In a new article published in the journal Public health in practice, he argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has placed ministers in a “zugwang” which is a chess position where every move is at a disadvantage and where every plan needs to be considered “as unpleasant” as it may be.
Collective immunity is when enough people become resistant to a disease – through vaccination or previous exposure – that it can no longer spread significantly among the rest of the population.
In the absence of a vaccine available against Covid-19, herd immunity relies on a sufficient number of people in the infected population to mitigate the impact of the disease.
Professor Bhopal argues that even if a vaccine is found, it may not work well for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Side effects from a vaccine could also be worse for the health of children and youth than catching coronavirus in the first place.
“Collective immunity causes hostility and controversy because it is widely interpreted as allowing the pandemic to unfold without intervention. The concept needs to be revisited, ”says his article.
“If safe and effective vaccines and life-saving preventive and therapeutic drugs are not found, long lockdowns prove impossible and the pandemic does not go away on its own, population immunity is the only long-term solution.”
Professor Bhopal, who has advised the government on public health issues, said the 40-50% infection rate needed to achieve herd immunity could be achieved by allowing Covid-19 to spread among people young and healthy.
“Allowing infection in people at very low risk while making it safer for them and for society in general needs to be considered, but is currently taboo,” her article says.
Professor Bhopal told the Daily Telegraph: “Why don’t we like herd immunity? Discussion on this has been closed because people equate it to letting the pandemic tear a population apart without any control.
“I’m completely against that, that would be insane. I am not advocating giving up all control measures, we still have to wash our hands, keep our distance and do whatever we are told.
“The bottom line is that older people have a lot to gain from lockdowns and a lot to lose from infection. Young people have a lot to lose from lockdowns and not much to lose from infection.
“Our efforts should be geared towards protecting those at high risk. ”
The concept of herd immunity sparked backlash when it was first mentioned by the UK’s Chief Science Advisor in March.
Sir Patrick Vallance said at the time that a certain degree of collective immunity will help the British public as Covid-19 spreads.
He explained that the goal was “to reduce the peak, to widen the peak, not to remove it completely.”
Also, because the vast majority of people get mild illness, we need to develop some sort of herd immunity so that more people are immune to this illness and we reduce transmission.
About 60% of the British population are expected to contract coronavirus for herd immunity to ward off the disease in the future, he added.
However, the government quickly distanced itself from his comments with Health Secretary Matt Hancock, insisting that herd immunity is a “scientific concept, not a goal or a strategy.”
Earlier this month, a study from the University of Oxford suggested that the UK may have already achieved a level of herd immunity sufficient to stop a second wave of coronavirus.
Scientists said the “threshold” for herd immunity may have been lowered because many people may already be immune to the disease without ever having contracted it.
According to a new model produced by a team at the University of Oxford led by Professor Sunetra Gupta, just 20% of the population may need to be resistant to the virus in order to prevent a new epidemic from spreading.
However, researchers at the University of Sussex have warned that predictions that herd immunity can be achieved when less than 40% of the population has been infected are “optimistic” and cannot be reliable.
Professor Istvan Kiss of the university’s School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences said such predictions could lull people into a “false sense of security” at a time when Covid-19 still poses a “great risk” to the society.