Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts including ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’

An open letter which made headlines calling for a herd immunity approach to Covid-19 lists a number of apparently fake names among its expert signatories, including "Dr Johnny Bananas" and "Professor Cominic Dummings".

The Great Barrington declaration, which was said to have been signed by more than 15,000 scientists and medical practitioners, was found by Sky News to contain numerous false names, as well several homeopaths and therapists.

Other names listed include a resident at the "university of your mum", "Professor Boris Isacompuliveliar", and another supposed specialist whose name was the first verse of Los del Rio's 1993 song, Macarena.

The Great Barrington declaration
The Great Barrington declaration

Sky News also discovered 18 self-declared homeopaths in the list of expert names and well over 100 therapists whose expertise included massage, hypnotherapy and Mongolian khoomii singing.

The declaration drew widespread attention earlier this week when it called for an easing of lockdown measures, allowing most people to return to normal life while protecting the most vulnerable.

Individual academics from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Sussex and York are among experts from around the world who have signed the declaration.

However, the declaration's website allows anyone to add their name to the list if they provide an email address, home city and postcode and name.

Signatories also tell the site whether they are a medical and public health scientist, medical practitioner or member of the general public – of whom almost 160,000 claim to have signed.

It is not clear how many of the names in the declaration's list of experts are fake, or when they appeared, however many scientists have already criticised its conclusions.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said the Great Barrington declaration is "a very bad idea" and doubted the vulnerable in society would be able to avoid the virus when allowed to become so widespread.

The open letter called for a return to pre-Covid life for those not vulnerable to the virus
The open letter called for a return to pre-Covid life for those not vulnerable to the virus

"Ultimately, the Barrington Declaration is based on principles that are dangerous to national and global public health," said Dr Head.

Professor Jeremy Rossman pointed out that research suggests that protective antibody responses may "decay rapidly" and that there have been cases of re-infection of the virus.

The leader of the NHS in England, Sir Simon Stevens, has said asking all over-65s to shield to slow the transmission of the second wave of coronavirus would be "age-based apartheid".

It has also been noted that the declaration ignores the growing evidence on long Covid – whereby thousands of fit and young people who contract the virus have been left with debilitating symptoms months after a mild infection.

The declaration calls for an approach it describes as "focused protection", arguing lockdowns being kept in place until a vaccine is available "will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed".