Lancet Freedom Day letter included people with no scientific clout

Lancet letter which demanded Freedom Day be scrapped backed by 1,200 ‘experts’ actually included social workers, midwives and dentists – and ‘ANYONE could sign it’

  • Document accused the UK Government of conducting ‘unethical experiment’ by pressing on with July 19  
  • Originally signed by 122 leading scientists and doctors but gained more than 1,200 signatures week later
  • MailOnline found list included social workers, midwives, dentists and students with no scientific credentials

A scathing letter which demanded Freedom Day be delayed and was backed by more than 1,200 ‘experts’ allowed people with no scientific credentials to sign it, MailOnline can reveal. 

The document accused the UK Government of conducting a ‘dangerous and unethical experiment’ by pressing on with the July 19 unlocking despite soaring infection rates.

It was originally signed by 122 leading scientists and doctors last week and published in the prestigious journal The Lancet.

But it was later republished on an online campaign website, where it gained more than 1,000 more signatures and made national headlines on Tuesday.

The Lancet’s editor-in-chief  Dr Richard Horton claimed that the letter highlighted that there was ‘no scientific consensus’ over Boris Johnson’s decision to ditch most remaining lockdown curbs next week. 

However, among the 1,246 purported scientists who’d put their name to the document by last night, MailOnline found social workers, midwives, dentists and trainee doctors. 

There were also a handful of signatories who simply had ‘medic’ as their profession or a blank space beside their name.  

MailOnline was able to sign the letter using a fictitious name and title, however, the pseudonym was not added to the published list of signees at the time of writing. 

The document attacked the Government over policy that will have economic and health impacts England, and more widely Britain — yet people from all over the world were able to sign it.  

MailOnline counted dozens of names from as far afield as New Zealand, Australia, India and Japan. Signees were also located in Mexico, the US, Canada and Argentina, as well as several countries around Europe.

A scathing letter which demanded Freedom Day be delayed was originally signed  by 122 top scientists and doctors and published in The Lancet last week. Among the 122 signatories were, from top left, Lancet editor Dr Richard Horton, SAGE member Susan Michie, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, SAGE adviser Stephen Reicher and Oxford University’s Professor Trisha Greenhalgh

But it was later republished on an online campaign website known as the John Snow Memorandum, where it gained more than 1,000 more signatures and made national headlines on Tuesday (the list shown above). Among the 1,246 purported scientists who’d put their name to the document by last night, MailOnline found social workers, midwives, dentists and trainee doctors. There were also a handful of signatories who simply had ‘medic’ as their profession or a blank space beside their name

A press release distributed by the group this week was titled: ‘Scientists unite to condemn Government’s “herd immunity by mass infection” plan.’ The first line of the release read: ‘1,246 scientists sign Lancet letter as international outrage grows’

Sir David King

Sir David King

Former chief scientific adviser 

Sir David was the UK Government’s most senior scientific adviser from October 2000 to 31 December 2007.

He is the director of research at the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge University.

Sir David also chairs the Independent SAGE group, unaffiliated to government, that publishes advice aimed toward the UK government regarding the Covid pandemic.

Sir David and the group have been highly critical of the Government’s handling of the crisis. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul

Dr Chaand Nagpaul

Chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council. 

Dr Nagpaul is a GP in Stanmore, North London, and was elected as chair of the influential trade union for doctors in July 2017.

He previously slammed No10 for shortening the dosing gap between Covid vaccines.

It later transpired that a longer dosing regimen provided better protection.  

Professor Susan Michie

Professor Susan Michie

SAGE member and professor of health psychology at University College London 

Professor Michie is a senior member of the SAGE behavioural subgroup SPI-B.

She has been a fervent Communist since 1978 and has previously called for social distancing and wearing face masks should stay forever.

Professor Stephen Reicher 

Professor Stephen Reicher 

SAGE member and social psychologist at the University of St Andrews 

Professor Reicher is another senior member of SPI-B.

He has previously criticised the Government for allowing the Cummings row to undermine public trust.

Professor Robert West 

Robert West

SAGE member and health psychologist at University College London

Professor West is also a Spi-B member and prominent psychologist in University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare.

He has previously criticised the Government for allowing 70,000 deaths a year from smoking. 

Professor Tolullah Oni  

SAGE member and urban epidemiologist

Professor Oni  is a Nigerian urban epidemiologist at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. She is a NextEinstein Forum Fellow and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

Dr Richard Horton

Dr Richard Horton

Editor of The Lancet

Dr Horton joined the prestigious medical journal in 1990 and was appointed editor-in-chief five years later.

Since the pandemic began he has accused ministers and their advisers of failing to act properly or quickly enough. 

Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist from the University of Reading, told MailOnline that allowing people who were not scientists or practicing medical professionals within the UK to sign the letter was ‘misleading’.

He added the UK was in a ‘unique position’ to most countries around the world because of its highly successful vaccination rollout, which gives it the luxury to be one of the first countries to relax Covid curbs fully. 

‘I think think asking people who are not working or practicing in uk to comment on policy which is English but may have ramifications for other parts of the UK is potentially misleading.

‘And I don’t think right if we [British experts] were to comment on country specific policies elsewhere in the world it would be particularly welcome.’ 

In the Lancet letter, the original 122 experts demanded the Government reconsider its plan to abandon all restrictions in England on Monday, describing it as ‘premature’.

They warned that going ahead with Freedom Day despite accepting there could be hundreds of thousands of infections each day is both ‘unethical and illogical’.

Allowing Covid to rip through the country will leave ‘hundreds of thousands with long-term illness and disability’ due to the effects of the virus itself, as well as long Covid, they said.

Among the original signatories were Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser under David Cameron’s Government, and Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council. 

The letter was also signed by several of No10’s own expert advisers, including Professor Susan Michie and Professor Stephen Reicher, highlighting the rift within SAGE over the July 19 unlocking. 

After its original publication in the Lancet on July 7, the letter was then post to the John Snow Memorandum website, which was set up by medics and scientists who oppose Laissez-faire attitudes to Covid curbs.

A press release distributed by the group this week was titled: ‘Scientists unite to condemn Government’s “herd immunity by mass infection” plan.’

The first line of the release read: ‘1,246 scientists sign Lancet letter as international outrage grows.’

Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘While some of these people will have opinions, and while those opinion might be valid, they shouldn’t be presented as scientists and medical experts.

‘I’m a microbiologist, I’m not an expert in delivering babies, so I wouldn’t put my name to a pressure letter

MailOnline has contacted The Lancet and the John Snow Memorandum for comment. 

No10 is pressing on with Freedom Day despite the fact cases are expected to soar past 100,000 by August.  Ministers insist vaccines will keep the disease at bay and are hopeful cases will start to fade naturally next month.

There is roughly one death per every 1,000 cases in Britain at the moment, down from one in 100 in previous waves, but officials expect this gap to get even wider as more people get vaccinated.

Hospital admissions, on the other hand, are rising again with latest figures showing there were 538 on July 10, an increase of about 40 per cent on the previous week.

That’s more than double the number in early June, but experts say admissions are more mild and stay in hospital for a shorter time than in previous waves.

Writing in the letter, the experts said: ‘This strategy risks creating a generation left with chronic health problems and disability, the personal and economic impacts of which might be felt for decades to come.’

They added: ‘The Prime Minister’s statement today leaves little doubt that the government’s latest pandemic plan involves exposing millions of people to acute and long-term impacts of mass infection. We believe it is a terrible mistake.’

It says that it will put ‘intense pressure on struggling healthcare services’ and will lead to ‘many avoidable deaths and long-term illness’, placing at risk children and the clinically vulnerable and immunosuppressed.

The statement continued: ‘A strategy that chooses mass infection in children and young people now as a way to protect the vulnerable in winter, instead of taking the time to vaccinate our young is unethical and unscientific.’

The group also included the lead author of the Lancet memo, clinical epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a senior lecturer in machine learning at Queen Mary University, Professor Trish Greenhalgh of Oxford University, as well as Professor Christina Pagel of University College London and Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, both of whom are members of Independent SAGE.

They also stressed there was a risk of long Covid to the wider population, especially those who were vulnerable, younger people and children, as well as people who were unvaccinated.

The letter suggested the lifting of restrictions could make the disruption of children’s education more not less likely.

It stated: ‘Allowing transmission to continue over the summer will create a reservoir of infection, which will probably accelerate spread when schools and universities reopen in autumn.’

The letter called on the Government to reconsider ‘its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children’.

It said: ‘We believe the Government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19 2021.

‘Instead, the Government should delay complete reopening until everyone, including adolescents, have been offered vaccination and uptake is high, and until mitigation measures, especially adequate ventilation (through investment in carbon dioxide monitors and air filtration devices) and spacing (eg by reducing class sizes), are in place in schools.’

THE ORIGINAL LANCET LETTER IN FULL 

As the third wave of the pandemic takes hold across England, the UK Government plans to further re-open the nation. Implicit in this decision is the acceptance that infections will surge, but that this does not matter because vaccines have “broken the link between infection and mortality”. On July 19, 2021—branded as Freedom Day—almost all restrictions are set to end. We believe this decision is dangerous and premature.

An end to the pandemic through population immunity requires enough of the population to be immune to prevent exponential growth of SARS-CoV-2. Population immunity is unlikely to be achieved without much higher levels of vaccination than can be reasonably expected by July 19, 2021. Proportionate mitigations will be needed to avoid hundreds of thousands of new infections, until many more are vaccinated. Nevertheless, the UK Government’s intention to ease restrictions from July 19, 2021, means that immunity will be achieved by vaccination for some people but by natural infection for others (predominantly the young). The UK Health Secretary has stated that daily cases could reach 100 000 per day over the summer months of 2021. The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness. We have previously pointed to the dangers of relying on immunity by natural infection, and we have five main concerns with the UK Government’s plan to lift all restrictions at this stage of the pandemic.

First, unmitigated transmission will disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people who have already suffered greatly. Official UK Government data show that as of July 4, 2021, 51% of the total UK population have been fully vaccinated and 68% have been partially vaccinated. Even assuming that approximately 20% of unvaccinated people are protected by previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, this still leaves more than 17 million people with no protection against COVID-19. Given this, and the high transmissibility of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, exponential growth will probably continue until millions more people are infected, leaving hundreds of thousands of people with long-term illness and disability. This strategy risks creating a generation left with chronic health problems and disability, the personal and economic impacts of which might be felt for decades to come.

Second, high rates of transmission in schools and in children will lead to significant educational disruption, a problem not addressed by abandoning isolation of exposed children (which is done on the basis of imperfect daily rapid tests). The root cause of educational disruption is transmission, not isolation. Strict mitigations in schools alongside measures to keep community transmission low and eventual vaccination of children will ensure children can remain in schools safely. This is all the more important for clinically and socially vulnerable children. Allowing transmission to continue over the summer will create a reservoir of infection, which will probably accelerate spread when schools and universities re-open in autumn.

Third, preliminary modelling data suggest the government’s strategy provides fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. This would place all at risk, including those already vaccinated, within the UK and globally. While vaccines can be updated, this requires time and resources, leaving many exposed in the interim. Spread of potentially more transmissible escape variants would disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged in our country and other countries with poor access to vaccines.

Fourth, this strategy will have a significant impact on health services and exhausted health-care staff who have not yet recovered from previous infection waves. The link between cases and hospital admissions has not been broken, and rising case numbers will inevitably lead to increased hospital admissions, applying further pressure at a time when millions of people are waiting for medical procedures and routine care.

Fifth, as deprived communities are more exposed to and more at risk from COVID-19, these policies will continue to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities.

In light of these grave risks, and given that vaccination offers the prospect of quickly reaching the same goal of population immunity without incurring them, we consider any strategy that tolerates high levels of infection to be both unethical and illogical. The UK Government must reconsider its current strategy and take urgent steps to protect the public, including children. We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment, and we call on it to pause plans to abandon mitigations on July 19, 2021.

Instead, the government should delay complete re-opening until everyone, including adolescents, have been offered vaccination and uptake is high, and until mitigation measures, especially adequate ventilation (through investment in CO2 monitors and air filtration devices) and spacing (eg, by reducing class sizes), are in place in schools. Until then, public health measures must include those called for by WHO (universal mask wearing in indoor spaces, even for those vaccinated), the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ventilation and air filtration), and Independent SAGE (effective border quarantine; test, trace isolate, and support). This will ensure that everyone is protected and make it much less likely that we will need further restrictions or lockdowns in the autumn.

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