An open letter urging governments to embrace herd immunity has been signed by the likes of at least seven Dr Harold Shipmans, Dr Person Fakename, Dr Very Dodgy Doctor, and a Mr Banana Rama – casting doubt on the legitimacy of the support it claims to have.
The Great Barrington Declaration, authored and signed by prominent supporters of herd immunity in the US, recommends that governments take an approach they call “Focused Protection”, which calls for an end to coronavirus lockdowns.
According to the authors’ website, the letter has been signed by over 16,000 scientists and medical practitioners, as well as by more than 159,000 members of the public. This includes Steven Baker, Tory MP for Wycombe, US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson, all of whom have tweeted their support for the letter.
But among the signatures, which are publicly available on the website, are dozens of fake names. These include ‘Professor Ita Rôle Italy Pudding and dessert expert’, ‘Dr Brian Blessed Doctor in Winged Flight, Z-Cars and Booming Laughter’, ‘Dr Johnny Fartpants’ and ‘Professor Notaf Uckingclue’, among others.
Several people from the medical and scientific community are now questioning the level of support for the controversial concept of herd immunity within the letter.
According to the Great Barrington Declaration, governments should aim to “minimise mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity”, claiming that their recommendation is the “most compassionate approach”.
A “Focused Protection” approach would mean ring-fencing vulnerable communities, such as people living in nursing homes or those who are retired, to protect them from Covid-19. Anyone who is not classed as a vulnerable person should then be allowed to catch the coronavirus and “resume life as normal”, following regular hygiene advice such as hand washing and staying home when ill.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University and an adviser to the Scottish government, said she did not agree with it and that the letter was not “scientific” or “accurate”.
Speaking to Channel 4 on Thursday, she said: “If you look at the advice of the WHO, health leaders in the United States, what they come out and say is that it’s not necessarily possible to build herd immunity to this virus.
“Many governments thought that immunity would at least last a year, and at that point, if we still haven’t built herd immunity, all we’re going to see is cycles, waves of infection.”
Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Sky News that the letter reminded him of “the messaging used to undermine public health policies on harmful substances, such as tobacco”.
“Leaving aside the powerful arguments against this declaration on grounds of science and feasibility, we have consistent evidence that a clear majority of the British public support necessary measures to reduce the spread of the virus or it would go even further,” he said.
“Yet the campaign behind this declaration promotes a completely different picture.”
Professor Jay Bhattacharya, of Stanford University, one of the authors of the letter, told Sky News they “do not have the resources to audit each signature”.
“It is unfortunate that some people have abused our trust by adding false names, but I suppose it is inevitable.
“Still – given the volume of correspondence I have received from medical and public health professionals, as well as scientists and epidemiologists, it is clear that a very large number of experts resonate with the message of the declaration and its call for a focused protection policy,” he added.
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