Jay Bhattacharya

Try As They Might, Lockdown Proponents Can’t Escape the Blame for the Biggest Public Health Fiasco in History

Politicians, journalists and academics are wrong to blame the public for the failure of lockdowns since “the population [has never] sacrificed so much to comply with public health mandates”, say two of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD). Writing in the Telegraph, Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya – professors of medicine at Harvard and Stanford respectively – say that lockdown proponents need to acknowledge that eschewing focused protection and quarantining entire populations indiscriminately has led to the “biggest public health fiasco in history”.

A year ago, there was no evidence that lockdowns would protect older high-risk people from Covid. Now there is evidence. They did not.

With so many Covid deaths, it is obvious that lockdown strategies failed to protect the old. Holding the naïve belief that shutting down society would protect everyone, governments and scientists rejected basic focused protection measures for the elderly. While anyone can get infected, there is more than a thousand-fold difference in the risk of death between the old and the young. The failure to exploit this fact about the virus led to the biggest public health fiasco in history.

Lockdowns have, nevertheless, generated enormous collateral damage across all ages. Depriving children of in-person teaching has hurt not only their education but also their physical and mental health. Other public health consequences include missed cancer screenings and treatments and worse cardiovascular disease outcomes. Much of this damage will unfold over time and is something we must live with – and die with – for many years to come.

The blame game for this fiasco is now in full swing. Some scientists, politicians, and journalists are complaining that people did not comply with the rules sufficiently. But blaming the public is disingenuous. Never in human history has the population sacrificed so much to comply with public health mandates.

The professors are very critical of lockdown zealots like Neil O’Brien MP who have attempted to slur respected scientists – such as Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta (the third author of the GBD) – for not toeing the line on lockdown. This, they say, has stifled the public debate on the most effective way to deal with Covid.

A few academics have jumped on the bandwagon. Dr Depti Gurdasani at Queen Mary University, for example, accused Dr Gupta of pseudoscience, suggesting that she should be deplatformed and Oxford University should act against her. Unfortunately, such behaviour intimidates other academics into silence, undermining scientific debate.

Last spring, the pandemic was waning due to a combination of immunity and seasonality, and many lockdowners claimed that lockdowns had succeeded. Still, it was obvious to any competent infectious disease epidemiologist that it would be back, and in June, Dr Gupta said she expected a resurgence of Covid in the winter months. This didn’t prevent journalists and politicians from falsely claiming that she thought the pandemic was all over.

The fact is that with a lower herd immunity threshold in the summer than in the winter, immunity can drive a pandemic on its way out during the spring but then resurge next autumn, and that is what happened. A year into the pandemic, one would think that politicians and journalists writing about Covid would have bothered to acquire some basic knowledge of infectious disease epidemiology.

Their article is very much worth reading in full.

The Land of the Free Shows it’s Time to Lose the Lockdowns

No surge as schools open in the UK, no surge as Texas throws off restrictions, free states like Florida and Georgia doing no worse than lockdown states – is anyone in Government watching the real world or are they too busy gawping at the curves of Neil Ferguson’s latest model?

Jeffrey A. Tucker at AIER has gathered together some of the alarmist predictions made about Texas that have, so far, not come to pass:

  • California Governor Gavin Newsom said that opening Texas was “absolutely reckless.”
  • Vanity Fair went over the top with this headline: “Republican Governors Celebrate COVID Anniversary With Bold Plan to Kill Another 500,000 Americans.”
  • There was the inevitable Dr. Fauci: “It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now.”
  • Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke of Texas revealed himself to be a full-blown lockdowner: It’s a “big mistake,” he said. “It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it’s also a cult of death.” He accused the Governor of “sacrificing the lives of our fellow Texans… for political gain.”
  • James Hamblin, a doctor and writer for the Atlanticsaid in a Tweet liked by 20K people: “Ending precautions now is like entering the last miles of a marathon and taking off your shoes and eating several hot dogs.”
  • Bestselling author Kurt Eichenwald flipped out: “Goddamn. Texas already has FIVE variants that have turned up: Britain, South Africa, Brazil, New York & CA. The NY and CA variants could weaken vaccine effectiveness. And now idiot @GregAbbott_TX throws open the state.” He further called the Government “murderous.” 
  • Epidemiologist Whitney Robinson wrote: “I feel genuinely sad. There are people who are going to get sick and die bc of avoidable infections they get in the next few weeks. It’s demoralising.”
  • Virus guru Michael Osterholm told CNN: “We’re walking into the mouth of the monster. We simply are.”
  • Joe Biden famously said that the Texas decision to open reflected “Neanderthal thinking”.
  • The chairman of the state’s Democratic Party said: “What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious-disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down, even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”
  • The CDC’s Rochelle Walensky didn’t mince words: “Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19.”

Are any of these experts and commentators now reconsidering their fundamental assumptions and examining the data? What do you think?

The coronavirus has certainly surprised many of us in the past year, defying expectations by being more deadly in Europe and North and South America than it was in South East Asia, while in Africa and India it surprised by its mildness.

The lazy mainstream assumption that the differences between countries are explained primarily by their restrictions or interventions has not been borne out by any of the studies that have examined the real world data rather than relying on models that bake-in assumptions of lockdown efficacy.

One of those studies, by eminent Stanford scientists Jay Bhattacharya (co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration), John Ioannidis and colleagues, published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, has come under criticism since it was published at the start of January. The authors have now responded to that criticism, defending their paper in the journal.

It includes some great quotations from these two pillars of the sceptic movement.

Vaccine Passports a Terrible Idea. Variants Over-Hyped. Masks Pointless. An Interview With Professor Jay Bhattacharya

Today we’re publishing an original interview with Jay Bhattacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. The interview was done by a staff reporter at a national newspaper group writing under a pseudonym to protect his job. Prof Bhattacharya has been a staunch lockdown sceptic from almost the very beginning and is one of the three co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration.

Here he is on vaccine passports:

Vaccine passports are a terrible idea that will diminish trust in public health and do nothing to improve the health of the population. Vaccine certificates are not needed as a public health measure. The Government had it right previously. The country should open up now that the older, vulnerable population has been vaccinated. The rest of the population is at much greater health risk from the lockdown than they are from the virus.

And here he is on mask mandates:

The evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease is very weak. The only randomised evaluation of mask efficacy in preventing Covid infection found very small, statistically insignificant effects [Danish mask study]. And masks are deleterious to the social and educational development of children, especially young children. They are not needed to address the epidemic. In Sweden, for instance, children have been in school maskless almost the whole of the epidemic, with no child Covid deaths and teachers contracting Covid at rates that are lower than the average of other workers.

This is a great interview with one of the intellectual pillars of the sceptical movement.

Worth reading in full.

Risk of Asymptomatic Spread Minimal. Variants Over-Hyped. Masks Pointless. An Interview With Professor Jay Bhattacharya

by Oliver May

New variants are of no concern. There is no need to cancel summer holidays. Millions vaccinated, coupled with immunity from millions of prior infections means we can surf on the crest of the third wave, rather than being remotely concerned about it. In fact, the UK should open now. And vaccine passports, certificates, or whatever name they are being given, will do nothing to improve the health of the population – all headlines we have read and heard over the past week or so.

Except, we haven’t. We have heard and read the opposite. And we are instilled with fear from TV and radio adverts, complete with ‘that scary voice’ all too eager to give listeners nightmares, be it your impressionable primary-school-aged daughter, or a frail older lady now terrified into wearing a mask outside while waiting for a bus with no one within a 50-metre radius. But the reality is that the above headlines could have been written – and all based on science. Jayanta Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and one of the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, the report that called for the focused protection of the vulnerable and no lockdowns, signed by almost 14,000 medical and public health scientists, nearly 42,000 medical practitioners and close to 765,000 concerned citizens.

I interviewed him by email and he remains a staunch lockdown sceptic.

Why have the media, politicians and many scientists sought to panic the populace about SARS-CoV-2 far beyond what the evidence would warrant? The incentives include financial motives, political goals, the desire to protect professional reputations and many other factors.

The virus is seasonal and late fall/winter is its season. It is very unlikely, given that this is the case, that the virus will spread very widely during the summer months. It is also the case that a large fraction of the UK population has already been infected or vaccinated and is immune, which will greatly reduce hospitalisation and mortality from the virus in coming months.

There are tens of thousands of mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They mutate because the replication mechanisms they induce involve very little error checking. Most of the mutations either do not change the virulence of the virus, or weaken it. There are a few mutations that provide the virus with a selective advantage in infectivity and may increase its lethality very slightly, though the evidence on this latter point is not solid.

We should not be particularly concerned about the variants that have arisen to date. First, prior infection with the wild type virus and vaccination provide protection against severe outcomes arising from reinfection with the mutated virus. Second, though the mutants have taken over the few remaining cases, their rise has coincided with a sharp drop in cases and deaths, even in countries where they have come to dominate. Their selective infectivity advantage has not been enough to cause a resurgence in cases. Third, the age gradient in mortality is the same for the mutant and wild-type virus. Thus a focused protection policy is still warranted. If lockdowns could not stop the less infectious wild type virus, why would we expect them to stop the more infectious mutant virus?

According to the three authors of the Great Barrington Declaration which, other than Dr Bhattacharya, include Dr Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Dr Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, the UK Government is creating unfounded hysteria around SARS-CoV-2. Dr Bhattacharya said:

According to a meta-analysis by Dr John Ioannidis [Professor of Medicine at Stanford University] of every seroprevalence study conducted to date of publication with a supporting scientific paper (74 estimates from 61 studies and 51 different localities around the world), the median infection survival rate from COVID-19 infection is 99.77 per cent. For COVID-19 patients under 70, the meta-analysis finds an infection survival rate of 99.95 per cent.

The CDC’s [Centres for Disease Control] and Prevention] best estimate of infection fatality rate for people ages 70 plus years is 5.4 per cent, meaning seniors have a 94.6 per cent survivability rate. For children and people in their 20s/30s, it poses less risk of mortality than the flu. For people in their 60s and above, it is much more dangerous than the flu.

Even so, this hardly warrants a new Government drive urging families to carry out tests on their children twice a week in the hope of unearthing asymptomatic cases. Especially, as the vulnerable have already been vaccinated.

The scientific evidence now strongly suggests that COVID-19 infected individuals who are asymptomatic are more than an order of magnitude less likely to spread the disease to even close contacts than symptomatic COVID-19 patients. A meta-analysis of 54 studies from around the world found that within households – where none of the safeguards that restaurants are required to apply are typically applied – symptomatic patients passed on the disease to household members in 18 per cent of instances, while asymptomatic patients passed on the disease to household members in 0.7 per cent of instances. A separate, smaller meta-analysis similarly found that asymptomatic patients are much less likely to infect others than symptomatic patients.

Asymptomatic individuals are an order of magnitude less likely to infect others than symptomatic individuals, even in intimate settings such as people living in the same household where people are much less likely to follow social distancing and masking practices that they follow outside the household. Spread of the disease in less intimate settings by asymptomatic individuals – including religious services, in-person restaurant visits, gyms, and other public settings – are likely to be even less likely than in the household.

What about mask mandates?

The evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease is very weak. The only randomised evaluation of mask efficacy in preventing Covid infection found very small, statistically insignificant effects [Danish mask study]. And masks are deleterious to the social and educational development of children, especially young children. They are not needed to address the epidemic. In Sweden, for instance, children have been in school maskless almost the whole of the epidemic, with no child Covid deaths and teachers contracting Covid at rates that are lower than the average of other workers.

In light of this, what conclusion can we draw from the fact that the UK Government wants the entire adult population to be injected against the virus, instead of just the vulnerable? And the possibility that we’ll need to produce vaccine certificates to access hospitality and sports venues or travel overseas?

Vaccine passports are a terrible idea that will diminish trust in public health and do nothing to improve the health of the population. Vaccine certificates are not needed as a public health measure. The Government had it right previously. The country should open up now that the older, vulnerable population has been vaccinated. The rest of the population is at much greater health risk from the lockdown than they are from the virus.

The author is a staff journalist at a national newspaper group. Oliver May is a pseudonym.