I had no choice but to speak out against lockdowns. As a public-health scientist with decades of experience working on infectious-disease outbreaks, I couldn’t stay silent. Not when basic principles of public health are thrown out of the window. Not when lockdown opponents were thrown to the wolves.
There was never a scientific consensus for lockdowns. Two key Covid facts were quickly obvious to me. First, with the early outbreaks in Italy and Iran, this was a severe pandemic that would eventually spread to the rest of the world, resulting in many deaths. Like most parents, I care more about my children than myself.
Unlike the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, children had much less to fear from Covid than from annual influenza or traffic accidents. Instead, schools closed while nursing homes went unprotected. To my surprise, I could not interest any US media in my thoughts, despite my knowledge and experience with infectious-disease outbreaks. Instead of life, we got lockdowns and death.
We got delayed cancer diagnoses, worse cardiovascular-disease outcomes, deteriorating mental health, and a lot more collateral public-health damage from lockdown. Children, the elderly and the working class were the hardest hit by what can only be described as the biggest public-health fiasco in history. Throughout the 2020 spring wave, Sweden kept daycare and schools open for every one of its 1.8million children aged between one and 15. This policy led to precisely zero Covid deaths in that age group, while teachers had a Covid risk similar to the average of other professions.
The Swedish Public Health Agency reported these facts in mid-June, but in the US lockdown proponents still pushed for school closures. In July, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article on ‘reopening primary schools during the pandemic’. Shockingly, it did not even mention the evidence from the only major Western country that kept schools open throughout the pandemic. In August, I finally broke into the US media with a CNN op-ed against school closures.
Something was clearly amiss with the media. Among infectious-disease epidemiology colleagues that I know, most favour focused protection of high-risk groups instead of lockdowns, but the media made it sound like there was a scientific consensus for general lockdowns. In September, I met Jeffrey Tucker at the American Institute for Economic Research , an organisation I had never heard of before the pandemic. To help the media gain a better understanding of the pandemic, we decided to invite journalists to meet with infectious-disease epidemiologists in Great Barrington, New England, to conduct more in-depth interviews.
I invited two scientists to join me, Sunetra Gupta from the University of Oxford, one of the world’s pre-eminent infectious-disease epidemiologists, and Jay Bhattacharya from Stanford University, an expert on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations. To the surprise of AIER, the three of us also decided to write a declaration arguing for focused protection instead of lockdowns. We called it the Great Barrington Declaration . Opposition to lockdowns had been deemed unscientific.
When scientists spoke out against lockdowns, they were ignored, considered a fringe voice, or accused of not having proper credentials. We thought it would be hard to ignore something authored by three senior infectious-disease epidemiologists from what were three respectable universities. Some colleagues threw epithets at us like ‘crazy’, ‘exorcist’, ‘mass murderer’ or ‘Trumpian’. The declaration was in line with the many pandemic preparedness plans produced years earlier, but that was the crux.
With no good public-health arguments against focused protection, they had to resort to mischaracterisation and slander, or else admit they had made a terrible, deadly mistake in their support of lockdowns. Some lockdown proponents accused us of raising a strawman, as lockdowns had worked and were no longer needed. Just a few weeks later, the same critics lauded the reimposition of lockdowns during the very predictable second wave. We were accused of advocating a ‘let it rip’ strategy, even though focused protection is its very opposite.
Ironically, lockdowns are a dragged-out form of a let-it-rip strategy, in which each age group is infected in the same proportion as a let-it-rip strategy. When writing the declaration, we knew we were exposing ourselves to attacks. Their main purpose was to discourage other scientists from speaking out. After the Great Barrington Declaration, there was no longer a lack of media attention on focused protection as an alternative to lockdowns.
Journalists in most other countries asked hard but relevant and fair questions, exploring and critically examining the Great Barrington Declaration. While most governments continued with their failed lockdown policies, things have moved in the right direction. More and more schools have reopened, and Florida rejected lockdowns in favour of focused protection, partly based on our advice, without the negative consequences that the lockdowners predicted.
Twitter even locked my account for writing that
‘Naively fooled to think that masks would protect them, some older high-risk people did not socially distance properly, and some died from Covid because of it. Had we been wrong, our scientific colleagues might have taken pity on us and the media would have gone back to ignoring us. While deaths are inevitable during a pandemic, the naive but mistaken belief that lockdowns would protect the old meant that governments did not implement many standard focused-protection measures. The dragged-out pandemic made it harder for older people to protect themselves.
With a focused-protection strategy, my friend and his wife might be alive today, together with countless other people around the world. Ultimately, lockdowns protected young low-risk professionals working from home — journalists, lawyers, scientists, and bankers — on the backs of children, the working class and the poor. In the US, lockdowns are the biggest assault on workers since segregation and the Vietnam War. As an infectious-disease epidemiologist, I had no choice.
I am aware of many fantastic people fighting against these ineffective and damaging lockdowns, writing articles, posting on social media, making videos, talking to friends, speaking up at school board meetings, and protesting in the streets.
Source: Martin Kulldorff | Spiked