In a wide-ranging interview, Stanford professor of medicine Dr. Jay Bhattacharya explained 19 months after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic "what happened," detailing his stance on issues such as how it started, how it spread, the efficacy of lockdowns, and the development and distribution of the experimental vaccines.
Bhattacharya, with epidemiologists Martin Kulldorff of Harvard and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, is a co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, arguing for protecting the vulnerable while allowing those with little risk to go about their business.
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He is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and Stanford's Center for Demography and Economics of Health and Aging.
Among the highlights of the one-hour interview on "Uncommon Knowledge" with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution at Stanford:
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- Early in the pandemic, the World Health Organization was warning of an infection fatality rate of 3% or 4%, precipitating the lockdowns and other drastic measures. But Bhattacharya, in March 2020, postulated the rate was only about .01%, based on what happened in 2009 with the H1N1 virus. And he turned out to be right. [Dr. Anthony Fauci, in fact, said in a New England Journal of Medicine article published in March 2020 that the rate was probably less than 1% and could turn out to be around .01%.]
- Bhattacharya said that "when we found [the virus] had spread, the strategy to stop the disease from spreading down to zero was not possible."
- The premise behind the "focused protection" strategy in the Great Barrington Declaration is that there is a "huge gradient in the risk," with a 1,000- to 2,000-fold greater risk for an 85 year old compared to a 5 year old. The survival rate for those under 70, according to the CDC, is 99.5%. For those over 70, it's 95%. But the survival rate is much higher for those over 70 who have fewer than two comorbidities. About 80% of the reported COVID-19 deaths are people over 60.
- The unintended consequences of the lockdowns are immense, including the estimated 100 million people thrown into poverty, the missing treatments for cancer and other serious diseases, and the 1 in 4 young adults who reported to the CDC that they have considered suicide during the pandemic.
- The lockdowns favored the rich, the "laptop class," who had one-third the death rate of the poor. It was "almost a reversed focus protection; we exposed the vulnerable and protected the well-to-do young."
- "They were utterly blind -- Dr. Fauci most of all on this -- utterly blind to the harms of the lockdown."
- In public health there is a norm of "unanimity of messaging" on subjects such as smoking, where after decades of research and observation, it's clear that the practice has serious health consequences. But public health officials, particularly Fauci, applied that norm to COVID-19, in effect shutting down scientific debate before certain issues were established, such as how it spreads, the death rate and who is most vulnerable.
- Many scientists, he said, have told him, "I'm with you, but don't tell anybody." More than 60,000 have signed the Great Barrington Declaration, and some have lost their jobs as a result.
- The data show COVID-19 is not harmful to children, who have a 99.998% survival rate. But anyone who suggests that fact gets "jumped on." The New York Times, he noted, "spent all summer" on how dangerous COVID is for children. "I'm trying to think of a polite way to say it, but it was essentially a propaganda campaign -- to induce panic in the population," Bhattacharya said.
- Robinson brought up a favorable New Yorker magazine review of a book on "deaths of despair" allegedly resulting from the free enterprise system. He noted it shows that economists do understand the correlation between unemployment and alcoholism, drug abuse and other addictions. But the correlation "goes down the memory hole" if it's used to raise questions about the lockdowns.
- Bhattacharya compared the death rates in Florida, which limited lockdowns and lifted them as quickly as possible, to California, which continues to impose restrictions. Once you adjust for the fact that Florida has one of the oldest populations and California the youngest, the rates are nearly the same. "The disease had its way in both states, but California tormented its citizens in a way that Florida did not."
- He said the vaccines are effective in protecting against severe disease, and he would recommend them for someone who is older. But they don't stop the spread, as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has acknowledged. In highly vaccinated Israel and in Iceland, for example, there have been huge increases in cases. Coercing people to become vaccinated "is a poor tactic in public health. It breeds distrust and ultimately undermines itself in terms of effectiveness." Trust in public health "has been squandered," he said.
- The public health establishment in the U.S. and the world should apologize for failing the public and acknowledge "the incredibly unequal harms of the lockdown."
- It's a political decision whether or not to adopt a position taken by public health. "What happened during this pandemic is that many, many politicians outsourced their responsibility to the public to public health people." And that included Donald Trump, Bhattacharya affirmed. Politicians are accustomed to balancing competing interests. But they farmed out that responsibility to the public health officials.
- Fauci is focused on a single thing: infection control. "The idea that our entire social life can be upended by a narrow set of scientists, a narrow set of public health people, we have to build protections against that," Bhattacharya said.
See the interview:
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