bolsonaro’s Ministry of Health classified the contractual clause that exempted vaccine manufacturers from responsibility for side effects and deaths as “ draconian”. Randolfe and Humberto’s response? That it was accepted in several countries. This brings us to the old maternal argument for teenage children: if several countries jump off a bridge, will you jump too? The merits must be assessed, rather than just following external examples, although this has been the keynote of the pandemic not only here, but in most parts of the world. A senator’s argument that fares a little better concerns a similar clause being ignored in the ill-fated and suspicious plan to buy doses of the Indian vaccine Covaxin. STF minister Rosa Weber archived the inquiry against Bolsonaro based on the allegations about this vaccine.
Masks and lockdowns
In the first chapter, the senators say that, at the beginning of 2021, there was a meeting with mayors in the Senate and, of the five senators present, three were hospitalized with Covid, one died. But Eduardo Girão “was saved by the mask”. As we already have a series of studies failing to show the effectiveness of fabric and surgical masks to stop infections, this means that Randolfe and Humberto prefer their anecdotal “study” with a sample size of five people.
The confinement measures (lockdown) are presented without criticism, as if they were a sweet medicine, without any bitterness. Bolsonaro is criticized for having spoken out against the closure of businesses in Manaus, as if such a measure would resolve the situation instead of worsening the health problems of Manaus with economic aggravating factors. More than that, the authors claim, without evidence, that the tragedy in Manaus was directly caused by the decision of Governor Wilson Lima, aligned with Bolsonaro, to go back on the lockdown: “The harvest of the bad decision was tragic”. Politicians can use the complexity of the world and our ignorance of it to assert causal relationships where it is most convenient. Scientists do not have that privilege.
This criticism of the book is not intended to deny that Bolsonaro has made mistakes in handling the pandemic, especially with careless statements . Certain decisions, such as those involving the supply of oxygen in Manaus, deserve a sober analysis, in which it is likely that Randolfe and Humberto have a point. Just not to the point of praising the Maduro regime in Venezuela, as they did in the publication, for using the tragedy to benefit their own image.
However, Bolsonaro deserves credit for not having shut down the whole country , when he had the power to do so. His government also has the merit of having tried to protect individuals from being fired if they refused vaccines – a decision undone by the STF. At the very least, attempts to coerce people into taking Covid vaccines have proved foolish in two respects: ignoring the protection conferred by prior infection (unlike Denmark, which accepted prior infection in its immunization “passports”) , and it became evident that none of the vaccines was effective in stopping transmission and infection, although they had good efficacy in preventing deaths.
As the liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill classically said, one does not force the individual to anything for his own good. The individual is the one who decides what is his own good and has sovereignty over his body, as the Nuremberg judgment later decided after the Nazi abuses.
One of the main complaints of the book was the delay in closing contracts with pharmaceutical companies to purchase vaccines for the SUS. Looking at the international scene outside the internal political controversy, however, the delay is not so dramatic. Randolfe and Humberto say that the application to open the CPI of Covid-22 was presented on 18 of January 2021. At the time, Brazil reached the mark of 200 a thousand victims of the disease. On that same date, as shown by the data curation site Our World in Data, Brazil was already the fourth country in the world in administered doses, behind only United States, Mexico and India, with just over a thousand doses. A month later, it rose to third place with 6.5 million doses. The position remained stable: at the beginning of this month, the country was the fourth in the world, with 473 million doses.
Vaccines, especially that of Pfizer, were not panaceas. Its great merit in cutting the death toll deserves to be balanced against its risks, however low, the most notorious of which is cardiac inflammation in young males. In a Thai sample, 3% had symptomatic or asymptomatic signs of the problem. Those who supported coercion and sanitary authoritarianism should feel the weight of responsibility for having risked the hearts of young people in their desire for a single vaccine policy for all. From the beginning it was clear that human groups differed in their vulnerability to the new virus. Vaccination policies should have taken this into account more seriously.
Furthermore, there is a risk that has not yet been ruled out. We were lucky that the Covid virus evolved into the less lethal omicron variant. But a study with another vaccine that does not prevent transmission and infection, with a virus that infects chickens, indicated that this type of vaccine can guide the virus towards more lethal variants.
There were no easy answers in the pandemic. But the group that supported lockdown and indiscriminate vaccination policies, while having nothing to say about comorbidities like obesity (made worse by lockdowns), the group that supported health authoritarianism and scaremongering cannot easily try to portray itself as the good guy in history. without trampling the facts.