Tuesday 12 December 2023

Letter sent to Guardian about Covid Inquiry and Herd Immunity


I've spent the last few days struggling with your headline and the testimony given by Mr Chris Whitty ('Herd immunity was never UK policy, Chris Whitty tells Covid inquiry' Guardian Nov 22 2023). Mr Whitty is quoted saying, “I don’t think I ever saw anybody on the record, or anybody sensible, aiming for it as a goal".

I've searched March 12 and March 13 2020, in the Guardian archive and elsewhere and I find, for example:

"Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, has defended the government’s approach to tackling the coronavirus, saying it could have the benefit of creating “herd immunity” across the population." (March 13 2020)  

Also from March 13 2020, ITV news website: "UK's chief scientific adviser [Sir Patrick Vallance] tells ITV News he hopes Government's approach to coronavirus will create 'herd immunity'."

Again, from March 13 2020, Graham Medley from SAGE was on BBC Newsnight saying,  ‘We’re going to have to generate herd immunity…the only way of developing that in the absence of a vaccine is for the majority of the population to become infected…’

These statements seem to have been by way of explanations for Mr Johnson's comments the day before (March 12) , as reported by you "As many as 10,000 people in the UK are probably already infected with coronavirus, and many people should expect to lose loved ones, the government has said as it announced measures less stringent than those taken by other countries." And the article continued: "Britain moved from the “contain” phase of the crisis to the “delay” phase on Thursday...(March 12). The article goes on to itemise the measures NOT being taken to contain the spread of infection, such as cancelling large public events, social distancing, test-trace-and-isolate. 

These non-measures seem to me to be enactments of a herd immunity policy. 

I had great hopes that the Covid Inquiry would identify and clarify policies and approaches taken by the Government in March 2020. Instead, on this crucial matter of whether on March 12 and March 13 2020, the Government was or was not pursuing this herd immunity policy , I am less clear now than I was when I was doing my own private research. 

Even less clear now and at the time in March 2020 is what definition of herd immunity was Sir Patrick Vallance and others using. Meanwhile,  still hidden from us are what ideas were swirling round in Number 10 and the advisory committees about acceptable levels of death.  The Prime Minister's WhatsApp messages might have helped illuminate this matter, but the available technological expertise seems unable to help us here. For the time being, all we have to go on are Sir Patrick Vallance's notes of what Johnson said from October 2020 about us oldies having had a 'good innings' and our having reached our time anyway. 

I don't see how we can find out whether policies were right or wrong at the time if we can't even demonstrate what those policies were. This matter affects tens of thousands of bereaved and injured people. 


Michael Rosen