“Herd Immunity” Is Epidemiological Neoliberalism

| Educate!

Above Photo: Gianluca Barresi/Flickr

Update: Meanwhile the Netherlands has also officially distanced itself from this approach. However, the point of this article is to unravel the underlying paradigm of this strategy, not to make an argument about its effectiveness.

While most European countries are preparing for lock-downs to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a few countries are opting for a different strategy: herd immunity. Instead of testing as many people as possible and implementing measures to increase social distancing, they want to purposefully let the virus spread among people who are at low risk, so that a large part of the population becomes immune. This approach was first proposed by UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson, who refused to implement social distancing measures until a few days ago. While the UK has officially distanced itself from this strategy, the Netherlands and Sweden continue to hold on to this approach, despite harsh criticism by the WHO.

These countries argue that building herd immunity is the only long-term strategy for dealing with the virus, since the epidemic can no longer be contained and could always resurge again. Instead of putting the entire country under lockdown, only at-risk populations should be put into quarantine while the epidemic keeps spreading. However, countless epidemiologists and virologists have criticized the strategy for being risky, unscientific and likely to result in a high death toll. A recently published report by the Imperial College London, which led to the change in UK government policy, estimated the strategy to result in 250,000 deaths in the UK. Since it is not possible to effectively isolate at-risk populations, especially when the virus keeps spreading, the health care system is likely to become overwhelmed and at risk of completely collapsing.

Epidemiological Neoliberalism

Why would a country like the UK even consider such a risky strategy, and why are other countries still following this approach? The reason is neoliberalism. Since the 1980s, we have been governed by the political paradigm of neoliberalism, which has replaced state-led social policy with privatization and deregulation of the market. Its belief in the inherent justice of the market has led to a political rationale, which literally puts profit before people. And it has colonized peoples’ minds by making them believe it is their fault if they are poor, precarious or unemployed.

The irony of neoliberalism is that it creates the illusion of social mobility, while reinforcing and even deepening social inequality. It assumes that if anyone can “make it” in a free market, it must be peoples’ own fault if they are poor. But this belief is not only wrong, it is also violent. Neoliberalism has resulted in the rich getting richer, and the poor suffering more from disenfranchisement, precariousness and dependency. What might seem like laissez-faire policy, is a refined and complex system of automated structural violence against the weak, which also shatters any possibilities of resistance.

Herd immunity is epidemiological neoliberalism. Much like the unconditional belief in the free market, herd immunity relies on the assumption that an epidemic is best overcome by leaving it unregulated. But just like neoliberalism, it results in violence against the weak and the poor: elderly and disabled people, homeless people, refugees and people with severe health conditions – many of whom are likely to also have a lower socio-economic status because of the correlation between poverty and illness. These are the people, who are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19 – especially if the healthcare system is overwhelmed and doctors have to perform triage.

Crumbling Welfare States

It is no coincidence that it was the UK and the Netherlands, two of the most neoliberal countries in Europe, which advocated for this approach. These countries have spent the past decades implementing policies that privilege economic over social interests, and systematically defunded healthcare, education and housing. Opting against economically-harmful lockdown measures fits perfectly into their political rationale. Sweden, however, is a more puzzling case: it is a country which is internationally acclaimed for its good social policy and generous welfare state. But even an archetypical social democracy like Sweden has not been immune to neoliberal policy. Like most European countries, its welfare state has systematically been dismantled in the past decades.

The biggest challenge of the corona-epidemic is “flattening the curve”, so that the capacities for critical and intensive care are not overwhelmed. But these three countries already have such low capacities for critical care, that they wouldn’t suffice even with strict lockdown measures. The UK and the Netherlands only have about half the capacity of Italy of critical care beds per capita. And Sweden, the supposedly best welfare state in Europe, has even less than half.


If these countries wanted to prevent their capacities from being overwhelmed, they would have had to act a long time ago. But that ship has already sailed. Enforcing strict lockdown measures would not only put the economy under strain, but would also expose the crumbling health system from decades of neoliberal policy. Opting for herd immunity allows governments to blame the failure of the health system on the virus, rather than on bad governance. Just like individual poor people can be blamed for not trying hard enough, individual sick people can be blamed for not following quarantine measures. It doesn’t matter whether its nature, fate, or one’s own fault – as long as it’s not the government which is held accountable for peoples’ deaths.

Herd immunity is not just bad science or bad policy. It is biological warfare. Many people will die because of it, and governments won’t take responsibility for it. But this strategy did not appear from nowhere. It is a logical continuation of the political rationale that has governed the world for the past decades, taken to an extreme as a laissez-faire social darwinism. Because people who trust in an unregulated market will also trust in an unregulated epidemic – even if it kills.

  • Wayne Turner

    Shorter message from government: “Some of you will die, but we are prepared to make that sacrifice.”

  • doldrum pant

    culling the herd of unprofitable human cattle. just another day on the big people farm.

  • A bit grim, but that’s Social Darwinism (effectively) for you.

  • voza0db

    Isabel Frey must have been in a coma for many years and woke just this lovely year of 2020!

    “Herd Immunity” is what we do EVERY SINGLE YEAR starting around September (in the case of the flu season) via mass auto-infection aka VACCINATION.

    We also cause “Herd Immunity” to a large portion of the new uman animals that arrive on the Planet… Most of them receive ~25 infection to gain immunity, and since they are plenty, we achieve HERD IMMUNITY for virus like the HepB, RV1, RV5, Hib,IPV, IIV, LAIV and the list goes on…

    A small problem with artificial immunity caused by vaccination is that the efficiency and durability of the immune status is shorter than with natural immunity (one an animal is infected by the agent itself!). Easy to see


    ALSO DON’T FORGET that IMMUNIZATION (vaccination is a form of it) is not IMMUNITY!

    I already wasted too much time… So I just say to Isabel, don’t write moronic stuff, we already have too much of that running around these days.

  • voza0db

    What’s new with that message? Every single past years umans animals die from virus and bacteria infections, by the millions, and I’ve never seen such a crazy and moronic response to those…

    Not even a State of National Mourning was declared!

  • Lili-Ann Berg

    Amazing isn’t it that Sweden, once the paradigm of social and economic equality has been revealed as the most callous neoliberal arsehole of a country in the developed world. Many among my family and friends have just been handed a death sentence by their so called government, including myself. Löfven, this piss-weak excuse for a prime minister, has officially announced: “that many of you will die”. Duh!

  • CALynnie

    Wow! Herd Immunity is neoliberal policy? Someone finally said it! Would that also apply to a country like the US who convinced an entire generation of parents to vaccinate their kids for diseases we all had and recovered from? Like Chicken Pox which gives lifetime natural immunity (but the vaccine does not and is the primary cause of the increase in Shingles in senior citizens.) In the US, on the day of birth, an infant is subjected to several vaccinations (one for a sexually and drug-use transmitted disease.) Many more vaccinations “are required” in the months that follow. In fact, the CDC recommends (but it is really a mandate if you want your kids in school or daycare) 42 vaccinations by age 18 months. Another 37 by age 18….and more in the pipeline. Vaccines which contain aluminum, Mercury, cocker spaniel DNA, human DNA, formaldehyde, and more. The purpose is “herd immunity.” And THAT is what has infected American minds.

    So we have an entire generation and a half (since 1986 when Reagan signed legislation giving complete immunity to Big pharma for lawsuits from vaccines) of chronically sick, depressed, stressed out, stroked, heart and immune system diseased, developmentally-delayed-and-otherwise-compromised children.
    Like the author (finally) said: “Herd immunity….is biological warfare.”

  • 0040

    Another ass backward article assuming facts not in evidence . Draconian laws and forced isolation for the masses is of course the neoliberal solution . Getting on with life as this years spate of viral pneumonia runs its course is far too rational for dogmatic ideologues , and those who profess to dislike right wing government but readily embrace its lies when they appear useful.

  • 0040

    Sparsely populated Sweden will see minimal disruption among its middle class due to this year’s panic . Their temporary workers will take the brunt of the upset.

  • 0040

    Culling the herd will only make it more robust and disease resistant . Everyday in America 7000 or so die . Life is terminal

  • 0040

    On the contrary , Herd immunity is a mutation which Darwin described at length in his Origin of Species. The use of tear gas by the military against the citizenry, “we’re here to help ” is basic biological warfare.

  • voza0db

    Common Lili! People die all the time! From all the type of stuff!

    You might die first due to a run over of traffic accident than from a virus…

    Panic and Moronic Thoughts are not good!

  • voza0db
  • voza0db

    The SOLE reason we are witnessing – and only with SARS-CoV-2 – this PARANOIA by the Collective Herd is precisely because they don’t have the Holy Grail – The Vaccine.
    With H1N1 and the rest of the variants we also didn’t had a vaccine and yet we didn’t saw such MORONIC behavior… Probably social media and very easy communications between morons are to blame.

  • mwildfire

    funny thing, though, is that the powerful who like neoliberalism include a lot of the key demographic that is high risk–old people.

  • Nylene13

    The Rich don’t divide worth by age. They divide worth by Wealth.

    They view poor old people as a waste of money.

  • Nylene13

    As long as we start with old Rich people.

  • Nylene13

    Excellent Post.

    I appreciate your mentioning Breast Feeding Babies. So important to the health of both Mother and Baby, and something so totally ignored (even discouraged) in our society today.

  • Old people with wealth to protect them, and utterly indifferent to old people who don’t have that same wealth.

  • mwildfire

    No, you don’t get it. They don’t care at all about old poor people. But the one thing they value more than money is their own precious asses, most of which are white and old. They are not immune…unless they do have a vaccine they’re keeping secret, probably not.

  • Bloginton Blakley

    Everything is bleh.

  • chetdude

    Do I hear you volunteering?

  • 0040

    Nope ! Sorry to disappoint but outside of a couple of bullet wounds and car accident injuries I”ve had all my shots and appear to be disease resistant .

  • doldrum pant

    probably self-isolated on their megayachts with enough supplies for 6 months, and a yessir rightawaysir staff to spray everything night and day.

  • Maybe the people of the rich nations need to start looking at how the poorer nations (in S. Africa) look after their people when the sh** hits the fan?

  • voza0db

    Measles Outbreak in a Fully Immunized Secondary-School Population

    N Engl J Med 1987; 316:771-774March 26, 1987DOI: 10.1056/NEJM198703263161303


    Major measles epidemic in the region of Quebec despite a 99% vaccine coverage.


    Canadian Journal of Public Health = Revue Canadienne de Sante Publique [01 May 1991, 82(3):189-190]


    Outbreak of measles in a highly vaccinated secondary school population.

    CMAJ.1996 Nov 15; 155(10): 1407–1413


    Largest Measles Epidemic in North America in a Decade—Quebec, Canada, 2011: Contribution of Susceptibility, Serendipity, and Superspreading Events

    J Infect Dis (2013) 207 (6): 990-998. Published:21 December 2012


    Increased Susceptibility to Measles in Infants in the United States

    Pediatrics November 1999, VOLUME 104 / ISSUE 5

    and there’s more… But who cares?!

    The DOGMA in fake immunization is truly FUNNY.

  • voza0db

    To use the frontal cortexes… hell to use the entire brain, one needs to have a low level of ignorance regarding his/her own body.

    And this knowledge of how our body functions, what he needs and how he reacts to infections is totally absent among high % of umans. So, naturally, the Herd response to the Main S H I T Media stimulus that only spreads fear and nonsense is what we can see today. TOTAL PANIC.