Elimination Is Scientifically Unsound
Epidemiologist Simon Thornley says public support for New Zealand’s “scientifically unsound” elimination goal is based on the mistaken belief that if virus has been contained, they are protected from infection until a vaccination is developed.
“Covid-19 cannot be contained. Most New Zealanders will get the virus eventually, most likely before a vaccination is developed.
“Overseas evidence shows the virus is now much more widespread than first thought. It will have spread in New Zealand even during lockdown. We do not know for sure because we’re not doing serology tests for antibodies.
“In these circumstances elimination is scientifically unsound. The real task is to minimise infection from vulnerable people while immunity is gained.”
Thornley says people think the disease is like measles – where most people have symptoms, so isolation is possible, and a vaccine can be given to those without immunity.
“The elimination model works for infections that ‘declare themselves’ by causing unequivocal symptoms and where vaccination is available.
“But Covid-19 doesn’t declare itself like measles. In Iceland, a community survey of the population showed about 1% of the population tested positive for the virus from a nose swab, and about half showed no symptoms, despite the positive test results.”
Antibodies give a more detailed picture than nose swabs. Serology tests show many more people have recovered from the virus than has been appreciated. The percentage varies between 4% (Santa Clara, California) to 21% in New York city.
This indicates that exposure to the virus is about 50 to 85 times that observed from nose swab tests alone. This would dial back New Zealand fatality estimates to about 0.03% of all infected cases – a mortality rate no greater than that for seasonal influenza.
“The idea of a contained virus doesn’t match international antibody surveys. This evidence makes the idea of elimination scientifically unsound.
“We are dealing with a virus that is more widespread and much less deadly than we feared. Evidence strongly supports us throwing off the lockdown shackles, safely returning to work and school, while doing our utmost to protect our most vulnerable in hospitals and rest homes.”