The Great Barrington Declaration. Sounds heavy, yeah? Thunder of drums, hushed silence, and behold: A jagged stack of cruelty passing itself off as science that claims “herd immunity” is the way to get out from under the grinding crisis of COVID-19. In truth, it sounds like just more preposterous ooze from the primordial swamp of the far right, but for the fact that the White House has embraced it as the Trump administration’s defining COVID policy.
The idea is as simple as it is ruthless: It’s just too hard to wear masks, social distance and test people. The preppers and tough guys who swell the ranks of Trump’s most loyal supporters didn’t make it through April before unspooling at “freedom” rallies because they wanted a slice of pizza and a haircut. This Trump-promoted self-harm has grown into the Great Barrington Declaration, a bag of deeply dangerous quackery.
The bump in the road is the millions who have to die of COVID before this level of immunity is achieved. The declaration advocates for what is an almost casual sort of genocide that would disproportionately affect people of color, the elderly, the immunocompromised, and the unlucky tens of thousands who are healthy yet would still succumb to the virus, as so many otherwise-healthy people have already.
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The math is utterly appalling. At present, the U.S. has endured nearly 8 million COVID infections and almost 217,000 deaths. To reach the level of “herd immunity” advocated by the declaration, and now the White House, would require 156 million more people to become infected to reach the 50 percent herd immunity threshold. Under these circumstances, the death toll would skyrocket to more than a million people at the most conservative estimate.
Who are these alleged 9,000 signatories to this declaration? That’s actually a funny question, if you like fart jokes scrawled on the stall of a middle school bathroom. This thing that has been embraced by Trump and his people comes off for all the world like some elaborate prank.
As Truthout reporter Chris Walker noted, some of the names advocating the lazy slaughter of millions of people include Dr. I.P. Freely, Dr. Person Fakename and Dr. Johnny Bananas. One of the names, reports Walker, “is that of Harold Shipman, a doctor who was arrested in the late 1990s for killing 200 of his patients.”
With a minimal amount of effort, you can get 9,000 people to sign a petition stating that John F. Kennedy and Jim Morrison are living in sin with Amelia Earhart in a cold-water Paris flat. That does not make it worthy of national policy, especially when it is positively certain to get millions of people killed.
The Lancet, among the most widely respected scientific journals on the planet, was swift and severe in its condemnation of the Great Barrington Declaration, and of any who would espouse its poisoned ethos:
The arrival of a second wave and the realisation of the challenges ahead has led to renewed interest in a so-called herd immunity approach, which suggests allowing a large uncontrolled outbreak in the low-risk population while protecting the vulnerable. Proponents suggest this would lead to the development of infection-acquired population immunity in the low-risk population, which will eventually protect the vulnerable. This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.
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 health-care systems to provide acute and routine care.
Furthermore, there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection, and the endemic transmission that would be the consequence of waning immunity would present a risk to vulnerable populations for the indefinite future. Such a strategy would not end the COVID-19 pandemic but result in recurrent epidemics, as was the case with numerous infectious diseases before the advent of vaccination.
It would also place an unacceptable burden on the economy and health-care workers, many of whom have died from COVID-19 or experienced trauma as a result of having to practise disaster medicine.
“This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” When The Lancet comes down the mountain in so unequivocal and plain-text a fashion, it is time to stand up and pay attention.
“Despite the outbreak at the White House that also infected the first lady, their son and nearly a dozen top aides, Trump and his allies continue to downplay the virus, arguing that the country is ‘turning the corner’ and holding campaign events with thousands of supporters even as cases are increasing rapidly, especially in the Midwest,” reports The Washington Post. “Several advisers hoped Trump’s experience would move him to speak more empathetically about a virus that has killed at least 215,000 Americans and infected nearly 8 million. Instead, Trump has seemed further emboldened, flouting public health guidelines to convince voters that life is returning to normal.”
Trump’s championing of this Great Barrington nonsense is a desperation election-year tactic vomited up by Trump himself — to the dismay of most of his own people — meant to help him sidestep the catastrophic lack of testing and contact tracing taking place amid this still-uncontained pandemic. Pretty much the only people who embrace the “herd immunity” butchery approach are the ones who still believe COVID is a hoax, because Trump told them that was true, too. That is who he is talking to with this lethal nonsense.
Also, and not to be forgotten, this campaign push by Trump to consign millions to death as a means of papering over his failures is coming from a man who caught COVID, and likely only survived it because of the medical knowledge gleaned from those who were killed by his incompetence in those first bleak months of the crisis. “Trump is still breathing because of the medical data gathered from people he allowed to die,” I wrote on Tuesday. I stand by that assessment.
Trump is alive because he got the best treatment science can deliver, buttressed by data gathered from the corpses he has already caused. Upon recovery, he declared his intent to abandon millions more to a choking, solitary death so he can keep his job and salvage his junkyard ego. Not for one second does he think this Great Barrington Declaration will do anybody but him any good. It gets him out from under, and that is all that matters.
Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.