“We routinely differentiate between two kinds of military action: the inevitable carnage and collateral damage of diffuse hostilities, and the precision of a “surgical strike,” methodically targeted to the sources of our particular peril. The latter, when executed well, minimizes resources and unintended consequences alike.
As we battle the coronavirus pandemic, and heads of state declare that we are “at war” with this contagion, the same dichotomy applies. This can be open war, with all the fallout that portends, or it could be something more surgical. The United States and much of the world so far have gone in for the former. I write now with a sense of urgency to make sure we consider the surgical approach, while there is still time.
Outbreaks tend to be isolated when pathogens move through water or food, and of greater scope when they travel by widespread vectors like fleas, mosquitoes or the air itself. Like the coronavirus pandemic, the infamous flu pandemic of 1918 was caused by viral particles transmitted by coughing and sneezing. Pandemics occur when an entire population is vulnerable — that is, not immune — to a given pathogen capable of efficiently spreading itself.
Immunity occurs when our immune system has developed antibodies against a germ, either naturally or as a result of a vaccine, and is fully prepared should exposure recur. The immune system response is so robust that the invading germ is eradicated before symptomatic disease can develop.”