A Hopeful Hypothesis
By Glen Wallace
I would like to qualify that I am not in any way suggesting that social distancing recommendations shouldn't be followed. And I certainly don't want this essay to be construed in any way as endorsing a political position or politically siding one way or the other. I do, however, think that the following ideas I present may be helpful in providing hope for the future as we face this pandemic.
My hypothesis is that, for one, there are multiple strains of the novel coronavirus, each strain having a different degree of virulence. However, the weaker strains may all provide immunity to the most virulent strain. Additionally, it may be the case that areas of the United States and Europe that are not currently as hard hit as other areas, are not chronologically behind the harder hit areas in terms of the spread of the epidemic. Instead, those areas facing lower rates of hospitalization from the virus, such as Minnesota, where I live, may be as widely infected as the harder hit areas such as New York and Seattle. It just may be the case that in places like Minnesota, the predominant strain of the virus is a weaker strain with less virulence.
To support my hypothesis, I would suggest looking to China where only one area saw an intense rate of hospitalization among the population. If it was the case that there was just one highly virulent strain of the coronavirus, then it would be expected that, given there is neither a vaccine nor any natural human immunity to the virus, as travel restrictions and lockdowns are eased in Wuhan, eventually the same need for massive temporary hospitals would crop up in other areas of China. But now that China is getting 'back to business' so far we have not seen that. My thinking is that most of the rest of China may have already been infected with a milder version of the coronavirus by now that has protected them to a degree from the most virulent strain of the coronavirus.
Another related hypothesis that I have is that people can be, what I like to call 'de facto vaccinated' against a virus by coming into contact with a weakened or dead virus that no longer has the ability to replicate in the human body but is still intact enough for the body's immune system to recognize it and antibodies to form against the live form of the virus. We have all heard the questions regarding how long the coronavirus can live on surfaces. That question has led me to wonder if there is a point where a virus existing on a surface may weaken to that point where they no longer have the ability to replicate, that is, cause an infection, but it still retains its form enough for the immune system to recognize it, just as is the case with a regular vaccine. Then when someone touches a surface with a virus that's been deactivated by time and exposure, and then touches their own mucus membrane, could that person then be de facto vaccinating themselves? If that is the case, then it's very possible that almost as soon as a virus becomes endemic to an area, almost everybody develops some degree of immunity to that virus, either by becoming infected or by getting de facto vaccinated against the virus as almost everyone touches surfaces and then touches their own mucus membranes.
This is certainly hopeful as we keep hearing warnings that what we saw in Wuhan China and what we are currently seeing in Italy, we will eventually see in every nook and cranny around the globe until a vaccine is developed. I'm arguing that that may not necessarily be the case.
There is a great deal of uncertainty not just in the realm of viruses and the human immune response to them, but in field of medicine in general. Any meaningful belief in medicine requires a belief about the principle of causation. But causation as a thing in itself is never an empirically verifiable phenomena. Causality has no mass, dimensions or color. I'm defining causation as referring to some state of affairs that brings about a different state of affairs. So I ask that open mindedness be here to consider the possibility that either, or both, of my hypothesis are true; the hypothesis of different weaker strains causing immunity to more virulent strains or my hypothesis that de facto vaccination can and does occur. As a result, while we may see a second wave of infections hit China and South Korea as restrictions are eased, that second wave may be much less severe as it may only involve the few who somehow either were never infected nor de facto vaccinated against any strain of the novel coronavirus. And those other areas around the globe that are currently not facing a severe outbreak that is greatly tasking healthcare resources, they, after all, may never have to face such a severe outbreak.