The Health 202: Health officials call an anti-lockdown paper ‘dangerous.’ Its authors say they just want the idea debated.
“I suspect if we had a chance to talk with Dr. Collins about what these ideas actually say instead of the misrepresentations, he wouldn’t have that response,” Bhattacharya told me in an interview yesterday.
The Barrington Declaration is triggering a heated and fraught debate over shutdowns as the winter approaches and infections rise.
The paper, co-written by two epidemiologists at Harvard University and the University of Oxford and signed by other academics and scientists, says measures to protect those most vulnerable to the virus should be the central goal of the public health response, rather than current shutdown policies.
The authors argue that the harm from shuttering schools and businesses is so extensive that it’s not worth trying to limit the virus’s spread among healthy children and non-elderly adults. Targeted protections for the elderly and sick are the best way to minimize mortality and social harm, they wrote.
“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits … 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,” the paper says.
Yet the paper has provoked a firestorm within the scientific community — and is exposing fractures in the Trump administration.
The online document, published Wednesday by the medical journal Lancet, acknowledges the shutdowns have been damaging to people and the economy. Yet it rejects the idea that allowing the virus to spread unchecked among low-risk populations – an idea known as gaining herd immunity – would ultimately protect the vulnerable. The authors point to the nation’s already-steep death toll, noting that there could a hundreds of thousands more deaths if the virus is allowed to spread even among healthier Americans.
“This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence,” says the memo, co-written by Harvard epidemiologists Bill Hanage and Marc Lipsitch and signed by more than 80 scientists. “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed.”
Bhattacharya and his co-authors met last week with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who tweeted praise of their ideas afterward.
Azar tweeted this last week:
But both Collins and Fauci have sharply criticized the declaration as departing from consensus among epidemiologists.
“Anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that that is nonsense and very dangerous, because … you will have killed a lot of people that would have been avoidable,” Fauci said.
Bhattacharya called the tension provoked by his letter “overwhelming.”
But he feels it sparked a conversation that was ignored up until now. While some have interpreted the declaration as a “let ‘er rip” strategy, he says that is a mischaracterization of the approach he is promoting. While the country will eventually reach herd immunity, the point at which 60 to 70 percent of the country is immune either from being infected or getting vaccinated, his aim is to protect the lives and well-being of the