The UK government’s latest pandemic plan involves recklessly exposing millions of people to the acute and long-term effects of mass infection, warn experts in The BMJ today.
A strategy that chooses mass infection in the young now over vaccination in order to achieve greater population immunity to protect the vulnerable in winter, is “unethical and unscientific” say Dr Deepti Gurdasani and colleagues.
Instead of allowing infections to rise, they urge the government to take urgent actions to inform and protect the public and prepare for autumn.
These include outlining a long-term strategy for pandemic control, keeping basic measures such as masks and physical distancing until cases return to low levels, investing in workplaces, schools and public transport to make them safer, and providing the means for extensive testing and support for people to isolate.
The prime minister’s argument that it is better to accept mass infection now than to postpone until winter, when ‘the virus has an advantage’ is deeply flawed and misleading, they write. Instead, this strategy will place around 48% of the population (children included) who are not yet fully vaccinated, including the clinically vulnerable and those with compromised immune systems, at unacceptable risk.
This approach is already putting intense pressure on struggling healthcare services and will lead to many avoidable deaths and long-term illness, they add. It also provides a fertile environment for selection of escape variants which could have huge consequences for the UK and countries globally.
They point out that more than 1,000 scientists have already signed a letter to the Lancet setting out why allowing mass infection this summer is a ‘dangerous and unethical experiment’. The British Medical Association, Directors of Public Health, SAGE, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal College of Nursing and NHS leaders have all highlighted the dangers inherent in allowing mass infection.
Opening the UK up further is billed as “freedom day,” but for too many people, removing mandated measures such as wearing masks and physical distancing restrict, rather than enable, freedom.
This, they say, is unlikely to bolster public confidence and engagement in economic activity. And if the government strategy leads us into yet another lockdown, they warn that this could have an even more devastating impact on the economy.
What’s more, the public overwhelmingly supports sensible public health measures such as masking indoors. “This begs the question why dangerous public health decisions that are neither in the public interest, or in line with public sentiment, have been made in the midst of a raging pandemic,” they write.