Covid Superstars #4 – Professor John Edmunds OBE

Read Time:14 Minutes

By Bruce Wallace

This edition of Covid Superstars is by special request from a reader, although the Professor was already on the hit list. John Edmunds is an epidemiologist and an expert in infectious diseases. He is Dean of the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is a Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling.

Edmunds got his PhD in 1994 for research investigating the epidemiology of Hepatitis B. He specialises in the design of control programmes against infectious diseases and is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) [1].

NERVTAG advises the UK Government’s Chief Medical Advisor and the Chief Medical Officer for England. Edmunds is right up there with the scientific cabal of SAGE who are directing the response to the pandemic.

No dummy, Edmunds was awarded his Order of the British Empire medal in 2016 for services to infectious disease control particularly the Ebola crisis response in West Africa.

Here was a man of absolute integrity, immense clinical and theoretical knowledge. Surely there could be none better to give level-headed expert advice? He became a regular guest on TV and other media right at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

Who the hell was Pueyo?

On 13 March 2020 Channel 4 aired a one hour special on the pandemic asking “CORONAVIRUS: are we DOING ENOUGH?” [2]. The context was the alarming and lurid news coming out of Northern Italy about the virus where the government had just placed 60 million Italians in a national lockdown on 9 March, only 4 days before.

A section was given over to a discussion between Edmunds and one Tomas Pueyo from California. Subsequent attention has been on the content of Edmunds’ contribution, but little on who exactly Pueyo was.

The presenter Mat Frei introduced him as:

“a silicon valley executive and writer…..not a scientist but his detailed modelling of the virus’s spread has set the internet alight with its stark warnings about the rate of infection.”

A true altruist no doubt only concerned about saving lives. On the Stanford Graduate School of Business website there is a bit more in depth about Pueyo [3]:

“On March 10, Pueyo, a 2010 graduate of Stanford GSB with a diploma in public management and specialization in behavioural psychology, published a data-driven article on Medium titled CORONOVIRUS:WHY WE MUST ACT NOW”

It’s a 26 min read but, within the space of nine days, the post had been viewed 30 million times!

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to realise there was something fishy going on here, so I just checked out some of his endorsements:

Anthony Costello, ex-Director at the World Health Organization. Professor, University College London [4]
Didier Pittet, Professor of Medicine and Hospital Epidemiology [5]
Gabriel Scally, Public health physician, Former Regional Director of Public Health in England, Hon Professor of Public Health at University of Bristol. Here’s what he tweeted:

“Yes, I know it’s a 26 minute read! But this is THE biggest #publichealth crisis in over 100 years and people will die totally avoidable deaths unless the UK Gov changes tack urgently. So read this brilliant paper and pass it on. #COVID19#coronavirushttps://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca

It’s Professor Fate! [6] Where have we seen him before? [7]

It turns out that Pueyo is the vice president for growth of a company called Course Hero [8], an on-line learning platform for students and tutors that costs (as low as) $9.95 a month for instant access. The company has a capital value of $1 billion. Call me cynical, but wouldn’t a lockdown, and particularly one that closed schools, colleges and universities, present Course Hero with a massive marketing opportunity?

On 1 April (incidentally) Pueyo was interviewed about his viral social media popularity and how he had made such an impact. By that time the UK, most of Europe and the USA were all in lockdowns of one form or other:

I work in Silicon Valley in growth. That’s a critical factor, because not everybody in Silicon Valley deals with exponential growth rates every day. I’m very acquainted with growth rates and what they mean. When something has an exponential growth rate, we know the consequences and what it means. Early on, after Wuhan shut down, I was looking at numbers and I thought, “This is crazy, this is flabbergasting.” And I started posting on Facebook information about coronavirus to my friends. It was clear exponential growth was going to happen. [9]

Exponential growth rates of what and what particular consequences do we know exactly? Exponential growth in company profits has a consequence of immense personal enrichment. Or an exponential explosion in social media posts pushing alarmist pseudo-scientific bullshit consequently meaning that millions of people are gripped by panic?

How could this guy, without any formal background in either virology or epidemiology, let alone medicine, produce anything of any meaning whatsoever relating to pathogenic dynamics? It’s flabbergasting alright that millions of people were taking him seriously, yet he was promoted by some of the top people in the medical establishment.

I avoided Pueyo’s screeds of graph porn because most of his projections were based on ridiculous estimates of fatality rates. Instead I looked at what he was advocating based on his amateur paper. Surveying different approaches he wrote that what China did was good and the lengths at which it went to contain the virus were mind-boggling. No kidding! [10]

Pueyo plumped for a suppression strategy as the virus had gone far too far in the west for a containment strategy of test, trace and isolate to work. He cited Italy’s lockdown as the basic model, which included the toughest lockdown measures and closure of all educational establishments (schools, universities etc). No surprise there then.

The only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity

The exchange between Edmunds and Pueyo is most definitely worth a watch and you can find the whole of it here at 09:37 [11]. Even better there is a verbatim transcript of it here [12].

Pueyo was standing in an office somewhere in Silicon Valley and his histrionics were astonishing. Professor Edmonds was clearly unimpressed and regarded Pueyo with thinly disguised contempt. Who could blame him as a completely unqualified knob-end was jumping up and down waving his arms around screaming ‘lockdown’!

Edmunds stood by the scientific method and issued his now famous statement:

“So we stop the epidemic, or we slow the epidemic right down, so that the NHS doesn’t become overwhelmed, hospitals don’t become overwhelmed, that’s the idea. The only way to stop this epidemic is indeed to achieve herd immunity.”

Pueyo buried his head in his hands and ranted that this was crazy:

“so we’re saying that we want to kill 200,000 people in the UK?” (based on an infection fatality rate of 1%).

Frei calmed Pueyo down, pointing out that nobody was saying that, but Pueyo resumed with augurs of apocalyptical mega death and collapsed health services.

Edmunds was unperturbed and rejected lockdown as an appropriate response to the pandemic at that time and was simply laying out the orthodox accepted scientific position as regards dealing with epidemics that have existed for a hundred years [13] and he was not alone.

On 13 March, non other than the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Sir Patrick Vallance, appeared on Sky TV [14]. He explained that the aim was to reduce the peak of the epidemic, flatten it and broaden it, so you didn’t end up with so much intense pressure on health systems at one time. He went on:

“So we want to suppress it, not get rid of it completely which you can’t do anyway. We want to suppress it so we don’t get the second peak, and so we allow enough of us who are going to get a mild illness to become immune to it, this is to help with the whole population response to this, which would protect everybody.”

When asked what percentage of the population needed to get infected to reach herd immunity (?) Vallance said:

“About 60 percent or so and we think this virus is going to come back year on year and becomes like a seasonal virus and communities will become immune to it. That’s going to become an important part of controlling this longer term.”

Interestingly, Vallance also distinguished the difference between symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, and that only symptomatic people should be considered as ‘cases’.

On the same day Vallance reiterated the pandemic plan on Radio 4 defending the government’s approach to tackling the coronavirus, saying it could have the benefit of creating “herd immunity” across the population. [15]

While Edmunds was undoubtedly correct (as was Vallance) and Pueyo was palpably crazy (like a fox) the response from viewers was overwhelmingly alarmed by Edmunds’ dispassionate demeanour. Pueyo represented the epitome of the covid zeitgeist tapping into the mood music of irresponsible panic mongering by the media. Edmunds was described as sitting there like Dr Strangelove [16]. It was socially distasteful and unacceptable to admit that some people were going to die from a disease.

The rest is history. The lockdown policy, eerily identical to that proposed by a Facebook grifter, became the pandemic response of practically every western government,

Professor volt-face

When lockdown number 1 was imposed on 23 March 2020, formal official discussion on herd immunity practically ceased. The strategy being followed was virus suppression, even if the expressed aim was to ‘flatten the curve’ to protect the NHS.

This was a political decision and not a scientific one [17]. Yet to remain part of the SAGE inner circle, adherence to the new orthodoxy was essential. Edmunds duly conformed arising as if having had a Damascene conversion to lockdown zealotry.

On Channel 4 News on 24 April [18] after about a month into the lockdown interviewed by Cath Newman, Edmunds said that we know lockdown works as it was bringing infections down. Newman said that in March the government appeared to be following a mitigation strategy allowing mass gatherings to take place. Allowing it to spread naturally and allowing the development of some herd immunity. Was that a mistake?

“Uh I don’t know….eh I’m not quite sure if that was really the strategy? I think…um… at the time it was difficult to imagine or eh uhm you know. We weren’t quite sure…you know… what level of compliance with various social distance measures were possible. Um it hadn’t been done in…in..in, you know, the UK or even Europe uh. It wasn’t until Italy started going into lockdown around the beginning uh middle of March. And I think that changed things… I think it changed the way uh … you know … uh … up until that point you’d seen very restrictive measures taken in China ah um and I think it was hard to imagine that we would do that here in the UK (shakes head despondently).”

Newman asked whether a full lockdown had been modelled.

“Well we all looked at a range of different measure, which were very stringent, but it was um … you know, it’s difficult to say. You know in some sense it was difficult to imagine just how easy the lockdown was if you see what I mean? That people would actually go along with it.”

Here Edmunds exhibited his total lack of integrity and utter spinelessness as he flipped his position completely. Since the first lockdown, Edmunds has become a fanatic. At every stage he has called for tighter restrictions and opposed any easing.

Like a member of the inner party, Edmunds has engaged in trying to retrospectively erase the fact of his earlier adherence to the, now unfashionable, established science with a surfeit of zeal. On 6 June he appeared on BBC’s Andrew Marr show [19] and said:

“We should have gone into lockdown earlier. I think it would have been hard to do it, I think the data that we were dealing with in the early part of March and our kind of situational awareness was really quite poor. And so I think it would have been very hard to pull the trigger at that point but I wish we had – I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier. I think that has cost a lot of lives unfortunately.”

And so it goes. On 7 Oct, Edmunds called for an early reimposition of full lockdown on BBC Newsnight [20]:

“We need to take much more stringent measures, not just in the north of England, we need to do it countrywide, and bring the epidemic back under control.”

And that the government’s current “light touch” measures are just “delaying the inevitable”.

“We will at some point put very stringent measures in place because we will have to when hospitals start to really fill up. Frankly, the better strategy is to put them in place now.”

The depths to which Edmunds has sunk is remarkable. The icing on the cake is perhaps Edmunds’ latest pronouncements on Robert Peston’s ITV show on 10 Feb 2021 [21].

On vaccination he said that opening society up depended on how fast the vaccination programme was going. After the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated we could move to lower risk groups and hopefully children!

Peston asked Edmunds that given the vaccination of the most vulnerable groups was nearing completion and that this would take the pressure off hospitals; at that point, wouldn’t it be alright to let the virus rip through the rest of the population as it would only result in moderate disease? Would that be a bad thing?

That would be “very dangerous”, Edmunds responded. He then suggested that even if 90 percent of the population were vaccinated, given that the vaccine wasn’t 100 percent effective, even if you vaccinated 90 percent of the population there would still leave about 20 percent of the most vulnerable group unprotected. If you opened up and let it rip these people would be rapidly infected and they “Would soon be filling up your hospitals and unfortunately your morgues.”

He was quoted in The Express [22] as stating:

“Most curbs on daily life — which may include the Rule of Six — are likely to be in force until the end of this year, while less restrictive curbs — like face mask wearing on public transport and indoors — could possibly be in place ‘forever’.”

Edmunds has transformed himself into a covid ghoul to rival even the likes of Gabriel Scally. Scally at least has the lone redeeming feature of being consistent. He’s been consistently loathsome from the start. Edmunds caps this by adding crass hypocrisy to his odious supine devotion to the lockdown cult.

Sources

[1] New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C98FmoZVbjs

[3] Tomás Pueyo, MBA ’10 on His Viral Post, “Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now” | Stanford Graduate School of Business

[4] https://twitter.com/globalhlthtwit/status/1237749174961045506

[5] https://twitter.com/DidierPittet/status/1237981415742070784?s=20

[6] (33) The Great Race – Push the Button Max – YouTube

[7] Covid Superstars #2 – Dr Gabriel Scally (leftlockdownsceptics.com)

[8] Course Hero | Make every study hour count

[9] Tomás Pueyo, MBA ’10 on His Viral Post, “Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now” | Stanford Graduate School of Business

[10] Lockdowns in China (2021) – Swiss Policy Research (swprs.org)

[11] (16) Coronavirus special: Are we doing enough? – YouTube

[12] John Edmunds on herd immunity – full transcript | (wordpress.com)

[13] Herd immunity – Wikipedia

[14] (33) UK needs to get COVID-19 for ‘herd immunity’ – YouTube

[15] Coronavirus: science chief defends UK plan from criticism | World news | The Guardian

[16] (35) Dr. Strangelove – Peter Sellers – “An astonishingly good idea” – YouTube

[17] The lockdown’s founding myth | Christopher Snowdon | The Critic Magazine

[18] ‘It was difficult to imagine just how easy lockdown was, that people would go along with it’ – Prof John Edmunds – Channel 4 News

[19] (64) BBC Andrew Marr Show Today John Edmunds: “I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier – YouTube

[20] https://uk.news.yahoo.com/national-lockdown-john-edmunds-sage-084726273.html

[21] (55) Epidemiologist Prof John Edmunds full interiview with Peston 10.02.21 – YouTube

[22] Lockdown rules: Masks and social distancing could stay until AUTUMN at earliest | UK | News | Express.co.uk

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