The British government's "Herd Immunity" policy is not science but the abandonment of the most sick and vulnerable

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On January 30, 2020, in relation to Covid-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" regarding its imminent spread. On March 11, nearly two weeks after it was obvious to everyone, the WHO declared a "global pandemic" of the virus. Warnings, very specific and science-based warnings on the dangers and spread of corona viruses were made by the CIA in 1999 and then frequently by various bodies including the UN, which particularly pointed out Britain's unpreparedness for a pandemic, up to Britain's National Security Risk Assessment a year ago which pointed out the shortages of safety equipment in British hospitals, the lack of facilities and nurses and the numbers of deaths a pandemic would result in. There were also secret investigations by the British state which have remained secret.

In the face of this and the advice of the WHO to "act quickly" and test, at a meeting of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE, mostly held in secrecy) on February 21, the British state deemed the danger from the virus as "moderate" despite the overwhelming evidence of its dangers.

Basically nothing was to happen: Cheltenham race meeting went ahead in early March with 250,000 people present (later resulting in clusters of the outbreak), Boris Johnson was among a seventy-thousand crowd at Twickenham days after, spluttering and spitting over everyone around him (at the end of the week he gave a government press conference where he said he had shaken the hands of many Covid-affected patients and would continue to do so). And the "medical advisor" to the Scottish government had this to say about the spread of viruses and crowds: "Speaking at Murrayfield ahead of Scotland’s Six Nations clash with France, Dr Catherine Calderwood said: ‘I’ve looked at the scientific evidence very carefully, and what’s emerging is that there’s actually very little impact on virus spread from mass gatherings, particularly if they are in the open air. This is not a risk to the Scottish population in hosting this match’.” Calderwood (the same Chief Medical Officer to the Scottish government who was driving backwards and forwards to her holiday home on the coast during lockdown) was giving her "expert" opinion on March 3 as to whether the Scotland/France rugby match could go ahead a few days later. The match went ahead on her advice because, as she says, after looking at the evidence very carefully, there was little risk of the spread of the virus in mass gatherings; not so much science as medieval ignorance in the service of capitalist normality.

"Herd immunity", or the science of kicking out the “bed-blockers”

On March 13, SAGE made its pronouncement: it would do nothing. The policy was announced by Chief Government Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance (ex-President of GlaxoSmithKline, GSK). It was that of "Herd Immunity", whose aim was for 60%[1] of the population to contract the virus, i.e., 40 million people. This was "one of the key things we need to do" and this policy would "help everyone" become immune (SkyNews, early March) - apart from those sacrificed along the way, the "collateral damage" of the old and the sick of whom Vallance, naturally, didn't care to mention. The committee was spending more time discussing death figures that might be "acceptable" than they were in making any real preparations for the storm to come. The British state and its various governments had laid the basis for this crisis anyway with their massive cuts to the health and social sectors over the previous three decades from 1990 to now.

Sir Patrick Vallance must have known when he talked about "herd immunity" that, as far as science was concerned, he was talking absolute rubbish. The properties of the Covid-19 virus were hardly known (and are still not) and certainly nothing at all was known in relation to it and herd immunity. Herd immunity is either built up by vaccination or occurs "naturally" through a large part of the population going down with the disease, which assumes survivors are immune (possible, but we don’t know yet) and assumes that the large number of deaths and disruption of health services are a price worth paying. The herd immunity in four months that Vallance was proposing was unheard of in any branch of science. Various specialists immediately came forward to say so and were generally ignored by a hysterical British media that was going into "war-time" and "we are all in this together" mode. One immunologist thought Vallance's statement was "a hoax"; another immediately called it "unethical"; epidemiologists called it "baffling" and virologists expressed their astonishment and, all the while, the government said that it was "following the science". Vallance wasn't of course: his "herd immunity" was unknown to any science and what he was doing was acting as a stooge, fronting a government policy that had more to do with capitalist eugenics[2] than "protecting the vulnerable". A former medical adviser to the Scottish government, Professor Jane Andrews, let the cat out of the bag saying in early March that Covid-19 would be "quite useful" in removing "bed-blockers", "these people would be taken out of the system". Taken out of the system no less! Andrews made the usual apology that the democratic eugenicists make for such brutal language and actions, saying it's for the greater good but it's for the greater good of capitalist production and the maintenance of its cut-throat activity at the expense of useless lives as far as the ruling class is concerned.

"Operation Stiff Broom" to sweep away the bed-blockers

It became clear that the British state's do-nothing policy meant, according to some experts within its ranks, that deaths from Covid-19 in Britain could hit a quarter-of-a-million or more. The state had to impose some form of lock-down in order to stop the spread and thus on March 23 the government reluctantly ordered a lock-down and social distancing. But the eugenics-based policy of herd immunity continued, was refined and became more directed. Thus Whitehall came up with its policy of the "Stiff Broom" in order to clear the old and the sick out of hospitals and "back into the community" if they were "medically fit" i.e. into care homes that were already creaking under the weight of decades of cuts, poor wages, inadequate supervision and lacks of protective equipment. If the government's Cobra committee and its SAGE group had sat up in a meeting all night trying to come up with the most dangerous policy for spreading the disease among the most vulnerable it couldn't have come up with a better policy than "Stiff Broom". "Stiff Broom" was part of the government's "defence and ring-fencing of the NHS" - something it would defend and ring-fence by turfing its most difficult patients out of hospitals. And as it sent these people to care homes the government advice was that they may have the virus or be carrying it, but care homes were where they would be "looked after properly" - which takes on the sinister gangster linguistics “to be taken care of".

The numbers of people "swept" out of hospitals wards and into care homes is difficult to ascertain, not least because the British state, unlike the Chinese, doesn't "suppress" figures, it just makes it harder to report them and keeps kicking them down the road. There are a couple of estimates that say well over 4000 and it's certainly in the thousands. The decision to put them into care homes was taken with no testing before or after, a decision some care home owners called "unfathomable" and "lacking foresight". The original pie-in-the-sky plan was to send them to the new "Nightingale" hospitals but these are not hospitals but warehouses with empty beds and nowhere near enough nurses to run them. They are Stalinist-style propaganda exercises and the one in Birmingham hasn't had a single patient. So vulnerable people were dumped into care homes where the virus would be absolutely guaranteed to spread through residents and staff who often work shifts at different care facilities or travel between individual's homes. The virus could spread not just through the old and sick in care homes but to the chronically sick, the autistic and the many layers of physical, mental health problems and various disabilities that varieties of care homes deal with.

People were dying like dogs in care facilities in April and the body which ultimately runs these homes, the state's Care and Quality Commission (notoriously lax about both care and quality) didn't even ask for the number of deaths from Covid-19 in care homes until mid-April when residents’ families started kicking-up. No-one knows the number today and probably never will because for a long time doctors were encouraged by the system to write "pneumonia" or other causes on the death certificates causes. In order to "protect" its NHS, the "envy of the world", the state off-loaded its living burdens onto care homes and no-one said a word until more and more relatives started complaining as more and more people became infected and dying over a wider range of care home facilities. Between 10 and 24 April care homes reported 4,343 deaths from Covid-19: half of these came between 19 and 24 April, indicating an accelerating death toll.

Herd immunity, they told us, was to "protect the vulnerable"; it wasn't. It was to abandon them in care homes while opening up a whole range of many of their ten million residents and one-and-a-half million staff to the dangers of the virus. While they calibrated the number of "acceptable" deaths their criminal negligence, cold-bloodied indifference, incoherence and incompetence has resulted in far greater numbers of deaths among the most vulnerable in society. Whether they did this with a deliberate policy, laissez-faire, wishful thinking or a combination of those and others, the spread of this disease among the most vulnerable and weak has been the result.

Eugenics: the natural science of the bourgeoisie

Throughout its history eugenics has been a natural science of both the left and the right of capital. William Beveridge, the founder of the National Health Service, thought that people with "general defects" should be denied civil freedom and parenthood. In the 1930's, left-wing publications like The Guardian and The New Statesman offered their support to the sterilisation process that "the eugenists soundly urge". Left wing intellectuals around the Labour Party like the Fabians and so on were enthusiastic supporters - as were the Nazis. But eugenics didn't end with Auschwitz. Churchill was a supporter and had no time for "inferior" people. Obama's "Science Czar" in the 70's, Dr. John Holdren of Harvard, was a keen eugenist, comparing people to "bacteria on a culture dish" and "fruit flies in a jar". And today there is a clique in control of Downing Street which appears well disposed to eugenics and the state has provided it with certain means in order to carry out its policies.

Capitalism is a society of dog eat dog, rabid competition, survival of the fittest[3] and let the weak go to the wall. That's how it's always been and that's how it will always be. The calculations made by its managers, its states, will always be towards the elimination of non-productive elements, nuisances, bed-blockers and the like and with Covid-19 we get a real glimpse of the ruthlessness behind the mask of democracy.

In this sense, "herd immunity" has been the factory-set, default policy of all the major capitals from Russia, through Europe to the Americas and the Middle East; to say nothing of its application to the masses of migrants and refugees fleeing wars that seem to be intensifying.

China escaped somewhat, partly because the one-party state, following its initial period of suppressing news about the contagion, was able to use extremely ruthless methods to limit the contagion, but also because they had gained some real experience from previous epidemics. South Korea as well had been through the traumatic experience of Sars, although they were able to use methods, such as mass testing, which made it unnecessary to impose exactly the same draconian measures as their Stalinist neighbours. The eugenics of "herd immunity", arrogantly stated by the British government, is the major factor behind all the care home deaths in Europe and North America, which some estimates are giving as double the number of the official figures for deaths. And these elements of eugenics go wider and deeper. The expressions of populism that we've seen recently have exposed its deep kinship with elements of fascist ideology. We saw this with significant parts of the Yellow Vest movement, with Trump, Brexit and the rise of far-right groups who all point to inferior races and their own nationalist supremacy.

There's something of a paradox here

Capitalist society was born in blood and muck and it prospered on it. It has had, and continues to have, a "moral, caring wing" but that is just ideology, a smokescreen for a regime that has no use whatsoever for morality. But this decaying system based on ruthless competition, pillage, oppression and exploitation also gave rise to a revolutionary class, a producer class, a class of associated labour whose overall and overarching weapons are consciousness, solidarity, unity and struggle. The reverend T. R. Malthus, a vicious early nineteenth century proponent of capitalism and of population control by starvation, saw a paradox in how the poor looked after the weak. The strength and potential of the working class lies in its position in the production, running and maintenance of virtually everything and from this comes its potential as a revolutionary class able to overthrow the capitalist state and start out on the road to communism. One of the factors in the consciousness of the working class, or maybe its unconscious, is that it comes from a long line of the oppressed all the way through civilisation and before that. This is a factor in the intrinsic morality of the working class today and one that will find it defending minorities and the weak against a capitalism which sends them to the wall under such lies as "herd immunity". It is part of what determines the working class today as an expression of the future in the final clash against a ruling class that represents destruction, disease and decay.

This is not a question of the defence of one scientific theory against another, but the defence of the proletariat and its morality against capitalism and its ideology of eugenics-based "herd immunity”.

Baboon. 28.4.2020

[1]This is a dubious figure in itself; for example for measles there needs to be a 95% take up of vaccinations for herd immunity to be in place - not 60% and no vaccination. Other government statements indicated that the figure was more like 80%

[2]Eugenics is defined as the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population's genetic composition. In 1883 Francis Galton, in England, coined the term "eugenics" to encompass the idea of modification of natural selection through selective breeding for the improvement of humankind. Eugenics also moves into areas where the elimination of "inferior" human elements is practiced. Eugenics is also put forward as a solution to overpopulation which is a case of using one product of capitalism to counter another. It's a similar "solution" to the "sacrifices" of imperialist war.

[3]This "war of each against all" is sometimes referred to as "social Darwinism". It's a double assault on Darwin's real analyses because while he was no revolutionary his analysis of the beginning and development of humanity certainly had revolutionary implications. It was an analysis that not only exposed and denounced the ideology of the ruling class as "the pinnacle of perfection", it was one clearly took up a communist dimension. See for more on Darwin's analysis and the way he and it has been abused.


Covid-19 pandemic