I had no choice but to speak out against lockdowns. As a public-health scientist with decades of experience working on infectious-disease outbreaks, I couldn’t stay silent. Not when basic principles of public health are thrown out of the window. Not when the working class is thrown under the bus. Not when lockdown opponents were thrown to the wolves. There was never a scientific consensus for lockdowns. That balloon had to be popped.
Instead of understanding the pandemic, we were encouraged to fear it. Instead of life, we got lockdowns and death. We got delayed cancer diagnoses, worse cardiovascular-disease outcomes, deteriorating mental health, and a lot more collateral public-health damage from lockdown. Children, the elderly and the working class were the hardest hit by what can only be described as the biggest public-health fiasco in history.
With difficulty publishing, I decided to use my mostly dormant Twitter account to get the word out. I searched for tweets about schools and replied with a link to the Swedish study. A few of these replies were retweeted, which gave the Swedish data some attention. It also led to an invitation to write for the Spectator. In August, I finally broke into the US media with a CNN op-ed against school closures. I know Spanish, so I wrote a piece for CNN-Español. CNN-English was not interested.
Something was clearly amiss with the media. Among infectious-disease epidemiology colleagues that I know, most favour focused protection of high-risk groups instead of lockdowns, but the media made it sound like there was a scientific consensus for general lockdowns.
In September, I met Jeffrey Tucker at the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), an organisation I had never heard of before the pandemic. To help the media gain a better understanding of the pandemic, we decided to invite journalists to meet with infectious-disease epidemiologists in Great Barrington, New England, to conduct more in-depth interviews. I invited two scientists to join me, Sunetra Gupta from the University of Oxford, one of the world’s pre-eminent infectious-disease epidemiologists, and Jay Bhattacharya from Stanford University, an expert on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations. To the surprise of AIER, the three of us also decided to write a declaration arguing for focused protection instead of lockdowns. We called it the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD).
Opposition to lockdowns had been deemed unscientific. When scientists spoke out against lockdowns, they were ignored, considered a fringe voice, or accused of not having proper credentials. We thought it would be hard to ignore something authored by three senior infectious-disease epidemiologists from what were three respectable universities. We were right. All hell broke loose. That was good.
Some colleagues threw epithets at us like ‘crazy’, ‘exorcist’, ‘mass murderer’ or ‘Trumpian’. Some accused us of taking a stand for money, though nobody paid us a penny. Why such a vicious response? The declaration was in line with the many pandemic preparedness plans produced years earlier, but that was the crux. With no good public-health arguments against focused protection, they had to resort to mischaracterisation and slander, or else admit they had made a terrible, deadly mistake in their support of lockdowns.
Some lockdown proponents accused us of raising a strawman, as lockdowns had worked and were no longer needed. Just a few weeks later, the same critics lauded the reimposition of lockdowns during the very predictable second wave. We were told that we had not specified how to protect the old, even though we had described ideas in detail on our website and in op-eds. We were accused of advocating a ‘let it rip’ strategy, even though focused protection is its very opposite. Ironically, lockdowns are a dragged-out form of a let-it-rip strategy, in which each age group is infected in the same proportion as a let-it-rip strategy.
When writing the declaration, we knew we were exposing ourselves to attacks. That can be scary, but as Rosa Parks said: ‘I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.’ Also, I did not take the journalistic and academic attacks personally, however vile – and most came from people I had never even heard of before. The attacks were not primarily addressed at us anyhow. We had already spoken out and would continue to do so. Their main purpose was to discourage other scientists from speaking out.
What bizarro world had I entered? Mask mandates were over, and yet here I was in some weird anxiety zone for the masked who continue to feel they are in perpetual danger. It was as if I were sullying some sacred pure-living temple by breathing freely. Were these 49 shoppers simply Linuses unwilling to let go of their security blankets? Or were they more like robotic Stepford wives, preprogrammed and obedient? I will admit to mumbling “sheep” and “lemmings” and other things under my breath.