Medical experts: Lockdowns do more harm than good

On Oct. 4, 2020, three preeminent experts — Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at Oxford University; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a physician and epidemiologist at Stanford University — delivered the following declaration, calling for a different approach to dealing with the novel coronavirus than the lockdown model:

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 — that is, 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. This is 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 polymerase-chain-reaction 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 homes. When possible, they should meet family members outside, rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multigenerational 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 handwashing 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.

Since the declaration was published, more than 2,000 public-health scientists and more than 2,000 medical practitioners have signed it, as have nearly 40,000 members of the general public. You can add your signature to the declaration online at https://gbdeclaration.org.

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