One of the three co-authors of a letter that calls for lockdowns to be abandoned in favour of herd immunity has appeared on a radio broadcast that previously featured multiple Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
Dr Martin Kulldorff of Harvard medical school appeared on the Richie Allen Show on 6 October to discuss the letter, described as the Great Barrington declaration, after the Massachusetts town where it was drawn up.
Kulldorff said he agreed to go on the programme because it was important to reach all segments of the population with public health messages. The show was described as an “online platform for antisemitic conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers” by Hope not Hate, an organisation that monitors extremist groups.
The controversial proposal was published by a right-leaning American thinktank, the American Institute for Economic Research. It was drawn up by three researchers – Dr Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, Dr Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Kulldorff – and has garnered thousands of signatures from health professionals.
However, on 9 October, Sky News revealed that many of the “medical” signatories of the open letter were homeopaths, therapists or used obviously fake names, such as Dr Johnny Bananas and Dr Person Fakename, leading to accusations that the total number exaggerated the scale of scientific support.
The letter calls for those in higher-risk groups, including older people, to engage in shielding, while those in the least danger should “immediately be allowed to resume life as normal”.
However, other scientists have raised serious concerns over the core premise of the open letter, pointing to a lack of evidence that lasting immunity can be achieved, the practical difficulties in identifying all those who are vulnerable and the practicalities of shielding as well emerging cases of “long Covid”, which can affect otherwise healthy and sometimes young people who contract the virus.
During his appearance on the show, Kulldorff was asked whether younger people, who were less likely to die from Covid-19, should attend places such as football stadiums and cinemas without any social distancing.
He said: “Yes. Some things like washing the hands is always good, so keep doing that and if someone is sick they should stay home, but other than that live a fairly normal life,” adding that those over 60 should still be very careful.
When asked by the Guardian about his appearance on the show, Kulldorff said: “As a public health professional, it is critically important to reach all segments of the population.
There is no indication that Kulldorff shares any of the views expressed by other guests that have previously appeared on the Richie Allen Show, but the programme has a troubling history.
In 2016, Allen hosted the Holocaust denier Nick Kollerstrom, a regular on the show, on Holocaust Memorial Day, calling him an “old friend” and describing his 7/7 conspiracy theory work as “vital” and “essential”, according to Hope not Hate.
Allen has also hosted Alison Chabloz, a Holocaust denier who was prosecuted for uploading antisemitic musical performances to YouTube.
More recently, the channel has featured longstanding conspiracy theorists Dr Vernon Coleman and Piers Corbyn.
Guardian analysis of social media using the Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle show the Great Barrington declaration has been widely shared online by lockdown-sceptic politicians, anti-vaccination Facebook pages and conspiracy theorists since its publication.
The declaration has been shared by the senator Scott Jensen, a Minnesota state representative who has claimed the US Covid-19 death toll was exaggerated, and Russ Diamond, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who has boasted on social media about shopping without a mask.
Responding to the strategy outlined in the Great Barrington declaration, Prof Jeremy Rossman, an honorary senior lecturer in virology at the University of Kent, said: “Herd immunity relies on lasting immunological protection from coronavirus reinfection; however, we have heard many recent cases of reinfection occurring and some research suggests protective antibody responses may decay rapidly … While there is clearly a need to support and ease the physical and mental health burdens many are suffering under, the proposed declaration is both unlikely to succeed and puts the long-term health of many at risk.”