Unintended Consequences of the Lockdown

From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis three months ago, government “experts” have failed at the chief task of sound government, which isn’t to “solve problems,” because most major problems can’t be solved. Instead, the real task of government is managing tradeoffs, adjusting multiple competing factors to arrive at better or worse relative outcomes. This is a task primarily for statesmen, not single-minded “experts” in their silos, who will invariably get it wrong. By all means listen to Anthony Fauci, but listen also to the other experts who point out the collateral negative effects of the lockdown.

I’m not a big fan of The Lancet, the British medical journal, because it has become highly politicized in recent years. (In fact, yesterday The Lancet editorialized that Trump should be replaced; I think the New England Journal of Medicine should start editorializing on British politics.) In 2010 The Lancet had to retract the infamous Andrew Wakefield study purporting to prove a link between vaccines and autism because Wakefield had faked much of his data.

Still, given that The Lancet is an “establishment” medical journal, it is notable when it publishes an article that bolsters the argument that the unintended health consequences of  the lockdown may be severe. We know that lots of people here and abroad are not accessing a lot of routine and non-routine health care services, and there is also good general reason to believe that the decline of incomes from the lockdowns will have additional delayed health effects. This study examines only the effect on early childhood and maternal mortality, especially in lower income nations. We know that even here in the U.S. child vaccinations are way down at the moment. Overseas this and other neglect of routine medicine may be even more severe. (Note that this study is a global estimate, not a U.S.-only estimate.)

The study employs the typical dense language of medicine, but there is no avoiding how significant are the estimates. Some highlights from the summary:

While the COVID-19 pandemic will increase mortality due to the virus, it is also likely to increase mortality indirectly. In this study, we estimate the additional maternal and under-5 child deaths resulting from the potential disruption of health systems and decreased access to food. . . if routine health care is disrupted and access to food is decreased (as a result of unavoidable shocks, health system collapse, or intentional choices made in responding to the pandemic), the increase in child and maternal deaths will be devastating.

How devastating? The researchers modeled three possible scenarios, with a low end estimate that “over 6 months would result in 253,500 additional child deaths and 12,200 additional maternal deaths,” and a high end estimate that “over 6 months would result in 1,157,000 additional child deaths and 56,700 additional maternal deaths.”

You can download a PDF copy of study here if you are curious. Now extrapolate this kind of methodology to other at-risk groups.

Curious detail: the study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Global Affairs Canada.

Chaser: “Mayo Clinic Expects to Lose $900 Million in Revenue This Year.”