May 23, 2020


Sage coronavirus expert: We've had an epidemic that to some degree could have been avoided: Jeremy Farrar explains why humanity may simply have to learn to live with Covid-19, why he wishes there were *more* government advisers in scientific meetings--and why he thinks it is still too early to reopen schools (Alan Rusbridger, May 20, 2020, Prospect)

AR: It feels as though there was an argument at some point in late January, early February, in which the phrase "herd immunity" was on the table. Is that right?

JF: Herd immunity is not a scientific strategy that has merit. Patrick Vallance is the chair of Sage--I know he's been quoted in the newsreel about how he talked about herd immunity. I am not aware... and I certainly never would have argued for a concept of herd immunity, which would mean naturally letting what is a very nasty virus pass through a population and accepting that there would be a very high amount of illness and people dying, in order to protect the rest of the population. To me, that's an unacceptable way to think about public health. I'm not aware that that concept was ever discussed at Sage in my presence.

AR: Is this virus something that you think as a species we're just going to have to live with for years?

JF: Yeah, what we've witnessed over the last three or four months is the emergence of a true, brand new novel human infection, which is now endemic in the human population, and it's not going to disappear. This will now be part of the infectious cycle that humanity has to live with.

And [potentially] we're... going to have to completely change the way we live, with some degree of physical distancing forever. But that's a plaster over a problem, because as soon as you lift those restrictions, things will bounce back. And I can't think of any biological or social reason why we won't face rebounds and second waves of this infection. So the only exit from this is the production of interventions that totally reduce the risk of that. And ultimately, that means diagnostics and treatment and vaccines.

I think that a vaccine has a very good chance of working, but there's a glass shortage in the world at the moment, there isn't enough glass to put a vaccine into glass vials. There's a syringe shortage, so if we had to inject the vaccine, we wouldn't have enough syringes in the world. And then finally, you've got a horrible geopolitical structure at the moment, which means you're in grave danger of going into something akin to vaccine nationalism, where each country will have to look after itself in national stupidity, really, without thinking of the need to take a global perspective.

Posted by at May 23, 2020 6:08 AM