Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty faced backlash over 'herd ...

Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty asked for help to 'calm down' angry academics after facing backlash over the controversial 'herd immunity' approach that was discussed in March, emails show.    

The top experts, who've been steering Britain through the Covid-19 crisis, were hounded by fellow scientists for comments they made about the controversial tactic at the start of the pandemic. 

On at least three occasions, Sir Patrick Vallance, England's chief scientific adviser, said the aim is to 'build up some degree of herd immunity' — when a disease runs out of room and can no longer spread because enough of the population have been exposed to it.

The comments sparked a furore because it signalled the Government was prepared to allow millions people to get infected and inevitably die in order to successfully achieve the strategy. 

No 10 was even forced to deny herd immunity was the strategy after Boris Johnson's chief aide Dominic Cummings reportedly confirmed the plan at a private event back in February, allegedly saying it was 'too bad' if it meant 'some pensioners die'. 

Emails obtained by the BBC reveal the panic among top advisers in reaction to the outpouring of criticism. In one email sent to a colleague in March, Sir Patrick said: 'Anything you can do to calm our academic friends down over herd immunity would be greatly appreciated.'

Professor Whitty, England's chief medical officer, also raged in emails that he was 'misinterpreted' after an unnamed senior politician claimed they had conversations in January that 'were absolutely focused on herd immunity'. 

While the majority of scientists have shied away from publicly endorsing herd immunity as a viable strategy, some believe it is the only route out of the current crisis without a vaccine. 

Health chiefs in Sweden, one of the only countries to remain open throughout the pandemic and avoid using a crude lockdown, say the tactic has worked for them, which has allowed people to keep their freedoms.

On at least three occasions, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor, suggested to media outlets the 'aim is to... build up some degree of herd immunity'

Professor Whitty, the chief medical officer, also raged in emails he was 'misinterpreted' in a conversation with a minister about herd immunity

Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty faced backlash over the 'herd immunity' strategy in March and asked for help to 'calm down' angry academics, emails show

A group of more than 500 academics published a joint letter to the Government warning that 'going for 'herd immunity' at this point does not seem a viable option. Sir Patrick discussed this letter in emails and told a colleague, 'anything you can do to calm our academic friends down over herd immunity would be greatly appreciated'

A group of more than 500 academics published a joint letter to the Government warning that 'going for 'herd immunity' at this point does not seem a viable option. Sir Patrick discussed this letter in emails and told a colleague, 'anything you can do to calm our academic friends down over herd immunity would be greatly appreciated'

In April Professor Whitty discussed an 'annoying' claim that he had spoken with an unnamed senior politician who says the conversation was 'absolutely focused on herd immunity'

In April Professor Whitty discussed an 'annoying' claim that he had spoken with an unnamed senior politician who says the conversation was 'absolutely focused on herd immunity'

There is speculation London already has some form of protection against the virus because it has not experienced a spike in cases recently, unlike other parts of England where the majority of people are considered to still susceptible to the virus.

It took longer for the coronavirus to spread to the North West before lockdown, but was already rampant in London. The former is now experiencing a significant rise in Covid-19 cases, with millions of residents hit by local lockdown rules.

WHAT DID THE TOP GOVERNMENT SCIENTISTS SAY ABOUT HERD IMMUNITY? 

Herd immunity was first publicly mentioned by Dr David Halpern, chief executive of the government-owned Behavioural Insights Team, known as the 'nudge unit', and a member of SAGE.

Dr Halpern said people in care homes and others who are less likely to survive the disease may be kept apart from the wider population until herd immunity has been established.

He told the BBC at the time: 'There's going to be a point, assuming the epidemic flows and grows as it will do, where you want to cocoon, to protect those at-risk groups so they don't catch the disease.

'By the time they come out of their cocooning, herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population.'

The chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said at a press conference on March 12, designed to inform the public on the impending Covid-19 crisis: 'Our aim is not to stop everyone getting it, you can't do that. And it's not desirable, because you want to get some immunity in the population. We need to have immunity to protect ourselves from this in the future.' 

On March 13, Sir Patrick Vallance said: 'Our aim is to try and reduce the peak - not suppress it completely, also because most people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity whilst protecting the most vulnerable.'

He spoke on Sky News later that day about not suppressing the virus completely, to help avoid 'a second peak,' and also to 'allow enough of us who are going to get mild illness to become immune to this'.

When asked how much of the British population would need to contract the virus for herd immunity to become effective, he calmly replied 'probably around 60%'.

With an approximate 1% case fatality rate, the interviewer responded, that would mean 'an awful lot of people dying'.

In one email from April, Professor Chris Whitty confers with colleagues about a report in the Times newspaper - in which an unnamed senior politician says he had conversations with Prof Whitty in January that 'were absolutely focused on herd immunity'. He said he had been misinterpreted. 

In a Channel 4 documentary aired in June, 's deputy health minister claimed Boris Johnson had told that he wanted to pursue it. 

The Cabinet Office denied the claims made in the documentary and said: 'The Government has been very clear that herd immunity has never been our policy or goal.'

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Herd immunity was first publicly mentioned by Dr David Halpern, chief executive of the government-owned Behavioural Insights Team, known as the 'nudge unit', and a member of SAGE.

Dr Halpern said people in care homes and others who are less likely to survive the disease may be kept apart from the wider population until herd immunity has been established.

He told the BBC at the time: 'There's going to be a point, assuming the epidemic flows and grows as it will do, where you want to cocoon, to protect those at-risk groups so they don't catch the disease.

'By the time they come out of their cocooning, herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population.'

A day later, Sir Patrick Vallance echoed the comments at the first Downing Street press conference on Covid-19.

He said on March 12: 'Our aim is not to stop everyone getting it, you can't do that. And it's not desirable, because you want to get some immunity in the population. We need to have immunity to protect ourselves from this in the future.'

The next day, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Sir Patrick added: 'Our aim is to try and reduce the peak - not suppress it completely, also because most people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity whilst protecting the most vulnerable.'

He spoke on Sky News later that day about not suppressing the virus completely, to help avoid 'a second peak,' and also to 'allow enough of us who are going to get mild illness to become immune to this'.

When asked how much of the British population would need to contract the virus for herd immunity to become effective, he calmly replied 'probably around 60 per cent' — the equivalent of around 40million people.

But theoretically it would mean around 240,000 Britons would die, given that the virus is estimated to kill around 0.6 per cent of everyone it infects.  

The day after Sir Patrick's interview, a group of more than 500 academics published a joint letter to the Government warning that 'going for 'herd immunity' at this point does not seem a viable option, as this will put the NHS at an even stronger level of stress, risking many more lives than necessary'.  

It also criticised the lack of social distancing restrictions imposed by the government, as the theory of herd immunity appeared to explain the government's reluctance to order a lockdown.

A separate letter by the British Society for Immunology said that it had 'significant questions about [the UK's] strategy'. 

On March 22, Number 10's chief aide Dominic Cummings was quoted in the Sunday Times at a private event back in February, outlining the Government's strategy as 'herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad'.

A Downing Street spokesman vehemently denied Mr Cummings made the comments, describing the Timess report as a 'highly defamatory fabrication'.

Emails obtained by the BBC via a Freedom of Information Act request now reveal the fall-out of the comments made by the Government's advisers.

The material consists of every email sent by Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty from the start of February to the start of June, containing the words 'herd immunity'. 

After the letter backed by hundreds of scientists, Sir Vallance spoke of his concerns in an email to Sir Mark Walport, the UK's former chief scientific adviser.

He said the response should be 'herd immunity is not the strategy. The strategy is 'to flatten the curve… and to shield the elderly… As we do this we will see immunity in the community grow'. 

In response to an email titled 'Covid-19 and herd immunity', from an academic, he writes brusquely 'No it is NOT the plan'. He does not, however, explain his previous references to herd immunity

In response to an email titled 'Covid-19 and herd immunity', from an academic, he writes brusquely 'No it is NOT the plan'. He does not, however, explain his previous references to herd immunity

The emails obtained by the BBC consist of every email sent by Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty from the start of February to the start of June, containing the words 'herd immunity'. Pictured is an example of a conversation

The emails obtained by the BBC consist of every email sent by Sir Patrick and Professor Whitty from the start of February to the start of June, containing the words 'herd immunity'. Pictured is an example of a conversation

Professor Whitty said the situation where herd immunity would be aimed for would be with a vaccine

Professor Whitty said the situation where herd immunity would be aimed for would be with a vaccine 

Professor Whitty also said: 'The statement that it was government policy deliberately to go for herd immunity is simply wrong'

Professor Whitty also said: 'The statement that it was government policy deliberately to go for herd immunity is simply wrong'

Expert claims Sweden now has 'herd immunity' against coronavirus 

Sweden has beaten coronavirus by refusing to shut the country down and achieving herd immunity, according to an expert.

The Scandinavian nation was the only country in Europe not to introduce strict lockdown measures at the start of the pandemic.

But scientists believe that this may have helped it avoid a second wave of Covid-19 as it continues to record its lowest number of cases since March - with just 28 infections per 100,000 people.

This figure is less than half of the UK's own infection rate of 69 per 100,000 people.

 He told Denmark's Politiken newspaper: 'There is some evidence that the Swedes have built up a degree of immunity to the virus which, along with what else they are doing to stop the spread, is enough to control the disease.

'Perhaps, the epidemic is over there.'

He said that the virus may now have run out of steam.

He added: 'That is what they have said.

'On the positive side, they may now be finished with the epidemic.'

Sweden was initially criticised at the start of the outbreak after recording a spike in its mortality rates which was five times that of Denmark and ten times that of Norway and Finland.

Number of deaths per 24 hours peaked in April at 115 with more than half in care homes.

But its seven-day average for coronavirus-related deaths is now zero.

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In response to an email titled 'Covid-19 and herd immunity', from an academic, he writes brusquely 'No it is NOT the plan'. He does not, however, explain his previous references to herd immunity.

On the same weekend, he writes to a colleague, 'anything you can do to calm our academic friends down over herd immunity would be greatly appreciated'.

The emails reveal herd immunity was under discussion as early as January.

An unnamed senior politician says he had conversations with Professor Whitty in January that 'were absolutely focused on herd immunity', The Times reported. 

Professor Whitty discussed this 'annoying' claim with colleagues in April, and complained he had been misrepresented by a 'conveniently unnamed' minister.

He stated he never thought herd immunity 'was actually a sensible aim of policy', but suggesting the concept was talked about when answering 'questions put to me by ministers'.

In another email to the president of the Faculty of Public Health, which sets standards for health professionals, who had raised questions about the lack of testing, Professor Whitty insisted 'the government had never pursued a 'herd immunity strategy'''.

The BBC said a government spokesman said the emails 'make clear… herd immunity has never been a policy aim' - an response that has repeatedly put forward.

Although a contentious issue, herd immunity is indeed backed by some scientists who argue it is a better way out of this crisis than crippling lockdowns.

There is no indication that any country in the world has developed herd immunity yet, based on antibody studies, and the World Health Organization has said 'we're nowhere close'.

Data on antibodies — substances made by the immune system in response to an infection — is deemed the most accurate way of working out how widespread coronavirus is in the UK.

This is because hundreds of thousands of infected people were not tested during the height of the crisis, either because of a lack of swabs or because they never had any of the tell-tale symptoms.

Counting how many people who have coronavirus antibodies is, therefore, the most accurate way of calculating how much of the population has already been infected. 

But research has suggested that antibodies decline three months after infection — meaning only a fraction of true cases during the peak of the crisis in March and April may have been spotted. And some people may never develop antibodies at all, so the true number of cases will always be a mystery. 

In places severely battered by the disease, infectious disease specialists have speculated that there is some level of protection.

Many scientists are convinced London has a layer of protection that has stopped it from experiencing the second 'wave' seen in other parts of England.

Professor Anthony Brookes, Department of Genetics and Genome Biology, University of Leicester, told MailOnline: 'We haven't got a second wave in London. It's apparent in the Government data. It's only outside London, especially in the North. 

WHAT IS HERD IMMUNITY AND WHICH COUNTRIES ARE PURSUING IT?

Herd immunity is a situation in which a population of people is protected from a disease because so many of them are unaffected by it - because they've already had it or have been vaccinated - that it cannot spread. 

To cause an outbreak a disease-causing bacteria or virus must have a continuous supply of potential victims who are not immune to it.

Immunity is when your body knows exactly how to fight off a certain type of infection because it has encountered it before, either by having the illness in the past or through a vaccine.

When a virus or bacteria enters the body the immune system creates substances called antibodies, which are designed to destroy one specific type of bug.

When these have been created once, some of them remain in the body and the body also remembers how to make them again. Antibodies - alongside T cells - provide long-term protection, or immunity, against an illness.

If nobody is immune to an illness – as was the case at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak – it can spread like wildfire.

However, if, for example, half of people have developed immunity – from a past infection or a vaccine – there are only half as many people the illness can spread to.

As more and more people become immune the bug finds it harder and harder to spread until its pool of victims becomes so small it can no longer spread at all.

The threshold for herd immunity is different for various illnesses, depending on how contagious they are – for measles, around 95 per cent of people must be vaccinated to it spreading.

For polio, which is less contagious, the threshold is about 80-85 per cent, according to the Oxford Vaccine Group.

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE PURSUING HERD IMMUNITY? 

Herd immunity is considered a controversial route for getting out of the pandemic because it gives a message of encouraging the spread of the virus, rather than containing it.

When UK Government scientists discussed it in the early days of the pandemic, it was met with criticism and therein swept under the carpet. 

The Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said at a press conference on March 12, designed to inform the public on the impending Covid-19 crisis: 'Our aim is not to stop everyone getting it, you can't do that. And it's not desirable, because you want to get some immunity in the population. We need to have immunity to protect ourselves from this in the future.'

Sir Patrick has since apologised for the comments and said he didn't mean that was the government's plan. 

In a Channel 4 documentary aired in June, 's deputy health minister claimed Boris Johnson had told that he wanted to pursue it. 

The Cabinet Office denied the claims made in the documentary and said: 'The Government has been very clear that herd immunity has never been our policy or goal.'

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Meanwhile, unlike most European nations, Sweden never imposed a lockdown and kept schools for under-16s, cafes, bars, restaurants and most businesses open. Masks have been recommended only for healthcare personnel. 

Sweden only introduced a handful of restrictions, including banning mass gatherings and encouraging people to work and study from home. 

Dr Anders Tegnell, who has guided the nation through the pandemic without calling for a lockdown, claimed on July 21 that Sweden's strategy for slowing the epidemic, which has been widely questioned abroad, was working.

Dr Tegnell, who previously said the 'world went mad' with coronavirus lockdowns, said a rapid slowdown in the spread of the virus indicated very strongly that Sweden had reached relatively widespread immunity. 

'The epidemic is now being slowed down, in a way that I think few of us would have believed a week or so ago,' he said. 

'It really is yet another sign that the Swedish strategy is working.'   

At the time Sweden's death

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