Scientists behind Great Barrington Declaration

The scientists who drafted the Great Barrington Declaration that now is under attack from other epidemiologists for its approach to COVID-19 policy: from left Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, a professor at Oxford University; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford University professor.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Circulate a proposal that challenges public health policy amid a pandemic, and you’ll get an international scolding — especially when the White House embraces it.

And if you name what critics call a “fringe” document after the town in which it was kindled, watch out — townspeople are coming for you.

That’s the state of things a week after three scientists wrote and signed the Great Barrington Declaration at a libertarian think tank off Division Street, and launched it around the world for signatures. Some Great Barrington residents are none too pleased. They say they plan to take up the matter with Town Hall, perhaps by petition, or perhaps urge a rebuttal declaration.

They’d like to see the town’s name stripped from the document.

Susan Pettee is one who said so on HillGB, a neighborhood email group that exploded with outrage this week.

Pettee told The Eagle that this isn’t like various international peace accords with agreed-upon place names, like Paris, Yalta, or Oslo.

“In those cases, those were all official actions,” she said.

The three authors of the declaration, all infectious disease epidemiologists, suggest that allowing the young, strong and healthy to live normally will help achieve faster what’s known as herd immunity, which would better protect the vulnerable in the long run.

The authors of the declaration are Dr. Martin Kulldorff, of Harvard University; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, of Oxford University; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, of the Stanford University Medical School.

They say the working and poor classes are disproportionately suffering the effects of the shutdown, and that it is mostly the privileged who can readjust their lives amid the changes to everyday life.

They say the lockdowns are sparking another public health crisis, by focusing on the coronavirus at the exclusion of all else that affects human health.

“One of the basic principles of public health is that you do not just look at one disease – you have to look at health as a whole, including all kinds of diseases, over a long period,” Kulldorff tweeted on Oct. 9.

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Another local resident, Redbeard Simmons, said to get ready to watch town property values — skyrocketing thanks to the desirability of Great Barrington in light of COVID-19 — plummet as a result.

“Damage control cannot begin quickly enough,” Simmons wrote. “We must bop this on the head and hard.”

Resident Sharon Gregory wondered if a bylaw could be passed to disassociate the name.

They aren’t alone in disagreeing with the document, which proposes a “Focused Protection” policy that a group of scientists says would better shield the old and vulnerable from COVID-19 while reducing ancillary public health harm from the lockdowns that mostly hurts the poor.

The declaration has swept around the world since it was launched Oct. 4, gathering both rebuke and applause. Nearly half a million people have signed it, including almost 35,000 public health scientists and medical professionals.

The idea was hatched at a mini-summit this month at the American Institute for Economic Research, whose writers have been railing against “draconian” lockdowns they say are causing more harm than good, and are not data-driven.

The U.S. accounts for more than 215,000 of the world’s more than 1 million deaths involving COVID-19. About 79 percent of those U.S. deaths have claimed people 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The director of the National Institutes of Health told The Washington Post that the proposal is “dangerous” and “fringe.”

Critics, including distinguished scientists, point to unknowns about herd immunity related to this virus and long-term health effects, even in the young.

Others say the strategy is a potential “massacre” that lacks concrete measures to lend moral certainty to a plan that could loosen precautions and kill people.

“The herd immunity approach is dangerous, unscientific and inhumane and won’t work,” tweeted Yale University epidemiologist Dr. Gregg Gonsalves on Wednesday, after co-authoring a Washington Post editorial about President Donald Trump administration’s “half-baked” tilt toward the herd immunity paradigm.

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The document also has been deemed “fake,” after Sky News in the United Kingdom found what it said were false signatories like, “Dr. Johnny Bananas.”

Amid a fiery lead-up to the presidential election next month, the news that the Trump administration had adopted the “Focused Protection” plan that came out of Great Barrington was too much for some residents, even though the administration said it has been aligned with that idea all along.

Carol Diehl, of Housatonic, isn’t worried about the town being connected to the declaration, but she doesn’t like how “politicized everything is.”

“People should listen to every side, since there are no definitive answers,” she said.

Some who wrote on the HillGB email list say they also would like to complain to the institute where the declaration was drafted. The institute declined to comment on the situation Wednesday.

Residents likely will go to Town Hall, where, one town official says, he isn’t worried about the declaration’s effect. He thinks people know the difference between a geographical name stamped on ideas throughout history, and a notion that the town has not, and will not, endorse.

“I think people are smart enough and savvy enough to be able to separate the declaration from the right thing to do to halt the spread of the virus,” said Select Board Chairman Stephen Bannon. “All it’s saying is that it was crafted in Great Barrington. All I can think of is the Gettysburg Address.”

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or

413-329-6871. On Twitter @BE_hbellow.