Medical Experts, Scientists Denounce Pandemic Lockdowns, Urge ‘Focused Protection’

People, few wearing facemasks, walk on the boardwalk at Hampton Beach in Hampton, New Hampshire on August 5, 2020, as COVID-19 cases in New England are on the rise. - Hampton Beach is close to the boarder of Massachusetts and attracts thousands of people from Massachusetts every week to the …
JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of medical experts, epidemiologists, and biologists gathered last weekend to urge the adoption of a strategy they call “focused protection” to replace current coronavirus pandemic policies that, they say, have produced nothing less than “devastating effects on short and long-term public health.”

The internationally known experts, who identify themselves as “coming from both the left and right, and around the world,” have produced what they call the “Great Barrington Declaration,” which, to date, has been signed by nearly 4,700 medical and public health scientists, 8,900 medical practitioners, and 123,300 members of the general public.

The chief authors of the declaration are Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University, who is a biostatistician and epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety evaluations; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, epidemiologist and professor at Oxford University with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford University Medical School, who is a physician, epidemiologist, health economist, and public health policy expert.

The other cosigners of the declaration are identified on the document.

The experts met at the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, to discuss what AIER described as “the global emergency created by the unprecedented use of state compulsion in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“We have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection,” the public health experts assert, adding some specific concerns:

The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.

The experts say waiting to resume normal life until a vaccine is approved and readily available will cause “irreparable damage,” and they provide the public with a list of what they already know about the infection caused by the coronavirus:

We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.

The scientists and medical professionals say the most “compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity” is to encourage all those with minimal risk of death to “live their lives normally” as they develop immunity, and focus protection strategies on those at highest risk.

“Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19,” the experts assert, adding, for example, that nursing homes should require staff that have developed immunity and frequent PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing of any other staff and all visitors.

Older individuals living at home should also, when possible, meet visitors outdoors, the medical experts recommend, and minimize leaving their home by having items such as groceries delivered to their houses.

“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,” the authors of the declaration write. “Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold.”

For young people, in-person teaching at schools should be the norm, the scientists continue, with a return to extracurricular activities, such as sports.

The authors recommend a return to open businesses, restaurants, and cultural events.

“People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity,” the medical experts recommend.

The declaration’s authors invite individuals to sign the document here.

James Freeman, assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal, remarked Tuesday the Great Barrington Declaration has been “almost entirely ignored by the media outlets that spend much of their days presenting themselves as obedient to science.”

He wrote:

Imagine if places like New York and New Jersey had followed this plan, instead of squandering vast resources locking down low-risk populations while failing to prioritize the protection of the elderly. Somehow Gov. Phil Murphy (D., N.J.) has largely avoided media censure even though, adjusting for population, the residents of his state have suffered more Covid deaths than anywhere else in the country.

Kulldorff told Fox News host Laura Ingraham the resistance to resuming normal life for those at low risk is “stunning,” since “that is what you would do if you follow basic public health practice.”

He explained there is “a perception that lockdowns and contact tracing is something that the scientific community is behind, and there are some who are advocating that.”

Kulldorff said he and his colleagues favor “risk-based” or “age-based” strategies in which the elderly and other high-risk groups are protected, while younger individuals and those with low risk resume life as normal.

Bhattacharya reacted to criticism of the Great Barrington Declaration and the concept of herd immunity by saying, “Denying herd immunity is like denying gravity.”

“Even if you have a vaccine, it’s still herd immunity that protects people against the virus or the pathogens,” he told Ingraham, adding the “focused protection” model presented in the declaration “will get us there more quickly, with less loss of life, and less damage to other aspects of public health that, I think, get ignored by these doctors that are essentially denying basic facts about biology.”

Gupta told Ingraham disadvantaged children are especially suffering in areas that have not reopened in-person learning, since their families often cannot afford tutors or provide consistent supervision of remote learning.

“It’s absolutely tragic, it’s unconscionable,” that young people are prevented from making progress, she said.

Bhattacharya also reacted to President Donald Trump’s video message as he ended his hospitalization for treatment of the coronavirus infection.

“And one thing that’s for certain, don’t let it dominate you,” Trump urged Americans. “Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment. We have the best medicines all developed recently. And you’re going to beat it.”

“That’s exactly what I learned about public health, what you’re supposed to do,” Bhattacharya said. “You’re not supposed to sow panic. You’re supposed to reassure, give accurate information about risks, trust people to make good judgments on their own behalf. The president did that, I think, tonight, don’t you think?”

He added that COVID “is not a death sentence.”

“And I think we’ve created this idea in the public mind that it is something so unique and so deadly that we should utterly end all normal existence as a result of it,” he said. “That’s not right.”

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