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The Great Barrington Battle

            The picturesque town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts has been sucked into the COVID-19 maelstrom. A document entitled The Great Barrington Declaration was released on October 4, 2020, authored by scientists from Harvard and Stanford universities and the University of Oxford. Co-signers include more than forty scientists whose interests involve microbiology, epidemiology, psychiatry, genetics, medical ethics, immunology, vaccine technology, biostatistics and public health policy. More than 500,000 persons have voiced support of the declaration, including more than 40,000 physicians and other scientists. These are arrayed against large numbers of individuals of similar backgrounds, also respected experts in their field, who are opposed to the opinions expressed in the document.

            The main elements of the declaration are two-fold: those who are at minimal risk of death should return to a normal way of life, are likely to experience infection and thus eventually build herd immunity; those who are at high risk, namely persons who are older, obese, diabetic or who have other comorbidities, should be protected, a concept called Focused Protection.

            Opponents claim that about 60 percent of the population has comorbidities such as being overweight or obese and having diabetes, and that it is simply not possible to protect these and the vulnerable elderly. They include Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Adhanom Tedros, an immunologist and Director-General of the W.H.O., as well as spokespersons of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. With such acknowledged authorities so heatedly opposed to each other, what is the public to believe about an issue that is clearly having a serious impact on the health, finances and morale of the entire population?

            Like so many contentious issues there is truth on both sides. First, the mortality rate among the youngest of our populations is vanishingly small: as of late October the CDC has reported only 79 coronavirus fatalities among children below the age of 15. Among those below the age of 25 the number is only 462 and a large percentage of them also have comorbidities, including heart and lung disease as well as obesity. In four recent publications the percentage of children who died with comorbidities ranged from 22 to 83 percent. These are tragedies to be sure but only a tiny fraction of the more than 235,000 Americans who have succumbed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. If all children are able to return to regular classrooms their risk is small but that leaves open the possibility that they will infect older relatives and teachers who might have comorbidities.

            Herd immunity is a major point of dispute. As I noted in an earlier blog the likelihood of herd immunity as a result of the natural spread of infection is nil or nearly so. Barely three percent of the U.S. population has been infected to date. Only a vaccine can accomplish herd immunity and there is no certainty that most people will receive or even want to receive the vaccine and that the vaccine will provide long-term protection. On the latter point it will take most of 2021 before we can have solid information regarding the duration of protection; only natural challenges among vaccine recipients will reveal that and the wide diversity of vaccine types will obscure the results even longer.

            In my opinion, opening schools will expose some susceptible persons to infection but keeping them closed has its own perils and appears to be a greater risk. The vast majority of outdoor venues should be opened with the same caveats that the elderly and medically compromised among us should limit their exposure. Weight-challenged persons will suffer inordinately but they face the same perils from influenza – and children die in much greater numbers from influenza than from the coronavirus — and those annual epidemics that carry off on average about 40,000 Americans every year have not required schools and businesses to close.

            As always, I appreciate your feedback.

Lifestyle

Dr. Phil’s Senior Shake – an antidote to some of the Annoyances of Aging that have been reviewed in this blog.

            Geriatric specialists are well aware that older persons, especially those who live alone, tend not to have a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet. Here’s my breakfast recipe – an easy way to start the day that will provide you with some important dietary factors. These include protein, fiber, healthy carbohydrate, calcium and antioxidants.

            I use an ordinary kitchen blender with a capacity of six cups, a three-day supply. I start with about four ounces of orange juice or one of the OJ blends (strawberry, banana, mango, etc.) to give it some extra flavor without much sugar and add about 16 ounces of water.

            Add a banana and some colorful fruit such as blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. The more color, the more antioxidants. They also provide flavor and fiber. Frozen packages of mixed berries are especially convenient.

            MOST seniors don’t get enough protein that is so vital for tissue repair and a strong immune system, so I include at least 30 grams of protein powder (that comes out to about 10 grams per serving) of which there are many types in every supermarket or health food store. Stick to name brands with no added flavor. (You’ll get plenty of that in the fruit.)

            Yogurt is next, mainly for the protein but also for the calcium. My favorite is Trader Joe’s Greek non-fat. There are so many different flavors that you’ll never get bored.

            The last three ingredients are for intestinal health: Miralax, Metamucil and a probiotic powder. You might not need the first two but hardly anyone gets enough of the good bacteria that are so essential.

            If you’re looking for more information on protein powders and probiotics a reliable source of unbiased information is http://www.consumerlab.com.

            What about veggie shakes? They sure worked for Jack LaLanne! He made it to his mid-90s!

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