Viral Tweet Opposing ‘Herd Immunity’ Gets Pretty Much Everything Wrong

In a recent viral tweet, the anti-Brexit campaigner Jolyon Maugham criticised the Government’s initial Covid strategy (which, as we know, was later ditched in favour of lockdowns).

I’m no defender of the Government’s response to the pandemic, but it’s hard to imagine a more wrong-headed criticism than this. Indeed, it’s impressive how many fallacies Maugham managed to pack into 280 characters.

First: “Herd immunity”. As the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration have tirelessly pointed out, describing any response to the pandemic as a ‘herd immunity strategy’ is like describing a pilot’s plan to land a plane as a ‘gravity strategy’. Given that Covid cannot be eliminated, herd immunity will eventually be reached, regardless of what we do.

The goal of any plan to address Covid, write Kulldorff and Bhattacharya, “should be to minimise disease mortality and the collateral harms from the plan itself, while managing the build-up of immunity in the population.”

Second, the implication of Maugham’s tweet is that the Government’s initial strategy was motivated by Conservative ideology, and that the alternative – lockdown – is what’s backed by science.  

Yet, as I and others have pointed out, it’s actually lockdown that deviates substantially from the pre-Covid consensus. Indeed, the UK’s pandemic preparedness plan does not even mention the term. And in 2019, the WHO classified “quarantine of exposed individuals” as “not recommended under any circumstances”.  

Given that the first lockdown was implemented by a communist one-party state, and that subsequent lockdowns were imposed with almost no prior discussion, it would make more sense to say lockdown was motivated by ideology.

Third, the virus does not “target” working class and poorer people, while leaving Etonians and bankers unscathed. It is not some pathogenic agent of class warfare.

If “target” is taken to mean “infect”, then the virus targets people who aren’t immune to it. And if “target” is taken to mean “kill”, then it would be most accurate to say the virus targets the old and the immunocompromised. After all, these groups account for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

Now, it’s true that death rates have been higher in working class occupations, as I noted in a previous post. But this is far more plausibly due to lockdown than to the Government’s initial strategy, which was in any case abandoned in March of 2020.

As the art critic J. J. Charlesworth quipped, “There was never any lockdown. There was just middle-class people hiding while working-class people brought them things.” Middle-class people like Jolyon Maugham, I might add.

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