But whatever the reason, mask mandates were a fool’s errand from the start. They may have created a false sense of safety — and thus permission to resume semi-normal life. They did almost nothing to advance safety itself. The Cochrane report ought to be the final nail in this particular coffin.
There’s a final lesson. The last justification for masks is that, even if they proved to be ineffective, they seemed like a relatively low-cost, intuitively effective way of doing something against the virus in the early days of the pandemic. But “do something” is not science, and it shouldn’t have been public policy. And the people who had the courage to say as much deserved to be listened to, not treated with contempt. They may not ever get the apology they deserve, but vindication ought to be enough.
Jefferson and his colleagues also looked at the evidence for social distancing, hand washing, and sanitising/sterilising surfaces — in total, 78 randomised trials with over 610,000 participants.
Jefferson doesn’t grant many interviews with journalists — he doesn’t trust the media. But since we worked together at Cochrane a few years ago, he decided to let his guard down with me.
Interestingly, 12 trials in the review, ten in the community and two among healthcare workers, found that wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to influenza-like or Covid-19-like illness transmission. Equally, the review found that masks had no effect on laboratory-confirmed influenza or SARS-CoV-2 outcomes. Five other trials showed no difference between one type of mask over another.
There is uncertainty about the effects of face masks. The low to moderate certainty of evidence means our confidence in the effect estimate is limited, and that the true effect may be different from the observed estimate of the effect. The pooled results of RCTs did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection. Hand hygiene is likely to modestly reduce the burden of respiratory illness, and although this effect was also present when ILI and laboratory‐confirmed influenza were analysed separately, it was not found to be a significant difference for the latter two outcomes. Harms associated with physical interventions were under‐investigated.
We need to start living with this virus before it wrecks even more young people’s lives, further devastates the economy and continues to pour fuel on the fire of the non-Covid health crisis.
Don’t get me wrong – flu is no joke. Familiarity has meant people assume it’s a runny nose or feeling under the weather, but it’s not.
A bad flu year produces a significant death toll. In the 2017/18 winter, 22,087 flu-associated deaths were recorded in England. The year before it was 15,047. These are over a few months only, so the daily death rate is very high. Those numbers could also be an underestimate as testing for flu is minuscule compared with our Covid effort.
September 22, 2021, The Washington Post published an article citing warnings from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA),1 which triggered a frenzy of media articles warning against using nebulized hydrogen peroxide for respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.
…According to The Washington Post, the Great Reset front group known as the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) has identified me as the source and driver behind the trend to nebulize hydrogen peroxide as an antiviral prevention and treatment for respiratory viruses:7
…There’s just one really major problem with this suppression attempt, and that is that they’re assuming people aren’t following instructions. From the get-go, my instructions have been quite clear.
It is really important to dilute the hydrogen peroxide with saline to get a 0.1% solution, as indicated in the chart below; 99.9% of what you’re inhaling is literally harmless saline, not peroxide. As I’ll discuss further below, saline may even have distinct health benefits of its own. The Washington Post, to their credit, did include my response to their inquiry for this story:8
The concern that SARS-CoV-2 could be spread by people without symptoms originally came from a single case report. It was alleged that an asymptomatic woman from China had spread the virus to 16 other contacts in Germany. Later reports showed that, at the time of contact, this woman was taking medication for flu-like symptoms, invalidating the evidence provided for the theory of asymptomatic transmission. As with other common respiratory viruses, SARS-CoV-2 spreads by being exhaled, coughed or sneezed into the air. The largest droplets fall quickly and settle on the ground whilst the most lightweight particles, known as aerosols, may remain suspended in the air for days. Once the virus is present in the environment, it spreads by finding its way into the respiratory tract of new hosts in a large enough quantity (known as the ‘viral load’ or ‘infectious dose’) to infect them. The theory of fomite transmission (touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the face) is not supported by scientific evidence.
…In asymptomatic individuals, the viral load is typically very low and the infectious period is also short in duration. They may still exhale virus particles, which another person may encounter. However, the overall likelihood of transmitting the disease to others is negligible. Thus asymptomatic cases are not the major drivers of epidemics. As Dr Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated in March 2020: ‘In all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person.’
SARS-Cov-2 is a more stable virus than influenza. Trillions of replications have thrown up a handful of variants of concern, clustering around a small set of mutations. These variants are worth monitoring but the vaccines effectively prevent them causing serious illness. There is a theoretical risk of a more dangerous variant but it does not seem more likely than a shift in the influenza virus. If it were to occur, we could now manage it with short-term measures and rapid vaccine modification.
…Vaccination protects the vaccinated. It helps protect others but it means that we take no greater risk in the autumn of 2020 than in the autumn of 2019. Interventions should be proportionate to that – which means that most cannot be justified.
Some are worth retaining, like improved hygiene in public places or greater readiness to stay at home with respiratory symptoms. It is probably a good idea to invest further in the search for effective antiviral therapies. Promoting better population health through diet and exercise is always a good thing. But it is time for a bonfire of face masks and the despatch of lateral flow tests to landfill.
Among outpatient health care personnel, N95 respirators vs medical masks as worn by participants in this trial resulted in no significant difference in the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza.