August 9, 2021
Viewed as a complex non-linear system, the pandemic varinants can only be controlled by drastically pruning the physical connections between disparate global groups, which means effectively ending the unrestricted flow of individuals around the planet.
Just a few days after the official acknowledgement of the pandemic in late January, 2020, Joseph Norman, Yaneer Bar-Yam, and Nassim Taleb published a short paper, Systemic Risk of Pandemic Via Novel Pathogens which considered pandemics as complex systems.
Viewed through the lens of complex systems, two features of pathogens are consequential: 1) whether asymptomatic individuals can carry and transmit the pathogen, and 2) the contagiousness of the pathogen, i.e., its rate of spreading, which is generally measured by the “reproductive ratio R0–the number of cases one case generates on average over the course of its infectious period in an otherwise uninfected population.”
In this pandemic, the pathogen can be transmitted by asymptomatic individuals, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, and the pathogen is highly contagious.
CDC study shows 74% of people infected in Massachusetts Covid outbreak were fully vaccinated (CNBC.com)
I went to a party with 14 other vaccinated people; 11 of us got COVID (baltimoresun.com)
The authors summarize the problem thusly:
“Clearly, we are dealing with an extreme fat-tailed process owing to an increased connectivity, which increases the spreading in a nonlinear way. Fat tailed processes have special attributes, making conventional risk-management approaches inadequate.” (emphasis added)
In other words, by hyper-connecting human groups via air travel, the Global Village has insured non-linear spreading of the pathogen and its variants. The authors’ conclusion results from the understanding of pandemics as complex non-linear systems:
” Multiscale population approaches including drastically pruning contact networks using collective boundaries and social behavior change, and community self-monitoring, are essential.”
If the only systemic way to address pandemics of this nature is to drastically prune contact networks and reduce mobility, that means restricting the global flow of millions of individuals, also known as global tourism and business travel.
As I noted in Virus Z: A Thought Experiment (July 1, 2021), pathogen populations within individuals are a reservoir which generate mutations, some number of which become consequential.
As a function of large numbers (billions of pathogens mutating in millions of individual carriers), the number of variants will rise over time. This suggests a future of The Red Queen’s Race in which authorities attempt to revaccinate hundreds of millions of individuals against one variant even as five, ten or more new variants emerge in the time required to revaccinate hundreds of millions of individuals.
As the media articles above document, current vaccines are not sterilizing vaccines that eliminate that pathogen from each vaccinated individual, nor do they eliminate the spread of the pathogen from vaccinated individuals to other vaccinated individuals.
Viewed as a complex non-linear system, the pandemic variants can only be controlled by drastically pruning the physical connections between disparate global groups, which means effectively ending the unrestricted flow of individuals around the planet. This would effectively end global tourism and business travel, as even a small number of asymptomatic carriers which escape detection could introduce a new variant to which the home populace is vulnerable.
It’s not politics or economics, it’s just complex non-linear systems and logic.
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