The Great Barrington Declaration: A Few Words of Caution
With the recently issued Great Barrington Declaration, the antilockdown movement has received a shot in the arm.
The proposal, introduced by three prominent epidemiologists and scientists at a summit sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research, seems to offer a welcome alternative to current policies of blanket lockdowns.
The authors of the declaration recommend policies of “focused protection” and have already received the support of tens of thousands of public health professionals, medical practitioners, and members of the general public.
While I welcome the proposal as an excellent development and would view its adoption as a likely improvement over the current situation, I must nevertheless point out a few significant difficulties with this declaration.
Herd Immunity as a Policy Goal
To begin with, it should be clear that the proposal is a policy proposal. It offers general ideas about what the public health response to the pandemic should aim for and gives a few examples of the kinds of behavioral changes that should be implemented. Policy ideas are ideas that are ultimately imposed.
What are those ideas?
The authors state that the aim of the covid response should be to achieve herd immunity, which they define as “the point at which the rate of new infections is stable.”
While that definition is adequate, and while herd immunity may indeed be a real phenomenon that can take place under certain circumstances when populations are subjected to a contagious disease, it is important to recognize that herd immunity is not a concept that has any practical value for setting public health policy.
For one thing, there is no objective way to establish that herd immunity has been achieved, since a “stable” rate of new infection is a subjective notion. What is a stable or tolerable rate of infection for me may not be so for you.
Also, there is no guarantee that herd immunity can or will be achieved. If personal immunity to the virus wanes after a few months, it is at least conceivable that the population will always be subject to either outbreaks or waves of infection.
As a case in point, many places that were hit hard in the initial course of the pandemic are now seeing a resurgence of cases—albeit so far with less morbidity and much less lethality than the initial wave. Have they achieved herd immunity? Strictly speaking, they have not.
Another striking example in recent history is the case of Mongoli
Article from Mises Wire