“It’s all rubbish” to suggest herd immunity was ever part of government strategy

Matt Hancock, Andrew Marr Show

April 5, 2020

Facts

Much attention has been given the government’s supposed U-turn of strategy away from herd immunity. The clearest evidence that this was part of the strategy came on 13 March, when the government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance said:

“Our aim is to try and reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it. Those are the key things we need to do.”

When this quote was put to Hancock, he claimed that Vallance was talking about “a scientific concept” and not “the goal and the strategy of the government”.

On April 12, the Guardian reported that it had seen documents still in use on around 23 March which further implied herd immunity was part of the government’s strategy: “a planning document used by NHSX, the health service’s digital planning department, and Faculty, a British artificial intelligence company contracted to aid the response to the Covid-19 outbreak, included “targeted herd immunity” as one of several government “interventions” whose impact upon the spread of the disease could be examined via computer simulations.”

Dominic Cummings, who worked as a senior government adviser in the early days of the pandemic, also said that herd immunity was part of the government’s coronavirus strategy.

On 17 May 2021, he tweeted: “Media generally abysmal on covid but even I’ve been surprised by 1 thing: how many hacks have parroted Hancock’s line that ‘herd immunity wasn’t the plan’ when ‘herd immunity by Sep’ was *literally the official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings* until it was ditched”.

A joint report published by The House of Commons Science and Technology and Health and Social Care Committees into the British government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic was published on 12th October 2021.  It identified “a policy approach of fatalism about the prospects for Covid in the community: seeking to manage, but not suppress, infection. This amounted in practice to accepting that herd immunity by infection was the inevitable outcome, given that the United Kingdom had no firm prospect of a vaccine, limited testing capacity and there was a widespread view that the public would not accept a lockdown for a significant period.”

Verdict

Hancock’s claim that herd immunity had not been part of the government’s strategy was contradicted both by credible witnesses and a House of Commons report.

When we asked Matt Hancock to respond to the claims laid out in this website, a spokesperson said: “This list is false, wildly inaccurate, and in some cases possibly even defamatory. For example claiming that some of Matt's claims in the Commons were in defiance of the ministerial code, when they were in fact accurate. The priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic has been saving lives.”

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