The stalemate is over whether countries should protect the vulnerable and let the younger people — who face low risk of being severely impacted by Covid-19 — go about their lives and in the process lead to natural immunity, or whether they should reject this idea and implement measures leading to suppression of the disease.
This week, 400 scientists published a letter, known as the John Snow Memorandum, declaring that the idea of depending on herd immunity through natural infection is unethical. Named after the scientist considered as the father of modern epidemiology, the scientists who signed on the letter said such an approach would lead to higher mortality and also overwhelm the health systems.
This letter was in response to an earlier declaration, known as The Great Barrington Declaration, signed by epidemiologists and public health experts, including 2013 Nobel Prize winner Micheal Levitt, who have criticised the use of lockdowns to control the spread of the disease.
“Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for Covid-19 is flawed. Uncontrolled transmission in younger people risks significant morbidity and mortality across the whole population. In addition to the human cost, this would impact the workforce as a whole and overwhelm the ability of healthcare systems to provide acute and routine care,” the John Snow letter said.
It added that continuing restrictions will probably be required in the short term to reduce transmission and fix ineffective pandemic response systems in order to prevent future lockdowns.
The John Snow group believes that the purpose of these restrictions is to effectively suppress SARS-CoV-2 infections to low levels that allow rapid detection of localised outbreaks and rapid response through efficient and comprehensive find, test, trace, isolate and support systems, so life can return to near-normal without the need for generalised restrictions.
This is where the Great Barrington Declaration differs. It says the most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. “We call this focused protection”, the signatories explain.
Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice, the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration say.