By FRC's Joshua Arnold
"In March we panicked," said Dr. Jay Bhattacharya. "Not just in America, the world panicked and threw out the old plan." Dr. Bhattacharya teaches medicine at Stanford University, where he researches the health and well-being of vulnerable populations. With 135 articles published in top peer-reviewed journals, his credentials are impeccable.
"The old plan" relied on the time-tested public health measures that successfully eradicated diseases like polio and smallpox, not the total lockdowns implemented in 2020.
In response, Dr. Bhattacharya and colleagues from Harvard and Oxford authored the Great Barrington Declaration, which expresses "grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies" and advocates for an approach called "Focused Protection." Nearly 34,000 scientists and medical practitioners along with half a million members of the public have signed the declaration. As of this writing, the declaration was available in 22 languages.
In a radio interview on "Washington Watch" with Tony Perkins, Dr. Bhattacharya explained that public health policy must consider "fundamental tradeoffs." He said the government lockdown strategy "doesn't fit with what the science is telling us and in fact is leading to substantial collateral harm." When lockdowns shutter an economy, the lost economic growth ultimately affects lives. "These dollars are not simply dollars. These are people's lives, on a scale that's almost unimaginable."
For example, the UN estimated up to 130 million more people will face chronic hunger because of the lockdown policies. Lockdown-related disruptions to efforts to fight other diseases could cause up to 2.3 million deaths from tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV. Meanwhile in the U.S., Dr. Bhattacharya pointed out that one in four young adults seriously considered suicide in June, likely related to lockdown isolation. And either regulations or fear of the virus drove countless people to skip cancer treatments, health screenings, and other normal medical activities.
It's not hard to see why Dr. Bhattacharya said lockdowns were "like a nuclear bomb of public health" -- a weapon with consequences too terrible to use.
Instead, the Focused Protection policy applies what we have learned about the Chinese coronavirus to "get us out of the epidemic." The only way out is through herd immunity. That requires many people to contract Covid-19. The question, is how do we reach herd immunity with minimal loss of life?
Dr. Bhattacharya said, "the main idea is that there's a very large difference in the mortality risk that people face." According to more than 80 studies that look at antibodies in the population and measure death rates, younger people have a one in 10,000 mortality risk or potentially lower. For those over 70, the risk is much higher: about 4 in 100 mortality risk.
Dr. Bhattacharya said we should target our resources on protecting those vulnerable populations (the elderly and those with co-morbidities) instead of blanket mandates. This means protecting nursing homes, providing temporary alternate housing to the elderly when someone in their residence is exposed, and allowing at-risk, "essential" workers to step away from the front lines. And on the other hand, he said, "set everyone else who is not vulnerable free."
Our cultural elites often insist we should "follow the science" in submitting to lockdown measures (which, as Dr. Bhattacharya also pointed out, favor the rich over the poor). But the arguments in favor of lockdowns are increasingly political rather than scientific. Scientists who speak out against the prevailing media narrative face censorship and intimidation by those who seem determined to stop President Trump at all costs -- even if the cost is American lives and livelihoods.
The message to policymakers is clear. Follow the science. Open the country. End the lockdowns.