Great Barrington Declaration scientists

Scientists convened in Great Barrington last week and forged a recommendation for what they say is a healthier COVID-19 approach. From left Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, professor at Oxford University; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford University professor. 

GREAT BARRINGTON — Three of the world's top scientists say there’s another public health crisis underway, and it is the poor and working class who suffer the most. 

They say the rise in mental health and substance abuse problems, as well as excess deaths and other medical problems from lack of care are not from COVID-19, but from seven months of lockdowns meant to stop it.

And they say they have a better plan: “Focused Protection.”

This, they claim, would expand and fortify ways to shield the most vulnerable to death, while allowing the least vulnerable to live normally and build immunity that will ultimately better protect the old and weak. The scientists argue it will also reduce collateral damage that includes economic catastrophe, other health and mental problems and a lack of schooling for children.

In a small, whirlwind conference at the American Institute for Economic Research last week, three infectious disease epidemiologists drafted and signed the Great Barrington Declaration to propose the idea and launched it online for signatures.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 6,000 medical and public health scientists and medical professionals have signed it; as well as more than 60,000 from the general public.

The scientists are Dr. Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, professor at Oxford University; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford University professor. All three are epidemiologists.

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” they wrote. “The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health — leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.”

They say the poor are most affected by a society whose functioning is frozen.

“Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”

The authors explain “Focused Protection.”

“Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.”

“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.”

Other scientists who are critical of the declaration say it is unclear yet whether herd immunity is possible, and for how long.

This story will be updated.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.