Great Barrington Declaration: Lobbying against lockdown – Wierzycka, Hudson join SA Nobel winner Levitt, others

Co-authored by three medical experts, the Great Barrington Declaration has proposed an alternative to the lockdowns that multiple governments are imposing on their citizens and economies. The declaration believes that those who are at low risk of dying from Covid-19 should be allowed to live their lives and enjoy freedoms that are now restricted. Children should be able to go to school, adults to work – and the non-vulnerable should be able to partake in extracurricular activities. However, this is not to the detriment of the vulnerable, with the declaration also outlining a plan to protect the sick, elderly and those with underlying issues. Three prominent South Africans, Nobel winner Dr Michael Levitt, financial services entrepreneur Magda Wierzycka – of Sygnia – and Nick Hudson of thinktank PANDA have already expressed their support for the declaration (full declaration below). – Jarryd Neves

By Jarryd Neves

Ever since Covid-19 rewrote the script for 2020, myriad fears and concerns have plagued the minds of individuals worldwide. Aside from the physical effects of the virus, the pandemic and resultant lockdowns have interrupted life as we know it. School children are no longer able to go to school to develop their minds and socialise with their friends. Globally, economies have tanked and countless businesses and livelihoods have been destroyed. While the efficacy of lockdowns when it comes to treating people with Covid-19 can be debated, there is no denying the social and economic devastation that they have caused.

As new data and information on Covid-19 is unconverted daily, scientists and medical practitioners are able to understand how to respond to the virus in the best way possible, without interrupting our way of life too drastically. However, many governments don’t seem to think this way, imposing or keeping lockdown restrictions in place.

A group of epidemiologists and public health scientists have come together to create The Great Barrington Declaration. 

The declaration was written by Dr Martin Kulldorff, Dr Jay Bhattacharya and Dr Sunetra Gupta, and has been co-signed by multiple medical and social experts.

On the website, the group says that current lockdown regulations are ‘producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health’, with ‘lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health leading to greater excess mortality in years to come.’ A recent Bloomberg piece published on BizNews.com told the story of Marthinus du Plessis, a doctor at Catherine Booth, who shares similar sentiments.

After a few months you realise that a lot of the familiar faces aren’t there anymore. You make the assumption that a lot of these people passed away at home because they never made it to a hospital. To send sick people home to accommodate often asymptomatic Covid-19 patients makes no sense.’ – Dr Marthinus du Plessis

The declaration goes on to say that keeping these lockdown policies in place until a vaccine is readily available ‘will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed’.

While the virus certainly needs to be taken seriously, there have been many advances in our understanding of Covid-19. ‘Vulnerability to death from Covid-19 is more than a thousand fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. For children, Covid-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.’

The goal – says the declaration – is to ‘minimise mortality and social harm’ until herd immunity is reached.

Herd immunity is a concept of the threshold that you reach where there are sufficient people who have recovered from the disease and therefore have a level of immunity so that the disease stops circulating and just gradually wanes to almost zero – Nick Hudson of PANDA

Until herd immunity is reached, the declaration states that it would be in everyone’s best interest to allow those who have a low-death risk to live their lives as per normal, building up immunity to the virus ‘through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.’

This would be achieved by creating and implementing measures to protect those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19. An example included in the declaration states, ‘nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimised. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home.’ The declaration notes that this and many other protective measures are ‘well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.’

I think that Covid-19 is a wake up call to the whole world because it has highlighted a lot of things. It has highlighted inequality. It has highlighted the inadequacy of health care provision in developed markets – never mind emerging markets – but developed markets. This lockdown served no purpose but to push out the actual infection curve by three months while flattening the economy, which we couldn’t afford. – Magda Wierzycka

The declaration highlights that those who are not vulnerable to the virus should be allowed to resume their daily lives, while practicing hygiene measures, like frequent hand washing and staying home when ill. With regards to learning, the declaration backs the idea that education institutions should be open ‘for in-person teaching.’

While many governments stills strongly discourage or prohibit gatherings and social activities, the declaration is calling for the opposite. ‘Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. 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.’

As of Wednesday morning, more than 50,000 members of the general public have signed, while around 2,700 medical practitioners and public health scientists have added their name to the ever-growing list. The Great Barrington Declaration is being debated widely in the UK, where a fresh strict lockdown looms for Scotland – a ‘two-week circuit breaker’ – and the authorities are talking about restrictions for the next six months.

PANDA actuary Nick Hudson and Sygnia co-founder and CEO Magda Wierzycka have both taken to Twitter, to express their support for the declaration.

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The Great Barrington Declaration

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists 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.

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. 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.

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. 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 most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. 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.

On October 4, 2020, this declaration was authored and signed in Great Barrington, United States, by:

Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University, a biostatistician, and epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks and vaccine safety evaluations.

Dr. Sunetra Gupta, professor at Oxford University, an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases.

Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford University Medical School, a physician, epidemiologist, health economist, and public health policy expert focusing on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations.

Co-signers

Medical and Public Health Scientists and Medical Practitioners

Prof. Sucharit Bhakdi, em. Professor of Medical Microbiology, University of Mainz, Germany

Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, MD, MPH, Physician with the VA, epidemiology, health equity practice, and health impact assessment of public policy, USA

Prof. Stephen Bremner,
Professor of Medical Statistics, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Sussex, UK

Prof. Anthony J Brookes, Department of Genetics & Genome Biology, University of Leicester, UK

Dr. Helen Colhoun, professor of medical informatics and epidemiology, and public health physician, with expertise in risk prediction, University of Edinburgh, UK

Prof. Angus Dalgleish, MD, FRCP, FRACP, FRCPath, FMedSci, Department of Oncology, St. George’s, University of London, UK

Dr. Sylvia Fogel, autism expert and psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, USA.

Dr. Eitan Friedman, MD, PhD. Founder and Director, The Susanne Levy Gertner Oncogenetics Unit, The Danek Gertner Institute of Human Genetics, Chaim Sheba Medical Center and Professor of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine and Depertment of Human Genetics and Biochemistry, Tel-Aviv University, Israel

Dr. Uri Gavish, an expert in algorithm analysis and a biomedical consultant

Prof. Motti Gerlic, Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Dr. Gabriela Gomes, professor, a mathematician focussing on population dynamics, evolutionary theory and infectious disease epidemiology. University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK

Prof. Mike Hulme, professor of human geography, University of Cambridge, UK

Dr. Michael Jackson, PhD is an ecologist and research fellow at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Dr. David Katz, MD, MPH, President, True Health Initiative and the Founder and Former Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, USA

Dr. Andrius Kavaliunas, epidemiologist and assistant professor at Karolinska Institute, Sweden

Dr. Laura Lazzeroni, PhD., biostatistician and data scientist, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of biomedical data science. Stanford University Medical School, USA

Dr. Michael Levitt, PhD is a biophysicist and a professor of structural biology. Dr. Levitt received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems. Stanford University, USA

Prof. David Livermore, Professor, microbiologist with expertise in disease epidemiology, antibiotic resistance and rapid diagnostics. University of East Anglia, UK

Dr. Jonas Ludvigsson, pediatrician, epidemiologist and professor at Karolinska Institute and senior physician at Örebro University Hospital, Sweden.

Dr. Paul McKeigue, professor of epidemiology and public health physician, with expertise in statistical modelling of disease. University of Edinburgh, UK

Dr. Cody Meissner, professor of pediatrics, expert on vaccine development, efficacy and safety. Tufts University School of Medicine, USA

Prof. Ariel Munitz, Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Prof. Yaz Gulnur Muradoglu, Professor of Finance, Director at Behavioural Finance Working Group, School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London, UK

Prof. Partha P. Majumder, PhD, FNA, FASc, FNASc, FTWAS National Science Chair, Distinguished Professor and Founder National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, KalyaniEmeritus Professor Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India

Prof. Udi Qimron, Chair, Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Prof. Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor of Philosophy specializing in philosophy of mental health, University of York, UK

Dr. Mario Recker, Associate Professor in Applied Mathematics at the Centre for Mathematics and the Environment, University of Exeter, UK

Dr. Eyal Shahar, MD professor (emeritus) of public health, physician, epidemiologist, with expertise in causal and statistical inference. University of Arizona, USA

Prof. Karol Sikora MA, PhD, MBBChir, FRCP, FRCR, FFPM, Medical Director of Rutherford Health, Oncologist, & Dean of Medicine, UK

Dr. Matthew Strauss, critical care physician and assistant professor of medicine, Queen’s University, Canada

Dr. Rodney Sturdivant, PhD. associate professor of biostatistics. Director of the Baylor Statistical Consulting Center. Focus on infectious disease spread and diagnosis. Baylor University, USA

Dr. Simon Thornley, PhD, epidemiologist, biostatistics and epidemiological analysis, communicable and non-communicable diseases. University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Prof. Ellen Townsend, Self-Harm Research Group, University of Nottingham, UK.

Prof. Lisa White, Professor of Modelling and Epidemiology Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford University, UK

Prof. Simon Wood, professor, statistician with expertise in statistical methodology, applied statistics and mathematical modelling in biology, University of Edinburgh, UK
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