Health Minister Chris Fearne has warned that focused protection of vulnerable people won’t work as a strategy to contain the spread of COVID-19 while limiting the societal damage caused by restrictions.
Fearne was recently asked by independent MP Godfrey Farrugia to comment on the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement advocating ‘focused protection’ that has been signed by several health experts and scientists.
This Declaration proposes targeted measures to protect vulnerable people, such as by performing regular PCR tests at elderly care homes and ensuring staff there have acquire immunity.
It argues that those who are at minimal risk of death should be allowed to live their lives normally, which would build up immunity in the population and decrease the risk of infection to all, including the vulnerable.
“Keeping [lockdown] measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed,” the statement reads.
However, the World Health Organisation has warned that this proposed strategy is dangerous, unethical and lacks a scientific basis.
“Herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it,” the WHO’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic.”
And Fearne endorsed this statement, noting that the achievement of herd immunity through a vaccination programme has long been enshrined as a public health principle.
“The Great Barrington Declaration states that vulnerable people can be completely protected, but local and international experience shows that this never took place,” he said. “There’s always a divergence of opinions in the scientific community, and in fact three main public health experts recently showed that this declaration was strongly backed by US organisations with a traditional anti-vaccine agenda.”
“As always, the Maltese public health authorities abide by the guidelines provided by international authorities, such as the WHO and the ECDC.”