The dramatically named Great Barrington Declaration touches on a dramatic subject: the scientific and political debate over whether “lock downs” and quarantine are worth the collateral damage to society, and especially children. One key issue is whether “natural” herd immunity is a valid strategy for COVID-19. MedPage Today has offered an overview of the folks behind “Barrington.” Written by three experts from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, the Declaration urges authorities to lift restrictions on the young and healthy while targeting the elderly for protection. The authors argue that this, “would allow COVID-19 to spread in a population where it is less likely to be deadly, the authors state, encouraging widespread immunity that is not dependent on a vaccine.” They noted that the COVID-19 restrictions have led to reduced vaccination for children, worse heart disease outcomes, less cancer screening, and “deteriorating mental health.” On the other hand with the ‘John Snow Memorandum’ over 6,200 of the world’s top scientists warn the world of the dangers of a more Laissez-faire approach.
The Declaration’s strategy was denounced by many in the scientific community, and while it originally boasted 8,000 signatures, “new outlets later revealed that some of those signatures were fake.” The libertarian and free-market think tank American Institute for Economic Research, headquartered in western Massachusetts sponsored the declaration. And the institute is funded by billionaire Charles Koch, “known for promoting climate change denial and opposing regulations on business.” The scientists who drafted the Declaration assert that they “represent both right- and left-wing politics.” And all have worked to get governments to end lockdowns.
Is Testing Warranted for the Asymptomatic?
“While this is a very dangerous disease for the elderly, for children it’s much less dangerous than the annual flu,” Martin Kulldorff, PhD one study author offered. “And for people in their 20s and 30s, it’s not a dangerous disease at all.” Kulldorff has criticized widespread testing of asymptomatic persons. He added, “there is little purpose in using tests to check asymptomatic children to see if it is safe for them to come to school,” since the positives will close schools and leave children deprived. “Testing is intended to save lives, not to detect asymptomatic people who are otherwise healthy,” he wrote. “With the new CDC guidelines, strategic age-targeted viral testing will protect older people from deadly COVID-19 exposure and children and young adults from needless school closures.”
The Barrington Players
Sunetra Gupta, PhD, is a professor of theoretical epidemiology, department of zoology at Oxford University, and she has spoken out on several occasions about her anti-lockdown stance. “We can’t just think about those who are vulnerable to the disease,” Gupta said. “We have to think about those who are vulnerable to lockdown too. The costs of lockdown are too high at this point.” Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, is an alumni research fellow at the Hoover Institution, the conservative think tank at Stanford where Scott Atlas, MD, White House coronavirus task force, is now a senior research fellow. Martin Kulldorff, PhD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, “develops epidemiological and statistical models to detect infectious disease outbreaks. The epidemiologist has repeatedly said that restrictions for young and healthy people are unwarranted, as the risk of COVID-19 mortality is a thousand times higher for the elderly than it is for youth.”
Guardian Offers Critique of Declaration and “Free-Market” Backing
On October 18, The Guardian offered an opinion against “herd immunity,” and asked who was funding this science. Scientists “were swift” to make clear that the assumption of the Declaration that population immunity can be achieved relatively easily, “is entirely speculative.” And so many folks are “at risk,” from those with pre-existing conditions to care givers and household members, is becomes impractical to specially protect the “vulnerable.” Going on, herd immunity is a “fringe” view with no science to back it. And, “when it comes to other coronaviruses, immunity is only temporary.”
The president of the UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences calls the proposals as, “unethical and simply not possible.” The Guardian askes, “who funded this piece of political theatre [?]” The Declaration was signed at the Institute for Economic Research, as libertarian thinktank committed to “pure freedom.” The Institute has funded research showing the benefits of “sweatshops” and it downplays climate issues. It is part of the Atlas network of thinktanks, “which acts as an umbrella for free-market and libertarian institutions, whose funders have included tobacco firms, ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers. Our questions to the AIER about its relationship to the three signatories went unanswered, but it has posted a number of articles about the declaration and herd immunity on its website.”
Sweden Backtracks Somewhat on No-Lockdown Policies
After going it alone regarding lockdowns and face masks, “Sweden is said to be shifting strategies toward the kinds of restrictive measures adopted by most of its neighbors.” Per Business Insider, Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell is meeting with local health officials to talk about new measures to respond to outbreaks in Stockholm and nearby Uppsala. Instead of full-scale lockdowns like its Nordic neighbors, Sweden allowed, “shops, bars, and restaurants to remain mostly open and students to attend school.” Dr. Joacim Rocklov of Umea University said that after going its own way, “Sweden was shifting to a strategy close to those adopted by most other governments.” New rules would give authorities the right to “strongly recommend” against going to busy public places. Johan Nojd, of Uppsala’s infectious-diseases department, said he would introduce “harsher” measures inf cases continue to grow.
The John Snow Memorandum
Most recently a group of prominent scientists had their case against the herd immunity movement published in The Lancet. With over 35 million people infected with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide, and a second wave upon the world, the team representing multiple academic medical centers emphasized the need for strong, clear communication on the latest evidence, noting that the highly contagious nature of this pathogen combined with the overall susceptibility of the largely unexposed population creates for a dangerous community spread. With infection fatality “several-fold higher than that of seasonal influenza” the esteemed scientists and physicians argue the amount of death would be catastrophic. Moreover for many that are infected they experience ongoing symptoms which will only add cost and human toll to this unprecedented health crisis.
This piece leads to a call to sign “The John Snow Memorandum.” Named after one of the founders of modern epidemiology, the authors of the memorandum, point to Japan, Vietnam, and New Zealand as examples of robust COVID-19 responses. The group is represented by over 6,200 scientists put forth that the use of her immunity in any pandemic management represents a tragically flawed approach with catastrophic outcomes.
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