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Boris Johnson, Downing Street, 2019. Wikipedia

Famous virologist explains risky ‘logic’ of herd immunity

A virologist twice nominated for the Nobel Prize explains the British strategy of "herd immunity" claiming it may have a logical explanation, but is still too risky.

Published: March 18, 2020, 8:59 am

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    Prof. Giulio Tarro is one of the famous virologists in the world. He was awarded by the US as “best virologist of the year” in 2018 and candidate for the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2015 – a pupil of the father of the polio vaccine Albert Sabin.  Tarro was the one who isolated the cholera strain when the epidemic broke out in Naples. He spoke to Giornale.it about the peculiar British response to Covid-19.

    When interviewed for clarification on the notion of “herd immunity”, Tarro acknowledged the risk associated with this strategy “to let the virus circulate freely, therefore not using the measures we are implementing, such as rigor and isolation, to try to eradicate what, after all, is a disease that in 96 percent of cases resolves without mortality. So based on this we would have immunity of the whole population”.

    After the latest statements by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to infect 60 percent of the UK population in order to make them develop antibodies and therefore make them immune to the virus, his hypothesis however sparked huge controversy in the world community, which called this as an irresponsible and criminal act.

    The hashtag #ToryGenocide trended on Twitter, with users accusing Johnson and the Conservative Party of deliberately risking the lives of the sick and the elderly.

    On Monday night, Johnson’s policy collided with the facts after an analysis by immunologists at Imperial College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The impact of the Coronavirus in Italy suggested that at least 30 percent of infected patients require intensive care treatment.

    Britain’s state-run National Health Service (NHS) will certainly crash under this weight. In Italy, hospitals are collapsing and the public is increasingly alarmed by the high mortality rate. Lombardy is currently on its knees, and there are fears for the south of the country perhaps not able to contain a similar epidemic. Fatalities in Italy have surpassed 2 500.

    According to Tarro, the problem is the remaining 4 percent which has triggered the crisis in Lombardy because in winter 2018, due to a flu epidemic, hospitals were already overloaded.

    The World Health Organization, maintain that those countries who have halved their intensive care centers from 1997 to 2015 are now living with the consequences.

    In January when the world heard the news from China, France immediately doubled the possibility of having intensive care centers, while Italy and Britain ignored the facts, Tarro said.

    “All this then leads, which I can not accept, that you get to choose between a boy of twenty years and one of seventy,” the virologist concluded.

    Imperial College epidemiologist Azra Ghani told journalists at a press conference that his team had been “expecting herd immunity to build [but] we now realize it’s not possible to cope with that”. The UK has now officially shifted from containment to “epidemic suppression … [as] the only viable strategy at the current time”.

    Richard Horten, the editor of the famous medical journal Lancet, expressed his anger over UK policy on Twitter: “It said it took a study from Imperial to understand the likely burden of COVID-19 on the NHS. But read the first paper we published on COVID-19 on January 24 – 32 percent admitted to ITU with 15 percent mortality. We have wasted seven weeks. This crisis was entirely preventable.”

    In Italy, where hospitals are overwhelmed “patients above 65 are not even assessed” and left to die.

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