Barrington

Great Barrington, MA — The Great Barrington Declaration, which offers an alternative COVID-19 national and global strategy, was penned by professors at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities on October 4, and released to the public October 5, calls for “focused protection” by letting young and low-risk populations carry on with their lives, while protecting the immune compromised and elderly.

It’s been discussed and debated since its early October release, but is it based on proper science?

The Declaration was written by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Dr. Sunetra Gupta and Dr. Martin Kulldorff. 

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

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

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

The declaration was signed by more than 40 other medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners worldwide.

“As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls,” the declaration authors write. “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.”

Who initiated the Declaration?

Dr Kulldorff invited Doctors Bhattacharya Gupta to Massachusetts to record a video outlining an alternative to the current COVID-19 strategy. While meeting, the three spontaneously decided to also write a short declaration to summarize their thinking. 

Why was the Declaration written?

The Declaration was written from a global public health and humanitarian perspective, with special concerns about how the current COVID-19 strategies are forcing children, the working class and the poor to carry the heaviest burden.

The full text of the Great Barrington Declaration

“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 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.

Clark County Public Health Response

Lacamas Magazine asked Clark County Public Health to respond to the Great Barrington Declaration. This is their official statement:

“The way to herd immunity is through vaccination; not by letting people contract a deadly disease. And we are a long way from herd immunity.

”It’s estimated that less than 15 percent of the US population has been infected with COVID-19, yet more than 220,000 people have died. To reach herd immunity, we suspect we’ll need at least 60-70% of the population to become infected. That would mean millions of additional infections and several hundred thousand more deaths – and that’s if the immunity from a COVID-19 infection lasts. And for those who survive COVID-19, we still don’t know the lasting health impacts those individuals will endure.

“While the idea of isolating the vulnerable and opening up society for everyone else may sound appealing to some, it’s not practical. If the virus is spreading in a community, it can make its way to vulnerable populations. Young healthy people can and do contract COVID-19. Then they take it home to their family members, to school to their classmates and teachers, and to work to their colleagues. Vulnerable people still interact with others. They may live with other people or have caregivers. They still need groceries and medical care. They cannot be completely insulated from the rest of the community. We can protect our most vulnerable by wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distancing and practicing good hand hygiene – the things necessary for slowing the spread of the virus in our community.

”Tom Frieden, the CDC director from 2009 to 2017, wrote an opinion piece on herd immunity and COVID-19 for the Washington Post. It’s worth a read: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-frieden-herd-immunity-wrong-solution-coronavirus/2020/10/16/acb4ae8a-0fe6-11eb-8074-0e943a91bf08_story.html

”For a look at herd immunity a little closer to home: The CDC is doing a large-scale geographic seroprevalence survey that looks for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among people who had blood collected and tested by commercial labs in certain areas of the U.S. Western Washington is one of the regions. The latest data (samples collected July 6-7) show a seroprevalence estimate of 1.3%, and the seroprevalence has consistently been less than 2.5% in Western Washington. You can check out the data from the survey here: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#serology-surveillance.”

Video Links

Do the three authors have any conflicts of interest? 

According to their website, Dr. Kulldorff works on research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the non-profit Fund for Public Health in New York City, some of which is related to COVID-19. He has never accepted or received any funding from pharmaceutical companies, nor from any other large corporation. 

Dr. Bhattacharya research funding over the past 22 years of his career has come almost entirely from grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, and participation on contracts with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via a government contracting research group, Acumen, LLC. He has never accepted or received any funding from pharmaceutical companies, nor from any other large corporation. 

Dr. Gupta’s research funding over the last 30 years has principally been through fellowships and investigator awards from the Wellcome Trust and the European Research Council.  She has also received funding from the UKRI, the Royal Society, the Leverhulme Trust, the Emily and Georg von Opel Foundation and the Oxford Martin School. She and Dr. Craig Thompson have developed a novel method for producing a universal influenza vaccine (derived from a mathematical model) and this has now been licensed and is going through early testing. She does not hold any consultancy contracts or stock shares in any commercial company. 

Other Responses

Critics of the declaration say the event where it was signed was hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research, a conservative free-market think tank located in Great Barrington, and is politically motivated.

“From a public health and ethical viewpoint, the fact that the Great Barrington Declaration is now the Trump administration’s official policy is deeply troubling,” Dr. Gavin Yamey, a physician and professor of global health and public policy at Duke University, wrote October 14 in TIME. He says this “letting the virus rip” approach is “dangerous and inhumane.”

The Infectious Diseases Society of America issued a statement denouncing the Great Barrington Declaration, calling the herd immunity strategy to COVID-19 “inappropriate, irresponsible, and ill-informed.”

The Director-General of the World Health Organization said during an October 12 media briefing: “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic. It is scientifically and ethically problematic.”

The Great Barrington Declaration signers aren’t backing down, and continue to defend their positions.

The authors also acknowledge that many online signatures are not actual doctors or experts in this field.

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