A Group of Scientists Wants To Reopen Society. Here’s What Everyone Is Getting Wrong About What They Said.
A trio of epidemiologists released a public letter last week rebuking the lockdown-focused approach to combating COVID-19. Their alternative: a model called Focused Protection, outlined in their Great Barrington Declaration, which would reopen society and allow young people to live their lives normally while implementing safeguards for the elderly.
Let’s start with the gist of the declaration: “Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” write Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford. “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.”
It’s true that the coronavirus lockdowns have precipitated a slew of indirect harms. A July study in The Lancet concluded that the United Kingdom should expect “substantial increases in the number of avoidable cancer deaths” because “cancer screening has been suspended, routine diagnostic work deferred, and only urgent symptomatic cases prioritised for diagnostic intervention.” A recent Oxfam report posits that 12,000 people could die from starvation per day as a direct result of supply chain interruptions caused by COVID-19 lockdowns. Researchers have also noted an “alarming decline” in child vaccination rates “due to disruptions in the delivery and uptake of immunization services caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Mental health problems appear to be rising.
Though lockdowns were expected to have costs, we wouldn’t want those to outweigh the benefits. Such is the notion at the heart of the Great Barrington Declaration, and it’s a good one. They propose another way forward: “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.”
Unfortunately, the group’s suggestions for how to proceed toward that goal are somewhat murky.
Consider one of the declaration’s fundamental claims. “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
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