Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Covid-19 FAQ vs GBD (4): How many would die?

Anti-virus: The Covid-19 FAQ on the Great Barrington Declaration 
IV: How many would die? 

by George J. Dance

from "A Defence of the Great Barrington Declaration from Its Powerful Critics", The Daily Sceptic, 22 March 2021.  

 4) “Focused protection” would still mean a very large number of deaths among the wider population. Applying a rough age-based infection-fatality ratio based on this table,[15] and assuming half the wider population caught Covid and only a small number (5%) of pensioners ended up getting it, that would still mean 90,000 extra deaths. If 15% of pensioners caught Covid in this scenario, it would mean 175,000 deaths. However, even this is likely to be an underestimate, for reasons discussed in our next point.(9)

The FAQsters' mathematics seems sound enough; what looks more questionable is their initial assumption, that over 40% of the adult population would need to be infected before reaching the herd immunity threshold (HIT). Consider that:

  • they estimate an initial R number of 2.5-3.5% for Covid-19,(16) implying a HIT of 67-72%,
  • estimates of the number of Brits who have already caught Covid-19 range from 15% to more than 20%,(17, 18) and
  • over 30% have had at least one dose of a vaccine.(19)

Given these numbers, it is a stretch to think that a further 40%+ would need to acquire immunity before hitting the HIT. Given that vaccinations are rising much faster than infections, it is almost impossible to believe that all of those 40% would end up gaining immunity via infection instead. 

As with all of their points after their first point – "We have vaccines now" – the FAQsters are ignoring that first point, and arguing as if we do not have vaccines now.  They have simply recycled old anti-GBD arguments from last October, when there were no vaccines, and the coming of vaccines has not induced them to even re-examine, much less question, those earlier arguments and assumptions.

Vaccines or not, the above was never a good argument. It rests on the questionable assumption that lockdowns would somehow prevent all those deaths – whereas in fact the same number of people would be just as susceptible, at the very same risk of hospitalization and death, with a lockdown or without. Either way, the same number of people would have to be infected to reach the HIT, and ceteris paribus the same number of people could be expected to die in the process. All that a lockdown could do would be to reduce the R number, ‘flatten the curve,’ and slow down the death rate. Merely slowing down the death rate is not ‘saving lives’, but just kicking the corpses down the road.

Today, though, now that "We have vaccines", the idea that anywhere near that number would be infected and die in the absence of lockdowns looks like pure imagination. Dressing up imagined assumptions in mathematical dress (as in computer modelling) may give them a patina of scientific validity; but with maths (as with logic), the conclusions reached remain just as imaginary as the starting premises. 

[Six months after I wrote the above, there is evidence that vaccinated people are being infected and infecting others; so the FAQsters' may be right that 40% of Britons will eventually catch Covid-19. However, equally strong evidence shows that most vaccinated have strong protection against hospitalization and death. So, with more than 2/3 of Britons now fully vaccinated, their estimates of both deaths and hospitalizations still look implausibly high.]*

 5) The health service would be overwhelmed in this scenario, leading to a potentially much higher death rate among the rest of the population. On top of the deaths we could expect based on the fatality rates from the pandemic so far, so many other people in the rest of the population would be hospitalised in the Great Barrington scenario that the NHS would be totally overwhelmed. Applying the hospitalisation rates from this article to the rest of the population, and assuming 50% of the younger population caught COVID along with 5% of pensioners, that would mean 860,000 people would be hospitalised. If 15% of pensioners accidentally caught the virus, it would mean around 1.1m hospitalisations. This would overwhelm the health service. There are only 4,123 adult critical care beds in England, so many or most patients requiring hospitalisation would not be able to receive full treatment, and would have a much higher mortality rate.

Since this argument is so similar to the previous one – with the same oudated assumptions, and the same failure to re-examine them – a reply can be brief. 

The only difference I can see this time is an added assumption that an increase in infections and hospitalisations would happen almost immediately; that, without lockdowns, everyone’s first thought would be to run out and happily (“merrily”) catch COVID-19. To which the best reply would be to remind the FAQsters of their next point: "Young people don't want the virus either." No one wants to catch Covid, ceterus paribus, and that gives everyone a reason to voluntarily distance. 

[Voluntary distancing, like lockdown, can slow the spread of a disease It is not meant to stamp out the disease, or to prevent hospitalizations and deaths; it is meant slow them down, to reduce the R number, and  'flatten the curve': the same hospitalizations (and deaths) happen over a longer time, and are kept below the point at which they "overwhelm" the health care system. It works no differently from lockdowns.

[How well voluntary distancing works compared to lockdown measures is an empirical question, best decided by comparing outcomes in countries that relied on it (Sweden, Japan) to those that relied on lockdowns.] *

*  - [written October 6, 2021]

9All quotations in italics are from: “Claim: The Great Barrington Declaration gives a good alternative to lockdown”, Anti-Virus: The Covid-19 FAQ.

15. Smriti Mallapaty, “The coronavirus is most deadly if you are older and male — new data reveal the risks”, Nature, August 28th, 2020.

16. “Claim: 99.5% survive Covid – we’re overreacting”, Anti-Virus: The Covid-19 FAQ.

17. “COVID-19: 15.3% of England’s population estimated to have had coronavirus by mid-January”, Sky News, February 3rd, 2021.

18. Ashley Kirk, Anna Leach and Pamela Duncan, “One in five in England have had Covid, modelling suggests”, The Guardian, January 10th, 2021.

19. “As It Happened: Vaccines for 20m in UK a magnificent achievement”, BBC, February 28th, 2021.

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