The U.K. government is backing down from a controversial plan to aim for “herd immunity” in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief science adviser, caused an uproar Friday when he said during an interview with BBC Radio that one of the “key things we need to do” is “build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and reduce the transmission.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the govt chief scientific adviser, says the thinking behind current approach to #coronavirus is to try and "reduce the peak" and to build up a "degree of herd immunity so that more people are immune to the disease". #R4Today
— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) March 13, 2020
Herd immunity involves deliberately allowing a large percentage of the population to become infected in order to build up a long-term immunity to the disease. Various outlets reported that at least 60 percent – or 40 million people – of Britain’s population would need to contract the virus for herd immunity to take effect.
More than 200 British scientists and academics issued a “public request” Saturday that asked the government to reverse course and institute “stronger measures of social distancing.”
“As scientists living and working in the UK, we would like to express our concern about the course of action announced by the Government on 12th March 2020 regarding the Coronavirus outbreak. In particular, we are deeply preoccupied by the timeline of the proposed plan, which aims at delaying social distancing measures even further,” said the letter. “Going for ‘herd immunity’ at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary.”
One British author called the idea one of the “most insane things in modern history”
“U.K. policy is reckless: they’ve stopped population testing, contract tracing and rigorous quarantine measures – the bedrock of epidemic control and [World Health Organization] advice. This will not delay but accelerate the epidemic,” Anthony Costello, a former WHO director, wrote on Twitter.
UK policy is reckless: they’ve stopped population testing, contact tracing and rigorous quarantine measures – the bedrock of epidemic control and WHO advice. This will not delay but accelerate the epidemic. THREAD (1 )
— Anthony Costello (@globalhlthtwit) March 15, 2020
Matt Hancock, the U.K. secretary of state for health and social care, said Sunday morning that herd immunity is not part of the government’s official response to COVID-19. He said the government will soon ask all people over the age of 70 to self-isolate for up to four months.
“What we will do is listen to all the credible scientists and we will look at all the evidence,” he said. “Herd immunity is not our goal or policy, it’s a scientific concept. Our policy is to protect lives and beat the virus.”
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