Don’t be fooled by the Barrington Declaration


Even as COVID-19 infection rates are rising, there are people out there lobbying for decreased diligence. Open all the businesses! Party on! If everyone gets the disease, we’ll acquire herd immunity! That latter is from people who previously pooh-poohed the concept in order to defend anti-vaxxers, who now don’t give a damn if a few million people die in order to reach the unreachable goal. Worst of all, the right-wing think tanks are backing the nonsense. A small group of conservative shills have formulated something they call the Barrington Declaration.

The declaration, which calls for an immediate resumption of “life as normal” for everyone except the “vulnerable”, is written by three science professors from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, giving it the sheen of academic respectability. But there is much to set alarm bells ringing. It makes claims about herd immunity – the idea that letting the virus rip among less vulnerable groups will allow a degree of population-level immunity to build up which will eventually protect the more vulnerable – that are unsupported by existing scientific evidence. The professors do not define who is “vulnerable”, nor do they set out a workable plan for shielding them. The declaration sets itself up against a straw proposal that nobody is arguing for – a full-scale national lockdown until a vaccine is made available. There is no acknowledgement of the massive scientific uncertainty that exists with a new disease.

It’s coming out of an organization called the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), which, as you might guess from the name, is not a medical or scientific institution, but one focused on making money for its sponsors or throwing out noise to prevent sensible initiatives that might save lives, but reduce profits. It’s fake.

The statement claims to have been signed by more than 6,000 medical scientists, but anyone can sign up claiming to be one (there are a number of fake medical signatories on the list, including a Dr Harold Shipman). When Sky News pressed one of the co-authors on this, he said: “We do not have the resources to audit each signature.” Consider what this approach would mean for scientific endeavour were it applied more broadly. And what are scientists doing fronting a campaign whose back office is run by a thinktank that flirts with climate change denial?

(The Shipman name is fake, I hope, since Dr Harold Shipman was a serial killer who committed suicide.)

This phony declaration business is a familiar tactic used by cranks, quacks, and profiteers, and I’ve run into it many times. There are a lot of gullible people who fall for it, though — false authority is a useful tool to sway the suckers, I guess. But today I first learned that there is a handy, succinct name for it from David Gorski.

I’ll discuss why that’s the case in a moment, but first I’d like to take a trip down memory lane to revisit various examples of science denialists using similar “declarations,” “petitions,” and “open letters” to give the false appearance of strong scientific support for their positions. Why? Because declarations like this, although they can be used for good (such as when US climate scientists recently signed an open letter to Congress reaffirming the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the primary driver of climate change and the overall warming of the climate), more frequently such letters are propaganda for pseudoscience. Indeed, such “declarations,” “open letters,” and “petitions” signed by physicians and scientists represent a technique that goes back at least to the tobacco companies lining up lists of doctors to testify to the safety of cigarettes. (One particularly ludicrous example from R.J. Reynolds in the 1940s claimed that 113,597 doctors preferred their cigarettes.) The idea was (and is) to give the false impression of a scientific controversy where none exists and to appeal to the authority of scientists and doctors to support their claims. It’s a technique that John Cook has referred to as the “magnified minority”:

Nice, “magnified minority”. I’ll remember that.

As usual, Gorski is thorough in describing past “magnified minority” operations, and documents the phony signatures on this one, as well as the absurdity of their proposal and AIER’s shady history as a climate change denialist outfit funded by the Koch brothers. Really, why anyone listens to anything by them is beyond me at this point: “funded by the Koch brothers” ought to be the kiss of death for any organization.

Comments

  1. davidnangle says

    It occurred to me quite a while ago that if I was a sociopathic billionaire, one with quite a bit of influence, that it might kind of work in my favor if about 4 billion of the poorest people just died and got out of my way. Got off of my lawn.

    I think it occurred to a number of influential sociopathic billionaires, too. It would neatly explain a few things, like trump and 2020 and so on.

  2. raven says

    If everyone gets the disease, we’ll acquire herd immunity!

    Once again.
    Herd immunity is a myth right now!!!

    .1. The estimates are 60-90% infected.
    The range is so broad because we have zero idea what percentage is needed.
    .2. It could take years to get to herd immunity.
    The USA at almost a year is 10% right now.
    Estimates are 3-10 years which means, no one knows and they are guessing.

    .3. “35-year study hints that Coronavirus immunity doesn’t last long”
    We may never be able to reach herd immunity anyway. A study shows that the other 4 human Coronaviruses yield immunity that lasts about a year.
    It’s known Covid-19 confers immunity but not known how long that lasts

  3. raven says

    Point 3 needs a little explanation.
    .1. 35-year study hints that Coronavirus immunity doesn’t last long, article below.
    .2. Does this mean Covid-19 immunity will only last a year? No.
    We don’t know right now, only way to find out is to wait and see, do the large real time experiment.
    If it doesn’t then we will never reach herd immunity no matter how long we wait.

    The idiots advocating for herd immunity are cosmically dumb and advocating for mass murder!!!
    There are two ways to get to herd immunity.
    Raging pandemic that kills 3 million Americans and permanently disables a lot more millions than that.
    Or, a vaccine, which immunologically mimics the pandemic without the mass murder and disability.

    35-year study hints that coronavirus immunity doesn’t last long
    By Nicoletta Lanese – Staff Writer 9 days ago

    Coronaviruses that cause the common cold can infect people repeatedly, hinting that immunity to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 might be similarly short-lived.

    In a new study, published Sept. 14 in the journal Nature Medicine, scientists monitored 10 individuals for more than 35 years to determine how often they became infected with the four known seasonal coronaviruses. Since these viruses — known as HCoV-NL63, HCoV-229E, HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 — either cause mild symptoms of the common cold or no symptoms at all, the team periodically screened the participants’ blood for antibodies to spot new cases of infection.

    When blood samples show an increase in the number of antibodies targeting a specific virus, as compared with prior samples, that means that the person’s immune system is fighting off a new infection. The researchers determined how steep this shift in antibody levels had to be to constitute a confirmed infection, rather than random fluctuation.

    “The new data show that immunity to other coronaviruses tends to be short-lived, with reinfections happening quite often about 12 months later and, in some cases, even sooner,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), wrote in a commentary about the research. In a few instances, reinfections occurred as early as six months and nine months after a prior infection, the study authors found.

    The 10 study participants were all part of the Amsterdam Cohort Studies (ACS) on HIV-1 infection and AIDS, a study of the prevalence, incidence and risk factors for HIV infection that began in the 1980s. The participants, all HIV-negative, gave blood samples every three to six months throughout the study, providing 513 samples in total.
    continues, deleted for length

  4. hemidactylus says

    Well this death metal anthem acquires newfound meaning or at least serves as my soundtrack while leaping unwillingly lemminglike into the herd immunity pit of oblivion:

    https://youtu.be/MxnVuvywUUQ

    And for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the rest who can escape to the Martian Galt’s Gulch:

    https://youtu.be/KSSEzWXqGKY

    Amor fati I suppose. Our brief moment of Pollyannaish Pinkerdom was fun while it lasted…for some.

  5. KG says

    Facts about Dr. Sunetra Gupta, one of the originators of the “Great Barrington Declaration” according to the Wikipedia article on her;

    In March 2020, Gupta and colleagues published models for the coronavirus pandemic contrasting to earlier models produced elsewhere. Their model suggested that up to 68% of the population could already have been infected, suggesting broader immunity and a subsiding threat.

    In May 2020, Gupta told UnHerd in an interview that she believed that “the epidemic has largely come and is on its way out in [the UK]. So, I think [the infection fatality rate] would be definitely less than one in a thousand, and probably closer to one in ten thousand.

    Approaching 60,000 people have already died of Covid-19 in the UK (according to death certificates). So if the IFR is 1 in 1,000, almost everyone must have been infected (if infection confers immunity even for a few months). If it’s 1 in 10,000, they must all have been infected an average of between 9 and 10 times. And yet, yesterday over 17,000 new cases (confirmed by a positive test) and 143 deaths (within 28 days of a positive test) were reported. IANAD, but I can diagnose that Dr. Gupta is absolutely full of shit.

  6. PaulBC says

    davidnangle@1 If they dissolved away like Thanos’ finger snap, sure. If 4 billion bodies have to be disposed of, I’m pretty sure that even the billionaires are going to have a lot of trouble preserving any claim to their wealth in the catastrophe.

    In 2008, the superrich were freaking out over a problem that was limited to financial books and could have literally been solved just by changing our collective beliefs about how various numbers are assigned to various entities. There was a big push for “luxury bunkers” and New Zealand citizenship was in vogue among those who could buy it. I’m sure they’re freaking out just as much now. It will just take a couple of years to percolate into the public view.

  7. raven says

    BTW, the choice between a healthy economy or a raging pandemic is a completely false one.
    You can’t have both.

    .1. If the pandemic is raging, people aren’t going to just go about their lives like nothing is happening. Like they are rabbits in the road, watching those headlights coming right at them.
    They will do what we are doing now, wearing masks, not going out much, avoiding indoor crowds, sheltering in place as a possible, not flying in planes unless it is absolutely unavoidable, etc..

    Humans have a well developed drive to avoid, you know, dying.

    .2. Which means the economy will look like what it looks like right now.
    Even in the few states that didn’t lock down de jure, most of them were in fact, locked down by people who didn’t want to get sick and die.

  8. PaulBC says

    raven@8 Maybe the dirty little secret is that we have not had a healthy economy for years, but it hasn’t stopped the rich from getting much richer. I am not super-rich by any means, but I’m shocked and a little disgusted by how well my investments have recovered since last Spring.

    That doesn’t mean I’m giving any of it away, but the fact is that something very strange is going on right now, and from the standpoint of the very wealthy, just letting people get this disease might seem totally fine (as does letting people go homeless, letting people die of opioid addiction, letting kids grow up with inadequate education or even job training, letting undrinkable water flow to poor neighborhoods, etc.)

    Yes, if we as a nation cared about our own people, there would not be a choice, but if we primarily care about preserving capital, it may look very tempting just to let a lot of people “die and decrease the surplus population.”

  9. says

    This shit is poisoning the discourse here in EU too. In CZ, our former president, a rabid libertarian and a professional asshole, has promoted it publically, seriously undermining the governments and health experts attempts at getting things under control.

  10. rgmani says

    I took a look at the “Great Barrington Declaration” a while before reading Gorski’s critique of it and a couple of things immediately stood out in my mind.

    For starters, it was very hand-wavey. There is very little detail on how their proposed policies would be implemented. The one concrete recommendation in their proposal is to staff nursing homes with people who already had immunity to the disease. How are you supposed to tell who has immunity? Antibody tests are known to be unreliable, we already know that reinfection is possible and we don’t have the slightest clue how widespread it is due to that fact that so many Covid carriers are asymptomatic. And even assuming that we figure out a way of accurately testing for immunity, is it realistically possible to find enough immune caregivers to staff every nursing home in the country? And what of the vulnerable who don’t live in nursing homes?

    The second problem I had with it is that it was based on false premises. They keep talking of lockdowns but we have not been in a lockdown in the US for quite some time. Yes, many states have restrictions but a lot of businesses including restaurants are open. Then they blame the (nonexistent) lockdown for lower vaccination rates. However, governments everywhere have been recommending that people do not put off vaccination and other important medical procedures. If people have been staying away, it is because of their own misgivings and not because the government prevented them.

    Then I read Gorski’s article yesterday and was pleased to see that he had some of the same issues that I did with this “declaration”. I also saw an interview with one of the authors of this declaration and there was no attempt to ask any probing questions. I am no doctor and I could instantly see the issues with this proposal. Why is it that the media are completely unable to?

  11. PaulBC says

    Are all the signatories who do not qualify as high risk intentionally exposing themselves to COVID-19 in the interest of “herd immunity” or is that just for the little people?

    (Honestly, it could go either way. The White House sure has its own death cult going on. If Trump had head lice, would we all be trying to follow suit?)

  12. kaleberg says

    With regards to herd immunity, I always say, “You first. You’re part of the herd.”

  13. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    don’t tell me what Orac has to say about this. [fingers in ears] /S
    I’m sure Orac would have a lot to say about this in a very informative way.
    Excuse me for not providing a pointer to his site.

    I can’t get past how herd immunity is achieved. I understand it to be the result of vaccinating the entire population, having at least 70% rate of efficacy, as no vaccination is 100% effective.
    Achieving herd immunity without vaccination requires subjecting the entire population to the disease, which for one with a 10% mortality rate, is an unacceptable cost.
    I can’t believe public authorities would advocate going in this direction of mass fatalities to keep the economy open. I thinks lives have more priority than money

  14. Allison says

    Their model suggested that up to 68% of the population could already have been infected,

    According to https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus, 10% of the tests are positive; I think that is a rough upper bound on the number of people who have been infected (I don’t know if a positive test means that the person has been infected.)

  15. Bernard Bumner says

    The reference to Harold Shipman is probably a sick joke, and definitely doesn’t refer to a registered medical doctor from the UK.

    It is particularly unpleasant, since he was not merely a serial killer but targeted his own, mainly elderly, NHS patients. His probably more than 250 victims are not a distant historical memory, either.

  16. Rich Woods says

    @KG #6:

    Approaching 60,000 people have already died of Covid-19 in the UK (according to death certificates). So if the IFR is 1 in 1,000, almost everyone must have been infected (if infection confers immunity even for a few months).

    How dare you use simple arithmetic to show that the exalted Dr Sunetra Gupta is a blithering sack of HPV-pustulent rimjobs!

  17. unclefrogy says

    disgusting propaganda and bullshit trying to convince people to do nothing that would cost money since they are the ones with the money. belief over reality. even with the most conservative estimate used none of the advocates dare put a real number on the death and crippling that their proposal would result in. just the rosie result which is in no way a . we are still subject to many viruses for thousands of years and have not managed to develop any long term immunity. so why is this one different?
    uncle frogy

  18. PaulBC says

    unclefrogy@22

    disgusting propaganda and bullshit trying to convince people to do nothing that would cost money since they are the ones with the money

    I said it already in @9 but this is precisely what they have said about homelessness, loss of living-wage jobs, education, the opioid epidemic, lead in drinking water, etc.

    There may be some reasons that the message seems shocking in the present context (probably because you can’t keep a virus confined to poor people) but is a remarkably consistent message that fits perfectly into a coherent and evil worldview. It is not a mistake.

    From their standpoint, the mistake was to try to do anything at all, and starting in May or so, they were able to “correct” this effectively.

  19. says

    Before I delve in more deeply, let me draw a deep breath and yell
    HERD IMMUNITY IS WHAT YOU GET FROM VACCINES; NOT FROM INFECTIONS; YOU WRONGLY FILED TAX RETURNS

    Problem with shit like the Barrington declaration is that it starts with quite a lot of reasonable points, negative effects of the pandemic not caused by Covid, but our measures, points that are all too often handwaved away, neglected or frankly not even discussed.
    Let me quote the start of it:

    Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.

    We know that check ups are way down, for quite some months no medical practitioner would do anything that was not urgent. And it will come to bite us in the ass if we come out of Covid just to have major measles outbreaks. And I haven’t heard anything about this from health officials. That’s a problem. That’s a concern for parents.
    Mental health is another big issue. I’ve seen my best friend suffer from being alone, from not being able to see her dad with Alzheimer’s. As a result she is now saying that she no longer cares and would rather die from Covid than be alone again. I don’t know what will happen should they ban access to nursing homes again, and frankly, you cannot force those residents into complete isolation again either.
    And last but not least the point about schools. When schools closed down my concern was not ” how much subject matter will they miss”, my main concern was “how many of them will be beaten, abused, mistreated and traumstized? Will they have sufficient access to food, especially now that they aren’t getting free fruit anymore?” and my concerns were fully justified. Now that school has started again we see so many children with severe behavioural issues, many more than usual (and believe me, I’m used to a lot). We are in constant contact with CPS about kids, and the kids I work with are at least old enough to be able to say what happened during lockdown.
    And I saw how my own children suffered, how their world became so small, despite us being privileged as fuck and them never having to worry about food or violence. And slowly, carefully,we could give them a tiny bit of normalcy again, slightly open up their worlds. Only to just have it crash down around our ears again now.
    You see, the people behind the declaration are smart. It’s not addressed towards top notch scientists, though I think that poor Prof. Drosten had to read it, it’s aimed at ordinary people with real, but largely ignored concerns.

  20. raven says

    …ban access to nursing homes again, and frankly, you cannot force those residents into complete isolation again either.

    It turns out to be very difficult to completely isolate nursing home patients from the outside world.
    They have high staff ratios to patients and those staff work an 8 hour day and go home.
    And come back the next day.
    If you don’t have a comprehensive plan in place and high levels of testing, it isn’t going to work.
    The more virus that is circulating in the community, the harder it is, of course.

    The best way to protect the high risk vulnerable population is to control the pandemic like we have being doing so far, with varying rates of success.

  21. birgerjohansson says

    There is a cottage industry of denialism and astroturf organisations funded by billionaires. It started with the cigarette industry, in 2010 the vacuuous Tea Party was initiated by the same forces and- of course- the most damaging factor of all is climate science denialism.
    As denying reality with increasingly sophisticated tools become a standard tactic by industries and political groups it is obvious small, incremental improvements of society is much harder to do than in the sixties or seventies.

  22. PaulBC says

    @24 Yes, a protracted lockdown is incredibly damaging. On the other hand, if there had been a consistent national lockdown policy until cases came down the level where contact tracing was feasible, we’d be in a position to open schools now and shut them down only as needed for isolated outbreaks. Instead we’ve let it fester with an absolutely half-assed approach. We still have a lot of sick people and we still have people isolated at home or in limbo about what to do about school. Note: I think my kids’ high school is doing an adequate job with remote learning, and my company has barely skipped a beat in setting up 100% WFH. Lower grades pose a more difficult problem. Some jobs can’t be done remotely. And yes, to the extent that school protects kids from an abusive home situation, that’s gone too.

    Other things like opening restaurants for indoor dining should never have been prioritized. There is very little benefit compared to the risk. The fact that people know there’s a pandemic and many personally take it seriously by wearing masks has probably mitigated the situation, but the US response has been a disgrace across the board.

  23. bcwebb says

    I’m going with the Paddington declaration – give everyone stuck at home because of COVID19 a teddy bear to make them feel better.

  24. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @9: I think Raven is wholly right, and even the business class know it. I listen to business radio as it is often a very good source of news, and while they are ludicrously callous and ridiculously sanguine, even they are very clearly worried about multiple dips in a recession. Enough of the business class are apparently incompetent frauds that there is not consensus on this, but anyone who is not an utter moron can obviously tell that worker productivity, consumer confidence, and other metrics are not going up. They can delude themselves all they like but they still depend on workers for productivity and consumers to buy stuff. And people simply do not tend to buy as much, or to buy in areas that these people want them to, when they are mourning family members.

  25. PaulBC says

    @29 Maybe so, but there does not seem to be much of a push to do anything. The pandemic is still raging, and oddly the stock market is just doing it’s own thing (of course it could crash any minute, who knows?).

  26. unclefrogy says

    anyone who is not an utter moron can obviously tell that worker productivity, consumer confidence, and other metrics are not going up. They can delude themselves all they like but they still depend on workers for productivity and consumers to buy stuff

    the smart money knows that and is taking this serious, the clever ones who just take advantage of the system and only care about their personal bottom line will do anything in the short run to make money. They would all change their minds if their profits were guaranteed by the government. they are kind of stuck seeing only money without seeing that the holly market is made of people and the more people have more money the more they can participate in the market of goods and services giving them more profits. It is also one of the reasons they do not see racial discrimination as so much of a problem.
    Short sighted and narrow minded and dumb as a post.
    uncle frogy

  27. consciousness razor says

    Maybe so, but there does not seem to be much of a push to do anything. The pandemic is still raging, and oddly the stock market is just doing it’s own thing (of course it could crash any minute, who knows?).

    The rich were already the ones who had practically all of the money to spend. That’s hardly news, but here’s something from Pew Research anyway: 6 facts about economic inequality in the U.S.

    From the first item: the top 20% got more than half of all income in 2018. You’ll notice that the bottom 20% got very little, so they were not going to be good little shoppers anyway. Their job is to be wage slaves for the upper classes. If you looked closer, at the bottom 10% or whatever, then of course they’re in even worse shape than those just above them…. It’s effectively less than nothing for those buried in debt, which can be as simple as having to pay your fucking rent. Because of course the people who actually own something deserve all of your money.

    And that’s why the government which literally creates all of our dollars “can’t afford” to spend anything. Maybe if times were tough, but as everybody knows, too much spending in an economy that doesn’t need more money could drive up inflation. We could be like Zimbabwe, if you don’t know anything about Zimbabwe…? Yep, that’s totally a big concern right now, when so many are unemployed and we’re going to be stuck in a very long recession. Just to be extra safe, we have to ensure our cheap plastic crap is going to be affordable for the class of people who still have money to spend on it. They must be out there somewhere.

  28. puzzlecraig says

    I concur with @bcwebb: more teddy bears for everyone. I’ve been hugging mine so much since this all began, that they’re going to need a trip to a stuffy rehab when this is over.

  29. consciousness razor says

    And that’s why the government which literally creates all of our dollars “can’t afford” to spend anything.

    Sorry, I meant they don’t spend anything to address the numerous problems with our country. But obviously Congress spares no expense for things that matter to rich assholes. Their favorite lobbyists just need to hand them the legislation they’ll never read, and the deal is done.

  30. jrkrideau says

    You know@ 8 Pierce Butler

    My neighbors inside the city limits also get to vote on whether to change the “Clerk of the Commission” job title to “City Clerk”.

    Totally amazing. That’s why we elect city councilors. It is their job and the job of the city level civil servants to handle such minutae.

    @ 13 billseymour

    Almost, although dog catcher is likely appointed, not elected.

    Damn, I am disappointed. I really had hoped the dog catcher was elected.

    Running through your list , it is mind boggling. Our form of parliamentary government is so different that it makes it close to impossible to understand how yours works.

    To pick a few points, the idea of electing a judge is almost incomprehensible. A judge in Canada is appointed in the name of the Queen to administer Justice. If he or she fails, the Bar and the rest of the Judiciary will see that he or she is removed. This, of course, is the ideal case and we have had some very bad incidents but that’s basically how it works. Having some candidate for a judgeship pander to various political parties or interested groups strikes us as bizarre. And extremely undesirable.

    Because of our government structure we do not directly vote for the Premier; most of the other positions such as the equivalence of Secretary of State ,Treasurer, and Attorney General are simply cabinet posts in a Premier’s government and serve at his or her pleasure.

    The equivalent of a state Governor is a Premier and he is not elected directly. The provincial election occurs at a different times than a Federal Election and usually has very little to do with federal politics. Generally the party leader with the most members in the House becomes the Premier. Likewise at the Federal level

    Elections for City or County or Township Councils will be held at a completely different times than a provincial or federal election.

    Various other positions usually are decided in Parliament not in a referendum. We very, very, seldom have a referendum. I think we’ve had two in the last 200 years.

    This reads a little incoherently but I hope it makes some sense.

  31. bionichips says

    I live in NJ and get the Newark Star Ledger which is one of the biggest newspapers in the state and is on the whole quite liberal with the token conservative columnist Paul Mushine who pushed this POS yesterday. His shtick is:
    1. Take the mantle of a well respected scientist (yesterday RIchard Feynmman)
    2. FInd an anti-science fringe paper (like this)
    3. Claim if you haven’t read the fringe paper in question you are not qualified to judge if this paper is correct or not and therefore must accept it as true.

    I researched the Barrington declaration paper and found a lot more holes in it then people here had the time to say. And that was in 15 minutes. I was too lazy yesterday to research Dr. Shipman and was unaware of how “well played” it was.
    I did not consider the full ramifications that the sponsering institute was NOT a scientific or acadamic institution – thanks for pointing that out.

    I expect in the right wing world, this will take on the mantle of the bible if it has not already.

  32. PaulBC says

    @36

    To pick a few points, the idea of electing a judge is almost incomprehensible. A judge in Canada is appointed in the name of the Queen to administer Justice. If he or she fails, the Bar and the rest of the Judiciary will see that he or she is removed.

    Failure to administer justice sounds like a hard thing to establish objectively.

  33. wzrd1 says

    One thing I’ve been seeing repeatedly is, folks going on and on about antibody titers. Having a detectable antibody titer above 1.74 is suggestive of immunity, lower or dropping below that does not also imply a loss of immunity. That’s why we possess memory B and T cells, their job is to remember the “recipe” for the antibody to specific triggering antigens and they then jump into overdrive producing antibodies against the pathogen that triggered the previous immune response during infection.
    As an example, it’s quite likely that I have absolutely no smallpox suppressing antibodies detectable in my body, my last smallpox vaccination being in 2005. Given the discovered fading of immunity, as those memory cells die off, I’m still within the window of being quite comfortable being exposed to monkeypox, camelpox or other orrthopox virus family member, due to cross reactivity by those particular antibodies. I’d not be comfortable at all, were PZ exposed, as his vaccination date was most likely long enough ago as to make it worthless today for protection from an orthopox virus, to pick on our host as a fairly common example. Military and some public health responders have to receive a smallpox vaccination before deployment to protect against those viral families, as occasionally, monkeypox does jump to humans and has a short transmission chain – thankfully.
    That vaccine is also, as a matter of trivia, our most dangerous of our vaccines, with around 1% of recipients having serious and some, life threatening effects. Which is why it’s no longer in widespread usage. Going from memory, the vaccine actually killed around 0.1% of recipients, so yeah, it’s wildly dangerous compared to anything in common usage today.
    Oral polio vaccine is #2 in hazards, with reassortment in the wild not exceptionally uncommon, so it’s used in areas where the polio virus is still rampant and not used where it’s been eliminated.
    If one wants to test for actual immunity, one would have to inject SARS-nCoV-2 antigens into blood or for more accuracy, into a patient and monitor for a swift antibody response, similar to as is done via a tuberculin tine test, minus looking for weal with induration and more looking for antibodies being detected rapidly. Such a test currently does not exist, but a fairly simple modification of whatever vaccine eventually gets approved would work quite well as a proxy, as a rapid response in antibody production, beyond what’s currently observed from vaccination would suffice as a stimulus for an immune response to a “known” to the immune system pathogen.

    As for patients that were reinfected, well, not everyone produces antibodies that are the same as everyone else, it’s not some master cookbook that all of our immune systems have, so their antibodies may well be much more narrow and strain specific. That’s one avenue that is being investigated, out of many.

  34. PaulBC says

    I finally had a chance to read more of this nonsense

    Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.

    I am not young at age 55 or especially low risk, but I am working “normally” in my line of work and I’m doing it from home. I expect this normal to continue long after the risk of this particular virus diminishes.

    How is it “normal” to expect people to drive in heavy traffic, sometimes for up to an hour just to do the same work in an “open plan” office with the constant distraction of coworkers and zero privacy that they can do from home? I was reluctant to work from home much in the past because I didn’t feel like I had a suitable space for it. I did it one day a week when my commute was by train to SF and only rarely after I reduced it to a bike commute.

    But now I know that having a door I can shut behind me is a huge win even if it means sharing the house with school-age kids.

    And yes, there are some advantages to random interactions with colleagues and live meetings, so maybe going to the office one or two days a week is beneficial, but the burden of proof needs to be reversed on what is “normal.”

    I get that not everyone has this kind of work, but those of us who do can at least keep the offices less crowded for everyone else. The “open plan” office is one of the worst ideas to come down the pike. I miss having a cubicle, which is about the right level of privacy. The pandemic has been the first good change in my working environment in 20 years.

  35. PaulBC says

    wzrd1@39

    As for patients that were reinfected, well, not everyone produces antibodies that are the same as everyone else, it’s not some master cookbook that all of our immune systems have, so their antibodies may well be much more narrow and strain specific.

    That’s a great point and one that’s often overlooked. I’m not sure how ID/creationists can convince themselves that their immune system works at all, because it sure isn’t designing the myriad antibodies it has to generate to get ones to match a pathogen.

  36. chrislawson says

    A quick clarification: herd immunity is simply the state of having so many immune people in a population that a given disease cannot cause an outbreak. It is not defined by whether it is achieved by immunisation or natural exposure. Even before a vaccine was available, most human populations achieved natural herd immunity to chicken pox in adults (obviously not in children).

    However, as a public health strategy, it only makes sense as an immunisation program.

    It is an inescapable logical conclusion that calling for herd immunity for COVID without an immunisation program is the same as saying that we should maximise the number of deaths, ICU admissions, and permanent post-infective complications. This is, of course, the exact opposite of public health.

  37. PaulBC says

    @43

    It is an inescapable logical conclusion that calling for herd immunity for COVID without an immunisation program is the same as saying that we should maximise the number of deaths

    Or something like, let’s get all the deaths out of the way this year so we don’t have the same deaths next year. It is clearly an irrational response at least from the standpoint of death reduction. Is it optimizing anything? Maybe attention span?

    I have a pretty simple goal which is that even if I believe I will inevitably contract this virus and that it will possibly kill me, then I still want to put off that event as long as I feasibly can. People have gone to a lot more trouble than wearing a mask to hold on to another 6 months or a year of life.

  38. PaulBC says

    Sorry (I should try to complete my thoughts), the “Let ‘er rip!” strategy maximizes viral load. If you make some effort to control the spread, you have some hope of tracking it. You have some hope that sufficiently isolated places will not be exposed at all. You have fewer new strains evolving in a large population, some of which may be worse (more contagious or more harmful).

    Even if “young people” are all asymptomatic carriers (they’re not), they’re basically out there working on behalf of the virus, making a lot more of it than if they were taking precautions. We missed the window to eradicate it, but early action would have made that feasible (as with SARS). We could still drop it to the point where outbreaks were isolated and trackable. The approach of letting everyone get it basically guarantees that we have a new scourge to add among the world’s diseases and a new required vaccination. How is this a good outcome?

  39. canadiansteve says

    @PaulBC 38

    Failure to administer justice sounds like a hard thing to establish objectively.

    Indeed, only egregious cases ever reach disciplinary levels, but there have been numerous examples still, including one I recall where a judge made misogynistic comments to a complainant and was disciplined for this behaviour, as well as the case being retried. So there is at least some indication it sets at least a minimal bar for judges behaviour in court.

  40. says

    raven

    It turns out to be very difficult to completely isolate nursing home patients from the outside world.

    Of course it is, yet in Spring we isolated them as much as possible. No visitors at all. No leaving the premises to go shopping, one of the small things that makes more mobile residents feel a tiny level of independence. And healthcare workers themselves made great sacrifices, keeping themselves isolated as much as possible. People died alone in hospital. And no matter how nice your nurse is, they will not be a substitute for your children or spouse.

    PaulBC

    Yes, a protracted lockdown is incredibly damaging. On the other hand, if there had been a consistent national lockdown policy until cases came down the level where contact tracing was feasible, we’d be in a position to open schools now and shut them down only as needed for isolated outbreaks…Note: I think my kids’ high school is doing an adequate job with remote learning, and my company has barely skipped a beat in setting up 100% WFH. .. And yes, to the extent that school protects kids from an abusive home situation, that’s gone too.

    That’s what we did in Germany, and then we opened too much too quickly. Now, if the data from before the autumn break is to be believed, schools didn’t become a massive driver of the infection. Whenever there’s a case at school, the class and teachers are sent into quarantine and tested. So far there are few secondary infections from schools. Don’t get me wrong, there are still huge problems in school. With winter around the corner they just tell us to “keep ventilating the rooms” and tell kids “to bring coats and blankets” instead of buying us some fucking air filters.
    Only, with a virus like Covid, you can go easily back from “almost no cases” to “mass outbreaks” pretty quickly. During summer, we had like 10 cases a week (my Bundesland has about 1 Million inhabitants), now it’s over a hundred a day. We opened too quickly and then didn’t partially close back down quick enough. And because legal is not the same as moral or sensible, people went with those easy regulations. And look and behold, one single large funeral drove my whole county from “manageable” to “risk area” (defined as more than 50 new infections per 100k people in 7 days). And now I got to tell my child that her birthday (planned in three separate events with never more than 12 people) has to be cancelled. Ironically I could still hold a party with ALL guests at once in a restaurant or indoor playground, which tells you which areas are prioritised and the priority is not “stop Covid”.
    As for remote learning: Us teachers don’t have the tools, our students don’t have the tools. We are now organising to loan tablets to kids who have no gadgets at home, but that still doesn’t mean they got internet…

    Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.

    I am not young at age 55 or especially low risk, but I am working “normally” in my line of work and I’m doing it from home. I expect this normal to continue long after the risk of this particular virus diminishes.

    My neighbours, both in their early 30s, work both in IT and have both been working from home since March. Before, she had been away all week because her job is a few hundred km from their home. Now the two of them get to spend time together, renovate their house, not spend time on the Autobahn. Please again, what’s the problem with that? Oh, right, people aren’t buying overpriced coffees and sandwiches because they have no fucking time to make their own food because of the commute. Like, they’ve stopped doing all those things they’ve been repeatedly told they shouldn’t be doing because that was the real reason they couldn’t afford to buy a house and now they’re doing it wrong again as well. I’m not saying WFH doesn’t have downsides. Again, social isolation and a real crappy line between work time and time off, but there#s no reason why people cannot WFH at least part time.

    Chrislawson

    A quick clarification: herd immunity is simply the state of having so many immune people in a population that a given disease cannot cause an outbreak. It is not defined by whether it is achieved by immunisation or natural exposure. Even before a vaccine was available, most human populations achieved natural herd immunity to chicken pox in adults (obviously not in children).

    Yeah, I retract my point. Herd immunity is achievable via natural exposure for a long period of time like a couple of years, if you define large parts of the population as “not part of the herd” and also ignore the “the herd protects the vulnerable” aspect of herd immunity. Your own example of chicken pox should show you the problem of this. First of all, I got chicken pox at 21. Second, this is exactly what I meant by infection waves: An infection is passed through a population, lots of people get it. That’s what you typically had with childhood diseases: A whole daycare or primary school would get chicken pox or the measles. For some time afterwards, the number of kids without immunity would be so low that the infection could not spread. there might have been isolated cases, but not much. As the kids age out of the institution and new kids age in, the number of immune kids drops, you get another mass outbreak. You get infection waves. the low numbers for two or three years are not what people typically understand as “herd immunity”.

    It is an inescapable logical conclusion that calling for herd immunity for COVID without an immunisation program is the same as saying that we should maximise the number of deaths, ICU admissions, and permanent post-infective complications.

    We are in complete agreement here. Apart from all the problems with reinfection, of course. Could well be that once we’re past the “critical percentage” of infections, the first people have already lost their immunity and catch it again.

    Puzzlecraig

    I concur with @bcwebb: more teddy bears for everyone. I’ve been hugging mine so much since this all began, that they’re going to need a trip to a stuffy rehab when this is over.

    While the Giliell household has always been prone to the acquisition of plushies, I’ve noticed a sharp increase since March. They are all good plushies.

  41. chrislawson says

    Giliell@47–

    You catching chicken pox at age 21 is not in itself relevant herd immunity. Herd immunity doesn’t mean zero cases in the population, it means when cases do occur, population immunity is too high for the disease to spread. That is, the disease is exponentially dampened instead of exponentially growing. While you were unlucky to have caught chicken pox as an adult (only 5% of adults are vulnerable), you almost certainly did not spark an epidemic among your adult contacts.

    Sorry! I promise I’m not trying to undermine you! I’m completely in agreement with your position, but I’m keen to use technical terminology correctly given the amount of disinformation out there in the community. (I have been aghast at the number of medical professionals misusing the term “herd immunity” in public communications — it’s a cornerstone concept of public health and epidemiology that every doctor should understand, regardless of specialty.)

    On a point of complete agreement: the strategy of herd immunity rests on actual immunity, and the available evidence strongly suggests that many people do not acquire immunity from COVID infections. As you say, this means that a “herd immunity” strategy not only exposes lots of people to COVID, it also exposes previous cases to re-infection, giving COVID a second or even third chance to kill them or put them in ICU.

    Finally (and this is a more general comment), as wzard1 said @38, antibody titres are NOT a guarantee of immunity. This doesn’t just apply to COVID. There are people with high antibody titres who will still catch a disease if re-exposed. And there are people with low antibody titres who will fight off an infection quite robustly. Antibody titres should be seen for what they are: a rough predictor of immunity, used because they’re the best measure we have. Again, it aggravates me that so many of my colleagues do not seem to understand this.

    I always enjoy teaching students how to interpret Hep B, Hep C, and HIV serology (time permitting I throw in coeliac serology too) because you see their eyes light up when they finally get a grip on the concepts. It’s not actually that complicated, but they’ve been unwittingly taught a dangerously simplistic model of serology that ANTIBODIES = PROOF OF PAST EXPOSURE + PROOF OF IMMUNITY. These are good rules of thumb, but they should not be accorded the status of proofs and can lead to important clinical errors if not properly interpreted.

  42. garnetstar says

    I’m kind of late to this, so forgive bringing up something already discussed……it doesn’t seem to me that these bozos are paying enough attention to what was discussed above: isn’t herd immunity only possible when immunity lasts for, pretty much, a lifetime? And, as was said, no one even knows yet whether exposure to SARS-19 (or whatever it is called). whether by infection or by vaccination, gives immunity or the length of that immunity.

    So, the proposal is letting the virus rip through the world, causing millions/hundreds of millions deaths, finding out whether immunity is long-lasting enough to keep those who survived infection alive?

    It seems as if they are assuming the first step, then arguing that it doesn’t matter how many die to achieve the, at this point, mythical state. I would think that actual immunologists and the like would be first arguing that 1) we don’t know if herd immunity is even possible, and then 2) if so, hundreds of milions of deaths would be, well, inconvenient in the least.

    Seems to me that the only viruses (that I know of) where life-long immunity is gained after one exposure are those that have been with humanity since before pre-history: smallpox, measles, herpes viruses, and the like. The body seems to know, “With this one, it’s going to keep coming back, I need to make antibodies forever.” Am entirely new pathogen comes along, the body’s more likely to say “Eh, it only came once. I don’t have to spend the time and energy keeping the blood full of antibodies, I’ll knock it off after a while.” That is more common among new or unusual pathogens, isn’t it? Isn’t that why some vaccines require multiple shots, so that the body takes it more seriously and doesn’t just quit making antibodies sometime after the first one?

  43. Kagehi says

    @4 Giliell “We know that check ups are way down, for quite some months no medical practitioner would do anything that was not urgent.”

    Heck, my unions own insurance carrier flat out declared that they where skipping the requirement (a month after I, ironically, got mine) for health checks this year, and they would extend the coverage until the next year automatically. Mind, they, this month, started sending stupid automatic form letters to everyone, telling them they need to get their checkup forms sent in in the next month, since, after all, its a freaking insurance company we are talking about (maybe the person at the keyboard who was supposed to catch this went on vacation for the rest of the year, since they where not expected to have to do anything…)

    As to the comments on herd immunity – this only works if you know the immunity will last years, not months, it comes from exposure to something that creates immunity, without causing infection, and.. yeah. So, no, infecting everyone “might”, in theory, work, if you could get everyone, and you never will, and some will be carriers, so they don’t a) ever get non-infected, b) show symptoms, or c) actually produce anti-bodies for the disease to kill it, so they can’t infect other people. So, all things considered, this is like dumping a disease into a literal animal herd, then deciding that the lucky, random, ones, which didn’t die from it, must be “immune”, even if they just didn’t catch it somehow, “this time”. We are dealing, in this case, with something that ‘existing’ evidence suggest doesn’t have years of immunity, just months, spread rapidly, not slowly, half the existing idiots don’t believe is a real threat, so won’t vaccinate, even when it is available, and would spread the thing through the rest of the population like a 4 year old wiping snot of the rest of the class, and everything in the classroom, literally the second that immunity wore off. So.. Likely any “vaccine” they come up with is going to, first, be stupid expensive, and not covered by insurance, and by the time a few million more people die from it, maybe it will end up being the, “Did you remember to get your annual flu, and covid, shot this season?”, situation, if the apparent info we do have so far is right about it. And.. man are we screwed if it mutates into a covid-n1h1 type version (yeah, I know, different viruses, but I mean having the existing “hazards”, but then getting worse, like n1h1 did. And.. there is, as slim as it might be, lateral gene transfer possible, so.. how ever improbable, its not impossible to end up with something vastly worse.)

  44. PaulBC says

    Maybe a simple rebuttal to the “let it rip” herd immunity approach would be: “Yeah, ’cause that worked so well for measles.”

    If just letting a disease spread unhindered was enough, we’d be happy about our “herd immunity” to all those diseases we instead vaccinate kids against. (And I know, anti-vaxxers, but let’s not go there.)

    It’s true that 16th century Europe had some herd immunity to smallpox compared to the Incan people who (at least as I understand) were devastated by the disease. But it’s not like smallpox was any picnic in Europe. SARS-CoV-2 is fortunately not as deadly as some of these historical scourges, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to have it spreading around at low levels. The goal insofar is it’s possible at this point should be eradication.

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