EXCLUSIVE: Lead author of new Cochrane review speaks out
A no-holds-barred interview with Tom Jefferson
Tom Jefferson, senior associate tutor at the University of Oxford, is the lead author of a recent Cochrane review that has ‘gone viral’ on social media and re-ignited one of the most divisive debates during the pandemic - face masks.
The updated review titled “Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of acute respiratory viruses” found that wearing masks in the community probably makes little or no difference to influenza-like or covid-19-like illness transmission.
This comes off the back of three years of governments mandating the use of face masks in the community, schools and hospital settings. Just last month, the WHO upgraded its guidelines advising “anyone in a crowded, enclosed, or poorly ventilated space” to wear a mask.
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.
During our conversation, Jefferson didn’t hold back. He condemned the pandemic’s “overnight experts”, he criticised the multitude of scientifically baseless health policies, and even opened up about his disappointment in Cochrane’s handling of the review.
DEMASI: This Cochrane review has caused quite a stir on social media and inflamed the great mask debate. What are your thoughts?
JEFFERSON: Well, it’s an update from our November 2020 review and the evidence really didn't change from 2020 to 2023. There’s still no evidence that masks are effective during a pandemic.
DEMASI: And yet, most governments around the world implemented mask mandates during the pandemic…