Professor Jay Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, and a Physician, Epidemiologist, Health Economist and Public Health Policy expert focusing on infectious diseases in vulnerable populations. He is also co-author and lead signatory of the Great Barrington Declaration with Professor Martin Kulldorff and Professor Sunetra Gupta. He testified to the Corona Ausschuss two weeks ago. A really enjoyable, informative conversation which I have transcribed more or less, below.
Jay Bhattacharya: It’s been an interesting 20 months. The environment at Stanford University. There are a few people who have argued against many of the restrictions and other measures. John Ioannidis, Michael Levitt and a few others. I’ve been there for 35 years and I’ve never seen an environment so closed to open discussion and debate. I think there have been real threats to academic freedom at Stanford which I greatly regret.
Reiner Fuellmich: A well known German professor who was preparing to consult as an expert in the Corona investigative committee’s cases, has had to provide only anonymous support because she is losing everything including her livelihood.
JB: I have worked as an expert pro-bono for about 40 cases. I know that there are many scientific experts who agree that the lockdowns were an unscientific catastrophic mistake. For example, tens of thousands of scientists signed the Great Barrington Declaration and I get emails from them. Several have lost jobs, lost opportunities for grants, lost colleagues. I’ve never seen this before. “It’s good to disagree with each other. We learn from that disagreement. We don’t cancel each other over disagreement” … What’s happened during this pandemic is essentially a freezing-out. I’m not even sure there’s a scientific consensus for lockdowns. What has happened is a small group of scientists have grabbed the discourse and frozen other scientists into thinking that they are alone when they are not.
RF: That is what we think too. After having interviewed about 150 experts from all walks of science from all over the world we have come to the conclusion that this has never really been about health. We are not denying that there’s a virus out there. It’s just that the infection fatality rate is roughly about the same as influenza. So we can’t understand what this is about. It’s definitely not about health.
JB: the key thing is not the IFR, but the sharp gradient in age for risk. People who are older do face a substantial risk with the infection fatality rate, as high as 8% if you are over 70-80yo. But children face a vanishingly low IFR. This is an important point about the policy response.
The right policy response is focused protection of those at risk. Find those at risk, protect them, and then disrupt the rest of society as little as possible. The disruption of society harms everybody. Even the vulnerable. This is the pandemic strategy we followed for a century. Every pandemic before this one, we followed (this strategy) very successfully actually.
Pandemics are going to produce misery and death. This is unfortunately unavoidable. It’s what diseases like this do. The point is minimising harm both from the virus itself, and from the policy. That’s the debate we should have had all of last year, that was suppressed. Instead of allowing that debate to happen, what happened was a panicked response saying we should follow the precautionary principle. With that panic came an impetus to suppress any opposition whatsoever. If you opposed the lockdown then you were in favour of the virus. That’s insane. That weird insane thing froze many, many scientists from speaking up when they otherwise would have.
Viviane Fischer: Regarding the age risk, you also have to consider the pre-existing co-morbidities. So high risk older age people are those in nursing homes, or care.
Wolfgang Wodarg: The median age of Covid-19 death in Germany is 84. This is the time that people die. Many people die in this age group, and they all die with something. We cannot change this. If we find Covid-19, it is in not even 10% of them and there are 200 other (respiratory) viruses also there, helping them to die. This is not a catastrophe that people die very old.
JB: That is a good conversation to have and I agree, in medicine it is never the pathogen itself, but the interaction between the pathogen and the person that is infected that produces the result. So those with underlying conditions are more vulnerable. This is a social conversation that we have about where we put our resources. I don’t want to expose people that we can protect if they are vulnerable.
The problem I have had with the response all along, is that instead of acknowledging this absolutely clear biological fact of this age gradient risk, including with underlying health conditions, and then saying we should acknowledge this and design our response around it. Instead, it was considered that the only way to protect the vulnerable was to close society down. And that has utterly failed. We have five million deaths, a huge number of the deaths are in the elderly and in the USA care home residents. Some people thought that lockdowns would protect the vulnerable, but clearly not.
We do not actually have a technology to protect the spread of this virus. What the lockdowns did, if they protected anybody, was a small group of maybe 30% of the population who could afford to not lose their jobs when working from home. The rest of society, whether vulnerable or not, was told to go and get exposed, to keep society running. I call it trickle-down epidemiology. It’s a kind of classist approach to infectious disease control.
What we learned is you can’t only protect the rich and then have a good result for everybody.
RF: This one size fits all approach destroys much more than it does good, for the people who should be protected.
JB: It does. The precautionary principle is based on not knowing how deadly the disease is, let’s assume the worst, and that allows us to decide how to respond. At first that seemed reasonable. But you can’t then turn around and assume that your interventions are also low-cost or low-harm. You have to have a clear eye for assessment of the harms of the interventions themselves.
The lockdowns have produced devastating harm to the health of populations worldwide. Especially the poor.
In developed countries there are enormous backlogs of people who skipped their cancer screening. Women are showing up with later stage breast cancer than they would have if we’d caught it last year. Men and women are showing up with later stage colon cancer. The psychological harm is absolutely catastrophic. In June last year CDC ran a study that found one in four young people aged between 18-24, seriously considered suicide. Reported suicide rates haven’t changed but there’s a catastrophic rise in deaths from drug abuse which we called deaths of despair in the last recession.
These are not harms that go away immediately. They will take concerted effort to address. In the UK there’s an enormous backlog of elective surgeries. Including heart operations. That’s the developed world. The health consequences have been and will continue to be catastrophic for quite a while with these lockdowns.
In the developing world though, it’s orders of magnitude worse. We have a globalised system of economics that essentially over the last 30-40 years, whatever you want to say about it, it lifted a billion people out of poverty. This is because poor countries reorganised their local economies to fit in with the global commerce. It worked in some sense. It produced all kinds of inequalities and had all kinds of problems, but it did lift a billion people out of poverty.
Overnight, with the lockdowns, those promises that we made to developing countries, we just broke. Predictably, 100 million people have been thrown into dire poverty with less than $3 a day of income. Eighty million people, according to the UN, have been thrown into dire food insecurity. Hundreds of thousands of children in South Asia are dead from hunger as a consequence of the lockdowns and the economic dislocation of them.
In the early days of the epidemic it was said, “we shouldn’t trade economics for health”. But that was immoral. Economics for the poor around the world is health. Is life. The whole discourse has been dominated by a very narrow group of people. Virologists. Epidemiologists. Who do not actually have the expertise to reorder society the way they think they do. They’re not actually protecting society. There’s much more to health than one virus. To pretend like that’s the case for two years has been and will continue to be a catastrophic disaster.
VF: In a situation like this with a new virus, you would do everything you can to understand the situation. You would do a lot of autopsies to get a picture of what is really going on but that has not happened. In fact autopsies were forbidden, or strictly discouraged. Better conclusions would have been possible if this was done. So this one-size-fits-all approach seems very lopsided. This makes me very uneasy.
RF: Was it an accident? We get a feeling after listening to all these experts, that this is an agenda being rolled out.
JB: It’s not my expertise to comment on that, but there is an excellent article from the National Academy of Sciences, on the issue of why governments worldwide adopted this approach when the pandemic plans didn’t call for it. The basic idea was policy copy. People saw China and it looked like their lockdowns worked in Jan-Feb 2020. Then they looked at Italy and it was a catastrophic disaster. They all thought well China’s approach worked and Italy’s didn’t. For politicians, a disease spreading, you turn to people with expertise in viruses and diseases spreading. Epidemiologists and Virologists. But they are very narrowly trained. Politicians are going to get blamed if bad things happen, so they need some excuse, something to say that they followed the science. Many, or most of them, don’t have the expertise to decide. So they follow the group of experts saying, lockdown worked here, it didn’t work there, and if they push back and it fails, then their career is over. If they don’t push back, they have an excuse, that they followed what the experts told them.
VF: But others said this was not the right way to go. But this conversation was turned down with very nasty comments. Maybe in the beginning, you go with the seemingly safe approach, but later on a closer analysis should happen.
JB: It was a devastatingly nasty environment for scientists. I was senior author on the Santa Clara Seroprevalence Study. The attacks on it were in the press. In April 2020 we found that 2.8% of people in Santa Clara had antibodies. In LA County we found 4%. That should have led to a conversation about this disease being already so far along that it’s not possible to get down to zero. John Ioannidis wrote an article saying we don’t know how widespread it is. Prominent scientists like Wolfgang Wodarg and John Ioannidis were shouted down as if they didn’t have expertise. By then, catastrophic mistakes had already been made. Once you follow down this line, to lock the whole world down, you’ve already caused an incredible amount of damage. You don’t see them because you are such a narrow minded scientist, so you just dig in. And of course you have to marginalise all the other prominent people who disagree with you as otherwise you can’t get your way and someone might conclude you have done something terribly wrong. That is ultimately going to be the judgement of history on Anthony Fauci’s tenure. This decision to lockdown the USA was a catastrophic error.
There is a charity in the UK I work closely with, called Collateral Global. We have commissioned a number of studies to measure some of these lockdown harms. Carl Henegan and Sunetra Gupta are working with us. It’s not like you can hide these consequences, they are such catastrophic events that have harmed so many people.
The debate will be that it would have happened anyway, with or without lockdown. That is nonsense.
I’ll give you one example. In California for almost 18 months public school kids were more or less locked out of school. In Sweden school was open without restriction. I would never have voluntarily kept my kids out of school. Never. It was a crazy, useless tactic, brought out of panic. Kids are not super spreaders, we knew that early on. Children are very inefficient spreaders. Many parts of Europe kept their schools open. But not California. These decisions were made by government to force people to alter what they did. They also panicked the population. This is an enormous violation of public trust. Creating panic creates bad decisions and the only reason for it was so that the policy makers could get their way.
There has to be a counter-reaction. I think we are starting to see a counter-reaction, by the way. Early on governors like De Santis in Florida and a few others in the USA pushed back. And now we are seeing the people who have been really harmed by this, are starting to vote out the people that caused it. In Virginia, the Democrat candidate was a very strong proponent of school closures and lockdowns, and got voted out.
VF: It is not only the lockdown harm, but now the vaccination problem and harms. The ideas of mandatory vaccination when you cannot even decide freely if you want to take part in the experiment or not. More and more problematic decisions are being taken. We don’t know what further they have up their sleeve to continue with this wrong narrative instead of starting a scientific discussion.
JB: I have studied vaccines and worked on vaccine safety with the FDA for a while. It takes quite a while to develop, test and then deploy a vaccine. In March 2020 I saw President Trump’s decision to do the Operation Warp Speed investment, with the idea that we can get a vaccine very quickly. I thought it was unlikely to succeed, and seemed an extraordinary bet. It was a bet that prolonged lockdown, as we were told to just lockdown until the vaccine arrives. The vaccines arrived and I was happy to see them, and I still am, for people facing a high risk of severe disease or death from Covid, it’s good. If you are mitigating a high risk then you’re willing to put up with a little more uncertainty. It’s always the case that medicine has side effects and you balance the effects with benefits. Using the vaccines to mitigate the risk of severe disease, especially for older people, is a good thing.
As you get closer to young people who face a lower risk then the balance of benefit gets closer, so you’re willing to put up with less side effects and uncertainty when mitigating a low risk, for instance with children. For me, it’s an individual clinical choice and you have these conversations with your doctor.
A lot of the people pushing for vaccines think of it as a public benefit. That is true for many vaccines. If I get my children vaccinated with the DTP vaccine, they’re not going to get the disease and they’re not going to spread it to others [actually Dr Christina Parkes disagrees with this statement!]. Many people thought this vaccine would be like that also. It is not.
This vaccine, after several months, has minimal protection against getting infected. I still think that it protects you against severe disease at 5, 6, 7 months. But at 5, 6, 7 months, it no longer protects you against infection. For example I got the vaccine in April 2021 and I got Covid in August 2021.
WW: do you know any other vaccine that has the Number Needed to Treat (NNT) which is about 100, like these vaccines. This is such a high number to avoid one case.
JB: It’s a question of what context the vaccines are used. Like, Diphtheria is very rare in the USA and you’re vaccinating large number of kids against Diphtheria but you’re not really preventing many cases because the vaccine is so prevalent. If you were vaccinating in an area where the disease was more prevalent, your NNT number would be much lower. For old people with Covid vaccines, you’re mitigating against high risk so I can give the vaccine to less old people and protect much more.
RF: It is an individual choice as this is the most important point about these vaccines, they don’t provide immunity. They protect against severe cases of covid but we’re not even sure if that is true given the numbers we are seeing from Israel and teh UK where 85% or more of those hospitalised have been twice vaccinated. Even Dr Robert Malone, who developed mRNA technologies, has become outraged, he says this is a violation of all ethical medical principles.
JB: I am more convinced about the protection against severe disease. You can’t just look at the hospitalisation numbers of those who have had the vaccine, you have to look at the population at large, how many who got the vaccine were at risk of being hospitalised, and then look at the fraction of people who get hospitalised against the fraction of people who get the vaccine. Studies like that tend to find some longer lasting protection against hospitalisation risk and death. I’m fairly convinced by that. Those same studies are finding no or very little protection against infection after a few months.
WW: I think in Israel for instance, it’s necessary to distinguish where the damage comes from in those who are hospitalised. Does it come from the spike protein in the vaccine or the spike protein from a natural virus? I don’t know whether there is somebody who has distinguished this?
JB: You can make a distinction with the antibody test, because if you are infected with the virus you produce antibodies to the nucleocapsid, and the spike protein, whereas if you have the vaccine then you only produce antibodies to the spike protein. I have seen some small studies looking at this, but none that are at scale. The antibodies are cheap so it would be easy to do, so it’s puzzling why we haven’t done these studies.
It’s important to understand the use of the vaccine. If I’m right then they are a personal protection against the disease. It’s not a tool for mass eradication of the disease. This disease cannot be eradicated. Dogs get infected with it, cats get infected with it. A study a few months ago by the USDA found that 40% of white tailed deer in Massachussetts have antibodies to the virus. Bats, I guess can get infected with it. It is not an eradicable disease. It meets none of the criteria for an eradicable disease.
The vaccine, ironically where the WHO changed its definition of herd immunity in response to the Great Barrington Declaration, stating it’s just vaccine-mediated herd immunity. If this vaccine doesn’t stop the disease then it doesn’t contribute all that much to herd immunity.
RF: This is the second time they changed the definition of an important word in terms of pandemics. The first time was in 2009 when they newly-defined what a pandemic is. Before that there were three required elements: a disease that spreads worldwide, with many serious cases of illness, and many deaths. Then they changed it to a disease that spreads worldwide. Which ultimately made it possible to make any common flu into a pandemic. And that is what started the Swine Flu. Then they changed, again overnight, the definition of herd immunity. It’s as if they are trying, in this context, to have us believe that the only way out, and the only way to achieve herd immunity, is to make 100% of people get the shots. It doesn’t seem to make sense.
JB: You don’t need 100% of people to get vaccinated for this disease to end. It will become endemic, it won’t go away. But it’s not that scarey right? Reinfections tend to be mild because of immune memory. Immune memory produces some protection even if you can get reinfected. Reinfection rates seem to be quite low and reinfection tends to be quite low. This will become like the other 4 circulating coronaviruses and everyone will be repeatedly exposed to this several times over their lifetime.
WW: WHO kept saying it is a new virus and they said it’s very important that we protect people against new viruses. And they just ignored that the virus is new every year and each year it’s a natural thing. We are very much used to new viruses and they are no problem for our immune system as they have so many epitopes that we recognise, and it’s almost the same as last year.
JB: Sunetra Gupta has this idea of a global virome. One idea is that by repeated exposures to different pathogens over a long period of time, we train our immune system and it makes us healthier. Globalisation has helped produce this. It’s one potential reason why life expectany has gone up.
WW: It’s an interesting hypothesis because by making a lockdown we isolate people in their home. For elderly people, for instance, they have no contact with their family anymore, and they lose their [immune system] training. So you don’t even protect them doing this.
JB: If she’s right we’ll have an immune deficit that we’ll pay consequences for in terms of worse health. Going back to the lockdowns. Why didn’t we do them in 2009? I think that Zoom is partly responsible for the lockdowns! Now the rich 30% of people won’t lose their jobs, but that wasn’t true in 2009.
RF: When you mentioned the study you and John Ioannidis did in April 2020, I heard about it on the news. I began to wonder …
JB: We sampled 3,000 people and we had 50 positives … We found about 2.8% with antibodies. In LA County we found about 4%. The infection fatality rate was about 0.2% but we didn’t study anyone in care homes.
VF: Also with the lockdowns, extra care taking measures for the risk group, to my understanding of freedom of choice it would also have been important to let these people choose to see their relatives, and deciding if they wanted to take the risk. It was very brutal what we saw here, locking these people in and they died without seeing their kids anymore before they died. It was terrible for those deceased but also the psychological wellbeing of relatives who couldn’t say goodbye.
JB: What we did to older people was cruel. There is an enormous increase in deaths among people with dementia. Those are loneliness deaths. Locking you away without paying attention to what you value. I’m a big proponent of focused protection, which to me means providing resources to vulnerable people. I wouldn’t stop them from doing what they value. When I am 80 and I have grandkids, I will still have Christmas with my family. I’d rather that, than live to 81 without another Christmas. But that’s my choice.
RF: Those states who didn’t have the anti-corona measures, no lockdown, no social distancing, no mask mandates, didn’t fare any worse than those that did. The best example is North Dakota and South Dakota, neighbouring states. In SD they didn’t do anything and they didn’t do any worse than ND. We also looked at the Amish people in Pennsylvania, who are totally disconnected from the modern world but still leading very worthwhile lives. They have no electricity and don’t watch mainstream news. They said let the virus take its course. They had no lockdowns or social distancing, as they said when you are sick you need to have people touch you, hug you. And what happened there is that in May 2020 the whole thing was over, without many people dying. It was just a regular flu season. The same thing was true for the Orthodox Jews in Israel. So it shows these measures were a catstrophic mistake.
JB: If you compare the age adjusted death rates in Florida with the age adjusted death rates in California, you have to do age adjustment because the risk rate is by age, it’s almost identical throughout the pandemic. Yet Florida has had full in-person school for all its kids, it’s had no closures of churches or businesses, and only a limited fraction of the counties imposed masks. Whereas California has missed schooling, closed businesses, mask mandates, you name it and now they’re talking about mandating the vaccine for five to eleven year old kids in San Francisco.
It’s impossible to escape what the data shows. The lockdowns did not achieve their stated goal, which is to protect people from Covid. In fact what it did achieve was almost entirely negative. Worse psychological and physical health, devastated economies for which we are going to be paying for a very long time.
RF: Yes. The worst is yet to come from these measures. It’s bizarre. There were very early warnings, not just from your university, but even from the UN. Some very prominent people who work at the UN pointed this out very early on. They said that the only thing the lockdowns are going to do is make poor people even poorer, and make a lot of people starve. And that’s precisely what has happened.
JB: Yes, that’s exactly what happened. People were raising red flags about this and yet we went ahead with it. I guess I was naiive about this, I thought that when people said they cared about the well being of poor people around the world, they meant it. And yet when fear came on us, we just forgot about it. It’s incredibly immoral. We create this globalised world where these interconnections sustain huge numbers of people, and overnight we decide to change it because we want to pull up the drawbridge to protect ourselves. The globalisation was just a thin sheen on who we really are and the virus exposed that.
RF: I think the tide is turning. There is going to be a counter-reaction. For parts of the population this has been going on for a while now. If someone had told me 18 months ago that this would be happening, with mask mandates, brand new vaccinations which don’t really seem to be vaccinations if you take a closer look, I would have told them to take their pills and go see a doctor. But in the meantime, speaking to so many experts from all fields of science, I have come to the conclusion that this has never been about health. There were serious mistakes made. But there are those who are behind this, and you’ll find out who if you follow the money, they didn’t make any mistakes, this was done on purpose. The destruction of the economy was on purpose. I wonder if the destruction of health is a mistake, or there is more behind it? We will take a deeper look into this.
JB: We have to do a real autopsy of what happened … What I’m afraid might happen is that the official evaluations will be led by people who are themselves architects of the policy. We have to broaden the set of conflict of interest rules in those evaluations and include people who were dissidents in the evaluation in a serious way. Or else the public will not trust those evaluations.
WW: You have wonderful guidelines at Stanford about institutional corruption. I think it’s a very good approach.
JB: I am optimistic the pandemic will end, sooner or later. I don’t know if I’m optimistic about our ability to evaluate it. It’s critically important we evaluate it properly or else the same thing will happen again with the same catastrophic harm to the population at large. And I don’t think we should let this happen. Science itself didn’t work well during this pandemic I think. It shut down dissidents, it shut down people. It should not take bravery to speak up in science. Science failed, politics failed, medicine failed. We have to take that seriously. We don’t want a biosecurity state, that is organised around protection against a single infectious disease. I can see a future where we head down that path. I’m looking at Australia and New Zealand. How do they get out of that?
VF: The pandemic has ended but they still want to continue the laws against the pandemic. That’s very strange. It’s become a political continuation of power and expansion. It has to end. There has to be some serious evidence based approach.
WW: Two years ago this would be ridiculous. But now there are only a few people who start laughing.