Physician Jean Karl Soler is gaining traction after criticising the Maltese authorities’ approach to COVID-19. Mark Laurence Zammit asks why he is adopting a stand that is diametrically opposed to that of most of his colleagues.

You are controversial because you insist children should not take the jab and that lockdowns and masks are unnecessary because they do not work.

It is not that I want to be controversial. The scientific evidence is becoming controversial. We are learning that the risk of a child experiencing side effects from the vaccine is extremely low but the risk of that child dying from the virus is even lower.

Between one and five children per 100,000 experience side effects from the vaccine. But just one out of every million are at risk of dying from the virus if they are infected.

So, using the logic of risk and benefit, it is perfectly understandable to refrain from giving children the vaccine.

Even Germany and Britain are now refusing to give it to children under the age of 18 and the World Health Organisation is recommending it is not given to healthy children until further evidence supports it.

With regard to lockdowns, many countries did enforce lockdowns but Sweden did not.

Yes and because they did not enforce mandatory lockdowns by this time last year they had already hit 5,500 deaths out of a population of 10 million.

It went very well, in fact.

They planned to reach herd immunity but by this time last year they could only calculate six per cent herd immunity.

Compared to other countries, Sweden is one of the most successful countries per capita.

I will tell you why. They did enforce a system of voluntary social distancing and, even though it was voluntary, most people naturally kept distances.

They did not enforce the use of masks and they did not close shops... it was a success.

Studies are now showing us that lockdowns do not decrease cases and neither do they decrease deaths.

But how can you say that? Whenever we had a spike in cases in Malta, we started wearing masks and stayed indoors... and we could very clearly see cases decrease. We recorded fewer infected people, fewer hospitalisations and fewer fatalities.

Just because you are witnessing two things happening at the same time does not mean they are associated.

To determine whether there really is an association, you need to observe what happens in a country with many restrictive measures over a period and then compare that with what happens in a country where there are less restrictive measures over the same period.

This is what some scientists did and they found that closing restaurants, bars, shops and schools, prohibiting mass events and fearmonger people into staying home did not reduce cases. Lockdowns do not work... it is a fact.

Isn’t it true that cases and deaths went down in Malta when we wore masks, stayed indoors and closed the airport?

How do you know?

We saw it happening in front of our eyes.

It is not true.

Isn’t it true that cases went down?

When Britain stopped lockdowns, cases did go up for some time but then plateaued and came down again.

Experts in Britain had predicted that there would be a spike of 100,000 to 200,000 cases after lockdown. It did not happen and the expert leading that claim has now admitted it on BBC. He said he is not very sure that lockdowns work.

Sweden did not do lockdown and by this time last year they had only achieved six per cent herd immunity.

You will only see the benefits of this strategy over a longer period.

How does that comfort those people who lost a family member to COVID? Those people need measures to work now.

You are being unfair... you cannot accuse me of being insensitive to the pain of people just because I am quoting scientific evidence. With all due respect, I do not accept that.

That is not what I am saying.

We are talking about closing airports, schools, businesses, furlough employees, lock people inside... depression rates are up and we are suffering a massive economic blow. Malta has lost €1,400 million in GDP last year.

They say it is because of the pandemic. It is not... it is because of the lockdown.

This has been one of the most expensive medical interventions in history.

In 2019, the WHO issued guidelines for countries dealing with an epidemic. In 2020, the same organisation saw China locking people indoors and started to believe this was a clever idea. Which WHO will you believe? The one in 2019 or the one in 2020?

But how did you decide to believe WHO in 2019 and not in 2020? This is the same organisation.

Because their conclusions in 2019 were based on scientific evidence. Their 2020 conclusions were based on erratic models.

So, you mean to tell me that WHO decided on recommending masks without having evidence? You mean to tell me these people are intentionally trying to harm us? I believe you have some very valid arguments but there is this feeling among people who agree with you that the authorities are constantly trying to screw us up... there is this feeling the establishment is constantly out to get us.

I never said that.

I stood up for what I believe in and I was reported to the Medical Council for that

I know you did not. It is not you, per se, but that is what I gather from these arguments. The WHO that is recommending we wear masks is the same WHO you just quoted.

OK, let us talk masks. Masks are helpful if worn inside, where circulation is limited, and where there may be ill people.

In those scenarios, masks prevent droplet transmission. But droplets do not travel more than one or two metres. So, given that you socially distance, you do not need a mask.

If you are not in a closed space, you do not need a mask either. If you feel unwell, stay home. This is what we have been doing for years anyway.

One of the latest controversial pieces of evidence is that vaccinated people have the same risk of transmitting the virus as unvaccinated. It is the people who were infected that are truly protecting others.

If you are vaccinated you may still transmit the virus but if you are not vaccinated you have a greater chance of transmitting it.

No. That is not true. I am pro-vaccine, mind you, but the CDC has just published a study that produced astonishing conclusions.

The study analysed people who were vaccinated and exposed to the virus and people who were not vaccinated and were exposed to the virus as well. They found that those vaccinated carried the same viral load as people who were not.

So, you are truly at risk of transmitting the virus if you sneeze and cough but not if you are unvaccinated. And studies have shown us that you will not transmit the virus if you do not have symptoms.

It is impossible to get rid of COVID completely. So, closing the border is futile.

I am not saying we should close the border. What I am saying is, maybe we should open, but to vaccinated people.

Vaccinated people still carry the same risk of transmitting the virus. Getting vaccinated may have some effect on transmission but that effect is not significant enough to justify the argument that the entire country should be vaccinated.

For starters, people who have been infected are the most immune. They do not need the vaccine, except in some exceptions where they suffer from health conditions.

There are other studies, however that have found the vaccine may be up to eight times more effective than the immunity from the virus.

Pfizer and Moderna are extremely effective... 90% effective... they are miraculous.

However, their effect fades away over a period of a few months. Vulnerable people will need a booster shot within less than a year.

On the other hand, scientists have found that immunity from SARS viruses lasts way longer.

Eighteen years ago we witnessed the outbreak of the first SARS virus. We have learnt that people who contracted the virus then and survived are still immune to it now.

That does not prove that people infected with COVID-19 will be immune for that long but that virus is the cousin of COVID-19. Eighty per cent of COVID-19 is the original SARS virus, so it is quite likely that people who have been infected with COVID-19 will be immune for at least five years.

Only one out of every million children who contract the virus is at risk of dying. People who have not yet turned 70 have a five in 10,000 chance of dying if infected. But the mortality rate in people over 70 rises to an astronomical 15 per cent.

So, senior citizens who have not yet been vaccinated are making a mistake. People who suffer from health conditions should take the jab as well.

Shouldn’t young people also be taking the jab?

No. If the vaccine had no side effects at all, I would have agreed with you. But it has extremely rare side effects.

I am fully in favour of vaccinating those at risk.

Are you suggesting that the health authorities are going crazy, then? Because they either are dead wrong about everything, which kind of implies they are stupid, or they are intentionally giving us the wrong advice. Which is it?

That is not the point.

Doctors and scientists all over the world have assumed the wrong things about this virus.

They assumed masks and lockdowns would work and they did not. The people who are most immune are those who contracted the virus.

Doctors and scientists have assumed the wrong things about this virus

We must accept this. And I do not agree with the passports. I do understand that someone working with vulnerable people should be vaccinated. I also understand that someone boarding a plane should be vaccinated or sit for a PCR test... I would test vaccinated people as well if it were up to me but there are countries that will not let you in a restaurant without a vaccine certificate. This is ridiculous.

You are attracting a huge following with your arguments, but there are several of your followers who believe COVID does not exist, that the earth is flat, that Bill Gates is sticking GPS locators or DNA-altering devices into our bodies. I know you do not believe any of this rhetoric. Do you worry that you may be encouraging these conspiracies? Because these people are latching onto your credible arguments and use you to justify their other theories.

No, because I censor them heavily and I never let anyone post or comment if they do not provide scientific evidence.

The only way I can stop them from doing what you are saying is if I stop speaking out. I stood up for what I believe in and I was reported to the Medical Council for that.

The alternative is to shut up.

I do not think that is an alternative really. I agree that you should not stop speaking out but I am worried about that other reality.

Our world is not perfect... and we need to live in it.

As far as I am concerned, you are the only Maltese doctor who is speaking out.

There are other doctors who agree with me.

They tell you that?

Yes.

Why don’t they speak out as well?

I don’t blame them for not speaking out.

Why?

Because they will suffer consequences.

Do you wish more doctors would speak up?

No.

Why?

They will get hurt.

Are you getting hurt?

Yes, but I am used to it now. I am strong.

I know I am telling the truth, so I do not need to be afraid but my family is not very comfortable with the whole situation.

I never wanted to be a popular person; I do not want to be a politician. I simply believe that what I am saying is right and I will not stop.

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