Leading scientists from across the world have called for an end to lockdown policies in favour of a herd immunity approach to tackling coronavirus in order to allow ordinary life to resume.
More than 15,000 medical practitioners and health scientists as well as 153,000 members of the public have already signed The Great Barrington Declaration, which suggests a focused protection approach would enable normal life to resume while still maintaining protection for the old and vulnerable members of society.
Along with others, Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modelling of infectious diseases, and a professor at Oxford University, said they have ‘grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies, and recommend a focused protection approach’.
The declaration states: “Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.
“The results 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 and keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”
The declaration goes on to state that understanding of the virus is growing, with vulnerability to death more than a thousand-fold in the old and infirm than the young, and for children, it is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.
It continues: “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 – i.e. 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.
“We call this ‘focused protection’.
“Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to Covid-19.”
The declaration suggests vulnerable people should have food and essentials delivered to their homes, and where possible meet family members outdoors rather than indoors.
Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal, with simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick being practised 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; and restaurants and other businesses should open.
Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should also resume and 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.
It comes after recent remarks from the leader of the NHS in England, Sir Simon Stevens, who said that asking all over-65s to shield to slow the transmission of the second wave of coronavirus would be “age-based apartheid”.
Another expert said the declaration ignores the growing evidence on long Covid – whereby thousands of fit and young people who contract the virus have been left with debilitating symptoms months after a mild infection.
Professor Jeremy Rossman pointed out that research suggests that protective antibody responses may “decay rapidly” and that there have been cases of re-infection of the virus.
Prof Rossman, honorary senior lecturer in virology at the University of Kent, said: “Unfortunately, this declaration ignores three critical aspects that could result in significant impacts to health and lives.
“First, we still do not know if herd immunity is possible to achieve.
“Herd immunity relies on lasting immunological protection from coronavirus re-infection; however, we have heard many recent cases of re-infection occurring and some research suggests protective antibody responses may decay rapidly.
“Second, the declaration focuses only on the risk of death from Covid-19 but ignores the growing awareness of long Covid, that many healthy young adults with mild infections are experiencing protracted symptoms and long-term disability.
“Third, countries that have forgone lockdown restrictions in favour of personal responsibility and focused protection of the elderly, such as Sweden, were not able to successfully protect the vulnerable population.”
To read the declaration in full visit: gbdeclaration.org/