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UK herd immunity Covid strategy – public health failure: an investigation

The wife adjusts her husband’s mask before entering a store in Hampshire, England, UK.

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LONDON – The UK government’s approach to tackling the coronavirus outbreak at the start of the pandemic has been cited as one of the country’s worst public health failures following a request from UK lawmakers.

The report, which analyzed the UK’s initial response to the Covid pandemic, found that the government made serious mistakes at the start of the global outbreak, including the obvious decision to allow Covid to spread among the population in a bid to achieve “herd immunity”. “and his hesitation to block the country.

“The blocking and social distancing decisions in the early weeks of the pandemic – and the recommendations that led to them – are considered one of the worst public health failures the United Kingdom has ever faced,” says the published 150-page report. … on Tuesday after an investigation by two parliamentary committees.

The British government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been accused of indecision as the Covid pandemic hit Europe in early 2020 and appears unwilling to impose restrictions on public life, travel or borders.

Although not officially announced, the UK’s initial approach to Covid (from trying to “contain” the spread of the virus to trying to “delay” it) was widely seen as a way to achieve herd immunity.

“Serious early mistake”

A high level of immunity to the virus in a population can be achieved both through natural infection (through the formation of antibodies when the body fights the virus) and through vaccination.

The latter route is usually preferred because it avoids side effects such as increased mortality caused by the virus. However, due to the lack of vaccines against Covid at the start of the pandemic, some countries, such as the UK and Sweden, appear to have advocated for the virus to spread to some extent among the population in order to achieve herd immunity levels in their populations. …

The strategy saw Covid-19 cases quickly sweep across the UK, but resulted in thousands of deaths among the elderly and a strain on the National Health Service. The British government (and later Sweden, to a lesser extent) changed course and imposed nationwide isolation on March 26.

The investigation, which drew on the testimony of more than 50 “witnesses,” including senior government officials and health experts who advised the government throughout the pandemic, was critical in its assessment of the government’s initial approach, noting that it was “in practice equal.” the ill-fated pursuit of herd immunity.

“When the government moved from the ‘containment’ stage to the ‘postponement’ stage, this approach involved trying to control the spread of Covid among the population, rather than completely stopping its spread. In practice, this is tantamount to adopting herd immunity through infection. was an inevitable outcome given that the United Kingdom did not have a solid prospect of getting a vaccine, limited testing opportunities and it was widely believed that the public would not accept isolation for a significant period of time, ”the report said.

In doing so, the UK “made a grave mistake early on in adopting this fatalistic approach and not considering the more decisive and rigorous approach to stopping the spread of the virus adopted in many countries in East and Southeast Asia,” the study said.

Medics will transport a patient from an ambulance to the Royal London Hospital in London on January 19, 2021.

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Group thinking

The report added that the fact that the UK approach reflects a consensus between official scientific advisers and the government indicates “a degree of groupthink,” which “means that we were not as open to approaches taken elsewhere as we should be. were to be. “

The investigation, which was overseen by the Committee on Science and Technology and the House of Commons’ Health and Social Welfare Committee (which includes legislators from the UK’s three main political parties), examined six key areas of the country’s response to Covid-19. This included how prepared the UK was for the pandemic and its willingness to use non-pharmaceutical measures such as border controls, social distancing and isolation to combat the pandemic.

More details: Will herd immunity be possible as Covid mutations spread?

It also looked at the use of testing, tracking and isolation strategies and the impact of the pandemic on social assistance and specific communities, and finally, the procurement and introduction of Covid-19 vaccines.

In covering its findings, the investigation concluded that:

  • “Delays in establishing an adequate testing, tracking and isolation system have hampered attempts to understand and contain the outbreak, and it has failed to achieve its stated goal of avoiding blockages.”
  • “The initial decision to postpone the pervasive isolation – despite practice in other countries – reflected a fatalism regarding the spread of Covid, which at the time should have been vigorously challenged.”
  • “Social assistance was neglected in the early stages of the pandemic.”
  • “Forward planning, flexibility and decisive organization of vaccine development and deployment efforts” have been a great positive and should guide future government practice.

In addition, the investigation found that the UK’s pandemic preparedness was widely known in advance, but in practice it performed worse than in many other countries. He also said the pandemic highlighted the need for an urgent and long-term strategy to tackle health inequalities.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, visits a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility during a visit to the North East of England on 13 February 2021.

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Big mistakes in dark times

The UK has been hit hard by the pandemic, with over 8.2 million cases of the virus and over 138,000 deaths. Critics argue that inadequate government action in some areas of the pandemic, such as the testing and tracking system, which was overwhelmed by problems during the pandemic, has cost thousands of lives.

In its findings, the investigation noted that both the positive and negative impacts of the government’s response to the pandemic need to be reflected in order for lessons to be learned in the hope that they can serve as a basis for future emergency responses.

More details: This is why herd immunity from Covid is ‘mythical’ with the delta option

In total, the report made 38 recommendations that lawmakers said could better arm the UK, including encouraging “greater diversity of knowledge and concerns” from both home and abroad to help plan any future pandemics.

In a joint statement summarizing their findings, the heads of the two parliamentary committees that oversaw the investigation said the UK response “combined some big gains with some big mistakes.”

“Our vaccination program was boldly planned and efficiently implemented. Our testing and tracking program took too long to take effect. The government took scientific advice seriously, but there should have been more problems on the part of everyone with an early consensus in the UK that delayed more pervasive isolation when countries like South Korea showed that a different approach was possible, ”said Jeremy Hunt, chairman Committee on Health and Human Services, and Greg Clark, Chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology.

They acknowledged that so much was unknown at the start of the public health emergency that “it was impossible to get it right,” and thanked various sectors, from the National Health Service and government officials to the scientific community and the millions of volunteers “who responded with dedication , with compassion and hard work, rise to the challenge to help an entire nation in one of our darkest times. ”


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