Tuesday, 27 October 2020

A "dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence" - keeping safe distance from the Barrington 'herd immunity' agenda

An effective second wave of Covid-19 has seen a commensurate rise in public disquiet over government failure to suppress the virus and end the pain of repeated lockdowns. 

Perversely, it is this very failure of neoliberal-minded policies that has provided new 'second wave' openings for dangerous and scientifically specious 'herd immunity' ideas to re-emerge. 

The most notable of these is the recent Great Barrington Declaration, a set of libertarian prescriptions which advocates 'focused shielding' of the old and vulnerable, opening up all economic activity and allowing the remaining public to be exposed to the virus. 

In essence, let Covid-19 rip through the community in the 'hope' of reaching herd immunity.

The seismic implications of such a policy might not seem immediately obvious to populations already weary of lockdowns, inept government actions and no seeming resolutions.

But the effective endorsement of the Barrington agenda by the Trump administration should be ringing alarm bells over what further calamities might await countries whose own governments indulge this line of thinking.

As Gavin Yamey, Professor of Global Public Health and Public Policy, reminds us:

"For a start, no pandemic has ever been controlled by deliberately letting the infection spread unchecked in the hope that people become immune. We must do all we can to protect people from COVID-19, not let them get infected, to buy scientists time to develop vaccines and therapeutics to end the outbreak and alleviate suffering."

In a major scientific response to the Barrington Declaration, the Lancet has published the John Snow Memorandum, signed by over 6000 leading scientific and public health figures around the world.

The Memorandum makes clear that the Barrington claims have no serious scientific grounding, and that its advocates are using government failings to leverage support for their agenda:

"Although lockdowns have been disruptive, substantially affecting mental and physical health, and harming the economy, these effects have often been worse in countries that were not able to use the time during and after lockdown to establish effective pandemic control systems. In the absence of adequate provisions to manage the pandemic and its societal impacts, these countries have faced continuing restrictions. This has understandably led to widespread demoralisation and diminishing trust. The arrival of a second wave and the realisation of the challenges ahead has led to renewed interest in a so-called herd immunity approach, which suggests allowing a large uncontrolled outbreak in the low-risk population while protecting the vulnerable. Proponents suggest this would lead to the development of infection-acquired population immunity in the low-risk population, which will eventually protect the vulnerable. This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence."

The Memorandum proceeds to refute the unsupportable claims of the Declaration, ethical and practical. 

Warning that Covid-19 is multiple times more infectious and dangerous than seasonal flu, it sets out the logistical problems of 'focused shielding' large and complex sections of the population, old and young, cites the complicating threats of 'long Covid', and casts serious doubts over whether such a policy could ever actually achieve mass immunity. It goes on to warn of the even deeper economic devastation such a policy would unleash.

The Barrington agenda is also where - backed by the libertarian American Institute for Economic Research, and funded by the Koch corporation - climate denial meets Covid-19 denial. As one key analysis notes: "It is consequently no wonder that some experts see this not as science, but as a form of predatory neoliberal economics in disguise."

It's important that people understand exactly what the Barrington network is peddling here, the right-wing/libertarian forces promoting it, and the ways in which it is being sold to a disenchanted public as the 'only answer' to lockdown.

The John Snow Memorandum also helps delineate the actual issue of lockdown restrictions. Lockdowns are no solution. They are a sign of government failure to put effective containment measures in place, most crucially comprehensive mass testing and local NHS-based find, test, trace, isolate, support (FTTIS) instruments.

The lockdown cycle we're in is merely the repeated unwillingness of government to use such opportunities for this key purpose.

Until that happens, the threat of community contagion continues, while the likelihood of public compliance diminishes.

People will only support continuing lockdown if they see some end point to it. Thus, insist Independent Sage and other leading public health bodies, any ongoing lockdowns must only be used as 'buying time' for putting meaningful suppression measures in place and driving towards zero-Covid.

Central to this task must be an emergency reconstruction of the UK government's catastrophic £12 billion test and trace system, hived-off to private corporations in a crony-political handout of epic proportions.

Lockdown fatigue only makes an already disillusioned, suspicious and conspiracy-inclined public even more susceptible to the seeming 'credibility', even 'inevitability', of herd immunity 'alternatives'.

The following articles provide a good overview of just what that scenario would involve and the multiple dangers it poses to populations, societies and economies at large.

The John Snow Memorandum

Independent Sage: A deliberate “population immunity” strategy before a vaccine:
Why it wouldn’t work and why it shouldn’t be tried 

Scientific consensus in rejection of Great Barrington 'herd immunity' agenda

Expert reaction to Barrington Declaration, an open letter arguing against lockdown policies and for ‘Focused Protection’

A Viral Theory Cited by Health Officials Draws Fire From Scientists

Climate Science Denial Network Behind Great Barrington Declaration 

Emergency six-week plan for England in response to rising cases, hospitalisations and deaths - 16 October 2020

The Great Barrington Declaration has nothing to do with epidemiology and a great deal to do with far right economics

The Dangerous Fringe Theory Behind the Great Barrington Declaration and Herd Immunity

The White House Wants to Achieve Herd Immunity by Letting the Virus Rip. That Is Dangerous and Inhumane

How the White House's Herd Immunity Strategy Would Destroy the US Economy 

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