Veteran scholar of epidemiology Dr. Knut Wittkowski, formerly the head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design at Rockefeller University in New York City, argued in a interview published earlier this month that shelter-in-place policies could actually result in more deaths in the long term.
The general argument made by Dr. Wittkowski is that lockdown orders prolong any efforts in developing so-called herd immunity, which is our only weapon in “exterminating” the novel coronavirus outside of a vaccine, and that could optimistically take longer than 18 months. Focusing on shielding the most vulnerable to the virus (our elderly and folks with comorbidities) while allowing the young and healthy to build up immunity would, in the end, save more lives, Wittkowski argued.
“With all respiratory diseases, the only thing that stops the disease is herd immunity,” the epidemiologist said. “About 80% of the people need to have had contact with the virus, and the majority of them won’t even have recognized that they were infected, or they had very, very mild symptoms, especially if they are children.”
“So, it’s very important to keep the schools open and kids mingling to spread the virus to get herd immunity as fast as possible, and then the elderly people, who should be separated, and the nursing homes should be closed during that time, can come back and meet their children and grandchildren after about 4 weeks when the virus has been exterminated,” he continued.
Herd immunity, Wittkowski argued, would stop a “second wave” headed for the United States in the fall.
“If we had herd immunity now, there couldn’t be a second wave in autumn,” he said. “Herd immunity lasts for a couple of years, typically, and that’s why the last SARS epidemic we had in 2003, it lasted 15 years for enough people to become susceptible again so that a new epidemic could spread of a related virus. Because typically, there is something that requires cross-immunity, so if you were exposed to one of the SARS viruses, you are less likely to fall ill with another SARS virus. So, if we had herd immunity, we wouldn’t have a second wave.”
“However, if we are preventing herd immunity from developing, it is almost guaranteed that we have a second wave as soon as either we stop the social distancing or the climate changes with winter coming or something like that,” added Wittkowski.
Here’s a portion of the “abstract” from his interview:
Containment of high-risk people, like the elderly, and reducing disease severity, either by vaccination or by early treatment of complications, is the best strategy against a respiratory virus disease. Social distancing or “lockdowns” can be effective during the month following the peak incidence in infections, when the exponential increase of cases ends. Earlier containment of low-risk people merely prolongs the time the virus needs to circulate until the incidence is high enough to initiate “herd immunity”. Later containment is not helpful, unless to prevent a rebound if containment started too early.
Dr. Wittkowski is not alone in his dissent against our nation’s tack in fighting COVID-19.
Dr. David L. Katz, president of True Health Initiative and the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, writing at The New York Times on March 20, suggested our “fight” against COVID-19 could be worse than the virus itself.
“The ‘unique’ nature of COVID-19 — that it results in only ‘mild’ symptoms in 99% of cases and that it appears to only pose a high risk to the elderly — Katz contends, makes it particularly suited for a more strategic containment effort, rather than our current unsustainable, society-wide approach that threatens to upend the economy,” The Daily Wire reported at the time.
“The clustering of complications and death from Covid-19 among the elderly and chronically ill, but not children (there have been only very rare deaths in children), suggests that we could achieve the crucial goals of social distancing — saving lives and not overwhelming our medical system — by preferentially protecting the medically frail and those over age 60, and in particular those over 70 and 80, from exposure,” Dr. Katz explained.
“I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life — schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned — will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself,” he added.
Moreover, John P.A. Ioannidis, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine with focuses on medicine, epidemiology, population health and biomedical data science, warned last month that we are working off incomplete data and potentially causing more harm in our response.
The Daily Wire reported:
The woefully inadequate data we have so far, the meta-research specialist argues, indicates that the extreme measures taken by many countries are likely way out of line and may result in ultimately unnecessary and catastrophic consequences. Due to extremely limited testing, we are likely missing “the vast majority of infections” from COVID-19, he states, thus making reported fatality rates from the World Health Organization “meaningless.”
“Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes,” Ioannidis explains. With very limited testing in many health systems, he suggests, that “selection bias” may only get worse going forward.