122 scientists from the UK and around the world held a summit today. They also published a letter in the Lancet about the UK government’s plan to end all lockdown restrictions on the 19th July.
Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences / Medical Sciences division at the University of Cambridge, opened proceedings with her statement that the government are pursuing a “dangerous and unethical experiment”. She explains that Covid transmission is primarily through airborne droplets, which means that people are particularly at risk when in close proximity to others or in enclosed spaces, especially if they are not well ventilated. A good, well fitting, mask can block between 60-90% of all particles, she explains. Prof. Greenhalgh believes that the govt’s decision to lift Covid restrictions is designed to increase cases and is likely to encourage super-spreader events.
Dr Richard Horton, the Editor in Chief of the Lancet, opened his statement by explaining that “there is a considerable escape of the Delta variant from immunity, derived from past infections and even from vaccination… The Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that, by October 1st, there will be over, an additional, 10,000 deaths” in the UK. The government is being “epidemiologically stupid” given that we are still only at 51% on the double-vaccination scale. Horton believes that Dr Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, is right to insist on continued restrictions, such as mask wearing and physical distancing, even amongst people who have already been vaccinated. Horton explains that between 1-in-20 to 1-in-10 people who get the virus continue to “have ongoing symptoms 3 months after a positive Covid test” and the worst hit are the most socially and economically deprived and those with existing disabilities. In other words, at least 10,000 people in every 100,000 will get long-Covid, an alarming figure given that the new Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, is predicting 100,000 cases a day after we lift restrictions on the 19th July. Horton stresses that the volume of people expected to get long-Covid is at least as important as the daily Covid death rate and that lifting restrictions is also likely to open to door to new variants of the virus. Horton concludes “it’s as if the govt believes that living with this virus means ignoring it or pretending that it does not exist.. It’s a plan that’s driven more by libertarian ideology than a prudent interpretation of the data”
An angry Dr Kailash Chand, the Honorary Vice President of the British Medical Association (BMA), exclaimed “I don’t subscribe to his (Boris Johnson’s) so-called science to let the virus rip loose through the community to give us immunity… The NHS entered the pandemic chronically under funded and under staffed and over the last 18 months its been devastated by two waves and the fallout… NHS staff have been left exposed and unprotected, their concerns have been completely ignored and many are suffering from unspeakable trauma… there are huge backlogs and millions of patients are waiting for routine care.” Dr Chand goes on to explain that if Sajid Javid is correct in his estimations of 100,000 Covid cases a day over the summer then even if the hospital admission rate is just 1% of that number, that’s still 1,000 new hospital admission daily and he asks the question “what will we have to sacrifice to meet these needs.. who will lose out?”
Dr Deepti Gurdasani, Clinical Epidemiologist and Senior Lecturer in Machine Learning at Queen Mary University, reminds us all that, last October, 7,000 scientist signed a memorandum in which they laid out the dangers of pursuing a “herd immunity strategy.” This was in response to “a dangerous and unethical strategy being promoted… by influential advocates and interest groups who went on to advise governments, including our own, asking governments to delay acting in September last year, which, we know now, led to tens of thousands of deaths.” Dr Gurdasani believes the government continues to pursue a “herd immunity through infection” strategy and finds this utterly indefensible given that we now have vaccines and just need to delay lifting restrictions long enough to allow the vaccination program to progress. The government “is letting the pandemic rip through the unvaccinated” population, which is “effectively herd immunity through infection.” The government is “effectively pursuing a disaster scenario and doing nothing to prevent it… this will create a generation blighted by a virus they could have been vaccinated against…why should we doom a generation to the impact of a virus when we ‘can’ protect them and vaccinate them?”
In the following Q&A section, Dr Rachel Clarke, an NHS Palliative care doctor and a member of the SPI(B) SAGE sub-committee, explained that the NHS is already over stretched with record breaking attendances. They’ve never been so inundated. Hospitals are so over-whelmed that they are being forced to cancel major cancer operations because all the intensive care beds are already filled with Covid patients. In fact, there are now over 5 million people waiting for operations in the UK and the more Covid patients we have being admitted into hospital the longer these other patients are going to have to wait for their operations.
Dr Horton also took the opportunity to press home that, in his view, the government isn’t ‘experimenting’ with ending lockdown early because when you ‘experiment’ you don’t know the conclusion of the experiment in advance. In his view “this has got nothing to do with data, nothing to do with experiments, this is ideology from the libertarian right…an appallingly politically driven position.”
Dr Gurdasani responded to a question about protecting school children to remind us that while vaccines are being trialed in younger children, children are not currently eligible for the vaccine, so lifting all restrictions would leave school children particularly vulnerable.
What seems to be clear to all of the Doctors and Scientists participating in the press conference is that ‘freedom day’ is not freedom day for a large number of people. It’s not freedom day for the unvaccinated (including children) or the most vulnerable and it’s not freedom day for the immunosuppressed or for the NHS staff and other invaluable key workers on the frontline that we all rely on. It’s also worth noting here that even a double vaccination only provides between 80 to 90% protection and there have already been cases of people being hospitalised even after having received both doses. The consensus is clear, delay ending lockdown until we’ve double vaccinated at least 70% of the population and the recommendation is to continue with simple restrictions of mask wearing and social distancing, even after this point, so as to limit spread and reduce the risk of further variants that might have the potential to ‘escape the vaccine’ (i.e. variants that might be impervious to, or at least more resilient against, the current batch of vaccines).
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