On 4 October 2020, three leading experts: Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, epidemiologist at the University of Oxford; and Dr Jay Bhattacharya, a physician and epidemiologist at Stanford University – issued the following statement, calling for a different approach to addressing the novel coronavirus than the blockade model:
As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists, we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of prevailing COVID-19 policies and recommend an approach we call Targeted Protection.
Coming from both left and right and from all over the world, we have dedicated our career to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are having devastating effects on public health in the short and long term.
Findings (just to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, less cancer screening, and deteriorating mental health ̵
Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable harm, with disproportionate harm to the less privileged.
Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that the vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand times greater in the elderly and infirm than in the young. In fact, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including the flu.
As immunity increases in the population, the risk of infection for everyone, including the most vulnerable, decreases. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity, which is the point where the rate of new infections is stable, and that this can be helped by (but not dependent on) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until herd immunity is achieved.
The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of achieving herd immunity is to allow those at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build immunity to the virus through natural infection. better protecting those at highest risk. This is targeted protection.
Taking steps to protect the vulnerable should be the central focus of public health responses to COVID-19. As an example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent polymerase chain reaction tests of other staff and all visitors. Staff turnover should be kept to a minimum.
Retirees living at home should have groceries and other essential items delivered to their home. Whenever possible, they should meet family members outside, rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multigenerational families, can be implemented and is within the scope and capabilities of public health professionals.
Those who are not vulnerable should be immediately allowed to resume life normally. Simple hygiene measures, such as washing hands and staying at home in case of illness, should be practiced by all to reduce the herd’s immunity threshold.
Schools and universities should be open to teaching in person. Extra-curricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Low-risk young adults should work normally rather than from home. They should open restaurants and other businesses. Arts, music, sports and other cultural activities are expected to resume. Those most at risk can participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection bestowed on the most vulnerable by those who have built herd immunity.
Since the declaration was published, more than 2,000 public health scientists and more than 2,000 doctors have signed it, as well as nearly 40,000 members of the general public. You can add your signature to the online declaration at https://gbdeclaration.org.