‘Herd immunity’ requires 90% or more of the ‘herd’ to have antibodies – and with COVID-19, only way to get antibodies is to have caught disease
ITV reported this morning that Boris Johnson and his government plan to drive the UK toward a position of ‘herd immunity’ to the COVID-19 coronavirus currently devastating Italy’s healthcare system and threatening to swamp the UK’s Tory-weakened NHS:
In the article, ITV political editor Robert Peston explains partially:
The key phrase we all need to understand is “herd immunity” – which is what happens to a group of people or animals when they develop sufficient antibodies to be resistant to a disease.
But Peston leaves out a crucial detail – what portion of the ‘herd’ needs to be immune for herd immunity to kick in – and health experts have told the SKWAWKBOX that herd immunity only kicks in once 90% or more of the ‘herd’ have an immune defence against a disease.
With ‘novel’ coronavirus, none of us has any natural immunity – the only way to obtain antibodies, in the absence of a vaccine that is many months away, is to become infected with the virus and survive it.
This means that, if Peston’s report is accurate, Johnson’s aim is to allow the virus to spread until at least 90% of the UK’s population has been infected – which will involve a huge death toll.
When COVID-19 first took hold in the UK, Johnson and the chief medical and scientific officers told the nation that the “reasonable worst case scenario” of the virus was 80% of UK people becoming infected – but they also said that the expected mortality rate was 1%.
Even on those figures, that ‘reasonable worst case’ would mean over half a million UK deaths.
But the 1% figure was well below the 2-3% routinely reported for the epidemic in China – and further still below the 3-5% experienced in the Italian disaster, with far higher rates among vulnerable people.
On even a 2% death rate among a UK population of over 63 million (2011 census), Johnson’s reported plan for 90% of the population to catch the virus means around 57 million people becoming infected – and more than 1.1 million people dying.
If the UK experiences a rate comparable to that of Italy, the situation is much worse.
Johnson’s ‘herd immunity’ plan appears to mean a decision by the Tory government to stand back while – in the most optimistic scenario – hundreds of thousands of our people die.
To Johnson, Cummings and their fellow fans of eugenics, that might just mean ‘the herd’. But to you and me, that’s our loved ones, our friends, our colleagues – if we’re lucky enough to survive their plan ourselves.
The people the government says its first duty is to protect – and under that kind of a government, there is no reason at all for such optimism.
Postscript: Johnson’s refusal this afternoon to close schools, when Ireland will do so from tomorrow, is entirely in line with his ‘plan’.
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