Sir Patrick Vallance, former UK government’s chief scientific adviser, has expressed regret for using the phrase “herd immunity” during an early media interview about Covid. He stated that the term was misunderstood to imply a wish to allow the virus to spread unchecked through the population. In a written statement to the Covid inquiry, Vallance explained that he was attempting to explain a technically difficult concept of how infections reduce their impact and eventually stop, but did so in a rather poor way.
The term “herd immunity” became a buzzword ahead of the lockdown measures introduced in 2020, leading many to interpret it as official policy to deliberately allow the infection to spread in order to boost natural immunity among the population. However, Vallance clarified that he was not suggesting or advocating for such a strategy. He emphasized that it was not government policy and not the advice given by him or the Sage scientific advisory panel.
During the inquiry, Prof Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, also acknowledged that the response to the threat from the virus was initially too slow. Whitty stated that decisions on measures like lockdown were ultimately ministerial decisions, highlighting a systemic slowness in responding to natural threats. He argued that if similar warnings were given for a terrorist attack, the response would have been different.
Whitty raised concerns about the differential treatment of hard geopolitical threats compared to natural threats or hazards. He emphasized the need for collective consideration of this issue to improve future responses. He clarified that the institutional failures were not a result of the leadership of Boris Johnson or other individuals.
In summary, Vallance expressed regret for the misunderstanding caused by his use of the term “herd immunity,” clarifying that it was not government policy. Whitty acknowledged the initial slowness in responding to the virus and highlighted the differential treatment of natural threats. The inquiry provides an opportunity to learn from these experiences and improve future pandemic responses.
What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity, also known as population immunity, refers to a situation where a significant portion of the population becomes immune to a contagious disease, either through vaccination or prior infection. This reduces the spread of the disease and offers indirect protection to those who are not immune.
What were the concerns raised about the term “herd immunity”?
The term “herd immunity” was criticized for being misunderstood as a strategy to deliberately allow the virus to spread unchecked. Many interpreted it as official policy to prioritize natural immunity over implementing effective non-pharmaceutical interventions.
What were the acknowledgments made during the inquiry?
Sir Patrick Vallance expressed regret for using the term “herd immunity” and clarifying that it was not government policy. Prof Sir Chris Whitty acknowledged the initial slowness in responding to the virus and raised concerns about the differential treatment of natural threats compared to geopolitical threats.