After the authors of a declaration promoting herd immunity spoke to White House officials last week, the scientific community immediately called into question the declaration as well as the scientists who wrote it.
The Great Barrington Declaration, a statement written by three public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, encourages governments to lift lockdown restrictions on young and healthy people while focusing protection measures on the elderly. 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.
Restrictions have caused other harms, including lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings, and deteriorating mental health, they argue.
After gaining some publicity, this strategy was strongly denounced by many in the scientific community. While it supposedly received 8,000 signatures from public health experts and doctors, news outlets later revealed that some of those signatures were fake.
The declaration was sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research, a libertarian, free-market think tank headquartered in western Massachusetts. The Institute is in a network of organizations funded by Charles Koch — a right-wing billionaire known for promoting climate change denial and opposing regulations on business.
While the scientists who wrote the declaration claim they represent both right- and left-wing politics, all have attempted to influence governments to end lockdowns since the start of the pandemic.
Here’s a look at the three scientists behind the Great Barrington Declaration. MedPage Today reached out to them for comment but none responded.
Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD
Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine and economics at Stanford University, was an early vocal opponent of coronavirus lockdowns beginning in early March.
In a March 24 opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal when statewide lockdowns were beginning, Bhattacharya and a co-author questioned the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that universal quarantines may not be worth the costs to the economy, social life, and population health.
Along with John Ioannidis, MD, DSC, of Stanford, Bhattacharya co-authored the Santa Clara antibody seroprevalence study, a preprint published in April that suggested coronavirus infections (and possibly, immunity) were up to 85 times higher than scientists originally thought. The study, which became a tool in the political debate to reopen the economy, was criticized for lacking sound evidence. It was later revealed by BuzzFeed News that the study received funding from the founder of JetBlue, which the authors hadn’t disclosed.
In early September, President Trump stated that the U.S. case fatality rate for COVID-19 dropped 85% since April, because of the “groundbreaking therapies” pioneered under Operation Warp Speed (though the only authorized treatment supported by the program is convalescent plasma). Bhattacharya was cited as the source of the data showing the fatality rate reduction — which can be attributed to more testing, improved protection measures in nursing homes, and some new treatments, according to PolitiFact.
Bhattacharya is also a former research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative
Experts say the fall Covid-19 surge is here. Infections and hospitalizations are rising across the country. And one leading health official says daily Covid-19 deaths could soon begin climbing, too.
The alarming trends come ahead of a season that will likely be especially challenging. Students across the country have returned to class and college students — some of whom live in campuses that reported Covid-19 outbreaks — will soon return to visit their families and could unknowingly bring the virus back with them. And Covid-19 will also be stacked up against the flu season and could create what doctors call a “twin-demic.”
What happens next is unclear. But here’s how we got here:
On April 10, about a month after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, the US hit its first high point during the pandemic, peaking at an average of a little more than 31,800 daily cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The country also eclipsed more than half a million Covid-19 infections.
Cases were clustered mostly in New York, with other, smaller outbreaks in places such as Washington state, Louisiana and Illinois. Around that time, New York state had more infections than any other country in the world, with more than 160,000 cases. As of October 16, the state has reported more than 481,000 infections.
By June 9, the US had flattened the curve and was averaging about 20,340 new cases daily, Johns Hopkins data showed. States were opening back up after weekslong lockdowns that were put in place to help curb the spread of the virus.
With the easing of measures, more Americans began to venture outside and images and videos emerged of parties and other gatherings with no social distancing and few masks in sight.
By July 22, the nation reached its highest peak of the pandemic, to date, averaging more than 67,000 cases daily. The US was seeing huge spikes in cases in the West and South.
The case surges came weeks after crowds celebrated the July 4 holiday. Across the country, local officials warned more young people were testing positive and helping drive the increase in infections.
Arizona, Florida, California, Texas and Georgia were adding thousands of cases per day. Experts called Florida the epicenter of the pandemic and by the end of the month, more than four dozen hospitals across the state were reporting full ICUs.
By September 12, the summer peak had slipped down to a little more than 34,300 average new cases daily, according to data from Johns Hopkins. That baseline was higher than what it was in the spring and experts warned Americans should work to lower it as the nation was heading into the colder fall and winter months.