‘Herd immunity’ is your answer, Johnson? Truly, the lunatic has taken over the asylum

March 12, 2020

by Martin Odoni


Before I begin, a quick apology for the absence of posts since New Year. I am presently on an Open University course, which is using up a lot of my ‘writing energy’, while continuing to work full time. Writing-as-a-hobby is therefore not getting much of a look-in at the moment. I hope to increase output during the summer, but for the time being, articles will only be released sporadically.

However, present events have hit such a point of insanity that I must now speak up.

The current clamour about the Coronavirus CoVid-19 is both overstated and understated. I would argue that there is little reason, in and of the virus itself, for people to get into a froth about it. So long as the sensible precautions being recommended are followed i.e. regularly and thoroughly wash hands, reduce physical contact with others to a minimum etc, the virus should be contained.

But the “Keep-Calm-and-Carry-On-daydreaming”-style complacency of Boris Johnson’s Government goes too far the other way. Remarkably few moves to combat the virus have been made by Central Government, and all the boasts about COBRA security meetings sound more like reassuring public relations gestures than actual effort.

Today, Johnson revealed his ‘strategy’ for defeating the Coronavirus, and not only is it as spectacularly stupid as his Brexit plans for the border in Ireland, it spills over into a defect I had previously not suspected he had. His plan is actually mad. Literally. It indicates a mind completely divorced from the real world.

What Johnson and his Government are proposing is to try to exploit the principle of ‘herd-immunity’ to combat CoVid-19*. If you are unfamiliar with the herd-immunity principle, allow me to explain; –

Herd-immunity assumes that no population needs complete inoculation to protect it from a contagious disease. So long as a certain proportion – it is usually between sixty and ninety-five percent depending on the disease – has resistance, their antibodies will ‘repel’ the virus or bacterium sufficiently to protect anyone in the population who lacks the same resistance.

Johnson therefore does not appear to understand what the principle is all about. He thinks it is usable as a ‘wholesale’ remedy, rather than a protection for a small minority. But worse, he takes the difficulty that there is currently no vaccine for CoVid-19, and wishes to carry matters to a crazed extreme. Under the (wrong – see below) assumption that experiencing the illness will give humans a permanent resistance to it, he wants ninety-to-ninety-five per cent of the population of the United Kingdom to contract the virus, confident that the great majority will recover, and that their immune systems will be able to fight it off next time around.

Coronavirus Government theory

Boris Johnson wants to spread the CoVid-19 virus around the population, in a bid to fight it.

This really is insanity. Given that the fatality rate of CoVid-19 is around three per cent, Johnson actually appears to be saying that he is perfectly prepared to sacrifice the lives of around two hundred thousand Britons, in the name of combating a virus. This has chilling overtones of the behaviour of the Nazis towards people with disabilities. Apparently, he thinks this is preferable to just making sure the National Health Service is adequately supplied for once. Two hundred thousand lives is a horrifying price to pay to fight one virus – but who knows how many other viruses might follow? Will we have to deal with them the same way, sacrificing another multitude similar to the death-toll of the English Civil Wars every time the next ‘super-flu’ turns up? (Given Johnson’s chief advisor is Dominic Cummings, maybe we should not be shocked that demographics are being treated so coldly numerically.)

But almost as bad is the implication for those who survive. For ninety per cent of the population to fall ill would basically mean the wheels of society would stop turning altogether. Ten per cent of the population cannot keep everything moving in the meantime. Sure, Johnson wants to ‘manage’ the process of proliferating the disease, staggering its spread by letting only certain numbers contract it at a time, and give them time to recover before infecting the next batch. But is anyone buying such a concept? In a country with a population of sixty-five million people, Johnson thinks he can control a process of ‘staggered-infection’ like that? Oh sure, good luck with that, everyone.

But worst of all is that Johnson’s misunderstanding of herd-immunity is matched by his misunderstanding of natural resistance. With many diseases e.g. chicken pox, mumps, glandular fever, one experience of it is enough to create an immunity, or at least a very high resistance. (For instance, resistance to chicken pox is a mixed blessing, as it makes it likelier that you will contract shingles. I suffered shingles myself in my late-teens, and it was very painful.) The problem is that Johnson seems to imagine that if resistance follows some illnesses, it must follow Coronaviruses too.

Unfortunately, no, it does not. Doctors have concluded that, while a case of CoVid-19 will give an individual an initial resistance lasting some months, it is likely to wear off afterwards.

A sacrifice of two hundred thousand lives in exchange for a few months’ resistance? That is Johnson’s aim? Is that not the epitome of high-risk-low-reward decision-making?

Hey, I accept none of the blame for this. I told everyone to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, and after today, I understand less than ever why people imagined he would be a worse Prime Minister than the Blond Blimp.


* Johnson’s defenders are trying to make out that his words have been taken out-of-context and were a description of a suggestion an epidemiologist made to him. This is true, but in the television interview in question, he also said that he was looking for “a balance” between herd-immunity and containment. Therefore, he undoubtedly wants to encourage the disease to spread through the population, at least to some extent.

4 Responses to “‘Herd immunity’ is your answer, Johnson? Truly, the lunatic has taken over the asylum”

  1. jaynel62 Says:

    Thanks for writing this Martin, I’ve struggled all week with my cynical head thinking that Corona has been a pot of Gold for the PM; Reduce the lesser people of the the UK without having to Do anything. Like most of his peers he know doubt believes He is Immune – I SO Hope Not

    • Martin Odoni Says:

      Well, it seems unlikely on balance, seeing CoVid-19 is likeliest to affect the older generation. Most of the older generation vote Tory, so BoJob is potentially culling his own support base.

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