Barbara Pfeffer Billauer
integrating law, policy, religion and science

Israeli Chutzpah and CoVid Policy Make an Ugly Cholent

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Killing the old folks won’t kill the pandemic.

A month ago, our Prime Minister, apparently reading tea leaves or Tarot cards, proclaimed: “I see the light at the end of the [CoVid] tunnel, I see the vaccines in the State of Israel.”  (Not before, May, at the earliest, though). Yesterday, he was predicting the reinstitution of Draconian restrictions.  A month ago, he was proclaiming cautious optimism.  Today, he is sounding the alarm on lockdown, as the infection rate rises.

And the infection rate is rising because the populace is frustrated, confused, and angry. There is no consistent policy and no clear vision. One minute we are exhorted to see the rosy future of freedom right around the corner with the cry that Israel will have enough vaccines for every Israeli to get ‘multiple doses’; the next day we are threatened with a third lockdown to be imposed over Passover. One day a smattering of malls are opened, – replete with inducements of fabulous sales. The next day, the infection rate rises. And the “experts” are surprised that Israelis, cooped up for the last two months, can’t resist the lure of a bargain and overrun the shops? Who is running this place, anyway?

As I have written before, there are serious issues with our reporting mechanisms,  (and issues with media accuracy), and without good data, good policy is impossible. Worse, still, is the lack of consistency or vision in national CoVid policy. This is not for lack of advisors. We have a health ministry, replete with public health professionals, a CoVid Task Force, replete with medical professionals, and past CoVid Task Force heads sounding in. And then we have the ubiquitous Israeli who has a degree in something-or-other and is suddenly an expert in public health – trying to manipulate our already confused policy. And we’re surprised that someone came up with this idea to lure imprisoned Israelis into 15 localities – with the bait of a sale?

Now this policy is bad. But it’s not irreversible. But then we have the statisticians sounding in trying to influence vaccination policy. Now, a statistician is someone who has one hand in the freezer, a foot in a bucket of hot water, and “on the average” feels fine. It isn’t any different in CoVid policy. Two weeks ago, arises a  Yoney -Come-Lately to the CoVid pontifical scene, urging us to forget the oldsters, the best way to stop the epidemic is to vaccinate the young and social superspreaders.

I say Yoney-Come-Lately, because the idea isn’t even original- or new. It was raised back in September, and by September 21, I had already written about the flaws in the reasoning and dangers of such a policy. But our Israeli statistical physicist,  eager to sound in on the fray with something novel, now has original computational numbers showing that “immunizing superspreaders is the ‘only way’ to protect society with an initially limited supply of inoculations.” How to identify a superspreader, according to him? Just measure social interactions, he advises. Wrong. Superspreader status isn’t necessarily dependent on how many people one is in contact with – it also involves the strain, the ability to shed virus (coughing, sneezing, singing), and the amount of virus shed, none of which can be measured by who’s the fairest-at-the-ball test that he advocates.


As if trying to bolster the scientific flaws of such nonsense,  this august newspaper cites to the original proposal and mistakenly asserts it comes from a team of health experts. It doesn’t. It comes from, you guessed it – a statistician and two economists. Now the problem with comparing numbers and people is that numbers will always confess to anything if you torture them hard enough. People are unpredictable. The fallacies of mathematical modeling are easily recalled by the Oxford Study predicting 10,000 Israeli deaths that freaked Gantz into joining an ill-fated coalition, or the false and flawed prognostication of the Ebola statistics, that were off by 100 fold. 

So much for numbers. Now let’s talk public health policy. In 1972, Marshall Tito vaccinated all 20 million of Yugoslavia’s population from smallpox in three weeks. But he had enough vaccines to do it. We won’t. Notwithstanding all the Israeli hype to the contrary, we’ll get the vaccine in drips and drabs, and not nearly enough to reach herd immunity, which is now estimated to be 70%  — probably for another year.

So, you need to ask: for what purpose are we vaccinating: to stop the pandemic? No way. With even 500,000 vaccinated, that leaves another eight million people, including these unidentified uber-spreaders, cantering around, exposing those at most risk of dying: the aged with co-morbidities, those in nursing homes, health care workers.  The initial run of vaccines must be given to prevent death- NOT to prevent spread, which we won’t be able to do until at least 6.5 million people are vaccinated. And if the objective is preventing death, don’t waste the vaccine on the young and resilient.

To clearly re-state the problem of this egregious and dangerous idea: this statistically-based policy will not stop spread. But it will – without a doubt- result in unnecessary deaths. In fact, this misguided nonsense will cause the case-fatality rate to rise.

This isn’t the only anti-aged policy being touted, either. While the economically-driven might deign to discard the elderly as non-productive, it’s against our religious values. And if the American Supreme Court can recognize the importance of religious values when compared to economics, it would be shanda for us to fail in this regard. Let’s just hope someone in the government understands this. (And let’s stop being suckered by all the Israeli Yoneys who have great stories to sell to the press- all for self-promotion. Remember the Migal vaccine, anyone?).

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The tumbling of CoVid Policy based on mathematical modeling.

About the Author
Grew up on Long Island, attended Cornell University (BS Hons.)and Hofstra ULaw School, MA in Occupational Health from NYU, Ph.D,. in Law and Science from Uof Haifa. Practiced trial law in New York City, Taught at NYU, University of Md Law School, Stony Brook School of Medicine. Currently Research Professor of Scientific Statecraft, Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, Professor, International Program in Bioethics, University of Porto, Portugal. Editor Prof. Amnon Carmi's Casebook on Bioethics for Judges, Member of Advisory Board, UNESCO Committee on Bioethics. Currently residing in Netanya, Israel.
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