Press Watchdog Exposes Inaccuracies In Toby Young's 'Herd Immunity' Telegraph Article

Graeme Demianyk
·News Editor, HuffPost UK
·3-min read
Toby Young pictured during a Channel 4 EU referendum debate (Photo: PA)
Toby Young pictured during a Channel 4 EU referendum debate (Photo: PA)

A Telegraph article that made “misleading” claims about immunity to Covid-19 in order to criticise lockdown and social distancing has been censured by the press watchdog.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) found the comment piece written by Toby Young breached two “accuracy” requirements in the editors’ code of practice.

The article, published on July 11, was headlined: “When we have herd immunity Boris will face a reckoning on this pointless and damaging lockdown.” At the time of publication of this story, the piece was not available on telegraph.co.uk.

In its summary, IPSO said the newspaper’s piece breached the editors’ code with “significantly misleading” statements that “misrepresented the nature of immunity” by implying people previously exposed to some colds might be automatically immune to symptoms and to spreading Covid-19.

<strong>Toby Young has been among the most vocal critics of measures introduced to curb the spread of the outbreak.</strong> (Photo: Telegraph)
Toby Young has been among the most vocal critics of measures introduced to curb the spread of the outbreak. (Photo: Telegraph)

Young has been among the most vocal critics of measures introduced by Boris Johnson to curb the spread of the outbreak.

There have been 89,243 deaths in the UK with Covid-19 on the death certificate, and the daily death toll is currently topping 1,000 people as a new variant of the disease fuels a huge spike in case.

Central to Young’s argument was a study of antibody tests in the New York neighbourhood of Corona, where he claimed the population is “already close to achieving ’herd immunity’”, and drew the conclusion that London was much closer to “herd immunity” than a 17% infection rate suggested.

The article concluded that “the British population will soon achieve herd immunity, just as the population of Corona has, and the lockdown has done nothing to mitigate the impact of the virus”.

It added that “this is good news: it means a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 is unlikely and we can dispense with pointless social distancing measures”.

The complainant, James Whitehead, contested a series of Young’s claims, including the scale at which “natural immunity” is conferred to those who have successfully fought off a cold.

He also said it was misleading to state that “the population of London is probably approaching herd immunity” as the scientific consensus is that the threshold for herd immunity – between 60% and 70% – is considerably higher than Young outlined.

The newspaper defended the article on the basis that it was an opinion piece on an area where the science is uncertain, and argued Young was entitled to use the term “natural immunity” in the manner he did. It added that London reaching the crucial threshold of protection was “clearly conjectural”.

But the piece was found by Ipso’s complaints committee to have breached two sections of the editors’ code of practice that relate to accuracy.

Its ruling seized on Young’s claim that some people “will have a natural immunity because they’ve already successfully fought off other coronaviruses” and that “people in [this] category will be immune”, and said this was “significantly misleading”.

It misrepresented the nature of immunity Independent Press Standards Organisation

Ipso added: “It misrepresented the nature of immunity and implied that people previously exposed to some common colds might be automatically immune to suffering symptoms and passing on Covid-19 to others.”

It also said the newspaper had failed to establish that “London is probably approaching herd immunity”, and criticised the explanation of how “herd immunity” is reached and how this underpinned wider criticism of social distancing and lockdowns.

The Ipso committee has ordered a correction to appear with the online article and within the online corrections and clarifications column.

It said: “This wording should only include information required to correct the inaccuracies: that the article had stated that those exposed to other coronaviruses will be immune and this means that London is probably approaching herd immunity; that those exposed to other coronaviruses are not ‘immune’ as they may still contract and transmit the virus; that such individuals would not create herd immunity in London; and that the newspaper had failed to establish that London is ‘probably approaching herd immunity’.”

HuffPost UK has contacted the Telegraph for comment. The full ruling can be read here.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.