An Insider’s Plague Year, by Peter Doherty

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from Covid-19 it’s that good management of the pandemic depends on good, reliable and trustworthy information… As retirees,  from the beginning of the pandemic The Spouse and I have had the luxury of being able to watch the daily Victorian press conference which, with a team of politicians and health experts, has educated us about what we need to know and where to find out more information that we can rely on.  But even a cursory look at social media shows that there are plenty of people who don’t understand even the simplest ideas about mask-wearing, social distancing or vaccinations, much less have an understanding of the science behind the decisions that governments have had to make. An Insider’s Plague Year is Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty’s attempt to fill that gap.  This is the blurb: An illuminating glimpse into the scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic from Australia’s most prominent ‘insider’ In An Insider’s Plague Year, Nobel laureate and prominent COVID-19 authority Professor Peter Doherty recounts his response to the pandemic as it developed from January 2020-February 2021. As citizens and governments around the world suddenly became acutely dependent on the capacity of scientists to understand and recommend appropriate public health policy responses to the disease, Doherty and his team were at the forefront.In his always conversational style, Doherty systematically provides a deep understanding of the virus and of the numerous areas of knowledge that have been brought together in the fight against it. Rendering complex medical and scientific issues accessible and providing a fascinating glimpse into how health experts have worked with governments to control and manage the challenge, Doherty also turns his mind to what we can hope for in the months and years ahead, considering even larger questions about the pivotal role of science in our lives. Most of the book is a compilation of columns from The Doherty Institute’s Setting it Straight series.  At the time of going to press, the book included issues #1 to #42; as of today, Issue #69 is the most recent at their website. (I really do recommend that you read it (here): the topic is ‘Vaccination, risk/benefit, herd immunity and passive immunity’ because it explains really clearly why — even when Australia achieves ‘herd immunity’ — those who are unvaccinated cannot expect, as is the case with many other infections, that they will be safe because the vaccinated people around them have protective antibodies.  At some stage you’re going to encounter someone who believes this, and you’ll be doing them a favour if you can explain why they can’t just rely on the rest of us getting vaccinated. The unvaccinated can catch COVID-19 from vaccinees who are fully immune but, nonetheless, may still be breathing out some virus. We can see the consequence of that in the USA, which has around 70% of the population (aged 18 and over) fully vaccinated. As at 16 July, 2021, 99.5% of those Americans who are dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated. To get the full value of reading Issue #69, however, you need to have read the earlier issues, and that’s where this book is really useful.  It’s not a book to scamper through; although it’s written for the general reader, it covers complex science which will be more or less digestible depending on your existing knowledge of science.  (I did science up to Form 4, but I have a ‘coach’ a.k.a. The Spouse who has a B.Sc majoring in microbiology.  My father was a research chemist but his speciality was surface coatings a.k.a. paint so while he taught me a lot about how to paint a fence so that the paintwork lasts for 25 years+ (which is more than the average professional housepainter can achieve), he was no expert on anything relevant to C-19). If you take your time to work through Setting it Straight, you’ll have a good understanding of the basics, and you’ll be in a better decision to understand why our team of Chief Health Officers make the decisions that they do. And as a bonus, the last few chapters include some interesting commentary on other aspects of science in Australia! Author: Peter DohertyTitle: An Insider’s Plague YearPublisher: Melbourne University Press, 2021ISBN: 9780522877519, pbk., 246 pagesReview copy courtesy of MUP

An Insider’s Plague Year, by Peter Doherty

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from Covid-19 it’s that good management of the pandemic depends on good, reliable and trustworthy information…

As retirees,  from the beginning of the pandemic The Spouse and I have had the luxury of being able to watch the daily Victorian press conference which, with a team of politicians and health experts, has educated us about what we need to know and where to find out more information that we can rely on.  But even a cursory look at social media shows that there are plenty of people who don’t understand even the simplest ideas about mask-wearing, social distancing or vaccinations, much less have an understanding of the science behind the decisions that governments have had to make.

An Insider’s Plague Year is Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty’s attempt to fill that gap.  This is the blurb:

An illuminating glimpse into the scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic from Australia’s most prominent ‘insider’

In An Insider’s Plague Year, Nobel laureate and prominent COVID-19 authority Professor Peter Doherty recounts his response to the pandemic as it developed from January 2020-February 2021. As citizens and governments around the world suddenly became acutely dependent on the capacity of scientists to understand and recommend appropriate public health policy responses to the disease, Doherty and his team were at the forefront.
In his always conversational style, Doherty systematically provides a deep understanding of the virus and of the numerous areas of knowledge that have been brought together in the fight against it. Rendering complex medical and scientific issues accessible and providing a fascinating glimpse into how health experts have worked with governments to control and manage the challenge, Doherty also turns his mind to what we can hope for in the months and years ahead, considering even larger questions about the pivotal role of science in our lives.

Most of the book is a compilation of columns from The Doherty Institute’s Setting it Straight series.  At the time of going to press, the book included issues #1 to #42; as of today, Issue #69 is the most recent at their website. (I really do recommend that you read it (here): the topic is ‘Vaccination, risk/benefit, herd immunity and passive immunity’ because it explains really clearly why — even when Australia achieves ‘herd immunity’ — those who are unvaccinated cannot expect, as is the case with many other infections, that they will be safe because the vaccinated people around them have protective antibodies.  At some stage you’re going to encounter someone who believes this, and you’ll be doing them a favour if you can explain why they can’t just rely on the rest of us getting vaccinated.

The unvaccinated can catch COVID-19 from vaccinees who are fully immune but, nonetheless, may still be breathing out some virus. We can see the consequence of that in the USA, which has around 70% of the population (aged 18 and over) fully vaccinated. As at 16 July, 2021, 99.5% of those Americans who are dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

To get the full value of reading Issue #69, however, you need to have read the earlier issues, and that’s where this book is really useful.  It’s not a book to scamper through; although it’s written for the general reader, it covers complex science which will be more or less digestible depending on your existing knowledge of science.  (I did science up to Form 4, but I have a ‘coach’ a.k.a. The Spouse who has a B.Sc majoring in microbiology.  My father was a research chemist but his speciality was surface coatings a.k.a. paint so while he taught me a lot about how to paint a fence so that the paintwork lasts for 25 years+ (which is more than the average professional housepainter can achieve), he was no expert on anything relevant to C-19).

If you take your time to work through Setting it Straight, you’ll have a good understanding of the basics, and you’ll be in a better decision to understand why our team of Chief Health Officers make the decisions that they do.

And as a bonus, the last few chapters include some interesting commentary on other aspects of science in Australia!

Author: Peter Doherty
Title: An Insider’s Plague Year
Publisher: Melbourne University Press, 2021
ISBN: 9780522877519, pbk., 246 pages
Review copy courtesy of MUP