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Scientists backing ‘herd immunity’ COVID-19 strategy ‘have no humanity’, expert says

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·3-min read
A man wearing a face mask is pictured among a crowd in Oxford Street, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
A man wearing a face mask is pictured among a crowd in Oxford Street, London. (Reuters)

Several medical experts have criticised a group of British scientists who have argued for a herd immunity approach to tackling COVID-19.

Academics from the universities of Oxford, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Cambridge, Sussex, York, Strathclyde, Leicester and East Anglia, as well as St George’s and Queen Mary universities in London, are among experts from around the world who have signed a declaration that calls for less vulnerable people to be allowed to return to normal.

However, one medical expert said the scientists who have signed the so-called Great Barrington declaration are “totally lacking in humanity”.

Dr Gabriel Scally, a director at the World Health Organization (WHO) who is also a member of the Independent Sage committee, said the scientists who signed it “advocate ‘survival for the fittest’ and virtual imprisonment for the vulnerable and older people”.

Watch: What is herd immunity?

He added: “They also ignore long COVID, and the risk of long-term effects of infection which seems harmless now.”

His comments were echoed by Stephen Reicher, another member of the Independent Sage, who said the herd immunity proposition was “an outrageous position” that had been “rejected by all scientific organisations”.

Devi Sridhar, who advises the Scottish government on COVID-19, cited German scientists who said there was a “potential serious, long-term damage” to people who are deemed less vulnerable to the disease.

The leader of the NHS in England, Sir Simon Stevens, recently said that asking all over-65s to shield to slow the transmission of the second wave of coronavirus would be “age-based apartheid”.

Professor Jeremy Rossman pointed out that research suggests there have been cases of re-infection of the virus, adding that Sweden, which adopted a herd immunity approach, was “not able to successfully protect the vulnerable population”.

The declaration calls for what it calls “Focused Protection”, saying its signatories have “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies”.

It adds: “As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls.

People walk along the main pedestrian shopping street in Stockholm, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The streets of Sweden's capital are quiet but not deserted. Sweden has some of the most relaxed measures in Europe in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. So far, only gatherings of over 500 people are banned and elementary and middle schools remain open. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/David Keyton)
People walk along the main pedestrian shopping street in Stockholm, Sweden, where a "herd immunity" approach has been adopted. (AP)

“We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine.

“Our goal should therefore be to minimise mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.”

Prof James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute, and of the University of Oxford, said: “The declaration risks the same error we have seen with the UK’s track, trace and isolate scheme – one can promise a scheme that is very easy to describe but is hard to deliver.”

A car passes a COVID-19 information sign, reading "Do Your Bit" in Manchester, northern England on October 6, 2020, after localised restrictions were introduced across northwest following a spike in coronavirus cases. - More than 42,000 people confirmed to have Covid-19 have died in Britain, the worst toll in Europe. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A COVID-19 information sign in Manchester. (Getty)

Sweden is one of just a few countries that did not impose a compulsory lockdown to deal with coronavirus.

Restrictions in the country were voluntary, and authorities argued that the chances of finding a cure were slim and that allowing the population to develop herd immunity was a better strategy.

Following an initial spike in cases and deaths at the start of the pandemic, both have lowered and remained stable – although there has been a recent uptick in cases.

Watch: How is coronavirus treated?

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