From the beginning of the covid epidemic, Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya has been a voice of sanity. As a result, he has been smeared and censored. But as the epidemic begins to wind down with the omicron variant, many people–perhaps most–now acknowledge that he was right all along. This article is an excellent guide to where we are now, and where we should go from here:
My message is this: we can’t stop the spread of COVID, but we can end the pandemic.
In October 2020, I wrote the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) along with Prof. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Prof. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University.
The centerpiece of the declaration is a call for increased focused protection of the vulnerable older population, who are more than a thousand times more likely to die from COVID infection than the young.
That approach seems obviously correct to me, yet many governments did the opposite–sacrificing nursing home residents while also devastating the lives of young people by shutting down schools and school-related activities.
As I stated above, we do not have any technology that can stop viral spread.
This shouldn’t be a news flash. Never in human history have people believed that a government can stop the spread of a virus.
While excellent vaccines protect the vaccinated versus hospitalization or death if infected, they provide only temporary and marginal protection versus infection and disease transmission after the second dose.
The evidence to this effect is overwhelming, and yet many cities and private venues require proof of vaccination, on the assumption that others–the other vaccinated people, evidently–are somehow being protected.
What about lockdowns?
It is now abundantly clear that they have failed to contain the virus while wreaking enormous collateral damage worldwide.
The simplistic allure of lockdowns is that we can break the chain of viral transmission by staying apart.
Only the laptop class — those who can just as easily work from home as in the office — can abide by a lockdown in actual practice, and even they have trouble.
Essential workers who keep society going cannot afford the luxury, so the disease will keep spreading.
Lockdowns don’t work, but they do horrific damage.
The harms of lockdown on children and the non-elderly are catastrophic, including worse physical and mental health and irretrievably lost life opportunities.
Lockdowns imposed in rich countries mean starvation, poverty, and death for the residents of poor countries.
Early in the epidemic, the United Nations projected that hundreds of thousands of children in underdeveloped countries would die as a result of first-world shutdowns. Did that happen? I have seen no sign of interest in the question on the part of our news media.
There is, however, a good alternative to lockdown.
The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) calls for a return to normal life for low-risk children and non-elderly adults.
The principles at the heart of the GBD are as important today as they were a year ago.
In fact, they are more important now because we now have technological tools that make focused protection of the vulnerable much more straightforward than it was a year ago.
First and most importantly, the vaccine.
What is the vaccination rate among the elderly? It must be very high in the U.S. and other developed countries.
However, the vast majority of unvaccinated older people live in poor countries.
At current rates, the worldwide vaccination campaign will not be complete until the end of 2022, too late to save countless vulnerable people.
Prioritizing those who have never previously had COVID will help preserve doses for those who would most benefit since – like the vaccine — COVID recovery provides excellent protection against future severe disease.
One of the strangest aspects of governments’ responses to covid has been the lack of emphasis on treatment. While vaccination has been promoted with fervor bordering on hysteria, efforts to disseminate information about treatments that some doctors have found helpful–hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin–have been censored, while the conventional approach has been not to treat covid unless it becomes severe enough to require hospitalization. This reverses the common sense assumption that any disease is best treated before it gets out of hand. And for some reason, the Pfizer pills that apparently give good relief have not been fast-tracked in the same way that the vaccines were.
Second, we should make available effective early treatment options.
During Florida’s summer wave, Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted the use of monoclonal antibodies – an FDA-approved treatment – by patients early in the course of the disease, an action that saved many lives.
Safe and inexpensive supplements like Vitamin D have been shown effective. Promising new treatments from Pfizer and a new antibody treatment for the immunocompromised by Astra Zeneca promise to become more widely available. Until that happens, they should be preserved for use by the most vulnerable when sick.
There is more at the link, but I will close with this:
There are some hopeful signs that the political and ideological winds are shifting, while other developments signal a return to failed strategies.
The end of the pandemic is primarily a social and political decision.
Since we have no technology to eradicate the virus, we must learn to live with it. The fear-based lockdown policies of the past two years are no template for a healthy society.
PAUL ADDS: Is it true that many people, perhaps most, agree with the views of Dr. Bhattacharya? Do they really constitute covid common sense?
It depends on which views we’re talking about. The view that we should pay more attention than we have to treating the virus comports with common sense and, I’m pretty sure, is very widely held.
The view that we shouldn’t respond to the new, less deadly variant of covid with lockdowns seems to be the consensus right now and is supported by common sense, I think.
The view that the lockdowns of 2020 were, in some cases, too stringent and in those cases did more harm than good is what I believe and it may now have majority support. It’s not a matter of common sense, though. The validity of this proposition depends on a cost-benefit analysis and one’s value judgments.
The view that we do not have any technology that can stop viral spread is true and widely held, but almost meaningless in deciding what policies to implement. The meaningful questions are can we (and could we in 2020) limit the damage to health that covid inflicts and do (did) the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits. (My answers are “yes” and “generally
The view that “lockdowns don’t work” is one many people may agree with, at least in absolute numbers, but I see no evidence that it’s the majority view or even close to it. Nor is this view consistent with common sense.
Common sense suggests that reducing the amount of human contact will reduce the spread of a communicable disease, and that lives will be saved as a result. The evidence (per capita deaths attributed to the virus) from Sweden and Norway, which nearly everyone agreed was a good test case of the efficacy of lockdowns until the results started to come in, supports this common sense view.
Finally, the view that “the end of the pandemic is primarily a social and political decision” seems flatly wrong. A pandemic is an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across a large region. We can’t wish it away or define it out of existence.
I agree, though, that we can learn to live it. The extent to which doing so should mean a complete return to our pre-pandemic social patterns remains a matter for legitimate debate.