I posted the other day about Iain Macwhirter quoting Dr Mike Ryan out of context to give the false impression that the World Health Organization had somehow endorsed the reckless Swedish philosophy of "this virus isn't as dangerous as all that, you know" and "we can safely allow it to move through the population". Needless to say, Ryan actually takes the completely opposite view, as he helpfully demonstrated in yesterday's WHO media briefing with one of the most eloquent denunciations of 'herd immunity' that you'll ever hear or read. There's a touch of biting sarcasm in this, and it's hard to believe it wasn't aimed at least partly at the likes of Dominic Cummings ("so what if we lose a few old people along the way"), Chris Whitty ("there was an assumption that when the seroepidemiology comes it will demonstrate that most people have been infected and this will all be over") and Patrick Vallance ("this idea that, well, maybe countries that have had lax measures and haven't done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some herd immunity").
"Herd immunity, a term taken from veterinary epidemiology, where people are concerned in animal husbandry with the overall health of the herd. An individual animal in that sense doesn't matter from the perspective of the brutal economics of that decision-making. Humans are not herds, and as such the concept of herd immunity is generally reserved for calculating how many people would need to be vaccinated in a population in order to generate that same effect. So I think we need to be really careful when we use terms in this way around natural infections in humans, because it can lead to a very brutal arithmetic which does not put people and life and suffering at the centre of that equation.
What also does concern me in this narrative is that there was an assumption as this disease spread around the world that we're really just seeing the severe cases and the difficult cases, and when the seroepidemiology comes, it will demonstrate that most of the people have been infected, and this will all be over and we'll go back to normal business. Well, the preliminary results from the seroepidemiologic studies is showing the opposite. It's showing the proportion of people with significant clinical illness is actually a higher proportion of all those who've been infected, because the number of people infected in the total population is probably much lower than we expected. And as Maria has said, that means we have a long way to go, and it means, as the Director-General has been saying for months, this is a serious disease, this is Public Enemy No. 1. We have been saying it over and over and over and over again. We really do need to now step back and sort of recalculate this as a 'mild illness' and effectively make the same mistakes we made the first time round in terms of not taking this seriously, and not putting in place the necessary measures.
We have a second chance now, as a society, to put in place the necessary public health interventions, to put in place the necessary community support, to support our vulnerable populations, be they in long-term care facilities, or be they in refugee camps. No-one is safe until everyone is safe.
So I do think this idea that, well, maybe countries that have had lax measures and haven't done anything will all of a sudden magically reach some "herd immunity", and so what if we lose a few old people along the way, I mean this is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation, and not one that I believe most member states are willing to make. Member states, responsible member states, will look at all their population, they'll value every member of their society, and they'll try to do everything possible to protect health, while at the same time obviously protecting society, protecting the economy and other things. We need to get our priorities right as we enter the next phase of this fight."
The quoted section can be viewed below from approximately 47:52.