Declaration by 3 epidemiologists from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford elicits support and criticism
More than 32,000 medical doctors and health scientists from around the world have signed a petition against lockdowns put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, saying the measures are causing "irreparable damage."
As of Oct. 13, over 23,000 of the signatories were medical practitioners and 9,000 were medical and public health scientists. They have joined more than 400,000 members of the general public in signing the petition.
The petition is co-authored by Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a Harvard professor and epidemiologist with expertise in detecting and monitoring infectious disease; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an Oxford University professor and epidemiologist with expertise in immunology; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford University Medical School professor and epidemiologist with expertise in infectious disease and vulnerable populations.
"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," reads the petition, titled the Great Barrington Declaration, after the Massachusetts town where it was authored by the three experts on Oct. 4.
The declaration says lockdowns result in worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings, lower childhood vaccination rates, and deteriorating mental health, to name a few issues, all of which will lead to high mortality rates in the years to come.
"Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice," the doctors write.
Instead of shutting everything down until a vaccine is available, the doctors say focus should be on minimizing mortality and social harm until herd immunity is reached. Herd immunity refers to when a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, which the doctors say will eventually be reached for all populations, and can be assisted by, but not dependent upon, a vaccine.
"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," the declaration states.
The declaration says public health officials should aim to protect the most vulnerable population, while allowing those who are not vulnerable to "resume life as normal."
"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."
Measures to protect the vulnerable population, the declaration says, can include examples such as minimizing staff rotations at nursing homes, delivering groceries and other essentials to retired people living at home, and the elderly meeting family members outside rather than inside when possible. Meanwhile, all members of society should take simple hygiene measures such as hand-washing and staying home when sick to bring down the herd immunity threshold, the doctors say.
But young, low-risk adults should be allowed to work normally, rather than from home; schools should be opened for in-person teaching; and extracurricular activities such as sports should be resumed, the declaration says.
"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," the declaration says.
An empty street in Old Montreal on Oct. 10, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes)