Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Vaccination Controversy, Part 3: COVID-19

As of this week, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for emergency use in several countries and is already being administered in the UK. It will likely be approved in a growing number of countries in the coming weeks with other vaccines soon to follow. As these vaccines become available, anyone who is fortunate enough to have a choice about whether or not to be vaccinated is going to have to make a potentially difficult decision, depending on where they stand with regard to this issue.

I have already done my best to provide a broad summary of what is known and not known about vaccinations in general, and COVID-19 in particular. I am going to very briefly summarize some of that here. However, I strongly recommend that you read the more detailed analyses in The Vaccination Controversy, Part 1 of 3 and Part 2 of 3, Living With Viruses and Viral Pandemics, and COVID-19: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The detailed background information that I provided in those posts is necessary to be able to understand why I am making the recommendations that I am going to provide here.

Our knowledge base about the long-term safety of vaccines in general is relatively weak; about COVID-19 is very weak; and about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in particular is extremely weak. Let's leave aside the unsubstantiated and often extreme opinions that are out there and focus on the recommendations of medical professionals. Although often well-meaning, most of what is out there in the medical literature and practice is based on a narrow world view, and is very influenced by corporate interests. Add to this very real political and economic concerns as a result of this pandemic and what we have is a muddy picture with some data and a lot of (often contradictory) guesses and opinions. If we add in the various extreme opinions and conspiracies that are out there, it gets even more messy. Fortunately, with a bit of logic and common sense it is usually fairly easy to identify what is mostly or completely nonsense—unless we have some conscious or unconscious need to believe them. Nevertheless, for those of us who are trying to make the best choices in navigating this pandemic it can be very challenging. There are no clear choices or outcomes. 

With regard to COVID-19 vaccinations, these are my concerns (see my other posts for detailed explanations):

1. It is most likely that the degree to which vaccines are being utilized these days is one among many factors that is contributing to the growing incidence of chronic inflammatory and auto-immune conditions, and that they are affecting many people at an earlier age than was typical in the past.

2. No successful vaccine has ever been developed for a coronavirus. There is a strong possibility that any benefits that result from mass vaccination programs for COVID-19 will be temporary. Like the common cold, in the coming years this virus may continue to cycle through populations in mutated forms for which very few people have long-term immunity.

3. Due to the emergency nature of this pandemic, vaccines are and will continue to be approved without adequate long-term safety studies.

4. The majority of the vaccines that are being developed are based on novel technologies which either have never been used before (mRNA, DNA), or which have been used very minimally or not at all (genetically engineered viral vector vaccines). Essentially, pharmaceutical companies are taking advantage of this global emergency and the billions of dollars in government hand-outs that are available in order to conduct a massive experiment on a significant proportion of the global population. Vaccines based on new technologies should require even more research on their long-term safety, not less as is currently the case.

In the last few days the UK has begun administering the Pfizer mRNA vaccine and it has already become apparent that people who have a history of severe anaphylactic allergic reactions may have similar reactions triggered by this vaccine. This was not identified in the clinical studies on the vaccine because people who have these kinds of reactions were excluded from the studies. For me this is already a red flag. If this kind of vaccine can produce an immediate extreme reaction in people who suffer from a significant immune system imbalance of this nature, it is possibly evidence that the vaccine has a negative affect on the functioning of our immune system in general. This is my primary concern with this kind of vaccine. These people might be just the tip of the iceberg. It is possible that the vaccine will negatively affect immune function in a much larger proportion of people but the affect will be chronic and difficult to recognize. Unfortunately, most of the more traditional protein-based, or inactivated or attenuated virus vaccines are not as far along in their research and will not be available for some time. By that time hundreds of millions of people will have already received the more novel vaccines. Hopefully, any negative consequences of using these vaccines will be minimal.

On a positive note, there is already some evidence that people who have been exposed to other coronaviruses (such as some cold viruses) within a few months of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus may have a degree of increased resistance to the latter virus resulting in milder symptoms. Similarly, although there is evidence that some people who have contracted the COVID-19 virus do not have full immunity and may still get sick again upon subsequent exposure, they are also likely to have milder symptoms. This is consistent with other coronaviruses. Although exposure does not result in complete long-term immunity, it does seem to provide a degree of protection so that the symptoms are milder when someone contracts the virus in the future. This means that, as a growing proportion of the population is exposed to COVID-19 either by natural means or as a result of vaccinations, there is a possibility that over time this illness will become less severe and it may eventually be no more serious than a seasonal cold virus. With other viruses, natural exposure almost always results in greater immunity than immunity resulting from vaccinations. Nevertheless, even if they don't provide permanent immunity, the mass vaccination programs that are being implemented in combination with natural exposure may take the edge off the pandemic and accelerate the transformation of the COVID-19 virus into a less severe pathogen. This is the most likely best case scenario of mass vaccination.

Vaccinations might only temporarily help to control the pandemic or they may be an important part of a long-term
solution. We need to make decisions now, but it will probably be years before we know if we made the best ones. 

In the end, it is possible that the risks are low and there will be some or even significant benefits of vaccinations. It is also possible that the risks outweigh any potential benefits. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure at this time and it may be years or even decades before we finally have a good sense of this—but we don't have years! We are in the midst of a global crisis that not only affects our physical and (for many people) psychological well-being, it affects our families and communities and there are significant economic and political repercussions that will get worse the longer the pandemic continues. It is a situation that requires extreme measures and some risks. Individually and collectively we need to make some very difficult decisions for which there are no clear answers.

The decision is a personal one. No one can give anyone else a clear recommendation. We also have to keep in mind that it is not just about our personal needs and beliefs. Whatever decision we make will have consequences for other people. My recommendation is that we need to do your best to look at the information that is available in a balanced way, then put it out of our mind and sit quietly and feel into the situation. Ultimately, this is a heart decision. If we are truly honest and objective we have to admit that we will never get a clear answer through logical analysis. Nevertheless, it is important that we are well-informed without becoming obsessive about it.

We also need to do our best to avoid making a decision based on fear. There are a lot of layers of fear out there: fear of the virus itself and its potential health consequences for ourselves, families and friends; fear of the potential negative health affects of vaccines, especially vaccines based on new inadequately tested technologies; fear that powerful institutions (governments, corporations, etc.) are using the pandemic (or have even orchestrated the pandemic!) in order to deprive people of their rights and freedoms. Of course, for many people there is also the fear of making the wrong decision.

It is best if we are aware of our fear and keep it out of our decision making process as much as possible; to review what is known about the potential risks of each decision and feel into what is right for us. Remember that there is no clear right or wrong answer. There simply isn't enough information. We'll know more in the coming years but we have to make a decision now. Ultimately, even if we had a lot more information we can never know for sure how each decision is going to play out in our life. Statistics are meaningless when it comes to individual real life situations. I can never know with certainty if I am one of the ones who is going experience severe symptoms from either the virus or a vaccine.

In the end, if we are concerned about the well-being of ourselves, loved ones and communities, and want to dance with this pandemic in a good way, it is my belief that we basically have three realistic choices:

1. Not get vaccinated; support our overall and immune health to reduce the likelihood of getting the virus or the severity of our symptoms if we do get it; practice safe behavior.

2. Wait at least a few months until there is more safety and efficacy data for the various vaccines and then decide whether or not to get vaccinated; support our overall and immune health to reduce the likelihood of getting the virus or the severity of our symptoms if we do get it; practice safe behavior.

3. Get vaccinated; address our overall and immune health to reduce any potential negative short- or long-term affects of the vaccine; practice safe behavior.

With all of that in mind, let's look at these three options in more detail:

Option 1: Not Getting Vaccinated

If you choose not to get vaccinated I have already provided a lot of information about what can be done to protect yourself as much as possible. Pay attention to public health recommendations about indoor and outdoor gatherings. Practice social distancing. Where a cloth mask when indoors in public spaces. Eat a healthy diet and get lots of exercise. Use herbs, supplements and probiotics wisely in order to improve your overall health and more specifically your immune health. The more we make healthy living a priority in our lives, the healthier and safer we will be.

With regard to herbs and supplements, I have already provided lots of in depth information in Living With Viruses and Viral Pandemics, including links to additional written materials and video lectures. If you follow those recommendations for boosting your immune system and preventing illness, and what to do if you get sick, you will maximize your level of protection. The herbal protocols that I have provided will reduce the likelihood that you will get sick, reduce the severity of your symptoms if you do, and increase your potential long-term immunity to COVID-19 if you are exposed to it.

Option 2: Wait and See 

If you aren't sure yet you might consider waiting a bit to see how things play out. For most of us this is also an option. It is likely that within a few months there will be more information available and it might be enough to make a more clear decision. In particular, we hope that there will be clearer information regarding the safety of these new vaccines and whether or not they provide a reasonable amount of immunity. Realistically, it could easily be 3-6 months before we have sufficient information. However, most governments are targeting higher risk groups first and predicting that vaccines probably won't start being administered to the general population until March or April. Once that begins, it is likely that the majority of the population won't be vaccinated until some time next fall. Clearly, waiting until May or June to make a final decision is a completely reasonable option for many of us. Another advantage of waiting is that by that time one or more of the vaccines that have been developed using well-established technologies will be available, although how available or whether we actually have any choice regarding which vaccine we receive is yet to be seen.

If you decide to wait a bit before making a final decision, then it is best to follow the recommendations that I provided for Option 1 (above) until you decide. If, in the end, you decide not to vaccinate, continue following those protocols. However, if you do decide at some point to get vaccinated, then you'll it's best to switch to the protocols for Option 3 (below).

Option 3: Get Vaccinated 

If you are certain that you want to get vaccinated, I still recommend that you wait a bit, if that is an option for you. Since the Pfizer vaccine is already getting approval in some countries and the Moderna vaccine will likely start rolling out in a couple of weeks as well, this means that two of the mRNA vaccines—the newest and least tested type of vaccine—are going to be out there first and we will be able to see if there are any short-term issues that arise from their use. Unfortunately, for many people—such as health care workers—there may not be any choice. If you don't have an option or you choose to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available to you, I recommend that you follow these protocols to reduce the likelihood of side-effects from the vaccination.

Until you are able to receive the vaccine, follow the protocols that I provided for Option 1 (above). Then it will be necessary to follow a much more specific protocol in order to help reduce any potential short- or long-term negative side-effects of the vaccine. These protocols may also increase the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Begin by pulsing an immune stimulant formula (see the video Immune Support and the Natural Treatment of Colds and Flu and the article Surviving and Thriving in a World Full of Viruses). I recommend taking it for one week followed by a one week break. Pulse the immune stimulant formula six times (i.e. take it six times for a period of one week with a one week break in between). You need to time this so that the day that you get vaccinated occurs at the beginning of the third week that you are taking the immune stimulant formula on the second or third day that you are taking it. This is the standard protocol for using an immune stimulant formula for a vaccine which is administered as a single dose. Most of the COVID-19 vaccines require two doses administered 21 to 28 days apart. Under these circumstances it is necessary to pulse an immune stimulant formula for a longer period of time. It is important that both vaccinations occur on the second or third day of one of the weeks when you are taking the immune stimulant formula, and that you pulse the formula two times before the first vaccination and three times after the second vaccination. This means that for double dose vaccines it will be necessary to pulse the immune stimulant formula seven or eight times, depending on the vaccination schedule.

After the last time that you pulse the immune stimulant formula, take a one week break and then begin taking an immune tonic formula. Take this formula continuously for two to three months.

Take a good quality probiotic on the weeks in between pulsing an immune stimulant formula and between switching from an immune stimulant formula to an immune tonic formula. For more information on probiotics and the best way to take them see the article Surviving and Thriving in a World Full of Viruses.

During the entire time that you are pulsing an immune stimulant formula (including on the off weeks) also take 500-1,000 mg of a mineral ascorbate (non-acidic vitamin C) that includes a good polyphenol complex (quercetin, rutin, flavonoids, anthocyanins, etc.); 1,000-2,000 IU of vitamin D3; and 15-25 mg of zinc. Take all of them twice per day with your breakfast and dinner. A low potency multivitamin and mineral taken once per day is a good idea as well. When you switch to an immune tonic formula, reduce the dose of the supplements by half (except the multivitamin). It is not necessary to continue taking these afterwards unless they are part of your regular regimen, but it still might be a good idea. 

Easter white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) is one of the most important medicines of the First Nations Peoples
of Northeastern North America. In homeopathic potencies it helps to prevent the side-effects of vaccinations.

There are also two homeopathic remedies that I strongly recommend. If you are concerned about the bad press that homeopathy has been getting in the last few years, read my post Homeopathy Under Attack. The first one is Ledum palustre (Labrador tea). This is a remedy for puncture wounds. Take a dose of the 200C or 200CH potency immediately before getting vaccinated and immediately after. Then take a third dose a few hours later. This will help to reduce the pain and swelling around the injection site. I also recommend applying a good herbal ointment to the injection site several times per day as long as any pain, swelling or inflammation persists. Both the Ledum and the ointment will need to be repeated for the second vaccination, where applicable.

The second homeopathic remedy that I recommend is Thuja occidentalis (eastern white cedar). This remedy helps to reduce the acute and chronic side-effects of vaccinations. Once more, use the 200C or 200CH potency. Take the first dose about 24 hours before you get vaccinated. Take another dose about an hour before your vaccination, and then again about an hour afterwards. Take it two more times on that day (four times in total on the day that you are vaccinated). Then take it once per day for a week, and then once per week for three more weeks. For vaccines that require two doses, follow these protocols for the first vaccination and then repeat them for the second dose.

Homeopathic remedies are usually available in the form of pellets. Take the recommended number of pellets per dose for the product. It is best to allow them to dissolve slowly under your tongue and not consume anything other than water for at least 30 minutes before and 15 minutes after the dose.

Keep in mind that there are no guarantees. Following these protocols will not guarantee that you don't get COVID-19. If you do get the virus, you will experience less severe symptoms—but that doesn't mean that you won't get severe symptoms. It means that they will be less severe than they would have been if you hadn't been following these protocols. Similarly, if you follow these protocols and you get vaccinated, you will experience less and milder side-effects as a result of the vaccination, but that doesn't mean that you will not experience any side-effects. Some people won't but others will—and they might be relatively severe. Regardless, you can be sure that they will be less severe than they would have been if you had not been following these protocols. The bottom line is that everyone's situation is unique and we can't predict outcomes with certainty.

The concerns that I have expressed are very real. Nevertheless, we are dealing with an urgent crisis that requires extreme measures. Many people have and will become sick, some of them seriously, and many people have died as a result of this virus. Many people are also experiencing a lot of stress due to the pandemic, the restrictions and for some a reduction or loss of their source of livelihood. There are also people who are out there every day—from health care workers to cashiers—putting their health at risk in order to serve others. My gratitude and prayers go out to all of them. In spite of my concerns, I hope that in the end any negative results of vaccinations are minimal and that they do help to bring this pandemic under control.

COVID-19 is a wake-up call. For those of us who are listening and heed the call, it is a reminder of the importance of prioritizing our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being; of living in good relationship with ourselves, families, communities and the Living World. In many ways it will be a different world when we get through this. Let's hope that it's a better one!

Due to the immediate concerns regarding the COVID-19 vaccines, I have interjected this into this series of posts on vaccinations. The series will now consist of four posts. The last one (which is half done) will address childhood vaccinations. I will also continue to provide updates on the pandemic in additional posts, if necessary.

Keep well!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

COVID-19: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It's been eight months since my last post and a lot has happened since then. At the time I was cautiously optimistic that we'd be able to get this pandemic under control more quickly. I thought that it would peak in Europe by mid April and in North America by early to mid May, and that by June we'd be able to lighten some of the restrictions, which we did to some degree. Of course, it would play out differently in other countries depending on when it started and the local response to it. At this point I have to admit that I was overly optimistic. This virus is far more contagious than I expected and many of the governments of countries that were affected later who had the opportunity to watch this play out elsewhere did not take advantage of the delay and prepare in advance for the arrival of the virus in their region. Now, as the second wave is well under way, it is apparent that in spite of everything that we've learned this pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better.

Like it or not, we live in a world where global pandemics are inevitable. It was never a question of if, but of when and how bad. When the H1N1 and SARS-CoV pandemics occurred, I was expecting them to be far worse. I was surprised and grateful that they were able to be contained as quickly as they were. When the current pandemic began, given how it started and that it was another corona virus, I was more optimistic that we would be able to contain it more quickly given how the last two outbreaks played out. That has not turned out to be the case. This virus is far more difficult to control.

One of the major challenges is that, due to the lack of adequate testing capacity, we don't really know how many people are infected with the virus who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. There could be many more people out there who are or have been infected by the virus than the number that have tested positive. Having a higher number of unrecognized COVID-19 cases has two important consequences, one negative and one positive. The negative consequence is that it will be much more difficult to control the spread of the virus, which is proving to be the case. The positive is that it is possible that the virus is less harmful than it appears, since there may be a much larger number of people who contract it and have minor or possibly no symptoms. Unfortunately, we still really don't know. The situation is even more complicated by the fact that there were already several cold and flu viruses circulating before COVID-19 arrived, and this is still the case. Unless we test everyone it is impossible to know who has what.

We are now well into the second wave which is turning out to be much greater than the first wave. This is inevitable. It is partly the result of the natural way that a viral pandemic of this nature plays out, and it is also driven by opening up and reducing restrictions due to economic concerns, pandemic restriction fatigue resulting in a portion of the population not following public health guidelines as strictly as they should, and extremists disseminating conspiracy theories.

Like it or not, COVID-19 is here to stay.

We live in a complex world. When we feel a sense of loss of control it is human nature that we tend to look for simple linear answers to blame things on. It's a way of not taking responsibility, creating an illusory sense of control by thinking we know the answers, and having something to point at and direct our fear and anger. This is not productive. It is a big, mysterious world that we live in and our ability to control our lives is limited. Most of these stories start with a few facts, add a good dose of paranoia, and blow it up into something that is highly unlikely and can't be verified. There is no doubt that there are very powerful people, companies and organizations in the world that are doing their best to manipulate things in order to maintain their power and wealth. Ultimately, even they aren't really in control. Nature always has the last word! Are some of these conspiracies true or even partly true? Maybe, but who cares? What is the point worrying about something that may or may not be true, can't be verified, and over which we have no control? We think that we are empowering ourselves but we are actually disempowering ourselves. We are succumbing to unnecessary fear and anxiety, and possibly not acting on the things that can really make a difference in our lives. The net result is less physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being, not more.

Even though the pandemic response has at best been based on educated guesses, there is some good news. At the very least we are learning more about this illness and how to treat it. Although with the second wave the number of infections is going up, the number of fatalities is decreasing in many areas. We are also getting a better sense of what works and what doesn't help slow down the spread of this illness.

There are also some mistakes that have been made. In many areas they restricted access to public outdoor spaces. The risks of spreading the virus in these environments are almost zero if people practice social distancing, which is not hard to do. We need fresh air, exercise and time in Nature—now more than ever! This is not only important with regard to our physical health. We have seen consequences of the pandemic restrictions on peoples emotional state. We are much better off taking a walk in the woods than staying inside surfing the Internet. This is something that public authorities should be encouraging, not discouraging.

Another concern is the constantly changing narrative. I realize that governments and public health authorities are doing their best to provide up-to-date information, but presenting ever-changing scenarios about how things are or could play out as if they are based on fact and not just educated guesses has backfired—and yet they are still doing it! This approach frustrates people who are just trying to get by. Some people react with a lot of anxiety and fear; living their lives in accordance with the worst case scenario. Others have stopped trusting the information that is out there and aren't taking the restrictions seriously. This approach has also provided more fodder for the conspiracy theorists. It's time for the medical and political pundits to admit that they really don't know, while urging appropriate levels of caution.

There is so much invested in the belief that one or more vaccines will bring an end to the pandemic that there is a
very real concern that vaccine approval will be rushed without an appropriate level of testing to ensure safety.

My biggest concern in all of this is that the medical and political authorities are putting all of their eggs in one basket: vaccines. The basic approach has been maintaining the minimum restrictions necessary to prevent health care facilities from becoming overwhelmed and keep the economy stuttering along while waiting for the magic bullet(s) that are going to make this thing go away. There are some serious concerns with this path. Firstly, in spite of the enormous resources that are being poured into vaccine research in order to accelerate the development of something that potentially works, the process is still being rushed. There is a very real danger that some or all of any vaccines that are approved will roll out without adequate safety testing. No matter how much money we throw at it, the bottom line is that vaccine development takes time. The goal of getting vaccines approved by late 2020 or early 2021 is unrealistic. On top of that, some of these vaccines are using new technologies. These products should require greater testing, not less. Yet at this time the two front runners produced by Moderna and Pfizer are both using previously untested mRNA technology. These vaccines contain the genetic material that will allow our cells to produce the antigens. With this approach there is a significant potential for long-term negative affects on immune function and possibly in other organs. There are other vaccines that aren't as far along in research process that are also using mRNA and other novel technologies, such as genetically engineered ingredients and nanoparticles. The latter two are not quite as new as the mRNA vaccines, but they are new enough. Some of them have only been used in animal vaccines or very minimally in human vaccines [for excellent up-to-date information on the different vaccines, how they work, and at what stage they are at in the research process see the New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker]. We are beginning to learn a little bit about nanoparticles, and the news isn't great. They behave in novel, unpredictable ways in organisms and ecosystems. They are accumulating in the bodies of plants, animals and humans and we really don't know what the consequences of that are. In addition, in order to be able to purchase these experimental vaccines, governments have been forced to sign agreements absolving the manufacturers of any liability should the vaccines end up causing any negative health consequences.

To be fair, in the end one or more of these vaccines may turn out to be relatively safe and effective, but the potential for harm is very real. Without an appropriate level of caution it could turn out that the 'cure' is worse than the disease. It would be a horrible tragedy if we don't discover that until hundreds of millions of people have been injected with these things. We need long-term safety studies before any vaccines are approved, and even longer for those based on new technologies. These kinds of studies typically take 2-3 years. Yet Moderna and Pfizer have applied for emergency drug approval in the US and other countries. If they succeed it will result in even less testing. There are billions or possibly even trillions of dollars at stake here and these companies are using the current pandemic panic to ensure that they get a piece of the pie. At the same time, politicians are so desperate to get the economy rolling again and returning to 'normal' that they are succumbing to the pressure to rush the process. Politicians are not trained to be able to analyze data from medical research. They rely on the advice of expert advisors and this can be very difficult when there are a lot of 'experts' who have a vested interest in these vaccines getting approved, not to mention that the data is provided by the companies themselves. There have been many cases of unsafe medications being approved based on data that was manipulated by the manufacturers. However, the political pressure is going to make it challenging for politicians and bureaucrats to ignore opinions that tell them what they want to hear—that there's a quicker way out of this mess! There are a lot of unknowns and a lot of things at stake. I wouldn't want to have to be making those decisions.

There is another less obvious concern about all of this. There are dozens of other vaccine contenders out there, many of which utilize technologies that have been in use for a long time and are better understood. If the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are approved, it could effectively shut down research on other vaccines. This is because clinical trials require a placebo group. Who would want to subject themselves to a trial where they might be getting a placebo when there are already one or more vaccines that are approved? This might even be considered unethical by the boards that approve these trials.

There is one other more fundamental consideration. No one has ever developed a successful vaccine for a corona virus! This is because these viruses tend to mutate relatively quickly and by the time they come around again (like the corona viruses that cause some types of seasonal colds) they are sufficiently different so that previous exposure does not result in long-term immunity. In the real world (without human meddling) the way it usually plays out when a novel corona virus jumps from another species to humans is that it returns in a slightly mutated form in regular cycles. Initially, it may be more contagious and deadly, but over time it becomes less severe. This is because, although previous exposure does not result in complete immunity like it does for most people with some other viruses such as measles, our body is still better able to handle the virus as a result of previous exposure. There is already some evidence with COVID-19 that even a recent infection with a different corona virus might result in less severe symptoms. So, even without a vaccine there is a strong possibility that over time as more people get the virus it will just become another seasonal cold virus that cycles through.

What this means is that it is very likely that even if a safe and effective vaccine can be developed, its efficacy will be temporary. Initially they might help to take the edge off the pandemic, but it won't be a permanent solution. Nevertheless, it could accelerate the process by which the virus becomes less severe. It's difficult to say because it is often the case that this process works better from natural infection than from vaccination. Nevertheless, COVID-19 vaccines are going to be part of our reality in the coming year. We can only hope that they will help to control the pandemic with minimum negative consequences.

Black elder flower (Sambucus nigra) is an excellent antiviral and immune stimulant herb
that also lowers fever and supports normal respiratory function.

In the mean time, even if the pandemic plays out the way I have indicated, slowing down the spread of this virus is still very important to help protect vulnerable populations and prevent our health care systems from getting overwhelmed. This is our best option until we reach the necessary threshold of herd immunity through natural infection and possibly with the help of one or more vaccines. At that point, hopefully, the severity of symptoms associated with this virus will be similar to common cold or flu viruses.

Social distancing is a no brainer where appropriate, and there is now plenty of research that indicates that masks are effective in helping to control the spread of the virus. A lot of the masks that people are wearing aren't perfect because they allow air in and out along their edges. In order for them to work best we need to be drawing air in and out through the fabric. Nevertheless, research has demonstrated that even this imperfect option still helps a lot. What seems to work best are multi layered reusable cloth masks. It's best to have more than one and to wash them regularly if you are out in public a lot. Paper masks aren't any better and are resulting in a lot of unnecessary litter and landfill (see: 'Astonishing' Number of Masks Thrown Out During Pandemic and this study). You can also increase the effectiveness of a mask by tying a knot in the elastics that go around your ears so that they fit a bit more tightly.

Transmission by touching surfaces is proving to be a minor vector. However, when we are in public spaces it's a good idea to be careful about touching our eyes or the inside of our nose. It's still a good idea to wash our hands or use hand sanitizer when we are not in our home environment. Gloves are a complete waste—more litter and landfill—as they do not prevent the spread. The place for gloves is for health care professionals and personal support workers who can change them between seeing the people that they are providing services for. When washing our hands, soap and water is good enough. 'Antimicrobial' soaps are not necessary. Also, use natural hand sanitizers. There's a lot of unhealthy ingredients in the commercial products. I recommend you bring your own with you and don't use the ones provided at the entrances of stores and public places.

Like everyone else, I am making some educated guesses about how this is likely to play out. I could be partly or completely wrong. However, the one thing that you can count on is that it is a balanced educated guess, not one based on an extreme point of view, a potential for economic gain, or some other conscious or unconscious hidden agenda. I'm just trying to present as balanced a perspective as possible from my years of experience in order to help you to make the best decisions that you can.

That brings me to the next point, which is my long neglected blog post series on vaccinations. I apologize for this. I don't do sound bites regarding complex subjects. I like to be as comprehensive as possible. It can take me days to write one of my longer posts, and writing isn't something that I particularly enjoy. Not to mention that my life is pretty busy and I rarely have sufficient blocks of time for this kind of thing. That being said, by organizing a bunch of materials that were already available I was able to get out some decent information in my last post that many people found helpful moving into the pandemic. The good news is that I can reference some of that in my vaccine post, which will make it easier to complete. Since questions about vaccines are going to be front and centre as we move into the next chapter of our pandemic saga, I am going to do my best to get that next post on vaccinations done before any COVID-19 vaccine hits the streets. I had intended to do it as a three part series. What was to be the last part largely addresses childhood vaccinations because until recently that was the primary area of concern. However, the pandemic has become the primary concern with regard to vaccinations at this time. As a result, I am going to address this from the perspective of COVID-19 in Part 3 of the series and I will then discuss childhood vaccinations in Part 4. In the interim, I strongly recommend that you read The Vaccination Controversy, Part 1 of 3 and Part 2 of 3.

I still stand by all of the recommendations that I made in my first post on this pandemic (see Living With Viruses and Viral Pandemics). It's all there and there isn't much more to add to it. In spite of what some people are saying, there are lots of things that we can do to increase our overall level of health and vitality, and our immune function in particular. As I said in my previous post, there are no quick fixes. Being healthy is a way of life. This is a great time to start prioritizing our health if we haven't been already. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Living With Viruses and Viral Pandemics

I have been getting a lot of questions from people who are concerned and frightened about the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is a serious situation and it is not surprising that people are afraid. I have some good resources available that combined can provide a lot of information that people who are interested should find helpful. I have been working the last couple of days to coordinate them so that I can provide something fairly comprehensive.

Before I get into that, I would like to say that the situation is serious but does not warrant the kind of panic that has been occurring in some areas. As potential pandemics go, it could be a lot worse if we were dealing with a much more deadly virus. The primary concern with COVID-19 is that is it extremely contagious compared to similar viruses that have shown up in the recent past and therefore much more difficult to control. The two major challenges are for high risk individuals—which is primarily people over 60 with pre-existing respiratory conditions and those who are immune-compromised for some reason—and slowing down the spread of the virus so that the number of people requiring hospitalization does not overwhelm our health care system and the people who need it can get the support that they require. Providing extra protection for high risk individuals and following the basic guidelines that are being recommended—hand washing, minimizing travel, social distancing, self-quarantining if you have symptoms or have been exposed to confirmed cases—are all very important. However, fear and anxiety are not helpful. One of the most important things that we can do is whatever works for us to calm down and change the story, because fear is contagious and one of the most powerful factors that has the potential to reduce our immune function and increase our susceptibility to the virus.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is the perfect environment for the development of global pandemics. We are lucky that other potentially more serious pandemics such as SARS-CoV were a lot less contagious have been averted so far. However, unless we start thinking long-term, in the coming decades it is quite possible that this is going to become more common. Hopefully, we will learn on an individual and societal level how to live in better relationship and thereby reduce this potential in the future. We also need to understand that we are all in this together. Running to the store and clearing out various products is not in the spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and compassion. The only way we can move through this crisis in a good way is through cooperation—locally and globally.

Although this is a serious situation, we also need to put it in perspective. For example, in recent years the number of confirmed cases of influenza in Canada has been around 40,000. The actual number is probably much higher as this statistic only includes people for whom the diagnosis was confirmed. The flu results in about 12,200 hospitalizations annually and 3,500 deaths—and this is with widespread implementation of vaccination programs. Approximately 42% of Canadians over 18 years of age were vaccinated. With the various measures that have been put it place, hopefully the number of people infected with COVID-19 will be lower than that. Overall, the mortality rate that is about double that of the flu. However, assuming some degree of effectiveness of the flu vaccine, that means that in all likelihood the mortality rate of COVID-19 would be similar to influenza if there were no flu vaccine. Keep in mind that when people throw around statistics like this what we call "the flu" is actually caused by a number of different viruses. In any given year it is possible that more than one of these viruses could move through the population. Therefore in some years these statistics are based on more than one virus. Also, it is very clear that the mortality rate of this virus can be much higher than that in some areas depending on the population and the rapidness and degree to which measures to contain it are put into place.

Common purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Along with the other Echinacea species,
these North American herbs are probably the best known immune stimulating herbs in the world. 

Again, I am not attempting to downplay the seriousness of the current pandemic, only to put it in perspective. The degree of fear that is out there does not reflect the actual risk. This is not surprising because we are dealing with an unknown. We tend to be a lot more relaxed about things that we are familiar with. Yes, it is important that we do what we can to prevent the spread of this illness and to increase our capacity to deal with the virus if we get it, but all of these will work much better if we are able to deal with the pandemic in a calm manner. That is no consolation to the people who have been significantly affected by this, and, as we've seen, there are some regions where the affects of this virus have been far more deadly. My prayers go out to everyone who is suffering or has lost loved ones.

It is important to realize that there are no magic bullets and anyone who claims to have a "cure" is misguided or dishonest. Even the mad rush to produce a vaccine is unlikely to be successful. No one has ever been able to create a successful vaccine for a corona virus. They mutate too quickly for a vaccine to be effective. Assuming that a safe and effective vaccine could be produced, its value would be to temporarily slow down the spread of the current pandemic. The next time this virus comes around—and it probably will—the vaccine will probably be useless. That isn't to say that it wouldn't be beneficial to have another tool that might temporarily slow down the spread of the virus. However, by the time the vaccine goes through the rigorous testing necessary to ensure some degree of safety and efficacy and they are able to produce and distribute enough if it, it will almost certainly be too late. There is also a real risk that misguided politicians and the pharmaceutical industry looking for quick profits will rush a vaccine into use and not subject it to sufficient testing, thereby potentially putting the public at additional risk. It can take a year or more to put a new vaccine through the necessary testing and clinical trials to ensure that it is relatively safe and effective. I'm not suggesting that the numerous researchers who are working on this do not have the public interest in mind. There are many medical researchers who are working around the clock to play their part within their area of expertise. However, where there is a lot of fear and a potential for enormous profits there is also a potential for things to go sideways.

That being said, where the medical pundits and media have been doing a serious disservice to the public and potentially contributing to the spread of the virus has been in that some of them have been denying that there are means of improving our body defenses and potential resistance to the virus outside of the paradigm of Western 'scientific' medicine. Partly this is a reaction to the unscrupulous people who through ignorance and/or a desire to profit from the current pandemic have been claiming to have all sorts of "cures" for this virus. Unfortunately, there really is a lot of garbage information out there and it can be very difficult to navigate through it and identify what makes sense and what doesn't. However, what the so-called 'experts' forget is that their concern that various 'natural' treatments have not been subjected to repeatable high quality clinical trials also applies to a significant proportion of mainstream medical treatments (for more information see my previous post Homeopathy Under Attack). Also, directly or indirectly, all modern medical drugs and practices have their roots in traditional healing systems and practices. As modern people we tend to look upon people who lived two-, three-, four- or ten thousand years ago as if they were primitive and had limited reasoning capacity. The truth is, although they hadn't yet developed the technologies that we take for granted, they were not very different from us. They were also much more aware and attuned to the world that they lived in. Traditional peoples do not practice things unless they work. This is a necessity. Their survival depends on it. We have many natural healing traditions throughout the world that are based on the cumulative wisdom of thousands of years of observation and practice, and more recently augmented by many of the discoveries of modern medical science. They provide a wealth of information and experience from which we can benefit during this pandemic—if we are able to discriminate between the good information from the not so good, and always keep in mind that what works for some people might not work as well for others and nobody has all of the answers.

Although there is no "cure" for this virus, in addition to the public health recommendations and measures that are being implemented, there are many things that we can do to improve our overall health and the functioning of our body defenses in order to help reduce the frequency, severity and spread of this illness—but there are no guarantees! We can only do what we can and hope for the best. Implementing these recommendations in the short-term will certainly help, but we must never forget that health is a way of life. It's much better to live in a good way—in good relationship with our body and the world that we live in—than to try to catch up in a crisis situation. This pandemic is therefore an excellent opportunity for learning.

To provide some helpful guidance I have coordinated a number of resources. The more of them that you utilize, the more complete will be your understanding of how you can help to protect yourself and your family during this pandemic and into the future. I realize that, unfortunately, some of these recommendations include herbs and supplements, or eating organic foods which are more expensive and not everyone can afford them. Do the best you can. Most of these are simple lifestyle recommendations that anyone can implement.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is another effective immune stimulating herb from the Aster family.
It is also an excellent herb for lung conditions. It aids expectoration and reduces lung inflammation.

Introduction to the Online Lecture Series

This is a lecture that I released free to the public in December 2012. It provides some general background health information that creates a context for the other lectures. It focuses on how we relate to life and the world—which is the foundation of healing! This content is important for all of the lectures. I did it as a stand-alone lecture so that I wouldn't have to repeat the content in every lecture.

You can access the Introductory Lecture here.

Immune Support & the Natural Treatment of Colds and Flu

This was the first of the online lectures that was also released in December 2012. Although the content concerns colds and flu, all of the information is also applicable to COVID-19. The lecture also has a supplementary handout that provides some additional information on putting together herbal formulations for respiratory viral infections. Although this is a stand-alone lecture, I feel that you will get even more out of it if you watch the Introductory Lecture first.

Keep in mind that, although the general principles can be applied anywhere, I can only recommend herbs that I personally use and have experience with. I have also limited it to those that are more readily available and easy to use. The herbs that I use are mostly limited to plants that grow or can be grown in the region where I live. Many of these are available in most countries, but not all of them. If you live in a region where some of these herbs are not available it will be necessary to substitute herbs from your region in accordance with the principles presented in the lecture.

Given the need for good information at this time, yesterday I opened up this lecture so that it is now free to anyone who wants to view it on YouTube. You can access the Colds and Flu lecture here.

Surviving and Thriving in a World Full of Viruses

Periodically the editor of Vitality Magazine will call me up in response to some global health concern and ask me to write an article about it. In November 2001 I was asked to write about herbs that can help us in the event of a global viral pandemic. This was in response to some kind of novel flu epidemic that was occurring at that time. Then again in November 2014 I was asked to update the original article when there was a lot of concern about an Ebola epidemic.

Instead of writing an article from scratch, I have taken the 2014 version of this article and updated and expanded it in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. If you'd rather read an article than watch a video this might be more to your liking. However, the article and the video are not exactly the same and each touches upon some things that are not covered in the other. For the most complete perspective I strongly recommend that you watch the video (preferably the introduction as well) and read the article.

Also, since I first published this post on March 16, I have updated this article seven times, the last update being April 5. If you downloaded the article previous to that you might want to download the latest version as it has some new content. The most recent version is V8.

You can access the Surviving and Thriving article here.

I hope that you find these resources helpful. I feel that you will get the greatest benefit if you watch the Introductory Lecture video, then watch the Colds and Flu video (the supplementary handout mostly relates to the last part of the video) and then read the Surviving and Thriving article; or you could read the article first and then watch the videos.

As disrupting as this pandemic is—and potentially tragic for some people—it is also an opportunity to re-evaluate our priorities. Mother Earth is also getting a much needed break from the onslaught of human activity. There are lots of stories circulating about how quickly air and water quality is improving in some regions at this time. The healing capacity of the Earth is inspiring and humbling. Nevertheless, the amount of change that is necessary to help bring our individual and collective lives back into good relationship is enormous—but if we all do our best to play our part it is not beyond what is possible.

Stay calm and be well—and if you get some down time due to the various disruptions that are occurring, try to spend more time in Nature. It will help you to get some needed peace and perspective.