A widely-circulated open letter calling on governments to pursue herd immunity is counting homeopaths, therapists and fake names among its “medical” signatories, leading to accusations that it falsely represents scientific support for the controversial position.
The Great Barrington Declaration, a letter organised by prominent advocates of herd immunity, claims to have been signed by more than 15,000 scientists and medical practitioners, as well as more than 150,000 members of the general public.
Yet Sky News found dozens of fake names on the list of medical signatories, which anyone can add to if they tick a box and enter a name. These included Dr. I.P. Freely, Dr. Person Fakename and Dr. Johnny Bananas, who listed himself as a “Dr of Hard Sums”.
One medical professional on the list gives his name as Dr Harold Shipman, a general practitioner in the United Kingdom.
A GP called Harold Shipman killed more than 200 of his patients before he was arrested in 1998.
Other famous names included Dominic Cummings, who is described as “PhD Durham Univercity”.
Sky News also found 18 self-declared homeopaths listed on the open letter as medical practitioners, despite the fact that homeopathy has no scientific underpinning or clinical evidence to support its use.
In addition, the letter has been signed by well over 100 therapists, including massage therapists, hypnotherapists, psychotherapists and one Mongolian Khöömii Singer who describes himself as a “therapeutic sound practitioner”.
Public health experts accused the letter, which has been used as evidence for the idea of a rift in the scientific community, of misrepresenting the level of support for the controversial concept of herd immunity.
Professor Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it reminded him of “the messaging used to undermine public health policies on harmful substances, such as tobacco”.
As advocates of herd immunity have become more vocal, media reports have described scientists as “divided”.
Yet although herd immunity has some prominent backers, and the Great Barrington Declaration has been signed by many respected scientists and medical professionals, the vast majority of specialists in the field reject the approach.
Professor McKee added: “Leaving aside the powerful arguments against this declaration on grounds of science and feasibility, we have consistent evidence that a clear majority of the British public support necessary measures to reduce the spread of the virus or would go even further.
“Yet the campaign behind this declaration promotes a completely different picture.”
The letter, called the Great Barrington Declaration after the United States town where it was written, was initiated by Professor Martin Kulldorff, Professor Jay Bhattacharya and Professor Sunetra Gupta.
It calls on governments to allow younger and less vulnerable people to catch coronavirus, thereby encouraging “herd immunity” among the population, while people who would be hit especially hard by the virus are given “focused protection”.
Professor Bhattacharya, professor of medicine of Stanford University, told Sky News: “We do not have the resources to audit each signature, especially given the incredible interest that the Great Barrington Declaration has drawn. It is unfortunate that some people have abused our trust by adding false names, but I suppose it is inevitable.
“Still – given the volume of correspondence I have received from medical and public health professionals, as well as scientists and epidemiologists, it is clear that a very large number of experts resonate with the message of the declaration and its call for a focused protection policy.”