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"WHO has learned the wrong lesson from Covid by continuing the research that may have caused the pandemic"

Jay Bhattacharya is Professor of Medicine, Economics and Health Research Policy at Stanford University, in California. He is one of the scientists challenging the US government over its censorship of free speech during the Covid pandemic. One of his battles is to demand an assessment of the management of the pandemic in order to avoid the same mistakes in the future. But Jay Bhattacharya is no longer so confident. The WHO treaty, scientific experimentation and the rollback of freedoms are all cause for concern. Interview.

Jay Bhattacharya
© DR

Amèle Debey, for L'Impertinent: A year has passed since our first interview, in which you regretted Stanford's failure to fulfill its academic mission during the Covid crisis. Similar positions led your colleague Martin Kulldorff to lose his job at Harvard. I'd like to know what has happened to you over the past year?

Pr Jay Bhattacharya: It's been an eventful year! I remember in that first interview, I was hopeful that there would now be considerable public interest in evaluating the response during the Covid pandemic and making an honest assessment of what went wrong. We're a long way from that.

A year on, what I've found is that the kinds of studies that have been carried out, for example in the UK, have approached the issue from the angle of containment not being rigorous or early enough, which is not at all what the data indicate.

 

(Re)read our first interview with Jay Bhattacharya: "This fear-based censorship is not a pandemic management tool"

 

I had hoped that American political leaders, like Ron de Santis or Robert Kennedy Jr. would help start the debate about what went wrong during containment. But that doesn't seem to be the case. While Kennedy is still in the presidential race, Governor de Santis has thrown in the towel. So my hopes are melting like snow in the sun.

But I still think people desperately need an honest retrospective assessment, because our response to this crisis - containment, school closures, public panic and rejection of Evidence Based Medicine - all point to how we will continue to manage future pandemics.


Are you still teaching at Stanford?

Yes, I'm still there. And unlike last year, I'm starting to see some encouraging signs. Signs of openness on the part of people finally able to say what they think about this pandemic. During Covid, it was a very hostile working environment. It was very difficult for anyone with an opinion contrary to Tony Fauci's to express themselves freely. Even in a place like Stanford.

So things have improved?

Yes, I think it has. And more generally, it seems to me that the public has either moved on and stopped talking about Covid - which is very healthy, by the way - or understands that what we did was completely crazy. That the public health response was not justified by scientific evidence. So some people are still angry, but the majority have moved on.

Do you think this is because they're having trouble coming to terms with the fact that they've been fooled?

During the pandemic, Americans turned to the government. Tony Fauci was seen by many as the pope of science. When he argued against wearing a mask in February 2020, everyone followed. When he changed his mind based on absolutely no evidence in March, everyone started wearing masks.


It's hard for people, especially those living in democratic countries that are supposed to ensure a certain autonomy of thought, to accept the fact that they were so scared as to follow a direction that seemed so suspicious, even at the time.

"Our response to the pandemic is going to happen again"

You're absolutely right: it's hard to accept that we were wrong. But I don't think that's the point. Our system of public health governance needs to commit itself to ethical and honest self-assessment. They failed! So many people have died from Covid, so many false promises have been made, like those about the efficacy of vaccines against infection and transmission. So many decisions have been made without being based on scientific evidence, such as confinements, school closures and masking.


What is the Missouri vs. Biden trial, whose hearing was held last Monday at the Supreme Court? Could you explain what it's all about?

Of course, I can. Let me put it in context: Missouri vs Biden is a complaint filed by the Attorney General of Louisiana and Missouri against the Biden administration, of which I am one of the plaintiffs. We're accusing the Biden administration, and therefore a large part of the federal government, the Public Health Administrator, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but also the FBI and the White House itself, of using their power to force social networking companies like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and others to censor and silence critics of the Biden administration's policies during the pandemic.

In this case, evidence was provided that the government was telling these companies who and what to censor, on pain of reprisal. And they obeyed. Which gave the impression of a certain form of online consensus at the time.

We filed the complaint in August 2022 in a lower federal court. One of its judges ruled that the Biden administration's actions had violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.


He referred to the censorship implemented by the administration as the "Ministry of Truth", in reference to George Orwell. Because back then, truth didn't matter. The proof: even factual and now proven elements were censored online simply because they contradicted the official narrative.


"The government did use its power to diminish Americans' freedom of expression"

The judge then ordered the government to cease its actions. He also warned that using third parties, such as universities, to fuel this censorship was not permissible. For the Biden administration had established contracts with certain opinion groups at Stanford, who contacted media companies claiming to have supposedly identified propagators of disinformation. Again, not based on reality, but on the official narrative.

The Biden administration has appealed this decision. In early 2023, three appeals court judges analyzed the situation and endorsed the first decision: the government had indeed used its power to curtail Americans' freedom of expression. Since the government has appealed to the Supreme Court, it is now up to the Court to decide. Normally, the Court does not agree to hear this kind of case, but this time it has accepted the complaint.


When will the decision be made?


By June. I'll keep you posted.

What's striking is that we in the West believe that freedom of expression is a right, that it's important for public debate, especially in times of crisis, so that we can have a robust discussion about what to do. During the Covid pandemic, the philosophy of Western governments demonstrated that emergency situations were just the right time to curtail this freedom of expression. This runs totally counter to the fundamental commitment to civil rights that all Western governments seemed to me to have made.

"Censorship has killed a lot of people"

That's why this case is so important: it will determine whether the promises our governments have made to us in our Constitutions and Charters, which guarantee the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, are still valid in an emergency. I can tell you that if we had been truly free to express ourselves during the state of emergency, many of the completely irrational policies that the government put in place - the compulsory vaccinations, the compulsory masks, the closures of businesses and schools, when there is no evidence that they were actually protecting human life - would never have seen the light of day. I think there would have been many more reactions, and effective ones at that.

A lot of the policies that were put in place made people irrationally afraid. I think a lot could have been avoided if freedom of expression had been respected during the pandemic. Censorship killed a lot of people.

Recently, Mark Zuckerberg and other social media executives testified before the Senate about the dangers their platform poses for young people. What do you think about this? Shouldn't the government still have some control over these networks?


What's really interesting, I think, is that Missouri vs Biden stands for the idea that the federal government can't dictate to social media who and what to censor, but must act within the legal framework. Here, we're talking about illegal speech, threats and violence. I think the government has an interest in ensuring that social networks do not encourage persecution, slander and libel, or direct physical threats. Platforms that enable this kind of speech should be subject to government scrutiny.

Does this also mean that it was more important for platforms to censor so-called "anti-vax" speech than, say, illegal violent speech?

It's not even about anti-vax people, but simply people who have suffered side effects from vaccines and want to share their story and get advice on how other victims have dealt with the situation. Vaccine side effects exist, it's not a myth!

I was censored by YouTube for maintaining the scientific fact that there is no evidence to suggest that masking two-year-olds prevents anyone from getting Covid.


So it's the world upside down: where free speech and lawful discourse should be freely allowed and accepted by social media platforms, the government stands in the way. At the same time, the authorities have a vested interest in ensuring that children are not bullied or psychologically manipulated by ill-intentioned people on these platforms. They don't do this sorting because it increases the number of advertisers attracted to the site.

Do you feel that the mainstream media's cover of Covid is changing?

I have noticed a certain change, indeed. Even in the worst mainstream media in the US, namely the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. What I've noticed, at least with the former, is that there's more and more talk and acknowledgement of the harm done to children by school closures.


That said, the fact that Sweden is the European country with the lowest excess mortality from all causes since the start of the pandemic has not really been mentioned in the mainstream press. Yet this is a very important piece of information: the fact that a major country can achieve the best results in Europe without having resorted to containment undermines the idea that containment was necessary to protect human life. This fact is not yet widely enough known.

On Twitter, you referred to the Covid laboratory leak and its cover-up by British and American bureaucrats as "the biggest scientific scandal of all time". Could you tell us more about this and the evidence behind your allegations?

In February 2020, emails belonging to Tony Fauci were revealed by some journalists. Among all the exchanges was an email from a leading scientist involved in virology who had been researching coronaviruses. The virus behind Covid appeared to have been modified. Evidence of what is known as gain-of-function research was detected in the molecular structure of the virus itself.


Tony Fauci responded by convening a group of experts, including people like Jeremy Farrar from the UK and the World Health Organization, and people like Francis Collins from the NIH (National Institute of Health). Despite the fact that many scientists initially pointed to what appeared to be human modifications of the virus, articles were published by this group - without mentioning Tony Fauci's name among the authors - calling the idea of the laboratory escape a conspiracy theory that no-one should believe.

So, throughout 2020, much of the mainstream press treated this hypothesis as if it were such a far-fetched idea that only platists could believe it. But in fact, a very large number of scientists are still concerned that the virus shows molecular signs of engineering.


The conference organized by Tony Fauci in 2020 therefore retrospectively gave the impression of being designed to conceal this version.


"There is more biomolecular evidence to suggest that this is indeed a laboratory leak"

Then there's a motive: in the years leading up to 2020, Tony Fauci, the NIH, the Welcome Trust in the UK, headed by Jeremy Farrar, and other scientific organizations sponsored research into bat viruses, among others, in the wilds of the world, such as the caves of southern China. The aim was to bring them back to the laboratory and carry out research on them, with the idea of producing vaccines or treatments at an early stage.

At the time, i.e. before 2019, many people in the scientific community warned of the danger of such an exercise, claiming that it was very difficult to carry out this type of research without the possibility of leakage into the population. Not in the sense of an evil act, but simply of hands slipping, of a person catching the virus, then going home and passing it on to his wife or children. Spreading the virus throughout the population.

Many in the scientific community have spoken out against this kind of research. But Tony Fauci encouraged it. It had become his specialty in previous years. In retrospect, therefore, the February 2020 appeal looks like a camouflage operation to protect his reputation and that of others.


Since then, there has been more biomolecular evidence to suggest that this is indeed a laboratory leak. A friend, the excellent molecular biologist and epidemiologist, Alex Washburn, and two colleagues wrote an article in 2022 in which they predicted that if this is a modified virus, we should be able to find a particular type of product used by these laboratories. This product is mainly used to cut the virus into pieces, so that it's easier to process. They predicted that this was the kind of technique that people carrying out this type of research would use.


"It's the biggest scientific scandal of all time"

A few weeks ago, Emily Kopp, a journalist with the American organization Right to Know, uncovered documents from a Freedom of Information Act request concerning a proposal from others who would have designed this virus using exactly the enzyme predicted by my friend and biologist Alex Washburn.


There is therefore increasing evidence to suggest that escape from the laboratory is a far more likely explanation than the virus appearing as a result of a natural process. It does not appear that an evolutionary process led to this virus. But rather that it was the result of experimentation, probably with the aim of producing a vaccine or something early. And in fact, a vaccine was produced very early for Covid. It appeared almost immediately after the virus sequence was identified. How is this possible, unless a lot of work had already been done on the virus before it became common knowledge?

So we're talking about a scientific community that may have caused a pandemic by conducting research to try to prevent this kind of catastrophe. This is the biggest scientific scandal of all time, and it needs to be investigated by the public.

How come there are no complaints against Tony Fauci and the others? That there aren't more trials to hold those responsible to account?


I think part of the problem is that this issue has become political. In the U.S., a congressional committee is investigating evidence of a laboratory leak, and this Republican-led committee has demanded that the NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services turn over the relevant documents. Unfortunately, many Democrats on the commission tried to block this investigation.


I think this is partly due to the fact that the Democratic Party has supported Tony Fauci throughout the pandemic and sees his reputation as tied to its own.

 
 

This is very unfortunate, because this shouldn't be a partisan issue. It concerns the whole of humanity. If scientists are conducting dangerous research that could lead to a pandemic, and in fact did lead to a pandemic that not only killed millions of people, but also caused enormous economic, educational and mental damage, this is not a partisan issue, it's an issue that deserves honest, scientific treatment.


If it turns out that we are certain - and I think we're getting close - that Covid was caused by this type of research, then, as an international community, we should impose restrictions to very strictly supervise this type of approach, if it is to be repeated, or perhaps even ban it altogether because it has been deemed too dangerous to carry out. In the same way as we have international treaties to prevent above-ground testing of nuclear weapons. This type of research is deemed too dangerous for humanity.

The WHO is preparing for the next pandemic, by training with "disease X". At the same time, the organization is gaining in power, since its new treaty in preparation stipulates that from now on it will give orders to nations instead of the usual recommendations. Does this worry you?

I am indeed concerned. The treaty on pandemics currently being negotiated by the WHO focuses on disease X, which is an unknown disease for which we need to be prepared. This suggests to me that the World Health Organization has learned the wrong lesson from what happened during Covid and has decided to pursue the kind of research that could be at the root of the pandemic.


The pandemic treaty essentially gives the WHO more power to encourage governments to implement containment measures and other strategies if they believe there is a pandemic. It increases central power and puts it in the hands of the people who a) may have supported the research behind the pandemic and b) led the strategy against Covid that caused so much catastrophic damage without protecting human life.

I think we're heading in the wrong direction. This brings us back to the beginning of our conversation: we haven't taken stock. The strategies that failed during this pandemic and the years leading up to it are now cemented as models for how we will handle future events of this kind.

Do you see any similarities between the Covid vaccine and the opioid crisis?


That's right. I think the key point is that Covid vaccine manufacturers benefit, by law and contract, from an immunity that means they can't be sued for making a bad product. This has led, for example, to vaccine damage that is not well documented, such as myocarditis in young men, being ignored.

During the opiate crisis, manufacturers seemed legally protected. Ultimately, this led to lawsuits, and that's what enabled real introspection, evaluation and revision of opioid policies. With Covid vaccines, we're not there yet. Vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer or Moderna seem to believe they are protected by law, which I understand they are, and so they behave irresponsibly.

Another similarity: during the opioid epidemic, doctors who spoke out to warn of the danger of these deadly products, as well as their extremely addictive nature, were publicly vilified by other health professionals, often in part financially supported by opioid manufacturers. We are witnessing the same phenomenon: vaccine manufacturers, like Moderna, hire other healthcare professionals to slander those who claim that vaccines are harmful and do not prevent transmission of the virus.


I'm not saying the vaccine killed anyone. I think it probably saved a number of lives. But that doesn't mean it has kept its promise of preventing us from contracting and spreading Covid. It doesn't mean that there haven't been side effects or that there hasn't been damage to a large number of people. And people should have the right to say so without risking defamation by the pharmaceutical companies, which is essentially what happens today.

It seems that the rest of the world wants to forget about this pandemic. Can you understand that, and don't you want to move on too?

I understand it perfectly. It's been a traumatic time for the world. Many people have died. The hopes and dreams of many others have been dashed. People's livelihoods and educational prospects for their children have been taken away, and the consequences for the world's poorest people have been absolutely devastating. More and more people are facing poverty on a scale that would never have been imaginable in peacetime.


So the world has been through a lot of trauma, and of course there's an understandable desire to move on, to try and heal. And often, people approach trauma by trying to forget it. I don't think that's necessarily unhealthy. It's certainly the right way to go for most people. They should be able to live their lives as they see fit.


"The consequences of this loss of confidence are catastrophic for human health"

As far as I'm concerned, the fact is that I work in the field of public health, health policy and epidemiology. I therefore have a professional obligation to continue to denounce what I consider to be problematic. And what particularly worries me is that, since the policies used by public health during the pandemic were so effectively deployed to scare people and violate civil rights on a massive scale, they will be used again.


At the very least, we need more people overseeing the use of these policies. We can't rely on Covid's management to handle the next pandemic. They have lost the public's trust. Just look at the collapse of measles vaccination in Europe and the UK. This represents an erosion of confidence in public health. The consequences of this loss of trust are catastrophic for human health.

That's why I continue to speak out. I believe that we need public health that can be trusted, and we won't have that if we don't take stock and make an honest assessment of the response to Covid.

You and your fellow citizens will be electing your president this year. It looks like it will be Trump versus Biden again. How do you explain the absence of other serious candidates in the race? Are Americans losing interest in politics?


No, Americans are very interested in politics. I don't think it's a question of lack of interest.

I try to stay out of the political debate because I don't think public health professionals should get involved. But I will say this: I am appalled that the two choices that the major American political parties are going to put forward are exactly the same two people who led the response to the pandemic. I have criticisms of both of these figures, and I see no sign of introspection in either of them about their failures to manage the pandemic. I hope this will change during the election campaign, but I don't hold out much hope.

 

Our previous interview with Jay Bhattacharya



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