COVID-19 – has science won?

Sculpture José Resende / Museu do Açude, Rio de Janeiro


The only battle won was that of vaccines. The war, therefore, is not over and it is not possible to speak of victory.

"Science won Bolsonaro” repeat, in the commercial media and on social networks, politicians, health professionals, journalists and indignant people. It is understandable, but misleading, as the sentence contains errors. It is true that, without scientific knowledge, it would not be possible to produce vaccines. It is also true that vaccines raise the possibilities of containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic to another level, which, in the first month of 2021, records unprecedented numbers in Brazil: more than 8,5 million cases and approximately 215 deaths.

But to speak of victory, in this context, is to contribute to spreading an illusion. There is no victory, although Bolsonaro is being defeated. However, the fight against the pandemic is still far from over. It is, therefore, more important at this moment to intensify the fights against the main factor of his lack of control in Brazil: Jair Bolsonaro.

In "science won”, verb and tense are therefore wrong.

First, the verb tense. “Won” is wrong, because put like that in the past, it gives the impression that “the war is over”, when only one battle was fought, that of vaccines. Very important, but only one battle. Other battles, also important, have been lost, such as, among others, the battles of testing suspects, tracing contacts, isolating patients, guaranteeing universal access to the beds that patients need, economic support for families, support for health professionals and their dependents. The war, therefore, is not over and it is not possible to speak of victory. Much less put it in the past tense.

Second, “science” and its role in the battles against the pandemic. In the specific episode of the battle for vaccines, there is a notable error in identifying the subject who “won” denialism, ignorant arrogance, neglect and blatant sabotage by the President of the Republic to the efforts for us to have vaccines. Accepting that the subject of this victory was “science” is as mistaken as admitting that whoever defeated Hitler was “reason” and that Mussolini was beaten by the force of “sociology”.

It is not known exactly how many people died to stop Hitler and his allies in Europe and Asia, but historians converge to somewhere around 55 million. About half of that number corresponds to deaths in the then Soviet Union. Among the dead are 'partigiani' of the Italian Resistance, the armed movement in opposition to fascism. It is worth noting that Hitler and Mussolini were defeated by the political-military action of these men and women.

Bolsonaro was defeated in the battle of vaccines, but it was not “science” that won him. Science does not win, nor draw, nor is it defeated. This is up to the scientists and those who support them. The subjects who move history are people and their wills and, above all, their actions. Bolsonaro was defeated, therefore, not by science, but by those who acted against him and what he thinks, means and does – including in relation to science.

For this reason, whether or not they are aware of it, those who say that “science” has won contribute to concealing the political actions of people who, by opposing the government and the President of the Republic, imposed a defeat of great strategic significance on them.

This is the perspective adopted by the commercial media, whose origin is the thinking of authoritarian politicians, disguised as democrats, such as the former Minister of Health, Luiz Mandetta, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, and the Governor of São Paulo João Dória, among others. All were protagonists, in 2016, of the coup against the Democratic State of Law that nullified the votes in the 2014 presidential elections and all were supporters of Bolsonaro in the 2018 second round. of the Republic, indirect accomplices of the genocide perpetrated from the Planalto Palace.

But they have also been reproducing the thesis that “science won”, several popular field leaders, who are at the forefront of defending social rights and committed to the fight against the government led by Bolsonaro, for identifying in him what they call “proto-fascist traits”. These should, in my opinion, abandon this complacent position, as there is no neutrality in these processes. Believing this is giving ammunition to enemies of democracy, strengthening them in their anti-scientific preaching, contradictorily as medieval as it is contemporary, whose objective is precisely to deceive and manipulate with political purposes.

For this reason, it is not enough to refuse the statement that “science has won”, but one must go further and warn of the mistake that is to intend to depoliticize science and vaccines in order to improve their acceptance by the population. There are those who believe, naively in my view, that science is neutral, that the vaccine is a matter of science, not politics. It is necessary to state the opposite of this and, without beating around the bush, fears and paternalism, say with all the letters that, like it or not, politics is at the heart of it all, and it is a serious mistake to deny this fact. I have argued, as I did right here in March 2020 (“epidemiological flat earthism”), that “the epidemiological phenomenon should not be ideologized and partisan, undermining its confrontation based on scientific evidence”. But not ideologizing or partisan epidemics and vaccines does not mean denying that politics is inherent in such matters.

In the battle for vaccines, admitting that “science won” was “science”, denying the importance of political actions that, across the country, made it possible to impose the defeat of vaccines on Bolsonaro, corresponds to putting the spotlight on only a few politicians who they have been defending “science” against those who would not be giving it due value. That is, in politicians like Dória, Maia and Mandetta, among other “sensible”, “weighted”, “centre”, “democrats”.

But if science recommends testing suspects, tracking contacts, isolating patients, ensuring universal access to the beds needed by patients, creating and maintaining economic support for families by strengthening public social security, supporting health professionals by providing them with adequate conditions of safe work and, in short, adequately finance and strengthen the Unified Health System (SUS), what do the aforementioned politicians, shining under the spotlight, do on a daily basis?

They ignore science, leaving it with only that part that interests them, and they attack the SUS, despite declaring to defend it, as their actions demonstrate more than their words. All, without exception, supported the approval of Constitutional Amendment 95, of 2016, one of the first acts of the federal legislature, after the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff.

The EC-95/2016, known as the “expense ceiling” (or “EC of Death”) financially bleeds the SUS, freezing its budgetary resources for 20 years, and is currently the main threat that hangs over our universal system. All, without exception, identify with the SUS model that Dória, and all governments led by the PSDB, have been imposing in the state of São Paulo, which does not prioritize the basic services network and is centered on the hospital unit as the structuring nucleus of the system. Both, basic network and hospitals, are being increasingly outsourced. The privatization, hidden by the commercial media, includes units such as the Butantan Institute and Emílio Ribas Hospital.

Finally, it is not a matter of belittling the victory against Bolsonaro in the battle for vaccines, even though there are many doubts about the availability of immunizers, for everyone as it should be, on the SUS network. It was a very important victory and had symbolic contours of the highest significance. There should certainly be no doubt about the importance of vaccines and the fight for universal access to them, as the most diverse groups have been defending. social movements.

It is essential, however, to recognize the protagonism and enormous importance of these men and women who, whether anonymous or prominent personalities in public life, dared to oppose and challenge Bolsonaro and the entourage of fanatics who support him. It was they, and not “science”, who defeated the President of the Republic in that battle.

With their victory, they make an enormous contribution to the main war that Brazilian democracy has been waging since, defeated at the polls in 2014, opportunists of all kinds chose to destabilize the Democratic State of Law and, tearing up the 1988 Constitution, made adventurous mountaineering possible. who still remains in charge of the Executive today.

*Paulo Capel Narvai is Senior Professor of Public Health at USP.


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