US Study confirms Herd immunity would have overrun the NHS causing a range of covid and non-covid related deaths.
A Study conducted by the University of California has found that a Herd Immunity strategy for coronavirus would overwhelm primary care centres and keep the rate at above 1.2 for years.
As such, it has been concisely ascertained that Herd immunity in the UK would not work without substantially overrunning the NHS.
It is estimated that the strategy, which was initially considered by the UK as a primary means of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, would see the UK need at least 300,000 available beds and would take years to provide adequate herd protection against the virus and its differentiated strains.
Researchers have thoroughly modelled the strategy, which was initially considered by the UK Government back in March, discovering that in a multitude of different scenarios it was a globally unfeasible strategy.
If the virus was left to run free throughout the population it was not only estimated that it would overrun primary care centres with there not being adequate number of hospital beds but it would have also seen a dramatic rise in the number of non-coronavirus related deaths due to the facilities and staff no longer being available for the care and treatment of other medical conditions from cancer to cardiac issues.
The model identified that rather than follow a herd immunity strategy, a concise, clear and monitored social distancing strategy would be far more effective and would work to keep the R-number below 1.
The Californian scientists warn, “Our study finds that achieving herd immunity without overwhelming hospital capacity leaves little room for error.”
They continued, “Intervention levels must be carefully manipulated in an adaptive manner for an extended period… Such fine-tuning of social distancing renders this strategy impractical.”
“Various governments have entertained the idea of achieving herd immunity through natural infection as a means of ending the long-term threat of Covid-19. This has provoked alarm in sections of the public health community. Our work confirms that this alarm is well founded.”
When considering the use of Herd Immunity as a practical solution to the pandemic, many people look to Sweden. They are the only country not to have imposed lockdown measures on the population and, despite higher death rates to begin with, the strategy had appeared to see them fair better in the short term.
However, despite their best efforts in a social distancing only model, Sweden itself is now considering a range of “circuit-breaker” style lockdowns due to a recent outbreak of the virus in Stockholm.
The UK Government received furious backlash in March when it announced it was considering following a Herd Immunity strategy. Many criticised their willingness to put the population at risk, specifically those already at high risk of death from the virus such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
Subsequently the Government, as it has a tendency to do, took a dramatic U-turn on the position and eventually imposed a UK-wide lockdown, however this was criticised as action taken too late to be fully effective.
The study, conducted by the University of California and published in the medical journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), demonstrated through mathematical modelling, which used the first wave of the pandemic as a benchmark for the spread of the contagion, the issues relating to Herd Immunity as a strategy for this type of virus.
The researchers identified that the virus would quickly overwhelm the UK, causing an infection of approximately 77% of the population resulting in 410,000 deaths in the short term. Of this figure, the modelling predicted that 350,000 of those deaths would occur in the 60+ age range.
Furthermore, the study suggested that school closures, precise and clear social distancing and robust and consistent self-isolation measures is a much more effective strategy.
The study identified that following these measures in a clear and consistent manner would see the R-number continue to remain below 1, which is the optimal goal in the current crisis.
The study states, “Our model indicates that, if sustained, such control measures can lead to the suppression of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom by reducing R to below 1”.
Using a range of available data, the scientists identified that any attempt to follow a Herd Immunity strategy whilst still trying to actively protect a vulnerable population would be an “extremely challenging task”.
The said, “Due to the fine margins (in terms of control effectiveness) between successful disease suppression and overwhelming hospitals, making herd immunity the primary objective (rather than applying maximum social distancing and aiming for suppression) is not supported by our modelling”.
It is important to highlight that the scientific community recognises that modelling is not always accurate however is intended to give as reliable an estimate as possible to assist with guiding policy. As more information and data becomes available, modelling can swiftly change.
The study comes after leaked emails this week showed that top government advisory scientists in the UK asked for help to calm the public after their outrage over the UK’s suggestion for the use of herd immunity was still a factor in their desire to follow current guidelines.
The backlash saw the public highly offended by the Governments suggestion that it would be willing to sacrifice the health and safety of the UK population on a strategy with unknown consequences. Their position to potentially allow millions to become infected and potentially die at a time when very little was known about the virus and its severity did not sit well with the public.
Since it was proposed in March, No. 10 and the PMs top advisers have attempted to steer focus away from herd immunity and downplay how much they were considering it an appropriate strategy.
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