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The SPARS Pandemic Scenario is a long exercise in tedium and stupidity, which in no way predicts lockdowns or vaccine mandates
I read it so you don't have to.
This is the first instalment in an ongoing series, in which I propose to examine the various pandemic wargame and planning scenarios in detail, one after the other. My purpose is to shed light on pre-Covid pandemic planning, and put to rest the enduring myth that these documents call for or in any way predict the mass containment forced vaccination regime imposed on us in 2020.
The SPARS Pandemic, 2025–2028 is the title of an immensely tedious and stupid “teaching and training resource for public health and government officials,” thrown together in 2017 by
Chat GPT a collection of midlevel nobodies at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security – a pandemicist think tank good at generating publicity, but terrible at devising policy prescriptions that anybody will actually follow.
It’s not in any sense a wargame or a tabletop exercise, but rather a flat, nearly plotless, deeply unimaginative fictional work set a decade in the future, for the purpose of giving “public health communicators and risk communication researchers” the “prompt … to imagine the dynamic and oftentimes conflicted circumstances in which communication around emergency medical countermeasures development, distribution, and uptake takes place.” Yes, the whole thing is written like that.
CHS pandemic imaginers concocted the SPARS scenario in the aftermath of Trump’s election, so it’s no surprise to find that its primary theme is social media misinformation and the “varying levels of fragmentation among populations along social, political, religious, ideological, and cultural lines.” Pandemicists would really prefer equal access to everyone’s brain, but in the real world, people use electronic media to form their own ideas inside distinct cultural communities, which is bad.
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The SPARS world is one that “has become simultaneously more connected, yet more divided.” The cool new social media tech is something called “internet accessing technology” or “IAT,” which consists of “thin, flexible screens that can be temporarily attached to briefcases, backpacks, or clothing and used to stream content from the internet.” Yes, according to the predicters at CHS, everyone in three years will be running around with animated stickers livestreaming YouTube content from their t-shirts. The cool new social media platform is ZapQ, which “enables users to aggregate and archive selected media content from other platforms and communicate with cloud-based social groups based on common interests and current events.” I don’t know what that means, or how it differs from existing social media platforms, and the scenario authors don’t either. They are experts in health communication who have no idea how social media works.
The SPARS scenario is broken down into 16 chronologically arranged chapters. Each of them concludes with a COMMUNICATION DILEMMA, with schoolmarm discussion questions, or FOOD FOR THOUGHT, for the room to chew on. Really high-level stuff here, especially if you’re still in grade school.
SPARS stands for St. Paul Acute Respiratory Syndrome. It’s caused by SPARS-CoV, a coronavirus modelled loosely on SARS. The first identified infections occur in Christian missionaries from the First Baptist Church of St. Paul, Minnesota, who have just returned from a trip to the Philippines.
The CDC eventually confirm that our missionaries have been infected with a novel coronavirus, and epidemiologists proceed to “monitor the situation closely.” The pathogen causes flu-like symptoms, and is eventually determined to have a case fatality rate of 0.6%. It’s especially dangerous for children and some pregnant women. The WHO finally declare a worldwide pandemic emergency on 25 November, a month after the first identified cases.
The CDC don’t do very much to stop the virus, aside from tweeting at everyone to wash their hands and stay home if they feel sick.
At first, a fictional antiviral called Kalocivir is the only treatment available. There’s also the hope of adapting a livestock vaccine previously developed in Southeast Asia for “SPARS-like respiratory coronavirus disease in cows and pigs.” While Kalocivir causes “intense stomach cramping,” it does nothing to reduce transmission, and eventually turns out to be pretty ineffective at reducing symptoms too. In the imaginary of our health communicators, though, everyone is very worried about SPARS and wants Kalocivir, which “le[ads] many citizens to actively seek out medical attention for even minor SPARS-like symptoms.” You might think the healthcare system is on the verge of MeLTinG DoWN, but this never happens. The CDC merely take advantage of the additional data resulting from all these clinical visits to “clarif[y] certain epidemiological features of the disease.”
Alas, not all members of the public embrace the antiviral. Some prefer to take “garlic and vitamins” instead. Especially “ethnic groups who live close together in large, tight-knit communities” (this unsettles the bureaucrat) reject the stomach cramp pills.
Kalocivir sceptics start gathering in ZapQ “discussion groups.” Still worse, “Some members of these ZapQ groups even beg[i]n to use full-sized (12”x12”) IAT screens on backs of their jackets, coats, and backpacks to loop [a viral video of a child vomiting after taking Kalocivir] for all in their immediate vicinity to see.” You have to love how they specify the exact dimensions of these evil internet video stickers – portals from which the terrifying Realm of Internet Misinformation may be decanted into reality.
At one point, “the newly instated director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service” goes rogue and starts supplementing CDC advice to “See your health care provider if you experience SPARS-like symptoms” with the additional tagline that “SPARS can kill you.” We read that his intentions were good – he merely wanted to increase clinical treatment among the Navajo – but his innovation backfires and the Navajo start avoiding doctors at even higher rates. The CDC descend with better, more compassionate messaging, after which the Navajo resume seeing their doctors.
Off-message politicians are another problem:
In late May … a former doctor and current Senator from Iowa, responded to a second vomiting video by tweeting, “Don’t be buffoons! Kalocivir is 100% safe and 100% effective. Correlation does NOT equal Causation!” After being shared tens of thousands of times, the tweet was picked up by traditional media outlets. This led to multiple awkward news interviews with FDA and CDC officials who had to clarify that while the sentiment of the message was correct, Kalocivir did have potential side effects and was not completely effective at treating SPARS.
By May 2026, a mere seven months into the outbreak, the public become exhausted with SPARS and don’t want to hear about it anymore, leading the CDC and FDA “in concert with other government agencies and their social media experts” to begin a new messaging campaign to push Covavax, the miracle vaccine. In the course of this campaign, they get a “popular hip-hop star” named “BZee” to give an interview on Access Hollywood, in which he thanks those who participated in the Covavax trials and compares their service, hilariously, to those of “the men who volunteered at Tuskegee.” There ensues a backlash from African Americans who decide they don’t want Covavax after all.
Nearly all pandemicist scenarios imagine a grateful public scrambling to be saved from the dreadful virus by miracle jabs, and in this SPARS is no different. Production of Covavax begins in June 2026, and at-risk children are given priority. This makes healthcare staff sad because they want priority too.
In Milwaukee they even go on strike to demand early access, and so Wisconsin relents and agrees to give it to them. This makes “Republicans” mad for some reason and they “stop following the news feeds and Twitter accounts of their state and local health departments.” Indeed, a nightmare scenario for any health communicator.
Antivaxxers don’t appear until relatively late in the story. We read that they consist of four sub-groups: 1) Muslims who don’t want the jabs because they were adapted from a livestock vaccine to treat pigs, 2) African Americans who are still up in arms about the BZee Tuskegee gaffe, 3) “alternative medicine proponents”, and 4) “anti-vaccination activists, who were galvinized by the anti-anti-vaccination sentiment associated with the nationwide measles outbreak in 2015.” The antivaxxers set up shop on ZapQ and begin streaming dreaded antivaxx content on their omnipresent internet video stickers.
Efforts to counter the vaccine-sceptical amount to nothing more than vague “messaging,” which we are assured is “largely successful,” although the medical dissidents continue to grow and network with each other, ultimately forming by Chapter 14 a worrying and virulent “anti-vaccination super-group.” It furthermore emerges around this time that “college students” are refusing Covavax, out of solidarity with “populations in less-developed countries like Haiti, Guatemala and Cameroon” who don’t yet have access to the jabs. Also too, a lot of university students use a different social media platform called UNEQL (“unequal”?????) that our crack public health communicators somehow overlooked, and in the absence of pro-vaccine government social media propaganda they just forgot to get jabbed.
Near the end of this sorry fable, a “popular science blogger” called “EpiGirl” starts spreading vaccine side-effect misinformation based on her own aggregated data. She’s joined by “Patients-Like-Me, a group closely associated with the natural medicine movement.” These are anti-Kalocivir garlic lovers we met earlier. Government bureaucrats mainly issue “formal press releases” to combat this odious tsnuami of vaccine misinformation, which doesn’t work very well, and that’s that. Curiously, it’s never quite clear how safe Covavax is; acute adverse events are determined to be rare, but our scenario authors seem to admit that “the long-term, chronic effects of the vaccine” are a genuine concern and that they’re “still largely unknown” by 2030.
The pandemic finally ends in August 2028, 34 months after it started. The vaccine seems to have done a lot to suppress it, but “there remain human cases in 14 countries across Europe, Africa, and Asia” and “the virus persists in domesticated animal reservoirs.”
Aside from the novel coronavirus angle, there’s very little that is prescient or prophetic in this steaming pile of masters student-tier bullshit. It’s notable that the scenario authors abhor virus terror messaging for its potential to backfire almost as much as they do pharmaceutical scepticism. Otherwise, nobody locks down for SPARS. There is no mass testing or contact tracing, and there is no talk of border closures or shutting down schools. Masks are nowhere in the scenario, and there is not even any advice to reduce social contacts. Vaccines are offered but never mandated. Social media “misinformation” is countered not by censorship, but by press releases and clumsy social media messaging campaigns.
I propose to conclude every entry in this series with a scorecard, in which I’ll rank the pandemic scenarios on three factors. We want to assess the degree to which they outline a genuinely plausible outbreak scenario (their seriousness); how well they predict the events of the SARS-2 pandemic (their prescience); and whether they are in touch with epidemiological literature and represent genuine attempts to understand anything about pandemics or the ideal policy response to them (their rigour).
The SPARS scenario is broadly plausible, but aside from positing a coronavirus it demonstrates basically no prescience at all. As for rigour: The reference section consists of three citations, none of them to anything worthwhile. The authors appear to be entirely innumerate, and we hear nothing about SPARS transmissibility, vaccine efficacy, side effect rates, or anything else. This is a worthless teaching aid, not any kind of intellectual exercise.
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