Last week, I called for scientists to come forward and make a public statement that the world’s response to COVID is not consistent with best public health practices. As if in answer to my prayer, a meeting was held at Great Barrington, MA, from which emerged this statement, signed by doctors and professors from the world’s most prestigious institutions, as well as hundreds of professionals and thousands of others. You can sign, too. In this video, the three main authors present their message.
Their proposed strategy is to protect the old and most vulnerable and quarantine people with COVID symptoms, while allowing the young and strong to go back to school, go back to work, acquire herd immunity for the benefit of everyone. This is fully aligned with past practice, and is just what Dr David Katz (Yale School of Public Health) proposed in the New York Times and in a video presentation back in March.
What they didn’t say: The authors of the statement were cognizant of politics and avoided judgment and recrimination. I agree, this was wise. They avoided talking about the evidence that the virus was laboratory-made. I agree, this was wise. They avoided mentioning the ineffectiveness of face masks. I agree, this was wise. They avoided mentioning effective treatment strategies of which chloroquine is the best we have. I think this was a political judgment with which I disagree. Their statement would have been so much stronger if they were able to say that the limited risk that they proposed for the young and healthy will be that much lower because effective early and preventive treatment is available.
Here are ten messages that are essential pieces of the standard COVID narrative, but which are unfounded in actual science, and the promised rebuttals to each.
- “The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was one of many random events in nature in which a virus jumps from one species to another.”
- “Chloroquine kills patients and is too dangerous to use against COVID”
- “The Ferguson model warned us of impending danger in time to take action and dodge a bullet.”
- “American deaths from COVID: 200,000 and counting”
- “Masks and social distancing are keeping the virus in check in our communities”
- “New cases of COVID are expanding now in a dangerous Second Wave”
- “Dr Fauci and the CDC are guiding our response to COVID according to the same principles of epidemic management that have protected public health in the past.”
- “Asymptomatic carriers are an important vector of disease transmission, which must be isolated if we are to stop the spread of COVID”
- “The lower death rates now compared to April are due to protective measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and limited travel.”
- “With enough resources, pharmaceutical scientists can develop a vaccine in a matter of months, and provide reasonable assurance that it is safe.”
Detailed rebuttals and references
1. “The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was one of many random events in nature in which a virus jumps from one species to another.”
There is no credible path by which a virus with the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 could have appeared naturally in Wuhan last December. The “wet market” hypothesis died, while no one was looking. The bats that harbor SARS’s closest cousin virus live 1,000 miles west of Wuhan, and the pangolin viruses that harbor another part of the genome live 1,000 miles east of Wuhan. The SARS-CoV-2 genome includes a furin cleavage site and a spike protein matched to the human ACE-2 receptor. These very modifications to bat coronaviruses were the subject of published research, sponsored by our own NIAID and conducted at Univ of NC and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
2. “Chloroquine kills patients and is too dangerous to use against COVID”
Evidence for the effectiveness of chloroquine + zinc is overwhelming. It was the drug of choice to treat the first SARS epidemic in 2003. Countries in which chloroquine is used have COVID death rates typically four times lower than countries in which use is restricted.
Dozens of credible studies have found major benefits of chloroquine, especially if it is used early and especially if it is accompanied by zinc supplementation. (Apparently, the mechanism of action is to open cell membranes to allow infected cells to be flooded with zinc, which effectively stops the virus from replicating. Quercetin is an over-the-counter supplement which has the same effect of opening cell membranes to zinc ions, and there are a few studies of quercetin for COVID [for example, one, two, three].)
Suppression of chloroquine treatment has defied historic precedents, and represents the most extreme denial of real science on this list of 10. Chloroquine is a cheap, widely-used drug with a 65-year history of use by millions of patients. It has a well-studied safety profile, since it is routinely prescribed not only for malaria treatment but as prophylactic protection for people traveling to areas where they are at risk of malaria exposure. It is also standard treatment of lupus.
For the first time, doctors have been restricted in the off-label prescription of a drug. (Why aren’t they screaming about this?) WIth the combined effects of intimidation of doctors, actual restrictions, and policies of pharmacies, chloroquine treatment is effectively unavailable in most US states.
A major study in May was published prominently in The Lancet, claiming that among 100,000 COVID patients on three continents, the death rate of those taking chloroquine was three times higher than those who did not receive chloroquine. Many smaller studies around the world were immediately canceled and never re-started. But when the authors could not produce data to support their calculations, the study was retracted by its authors without comment. I am not alone in calling the Lancet study a major scientific fraud, but none of the authors of the study or the editors of the Lancet have been held accountable to date.
Smaller frauds are perpetrated with studies that are designed to fail. (Anyone who has epidemiological experience knows how much easier it is to design a study to fail than to design a study that can succeed.) There are three ways this is usually done:
- Failure to incorporate zinc supplementation.
- Starting late. Once patients are in the hospital, treatment with HCQ is less effective, and by the time they are dying from a cytokine storm, HCQ is useless.
- Using toxic dosages, up to 4x the standard chloroquine dose, which triggers heart arrhythmias in some patients.
Some of these “designed to fail” studies actually showed significant benefit, and were reported in such a way as to understate their significance. (Anyone with experience in reading pharmacology studies has seen that almost always, the authors put their best results out front at the risk of overstating their significance.) Here’s an example of doublespeak in a recent review:
“Trials show low strength of evidence for no positive effect on intubation or death and discharge from the hospital, whereas evidence from cohort studies about these outcomes remains insufficient.”
Is this sentence intended deliberately to confuse with double negatives? “Low strength of evidence for no positive effect?” What they really found was “overwhelming evidence for YES positive effect”. In the only large study among the eight reviewed, the death rate of patients receiving chloroquine was half the death rate among controls, despite the fact that all patients were started on chloroquine much later than optimal, and without supplemental zinc.
3. “The Ferguson model warned us of impending danger in time to take action and dodge a bullet.”
Neil Ferguson is head of the UK-SAGE, The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. Ferguson and his team at Imperial College have made draconian predictions that failed to materialize on many occasions in the past.
In 2002, he calculated that the mad cow disease would kill about 50,000 British people and another 150,000 once it was transmitted to sheep. There were only 177 deaths. In 2005, he predicted that the bird flu would kill 65,000 Britons. The total was 457 deaths…[Fergusson], true to his alarmist mindset, predicted with his “mathematical model” that 550,000 British people would die from Covid, as well as more than 2 million Americans, if a fierce lockdown did not come into effect. —Benjamin Bourgeois
Subsequently, the population death rate of COVID-19 was discovered to be an order of magnitude smaller than what Ferguson was assuming, the lockdown was shown to be ineffective (see below), and still the death tolls in Britain and the US were not close to Ferguson’s predictions.
Ferguson predicted that without a lockdown, Sweden would suffer 100,000 deaths through June, 2020. In reality, the COVID death count for Sweden is 5,895 (as of 1 October), and the death rate is below one per day.
Was Ferguson the most credible biostatistician that the European governments could find in planning a response to COVID last winter, or was he only the most terrifying? Why were no other experts consulted?
4. “American deaths from COVID: 200,000 and counting”
At every turn, the COVID death count has been overestimated.
- Hospitals were incentivized to add COVID to diagnosis and death certificates.
- In an unprecedented departure from past practice, CDC instructed doctors to report COVID as the cause of death whenever patients seemed to have symptoms consistent with COVID, or of they tested positive for COVID and died of something else. Cases about motorcycle accidents reported as COVID deaths are no joke.
- The tests themselves have a high false positive rate. PCR tests were previously used only for laboratory research, not for diagnosis. They involve making 35 trillion copies (based on 45 amplification stages) of every stretch of RNA in a sample from a patient’s nose or mouth and looking for some that match a stretch from the COVID genome.
It is impossible to know what the real death count has been, but three weeks ago CDC released the bombshell that people who died of COVID alone with no pre-existing chronic diseases was only 6% of the reported total.
5. “Masks and social distancing are keeping the virus in check in our communities”
Wearing a mask is perceived as an act of caring by a large proportion of Americans. But the actual benefit in slowing spread of the virus is small enough that not benefit has been detected in the overwhelming majority of studies to date. Here is a bibliography of 35 historic studies showing that face masks have no meaningful effect on the spread of viruses, and 7 more studies that document health hazards from masks. Yes, wearing masks for long periods of time imposes its own health risks, especially when the masks are not removed and washed frequently. This is certainly significant for people required to wear them many hours at a stretch.
Here is the conclusion of one meta-analysis from the CDC web page. The authors find that the benefit is too small to rise to statistical significance even in a compilation of ten studies:
In our systematic review, we identified 10 RCTs that reported estimates of the effectiveness of face masks in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infections in the community from literature published during 1946–July 27, 2018. In pooled analysis, we found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.51–1.20; I2 = 30%, p = 0.25)
In recent months, several studies have been published that contradict the historic findings, and seem to justify the use of masks. Here is one that is prominently published (PNAS) and highly cited:
Our analysis reveals that the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the trends of the pandemic. This protective measure significantly reduces the number of infections.
Here’s how this conclusion is reached: In three locations where face masks were introduced (Wuhan, Italy, NYC), the authors note a linear rise in incidence of COVID, followed by the curve bending over later on. Their estimate of effectiveness is derived by subtracting the number of actual cases from the number of cases which would have occurred if the linear increase had continued through the period of observation.
An obvious objection to this analysis is that the curve always bends over. The initial rise is exponential as the virus expands into an unexposed population, and then it bends over and eventually falls, as the virus runs out of susceptible people to infect. For a short stretch after the exponential phase, the curve may look like a straight line, but inevitably the curve is destined to decline as the population is gradually developing herd immunity. Authors of this study make no attempt to separate the effect of herd immunity from the effect of masking. To do the comparison correctly, it should compare these three cases to control cases, regions in which no masking requirement was decreed. Did the curve turn over more quickly in locations with masks compared to locations without?
This objection and others were voiced by Paul Hunter, Louise Dyson, and Ed Hill in (separate) responses to the study on the UK Science Media Center website. They point out that the kind of shoddy science published in PNAS would never have received such prominent attention in an unpoliticized environment.
Viruses are spread either by aerosols or by droplets. Droplets are exhaled water that contains virus particles, and masks can trap droplets. They are the dominant mode of spread when people are in very close contact, as in a doctor-patient relationship. But droplets fall quickly from the air, especially in humid summer weather, and droplets don’t penetrate deep in the lungs, where viruses are most dangerous. Aerosols are molecular-scale virus particles, far too small to be stopped by a mask. They are the predominant form of virus spread, and outdoors they are the only way the virus spreads.
In urban environments, there are always tiny quantities of prevailing viruses in the air, and for the great majority of people this is a benefit. It means that just going about their business, they are exposed to tiny quantities of virus that educate their immune systems without accumulating to a load sufficient to cause disease. The best outcome for populations—indeed, the normal outcome for every flu season in the past—is that most people acquire T-cell immunity in this way, and then the virus can no longer spread through the population. By imposing lockdown and social distancing, governments the world over have curtailed this well-known, natural process for acquisition of herd immunity.
What is the rationale for slowing spread of the virus? Originally, the stated goal was to “flatten the curve”, so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed by a sudden burden of severe cases all at once. If there was any danger of this, it passed back in April. So, at this point, slowing the spread of the virus is only important if we hope to stop the spread at some future date. This relies on the promise of a vaccine, which, I will argue in part 3, cannot be adequately tested in a relevant time frame. Hence, even the most optimistic assessment of masks and social distancing will not save lives, but only delay deaths by a few months.
NYU Prof. Mark Crispin Miller’s extended essay on masking cites copious evidence for their ineffectiveness as well more stories than you want to read about recent violence that has erupted between masked and unmasked factions, or between law enforcement officials and unmasked civilians.
It was four years after 9/11 that I finally considered the possibility: this was never about brown-skinned men with boxcutters who hijacked airplanes; it was about restrictions on travel and free expression and a new Federal bureaucracy gathering information about our whereabouts and our contacts, all imposed in the name of keeping us safe. This time, I am a little less slow on the uptake, and I am beginning to suspect that COVID 19 is not about a viral pandemic; it is about restrictions on travel and free expression and a new Federal bureaucracy gathering information about our whereabouts and our contacts, all imposed in the name of keeping us safe.
END OF PART 2