Friday, October 8, 2021

Covid-19 FAQ vs GBD (2): Vaccines & antivaxxers

Covid-19 FAQ on the Great Barrington Declaration 
II: Vaccines and anti-vaxxers

by George J. Dance

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

 1) We have vaccines now. The Great Barrington Declaration was misconceived right from the beginning, for reasons we’ll discuss below. But now that we have very effective vaccines, the case for “natural herd immunity” – that is, letting the virus burn through certain parts of the population – is weaker than ever. There is now an end in sight, and a great many people now have the possibility to *never get the virus* in the first place.(9)

I am glad the FAQsters have an "end in sight", but it would be more helpful to know what particular end they are visualising. Is it when the most at-risk are vaccinated? When enough are vaccinated to reach the herd immunity threshold (the point at which enough people are immune that a virus no longer spreads epidemically)? When the virus is eliminated in one's country? When it is eradicated world-wide? Many countries are nowhere near even that first “end”, while achieving the last could take decades. Whatever the end, it will take some time before it arrives, and until then either option – let people live their lives, or keep them locked down – is still very much a live one.

At first glance, it seems to me that the coming of safe and effective vaccines not only weakens, but demolishes, the best argument for lockdowns: that they are the only way to stop the disease from spreading. It does not weaken the GBD goal of reaching “herd immunity” (ie, reaching the herd immunity threshold [or HIT]) – safe and effective vaccines make it possible to hit the HIT quicker, with a much reduced danger of death, than not having them. Nor do they weaken the GBD position that people be allowed to live their own lives now: The more people vaccinated, the more attractive that alternative becomes to more of them. 

So the FAQsters seem to be arguing only against the word “natural”, which sounds like very much like a strawman argument (the major premise of which is that the GBD authors and signatories are anti-vaxxers).

It is common to find posts on social media calling the GBD authors anti-vaxxers, some by those who signed the John Snow Memorandum. (At least one Snowjobber makes a regular hobby of it.)(10) And such talk  has also seeped into the professional media. Take for instance Dominic Lawson of The Times, the FAQsters' comrade in the war on lockdown sceptics, even employing the same "Covid sceptic" terminology (“I am reminded of [an old joke] by the COVID-19 sceptics (or lockdown sceptics, as some call themselves).”)(11) Here is Lawson's pontificating that and why lockdown sceptics oppose vaccination: 

For those who have opposed the Government’s overall strategy of (intermittently) strict enforcement of social distancing until the arrival of a vaccine, the good news has confounded their predictions and analysis – and many of the most prominent among them have reacted with churlishness, even outright hostility. They are the same people who eulogised what they perceive to be Sweden’s approach: to go for “herd immunity” via naturally acquired infections (whatever the cost in lives) rather than clamp down with legislative force… But rather than admit that [Oxford researcher Sarah] Gilbert (and [Health Secretary Matt] Hancock) had proved their no-alternative-to-herd-immunity-through-naturally-acquired-infection strategy wrong, prominent “lockdown sceptics” have instead cast doubt on the vaccine approved by the MHRA.(12)

It seems necessary, then, to spell out and deal with that "no-alternative-to-herd-immunity-through-naturally-acquired-infection strategy" strawman.

The GBD contains just one sentence about vaccines. "We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine." (1) That arguably downplays the importance of vaccines, but understandably so, since there were none at the time it was written. However, to argue that it or its authors oppose vaccination is to twist it out of all recognition.    

Since vaccines have become available, the GBD authors have increasingly emphasized their role. In this quote from an early December interview, for instance, one can question Dr. Bhattacharya’s timeline, but not his belief in vaccination: "I think if we use the vaccine correctly we can get back to normal within two months. Let’s say, if we have 50 million people vaccinated, who are at the highest risk, at that point we can open society up."(13)

[Having safe and effective vaccines does not weaken, but strengthens, both the chances of reaching "herd immunity," and the case for letting people live their normal lives until we reach it. It does weaken the case for leaving them all locked up in the interim. And simply calling lockdown sceptics antivaxxers does nothing to help that case. 

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

10. Gavin Yamey, “This thread is brilliant”, Twitter, March 8th, 2021.

11. Dominic Lawson, “The second wave of Covid has drowned the sceptics’ delusions”, The Times, January 17th, 2021. 

12. Dominic Lawson, “This vaccine needles the lockdown sceptics”, The Times, December 6th, 2020.

13. Matthew Impelli, “Authors of Anti-Lockdown Great Barrington Declaration Suggest COVID Could Be Over in 2 Months With Vaccine”, Newsweek, December 7th, 2020.

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