We Lost 330x More Life Years by Locking Down Instead of Just Treating it as a Flu — Dr Gerhard Sundborn

Gerhard Sundborn

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Dr Gerhard Sundborn

Dr. Gerhard Sundborn is a professor and researcher of public health at The University of Auckland, New Zealand. Among other things, he is well known for educating the public on the dangers of soft drinks and lobbying the government to tax sugary beverages.

In December of 2020, a paper he co-authored, Chasing elimination through lockdowns is stamping out livelihoods and lives, was published in the Journal of Primary Health Care. The paper compares the life years lost from lockdown compared to those lost due to Covid-19 deaths.

Dr. Sundborn is also a member of COVID Plan B group that opposes the official narrative of the deadliness of Covid-19 and its continuous new strains, the necessity of the lockdowns and the theory of elimination, and instead proposes treating the coronavirus like the seasonal flu (using vaccines).


Host ➝ 00:00

Moving on. Gerhard Sundborn who’s a professor of public health at Auckland University. Gerhard’s going to talk about a paper that he was an author on, that was submitted to New Zealand Medical Journal just before Christmas, I think, and had triggered some interesting debate. Gerhard, over to you. Are you with us?

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 00:25

Yeah, I think you hear me all right. So for my presentation I’m just gonna talk basically about this paper we had published on the 22nd of December and kind of running through it.

First I want to give a little bit of background information to the paper and the whole journey, then go through the paper. And then I’ll go through the paper, after that kind of discuss where I think the government is when it comes to the elimination strategy and the use of lockdowns from here on.

So this is the paper:  Chasing elimination through lockdowns is stamping out livelihoods and lives. And it was published on the 22nd of December in the Journal of Primary Healthcare here in New Zealand.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 01:31

And the background is my colleague, who you just heard from, Dr. Simon Thornley, published this piece on the staff news website talking about do the consequences of this lockdown really much the threat.

And this was about, this was published about five or six days into our New Zealand lockdown. And one of the kind of take-home lines that resonates with me is that, you know, do we want to squash a flea with a sledgehammer and bring the house down?

And so I think this paper kind of addresses that as to why we think the elimination strategy was not the right thing and that lockdowns take a very very hard measure to control this virus, an over reaction. And from there our Covid Plan B group was formed.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 02:42

And I think we’ve, over that time, we’ve had a lot of opinions and perspectives on the virus that have on more often than not being overlooked by the media and by the government here in New Zealand.

And, you know, we’ve got a different view to what’s being listened to. And so that view has been, it’s been difficult to be heard at times. So we thought that by putting these our views in a letter and submitting it to a medical journal here in New Zealand, it would be a way that we could maybe share those views more widely.

It’s interesting that some of our views have been published in the British Medical Journal and major, major news outlets around the world, but here in New Zealand we’ve struggled a bit to to voice or to have the other side of the argument portrayed to public.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 03:52

So by getting this letter published, it was great. Unfortunately it took about three or four months to get it through, and we had to go to a couple of journals in order to get it published eventually.

And the great thing that I think the editor at The Journal of Primary Healthcare had done was they took the letter and presented it to the ministry of health and the government and asked for a response to the letter.

And so you can see that on the screen, the top, top left corner there in the same issue when our paper was published, a response was published from the ministry of health.

And it was the chief science advisor, Dr. Ian Town, who published that. With the media here in New Zealand, New Zealand Herald kind of covered it, kind of not the most positive review of the paper and the situation, but also, it prompted the invitation from a outlet to arrange a debate with Dr. Thornley and also Dr. Professor Michael Baker around the whole elimination strategy and the use of lockdowns. So it was quite useful in that sense.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 05:13

So now in the paper, we have to said in, I think, you know, already this morning, we’ve kind of covered a lot of as, as to why the elimination goal is unrealistic.

And in the paper we say how New Zealand is one of the few countries chasing the elimination in the world. And that, although there were claims here in New Zealand that we achieved elimination a couple of times, the criteria for elimination as defined by WHO wasn’t ever met.

And that means having no community cases for 36 months and having extensive testing in support of genomic data that reaffirms that.

And also to, like we know that even with effective vaccines elimination is unlikely as we have seen for influenza.

You know, we have a number of vaccines that come around every year and it hasn’t been and will never be eliminated.

We see that COVID-19 will be endemic around the world, it already is. And to think that New Zealand can maintain some kind of elimination status is unrealistic.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 06:36

So we talked a lot about the harms of lockdowns, and here in New Zealand as other places there’s a lot of different examples of the harm that lockdowns have caused.

And so, you know, some of them, some of these, if we just go along the top, you know, about mothers who gave birth during lockdown, a lot of them had to leave the hospital early and during their stays, they had no one to care for them.

A lot of them were re-admitted later on, about 47% of them. A recent study has shown for a number of reasons, including maybe leaving hospital offices here in too early.

Here in New Zealand, there was a spike in acute rheumatic fever cases during lockdown because people were stuck in their homes and in close proximity to each other.

There was a spike in domestic violence. On the three days following our first lockdown, there was a 20% increase in reports of domestic violence to police.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 07:49

We know, there’s a mental health crisis in COVID and the lockdown has stretched our system which is already stretched in regards to that.

There was a doubling or tripling of need for food parcels from food banks around the country.

And we know we’ve had a significant increase in those unemployed, but also to a number of small to medium businesses have gone to the wall and been lost.

So those are some of the harms, but in our paper, what we wanted to do was kind of look at how can we kind of look at the sum total of those harms.

And so what we looked at was life years lost. At our first symposium, professor Bhattacharya showed us a very insightful presentation, how due to the economic retraction of New Zealand’s economy, that it equated to you losing about approximately one life year lost in life expectancy.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 09:01

And so the calculation we’d done was that across New Zealand, that it equaled a loss of 4.8 million life years lost, and we modeled what was lost of Sweden.

And if we followed Sweden’s approach, we would have been more freer. We would’ve lost 14.5 thousand life years lost. Which means that the route that we took by having a very stringent and severe lockdown, we lost 330 times more life years than what would have occurred if we took a more open approach

And so also to have another look at the calculations behind that, Dr. John Gibson from University of Waikato, also does this type of modeling and his modeling wasn’t as drastic. He’s found that if we had taken a more open approach, somewhat to what Sweden had taken there would have been an extra 330 deaths, which would have meant 355 in total.

But to look at life years lost, which is a better of measure, it would have meant that across the board at birth, it would have been a loss of 26 days or approximately one month.

And his calculation also found that the lockdown meant that there was a one year loss of life. So by taking the approach of being freer, we would have lost 12 times less life years lost.

So both equations, although one in our papers is considerably higher, the calculation by Dr. John Gibson at University of Waikato also shows that lockdowns are not as advantageous as it would have been if we could have kept our economy and our society going.

When we look at the World Health Organization’s position on the virus, vaccines and lockdowns, there was a number of quotes that we gathered from two key figures from the World Health Organization. One was David Nabarro, who is on the WHO envoy, special envoy on COVID-19, and also the director general, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus and some of those quotes are there, you know, “we must learn to live with this virus”. “No country can just ride this out until we have a vaccine”.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 12:02

“Even if we do have a vaccine, it won’t end the pandemic on its own”. “Lockdowns are not a long-term solution for any country”. “We do not need to choose between lives and livelihoods or between health and the economy. It’s a false choice”. “The pandemic is a reminder that health and the economy are inseparable”. “Please stop using lockdowns as your primary control method of the coronavirus”. And finally, “lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer”.

So, you know, our position around lockdowns and here in New Zealand, lockdowns are a means to achieve elimination, we’re reaffirmed by what we’ve seen coming from representatives from the WHO.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 13:02

So it has been a great talk by Byram Bridle around vaccines and some of our concerns around the vaccine. But I think, you know, he’s also covered as how this vaccine has been rushed until, I think this is the fastest ever developed vaccine. Until this the record for vaccine was four years.

And so this took place within a year and so corners must have been cut, and there’s been little data on the efficacy and safety of these vaccines.

In the UK, we know for the Pfizer vaccine, there’s a legal protection for Pfizer, with regards to their vaccine.

We don’t know how the vaccine handles antibody induced enhancement and also too, we’re not sure on how these vaccines may react with new strains of the virus.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 14:11

And when we look at vaccines in eradication or elimination of viruses and diseases around the world, we know that smallpox is the only disease that’s been eradicated globally with an effective vaccine.  And that took 35 years.

And in Africa recently, wild polio virus has recently been eliminated from the country and it took 30 years, but other strains of polio virus still remain.

So it takes a heck of a long time. So if we think we are going to wait for elimination in New Zealand before we open, we could be waiting a mighty long time.

Also, too, we know that many people will refuse to be vaccinated, there was a study in the UK. And I think about 20% of those surveyed said they would not be vaccinated. And I think here in New Zealand, there’s a recent study where one in four people say they wouldn’t be vaccinated.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 15:19

So waiting for a vaccine in order to achieve elimination, and there’s other issues that are involved there as well. And then Simon earlier talked about the experience of swine flu and the same things that soon could happen here with, with with COVID-19.

And so with the swine flu, you know, when it was found, it was extensively throughout a lot of populations, there was no real need for the vaccine, but also too the vaccine caused some adverse reactions. And one of those was narcolepsy.

And I think those who took the swine flu vaccine can be to those who did not were five times more likely to develop narcolepsy. When you’re not, you know, when you’re rushing things and you’re not looking at the safety profile of them.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 16:23

These are some of the things that might, that can happen. And this lead to many vaccines throughout Europe. I’ve got a few slides here of vaccines. The number of vaccine destroyed in Germany, in the Netherlands, but also in the US.

You know, an excess of a billion dollars worth of vaccine were destroyed because there was no use for them and also they were dangerous. So these are some of the concerns that we have around the way that this vaccine is being developed, but listening to Byram Bridle’s presentation, you know, he goes into that a heck of a lot more.

And already, you know, there’s been a few a few issues here with some of the vaccines for COVID-19 early on, there’s a few NHS workers who had strong allergic reactions COVID-19 vaccine, and they had the Pfizer one, I believe.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 17:30

And so there was a warning there for people with allergies to not take it.

In Norway, there’s a investigation into 29 deaths. I think the majority of those were in the frail elderly, who are most at risk of negative implications from COVID-19 anyway.

And if it’s not protecting frail elderly people who are most at risk, then how useful is it? And then probably most recently is the point around South Africa ceasing the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, because it doesn’t seem to be effective against this strain.

So some of these concerns that we initially had kind of playing out a little bit, but, you know, it’s still quite early in the piece. So so it’s a bit as in to continue to monitor how the vaccine is handled by other countries.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 18:37

So this brings me to kind of an assessment of where do I think the government’s set with regards to the elimination strategy and using lockdowns to achieve it.

February 12, 2021

“if we followed Sweden’s approach, we would have been more freer. We would’ve lost 14.5 thousand life years lost. Which means that the route that we took by having a very stringent and severe lockdown, we lost 330 times more life years than what would have occurred if we took a more open approach”

Dr Gerhard Sundborn

Public Health University of Auckland

And there’s a few pieces that have recently come in the media that kind of allude to why I’m thinking the government have moved in the opposition.

And so, firstly this was, this piece was published in the Guardian, in the UK Guardian a while ago. And it’s about Ashley Bloomfield. And the headline is Covid unlikely to die out, says New Zealand health chief Ashley Bloomfield.

And when we look at text, “COVID-19 is unlikely to ever die out, even with a vaccination, even with vaccination efforts, but it could become more transmissible and less deadly, New Zealand’s director general health of has warned”.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 19:45

So I think here he is acknowledging that we’re not going to eliminate it in New Zealand. It’s unlikely to die out. And I don’t know if it’s becoming less deadly cause the virus would change, but it’s just possibly our tolerance to it.

What we’ve talked about around Byram, he’d rather get the virus to have that immunity than be vaccinated on more specific part of the virus.

He goes on to say that if you think about influenza, which was first recorded in 1172, I think in Europe, these viruses don’t tend to die out. They change over time. And in fact, what we are seeing with these new variants of the COVID-19 virus is that they tend to become more transmissible and less deadly over time. So I think here, we’ve seen our director general health acknowledging that elimination is unachievable.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 20:45

So I think, you know, straightaway I see that the government and the ministry of health is moving away from the elimination strategy. And then our prime minister just set down doing it. The first caucus meeting year also addressed the issues of, of the vaccine and COVID-19.

And she said that the government’s goal is getting COVID to a point where we manage it like common seasonal flu. And so this is a real, I think, change.

There’s a significant change in the way the government and the media report and can speak to the issue. Now it’s not as catastrophizing. A lot of times it used to be this deadly virus and a lot of the time my colleagues and I have been taken to task for comparing this virus to seasonal flu.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 21:55

And now we see our director general health doctor Ashley Bloomfield and our prime minister, comparing it to seasonal flu. And I’ll just play you a snippet now of Jacinda speaking to the topic at this meeting, which was in January.

Jacinda Ardern ➝ 22:20

[Inaudible] management of COVID-19 to a similar place, [inaudible]
Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 22:50

So again, this is just, it shows how the way COVID-19 has been reported and in being treated by politicians, and then in turn media is quite different from from last year and which is I think a good thing.

And I do believe that the government, they don’t want to go into lockdowns. I think maybe they have seen the negative impacts and they’ve heard those.

And I do believe also that they have walked away from the elimination strategy because those pieces say that to me.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 23:36

Also too, there was, we had a recent case of a few community transmissions here in Auckland and there was three in total, but when I read the article, it sounds like there was four, but you know, our second lockdown in Auckland and we locked down Auckland for three weeks because of four cases and here we’ve had three and there was a very low level of hype and concern about it in terms of the way I felt it came across the media and reporting in through the government.

So again, this kind of just says to me that the approach has moved away from the elimination strategy, and it’s more about learning to live with the virus and the lockdowns are not one of the ways that the virus needs to be handled or wants to be handled by the authorities now.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 24:40

So concerning that I thought, well, what could see New Zealand back into lockdown, or us into lock down here. And there’s a few things that I think could, and the first of those is if there was a significant number of community cases and human transmission cases, and if they were publicized, well, and so I think that’s the first thing, you know, it took four cases in Auckland to trigger a city-wide lockdown.

And I think if a similar thing happened then then that could start the process of us going into lockdown again. Although I still believe that that’s not the, the line that is wanted to be taken now.

The second thing that I think would promote that is if there was a publicized call for lockdown from acknowledged experts.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 25:37

And so we have a number of experts who are quite supportive and think that lockdowns are one of the best tools that we have to deal with containing this virus, as well as wearing masks and things like that.

And so I think if there was cases in that this was in turn promoted strongly by these, particularly these academics and experts who have the ear of the government and also the media.

And I think that would also play a major factor into pushing us into a lockdown again. And then finally if there was a public outcry to lock down because of the two previous things, then I think there would be a change into lockdown. I think over the course of last year, the way COVID was handled here.

There was a lot of fear generated and a lot of anxiety being generated too in the New Zealand public.

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 26:53

And so if there was an instance where it was publicly seemed to be responsible to not move to locking down, because it’s not protecting, you know, I think that would be another factor that the government would consider that may in turn move to seeing us into lockdown again.

So those are those things that are in my thoughts, but I do believe things are changing.

And I think that our letter has helped that as well as all the other things we do, but in conclusion, I suppose a significant change, I think it hasn’t occurred.

And the tone to which the government, the media address and possibly perceive the threat of COVID-19 in New Zealand and continued open dialogue and reporting on issues related to COVID-19 from both the perspectives is a vital for both a balanced understanding and response to COVID-19. Thank you.

Host ➝ 28:06

Thanks very much, Gerhard. Just, we’re over time, but can I just ask quickly, do you think, how does the government, and particularly its supporters, these academics who showed and people in the media have all been running the narrative that it was lockdown what’s wanted for us despite the fact that lockdowns everywhere else seem to have continued and not worked, but that’s the narrative.

How would that change, or do you think that also part of the thing that would lead us into a lockdown again, or perhaps even resist it, because if it worked, if it had worked back then, why would we be doing it again? Any comments about that?

Gerhard Sundborn ➝ 28:46

Yeah, I think, you know, there’s always political spin and I think yeah, I think for a lot of people who may or may not take as deeper following in that as the solution that understands that lockdown is why we’re here where we are, I think this information is continued to be shared.

And I think, you know, getting our messages out as much as possible, I think helps inform or inform the public better.

Host ➝ 29:22

Cool. Thanks, Gerhard. And so Gerhard was also responsible for perhaps the best three minute spiel on, I think it was News Talk Radio that captured the imagination of a lot of people who were listening.

In three minutes, he sort of summed up every argument against lockdown, every argument against COVID being the threat that it was meant to be. It was a piece of genius. So thanks, Gerhard.


More Resources:

Video Source (Copyright PLAN B International Covid Symposium: 2021, February 12)

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