Great Barrington Declaration: “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.”
The lockdowns of society and the cold stop of the world’s economy in the face of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) represents a huge mistake, argue some prestigious scientists in the world of epidemiology. The Great Barrington Declaration, released last week by scientists who argue that most of us should return to our pre-COVID ways of life, has generated a lot of attention and controversy.
The declaration is spearheaded by some heavy hitters in the scientific community including Martin Kulldorff, PhD, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, Sunetra Gupta, PhD, an epidemiologist at Oxford University, and Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, a public health policy expert and a professor at Stanford University.
One of the arguments put forth by the three and about 35 cosigners amounts to saying that the cure has been worse than the disease for society as a whole.
“Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people,” the declaration states. “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.”
The cosigners represent a host of scientific disciplines such as public health, biostatistics, finance, and psychiatry. They include Michael Levitt, PhD, (who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2013), Jonas Ludvigsson, MD, Angus Dalgleish, PhD, David Katz, PhD, and Mike Hulme, PhD.
The declaration states that growing knowledge about COVID-19 includes the facts that older and infirmed people have a “thousand-fold” higher increase of dying from it than the young. “Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza,” the declaration states.
As might be expected, push-back against the declaration was immediate and fierce. Some members of the scientific community contend that the declaration puts too much faith in the quick arrival of herd immunity and doesn’t account for so-called “long-haulers,” people who may suffer from the effects of the disease for years.
A group of experts—who also brandish impressive credentials—published a response that challenges many of the declaration’s premises. For instance, Rupert Beale, PhD, of the Francis Crick Institute, said that herd immunity depends on the wide distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which has yet to be developed. In his response, Beale also wrote that the “declaration prioritizes just one aspect of a sensible strategy—protecting the vulnerable—and suggests we can safely build up ‘herd immunity’ in the rest of the population. This is wishful thinking. It is not possible to fully identify vulnerable individuals, and it is not possible to fully isolate them. Furthermore, we know that immunity to coronaviruses wanes over time, and re-infection is possible—so lasting protection of vulnerable individuals by establishing ‘herd immunity’ is very unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a vaccine.”
Nonetheless, the basic premise of the declaration, which states that the lockdowns do more harm than good, resonates with many.
Annie Janvier, PhD, one of the declaration’s cosigners and a pediatric and clinical ethics professor at the University of Montreal, said that “it’s not science that seems to be leading what's going on with COVID, it’s public opinion and politics.”
The declaration states that “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.”