Hundreds of doctors and scientists attack Boris Johnson over ‘criminal’ plan for ‘Freedom Day’

‘I cannot understand why the government would opt to do herd immunity viral infection when they could do herd immunity by vaccination. I think it’s criminal.’

Joe Middleton
Wednesday 14 July 2021 07:13
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Related video: Keir Starmer challenges Boris Johnson over ‘Freedom Day’ amid rising Covid cases

More than 1,200 leading doctors and scientists have signed a letter condemning Boris Johnson’s decision to forge ahead with so-called Freedom Day on 19 July, describing it as “unscientific and unethical”.

Last week, a coalition of medical experts published a missive in medical journal The Lancet, branding the government’s plans “dangerous and premature”.

It described Mr Johnson’s strategy as “herd immunity by mass infection” and said that opening the country should be delayed until “everyone, including adolescents, have been offered vaccination and uptake is high”.

The letter has now been signed by 1,246 doctors and scientists from all over the world.

Former chief scientific adviser and chair of Independent Sage, Sir David King, threw his support behind the letter and described the government’s strategy as “completely wrong”.

He told the Daily Express: “It is unbelievable that the UK government should embark on a herd immunity strategy that will see thousands of unnecessary deaths and severe long-term illness when so much progress has been made with the vaccination programme.

“As we have said for over a year this strategy is completely wrong and does not reflect the best scientific or medical advice.”

On Monday, Mr Johnson announced that most Covid lockdown restrictions would be dropped despite coronavirus infections having surged to 35,000 per day. Cases are expected to go higher still in the coming weeks.

The group of scientists involved in publishing the letter in The Lancet said in a statement released on Tuesday that the government’s pandemic plan involved “exposing millions of people to acute and long-term impacts of mass infection”.

“A strategy that chooses mass infection in children and young people now as a way to protect the vulnerable in winter, instead of taking the time to vaccinate our young is unethical and unscientific,” the letter added.

The statement also said the pandemic plan risked “burdening a generation with long Covid, the long-term consequences of which are unknown”.

Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said he was “very shocked” by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance for not “being more public about their concerns”.

He added: “The faux deference that you saw from both of them to the prime minister in trying to shore up his decision making, I thought, was an abdication of their independent role as government advisors.”

Dr Horton said that Professor Whitty’s statement that there was “widespread agreement across the scientific community” was categorically untrue.

He said: “I’m afraid I have to conclude that the chief medical officer is wilfully misrepresenting scientific opinion across the country, and that is extraordinary to observe.”

Dr Helen Salisbury, a GP, lecturer at Oxford University and columnist for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said: “I cannot understand why the government would opt to do herd immunity viral infection when they could do herd immunity by vaccination. I think it’s criminal.”

A Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said: “Herd immunity has never been part of our pandemic strategy. Our approach has always been to protect the NHS, save lives, and ensure as many people as possible are vaccinated and protected against this virus, as we learn to live with COVID-19.

“Thanks to the phenomenal success of the vaccine rollout in weakening the link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths we are seeking to move from an approach of rules and regulations to one of guidance and personal responsibility.”

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