Trump administration embraces contrarian COVID-19 declaration by Stanford’s Bhattacharya

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Medical school professor Jay Bhattacharya promoted a herd immunity approach to combating COVID-19 and denounced many current lockdowns — positions that leading experts reject — in an open letter cited by senior White House officials.

According to a New York Times article published Tuesday, these officials cited the letter, known as The Great Barrington Declaration, when discussing reopening schools and businesses. Two other Stanford professors co-signed the letter.

The letter claimed that some current lockdowns produce “devastating effects on short and long-term public health” and said that keeping lockdowns in place until the development of a vaccine will cause “irreparable damage.”

According to The Times, three epidemiological teams presented findings that run “strongly counter” to the herd immunity approach that Bhattacharya and others champion in the letter.

Strategies similar to those proposed by the letter have been called “fringe” and “dangerous” by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, according to The Washington Post.

The letter called its approach “focused protection,” or “the most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity.”

“All populations will eventually reach herd immunity,” the letter states. Its authors suggest that low-risk individuals should be allowed to “live their lives normally” — staying home when sick, but attending in-person school and extracurricular activities, with restaurants, businesses and cultural activities reopened.

Bhattacharya and the two other main signatories, Harvard epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff and Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, were cited by White House COVID-19 advisor and Stanford Hoover Institution Professor Scott Atlas in a recent White House news briefing.

Atlas has been criticized for holding controversial policy views on the United States’ COVID-19 response. CDC director Robert Redfield was recently quoted saying of Atlas, “everything he says is false.”

Additionally, nearly 100 Stanford physicians and researchers recently condemned Atlas’s views in an open letter to Stanford University School of Medicine faculty. Following the letter, Atlas threatened a defamation suit against the signatories of the open letter.

Contact Sam Catania at samcat ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Sam Catania ’24 is a Staff Writer at The Daily. He is a Philadelphia native currently studying computer science and political science. Contact him at samcat ‘at’ stanford.edu.