I never expected to be writing something like this. I am an ordinary person, recently semi-retired from a career in the pharmaceutical industry and biotech, where I spent over 30 years trying to solve problems of disease understanding and seek new treatments for allergic and inflammatory disorders of lung and skin.
I’ve always been interested in problem solving, so when anything biological comes along, my attention is drawn to it. Come 2020, came SARS-CoV-2.
I’ve written about the pandemic as objectively as I could. The scientific method never leaves a person who trained and worked as a professional scientist. Please do read that piece. My co-authors & I will submit it to the normal rigours of peer review, but that process is slow and many pieces of new science this year have come to attention through pre-print servers and other less conventional outlets.
While paying close attention to data, we all initially focused on the sad matter of deaths. I found it remarkable that, in discussing the COVID-19 related deaths, most people I spoke to had no idea of large numbers. Asked approximately how many people a year die in the UK in the ordinary course of events, each a personal tragedy, They usually didn’t know.
I had to inform them it is around 620,000, sometimes less if we had a mild winter, sometimes quite a bit higher if we had a severe ’flu season. I mention this number because we know that around 42,000 people have died with or of COVID-19. While it’s a huge number of people, its ‘only’ 0.06% of the UK population. Its not a coincidence that this is almost the same proportion who have died with or of COVID-19 in each of the heavily infected European countries – for example, Sweden. The annual all-causes mortality of 620,000 amounts to 1,700 per day, lower in summer and higher in winter. That has always been the lot of humans in the temperate zones.
So for context, 42,000 is about ~24 days worth of normal mortality. Please know I am not minimising it, just trying to get some perspective on it. Deaths of this magnitude are not uncommon, and can occur in the more severe flu seasons. Flu vaccines help a little, but on only three occasions in the last decade did vaccination reach 50% effectiveness. They’re good, but they’ve never been magic bullets for respiratory viruses. Instead, we have learned to live with such viruses, ranging from numerous common colds all the way to pneumonias which can kill. Medicines and human caring do their best.
So, to this article. Its about the testing we do with something called PCR, an amplification technique, better known to biologists as a research tool used in our labs, when trying to unpick mechanisms of disease. I was frankly astonished to realise they’re sometimes used in population screening for diseases – astonished because it is a very exacting technique, prone to invisible errors and it’s quite a tall order to get reliable information out of it, especially because of the prodigious amounts of amplification involved in attempting to pick up a strand of viral genetic code. The test cannot distinguish between a living virus and a short strand of RNA from a virus which broke into pieces weeks or months ago.
I believe I have identified a serious, really a fatal flaw in the PCR test used in what is called by the UK Government the Pillar 2 screening – that is, testing many people out in their communities. I’m going to go through this with care and in detail because I’m a scientist and dislike where this investigation takes me. I’m not particularly political and my preference is for competent, honest administration over the actual policies chosen. We’re a reasonable lot in UK and not much given to extremes. What I’m particularly reluctant about is that, by following the evidence, I have no choice but to show that the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, misled the House of Commons and also made misleading statements in a radio interview. Those are serious accusations. I know that. I’m not a ruthless person. But I’m writing this anyway, because what I have uncovered is of monumental importance to the health and wellbeing of all the people living in the nation I have always called home.
Back to the story, and then to the evidence. When the first (and I think, only) wave of COVID-19 hit the UK, I was with almost everyone else in being very afraid. I’m 60 and in reasonable health, but on learning that I had about a 1% additional risk of perishing if I caught the virus, I discovered I was far from ready to go. So, I wasn’t surprised or angry when the first lockdown arrived. It must have been a very difficult thing to decide. However, before the first three-week period was over, I’d begun to develop an understanding of what was happening. The rate of infection, which has been calculated to have infected well over 100,000 new people every day around the peak, began to fall, and was declining before lockdown. Infection continued to spread out, at an ever-reducing rate and we saw this in the turning point of daily deaths, at a grim press conference each afternoon. We now know that lockdown made no difference at all to the spread of the virus.
We can tell this because the interval between catching the virus and, in those who don’t make it, their death is longer than the interval between lockdown and peak daily deaths. There isn’t any controversy about this fact, easily demonstrated, but I’m aware some people like to pretend it was lockdown that turned the pandemic, perhaps to justify the extraordinary price we have all paid to do it. That price wasn’t just economic. It involved avoidable deaths from diseases other than COVID-19, as medical services were restricted, in order to focus on the virus. Some say that lockdown, directly and indirectly, killed as many as the virus. I don’t know. Its not something I’ve sought to learn. But I mention because interventions in all our lives should not be made lightly.
Its not only inconvenience, but real suffering, loss of livelihoods, friendships, anchors of huge importance to us all, that are severed by such acts. We need to be certain that the prize is worth the price. While it is uncertain it was, even for the first lockdown, I too supported it, because we did not know what we faced, and frankly, almost everyone else did it, except Sweden. I am now resolutely against further interventions in what I have become convinced is a fruitless attempt to ‘control the virus’. We are, in my opinion – shared by others, some of whom are well placed to assess the situation – closer to the end of the pandemic in terms of deaths, than we are to its middle. I believe we should provide the best protection we can for any vulnerable people, and otherwise cautiously get on with our lives. I think we are all going to get a little more Swedish over time.
In recent weeks, though, it cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that there has been a drum beat which feels for all the world like a prelude to yet more fruitless and damaging restrictions. Think back to mid-summer. We were newly out of lockdown and despite concerns for crowded beaches, large demonstrations, opening of shops and pubs, the main item on the news in relation to COVID-19 was the reassuring and relentless fall in daily deaths. I noticed that, as compared to the slopes of the declining death tolls in many nearby countries, that our slope was too flat. I even mentioned to scientist friends that inferred the presence of some fixed signal that was being mixed up with genuine COVID-19 deaths. Imagine how gratifying it was when the definition of a COVID-19 death was changed to line up with that in other countries and in a heartbeat our declining death toll line became matched with that elsewhere.
I was sure it would: what we have experienced and witnessed is a terrible kind of equilibrium. A virus that kills few, then leaves survivors who are almost certainly immune – a virus to which perhaps 30-50% were already immune because it has relatives and some of us have already encountered them – accounts for the whole terrible but also fascinating biological process. There was a very interesting piece in the BMJ in recent days that offers potential support for this contention.
Dr. Michael Yeadon – Lockdown Sceptics – September 20, 2020.