Readers may recall our coverage – almost exclusive in the context of the Irish media –of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) during the height of the Covid Panic and all that flowed from it in 2020.
The GBD originated in a conference held at the beginning of October that year and set out proposals for the achievement of herd immunity through “focused protection” rather than the draconian lockdown that was put into place in most western countries, including Ireland.
The Declaration was co-authored by Professor Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at Oxford University; Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard, and Professor Jay Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist at Sandford, and was signed by thousands of medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners.
Now the authors have returned to the fray with a convincing call for the establishment of a Covid-19 Commission – a full and frank inquiry, which would examine the policies decided and mistakes made during the panic and the consequences of same.
To recap the original declaration, the opening salvo of that document declared that “Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long term public health.” In contrast to those advocating for extreme measures and predicting that they might have to be in place for years to come, the authors of the BSD argued that protection ought to be focused on the elderly, and that there was no rationale for the effective closure of large parts of the economy and civil society including education.
Their highlighting of the proven extremely low mortality levels among students, and younger people in general, strengthened the case for a re-opening of most institutions with the prospect that the virus would become less virulent and contagious over time, just as has been the case historically for other diseases that had once been categorised for short periods as epidemics.
But the authors of the GBD were virulently attacked for taking the trouble to point out these facts.
Interestingly, the initial onslaught against the authors has not really been updated. That had mainly relied upon a mixture of the prevailing hysteria – pretty much debunked by this stage – and accusations of associations with a plethora of “right wing” Aunt Sallies from “Trumpism” to climate change denial.
The original Wikipedia attack on the Declaration remains basically unchanged since two weeks following its publication, other than a grudging recent addendum which refers to the finding by John P. Ioannaidis, published on the British Medical Journal open site, that while support for the GBD and the John Snow Memorandum [JSM] that was pitched by the media as a conclusive refutation of the Declaration, included “many stellar scientists … JSM has far more powerful social media presence and this may have shaped the impression that it is the dominant narrative.” A large part of that social media presence was, unsurprisingly it seems, deliberately organised to create that impression.
Skip forward more than two years later, and the original authors, as part of the Norfolk Group, have called for a Covid-19 Commission to be established by the United States administration to address issues around “school closures, collateral lockdown harms, lack of robust public health data collected and/or made available, misleading risk communication, downplaying infection-acquired immunity, masks, testing, vaccine efficacy and safety, therapeutics, and epidemiological modelling.”
It is a lengthy document which can be accessed on the Norfolk Group site.
While mostly focused on the policies followed in the United States, and the implied political aspect to this which – although they do not state this themselves – was clearly and heavily related to the 2020 United States Presidential campaign and the use of the Covid panic as a stick to beat then President Donald Trump, the points raised have much relevance to what happened in Ireland.
Their overall point is to question once again, as did the Great Barrington Declaration, the reasons why the possibility and means of attaining “infection-acquired immunity” was so strongly and even virulently rejected and opposed and its advocates vilified. This then led to the closure, against most available evidence regarding infection and mortality levels among the age groups most affected, of schools and colleges.
As we have seen here, and as recent calls for inquiries into cancer treatment and other areas have suggested, there was also a clear neglect of other public health issues. This meant that Covid was the overwhelming focus of health measures which meant that other serious illnesses were neglected and their assessment and treatment relegated in importance. The implications of which are still not known and which are likely to emerge strongly over the coming years.
With regard to vaccines, they question the deficiencies of trials, along with the neglect of other effective therapies and drugs. However, the report focuses more on the obsession with masking and the implementation of mask mandates. The authors claim that in the United States, and this equally indeed perhaps more so applies to Ireland, that masking was insisted upon despite the early trial evidence from Denmark and Bangladesh that “showed no or minimal efficacy of mask wearing by the public.”
In particular they raise questions over the imposition of masking on children, despite the fact that the World Health Organisation had pointed to the “potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development.” They cite other studies which prove the harmful impact that masking has on communication, especially among children, alongside physical harms including breathing difficulties, dermatitis and headaches.
There is much more in the report, and it may perhaps inform people in other countries, including Ireland, who would like to see a similar inquiry into the manner in which the Covid crisis was handled.
The report lists the “specific questions on specific topics related to COVID-19 pandemic responses”, and points out that “the public deserves answers to these questions so we can learn from our mistakes. Relating to the U.S., they are:
1. What could have been done to better protect older high-risk Americans, so that fewer of them died or were hospitalized due to COVID-19?
2. Why was there widespread questioning of infection-acquired immunity by government officials and some prominent scientists? How did this hinder our fight against the virus?
3. Why were schools and universities closed despite early evidence about the enormous age-gradient in COVID-19 mortality, early data showing that schools were not major sources of spread, and early evidence that school closures would cause enormous collateral damage to the education and mental health of children and young adults?
4. Why was there an almost exclusive focus on COVID-19 to the detriment of recognizing and mitigating collateral damage on other aspects of public health, including but not limited to, cancer screening and treatment, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, childhood vaccinations, and mental health?
5. Why did the CDC fail to collect timely data to properly monitor and understand the pandemic? Why did we have to rely on studies from private initiatives and from other countries to understand the behavior of the virus and the effects of therapeutics, including vaccines?
6. Why was there so much emphasis and trust in complex epidemiological models, which are by nature unreliable during the middle of an epidemic, with unknown input parameters and questionable assumptions?
7. Could therapeutic trials have been run in a more timely manner? How was information on drug effectiveness and safety disseminated to doctors and clinicians? Were effective therapeutics easily accessible across the population? How did certain drugs become heavily politicized?
8. Why did vaccine randomized trials not evaluate mortality, hospitalization, and transmission as primary endpoints? Why were they terminated early? Why were there so few studies from the highest-quality CDC and FDA vaccine safety systems?
9. Why was the USA slow to approve and roll out critical COVID-19 testing capacity? Why was there more emphasis on testing young asymptomatic individuals than on testing to better protect older high-risk Americans? Why was so much effort spent on contact-tracing efforts?
10. Why was there an emphasis on community masking and mask mandates, which had weak or no data to support them, at the expense of efficient and critical COVID-19 mitigation efforts? Why did the CDC or NIH not fund large randomized trials to evaluate the efficacy and potential harms of mask wearing? Why didn’t policy recommendations change after the publication of randomized trial data from Denmark and Bangladesh which showed no or minimal efficacy of mask wearing by the public?
It goes without saying that many of those important questions would also apply to a full inquiry here in Ireland. Though the real question might be to ask why the government is dragging its heels on such an inquiry.
At the very least, those who implemented all of the measures which are now known to have had minimal or no influence on the progress and diminishing threat posed by the virus, ought to be expected to provide some accounting for their policies and behaviours.
This is especially true given that many of them in public life appear to have conveniently forgotten all about it, or moved on in the expectation of being allowed to flex the enhanced state powers they enjoyed either directly or vicariously for some other tendentious purpose, framed by another passing obsession to control the lives of others beyond the normal remit of public authority.